St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt has accused the AFL club’s current players of lacking the required hunger and playing for financial security ahead of striving to drive on-field success.
The Saints are under fire after a humiliating 111-point loss to the Western Bulldogs, which left their finals hopes hanging by a thread at 4-6.
It was their fourth defeat by a margin of nine goals or more this season and they have the second-worst percentage in the competition.
Chief operating officer Simon Lethlean fronted the media on Monday and strenuously denied any division between coach Brett Ratten and the playing group.
Lethlean rejected suggestions there have been issues with the club’s recruitment and game plan, instead blaming on-field execution for the Saints’ woes this season.
But Riewoldt, a 336-game champion and St Kilda’s longest-serving captain, took aim at experienced players who were lured to the club on lucrative contracts.
The Saints recruited Brad Hill, Zak Jones, Paddy Ryder, Dougal Howard, Brad Crouch, Dan Butler, Jack Higgins and Dan Hannebery from rival clubs in recent years to help steer them into premiership contention.
They broke a nine-year finals drought last season but are facing an uphill battle to get there in 2021 as they prepare to face North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s not a dog-hungry group,” Riewoldt told on Fox Footy’s On The Couch.
“You look at the purpose and the motivating factors, and you open yourself up to this sort of criticism when you dish up what you have.
“I look at the list construct and I feel like St Kilda’s gone down a path of acquiring (experienced) talent.
“But when you go down any sort of recruiting angle, you’re building a team and you’re building a culture.
“There are some players there on a big whack (of money) that have got full bellies, that have come from other clubs that have had success.
“I just think at the moment the opportunity and security part of the motivation is far heavier than the hunger for real success.”
Injuries to key players such as Rowan Marshall, Jade Gresham, Jones and Hannebery haven’t helped the Saints’ cause this season.
“They’re reasons, not excuses, but the complete disregard or (lack of) desire to defend on four occasions now (in those heavy defeats) and give defensive effort is there for us all to see,” Riewoldt said.
“The lack of accountability around that I think has now permeated through the group to the point where there would be a lack of trust.”
Lethlean said the St Kilda players have “love and respect” for Ratten, but admitted the group is still searching for ways to emerge from its slump.
“There’s more to all this and we’ve got to uncover what that is,” Lethlean said.
“This gulf between our best and worst is not good enough, and we’ve got to find a way to dig a bit deeper and get things back on track.
“We haven’t got all the answers right now, but we’re searching for them, and we’re not in denial.”