So, who else should sack their coach?

Adelaide? Port Adelaide? North Melbourne again – it worked last time!

The poor old Western Bulldogs ran into a St Kilda team looking to impress under new coach, Brett Ratten, and they were unable to peg back the Saints after a first quarter that saw the boys from Moorabbin pile on six goals to one from the Dogs.

As a neutral, this was an enjoyable game to cover, with some exciting run and carry, some big hits and a heap of goals.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

I DARE YA

I just went back and watched the first quarter again, as I had a really strange feeling when I was watching the first time round – turns out what I thought was happening actually was. There’s a first time for everything, right?

St Kilda were implementing actual tactics! I’m not joking – there was something at play here that seemed as though the coaching staff had looked at the previous week’s Western Bulldogs game tapes and had concocted a strategy to not only limit them, but punish them as a result.

Settle down Saints fans… I know this is somewhat foreign to you. Allow me to explain.

Over the past month, the Bulldogs have played a scintillating brand of footy. Their run and carry has been complemented by some pinpoint kicking through the middle of the ground, which in turn, has set up scoring opportunities. They’ve taken risks and reaped rewards as a result.

Well, it looked as though Brett Ratten was well aware that they weren’t going to stray too far from a formula that had seen them earn three huge wins in a row. They were always going to take a gamble on their own skills. As a matter of fact, Ratten was banking on it.

The problem for the Dogs came when those skills slipped marginally due to intense pressure. The Dogs were still trying to make the creative kick or handball, but this week they were forced to do it under pressure. That’s where Brett Ratten’s troops pounced, and that’s where they punished the Dogs.

Jason Johannisen turned the ball over, as did Josh Dunkley and Jack Macrae, and each time the Saints were there in numbers to make sure they made the Dogs pay.

I wrote in my notes that the Dogs had a lot of “almost” kicks, but that does not give the appropriate amount of credit to the Saints. Their pressure caused those kicks to miss targets. Their pressure was the catalyst for the Dogs’ turnovers, and the willingness of St Kilda to run, and hunt, and go a hundred miles an hour in the opposite direction saw them with what proved to be a match-winning lead by quarter time.

It was good planning. It was good coaching. It was well executed. Amazing, huh?

ROWAN MARSHALL

I was really looking forward to seeing Marshall take on fellow young gun, Tim English in a match-up we should see replicated dozens of times over the next 7-8 years. English is athletic as hell, but Marshall is a hard man to move off the spot. Their different styles would no doubt see one prove superior, and on this day, Rowan Marshall took the chocolates.

He had 21 disposals, nine score involvements, six clearances and five inside 50 deliveries in a great display. His second efforts and willingness to out his big body in the way were a huge positive for his teammates, and the way he dropped in the hole to block the run of the charging English was a joy to see.

There has been quite a buzz about Marshall for a while now. I remember taking a bit of notice after Round Four. We run our fortnightly Player Power Rankings (new edition ready this Wednesday), and I found myself attributing a heap of points to Marshall. I remembered him making a big error last season and having his kick chopped off, and Alan Richardson walked him down the race to talk to him about it, but I also had vivid memories of his clean hands and skill by foot – he looked like a star in the making.

Seeing him leap into the number one ruck spot and make it his own has warmed the heart. I’d like to say the Saints know what they’re doing in trying to recruit another ruckman to play alongside him, but if he applies himself, Marshall will be the man in the St Kilda ruck for the next eight to ten years.

He was the clear winner in the duel with English today, and though English was far from disgraced, and will be a very good big man within the next two years, today it was Rowan Marshall that did so many things right, and very little wrong.

JACK STEELE

There was a point late in the second quarter where I thought Marcus Bontempelli may have slipped away from the vice-like grip of Jack Steele. Bont had started gathering the ball in the guts, and was pumping the Dogs inside 50 over and over.

Then came the moment where Jack Steele more or less stated that enough was enough and put the clamps on. After a Saints goal to Langlands, Bont took possession of the ball at the centre bounce. No sooner had he touched it than Jack Steele set upon him, his tackle landing almost simultaneously with Bont taking possession.

The advantage for Bont was lost and the Saints cleared the ball.

I’m a bit of a Jack Steele fan, as I am of most accountable midfielders. Matt de Boer, George Hewett, Mark Hutchings and Ben Jacobs when fit rank amongst my favourite players to watch. Jack Steele sits right in there as well.

There is a touch of Elliot Yeo about him in the way he collects the ball but never strays too far from his primary target. He’s no Ryan Crowley – Steele can hurt going the other way, and often does.

He had 15 touches at 93% in this one, opposed to 19 from Bontempelli, but with six tackles and two direct goal assists, Steele sat comfortably in St Kilda’s best handful of players, for mine. Limiting the influence of a player like Bont, particularly given recent form, cannot be something easy to do, but for jack Steele, it is all part of his day at work.

Next week he’ll likely make the acquaintance of Clayton Oliver, which will be worth watching all by itself.

NATHAN BROWN AND JAKE CARLISLE

The young forward line of the Bulldogs really didn’t have a chance if their mids kept bombing the ball long. Aaron Naughton needs a good run and jump at a contest, and Josh Schache needs a fair bit more than that to have a significant impact, but the pairing of Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle gave them no such thing.

Carlisle was an intercept marking beast, claiming ten overall intercepts for the game. He was ably supported by Brown, who probably made a permanent dent in some of the footballs with how hard he was punching it in contests.

Brown is an unsung defensive hero. He has racked up double figures in spoils/one percenters in eight of the 12 games he’s competed in this season, and was unbelievably dropped for the Saints’ game against the Giants. I believe the former coaching regime believed Jeremy Cameron was too quick for him.

Cameron kicked six on Brown’s replacement.

There are several real hard workers in the league that get love, and Nathan Brown is one of them. I’d love to slot both him and Sam Reid from GWS into any side I was building from scratch, because you know what you’re going to get from him.

EASTON WOOD

The Bulldogs captain was resolute in defence all game, and provided some form of stability within the chaotic nature of this contest.

Wood, who I really like due to his hard line stance on gambling in footy, racked up 23 touches and ten marks as he patrolled the half back line for the Dogs, and his ability to intercept, and not just intercept, but clunk one-grab marks as intercepts, pulled the Dogs out of the fire on more than a few occasions.

Wood is probably one of the underrated and understated captains in the game at the moment, but his actions in this contest spoke volumes about his leadership.

 

HUNTER CLARK

A career-high 26 touches came at an excellent time for the second year star as he did almost everything right to impress his new coach.

He ran forward to snag two goals and was instrumental in the Saints’ run and carry game, racking up 533 metres gained as he sliced and diced through the midfield.

Clark is one of those players the Saints expected to see significant improvement from this season, but his +2.38 disposals per game is probably a little less than most Saints supporters would have liked to see.

His ability to get and go is a huge strength, and if used properly, should see him become a damaging weapon, whether he plays off half back, or on the wing.

JACK LONIE

He really could’ve had a huge day, couldn’t he? He had three goals in the first quarter, and the snap he missed was very gettable by his standards.

Hell, that snap was gettable by my mate Joe Ganino’s standards… and believe me – his standards are incredibly low. You don’t want to know how far I’ve seen him stoop at times in his life. Really, really low standards.

Anyway, Lonie finished with 4.3 for the afternoon, and really could’ve had six as a fair return. He added 20 disposals and eight marks, compiling the kind of small forward game the Saints would usually only ever receive from Jade Gresham or Jack Billings…minus the goals.

The challenge now for Lonie is to repeat the performance, or at least get close to doing so. When Lonie was in the side earlier in the year, the Saints were 4-2. Now they’re 1-1 with him back. An overall record of 5-3 with Lonie in the team speaks volumes about his value…

… if people choose to listen.

THE BAD

JASON JOHANNISEN

I don’t claim to see everything. I am not some one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I miss things and things drop under my guard at times.

But what I don’t miss are costly mistakes and huge turnovers, and without looking too hard at my notes, I can count three of those for Jason Johannisen this afternoon. And they all resulted in St Kilda goals.

JJ can be a hugely potent weapon, and when you can get him off the chain and running through the middle, he strikes fear into the hearts of both opposition coaches and players. The supporters probably shit themselves a little as well, to be honest.

But when you have the ball just 14 times for the game, turn it over five times, and have three goals resulting from those errors, you become less of a potent weapon, and more of a loose cannon.

Here are three instances where JJ cocked things up royally this arvo.

  • Membrey goaled after a poor handball from JJ was intercepted by Gresham.

  • JJ turns it over by foot which allows Hunter Clark to run back the other way and slot a long goal

  • JJ drops a mark (albeit with Tim English getting in his way) allowing debutant, Doulton Langlands to gather and snap a goal.

Johannisen was a liability today for the Dogs. Some intelligent ball use and some timely run and carry could have swung the momentum in the Bulldogs’ favour. Instead, JJ hammered nails in the coffin of his own team’s finals chances on several occasions, and thoroughly deserves his spot here.

LACHIE HUNTER

Interesting that Lachie Hunter had such a hard time getting into the game early on. With Caleb Daniel returning to the role of half back sweeper and preferred kick, Hunter looked a little lost, particularly after amassing 34.5 touches per game over the previous fortnight.

14 touches for a player of his talent is not good enough, but as a man largely without a position, I wonder whether Hunter is actually a better fit in the role that Daniel has made his own?

Hunter is better at matching up than Daniel, who is a bit of a defensive liability when forced into aerial contests. Hunter will at least be able to contest without giving free kicks away – most coaches are more than aware that when Daniel if forced into a one on one, all their team has to do it kick to the advantage of their teammate and it’s all over.

Hunter is a different kettle of fish.

Not only will he contest, but he is very good at ground level and has great disposal as well. Part of me wonders whether Daniel could work as a pressure forward/half forward where he can’t be exposed and his good ball delivery could be used better.

Alas, these now seem like questions for 2020 planning as the Dogs blew it today.

THE UGLY

THIS IS WHAT IT TAKES?

I liked Alan Richardson. I like Brett Ratten. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but when a coach is sacked (or resigns… wink wink) I hate that the team comes out and plays like A-grade students immediately after looking like they were going to be kept down to repeat a year for the past month of footy.

Ostensibly, this is the same team that was beaten by Brisbane, Richmond, North Melbourne and Geelong by a combined 165 points over the past four games, yet they were capable of this?

I’m not saying the Saints are world-beaters, but even a blind man could see they were better than the performances they were dishing up this season. Injuries… yes, they had injuries. A tired voice in the coaching box… yes they may have had that as well. But this week they showed something they haven’t showed in a long while – heart.

And I just find it unfortunate that is takes a huge shake up to bring that sort of effort out of them.

 

QUICK BITS

If I were a footballer, I think I’d want to be Tim Membrey. He just every single tool you’d need to be a successful player. A beautiful pair of hands, a nice kick of the footy (and yes, I remember a couple of years back when he couldn’t hit the side of a barn wit the side of another barn) and just knows how to find space.

I’d lose the shit tatts, though.

Nice outing for Bailey Dale, and a career-high bag of five goals probably flatters his performance just a little, with two coming very late in the piece.

I didn’t peruse the stats all game for this one, and I was shocked to see Josh Dunkley as prolific as the stats indicate. I’m not sure he had a game anywhere near the level he did last week, but 37 touches, 19 contested possessions… he is having quite the month of footy, isn’t he?

That fall of Josh Schache was pretty brutal, and it was painful to watch him get to his feet, struggle toward the bench and then have to contest again on the half forward flank. Hope he’s okay.

Loved the physicality of Tim English on Jack Lonie in the third quarter. This is the sort of thing I’d love to see more of from English, but then again, when I like something that a player does, they usually get weeks for it.

Second nice outing for Jack Billings in a row. A couple of goals were the cherry on top of his 27-disposal day. Not a fan of that single tackle as a midfielder, however. Winning wallpapers over a lot of cracks, but in a loss, those are the stats that are singled out.

Where to now? Neither team are likely to play finals this year, and the Saints get a chance to really experiment for next season. Will Newnes play forward or can he make an impact on-ball. Does Ratten prefer Gresham as a mid or forward? If he is being considered as a permanent solution in the coach’s box, will he endorse or squash the Saints’ pursuit of another, lesser ruckman?

So may questions…

And for the Dogs, they get the Dockers at Marvel, and will be eager to atone for this week’s first quarter false start. Look, I thought that they could really give September a shake had they won today, but right now they’re in 12th spot, with a crappy percentage and five games remaining. Anything can happen, but right now, that anything looks to be the Dogs missing finals.

A shame too. I think they could have made a bit of noise if they got a finals game or two on their terms.