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To the Max: King a franchise player for years to come

Former AFL opposition analyst and strategy coach Rob Harding, who has worked with Essendon, Adelaide, Geelong and North Melbourne, analyses St Kilda’s forward Max King’s game and what makes him standout from other developing players.

When AFL clubs look to build a premiership list, two of the key considerations are: How to use their top draft picks and how to bring quality key position players into their footy clubs.

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St Kilda hit the jackpot when it was able to select life-long Saints fan Max King with pick No. 4 in the 2018 AFL Draft.

The 202cm key forward showed his enormous talent with an eight-goal haul for Sandringham in his only TAC Cup performance of 2018, before suffering a season-ending knee injury while playing school football for Haileybury.

After five VFL games for Sandringham (St Kilda’s AFL affiliate side) in 2019, King debuted in Round 1, 2020, kicking two goals against North Melbourne.

While many promising key position players are given time at both ends of the ground as part of their development, King has held down a key-forward position in a Saints team right in the mix to play finals.

King’s athleticism is a stand out, as he can mark the ball at the highest point, and his follow up at ground level for his height is exceptional.

While the Saints are five wins and two losses when King kicks two or more goals, his impact in 2020 goes beyond individual statistics.

One area that has gone underrated in his game is King’s ability to halve aerial contests against multiple opposition defenders.

By not being outmarked and bringing the ball to ground, he has been able to bring the Saints’ crew of smalls (Dan Butler, Jack Billings, Dean Kent and Jade Gresham) into good goal-scoring positions.

As he continues to develop, King will play a mix of full-forward and centre-half forward, providing an imposing aerial target on the wings and using his athleticism to push hard forward into dangerous attacking positions.

Already, King has shown a strong ability to read the play and be in the right position at the right time. In the Saints’ impressive Round 8 victory over league-leaders Port Adelaide, King provided a strong exit target for the Saints’ defenders when bringing the ball out of their defensive 50.

This nullified Port’s great strength of forcing forward-half turnovers, and King was ultimately rewarded on the scoreboard with the Saints’ last goal of the game.

His ability to execute his role up the ground, and provide an important target, will have greatly impressed the St Kilda coaching staff.

With just a few rounds remaining in the 2020 season, King ranks in the top 15 in the AFL for goals, contested marks and marks inside-50, a remarkable achievement for a young key position player.

After his first 14 games, King has kicked 19 goals.

By way of comparison, Tom Hawkins kicked 21 from his first 14 games, while King’s tally puts him ahead of the likes of Tom Lynch (15), Lance Franklin (13), Jack Riewoldt (12), Charlie Dixon (nine) and West Coast’s Josh Kennedy (six) over the same time period.

While the 2020 Rising Star race will be closely fought, King’s consistency in such a demanding role for a young player will see him right at the forefront of the judge’s minds.

Saints fans will enjoy watching this young star develop well into the future.