Well, this was a bit of a turn-up, wasn’t it?
Be honest – how many of you sat down to watch this game and thought you know what… St Kilda are a red hot chance, not just to beat the Tigers, but to pull their pants down and smack their backsides?
Come on… you can trust me. I won’t say anything. Besides, I sure as hell didn’t expect it, but that is exactly what we got as a dialled-in St Kilda matched and bettered the pressure of the Tigers and held them to just two goals… yep, you read that correctly, TWO goals for the game.
A team with the firepower of Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Shai Bolton and Shane Edwards didn’t look like converting a major for the majority of the game, as the Saints’ willingness to attack the contest and force contested footy did not seem to sit all that well with the reigning premiers.
Amazingly, St Kilda simply Out-Richmond-ed the Tigers! And they did it without Tom Membrey playing a blinder, without Jack Billings taking his position in the side, without Max King kicking a bag, and without anyone giving them a chance.
Do alarm bells sound at Punt Road? Does Brett Ratten sit back and ponder where the hell this kind of effort has been from his team over the last couple of months? Has anyone spotted Shai Bolton?
There is plenty to get through in this one, so let’s jump in with the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
DUNSTAN AND DUSTED
Luke Dunstan has been claiming a few prized scalps over the last month of footy, but I am not sure there is a bigger scalp in the league than the three-time Norm Smith Medallist.
Standing next to Dustin Martin at the first bounce, Dunstan wasted no time in demonstrating that he was not there just to make up the numbers, and that effort continued for the entire duration of the game. Or at least for the first three quarters – you know, when the game was there to be won.
He took the foot off the accelerator in the last quarter, but his early work was impeccable. He had 27 touches to three-quarter time and notched 11 clearances and nine inside 50s in one of the best games of his career.
I say that, because you have to measure his output by the level of the player he was matched up on. Make no mistake – Dustin Martin was not in cruise control in this game; he was putting in, and I thought some of his defensive efforts were as good as we’ve seen from him over the last few years. However, the all-round game of Dunstan left Dusty chasing tail at times.
And not the Maldives version of chasing tail, either.
Dunstan’s burst through the middle and his long kicking inside 50 gave the St Kilda forwards the opportunity to compete against their direct opponents, and his second and third efforts to stay involved in the action created headaches for the Tiger defenders. As soon as the ball was cleared from defence, it seemed as though it was coming back in, and that was often via the stellar work of Dunstan.
THE WHIPPING BOY
I read a lot.
That’s not blowing my own horn – I have finished about five books in the last two years because I am busy writing for all of you, so I am not a voracious reader of literature by a long stretch, these days, However, I do read a lot of commentary from people just like you, who watch games and analyse what happened, why it happened and lament what could have been.
And in reading what you guys write, I have found myself perplexed by how many people seem to expect the square peg that is Ben Long to fit into the round hole that is the modern formula of what makes an AFL defender.
Newsflash – he will never fit into that hole. If you created a square opening, he’d morph into some sort of oblong, yet it is his uniqueness that makes him valuable.
I have read the complaints about Long being too aggressive to the point of being detrimental to the performance of the team. I have read about how many fans do not like having him in the best 22. But what I don’t read often enough is how Saints fans respect the hell out of the way he attacks the contest.
And he attacks it hard!
It does not matter who is in Long’s way. He is a see-ball, get-ball, and you get the hell out of his way kind of player, and if you happen to be in his way, come hell or high water, you either commit your body, or get the hell out of the way, because Long sure as hell isn’t going to shirk the issue.
Early in this game, there were two or three incidents where Long put his body on the long and either won the footy or broke even. Against a team like Richmond, you have a choice. You either do what Long did and dare them to match you, or you opt-out of the contact and hope nobody really points the finger at you. There is no chance that Ben Long would ever allow himself to be counted in the second option.
So, what d you do if you’re a St Kilda supporter that gets a little frustrated when Long does something dumb?
I’ll tell ya. You grab a copy of this game, put it on, watch the first half and realise exactly what he brings to the table that very few players in the league have the capacity, or the guts, to attempt. He has been suspended, and as a result, was dragged over the coals by both the media and social media boffins, but I am sure that those same people are now lauding him for his hardness at the footy and contest in this game.
Nine touches and four tackles. It doesn’t sound like much, and you won’t see him lauded by many, but when he puts his body into a contest, he does not hold back, and his physical work was extremely important when the game was hot.
I’ll readily admit – I scoffed when St Kilda offered Mason Wood a lifeline this season. After all, how many chances had he received at North Melbourne, only to squander them just about every time?
So, to see him playing as a half forward to stretch the Richmond defence, and to see it actually working, was a really pleasant surprise.
He picked up 18 touches in this game, handing the slippery conditions better than the majority of his Richmond opponents, and demonstrating some real composure along the way. At 78% disposal efficiency, and with a goal to his name, Wood has proven to be a handy little acquisition for the Saints, particularly with players missing as the season has rolled on.
Big things were always expected of him at North, but perhaps third fiddle at St Kilda is the role he was born to play.
THE BRUISE BROTHERS?
What a difference it makes to have the Paddy Ryder/Rowan Marshall combination back together. I can just picture it now…
Enter: Stage Left – Ryder walks in, wearing a black fedora and wayfarer sunglasses
Ryder – Hey Rowan… what are you up to?
Marshall looks up from his Asterix comic with his ever-present smile.
Marshall – Nothing. What do you have in mind?
Ryder – I’m getting the band back together.
Marshall – I’m in!
Both then launch into a dance number in which they shake their tail feathers and completely dominate the ruck contests against Richmond.
Injury-free and working back into form, the ruck duo that made such a huge difference to the 2020 St Kilda outfit were at it again against the overmatched Mabior Chol.
Ryder, in particular, relished the contest and his intercept marking along the wing was on-song. He was clearly the best big man on the ground, with those wonderfully clean hands good both in the air and at ground level, but it was the chop outs given by Marshall that allowed Ryder to stay fresh and continue to contribute as the game played out.
If given a clean run for the remainder of the season, this tandem could be the difference between this being a really forgettable season for St Kilda (and it was really on pace to be just that before this evening) or the season where they drew their own line in the sand and refused to go quietly into the night.
So, what’s it gonna be?
Where would the Tigers be without Dylan Grimes? Seriously, this 40-point margin may have blown out to over ten goals had it not been for his resolute defence.
With Noah Balta going down (and Damien Hardwick has mentioned he thinks he may have done his ACL – so sorry to see a young bloke cop that), more will be expected of Grimes again.
And you know he will step up.
It was when Alex Rance went down injured that Grimes put the Tiger defence on his back and earned his All-Australian selection. With the emergence of Noah Balta, Grimes has resumed his previous role, but given the impending bad news (we’ll get confirmation soon enough), the Tigers will need more from Grimes in a hurry.
He finished this one with a game-high 13 intercepts (his highest total since R4, 2019) and added seven spoils for good measure.
Can Grimes turn the clock back a couple of years and become the number one defender in a Richmond finals push? I reckon he just may have to.
ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE
I’m sure you guys are sick of people banging on about Jack Steele, aren’t ya?
What, you’re not? But even when St Kilda was terrible, people always had something nice to say about him – surely you’d be looking to highlight others by now?
Okay, fine… it was another Jack Steele game for the Saints, as he collected what has almost become the standard output for him – 25 touches, nine clearances and nine tackles. He just continually gets the job done irrespective of what is happening around him.
He would be a nightmare match-up, as accountable without the footy as he is damaging with it, and able to have two or three cracks at every contest. His intentions were clear in the first quarter, with his nine touches the best for the Saints, and leaving no doubt that he meant business.
And his team followed suit.
So, it was around 12 months ago that Damien Hardwick realised that the key to getting Richmond back on the winners’ list was winning the footy at the coalface. Remember that? They were getting smashed at stoppages and needed to adjust their gameplan over the past ten weeks of the shortened season.
It seems as though they’ve forgotten those lessons in 2021.
St Kilda obliterated the Tigers where the going was toughest, almost doubling their clearance output, 42-23.
Here’s an amazing stat – Jack Steele, Brad Crouch and Luke Dunstan had two more clearances than the entire Richmond team. A lot of that had to do with the ruckwork of Ryder, but good teams have managed to overcome an undermanned ruck division and keep the clearance count close.
Richmond was simply unable to put the brakes on those three Saints when the footy was there to be won.
TARGETS? WHAT TARGETS?
I was going to start by asking whether you’ve ever seen a Richmond team miss targets like the team did in this game, but then I had the realisation that most of our readership have been through puberty, so the answer would be a resounding yes.
You remember the bad old days, right? You remember the Tigers butchering the footy and making life more and more difficult for each player in a chain of possession, right? You should – they spent about two decades doing that on a weekly basis, but over the last four years, it has been Richmond causing other teams to do it.
The script was well and truly flipped against the Saints, and unfortunately, it was the Tigers of old rearing their ugly heads.
Now, I don’t want this to seem as though I am not crediting the Saints for the way they went about it, and the pressure they applied, but Richmond were their own worst enemies in this game. Handballs overshot the mark. They missed teammates consistently by foot, and seemed content to throw the ball on the boot and hope for the best, when there were options available for a forward handball or short pass. And what is worse, they did that when there was no pressure on them at times.
Of course, chances are, with the way they were playing, had they taken one of the shorter options, they would have cocked them up anyway, but their haphazard disposal gave them no chance of getting the upper hand on the well-positioned Saints.
The Tigers had plenty of kids in the team, but of great concern was that it was some of the experienced heads making fundamental errors and costing the team over and over. Players like Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Bachar Houli and Kamdyn McIntosh had horror nights with the footy in hand, and made the jobs of the St Kilda interceptors seem easy in the process. More than that, they were turning the footy over in dangerous spots – even Dusty was guilty of skying a ball into the centre square from half back, allowing the Saints to swoop and head inside 50 yet again.
Yes, the Saints were good, and yes, they thoroughly deserve every compliment that comes their way, but far out, the Tigers did themselves no favours with their delivery by hand or foot in this one, and with every missed target, the chances of pegging back the “Rampaging Saints” became slighter.
THE BIGGER THEY ARE…
A slippery night at the MCG and the Tigers went in too big.
I felt sorry for poor bloody Samson Ryan, playing his first game, copping a knock in his first real contest, and having to hobble about for the rest of the game. He played an hour of footy for just one hitout. His only other contribution was a free kick against as he had perhaps the most inauspicious debut in recent memory.
He had plenty of mates, however.
Callum Coleman-Jones was well down on the night, as were Jack Riewoldt and Mabior Chol.
The Tigers had no tall winner not named Dylan Grimes, as they saw the ruck tandem of Marshall and Ryder take control, and the St Kilda defence, led by Dougal Howard, Cal Wilkie, and Tom Highmore, shut down most forward thrusts from the yellow and black.
If Hardwick had his time over again, perhaps the addition of Daniel Rioli in place of Ryan would have been wise. It was such a tough ask for the young man to play in these conditions, and with an injury to boot, he’ll end up remembering this game for all the wrong reasons.
Fingers crossed he gets a nice dry day with the roof closed at Marvel (assuming no switches) so we can see what he can do.
OUTSIDE THE EIGHT AFTER ROUND 15?
Remember the days when the MCG was a fortress for the Tigers?
Pepperidge Farm remembers, but the Tigers seem to have forgotten.
The chatter has been all about how Richmond will finish the year, and how we all think they’re gonna flip the switch and head into September with all the momentum.
And now, they’re staring down the barrel of perhaps sitting as low as tenth following this round of footy.
If I’d told you that at the start of the season, where the Tigers sat 2-0 after a couple of weeks, you’d probably slap the taste out of my mouth… which’d be good, because I accidentally drank Mrs Mongrel’s green tea before and it was horrible! I thought it was a glass of water – honest mistake.
This is starting to get serious for the Tigers. It’s not time to press the panic button, and we all expect them to wipe the floor with Gold Coast… but we also expected them to wipe the floor with St Kilda and that didn’t happen. At some stage, we have to go from talking about Richmond flipping the switch (future tense) to the switch being flipped (present tense). As crazy as it sounds, time is starting to slip away.
Do you ever screw over your future self?
I do… often! I leave things to clean up until later. I don’t finish things for work until I absolutely have to. I don’t secure a spot in the eight until really late in the season.
Okay, that last one isn’t me – that one applies to the Richmond Football Club, and if they’re just banking on making a late charge to sweep into the finals and make everything okay again, they may want to think again. With GWS and Essendon poised to leapfrog them this round with a win to each, this late season surge might be easier said than done.
Despite Brian Taylor’s terrible mathematics efforts, we all got the gist of what he was saying, right? The Tigers have won just five of their last 12 games and with their spot in the eight now entirely dependant on the results from other teams, it is the exact place you do not want to be. You want your destiny in your own hands whenever possible. This loss puts Richmond at the mercy of others.
If the Tigers are going to do what most expect them to do at some stage and “flip the switch” then enough screwing around. The time is right now, and if it’s not, time may just end up running out.
WHERE IS BACHAR HOULI AT?
I hate to say it, because watching this guy over the past few years, he is a genuine class act, but I reckon this is his last season.
Seems to want to play bruise-free footy at the moment, and whilst the Tigers were in the position to afford him that role a couple of years ago, they’re not there anymore, and his quick disposals before taking the tackling heat just aren’t cutting it, anymore.
IS BRAD CROUCH BECOMING WHAT THE SAINTS NEED?
Maybe he was all along, but.. look, I am not sure whether this was a hot take or not – I really didn’t think his possessions hurt. They just seemed to be long to a contest more often tan not. However, in this game, he looked to be a little more composed and started kicking to position a little more.
Games like this really suit the string St Kilda mids. We covered both Steele and Dunstan above, but seven tackles from Crouch as well… that’s what you want from the blokes you bring in on good money.
CAN DOUGAL HOWARD WIN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
A bit of cross-promotion here to our weekly column for Inner Circle members, but with another strong week in defence, Dougal Howard is giving himself every shot at winning this award in 2021.
With a big focus on the true defensive aspects of the game, Howard’s spoiling and intercept marking have been highlights for the Saints this year, as the big fella has gone about re-establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the caper.
With a full year at the Saints under his belt, he is now the nucleus of the St Kilda back six, and the leader of that back six. Speaking of leading he leads the the Mongrel’s DPOY heading into this round, and he did himself no hharmin terms of holding onto it with his performance in this game.
Another studs-up marking attempt from Jack Riewoldt in this one. Last night, in the Geelong v Brisbane game, a free kick was paid against the Lions for using the studs in the leg of Jack Henry in a marking contest, yet Riewoldt is consistently permitted to kick people in the back as he flies for the footy.
One rule for one… another rule for Toby Greene???
Pinching this from the lovely Ms Danderfield on Twitter. All credit to her. Has a team ever had a player with more Norm Smith Medals than the entire team has goals in the game???
Any other positives for the Tigers? Marlion Pickett was really good – best tackling wingman in the game. And Nick Vlastuin was excellent as well.
And for the Saints? The 11 touches from Leo Connolly after he was subbed into the game were noticeable. The kid only played half an hour. In hindsight, I reckon the Tigers would have liked to start Ryan in the same role.
Jack Sinclair was handy off half back, and really looks to have found a home there this year.
Daniel McKenzie showed a bit as well, and his hard run and uncompromising attack on the footy really showed up a couple of his opponents.
No Shai Bolton sightings? No one spotted him? The Tigers needed his class and work in the guts to come to the fore in this game. It didn’t. With contract talks stalled, you have to wonder where his head is at. If the Tigers fail to make finals, he maybe done. As a matter of fact, anything less than a GF appearance and that could be the case.
Next week, the Tigers get the Suns, and I reckon they get them at the right time. They really struggled in this one and had a bit of the wobbles about them, like a fighter that had taken one too many on the chin this season. In the Suns, they get an opponent with a glass jaw, and they should go for the knockout early to aid with confidence.
The Saints have the Pies in a game they’ll be eyeing off as another potential win. If they get their hand raised there… do we start talking finals again?
No, stop it… Saints fans have been through enough. Just let them enjoy this one for a few days before we start talking about expectations. Great win, boys.