Sydney and St Kilda played out a thriller at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and it was the home side who came away with the four points.
The Saints never looked lost and kept in touch with the Swans all game, despite the Swans leading for most of the game. Each team brought the pressure and affected the contests in a high-intensity game which went right down to the wire.
Brad Crouch was the game’s leading disposal-winner with good back-up from Jack Steele, while Tim Membrey chipped in with two goals in an all-round display.
For the Swans, Will Hayward kicked three majors as their forward line all contributed well, whereas Luke Parker and Callum Mills racked up possessions in the middle.
WHERE WAS THE GAME WON?
The game was won through the Swans being an imposing presence in the air to impact plays, whether it was in the defensive end or in their forward 50.
While each team went at roughly 50% efficiency inside 50, it was the way the Swans delivered the ball forward that gave them most of their opportunities.
The forward targets for the Swans are dangerous. The likes of Lance Franklin, Isaac Heeney and Logan McDonald can all be lead-up targets, but in the same vein, compete well in the air in contested situations. And then you have Tom Papley and Will Hayward who are damaging at ground level.
Down back, Tom McCartin, Dane Rampe, and Robbie Fox held their own against a Saints forward line of Max King and Tim Membrey, again getting into good positions and outmarking their opponents.
The delivery and the ball use from St Kilda didn’t help of course, but the ability to take these chances, work themselves into good positions and impact the contests to help steer the ball forward to score was important.
WHO WERE THE FIVE MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYERS?
Tim Membrey was crucial to the Saints across the full 120 minutes, splitting his time between the forward and defensive ends of the ground.
When down back, Membrey became the goalkeeper and stopped a couple of sure Sydney goals – he had five intercept possessions leading to the cause. Without that, the Swans would’ve been celebrating more during the game with a growing lead.
Sensing something needed to be done with the team down by less than a kick for most of the fourth quarter, Membrey went down forward and again had an impact ticking the scoreboard over for the Saints. He finished the game with two goals, each coming in the second half as he continued to do his job.
Tom Hickey was massive in the ruck battles against Paddy Ryder, despite losing the hitouts 34-16. The big man, at his fourth club, showed his composure and willingness to attack the ball and the player.
He had 21 disposals with 14 contested, both up on his season averages, and wasn’t afraid to get in and under for the loose ball and get it out of congestion himself with seven clearances. His work around the ground helped the Swans win crucial battles and get the ball out of trouble.
An output of one goal and six behinds might have some fans crying out that Jack Higgins lost the Saints the game but there’s no guarantee that would be the case because Higgins really tried hard out there. Other than his bad kicking, he was pretty good.
The former Tiger presented himself as a red-hot marking option, often finding the open space inside 50, finishing with 12 marks (ten uncontested) for the match. Playing across the wing and forward, Higgins took his time to assess what was ahead of him and was involved in a couple of scores, aside from his own.
Where Higgins’ downfall was in this match was his kicking at goal. He is such a crafty, speedy player, who likes to rove and use his feet to weave out of traffic inside 50, however, set-shot wise, he rushes things with that same quick thought of needing to get the ball to boot as soon as he can brought him undone.
It was evident when he was lining up for set shots, setting up for a kick around the corner or even walking back to the mark, he rarely was even taking at least 15 seconds. A bit more composure and Higgins could’ve had a few more but for a guy who’s better on the ground, maybe set-shots aren’t his forte.
The subject of much scrutiny after as a lacklustre season this year was again brought into the spotlight following his six-disposal game last week. This week, Brad Hill went rampant the SCG.
Allowed to have a free reign by a Sydney side that didn’t employ a tag, Hill showed the football community how good he can be and why St Kilda paid the big bucks for him. Hill was an instrumental figure playing across half back and along each wing and though his 25 disposals, went at 88% efficiency.
The St Kilda co-captain really stood up in the final quarter to get his side into a good position to win the match. In the last quarter alone, Steele had ten disposals an 80% efficiency with plenty of pressure on display, including four tackles. His three clearances were equally as important during that time.
Overall, for the game Steele collected 31 touches and laid nine tackles as he regularly used his pace and composure to get the Saints into better positions. He kicked the first goal of the second quarter which was the Saints third in a row at the time, so he certainly sensed the moment and played well thoughout.
WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCH-UP?
Tom Hickey v Paddy Ryder
The ruck battle was so important in this game, especially due to Hickey’s workrate around the ground and Ryder’s ability to provide tap-downs to the advantage of his Saints teammates. In the battle of hitouts, Ryder won that part of the game 34-16.
Both St Kilda and Sydney were close in total clearances for the match (35-36 St Kilda’s way) and therefore it was a tough battle. Ryder and St Kilda won the contest in the middle however Hickey and Sydney won the contest from stoppages around the ground.
The Saints relied too heavily on Ryder and that allowed Hickey and second-gamer Joel Amartey to take advantage when Ryder went off. Perhaps most perplexing and a pressing issue for the Saints was that in back-to-back forward 50 stoppages, St Kilda didn’t nominate anyone in the ruck, leading Hickey to have free rein, such was St Kilda’s shortage of rucks available in the vicinity with Max King on the bench.
WHO SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME?
Hunter Clark had an insanely below-par game today, collecting just nine disposals – a fair amount down from the 22 he averages for the year. His efficiency was also down at 44%, again roughly a 30% decrease from this season average.
Clark’s pressure was down, if not non-existent entirel,y and he was caught out by a Swans offence who like to run. He laid just two tackles for the game which isn’t far from his season best but Clark is a player who you expect to be holding tight to his opponents.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY?
While the Saints finished the day with a disposal efficiency of 73%, there were a few that were costly turnovers that didn’t help the cause, so really, their ball use and crucial foot skills could’ve been tidied up.
In the first quarter, a turnover from Callum Wilkie inside the Saints defensive 50 where a kick fell in between Hunter Clark and Oscar Clavarino was marked by Tom Papley. Luckily for the Saints, Papley missed the kick. Second-gamer Oscar Clavarino’s missed handball attempt trying to find Callum Wilkie ended up being a Will Hayward goal in the third term.
All throughout the game the Saints were dropping easy chest marks; Mason Wood, Nick Coffield, Max King, Tim Membrey. All this, as well as their goalkicking woes won’t see them going anywhere quickly. Follow-up efforts inside 50 also would be useful with King regularly not chasing or providing a tackle on a nearby opponent, and with misses such as Seb Ross’ in the second quarter from close range hurting, you get the feeling the Saints will be lamenting this one as one that got away.
In a nutshell, composure would’ve helped the Saints in a big way. Early in the contest, the Saints were running and carrying the ball up the middle and it helped them kick their first goal though Mason Wood. But when they were challenged and the pressure was on them, they just seemed to be unable to execute.
The Saints did well to limit the Swans movement up the middle at the start of the game, forcing them out wide with chipped kicks propelling them forward. But when they didn’t cover the area and were caught out by an overlapping runner, it spelled trouble for the Saints. The Swans switched well but only went on with this when they couldn’t go down the middle and so when St Kilda pre-empted this, they left the space open down the middle. The overlap from Sydney wasn’t seen by St Kilda and it left players with a free route to goal.
WHERE DOES THIS GAME SIT IN BEST/WORST FOR THE SEASON?
This contest will be talked about as a crucial game in in each club’s seasons. For the Saints, it was a game they needed to win to keep in touch with the top eight but what’s helpful to the Saints is that their percentage won’t have taken a huge hit – it was bad enough already. For the Swans, a top-four chance is looming which will do wonders for the belief of a group who looked to be going through a rebuild just 12 months ago. An edge-of-your-seat game, fans of footy will remember this one.
WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE SWANS?
The Swans host Friday night footy against the Hawks next weekend, a team that’s been struggling this season. Sydney will see this game as another which they should win and properly cement themselves inside the top eight, maybe even the top four by the end of the round. Everything is firing for the Swans at the moment with momentum playing a big part in their form.
WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE SAINTS?
The Saints are 5-7 now but face an exciting Adelaide outfit next Saturday night in Cairns at Cazaly Stadium. After taking it to the Swans today, the Saints should be able to take care of the Crows however their problematic goal-kicking remains a concern that they’ll want to fix as Taylor Walker, despite some kicking issues of his own, is firing for the other team.
ARE THE SWANS A CONTENDER IN 2021?
The Swans have finished in the bottom four for the past two seasons but are sitting pretty inside the top eight halfway through the current season. For a side that was looking to youth, it seems to be working quickly with results going the Swans way. They haven’t spent any time out of the top six this season and at 8-4 now, will only need a few more wins to secure a place in September.
WHERE WILL ST KILDA’S GOALS COM FROM?
St Kilda’s number one forward Max King kicked his first goal in two games today, but that’s where it stopped. And it was on the quarter-time siren after a contested mark inside the goalsquare.
Otherwise, Jack Higgins popped up but wasn’t able to convert his shots into goals. Dan Butler hasn’t kicked a goal for two weeks now. Their players that float between the midfield and forward areas are their best chances for goal , as evidenced with Ryan Brynes kicking two today. It’s looking increasingly as though they’ll have to rely on Tim Membrey.
It didn’t help that St Kilda lost Mason Wood early but the Saints don’t look deeper than the 30-50m part of their forward 50 and that’s hard for a guy like King who probably wants it deep more than anything at this stage of his down form. It meant guys like Higgins had to kick big and long. Seb Ross missed a shot from directly in front after getting a ball out the back of a pack.
Another factor is that quite a few St Kilda goals today were the result of 50m penalties – Dane Rampe on Higgins that resulted Jack Steele kicking a goal in the third, Jake Lloyd on King in the fourth which resulted in a Josh Battle goal, Sam Wicks on Nick Coffield in the fourth term that eventually lead to a Membrey goal. It was undisciplined by the Swans and maybe all were pretty soft decisions given by the umpires but if that’s a major avenue to goal for the Saints, they’ll have problems for a while.
*Keep an eye out during the next couple of days, Swans fans – HB Meyers has a big Sydney article in the works for members.