The Saints almost did it to their supporters again, didn’t they?

Up by about four goals half way through the last quarter, the Western Bulldogs threw caution to the wind and went on an all-out attack. It was wild, it was risky, and it was the sort of footy that can often pay dividends. They ran hard as the Saints stopped to a walk, and only a stellar effort across half back from Nick Coffield, some composure from Paddy Ryder and a late goal to Jarryn Geary staved off the Dogs’ late charge.

However, to speak of the game’s last ten minutes and ignore the remainder of the contest would be doing the Saints a huge disservice – they looked like winners for all but a few minutes in this one. They dominated the air, employed a chaotic defensive game and made it work, and benefitted from the ruck duo of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall taking control of Tim English.

Did the result flatter the Dogs?

Can the Saints fall asleep against Richmond and not be overrun?

With a finals win under the belt, how far can St Kilda go?

And what do we make of a Western Bulldogs team that played good footy for ten minutes and almost pinched the game?

I’ve got plenty more questions to ask – join me as The Mongrel asks the Big Questions stemming from yet another final with a cracking finish.

 

IS BRETT RATTEN THE BEST MATCHUP COACH IN THE GAME?

Did you like what he did in this one? I loved it!

Brett Ratten has always been a good coach – he just hasn’t really had a team for a number of years. Now, able to sink his teeth into the head coach role again, you can tell just how skilled he is in this department – he knows footy back to front!

Ratten knows where teams’ strengths are, where their weaknesses are, and how best to expose them. In this game, he circled the name of Caleb Daniel on the whiteboard, or ipad, or whatever they’re using now, and he looked over to his captain to not only shut him down, but hurt the Dogs on the scoreboard.

Jarryn Geary and Brett Ratten were able to do what no other team has figured out this season – how to capitalise on the mismatch that presents when Daniel plays defence. I don’t know whether this is a feather in Ratten’s hat, or whether I should just be bitterly disappointed with 16 other coaches, but none of them have made the Dogs pay at all.

Until now.

Geary did a great job in holding the little man accountable, isolating on him whenever possible and taking contested grabs. He dished one off to Tim Membrey after clunking a mark, and should have converted one of his own late in the first quarter as well. By half time, Luke Beveridge had seen enough and moved Daniel up the field to prevent Geary from manhandling him in the contest.

And then, he sent instructions to Geary on how to play Jason Johannisen. JJ had six touches after the break; three of them were effective.

But wait – there’s more!

The use of the ruck duo was masterful by Ratten, with the athleticism of Ryder and the bulk of Marshall making for a very tough day at the office. The pair stretched the young Bulldog, and their influence was evident in their contested marking numbers.

Between the two of them, they dragged down five contested grabs. English had none. Ryder also went forward and kicked two goals, one of them coming directly from a contest with English.

 

IS THAT THE BEST GAME WE’VE SEEN FROM DOUGAL HOWARD IN RED, WHITE AND BLACK?

Indeed it was, and possibly one of the best games of Howard’s career.

Allow me to dive down the Dougal Howard rabbit hole for a while. You’re more than welcome to join me.

A few years back, there were two young, star defenders emerging in the game. One was Brisbane Lion – long and rangy with a penchant for killing contests and intercept marking that which he didn’t get his first to. His name was Harris Andrews.

The other was a young Port Adelaide player, who revelled in smashing into packs and sending the footy flying with a big fist.

Between these two players, they own three of the top four games ever recorded in terms of one-percenters. Andrews had 25 in a game against Sydney in 2018. Howard had 22 against West Coast in 2017 and 21 against Freo in 2018.

But somewhere along the way, Howard’s defensive talents were disregarded at Port, and Ken Hinkley insisted he be played as a forward. Howard floundered in the role and when it became apparent Hinkley was set on Howard’s future as a forward, Howard became a little perturbed.

And rightfully so.

He was told to look for another home, and the Saints saw the oak tree in the accord, snapping him up in the same deal that netted them Paddy Ryder – more on him soon!

Back in defence, it took maybe seven or eight games for Howard to find his feet, but in this game, it was him controlling the defensive fifty like a man completely comfortable in his role once more.

He had 20 touches – a season and career-high, eight intercept possessions, ten one-percenters and a monstrous 15 rebound fifty disposals, which beat his previous best in a game by ten!

Howard switched responsibility for Aaron Naughton with Jake Carlisle for most of the game, alternating with time on the hapless Josh Bruce, but in terms of pure defence, Howard owned this game and gave the Saints a clear indication as to what he could become over the next couple of seasons.

I’m a big believer in Howard – I am pretty sure I pencilled him in as the recruit of the year when we did our predictions here at The Mongrel all the way back in March, and despite the great efforts of others in the league, I still reckon he could prove to be just that as the finals series wears on.

 

WILL THE DOGS GET SOME HELP FOR TIM ENGLISH THIS OFF-SEASON?

I understand he is working as a lone hand and doing a pretty impressive job of it, but Tim English cannot be expected to wage war against a two-headed monster like the Ryder/Marshall combination again.

Not if you expect him to win.

Whether it is Ryder/Marshall or Lycett/Ladhams, or even Naitanui/Allen or Grundy/Cox/Cameron, the Western Bulldogs need to look after their young star and get him some help this off-season. No more bolstering other positions – help Tim English!

I’ve watched him closely this season, and he has the potential to be one of the best and most skilled rucks in the game. Some would say he already is – I prefer to say he is well on the way, but the recruiting of the Dogs last off-season left a lot to be desired. They targeted Josh Bruce when going after Paddy Ryder would have made huge sense. They went after Alex Keath when Darcy Cameron was available (I like Keath – I am not knocking that decision) and as a result, English has been forced to battle uphill all season.

All things considered, he has done a great job, but with little in the way of help, I don’t know what the Dogs expect him to do when he is confronted with the scenario he faced in this game. If they don’t actively seek someone to help him out, they are effectively throwing him to the wolves.

Again.

 

WHERE DID AARON NAUGHTON GO FOR THE FIRST THREE QUARTERS?

Well, you have to give credit to both Jake Carlisle and Dougal Howard for the roles they played inside defensive fifty in limiting Naughton, but at the same time, it was his contested marking that allowed the Dogs the avenue to mount a challenge.

The Dogs were slaughtered in the air all game, and it was only when Naughton started clunking marks that they looked dangerous. Naughton took four contested grabs for the game and three of them came in the pulsating last quarter and though he was undoubtedly underdone and looked like he was wearing a tea cosy on his head, his attack on the contest is an indication that whilst a lot of the attention will go to what max King was able to do in the first half, Naughton is more than capable of making some noise of his own.

In 2021, no player is more important to the Dogs’ fortunes than Naughton. I think we have seen that Josh Bruce cannot be relied upon this season and who knows where Josh Schache’s career is heading? Naughton is the player that can lift the Dogs from one-and-done finalists to deep September contenders next season.

They just have to keep him healthy.

 

DID BEN LONG STEP OVER THE LINE?

I’m a fan on the physical nature of Ben long and thought he copped a suspension that wasn’t really commensurate with his action earlier in the season. Today, he collected Jack Macrae high as he came tearing in off the back of the square and given the nature of the hit, it will be looked at. He also came barrelling in and collected Dan Hannebery minutes later, proving that he does not discriminate based on race, colour, or guernsey being worn.

However, the moment I didn’t like from him did not have much to do with his physicality. It had to do with ill-discipline.

Lachie Hunter may have missed the resultant shot at goal (how costly is that in the wash up?) but Ben Long giving him a free shot at goal after gifting him a 50 metre penalty was almost unforgivable.

As I said, I like the line that Long walks, even if he trips over it now and again – I love someone who will throw his body into the contest and make an opponent think twice about standing in his way, but stupid acts that prove very little have to be stamped out of his game.

There was nothing tough about throwing Hunter to the ground. Nothing. In a game decided by less than a kick, it could have been so costly.

 

WHO WERE THE UNSUNG HEROES FOR THE SAINTS?

Jack Sinclair is someone who doesn’t get a lot of air time, but aside from one instance where he was a bit slow to release the footy, I thought he displayed some really clean hands under enormous pressure in defence. He picked up the lazy four intercepts and added four rebound fifties as he combined in a style of defence that I’ll talk more about in a second.

Between Sinclair and Hunter Clark, the Saints seemed to have two very handy defenders that are quite confident in terms of their own skill level. Clark’s run and carry, and ability to shrug tackles bought the Saints time to clear the area.

And of course, the captain…

There have been a few who have speculated that Jarryn Geary may not have been a best-22 player this season at Moorabbin, and there have been times when he has looked a step off the pace, but give the fella a job to do, and you can damn well bet that he will give you 100% effort to get it done.

I touched on it above – he was given the role to kill the Carlton momentum by shutting down Sam Docherty, and he did the same to Caleb Daniel in this one. As the Saints head into the game against the Tigers, who does he go to this time?

Bachar Houli?

 

WAS THE ACQUISITION OF DAN HANNEBERY WORTH IT?

How good is hindsight?

There have been times over the past couple of seasons where the acquisition of Dan Hannebery has looked like an absolute bust. Signed to a long term deal, he spent most of his first season either rehabbing or breaking down, and with problems cropping up here and there, some doubted he would have an impact on the 2020 finals campaign.

Brett Ratten knew he had to test out the veteran’s body last week, and threw him into the fray against the Giants. It was a move that paid off, as Hannebery got through the game and was vital to the Saints in the first half of this one.

He had 13 of his 20 touches in the first half, helping the Saints to a lead and giving them the springboard to launch in the third quarter. He looked pretty gassed in the last quarter, but will be much better for the run at this time of year, and his ability to win his own footy and drive the Saints inside 50 will be important against a Richmond team that loves the hard stuff.

This is where Dan Hannebery proves his value to the St Kilda team. This is where he repays the faith and rewards them for believing in what he can provide. If the Saints are to go any further this October, it will be due to the way Dan Hannebery provides some veteran leadership when things get tight.

Forget the soft tissue injuries. Forget the uncertainties about whether he’ll be a good long term investment. Dan Hannebery has the chance to deliver right now.

And the Saints need him to.

 

COULD CALEB DANIEL BE AN ELITE MIDFIELDER?

I covered the deficiencies of having him play defence, and really it’s been something I’ve been banging on about for a while… only to see it never happen.

Well, it finally happened and Luke Beveridge was forced to go to Plan B for the little guy… and it worked.

Daniel’s move onto the wing and then into the guts saw him win the footy, drift forward and really start making a huge difference in the game. His decision-making and quality delivery gave the Dogs a real kick-start in the last quarter and played a huge role in their rollicking comeback.

So… what’s stopping them from playing him in there more often? He is not afraid to get in and under to win the footy, can play as the release man and rarely wastes the footy. As good as he is across half back, by having him in the middle you avoid the dreaded aerial contests and open up the opportunity to have him delivering the footy inside 50. Yes, you lose drive from half back, but with Bailey Williams really making that role his own, the Dogs may be able to cover Daniel’s absence whilst reaping the rewards of his creativity through the guts.

I’m sure opinion will be split on this, but given what we saw from him in the last quarter – ten touches and six contested disposals, the Dogs could do with his skillset in there. His work with the footy may be the difference between winning and losing a couple of games in 2021.

 

IN THREE YEARS, WHERE WILL MAX KING RATE IN TERMS OF THE BEST FORWARDS IN THE GAME?

He’d have to be right up there.

Some blokes just have a presence, and in a well-structured team that kicks the ball to his advantage, Max King might be the next big thing. I suppose the follow up question is – Can the Saints be that well-structured team?

King tends to make a bit of his own luck, and if he can receive four or five high-quality deliveries to go along with his contested marking, we could be looking at the next dominant forward in the competition.

Watching him go about his business in the first half, completing losing a quality defender like Alex Keath on multiple occasions, it was as though we were watching a veteran use all the tricks in the book to bamboozle his opponent. King looks to be learning to use his body better to protect the footy from the closing speed of defenders and his second efforts look great. He may have missed the snap, but his gather, wheel around onto his right foot and shot at goal were the actions of a young man who knows he belongs.

He may not be the guy who wins a Coleman, but he has the potential to be the player that leads the league in contested grabs and becomes the focal point of a successful St Kilda side for ten years.

How many clubs would be dreaming about a player like him? The answer is 16 – Gold Coast already has one as well.

 

CAN THE SAINTS’ STYLE STAND UP TO THE TIGER FINALS PRESSURE?

I’ll tell you this much – if they come out and take 20+ contested marks against Richmond, there will be a few concerned looks amongst the Richmond coaching box, that’s for sure.

Look, a lot of people are already talking about the possibility of a Richmond v Port Adelaide preliminary final. They were talking about it before the Saints and Dogs even woke up to their game day. Yes, Richmond are an excellent team, and they have bullied their way to success in recent seasons, but those same people have very short memories.

It was only a few months ago that St Kilda toppled the mighty Tigers. It was way back in June, but surely people can cast their mind back that far and recall what happened, right?

Dan Butler ran riot in a performance that made Tiger fans rue his switch to the Saints. Jack Steele laid ten tackles and Ben Long played the hard, tough footy he is becoming known for. Membrey kicked three, Marshall hit the scoreboard and had his way in the ruck, whilst Dustin Martin had a very similar game to the one he produced last night against the Lions.

The Saints are being viewed as fodder for the Tigers to bounce back against by many in the media, but if they can replicate anything like their Round Four form, this is not the foregone conclusion everyone thinks it is.

Imagine the Tigers out in straight sets?

Dare to dream, Sainters… dare to dream.

 

BUT CAN THEY DO IT WITHOUT RYDER?

What a shocking time for a hamstring strain!

Just as Ryder puts together a blindingly good game in the ruck, his body betrays him – such a damn shame!

Of all the players the Saints brought into the fold this season, I reckon the least was expected of Ryder, but he turned up at Moorabbin looking lighter and more agile than he had been for a couple of years and worked his tandem ruck role with Rowan Marshall to perfection.

This game was sublime.

If not for him in the last quarter, the Dogs may have overrun the Saints. It was Ryder’s perfect tap to Dan Hannebery on the wing that saw the Saints drive forward, resulting in a goal to Geary late in the game. he followed up with a big contested clunk minutes later and won his own clearance not long after.

To see him on the bench after such a stirring performance… heartbreaking, particularly in the first finals win of his career.

However, the Saints are lucky they have this young star named Rowan Marshall to shoulder the load in Ryder’s absence. Marshall had a ripping 2019 and his work this year indicate that he is primed and ready to take the reins and guide his team in the ruck against Richmond. He’ll be facing a rugged warrior named Nankervis and will have to be ready for some rough stuff, but Marshall has a cool head, great hands and has the capacity to swing the momentum in the Saints’ favour around the ground.

Marshall will now be pivotal in the game – he has to stand up if the Saints are to have a chance against the Tigers.

 

WHAT DO THE DOGS DO WITH JOSH BRUCE?

Yeah, I’ve heard the jokes already – that Bruce played his most vital role ever for a St Kilda team this afternoon, but really, either Josh Bruce has to come back looking like Charlie Dixon in three months, or you have to wonder whether the Dogs  are pissing money up against the wall with this bloke.

He hit the scoreboard early in this one, then basically played the role of giving either of Howard or Carlisle a rest when they weren’t engaging Aaron Naughton.

Bruce is a tease – he had a bag of six for the Saints last year and a bag of six for the Dogs this year, but the gap between his best and worst is vast. You wouldn’t want to try jumping it on your skateboard – put it that way.

The Dogs are not having much luck with their key forwards. Schache looks like he’s lost when he plays – has no mongrel about him at all. Naughton has plenty of mongrel but keeps getting hurt, and Bruce… well, he just cannot get involved.

So, he has to have the biggest pre-season he’s ever done, come back in the best shape of his life, or he should get used to playing in whatever the secondary competition looks like next season, because with 12 games of less than ten touches, and 15 games with one goal or less, he is basically taking up valuable space on an AFL field and not doing much with it.

 

WHAT WAS THE ST KILDA DEFENSIVE STYLE CALLED IN THE SECOND QUARTER?

I’ll go with organised chaos.

Some of the handballs to teammates under pressure, little three metre kicks backwards, scrambles, tumbles, scrum-diddly-umptious toe pokes… the Saints were doing it all and by god… it was working!

The Dogs’ pressure was good and they were coming at the Saints, but blokes like Hunter Clark, Jack Sinclair, Callum Wilkie and their mates were just firing off these insane deliveries to each other that looked as though they were going to bring the team undone at any moment…

… only they didn’t!

I have to give the Saints some credit here – I am a creature of chaos, myself, and I love seeing teams take the game on, but I would not blame Saints if they had a few less fingernails and they all started drinking. Those handball chains in defence… they’re asking for trouble.

But if you can deal with the trouble, then I guess I should shut up, huh?

 

And that’ll do me – what a weekend of finals footy. Just makes you happy to be a supporter. Enjoy, Saints fans – that was a ripping win.

 

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