The Suns and Saint travelled to sunny Townsville to open the account of the 48th AFL venue. On a hot Northern Queensland day, the two teams who have been forming some kind of rivalry with close matches in recent history gave us another.
It was a game of two halves, where the Gold Coast got out to a 31-point margin through pace and daring footy, but the Saints were able to claw that score back to sneak over the top.
Here’s what happened.
The First Half
The first half was mostly played in the Suns’ forward line. They managed to get it forward by winning the contested ball and actually taking the game on. The Suns continually ran and looked for dangerous options both short and long. Their one issue was finding consistent targets up forward, and whilst Ben King was often able to get ahead of his opponent Nathan Brown, to kick two goals, the team itself only managed five to half time.
St. Kilda’s first half was polar opposite. They didn’t pressure, and they didn’t run. Their ball movement was stagnant, and they were forced to bomb the ball long when they weren’t set up for it. It was as though they replicated the Hawthorn game style from the previous evening, to a similar level of success.
The Saints allowed the Suns to set up well defensively well and then just continually kicked it to them. It was no surprise that the Saints went goalless in the first quarter, and even being kicking two goals for the second quarter was almost a surprise. There was one upside. The last five minutes of the quarter were played in the Saints’ forward line, as they finally put some midfield pressure on. Their eight inside 50s weren’t enough to register a goal, but it was enough to say that, after almost an entire half of footy, the Saints had finally turned up to play.
The Second Half
The second half started in the same manner of the first half, and within a few minutes the Suns had pushed the score line out to 49-18, with two easy goals. Following that, however, the Saints turned it on and dominated the entire third quarter. The young Suns were unable to maintain their run and carry as they fell to the hot Townsville heat.
The more mature Saints, through Gresham, Billings and Ross were able to pile on goal after goal to bring the margin back to seven points at the last break. The Saints’ pressure lifted, their movement suddenly looked like it was at a decent level and they were getting reward in the forward line, mostly through the efforts of Membrey who kicked two goals for the quarter.
The final quarter was an arm wrestle. The Saints had all the run and when Membrey put them in front with 10 minutes to go, it looked as though they would over run the Suns and win by some margin. However, the Suns were reluctant to give up and were able to keep in touch; It was too little too late though and their younger key players had run out of steam in the hot conditions. For the third time in as many games, the Suns fell agonisingly short, this time losing by four points.
The Best Players
Jack Billings was terrific when the Saints needed him and lead from the front. His 33 touches, 9 tackles and 2 goals were instrumental in turning their game around and was more akin to his early-season form than anything he’s dished up recently.
Tim Membrey was important in giving the Saints some much needed structure up forward. He Kicked two goals in the third quarter and then sunk Saints with a third in the fourth.
Anthony Miles was terrific for the Suns. He was everywhere and gave them class through the midfield.
David Swallow is a class above the rest of his team and it shows. His 31 touches included 19 kicks and really drove his side into the forward line early, where they were able to gain ascendency.
This was a huge opportunity for the Suns, in a season where opportunities are fleeting. You can tell they have had an enormous attitude shift, and the way they attack the contest reflects that. They just need to win the close ones – games that were falling their way some of the time early in the season are now all going the other way.
The Saints needed this desperately, and can consider themselves lucky that they played at this level against a team whose kids ran out of legs.
Special mention to Mongrel favourite – Rowan Marshall (ranked fourth in rucks in our fortnightly Power Rankings for you Saints fans… check it out). It’s not often that a player can hit the 40 hit out mark against man-mountain, Jarrod Witts, but that’s what Marshall managed today. The Saints can really build a midfield around what he can provide.
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