Gold Coast v St Kilda – What Happened?

 

I’m not entirely sure what day it is anymore, and the mass proliferation of live football on the screen hasn’t helped that particular malady. Increasingly, footy has gone from loud noise to background din, and after Wednesday night’s… lacklustre double-header, it seemed that what’s been described in some sectors of the media as a ‘frenzy’ or ‘Footymania’ had become nothing more than overload.

Not one to complain too much, though, I put my hand up to review this game, the second in another double-header evening, between two sides who’ve engaged in a series of close contests over the last two seasons. In fact, heading into this game, the last three times Gold Coast and the Saints had met were decided by no more than four points on each occasion. This game loomed as a fascinating one; for one thing it was the first time the King Brothers were playing against each other in the AFL, and for maybe the first time ever.

Looking more broadly though, St Kilda have been absolutely flying of late, having won their last three games and five of their last six, the one blemish being that loss to Fremantle where they relinquished a seven goal lead. Brett Ratten has his side playing a watchable brand of footy, and their new recruits have turned what was an extraordinarily ordinary side into a side which would sit in second spot on the ladder if they won this game.

On the other hand, Stewie Dew’s Suns have maybe dropped off a little since their barnstorming start to the season. After winning three games in a row to kick off the season restart, since losing Matt Rowell they’ve won just one of their last five games to have slipped back into the pack a little. Their saving grace has been their competitiveness, and even last week when GWS had the run of play for the majority of the day this new look Gold Coast side didn’t drop their heads as they may have done in seasons gone by. It’s almost certainly too soon to write them off from playing in finals seeing as how a win against the Saints would have put them level on points with the team in eighth, though they do seem to have lost a little of their spark.

In the best game the footy world has seen since… well, last Saturday, with the Saints prevailing in an entertaining contest over a Gold Coast side who lost no friends with their performance, here’s what happened:

 

King’s Cup

 

It would be remiss of me to write about this game without mentioning what was probably the focal point for neutral observers. At one end of the ground stood Max King, who made his debut in Round 1 this year and has played every game since for the Saints. He hasn’t yet stood up and torn a game to shreds but he also hasn’t really been blanketed completely in any game either, with a goal in all of his outings bar one yet never more than 10 touches. At the other end was Ben King, who played 14 games last year and showed the footy world what he has to offer with bags of four and three goals late in the season. This year has followed a largely similar script to his brother, with a goal in every game bar one.

To this encounter, then, and with the eyes of the AFL on the pair they managed to be the only players on the ground to not have had a disposal at quarter time. Funny how that happens. Both players had opportunities and crashed packs though, and brought the ball to ground for their side’s respective first goals. They also dropped marks inside 50 that were gettable, got pinged for holding the ball in near identical incidents and fundamentally looked like baby giraffes at times, before each player slotted their first goal from similarly questionable free kicks. It was, as I noted down at some point in the second quarter, a genuinely identical night for each twin at either end of the ground.

That was until Ben booted his second late in the second quarter to give the Gold Coast a lead beyond a goal after trailing by as many as 18 points earlier on in the quarter. On perhaps a tangential note, it was really encouraging to see the Suns not drop their heads when the Saints kicked away, and I’ll get to that shortly.

 

Overall, I don’t necessarily think either player could walk away with total bragging rights at family Christmas (if we’re allowed to have a family Christmas this year). Ben kicked 3.1 from five touches to be the Suns’ most prolific scorer and take his season tally to 16, while Max managed just one goal from six touches though he did also lay four tackles and his team won the game. On that basis, the inaugural King’s Cup is awarded to the Saints, but hopefully this is a matchup we can watch for years to come.

 

Silver Service

 

My favourite part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was always Sir Michael Caine as Batman’s loyal butler Alfred. It is, of course, hard not to love Caine in any role he plays, but there was something intrinsically fun watching him play a character as storied as this particular member of the Bat-Family.

What does this have to do with this game? Ultimately, very little, apart from allowing me to talk about the best player on the ground, Dan Butler. Boom tish. I’ll show myself the door.

It was always said of Steve Johnson that he made the easy look nigh on impossible and the impossible look like shelling peas, and if that sentiment doesn’t sum up Dan Butler’s night I don’t really know what does. His set shot in the first quarter was, for want of a better word, truly revolting. It looked like he almost missed his boot, and he did almost miss scoring from a slight angle 30 metres out.

On the other hand, his work from both pockets was magnificent. First he managed to loop a snap under pressure right into the waiting hands of Jade Gresham in the goalsquare, who duly nailed their side’s second goal. Then, late in the second quarter with the Suns having opened up a nine point lead, Butler read the knock on from Ryder perfectly and dribbled home an almost perfect, left foot dribbling snap. In the third he roved a pack beautifully and floated home another snap from 20 metres out.

With the Suns having opened up a nine point lead again about halfway through the last, the Saints needed something from someone. It was perhaps unsurprising, then, that Butler bobbed up again, receiving a handball from Nick Hind and expertly bending home an outside-of-the-boot right foot bender off a couple of steps. Then, with the Suns pressing, it was Ryder again who put the ball out in front of Butler who managed to outpace the speedy Lachie Weller, though only just, take a bounce and just for extra measure dribble home a snap that ultimately proved the sealer for his side.

Did I need to run through all four of the former Tiger’s goals? Probably not, though if you haven’t seen them they are absolutely worth watching as, to be fair, are the highlights of this game. On what seemed a perfect night for footy, in what was a belter of a contest, the Saints needed some sort of spark and they got it from Butler, who turned in the best game of his career. It’s always tempting to reassess player movements post hoc, but for the moment let’s just all enjoy the season Butler is having, sitting a goal off the Coleman Medal lead.

 

High octane, but not high scoring

 

With many in the media talking about how rooted the game apparently is, Stewie Dew and Brett Ratten’s coaching styles combined to give us a real belter of a game. Both sides were looking to score at almost all cost, and endeavored to keep the ball in motion wherever possible. So why, you may be asking, if both teams were looking to score as I just asserted then, where there just 152 points kicked? Well, dear reader, excluding all of the obvious answers about shortened quarters and limited goalkicking prowess which is all fair but ultimately uninteresting, the answer lies in each team’s backline.

Firstly, I’m not convinced that high scoring is the equivalent of good footy. The best games this season (West Coast v Geelong, this one, GWS v Collingwood, etc.) have been around the 130-150 point bracket but when defence is a factor it adds a level of tension to the contest. What we haven’t seen much of in 2020 is balance between defence and offence but I reckon we got it last night.

For the Saints, Jake Carlisle was strong, with nine marks and six intercepts. Callum Wilkie took three contested marks to go with eight intercepts; Ben Paton, forever unheralded, had eight intercepts and was a big factor especially in the first half. However, the Saints’ best defender was Hunter Clark, whose development this season has seen him shape as a future captain of his club. Rarely flustered under pressure, it’s probably not unfair to say Clark stood as the difference between victory and defeat for Brett Ratten’s side last night. I think it was three times but it may honestly have been more where, late in the last and with the game on the line, his composure in the backline saved what almost certainly would have been goals against his side. Even in the last two minutes with the Suns streaming forward, his commitment to go for the ball fed Brad Hill, with the ball ultimately ending in Max King’s hands to ice the game.

 

At the other end of the ground, Gold Coast’s backline held up strongly. Jack Lukosius and Jarrod Harbrow were solid, with 16 intercepts between them, although the former’s awful kick in ended in the hands of Jack Steele right when his side needed to stop the rot. It was, however, Sam Collins who really kept his side in the game. It’s hard to believe he was delisted by Fremantle, to be perfectly honest. Having spent a year at Werribee, he was a handy addition to the club last year before coming into his own strongly this year, and after last night’s game he leads the league in intercept possessions. He had 10 of his own against the Saints, a game high, to go with six one percenters, in a performance which will surely see him in the votes.

 

Steele-ing the Limelight

 

St Kilda gave up a future second round pick for Jack Steele. That may have seemed overs, or adequate at least, at the time, but you would have been looked at with a questioning glance if you said it would prove to be unders. On Steele’s form this season, it absolutely was.

The former Giant had another excellent night, and behind Dan Butler will probably receive four votes in the Mongrel of the Year award. Quiet-ish in the first quarter with just the four touches, it was the quality of his disposals which was worth keeping an eye on, and he did manage to work hard to get on the end of a chain of disposals and kick a goal from the square. With just seven touches at the half, though, Ratten’s side really needed a lift from their main midfielder, who also looked to be performing a limited run-with role on David Swallow around the ground.

They got the lift they needed, in short. Steele finished the game with 21 touches, with seven in each of the last two quarters to go with an equal game high seven score involvements. When Steele did touch the ball, good things just seemed to happen, and while it certainly wasn’t his most prolific game in terms of disposals or tackles (five, still an equal team high) in the red, white and black, it was certainly valuable.

 

Hugh-ge in the Clinches

 

I, to this day, have no idea why the Adelaide Football Club let Hugh Greenwood leave for what effectively was a packet of peanuts. Talk about Adelaide’s cultural issues all you like but their midfield, the worst in the league right now, would look a lot different with this bloke and Jarryd Lyons, another man allowed to leave far too cheaply, in it.

I’m sure Gold Coast’s footy department and fans aren’t complaining, though. Rowell, Miller and Greenwood, when they were playing together at the beginning of the year, were the reason the Suns were soaring to the level they were, and with Rowell out the former Crow has taken his game to another level. Miller was solid last night, but Greenwood was probably his side’s best player.

Only Brandon Ellis had more than Greenwood’s 22 touches for their side, but no player on the ground had more than his 15 contested touches, nor his six clearances. He also laid five tackles and sent his side inside 50 on five occasions. Greenwood leads the league in tackles by a margin of 17 from Jack Steele, and it’s not hard to see why Gold Coast wanted to add him to their side; the grit he possesses has made their midfield much deeper and much harder than it has been in previous years.

 

Snaps Aplenty

 

Not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg in this scenario, but one of the most entertaining games of the year featured some of the best moments of the year in addition to the tension. While Josh Daicos is probably impassable for goal of the year, awarding goal of the game is nigh on impossible. All four of Butler’s goals were, to quote Bruce, special, while Rankine’s pair were exceptional; the first intercepting a handball at pace and sprinting inside 50, the second a snap over the head from the behind post with two minutes on the clock to give his side a sniff.

Wil Powell’s goal, the first of the game, was a belter, a snap across the body from deep in the pocket. Sean Lemmens’ dribbler in the second quarter was perfection in terms of both rolling it and goaling it, to borrow from Dwayne Russell. Even the passage leading up to Miller’s goal in the first, where David Swallow crashed through at pace and fed Rankine, whose kick to the aforementioned scorer was a thing of beauty, has a claim on goal of the night. Touk Miller’s second was a pearler too, floating home a snap

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the highlights at least of last night’s game do yourself a favour. It was a genuinely enjoyable game of footy to watch.

 

And Another Thing…

 

  • Having mentioned Rankine before, it’s worth considering his night. His 13 touches weren’t a lot, to be fair, but some of his moments were absolutely sublime. The hanger he took over Jack Steele probably won’t win Mark of the Year but you’d be betting on him winning that particular award before his career is done. His two goals were, again, exquisite, and his run down tackle on Ben Paton demonstrated he’s not just a one trick pony. I reckon he’s the kind of X Factor a club needs to win a flag, and with what Gold Coast are building I’d be prepared to bet on him taking home a Norm Smith Medal before his career is done.
  • At the end of the day, Gold Coast’s big deficiency in this game was probably self-belief, in addition to a lack of polish at times throughout the third quarter and late in the last. They won all of the important metrics, including the clearances by a margin of 15, as well as the contested possessions and inside 50’s, but a few of their players needed to be cleaner when they had the ball. I reckon they need more from Alex Sexton, who hasn’t really had the impact we know he can have. Kicked just eight goals in nine games now, after 39 last year.
  • Ben Ainsworth’s numbers may not have looked super special but he bobbed up across half forward a couple of times, and finished with three direct goal assists from his six score involvements.
  • Thought it was interesting that Paddy Ryder got to toss the coin in game 250 given his short service to the Saints, though I understand the rationale. Ultimately reckon Witts got the chocolates in the ruck, though Ryder’s pair of goal assists to Butler were obviously critical and Rowan Marshall had 17 touches at 100%, including three contested marks and a goal.
  • Haven’t even mentioned Jack Billings yet, who I thought was pretty good but probably misses votes here. 27 touches included 13 contested but he went at 67% and probably lacked the impact he’s capable of having. Still, a solid outing.
  • Do Channel 7’s commentators not understand the rules of the goal review? James Brayshaw asked, when the ARC were investigating whether Billings’ shot in the first hit the post, whether they had to prove if the ball conclusively didn’t hit the post to overturn the umpire’s call that it did hit the post. Truly mind boggling that that is a question still being asked.
  • Without making comment on the umpiring, I do want to isolate one incident in, I think, the third quarter. The ball was on the back flank, in the hands of a Saints’ player who had just marked it. The umpire instructed the Gold Coast player on the mark to come ‘back five metres’ repeatedly, before blowing his whistle to tell the player to go back further. When the player took three steps back, the umpire then told him twice ‘two more metres’ back. The Saints’ player at this point hadn’t moved. It was, I think, the most blatant 50 metre penalty I’ve seen, and yet the umpire who was right there didn’t pay it. It was a truly bizarre moment, and I think representative of the fans’ issues with the umpiring of the game at the moment, as the group as a collective seem to miss really obvious penalties whilst paying ones that seem questionable.

 

That’ll probably do me. Not sure I could really have done this game justice in writing. It was genuinely a belter of a contest, and as mentioned earlier the Suns will have lost no friends in the football world. Their list seems to finally be in a really good spot, and with Matt Rowell signing a contract extension they will absolutely be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later. They’re next in action next Wednesday night, taking on the Bombers in a game which certainly seems winnable at this point.

 

For the Saints, somehow, they sit second on the ladder. That oughtn’t be read as a poor reflection on them, though even the most ardent St Kilda supporter would find that surprising, surely. Brett Ratten has his side playing good footy, and if they can win two of their next three, against Geelong, Essendon and the Lions, then the lid will well and truly be off.