The Saints are going to the finals!

It’s been a long wait for St Kilda fans, but with a thumping win over the rudderless GWS Giants, the Saints are headed back to finals footy and it is thoroughly deserved.

There is a massive amount to get through in this one, so I will waste no further time with the preamble.

Here are The Mongrel’s big questions stemming from the game.

 

HOW DO WE RATE JOSH BATTLE’S CONTRIBUTION?

I’m leading with this because I know no one else will.

He was huge in this game. He finished with five touches and a goal, and if I leave it there, people who watch stats and forget about the game will be scratching their heads wondering if I have lost my mind (again).

But allow me to share another stat with you. In this game, Nick Haynes had no intercept possessions. That’s right – bugger all! Battle took on the role of disrupting Haynes in the role he has played so well all season and caused complete chaos in the process.

Missing Sam Taylor and Phil Davis has cut the GWS defence off at the knees this season, with Haynes pulling them out of the fire several times, but with Battle more than living up to his name, the Giants looked weak and inept at half back. You had guys like Connor Idun attacking the contest with panic, often electing to double fist the ball when marking it was the preferred option. You had Lachie Keeffe, who has been good in the backup role all season, forced to be a little more creative with the footy in hand – that was always going to end poorly.

The Giants had already lost Aidan Corr after he wandered out the door to start life at another club (it’s North Melbourne, right?)

But you know what else GWS didn’t have?

They had no Nick Haynes running free in and around defensive 50. They had no Nick Haynes flying in from the side to pluck off errant inside 50 deliveries. And they had no Nick Haynes running the ball out of defensive 50 like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.

Haynes finished the game with eight touches and five marks, but importantly registered goose eggs in intercepts and rebound 50s.

And you have Josh Battle to thank for that.

 

COULD JACK STEELE WIN THE AFLPA MVP AWARD?

I was gonna ask about the Brownlow, but that is unrealistic – he isn’t the kind of player that wins that award. But the MVP… I reckon players may be inclined to vote for him. They’re all sitting around in the hubs, they’re chatting with nothing else to do (that we know of) – surely the exploits of the AFL’s current best two-way midfielder would be a topic of conversation here or there?

Steele had ten clearances in this game – the second time he has broken the double-figure mark for the season after his 13 clearance effort in Round Seven against the Crows, and he added a couple of snags to his total as well. The only thing I can see holding him back in terms of winning the award is that players often don’t watch a hell of a lot of footy. They tend to see who plays well against them and go with that, and whilst Steele has had a ripping season, I reckon players remember blokes like Lachie Neale a little more.

I’d love to see Steele walk away with the award – at last count he was sitting fourth in the AFLCA votes but was too far back to catch Neale. As much as I hope for Steele,I fear that we may be seeing a Lion sweep the field and take home the awards trifecta this season.

The efforts of Jack Steele this season have been one of the primary reasons St Kilda have vaulted up the ladder. His hard work both with and without the ball are something that have stood out to me on multiple occasions. He had seven tackles again in this game. It was the tenth time this season he has registered 6+ tackles in a game.

It must have been extremely gratifying for Steele to have this kind of game against the team that really didn’t think they could fit him into their midfield all those years ago. Though the Giants still have plenty of talent in there and coming through, I reckon they might just be able to find a spot for him now.

 

ARE THE GWS RUCK STOCKS DEAD AND BURIED?

They’re shovelling the last bit of top soil on them as I type this.

What a disaster this has been. I love the way Shane Mumford goes about it, but he can barely jump over a piece of paper at the moment and the recruitment of Sam Jacobs has been one of the biggest busts of the season.

Jacobs was meant to be the answer to the problem that was painfully apparent in the 2019 finals – Mumford was tired and simply not up to it. However, by Round Four this season, there were major alarm bells going off for GWS. Mummy was back in the side and he has played 10 of the 17 possible games for the Giants this season, with Jacobs either out with niggles or being ‘rested’.

Rested for what; I do not know.

Mumford will now likely wander off into the sunset again whilst Jacobs will… rock back up for another season and continue to disappoint?

This was a major blunder by the GWS list management team. The Giants lost the hit outs 36-15 tonight as the Saints were +12 in clearances. With Big Mummy forced to match it against both Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall, let’s face it – they never had a chance.

You have to wonder – if GWS had come knocking for Paddy Ryder last off-seaason, would he have considered it? And how would that have changed things for these teams?

 

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO GET DAN HANNEBERY THROUGH THIS GAME?

Some might gloss over this, but with finals footy now the next step for the Saints, having someone who has been there, done that and wants to do it all again on the books could be the element the team needs to settle them when they face either the Pies or Dogs.

Or it could even be the Dees.

Hannebery didn’t set the world on fire in this game, but it as a wise move by Brett Ratten to test him out and make sure his body was able to stand up in a game that, whilst still having pretty significant ramifications, wasn’t as cut-throat as that first final will be.

For all his injuries, Hannebery has always been a warrior. He will put his body on the line and throw himself in harm’s way when it comes to winning a final. He was a monster at Sydney, with a 23.5 disposal average in the post-season. Whilst I am sure Ratten and company are not expecting Hanners to replicate those numbers over the next month or so, they realise that there will be moments where the Saints need someone to stand up and make a difference. They’ll need someone to stand up at a crucial time in the game and drag the team with him. And Hannebery is still capable of that.

I have to admit, I was pretty critical of the Saints’ recruitment of Hannebery. He looked like his body was completely shot after the 2018 season, and his 2019 did little to restore the faith. However, as a role player on this team, you have to recognise that he could have some significant moments in the finals and that would go a long way to justifying the commitment the Saints made to him.

Because it was a pretty big commitment.

St Kilda wanted Hannebery to bring a winning culture to this team. Yes, his body has let him down, but is there now an argument that he is doing exactly what he was recruited to do?

 

HOW IMPORTANT WAS MAX KING TO THIS ST KILDA TEAM TONIGHT?

Another one for the stat-lovers.

Max King had nine touches, five marks and kicked one goal. All done, stat-lovers? Okay, you can skip to the next player while I point out exactly why he was so valuable.

King contested and refused to be out-marked in this one. You hear the commentators talk about how St Kilda kick so many goals from 0-15 metres out – there is a very good reason for this, and he stands 202 centimetres tall and weighs just on 93 kilograms. Max King either clunks marks or brings the ball to the deck, allowing blokes like Dan Butler, Jack Lonie and even Jack Steele to run onto the footy.

Lonie’s two goals came directly from roving the predictable ball to the contest of Max King, and one of them could have easily bounced to Butler instead. The Saints’ smalls know where the footy is going, know where to position themselves and hit the fall of the ball hard.

King doesn’t need to kick big bags just yet, but you know within a couple of seasons, he will. He has already been able to hold his ground against seasoned defenders in his rookie campaign and as a couple more pre-seasons tick by, we are going to see King transform into a pillar of strength for the Saints to build around.

Whilst looking to the future is tempting, the foundation is already there and the craftsmen at ground level have worked out how to capitalise on what they’ve got, already. And if he can do what he did tonight in a final, it’ll give the St Kilda small brigade a chance to hit the scoreboard in a big way.

And there is no pressure quite like scoreboard pressure.

 

HOW GOOD CAN NICK COFFIELD BECOME?

He played a fair whack of time of Jeremy Finlayson in this game, and I reckon he had the GWS forward worked out pretty early in the piece – don’t let him get out the back and get goal side and you’ll beat him.

Coffield stuck to the task and the result saw Finlayson return a paltry total of five touches. Still, I suppose it was better than his Grand Final output.

Finlayson has just re-signed with GWS for a couple of seasons and he repaid the faith with an insipid display, only showing any legitimate desire to impose himself on the contest when his teammates miskicked the footy and he could chastise them for their efforts. Of course, they probably deserved it, but that’s beside the point. Perhaps the GWS coaching staff told Finlayson to treat this like a Grand Final and he took the instruction a little too literally?

Whack!

Coffield was able to zone off beautifully to collect seven intercepts, which was a game-high, and at just 20 years old will only get better over the next few seasons. Already so poised and composed with the footy, the contrast with the young GWS defenders at the other end was startling.

If you go back and watch the game again, compare Coffield to Connor Idun (the same age) and Isaac Cumming (two years older). Coffield looks like a natural – the GWS kids look like a pair of square pegs in a round hole. Idun, in particular, looked out of his depth and his continued efforts to punch the ball even when he was in best position to mark it created trouble for the rest of his defenders. There was more reckless double fisting in the GWS defence than in a Joe Ganino home movie, and that’s saying something.

 

COULD ROWAN MARSHALL BE THE BEST BIG MAN ON A PREMIERSHIP TEAM?

I know that in recent years there has not been a big man, apart from Tom Boyd I suppose, who has come out and put his stamp on a Grand Final, but watching Rowan Marshall go about his business, he strikes me as the kind of player that will be able to stand up in big games.

Why?

Because he is a competitive beast, ala Brodie Grundy, but he also has the ability to clunk a big contested mark, and when the Saints need someone to head forward, help out Max King and take a pack grab, Marshall seems the most likely to do so.

Now, settle down Saints fans – I am by no means stating that he could be that this season; I think that winning one final this year would be a huge achievement for this club, but in the near future, as Marshall’s game grows and his confidence develops along with it, I could see him being the kind of player that tears a contest apart in a five-ten minute stretch.

I really liked his work as a solo ruck in 2019 and was a bit worried with Paddy Ryder coming on board in 2020, particularly after the Ryder/Lycett combination fell over at Port Adelaide, but the ability of Marshall to go forward, spend time there and be both a marking target and a solid contributor at ground level have made this move a real winner.

Throw in the fact that Ryder is lighter and more agile this season than any of his time at Port, and the combination of the two is giving Marshall the time and support required to develop into something special.

Earlier in the year, I got my crystal ball out and predicted the 2025 AA team. Yeah, it was all pie-in-the-sky stuff, but right there in the ruck was Rowan Marshall. I am a big believer in what he will become, as well as what he already is.

Now, time to take over a final.

 

SO, WHO’S OUT THE DOOR AT GWS?

I expect announcements to be made in the next day or two.

We all saw how quickly North Melbourne was to trim the fat off their list – GWS would be well-served to do the same with AFL announcements about list sizes certain to drop soon..

Sadly, I think that was the last game we’ll see Heath Shaw play. He has been an absolute warrior for this club, and he opted to go around once more in search of that elusive second flag. He must have felt GWS were close last year (score line aside) to go through it all again, but watching him over the last month – he has actually shown up several of his younger teammates in terms of commitment and desire. At this stage of his career, Heater shouldn’t have to do that.

Of all the things that have disappointed me about GWS this season, seeing Heater go out with a whimper rather than a bang might be the biggest.

Zac Williams will probably be gone as well, leaving the Giants low on explosive run from half back and with Aidan Corr already signalling his intentions, the GWS defence may be tested.

And then there’s Jezza.

Though some have said there’s nothing to worry about with Jeremy Cameron, recent history dictates that players not re-signing during the season usually look elsewhere. Stephen Coniglio notwithstanding, most Giants fans would now be preparing for Cameron to leave. He has not looked anywhere near it this season, with just 24 goals for the year after winning the Coleman in 2019.

For context, after seven rounds last season, Cameron had 30 goals. He was held goalless twice.

This season he’s been held goalless four times in seven less games.

The writing is on the wall – I reckon Cameron’s gone. What will that mean for the GWS forward line? Harry Himmelberg will have to play a bigger role, particularly if Jeremy Finlayson continues his renowned disappearing acts, but I will be delving into these a little more deeply as we commence our season review articles in the next couple of weeks.

 

WHEN WILL BEN PATON GET SOME RECOGNITION?

Right now, actually,

I’m a big Toby Greene fan and when he kicked that quick snap goal in the second quarter, I thought he might be readying himself for one of those runs where he makes the difference in a game of footy.

Alas, that was not to be. And the reason it was not to be was the diligence from an unsung star in the St Kilda defence named Ben Paton.

Make no mistake – getting the better of Toby Greene is something that does not occur often. In a game where GWS’ season was on the line, I was expecting that whoever got the job on the Giants’ matchwinner was going to have his hands full. Paton did have his hands full, but he carried the load beautifully, emerging as the clear victor in their clash.

Paton didn’t have to get a heap of the footy. He didn’t have to intercept or rebound out of defence. He had one job to do, and it is one of the toughest in footy. And he did it well.

 

WHAT DOES A GOALLESS SECOND HALF SAY ABOUT THE GWS MINDSET?

You come into a game with your season on the line. You know you have to kick a big score. You set yourself for a big game.

You kick three god damn goals for the entire game. Three!

The Giants deserve to miss the finals. So often they have been accused of being a soulless club, but I thought we saw them shift that needle last year – their finals performances to earn a GF spot were wonderful, but this… this was tripe!

You can blame inaccuracy if you like – they should have had a decent score on the board in the first half – but when you need to kick a big score, heading out sideways to contests and the boundary line time and time again is a stupid way to do it. Entering your attacking fifty by deliberately kicking to the pocket is idiocy.

Yet that is what GWS delivered. They played as though they were protecting a finals spot rather than trying to earn one. They gave their forwards little chance to work into dangerous positions and you’d think that when they saw the benefits of going through the guts (Riccardi just unable to get his boot to the footy ahead of the lunging Dougal Howard) that they would have repeated the dose, right?

Nup… back down the line they went. No risk footy at its worst.

It made me wonder what the risk actually was; that they’d get beaten by ten goals? It almost happened anyway! That they’d turn the ball over and get scored against? So what? In a position where they had to score and score heavily, GWS gave themselves no chance and they deserve all the criticism that will come their way over the next few days.

This was insipid.

 

CAN THE SAINTS WIN A FINAL?

In the bottom half of the eight, I reckon anything can happen.

Can the Saints match it with the Pies? Yep! The Dogs? Yep! The Dees? Hell yeah!

Look, I am not sold that the Saints can get past the second week of the finals, but I am definitely on board with this team notching a win in week one. None of the other teams mentioned are putting together the kind of run that makes them seem like an irresistible force, and with the Saints knocking over the Giants in this fashion, you’d have to like their chances.

If I’d told you at the start of the season that the Saints will make the eight, would you have taken it? I reckon you would have. Well, I believe you could be capable of winning a final as well. And from there… well, it’s 2020 – it just might be the season where anything actually can happen!

 

That’ll do me, guys. Congrats Sainters – I am genuinely pleased for you all and hope that this weird season and finals series continues to throw curveballs at the competition and you guys can make some genuine finals noise.

 

Saints In The Finals – This Aint A Fairytale

 

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