Looking at the scoreboard of this one, it is easy to pick the real winners and losers of the encounter.
This was a bashing – it was a mugging. Essendon were a gang of thugs patrolling a laneway and the St Kilda team were like a bunch of private school kids who wandered into the wrong part of town and paid for it.
Sans a couple of players, the Saints were beaten and pummeled all over the park as the Bombers came out with a point to prove and exposed a soft underbelly in this St Kilda team. The Bombers had the best runners, the best tacklers, the best forwards, mids and defenders, and with that stated, it should be pretty obvious that the Saints… well, they flat out sucked in this one.
Are St Kilda of 2021 the Melbourne of 2019-20? Did they think that a finals berth was theirs for the taking again this season and forgot about that all-important hard work component that every good team has to possess? Or are they so banged up and debilitated by their injuries that they are finding it hard to develop a good rhythm?
This will be an unpleasant read for Saints fans, but please… don’t blame me – I am just the messenger. Blame your team, who treated this game like it was a foregone conclusion and were dealt with proportionately as a result.
For the Bombers – after a terrible Round Two, you got the response you wanted. No Shiel, no Draper, no Caldwell… no probs. Essendon had a number of players that were down in Round Two burst back to life. Let’s cover them off with the winners and losers of the Bombers and Saints.
He was horrible in the game against the Power last week, picking up just two disposals in the first half in the type of performance that makes you question whether his heart was actually in it.
The criticism must have stung, as he put together arguably the best individual game of his career to date. Totalling 34 touches of the footy, ten clearances and ten score involvements, Parish was a force of nature against the lacklustre St Kilda mids. He danced around them when he had the chance and stood in tackles when he had no other choice, releasing to his teammates with a monotonous regularity. His two goal assists capped a fantastic day at the office for Parish as his clean disposal and great vision set the Bombers off and running on multiple occasions.
I’ve been shot down a few times on this, but I am choosing this as my hill to die on – Zach Merrett could win a Brownlow. Sure, the Bombers will have to string some pretty impressive games together for him to earn top votes, but his style and his delivery by foot are such eye-catching components of his game that even the blind guys running the show out there couldn’t miss it.
Merrett is one of the best outside runners in the game, and though he started plenty of contests in the guts, 28 of his 34 touches came uncontested. That may be as much to do with St Kilda’s deplorable defensive skills as Merrett’s hard run and spread, but it matters not – he can and will run all day to make good position and hurt teams if they cannot man-up on him.
Running at 82% efficiency, Merrett is at his best when he can lower the eyes and spot up a teammate inside 50. So many players panic in that situation, but you cannot count Merrett amongst them. The result of his patience and foot skills was three direct goal assists for the game.
Before I get into the meat of this one, I know that plenty of Ridley’s stats come by way of waltzing out of the goal square on kick ins and picking up easy stats as a result. The Saints kicked 14 behinds and Ridley took the bulk of those kick ins, but he still has to hit targets, and he still has to defend. That said… manipulating the system to your advantage and weaseling your way through technicalities is what separates us from the animals…
… except the weasel, I guess.
But you cannot weasel your way into 35 touches and nine intercepts. Nor can you weasel your way into ten marks for the game – that takes a huge amount of skill, and to run at 83% efficiency in the process indicates that the reigning Crichton Medallist is absolutely everything he is cracked up to be.
Ridley has done nothing to make Bomber fans love him any less this season. Already the golden child of the Essendon faithful, he is averaging 29.3 touches per game over the first three weeks, and a repeat performance at the best and fairest awards night seems likely at this stage.
Playing your old club can be tough. Nick Hind did it today and didn’t need to be interviewed by copious amounts of pseudo-tabloids pretending to be sport journalism to draw attention to it – he just went out there, donned his new colours and played a bloody blinder against his old team.
Yes, unlike Adam Treloar, Nick Hind didn’t pur his heart out out – he just did what he is paid to do, and that is play football and add some speed to the Bombers off half back.
He finished the game with 25 touches whilst running at 80% efficiency, and gave the Bombers plenty of run from defence. I can;t wait for the New Idea story on him in the next couple of weeks.
The Saints that actually showed up can be counted on one hand… even if you have a couple of fingers cut off and keep your pants on. Chief amongst them was Jack Steele.
Steele had 35 touches and seven inside fifty deliveries as he worked tirelessly to breathe life into the rotting corpse of this St Kilda side. He mist have looked around at the fumbling, bumbling mess of a team he now captains at points in this game and wondered how he got himself into this kind of mess. Whilst he attacked the footy, his teammates all decided to play the role of the sign-guy for the local council and watched him go about his business, refusing to help.
Someone should check the Collective Bargaining Agreement at Moorabbin – were they upset about not receiving penalties for working the public holiday or something?
Steele worked tirelessly in what was a clear lost cause for his team. If only a few others would follow his lead.
Five contested marks tell the story for Membrey, who once again worked his backside off for his team.
Arguably the best-performed Saint to this point of the season, Membrey worked up to half back to give the Saints an option before doubling back to goal. He finished with just one goal to his name, but his work ethic and application were first class.
JAKE STRINGER AND CALE HOOKER
Coming back from injury, Stringer looked up and about early in the piece and Cale Hooker gave Dougal Howard a tough afternoon at the office as the two forwards combined for nine goals for the Bombers.
It was fitting that Hooker had a bit of a giggle as Zach Merrett hit hi with a perfect pass inside fifty late in the game, as Hooker hobbled forward on a lead, sporting a bandaged thigh from a collision earlier in the game. These two, along with Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, feasted on the chaotic St Kilda defence and made their opponents look second rate at points.
The oak tree in the acorn, Bomber fans… look for the oak tree in the acorn.
Last season, Brayden Ham would just grab the ball and kick it as long as he could inside 50 every time he got it. He was pretty good at it, too. However, the modern footballer has many strungs to his bow, and Ham returned in 2021 as a stronger, smarter footballer.
His 25 touches still included five inside 50 deliveries, but he was more relaxed and patient in this game, ensuring he looked for targets to pick up two goal assists as part of his eight score involvements.
Ham had a career-high 25 touches in this one as he worked up and back from half forward to half back. He is becoming a player.
THE ST KILDA TACKLING COACH
So, at half time of this game, the Saints had amassed 11 tackles.
To put this in context, on Friday night, Hugh Greenwood had eight tackles in a single quarter of football. Why? Because he damn well gives a shit and applies himself at the contest. What the hell is wrong with this St Kilda team that translates to having just four tackles in the second quarter?
Every time they showed a clip of Brett Ratten in the box, he looked like he was watching a horror movie, and if you are a coach watching your team refuse to apply defensive pressure, you must feel like you’re watching a horror movie, too.
The Saints had 15 players with tackle or less in this game, which gives you an example of the rampant softness displayed by this team. And the guy who is next on the list is Exhibit A.
So, whose fault is it this time?
Were people not kicking it to Brad Hill again? Was it his horrible teammates’ fault that he wasn’t getting the ball? Can he get someone in the media to stick up for him again?
The act is getting old, and this garbage about everyone needing to be nice to Brad Hill is such a cop out for a bloke that was part of three premierships. Do you think he needed people to just hand him the footy back then, or do you think that once in a while, you know… he may have earned it?
He earned bugger all in this one, except disdain. One contested touch for Brad Hill in this one… which is one number higher than the total number of tackles he laid.
Hill should break out some footage of Andrew Gaff’s game against Port Adelaide that was played around the same time as his anaemic efforts. Gaff’s an outside runner as well – he loved to get and go, and loves when his teammates feed him, but he also goes and gets the footy – he had nine contested touches in his game. Brad Hill hasn’t had that many since Round 14, 2019, and it’s time things changed.
Last season’s revelation has fallen back to earth and cracked his halo.
Butler failed to have any impact on this game at all returning the following stat line for the first quarter – zero disposals, zero tackles.. zero anything – just a big line of bloody zeroes across the board!
He bettered that with one touch in the second quarter and by the time he touched the footy again, the game was effectively over. Butler has done a heap of work in the offseason. He’s done a lot of teasing, styling and brushing of that massive head of hair, but in terms of his game, he is now playing the sort of football that led to the Tigers deciding he was expendable.
Sure, he came out in 2020 determined to prove them wrong, but one season does not make a career, and right now, with under ten touches per game and one goal to his name through the first three weeks of the season, Butler is looking like a far cry from the player that helped reshape the St Kilda forward half last year.
More concerning for me – zero tackles inside 50 over the past two weeks.
He would have had to be watching this team today wondering where it all went wrong.
This team was supposed to be a contender this season. They were so resilient last year, so composed and so determined, and now… they look like a team that had a nice run for a year and have put the cue in the rack.
You get that from teams sometimes – thinking that they have done the work and they’ll be back the next year, but it never really pans out that way. Ratten looked shell-shocked in the box, and I normally rate him as a very solid matchday coach, but even a genius knows when he sees a team that is just not putting in.
11 tackles in a half was all he needed to see to know his team had let themselves down, and let him down in the process.
The big recruit. The big disposal winner.
The big disappointment.
I suppose I should not be too harsh on Crouch. In his first official hit out for the Saints, he was always going to be finding his feet, but I also expected the ball to find his feet now and again, too.
If we remove the game where he got hurt early in the piece last year, 15 touches is his lowest disposal count since Round Eight, 2016. Not exactly the dream start at your new club, is it?
The Bombers were electrifying in this game. Their running game was far too much for the Saints to counter, and with a 75 point win, supporters can start feeling good about this group emerging. The kids were solid and the veterans looked switched on. Of course, they were playing against 20 witches hats plus Jack Steele, Tim Membrey and Jack Higgins, so factor that in before you start booking finals tickets, okay?
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