A revitalized, rampaging St Kilda have stormed to the top of the AFL ladder with a 40 point demolition of a very disappointing Melbourne outfit at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.

With a lot of questions coming in to today’s clash about whether Alan Richardson’s men were simply the beneficiaries of an easy early draw, and with Melbourne hitting their straps with a big win in Sydney the week early, the job was well and truly ahead of the Saints to show that they were legitimate contenders. But it was Melbourne virtually unsighted after half time, with an eight straight goal St Kilda run shutting the door.

It was St Kilda’s defensive structures and much higher work rate that proved the difference on the day, as time and time again, the Saints showed a willingness to empty the forward line to get numbers behind the ball, and stymy Melbourne in the back half of the centre square, forcing them to chip it around until space presented itself, which it seldom ever did. This was a real feather in the cap of new St Kilda coaching box addition, Brendon Lade, having performed similar miracles with Richmond’s defensive pressure. The signature is there with a hungry St Kilda defence, largely made up of no-name types prepared to tackle, hold formation, chase hard and work for their teammates.

For the Dees, it was the same old story, with questions aplenty about their workrate, effort and want for the unfashionable team acts when the going got tough. Why is it that when the Dees go wide its only their lesser lights that get in on the possession chain? If you look at Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw’s heat maps, I think you’d see a very narrow strip of the corridor and not much else. Teams are picking up on it, and set up defensively a lot tighter in the corridor, knowing that the best ball users are not getting near it out on the wings. It’s being fed out to the Wagners, Jayden Hunt and Harmes, and you’re almost prepared to let them have it, if it means you’re keeping Brayshaw and Oliver on a tighter leash.

Yes, the Dees look fantastic when you allow them to run the ball out of the corridor and get Oliver and Brayshaw all over it, but today when you see teams clog the corridor and work hard to ensure there’s no space to work it through there, Melbourne don’t work hard enough to spread wide enough, or have enough quality ball users to compensate for that and break down opposition structures.

Whilst Christian Salem was a threat in the first half, and arguably one of the top three players on the ground to half time with his ball use by foot, Melbourne were in this game. Instead, barely sighted after half time, they offered very little hope to their supporters. This is the Mongrel Wrap.

BEST ON GROUND

Tim Membrey

12 touches, 7 marks, 4 goals, 5 score involvements

This was the match-up where the game was won. I thought it was a good, positive call at match committee from the Dees dropping Oscar McDonald. The extra runner down back seemed like just what the doctor ordered, and McDonald’s form had been ordinary.

Enter Tim Membrey, who became the dominant forward on the ground, marking everything in sight on a very favourable match-up on a smaller Michael Hibberd, whilst having one of those days where he just couldn’t miss a set shot if he tried. Yet Melbourne failed to make a move.

The much-maligned Sam Frost was one of their few winners on the day, taking the honours against Josh Bruce, keeping him to two goals on a day where the delivery was constant. Again, right call not to move Frost.

Yet at the other end of the ground, Tom McDonald continued his stinker of a start to 2019, why not move him back? Bayley Fritsch looked lost at times as a loose man in defence, why not throw a challenge to him? What he may lack in physicality in the one on ones at times, he certainly makes up by being one of the few on the ground capable of competing with Membrey in the air.

In the end, four goals is probably not a terrible result for Hibberd, given the delivery on offer, and Membrey’s early dominance, but definitely the game winner for mine.

Jarryn Geary

22 touches, 4 marks, 3 score involvements

Geary presented as if Nick Maxwell had made a comeback today, playing a role as the spare defender down the line, and ran the show with aplomb. Whilst much was made about Jordan Lewis’ role as playing coach, it was Geary that was the best instructor on the field, as he martialed a well-oiled yet inexperienced defensive unit all day, often finding himself in best position to mop up and intercept.

Again, questions have to be asked of Simon Goodwin why he never sent a defensive forward (James Harmes for arguments’ sake) to negate Geary’s influence at some point in the day?

The Saints look the real deal at the moment. Their work rate is second to none and very similar to that of Collingwood’s during their resurgence last year. Plenty of question marks about whether they can maintain that, and I said the same thing about Collingwood last year, to be proven wrong. If the Saints can maintain this – they’re a top four side.

A lot remains to be seen if that is the case, but whilst Geary remains on the field, their back six as a unit is as good as anyone’s so far this year. They clearly do their video sessions in-depth, and it’s a completely different side to last year’s which looked the worst coming out of defence – prepared to chip it around the back pockets, then bombing it long out of necessity.

Shane Savage

18 touches, 9 handballs, 7 marks, 5 score involvements, 88% disposal efficiency

To half time, I felt like I had a conundrum on my hands – the Saints were on top, playing great team footy, the structures and unselfishness were really on display, yet I probably had Brayshaw, Salem and Preuss as my three best players on the ground. All three were non-factors in the game after half time making the job a lot easier, but also notable when a bloke goes at a ratio of 2 kicks for every handball and still goes at 88% efficiency, tells you all you need to know about Melbourne’s forward pressure. Shane Savage doesn’t exactly hit up easy 15m sideways targets most of the time, and did as he pleased for the most part.

It certainly helps when he had plenty of teammates prepared to get on their bike and run to vacant space for him (Hard running two-way midfielder, Jack Billings? What Earth is this?), but Savage made Melbourne’s zones redundant on many an occasion.

Do Melbourne have a forward that tackles with any effort? One each from Weidemann and McDonald, two from Charlie Spargo and Jake Melksham, and surprisingly three from Petracca is a poor return. Meanwhile, Membrey had four, Bruce three, Kent t
wo at the other end of the ground.

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WORST ON GROUND

Jordan Lewis

13 touches from 72% TOG, 3 marks.

Melbourne have missed Jordan Lewis so far this year. At least from a hardness around the footy perspective, and a willingness to stand up and be counted. Teams have bullied them, they’ve struggled to find that right balance of aggression towards the man and the ball, and can easily look rattled.

The Jordan Lewis we got today was worse than the one we last saw getting toweled up in the preliminary final, and looked nowhere near up to the pace of AFL footy. In respect of the last part of that comment, it’s probably been applicable for the better part of 4-5 years, but he’s such a smart footballer that he’s adapted himself into lesser roles that still show off his talents, that allow him to help his teammates walk a little taller when he’s near the ball at a stoppage.

Today, he was practically a runner, barking instructions on-field for where blokes needed to run to, or who to man up at the stoppages, but provided very little when it was his turn to compete. The majority of those 13 touches coming late in the game when there was little to play for.

Worrying signs for a champion of the game.

Sam Weideman

12 touches, 5 marks, 0 goals 1 behind

We’ve already potted Tom McDonald, who had just as bad a game, but Tom McDonald has looked more than a 600k player throughout his career, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and put the blowtorch on Weideman instead who did his chances of landing that sort of a contract no help whatsoever today.

An absolute defensive liability once the ball hits the ground, no defensive pressure at all, doesn’t chase, doesn’t compete, and the Saints defence ran off him all day.

Weideman’s positive attributes are clear, he’s got a clean pair of hands (although he dropped more than his fair share today), he leads smartly, like a young Matthew Lloyd, and in my time watching him at Casey, have felt that he’s got the best set shot routine of any player in the competition. He’s metronomic when on song, and should be shown to young players on how to go back and slot them.

But that is a very small wheelhouse. If there’s one thing Melbourne is doing very well right now, that’s how they’ve managed to get Preuss and Gawn to play together in sync. No ridiculous “resting ruckman-cum-forward” type roles out of necessity, just two big blokes roaming the ground and playing their game. It does, however, mean that either Tom McDonald needs to go back permanently, and Weideman is given a sink or swim directive with a much smaller Dees forward line, or Weideman heads back to Casey, and negotiates a 600k deal on minimal leverage.

On the other hand, the reigning VFL premiers, Casey played a very strong side against an AIS U/18’s side and got rolled by 4 goals. Finding replacements isn’t going to be easy.

Charlie Spargo

11 touches, 5 marks, 2 tackles, 0.0

A huge missed opportunity for Spargo today. Gets a game as a small forward off very little VFL form, largely as the impressive Jay Lockhart remained injured with a back complaint, and patience had run out with Jeff Garlett’s lack of forward pressure. Also a huge opportunity because Spargo showed a bit in the finals series last year, some serious defensive pressure, a few crucial goals in the semi final against the Hawks, only to lose his spot after a poor showing against the Power in round one.

Had an OK without being great game against the Swans last week in Lockhart’s absence. Virtually unsighted all day with no real forward pressure added (three tackles in two games), and will hand the spot straight back to Lockhart this week without too much discern at match committee you’d think.

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I DON’T KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS

  • If anything is going to make St Kilda look considerably less threatening, it’s putting Paddy McCartin back into that line up. The quickness in which they were able to empty the forward line out to get numbers back behind the footy, and also get forward into space when they got the footy back was elite. The forward group did the GPS trackers a working over today. Strong doubts McCartin can provide that sort of pressure.

  • Questions need to be asked about Troy Chaplin’s work with Melbourne’s backline. Continues to look unstructured and players playing selfishly under the guise of “zoning off”. As I alluded to earlier, prepared to give the benefit of the doubt that they really missed the on-field leadership of Lewis in marshalling the troops back there today. That’s all he did all day, and they still looked very me, me, me.

  • Do any other club hit the Melbourne pubs circuit as much as Melbourne? In the last few weeks, my inbox has been flooded with advertisements for Angus Brayshaw and James Harmes conducting a footy night at the Burvale Hotel in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne; photos commemorating Brayshaw officially opening the Sporting Globe in Mordialloc with David Neitz; whilst emails letting me know all about the specials on offer at Max Gawn’s new wine bar, East End aren’t hard to find either. I’m not sure if it poses the question whether they’re fully committed to being the best they can be, but whether they’re just happy with the trimmings that come with being an above-average, somewhat recognizable footy player, and that’ll do them?

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