Parochialism is great, but only when there is an alternate view you can use to balance things out. There is no way both sets of supporters ever walk away from a game feeling completely satisfied. There is always a winner and a loser… or two teams that played to a draw and no one is happy.
In order to capture the feelings and thoughts of both teams, irrespective of the outcome, Jimmy Ayres and Matt Oman went into watching this game as fans with eyes only for one team. Jimmy was all about the Saints, whilst Matt wore the brown and gold of his beloved Hawks.
Below is the dual review from two Mongrels with very different perspectives on the game. It’s the Saints and Hawks. Two Mongrels. Two points of view. One article. And one winner.
WHO WAS THE MATCH WINNER?
ST KILDA – In a game where St. Kilda’s effort from start to finish could be described as nothing other than… dare I say it? RAMPAGING! I could rightfully add half a dozen names to the match-winner column and each of them would be worthy, however, one player’s rigour and endeavour really stood out more so than most – Zak Jones.
Starring in what was by far his greatest career game to date, Jones was in absolutely everything from the get-go with his 37 possessions gathered at almost an even split between the forward and defensive halves, such was his resolve to take the game on and run, run and run some more. He finished the day with two goals, 37 disposals (16 contested) at 78% efficiency, 12 score involvements, eight marks, seven clearances and six tackles. His previous best being 34 disposals.
Whether it was at the contest-winning the ball or defending against Hawthorn’s press, Jones was hardly sighted being kept still. His gut running and refusal to be caught standing idle were apparent from the first to final sirens. Most running passages of play either including him linking up possessions, or running flat out to provide a shepherd or a target option.
Another small detail on his night that I’d like to highlight was his restraint. I’ve been a bit of a critic of Jones’ discipline all throughout his career to date. I love how hard he goes at the ball and at the opposition, but how many times have we seen him lose his cool and give away a frivolous free kick or unnecessary 50 metre penalty and thought: come on mate, just pull your head in. Well, there was very little of that sort of caper occurring tonight. Maybe that was part and parcel of his best on ground effort? Investing his time more into winning the ball and creating an option than looking for a player to get stuck into off the ball – regardless, I fancied his game.
HAWTHORN – Can I say the selectors for St Kilda? It was an avalanche all day, and so many Saints players put on clinics, so much so that it could be argued that the Hawks played them back into form.
There was Bradley Hill, who has been under so much scrutiny after a less than stellar opening to 2021. A player on as much money as Hill is earning should be performing a lot better. Today, the Hill of old resurfaced, and time and time again he charged off the half-back line, gathering ample ball to drive the Saints forward. Today he amassed 27 disposals (at 85% efficiency), and had 10 score involvements and six inside 50’s.
But honestly, the best player by a country mile was Zak Jones. So much so, that commentators remarked that Jones could’ve been awarded the three Brownlow votes at halftime, such was his dominance. It bordered on pathetic how much space we gave him, not just in the guts, but all over the ground. Now, Jones isn’t the best midfielder on St Kilda’s list, but surely after watching him grab the ball 15 times in the first quarter alone, someone could’ve made themselves accountable for him.
It has also just occurred to me that I didn’t mention a single Hawthorn player. Only a few can really hold their heads high that they beat their direct opponent, but I’ll single out Tom Mitchell and James Worpel for their efforts in the midfield. Clearly, we got beaten up in there, but those two just kept at it all day, and I fear what the result could’ve been had Mitchell and Worpel not been putting in their hard work.
WHERE DID WE WIN/LOSE THE GAME?
ST KILDA – As predicted by many in the lead-up to the game, the return of Paddy Ryder to this side had a remarkable bearing on the result. This St. Kilda side is a completely different-looking team when Ryder and Rowan Marshall both feature.
The pair combined for a total of 48 hit-outs for the game (Ryder – 35, Marshall – 13) compared to Hawthorn’s 29. One particularly good battle was Ryder vs McEvoy in the ruck which Ryder comfortably won, also managing five tackles and three clearances to his name.
It’s not only his dominance as a tap ruckman and his second effort once the ball hits the ground, it’s shouldering majority of the ruck work which is freeing up Rowan Marshall to play forward and hassle the defenders with his height. Marshall managed two goals and six marks for the game – his best scoring return since round 16 last year, which was also against the Hawks.
Besides the ruck, it’s hard to isolate just a few areas in which St. Kilda won this game, considering they lead Hawthorn in almost every team stat available. Their aerial dominance was on full display. You just felt that whenever the ball was contested in the air, be it inside their own forward 50 or doubling back to defend, the Saints never looked like losing the overhead battle.
HAWTHORN – Where? EVERYWHERE! In this section, there really isn’t anything positive to say. We were smashed, beaten up and humiliated all over the ground. The Hawks simply weren’t good enough for long enough. In both games we’ve won this year, we had to come from 30+ points back, and let’s be honest, both teams we beat aren’t exactly the greatest sides out there.
Last season, I wrote that Hawthorn wasn’t good enough to hang with the best teams for long enough. Are the Saints one of the AFL’s best teams? Perhaps they should be, but they aren’t right now. And wouldn’t you know, we made them look like Richmond circa 2019.
Believe me, I could go on and on, but I have to fill other sections with more venom, so I’ll stop for now.
IF YOU WERE COACH, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
ST KILDA – Honestly? Not a hell of a lot. What can you be overly critical of when a side wins by 69 points and holds the opposition completely scoreless until into the second quarter?
Maybe putting a little extra time into negating the influences of Mitchell and Worpel in the midfield could’ve prevented some of the scoring that Hawthorn began to run away with, especially in the third and fourth quarters.
One thing I would’ve liked to have seen which seems harsh given how well they played, would be a little more cohesion between the tall forwards and an increase in their accuracy.
The 19 goals that the Saints kicked were shared between nine individual goalkickers. Max King missed a few relatively easy shots, for all his dominance in the air, his ability to read the path of the ball and present himself to the kicker, his 2.4 for the night could’ve easily been 5.1. The same goes for Dan Butler and Tim Membrey who could’ve also ended their nights with inflated goal tallies had their radars been honed in a bit tighter.
HAWTHORN – This is a very difficult question to answer, because theoretically, we could’ve done so many things differently. We shouldn’t have gone so top-heavy, but I’ll get to that later. We should’ve shut down Zak Jones, but someone else would’ve stepped up.
Maybe we should’ve brought a second specialist ruckman in to combat the Marshall/Ryder combination, possibly for one of our key forwards, because like it or not, Mitch Lewis wasn’t the answer to that problem.
Honestly, there isn’t one thing that should’ve been done differently, because in hindsight, everything could’ve been different. Maybe that’s just looking at this game too negatively, but really, this one should just be a write off. Like North Melbourne against the Dogs, losses like this will happen sometimes when a team doesn’t have enough talent or experience behind it. Chalk it up as an experience that our young guys needed to have, learn the lessons that come with it, and move on to next week.
WHO HAD THE MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE?
ST KILDA – Although it’s a bit rough calling his effort underrated, especially given that it’s been highlighted by so many already, but Brad Hill’s game was by far his best for the Saints this season. By. Far.
The Saints have needed better input from Brad Hill all year and the pressure has been mounting on him week after week with each lacklustre performance bringing more criticism into a club that is already battling internally and externally. Well, tonight they got a glimpse of it. Finally!
Playing predominantly on the ball around half-back and the wing, Hill managed to rack up 27 disposals at a very solid 85% efficiency, ten score involvements, six intercepts, five tackles and 571 metres gained for his team. They’re great, respectable numbers. Yes, he’s had better games. Yes, people on the ground had better games. But this was exactly the game that he needed to have.
Hopefully, the pressure is off now and he can continue to build on this form. St. Kilda will relish knowing that they’re able to now play a closer brand of football to what Brett Ratten has set out to achieve. All of this won’t come off the back of Hill’s form alone, but also the solidarity of having tall pair Ryder/Marshall working well in tandem and a forward line that presents and converts.
A small shoutout to Hunter Clark. Played a swinging role between defense and attack where he managed to mark the ball well at either end, tackle and apply pressure, lead and present a target and finished the game with 27 disposals and a couple of goals to his name. It was a really solid, four quarter effort that deserves some added praise.
Jack Higgins also deserves a little recognition for his four-goal game. Every time the ball hit the deck in the forward line or fumbled from a pack of talls, Higgins looked threatening and ready to pounce. His quick hands also helped set up other teammates in front of goal.
HAWTHORN – James Cousins. In his first game last week, Cousins was serviceable. Today, with Jaeger O’Meara out of the side, Cousins stepped up magnificently. Gathering 27 disposals, including ten contested possessions, Cousins was one of very few Hawks that could hold his heads high. Looking at Cousins’ stats tells a great story. Four tackles, five score involvements, five clearances, seven inside 50s, and three defensive rebounds.
Cousins has just turned 23, and is now in his fifth season at AFL level, and if we’re being honest, doesn’t really instill much fear in opposition coaches. While it may seem like I’m talking a player down, I’m just pointing out that Cousins is underrated by many in the AFL world. Cousins only averages six games a year, but today he played like a 200 gamer. Performances like the one he produced today should give us Hawks fans confidence that our future is in safe hands. But like any up-and-coming player, it needs to happen more often. Maybe this loss propels Clarko to make Cousins a midfield mainstay to see what he’s made of.
WHAT WAS THE MOMENT THAT MATTERED MOST?
ST KILDA – Now this may come across as a very broad and blanketing ‘moment’, but the Saints’ first quarter was the most important moment for them. Except for glimpses against West Coast, we just haven’t seen such a complete, all-round St. Kilda performance this season like what we witnessed today.
From the first ball up we saw their intent. Not only was Ryder hungry to win the tap, but Jones, Steele and Crouch were first at the ball and going hard to clear it out. Fast handballs, smart leading into space to receive, quick kicks inside forward 50 that caught the Hawthorn defenders off guard and out of position, and ruthless ball movement were all key factors and no more evident than in the first quarter, where the Saints well and truly set the tone and stated their intention to play on their own terms.
I feel it worth mentioning that the St. Kilda defence did an excellent job at holding down Hawthorn’s forwards for extended periods. Coffield, Wilkie, Clark and Howard were impressive as they quelled many of the Hawks forays inside 50 and found an efficient avenue to rebound.
HAWTHORN – Not a moment as such, but I just can’t go past the first half. You all saw it, it was nothing short of embarrassing. Yes, we kicked four goals in the second quarter, but that was mostly just individual rewards in junk time. At one point in the second quarter, we were rudderless and 56 points down. The reviews will hurt, as some of our defensive efforts were horrific. Too many times, we simply didn’t put any pressure on the ball carrier, and we made the Saints look like a Rolls Royce.
The worst moment for me was Hunter Clark’s goal weaving through traffic. We made it look so easy for him, and in reality, it was. Defensive pressure was nowhere to be seen, and Clark just waltzed his way through to nail the simplest of goals. I knew then, that a second-half comeback just wasn’t going to happen.
WHICH PLAYERS LET US DOWN THE MOST?
ST KILDA – As I eluded to earlier, it’s really hard to pinpoint individual efforts as letdowns when the side has just romped to a 69 point victory. Especially given that side has been under such immense pressure to perform after so many weeks of mediocrity, and this being the perfect example of step one in the right direction to silence your critics.
If I had to be critical of something, I would say Josh Battle’s game was a bit underwhelming. On a day where other big forwards like Max King, Tim Membrey, Hunter Clark, and Rowan Marshall all feasted on constant entries inside 50 and zero defensive pressure from the opposition, which lead to your own team’s ability to raffle the ball off with very little resistance once looking at the goals, an input such as that of Battle’s seems very subpar.
Playing most of his game and gathering the majority of his few disposals out of the forward half, Battle had ample time throughout the length of the match to impose himself, but often found his opponent playing out in front and on the rare occasion that the Hawks managed to repel a Saint’s attack, it tended to come at the expense of Josh Battle.
HAWTHORN – I’m sure Clarko and the coaches will be asking themselves this as we speak, but why did we go into this game so top heavy? Let me list off every Hawthorn player over 190cm that took the field today. McEvoy, Hartigan, Scrimshaw, Frost, O’Brien, Koschitzke, Jeka, Lewis and Gunston. From my perspective, that’s at least three too many. Good move giving Emerson Jeka a run. But maybe take another key forward out to compensate. Would Gunston have benefitted from a week in the VFL? If the plan is to play O’Brien in defence, would it be a better idea to start that process in the level below?
Say what you like about our issues in the ruck, the fact is that today, we were far too top-heavy. Too top-heavy is just the start, frankly. Forward of the ball, there was just no experience. Kosi, Lewis and Jeka combine for 33 games, and Lewis makes up 26 of that! Yes, Gunston and Breust were down there, but Gunston is coming back from major surgery, and Breust never got the chance to show his talents.
I’m fairly certain Clarko won’t read this, but on the off chance he does, here’s a piece of advice. Next time, don’t play everyone just because you can. The VFL is there for a reason. It can be used effectively. We can’t have a four pronged attack. It just won’t work.
WHO WAS THE PLAYER FROM THE OPPOSITION I ADMIRED MOST?
ST KILDA – Tom Mitchell and James Worpel both played alright games. One knock that Mitchell tends to get regardless of who he plays is the lack of damage he inflicts on the game. He gets plenty of the ball and wins plenty of contests, but quite often his team doesn’t benefit from said wins. He won his fair share tonight, just as Liam Shiels presented well, and would be one of a few Hawks that could hold their heads high.
The only player who really stood out from Hawthorn and genuinely impressed me, given that they lost by such a margin, was Jack Scrimshaw. At just 22 years of age, Jack played at times almost a lone hand down back. He won a few intercepts and looked really reliable on the rebound. After a quiet first quarter, he exploded in the second quarter and carried that form out for the remainder of the match.
He finished the game with 33 disposals at an impressive 85% efficiency, eight marks, four inside 50s, four rebounds 50s and two clearances of his own. You just feel that if it weren’t for his consistency and determination in the air, the margin would’ve blown out to triple figures.
HAWTHORN – I won’t mention Zak Jones or Bradley Hill, that’s too obvious. The player I loved the most from the Saints was Hunter Clark. At both ends of the ground, Hunter was sublime. 26 disposals, six tackles, three defensive rebounds, three inside 50’s, ten score involvements, and two brilliant goals, Clark was superb all day. Entering his fourth season at this level, Clark is right in that sweet spot where he can start to really stamp himself on the competition.
The commentary team were 100% right during their call. Clark has a bit of Scott Pendlebury about him, and everything just seems to slow down around him when he has the ball. It’s not just today, but all year that Clark has shown this. The Saints are clearly a better team with him in it. Jack Steele has the toughness. Brad Hill the speed. Zak Jones the grunt. But there’s one thing they don’t have that Clark has in spades. Something that can make St Kilda the complete team. Poise, and class.
ST KILDA – So there we have it, the Saints claim their third win for the year and look to use this decisive victory as a catalyst for getting their season back on track. It’ll be a yo-yo month of footy ahead for them as they take on an in-form Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium next week. They’ll then host Geelong and the Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium followed by the North Melbourne bye which will also be down at Docklands.
If they can play with tonight’s intensity and continue to move the ball by hand and foot with such ease and accuracy then they’ll be a good chance of taking it up to more teams above them on the ladder. They can’t however rely on all other teams to be as insipid as Hawthorn were, but credit where it’s due, they well and truly outplayed a young, building Hawthorn list.
HAWTHORN – Just write this one-off. Put it in the trash. This performance (hopefully) proved once and for all, that we need to go back to the drawing board. Everyone will say play the kids. This ABSOLUTELY needs to happen, but it goes far beyond that. For starters, men like Hartigan, Burgoyne, Breust, Gunston, Ceglar and Shiels need to start being phased out. Putting the old guard aside, there are more than a few players on this list that simply won’t be part of our next premiership team. Conor Nash, Sam Frost, Chad Wingard, Daniel Howe, Michael Hartley. While only one of those players stepped onto the Marvel Stadium surface today, these players should no longer be regulars going forward.
We could go long into the night talking about Denver Grainger-Barrass (when he returns from injury), Tyler Brockman, Ned Reeves, Finn Maginness, Harry Pepper, and players that haven’t even been drafted yet. This needs to be the catalyst for change. We can no longer chase the Jonathan Pattons and Tom Scullys of the world.
This has been a very negative piece from my perspective. But there also needs to be some positivity, some light at the end of the tunnel. 2022 will be better. Sicily will be back. The younger brigade will be better for the experiences of this year. We can go back to the draft and bring in more elite talent. It’s the only way forward. We’re not a destination club anymore. Those days are over. It’s a mindset that has to end. Clarkson’s originals succeeded. But they are all gone now, and if they’re not, they won’t be here much longer. And at the end of the day, that’s okay. We reached the summit three years in a row. But now we have to return to base camp. It’s the only way forward.