As Jack Petruccelle slotted his fourth goal to take the margin out to 33 points, there was an uneasy feeling amongst St Kilda supporters.
After a couple of weeks where the performance of their team was well below expectations, it looked as though they would roll over and allow the West Coast Eagles an easy victory.
And then it happened.
The pressure intensified, the contests become more ferocious, and the Saints started to make life a little more difficult for their opponents. There were no more easy outs, no more loose players and no more easy possessions. The West Coast Eagles did not like it at all.
The Saints sensed it and upped their workrate, hitting contests hard and sticking their tackles. Under the relentless pressure, West Coast’s polish deserted them. Their composure vanished, and their acclaimed kick-mark game went south. They found themselves in a battle with a team that simply wanted the football more. And they capitulated.
The Saints turned a 33-point deficit into a 20-point win that renewed hope in the 2021 season and instilled a belief in the team that may have started to fade in the early weeks of the season. This was the St Kilda their supporters were hoping for. This was the team the Saints were supposed to be. And this was the side that were too much for the West Coast Eagles.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE LIFT – PART ONE
Who was ready to jump off the Brad Hill bandwagon?
*The Mongrel sheepishly raises his hand…*
One swallow does not make a spring, and one game where Brad Hill works his backside off for the betterment of his team does not excuse the majority of his form in St Kilda colours to date, but even if you’ve been sceptical, you have to give credit where it’s due – he was the best wingman on the park in this game.
Hill set the scene early on, matched up against Liam Duggan and then Andrew Gaff, with the second name mentioned being the clash I was most looking forward to. You see, Gaff had poor form prior to last week as well, but he was able to break the shackles and play a huge role in the Eagles’ win over Port Adelaide. His running power matches that of Hill in terms of endurance, so I was looking forward to seeing how this would play out.
It played out Hill’s way.
I have been critical of Hill not wanting to win his own footy at times as a Saint, and I hated the narrative that he needed his teammates to get him more involved. For mine, if he was running to the right spots, he would involve himself, irrespective of what his teammates were thinking, and even with the Eagles getting on top in the first half, Hill was one of the Saints’ winners.
He hit the game like a man with something to prove and notched 15 of his 26 touches in the first half. His kicking fell away a bit as the pressure ramped up, and he did have that horrible turnover in the goal square due to Jamie Cripps’ pressure, but his early-game delivery by foot was spectacularly good and resulted in scoring opportunities for his teammates.
If we are looking at the Hill v Gaff clash on the wing, Hill takes the points, and does it quite easily, as well, which surprised me. Gaff finished with 21 touches, but with just 121 metres gained, he averaged just under six metres per possession. Hill was just under 20 metres per possession. I know which I’d rather from my run and carry man.
THE LIFT – PART TWO
One of the big dips in St Kilda’s 2021 production has come from Dan Butler, who was struggling to get involved in anything of note up forward for the Saints through the first three games.
After such a fantastic 2020 campaign, where he was incredibly unlucky not to be named to the All-Australian team, Butler would have been looking to make a big impact early on this season.
Only, it didn’t occur.
Over the first three outings of the season, Butler was averaging just over eight touches per game and had just one goal to his name in total. He was St Kilda in a nutshell – all that worked so well in 2020 just was not clicking this year.
But you never know what can happen when the ball starts bouncing your way, do you?
Butler burst to life at exactly the same time the Saints did, adding two goals to his tally in a blistering third quarter blast that saw him collect ten touches and kick 2.2, igniting the Saints to the point people in the crowd looked like they were going to wet themselves. He was quick, he was clean and he was dangerous… just like Joe Ganino (except for the clean part) and in one quarter of footy, reminded everyone why he was such a highly prized recruit after his time at Richmond came to an end.
Butler’s contributions to this St Kilda team, along with the manic pressure of another former Tiger, Jack Higgins meant that there was simply no time for the West Coast defenders to settle and look for a good option coming out of defence. With seven tackles between them, the two small forwards made a bit of a statement in this game, and in doing so, demonstrated just how valuable pressure forwards can be.
MEMBREY V SHEPPARD
I loved watching this match up, and though Membrey finished strong – hell, the entire St Kilda team finished strong – there can be no denying that Brad Sheppard is one of the few Eagles that played his guts out for the entire game.
Membrey finished with 14 disposals and nine marks, but six touches and five of those marks came in the last quarter when the supply to the forwards became irresistible.
For his part, Sheppard had five intercepts, seven rebound fifties and nine spoils as he shadowed the St Kilda forward at all times. You’d go so far as to say that Sheppard was the clear winner in their head-to-head clash until the last quarter, when the Saints put their foot on the throats of the Eagles, but given the result and the way Membrey finished the game, you’d be hard-pressed to state that Sheppard remained the clear winner after the final siren sounded.
That said, I’d still give the West Coast defender the nod on points given how often the ball came Membrey’s way in the last and how little help Sheppard received from his fatigued teammates.
WATCH THE THRONE
During the week, I published an article for our members talking about the King Brothers and how, to date, they’d strictly been mark-kick men, with little in the way of second efforts at ground level. In watching both players, it appeared to me as though unless the ball was going to head to either of them lace out, you were not going to get maximum effort from them.
This was backed up in the second quarter when Max King opted not to contest a high ball on the wing, arriving a little late to the contest after failing to accelerate to get there.In a rare moment of commentators shaming a player, Garry Lyon actually pointed out the lack of effort, and really, to that point, lack of effort was a term that could have applied to the whole St Kilda team.
Sure, King started well, with three goals in the first quarter, but there were instances where he looked just as described both in the article and by Lyon – lazy unless the ball was directly to his advantage.
Did something click in the second half? Did Brett Ratten pull him aside and tell him what he was offering was not good enough? Did someone get word to him that his lack of effort was being discussed on national television? Because his attack on the contest after half time cannot be questioned. He hurled himself into marking contests with reckless abandon and crashed backs to bring the ball to ground, resulting in his small forwards running onto the footy and hitting the scoreboard.
THAT is what we’ve been waiting to see from Max King. With 5.2 to his name and a couple of goal assists to boot, he very easily could have ended up with six or seven – his two misses in the third quarter (maybe due to fatigue?) were both very kickable.
Many have speculated that Max King is a future Coleman Medallist and watching him when he is switched on, I find it difficult to dispute. The key for him going forward is to stay dangerous, even when that first effort doesn’t work – his step through traffic at ground level in the last quarter should be enough to reassure him he has the tools to do it all, every single week!
IF KING KICKS FIVE, CAN I STILL PRAISE BARRASS?
You’re damn right I can – I own the website.
Yes, we had Max King slotting goals at a career-best clip in this game, but I cannot help but love the way Tom Barrass went about his work as an interceptor in this game. King got on the end of a couple on re-entries on turnovers, which made me really feel for Barrass – he’d done almost everything right, but was caught out due to poor disposal… which is ironic because it was his poor disposal that led to Jeremy McGovern being caught out and cost his team a goal…
… but I digress.
Barrass’ work in the air was superb. He had 11 intercept and nine spoils as he drifted over to help impact contests and for the most part, did not overstep the limits of his skillset.
Except for that backwards kick to McGovern.
Speaking of Gov – that was the best defensive general role I’ve seen him play in a while. With 22 touches and nine intercepts, he ruled the skies at points, but some of his disposal was rushed and untidy, resulting in eight turnovers… eek!
When you look at the way St Kilda has recruited over the past couple of seasons, you see a team that has a vision. They understood the areas that required improvement and went about rectifying them.
I’ve already covered the game of Brad Hill, above, but there were other new-ish Saints that stepped to the fore in this game.
The combative nature and hard run of Zak Jones was an early-season standout in 2020 at his new club, but after injury, Jones fell back to the pack somewhat – still effective, yet not as potent… just like Joe Ganino after the first 30 seconds with a lady.
However, Jones’ application in this one was top notch as he collected ten clearances amongst his 26 touches. He drove the Saints inside 50 on five occasions and did not hesitate to lay a body on anyone he could find.., again, very Ganino-like.
Brad Crouch started his St Kilda tenure in less-than-stellar form. Whilst not terrible, he was not the player that made him such a reliable midfield force at Adelaide, and some questioned his application when the ball wasn’t coming to him on his terms. In short, people wanted to see him earn the footy.
And that is what he did in this one.
Crouch laid 12 tackles – the sixth time in his career he’s hit double-figures in that category. His nine first-half tackles helped keep the Saints within touching distance of the Eagles, as he refused to lay down.
It’s funny – as everyone else lifted the intensity, Crouch started to feel he had the freedom to hunt the footy more. He had ten touches in the last quarter, but did not add one tackle to his totals – his mates were onto that aspect of the game by then. As a matter of fact, the Saints were ferocious in the second half, nailing tackle after tackle on their opponents who simply could not find space to get a disposal away effectively.
And then there is Dougal…
Dougal Howard’s work on Josh Kennedy will probably fly under the radar in this one, but with the Saints applying what could only be termed as average pressure on the Eagles’ mids in the first half, Kennedy was getting pretty bloody good service.
Once the midfield pressure was dialled up, the contest became a contest controlled by the defender, as he picked up eight intercepts and ten one-percenters in another polished defensive display. Kennedy had just two touches inside 50 in the second half as the walls closed in around him and Jack Darling, thanks in part to the great pressure in the middle, and also the close checking of my man, Dougal Howard.
MARSHALLING THE TROOPS
It is no coincidence that the Saints’ rally coincided with the return to the game of Rowan Marshall. The ruck position was such a strength for St Kilda in 2020, with the tag team of Marshall and Paddy Ryder combining to wreak havoc on games and work over the lone ruck facing them.
It seemed a strange move to acquire Ryder, given the year before, his combination with Scott Lycett at Port Adelaide fell over in a big way, but Brett Ratten made the combination hum. You must remember, this occurred at a time when two rucks in the side was a rare occurrence, and following the failed Ryder/Lycett combination, it was a bit of a risk, particularly considering how well Marshall was performing as a solo artist.
However, as we commenced the 2021 season, injuries to Marshall and the absence of Ryder meant that the Saints were running very thin in terms of rucks.
They got one back today, and though it looked as though they may lose him again as he hobbled off, Marshall returned to the fray in the second half and his hard work both managed to keep Nic Naitanui busy, and paid dividends with nine disposals and five marks upon his return.
The big Saints clunked three contested grabs as he evened up the score in the ruck duel, and though he did not have the same impact in terms of hit outs, his work around the ground added a heap to the St Kilda on-ball unit.
The Saints may not have access to the ruck tandem that aided them in leaping up the ladder in 2020, and when Ryder returns is anyone’s guess, but with Marshall back in the team, he makes others walk a bit taller. He took on the biggest dog in the yard and managed to sink his teeth into his flesh on a couple of occasions in the process. Marshall may take a little while to work back into top form, but his presence alone is enough to prevent even the best in the business from taking over a game, and that is exactly what he did in this one.
And once he set the tone, the Saints fell into line behind him.
Now and again, something happens in your life that reminds you of a time that wasn’t so great. You run into the mistake you made at 2am at a club… a photo you posted online comes back to haunt you… you know, those moments.
Jack Darling had one of those moments in this game, as memories of his failed Grand Final marks came back to haunt him.
Half way through the last quarter, the Eagles desperately needed something to stay in the contest. The momentum had swung wildly to St Kilda in the third quarter and continued on into the last and West Coast needed one of their stars to stand up.
With the midfield fumbling and unable to get a clear possession, the long ball to the top of the goal square provided Darling with the opportunity to be the man for his club. He did all the hard work, positioned himself beautifully and got rid of his opponent, only to do his impersonation of alligator hands and drop the mark 15 metres out.
The Saints cleared momentarily but kicked out on the full, giving Jarrod Brander a chance to atone for Darling’s error from the boundary, but he missed his shot around the corner. In truth, he shouldn’t have been having that shot – it should have been Darling kicking a goal from 20 metres out directly in front, but once again, for whatever reason, Darling muffed a mark right in front of goals when the Eagles needed him.
The bloke is a monster, and on the whole, what he provides positively far outweighs the negative – I just wish he’d stop dropping easy bloody marks!
THE OLD MAN’S INJURY
It’s a horrible feeling when your calf just goes “twang” despite the fact you’ve done everything right in terms of your preparation. Once you get past 30 years of age, things like that just happen out of the blue, and it happened to Shannon Hurn in this one, forcing the West Coast Eagles defence to scramble.
Hurn had just one touch in this game before hobbling to the bench to ice up, which was a damn shame as his early-season form has been off the charts. 78 of his 82 touches prior to today have hit the target, meaning that Hurn was controlling the kick in duties for West Coast with such precision that he was an automatic tick whenever he got the ball in hand.
At this stage of his career, you’d think a month on the sidelines would be on the cards for the former captain, which, as a neutral fan, makes me sad – he is one of the best defenders to watch in terms of decision making and making his disposals count.
I DON’T LIKE THE PRESSURE BUT THE PRESSURE LIKES ME
I want to point out a couple of blokes here that really let their team down in the last quarter. With poor hands, rushed disposal and a mindset that looked more akin to timid than determined, both Tim Kelly and Dom Sheed just could not impact the contest as the game tightened up.
Even with some good service from Nic Naitanui, these blokes wilted in the face of the St Kilda pressure.
Sheed had three touches of the footy in the last quarter, with just one being counted as effective. Whilst the Saints bodylined the footy, Sheed seemed content to reach for the ball and try for dinky little tap ons to try and win the ball. In a high-pressure game, that just does not work.
His running mate Tim Kelly, had four touches, with just his first one counted as effective, courtesy of a perfect Naitanui tap.
With Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo sidelined for a while yet, these two are being relied upon to stand up when it counts and make the Eagles’ midfield hum, but it seems that unless they are being fed a direct hit to advantage, they did not want to put their hand up and throw themselves into the action.
I know Sheed is a West Coast favourite – how could he not be after the highs of 2018? I know Tim Kelly has a huge throng of supporters – he was supposed to be the cherry on top of this West Coast midfield cake, but between them, having seven touches for just two effective disposals in the final quarter of a game on the line is not good enough. Yeah, they had plenty of mates, but these are the midfield ball winners that are supposed to feed the others, and in this case, they seemed to drop their spoon.
WAS THIS THE GAME TO START THE FIRE FOR JACK PETRUCCELLE?
You’d want to hope so, as he gives the Eagles something they don’t have up forward, in blistering pace at the fall of the ball.
West Coast have the tall timber of Kennedy, Darling and Allen, the enigma known as Liam Ryan and the craftiness of Jamie Cripps, but a lightning-fast small man who can hit the scoreboard on the fast break… Petruccelle could be just what the doctor ordered for this club.
With four goals in this game, he didn’t quite announce himself fully, but he is up at the podium, clearing his throat – he needs to back up this outing with another good game to cement a spot in this Eagles line up.
HOW COULD YOU LEAVE JACK STELLE OUT OF THE ‘GOOD’ SECTION?
Oh shit… why did I call myself out on this.
He should have had his own section, so he can have it here. He has stood up for the Saints when no one else did over the past couple of weeks in losing efforts, and he was standing up again in this one. Even when the Eagles were on top, it was Steele playing the captain’s role and ensuring the Saints stayed in touch.
He had 18 touches in the first half and added three clearances and three tackles to breathe life into a St Kilda team that looked as though they just might get a belting at one stage. There are a few captains in this league who lead by example – Trent Cotchin and Joel Selwood have done it for years and despite what you think of them, they have the utmost respect from their peers. Jack Steele is heading down that path as well.
His 33 touches led the game and his 17 contested possessions were as rough and tough as you’ll see. A great leader, and a great game.
IS JACK SINCLAIR TO HALF BACK ONE OF THE MOVES OF THE SEASON?
I liked what I saw of this in the pre-season, and the way he attacked the footy early in the game was very impressive in this game.
He seems to relish the openness of the game when allowed to run in a direct line at the ball, and whilst the sample size is a little too small to make any grandiose statements at the moment, the signs are promising for Sinclair. Drifting forward to collect two direct goal assists, Sinclair is one that forwards will have to keep tabs on – if you let him off the chain and don’t chase, he will hurt you.
JAKE WATERMAN IS A DEFENDER NOW, HUH?
Apparently so – maybe a victim of the Kennedy/Darling/Allen combination functioning so well earlier this season?
With the Eagles struggling to get clean hands on the footy, I would not have minded seeing him as the hit up half forward in the last quarter. I’m not too sure he felt at home in defence, and forwards are like sharks when they sense uneasiness in a defender.
He only had one touch after half time, and with Oscar Allen being thrown behind the footy late, Waterman hitting up the wings on the lead may have offered something a little different to the “kick it high and hope” exits the Eagles tried repeatedly.
IS THIS COLLAPSE A WORRYING SIGN FOR THE EAGLES?
Hell yes, it is.
Good teams don’t give up leads like that. They should have stepped on the throat of the Saints, but they helped them back to their feet and were trampled on soon thereafter. Credit must go to the Saints, as their application from halfway through the third quarter was excellent, but the Eagles looked meek, weak and timid in comparison.
I whacked a couple of the main offenders above, but there are several others that should be having a good, hard look in the mirror after this game and asking themselves whether they’re serious about contending, or happy just performing in front of the home fans and living the life of AFL footballers.
I should have probably given Jimmy Webster a section of his own as well. Given the role on Liam Ryan – one of the toughest matchups in the game due to his blend of marking and ground-level skills – Webster performed admirably, stifling the damaging Ryan and holding him to nine touches, whilst picking up 20 of his own.
I talked up the influence of Marshall above, but Nic Nat was solid again – he just didn’t have those standout moments where he took the game on and put the team on his back. Seven clearances as a ruck is no joke, however – Nic Nat is a force.
Really solid outing from Daniel McKenzie, who was shunted around a bit before settling on the wing in the second half. With 21 touches, including ten effective ones in the tight second half, he was a significant contributor, and it was great to see him slot a goal.
Was it really “too far” against Liam Ryan in the last quarter? Didn’t look like he had run too far to me – I was wondering what the hell the free-kick was for – I think the umpire may have got over-excited. It was a bit of a gift for Max King.
And that might have to do – massive comeback and monster win for the Saints, whilst the Eagles will be lamenting what went wrong after being five and a half goals up halfway through the third quarter.
Next week, the Saints get the Tigers, whilst the Eagles head home to host the Pies in what becomes a vital game for both clubs as they jockey for position.
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