If you were going to introduce someone to the game of Australian Rules Football and focus on the art of kicking for goal, you’d be best advised to avoid showing them a recording of this game.

Despite what seemed to be perfect conditions for footy, both the Suns and Saints had a hard time slotting a goal early in the game, and that continued on into the second quarter. Whilst it ensured the scores remained tight, it didn’t make for much of a spectacle.

The Saints won this one on will power alone. It wasn’t finesse, nor was it skill – it was a desire to do what was necessary when the chips were down. They wanted it, and I am sorry to say, for Suns fans, you squandered your opportunities early, and they came back to bite hard.

With combined scores of 15.27, both teams had a multitude of missed opportunities, but it was the Saints who impacted the scoreboard when it mattered most, slamming home the last four goals of the game to pick up a big road win and take another step toward re-establishing themselves as a contender in 2021.

Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions stemming from the Saints’ victory

 

WHO WON THE KING-BOWL?

No one won the King-Bowl… both were really ordinary for the most part.

Yes, Ben kicked three, but two of them were goal line shots, capitalising on the hard work of his teammates, whereas Max looked threatening at points but did that bloody annoying thing that both of them do a little too often, when he got two hands to a mark and dropped it even before the defensive pressure came.

Ben King has been doing that for a while now and it would be refreshing for Suns fans to see his twin doing exactly the same thing. Not that they’d be over the moon with Ben’s performance, either. No one should be able to stop these two on the lead if they use their reach, yet both tend to stop themselves as much as their opponents do.

In this game, it was Max who felt the pressure, put the ball to ground and really should have clunked two or three more marks than he did and took the honours, but as it stands, despite the three snags from Ben, this was a non-event.

 

DID JACK STEELE TURN THIS GAME?

The first quarter did not provide the usual Jack Steele output in this game, totalling just three touches as he failed to get himself involved in the play. He looked a little off and was unable to do much of anything to influence play.

Steele must have given himself a good talking to at quarter time… and he also musy be a good listener, as he was able to find form soon thereafter, collecting 24 touches over the next three quarters to go with a couple of goals and an additional six tackles.

It was his snap in the second quarter that got the Saints rolling, Whilst every other player were wildly spraying shots around like Joe Ganino at an MCG urinal, Steele’s controlled kick curled around nicely, and you could sense at that point that if anyone was going to make Gold Coast pay for their early inaccuracy, Steele was going to be the man to do it.

He added a second goal in the third term to keep the Saints in the game and his attack on the footy in the frantic last quarter was exactly what the Saints needed from their captain.

So, did he turn the game? Possibly, but it wasn’t a sudden reversal of direction. It was more as though he took control of a container ship and slowly angled it away from some icebergs. It wasn’t dramatic, but it was slow, steady and strong. He had some mates that came to the party as well, but it was the work of Steele after quarter time that gave the Saints signs of life.

And then the others joined in as well.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE MARSHALL/RYDER COMBINATION TO THIS ST KILDA TEAM?

They are the most important aspect of the side. Easily, as a matter of fact.

They cause mismatches, provide options for the “get out of jail kick” and are able to take contested grabs when the players are fatigued and structures break down. Head back and watch the last quarter – the Suns had no answer to either of these blokes in the aerial clashes. Marshall took two grabs in the quarter and Ryder clunked one as well. They gave the Saints an avenue to progress the footy forward with the knowledge they were simply not going to be outmarked.

Hell, the contested marks in the last quarter feel the Saints’ way 6-0. That is a smashing in the air, and when half of them come from your ruckmen, you know you’re doing something right.

Ryder added a goal to his last quarter stats, as well, working to the front of the marking contest and roving the ball as it hit the deck.

The small guys get tired, but the big guys don’t get any smaller – never has that saying rung truer than in this game.

 

WAS THE LAST QUARTER BRAD CROUCH’S “I’VE ARRIVED” MOMENT AT ST KILDA?

With ten touches and the goal to seal the game, Brad Crouch looked about as excited as you can be with your pants on in the last quarter.

His goal to put St Kilda ten points in front ended up being the sealer, and with both fists clenched, Crouch’s scream of celebration was probably as much one of relief as it was excitement.

He was a ball-winner in Adelaide, regularly registering games of 30+ disposals and winning clearances as though he owned the footy at times. However, at Moorabbin, he has had to learn a new system, and things have not been as rosy as they were over the border.

Now sitting at 24.3 disposals per game, Crouch demonstrated why the Saints were rapt to pick him up this off-season. He had six clearances, five tackles and four inside 50 disposals in his best outing to date in the red, white and black. With the Saints starting to hit their stride and posting back-to-back wins, his work going forward will be vital to the team success.

 

IS TOUK MILLER BETTER SERVED BEING A DEFENSIVE MID, OR A BALL-WINNER?

I’m a little torn on this one. Miller won a heap of the footy, but right across from him, there was this bloke named Zak Jones who was getting just as much footy as Miller and, in truth, doing more with it.

Whilst Miller was getting his hands on plenty of footy, Jones was more potent with his disposals and seemed more willing to break lines before taking his kick. In Miller’s defence, he was not match up directly on Jones – that honour went to David Swallow, who had 28 touches and 13 tackles in another in the long line of games that he won’t get a heap of credit for, but the move of Miller to Jones seemed like something that could have slammed the brakes on the St Kilda run and freed up the midfield for the Suns a little more.

Alas, there was no defensive side other than Miller’s usual accountability. He had 33 touches to lead all players, but if I am looking at the players who had the largest impact on the game, I probably wouldn’t have him in the top handful.

In a tight game, I like the Suns’ setup of Greenwood and Swallow at the coalface – they’re warriors who win their own footy. I’d love to see Miller put the clamps on the opposition player who looks as though he is about to get off the chain. Too little, too late in this one, unfortunately.

 

WHERE DID THE SUNS FALL DOWN?

Their kicking. Plain and simple, some of their disposal was atrocious at times and allowed the Saints easy rebounding opportunities.

Jack Lukosius, for such a lovely field kick, completely hacked a shot at goal that would have acted as a steadying moment, and followed up moments later with an inboard kick turnover inside defensive 50 that led directly to Jack Billings snapping a goal.

On that last one – there was absolutely no reason to go inboard with that kick other than to show he could make it. There were Saints all around his target and his kick hung in the air too long. The long kick down the line was always the better option but Lukosius bit off a bit more than he could chew and in a matter of minutes failed to score and then gave a scoring chance away. Sometimes it is better to be safe than spectacular… even if you are one of the best kicks in the game.

I have singled out Lukosius because I expect so much more from him, but he had plenty of mates missing targets or making life difficult for their teammates. Ben Ainsworth was offering hospital handballs to anyone who fancied an overnight stay in casualty, Lachie Weller ran at an efficiency of 87% but missed vital kicks, and Oleg Markov looked as though he was running too fast for his own good at times, missing targets after taking off from half back.

The Suns were like a teenage lover with the ball in hands – very eager and always in a hurry. The fact that they’re such a young list could explain a lot of that. Slow down, boys… take a breath and relax a little. Listen to some Frankie Goes to Hollywood and heed the advice.

 

BRAD HILL OFF HALF BACK – IS THIS A WINNER?

It looked like a winner in the first half.

I would say that this is the first game in years that Hill has not lined up on the wing at any stage – would that be correct? And in coming off half back, it allowed Hill the time and space to use the footy he would not normally be allowed.

13 of his 21 touches came in the first half as Hill picked his spots and used the footy to generate run for the Saints down the wings. He could then use that pace and stamina to get back and ensure his teammates were getting some help when the ball rebounded their way.

So, yeah… I like the move. The obvious issue will be when an intelligent opponent finds a way to drag Hill deep inside defensive 50 and he has to defend one-on-one, but there are plenty of players who get protection from their teammates in this situations in the AFL. Houli at Richmond, Lloyd at Sydney – what they bring in terms of their ball use from half back outweighs what may happen if their opponents can work them over deep. As long as the Saints can cover for Hill and prevent him from being exposed defensively, they will get plenty of run and dash out of defence, and plenty of good kicks to position.

 

WHAT CAN HUNTER CLARK BE?

An inventive gnome? A flying submarine pilot? A dashing hero from a Harlequin romance novel?

Look, my dad used to look at a player with talent to burn and say “he could be anything”, and whilst I am sure Clark would make a fantastic protagonist in a novel, on the footy field, he is the hand that rocks the cradle at half back for the Saints.

He has a cool head in traffic, reads the play exceptionally well and makes good decisions with the footy.

A while ago I compiled the A-Grade Ladder for the site, which basically took the current A-Graders on each team, whacked in their potential A-Graders and allocated points for each team. It gave us a ladder.

Well… I left Clark off the list of potential A-Graders for the Saints, and man… did I ever hear about it!

It has given me cause to watch Clark more closely to see what I have been missing, and in 2021, I have not been disappointed with what I’ve seen. Whilst he is not cutting teams to ribbons with astronomical numbers of rebound fifties or metres gained, he makes a habit out of doing just the right things at just the right times. He doesn’t over-do anything – plays within his means and does it bloody well!

So, is he a half back flank for life, or is there life as a midfielder beckoning for Clark?

His work in traffic seems to indicate that he is someone who could thrive in the cut and thrust of midfield football. His vision and decision-making are excellent and, at least in the game I have watched, he has the ability to continually find targets.

He had 22 touches in this one with just the on turnover as he patrolled half back and moved up through the centre of the ground to play the link role for the Saints. Am I sold he’ll make the A-Grade Ladder when we do the post-2021 version? I’m being swayed pretty heavily at the moment.

 

DID THE SUNS BLOW THIS ONE?

I kind of get the feeling they did.

All credit to the Saints, but with a three-goal lead heading into the last quarter and home ground advantage, I expected more from Gold Coast. They played safe, yet dumb football right up until the last three minutes when they seemed to come to the realisation they were going to lose.

Combine that with the fact they should have had a much larger lead than seven points at quarter time and I just cannot help but feel this was one that got away,. and in the cut and thrust of that seventh down to 12th position at the end of the season, games like this are the ones that really count.

 

WHO WAS THE BEST OUTSIDE MAN IN THE GAME?

Any readers that have been around for a while know I reckon that a good performance on a wing can blow a game apart, and we had one in this game, with Jack Billings easily getting the best bang for his buck out wide.

Finishing with 25 touches and two goals, his first quarter work was one of the main reasons the Saints were able to hang in the contest. He was steady from then on, with Brandon Ellis and Jack Lukosius as his main opponents, but he did enough to be one of the better overall players on the park – not just in his position.

With seven rebound fifties, Billings worked hard into defence to alleviate the pressure on his back six and was an important part of the St Kilda chains running forward.

 

WILL EITHER OF THESE TEAMS TROUBLE THE BIG BOYS?

Not on this form. I think it is fair to say that even a supporter of either team would admit that the way they played in this one would not trouble Melbourne, the Dogs or the Cats. Those teams would pounce on their errors and if you’re going to allow coast-to-coast scoring opportunities, you’re not getting off the hook as easily as you did in this game.

The best-case scenario on today’s form is sneaking into the top eight. Of course, once there, anything can happen, but you cannot really watch a game of this standard and believe that you’re in contention, four points or not.

The good news is that both teams have enormous improvement in them, and I am basing my opinion on this game alone – it is A game review, after all… just reviewing this game. You look at the lists and aside from the top three or four, the players that can jump a level in production would see either side look a hell of a lot better.

We should see better from both teams as the season progresses, and if you’re a supporter of either, you’d want to hope you do.

 

WRAP UP

I’m not too sure either team will be overly enthused with this win. The Saints will be relieved that they were able to hit the road and pick up four points (maybe they’ll climb The Mongrel Punt Road Warrior Ladder this week…) but they were quite unconvincing at points, and their inability to crack the Gold Coast defence will be a bit of a worry.

Some big positives I haven’t mentioned were the continued presentation of Jack Higgins, the work of Jack Sinclair at half back, and the defensive work of the defensive tandem in Wilkie and Howard.

The last one for the Saints – good teams win ugly, and that’s what your boys did today.

For the Suns, Stuart Dew would be pretty annoyed at the way his team finished the game. It looked as though this young team just did not know how to win a close one. They failed to attack when the opportunities were there, and opted to go slow when the Saints actually wanted them to. They need to establish their brand and make the opposition play that way. Once they do… look out!

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