The Lions hosted the Saints at Metricon Stadium in a game set to dictate the trajectory of both clubs’ seasons. An unfathomable situation in the context of any season pre-2019, but par for the course in these Covid restricted times. *Sigh*
The Lions were looking to keep their place on the cusp of the top two and were coming off three successive victories, which were highlighted by their dominant display over Geelong just two weeks ago at the GABBA.
The Saints were looking to continue their red hot form after stirring wins over Richmond and Collingwood which had reopened the previously closed door of a prospective finals possibility. This was following their Round 13 capitulation in the second half of their game against Adelaide, which may be the game that comes back to haunt them later this year.
Brisbane started better in this game and the milestone man, Dayne Zorko got the first centre clearance in his 200th game. The ball effectively lived in Brisbane’s half for the first five minutes of the game – they looked in control. Then the Saints finally turned up. They began to really get into the faces of the Brisbane team. Both teams struggled to hit the scoreboard with any real effect as inaccuracy reared its ugly head to drag down a good game of footy.
In the end it was the Saints who put the hammer down. From around the halfway point of the second quarter they kicked five successive goals to drive home the dominance they had gained in field position and control of the game; the Lions were suddenly looking a little shaky. The Saints were switching the ball and constantly changing the angles of their movement to not let the Brisbane defence settle their zone. Meanwhile the Lions just kept bombing the footy and playing straight down the line, and let me give you a tip, when the opposition start off playing an extra big man and then you lose one of your key forwards early in the game, that is not a winning strategy.
The game settled into an arm wrestle with the lead changing between the teams several times. It was patchy. There were bursts of goals and then periods of play with no scores at all. Each team had times where they looked in control, but the difference was that the Saints pressure on the Lions was unrelenting.
The Saints pressure would finally cause the Lions to wilt, and they would pile on the goals in the last quarter to seal a brave victory against a really tough opponent away form home. This should see them rise a few places in the Mongrels Road Warrior ladder.
Let’s Get into the stuff that Mattered:
The Best Stuff
The Man of Steele
In this biased fan’s opinion, the only comparable Captain to Steele is Joel Selwood. Seriously. You can give me the crap about Cotchin captaining premierships or Sloane being an inspiration or Fyfe being a dominant player. It’s all irrelevant. To me, it is Selwood and then the rest. However, through this season it is Selwood and Steele, followed by the rest. Steele was initially hampered by his team not performing as well as he was, I believe there was a comparison to pushing a wheelbarrow full of excrement uphill. You’ll get the work done, but you’ll get some of it on you.
You don’t have to be the best player to be a leader, but Steele is one of those guys you’d throw yourself into oncoming traffic for. A lot will be made of Ryder and Marshall, of King and Membrey and also Dunstan and Highmore, but the main man is Steele. He has a presence about him. He just owns the footy field. He doesn’t just run around on it. He patrols it with a confidence of a player who knows exactly who he is and where he belongs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching Steele play.
The commentators were loving to mention that he had a quiet third quarter, which only featured two disposals. But they completely missed the fact he racked up 15 disposals, including four clearances and two critical goals to put the match beyond doubt in the last quarter. When the game was on the line, Steele wanted the ball, and as one of my favourite fictional coaches stated, “Winners always do”. Steele is a winner, and it looks like it’s finally rubbing off on his teammates. It may have taken them half a season, but Steele has dragged the competitive beasts out of them and helped them rise to his level.
You just have to look at a passage of play in the first quarter. Steele beats two Lions to the footy in the Saints defensive 50. He goes to ground to win it, doesn’t panic and feeds it out to a teammate. The ball goes out and gets turned over in the middle. It comes back towards the Lions attacking 50 from a short Daniel Rich kick which looked destined to find a teammate. Enter Steele once more. Diving across to spoil the ball. Two big efforts in the space of five seconds to set the tone of what is required from his teammates. That’s leadership.
The more I see of this guy, the more he looks like a bonafide star. I know you will tire quickly of the Geelong references, but he has a clear similarity to Tom Stewart. Looked-over at a younger age and brought in as a mature recruit. I sang his praises heavily in the Saints v Adelaide game, and by the looks of it, Highmore hasn’t missed a beat since then. He also led this game in intercept possessions (Nine), including six intercept marks. Highmore just doesn’t seem to panic, whether the footy is in the air or the ground. The Whole Saints defence deserves a mention for their performance tonight, but Highmore definitely stood out as the major weapon of the Saints defence in this match.
Charlie’s Harley stalled badly tonight. Unfortunately, it was bogged in some thick Web. To be exact, Jimmy’s Web-ster. Cameron was barely sighted all game as Webster harassed and confounded Cameron and gave him very little to work with in terms of space. This poor performance was exacerbated by the loss of Hipwood early in the game, when the likes of Cameron, Daniher and McStay became even more important, and therefore the down night became even worse. Webster didn’t just settle for shutting Cameron down though. Oh no, you think simply negating one of the best small forwards in the game was good enough?
Webster also made himself very useful around the footy for the Saints as he had 19 disposals, took eight marks, and had six intercept possessions. Webster consistently took the front position and backed himself to read the ball and make the play, rather than just clinging to Cameron and hoping for the best. He was willing to back his teammates to put enough pressure on the ball carrier to not allow kicks to Cameron out the back for easy goals. A masterful display of how to be a small defender in the modern AFL.
The Zak Attack is Back!
What a performance from Zak Jones in his return game. After two months out with a quad injury, Jones returned as though he had never even left, against the Lions. You would think he might take a game or even a half to warm back into the swing of AFL footy, but there he was leading the match with ten clearances, collecting 26 disposals (13 contested), and delivering six inside 50’s. Jones adds a real sense of purpose to the Saints ball movement, whether that’s busting out of a stoppage or sidestepping multiple players. He really makes them look dangerous going forward when he has the footy.
The Good Stuff
Solid game from the Lions skipper. He was their only multiple goal scorer in the match which is probably a testament to how dysfunctional their forward line was. He battled hard around the contest, and I think he was wishing he had Jack Steele’s level of support at times, as names he can usually rely on were down on form. Players like Robinson, Bailey, McCarthy and even Lyons were all at least slightly down on their usual output over the last two seasons. This left too much to the too few of the likes of Zorko, Neale and McCluggage. All of whom performed admirably. Zorko finished as one of the Lions best players and really deserved a better showing from his team in his milestone match.
If you’d asked Saints fans if they’d have taken King’s game pre-match, they all would’ve jumped on it. Three goals, five contested marks. Keep Harris Andrews occupied and not let him dominate the air in the Saints forward line. You beauty!
Kings second quarter was crucial. He marked with the authority of a more mature forward and provided some more insight to Saints fans of what could be to come when he fully settles into the AFL. Mixing it with Harris Andrews, Marcus Adams and sometimes both at once, King refused to be outright beaten for the footy and at a minimum brought the ball to ground and allowed his smalls to crumb effectively. King critically also did the most important thing in the second quarter and kicked truly.
Really strong performance from Adams in this match. With Andrews having his hands full with King and Payne getting beaten by Membrey, Adams had to try and help both players cover their men. I thought he performed his role admirably. There were multiple times in this match where both Andrews and Payne were beaten by their opponent, only to be saved by the assistance of Adams. He lead the Lions in intercepts with eight, including four marks to go with his 15 disposals.
Ryder and Marshall
From about halfway through the second quarter Ryder and Marshall really started to exert their influence on this game. It seemed like one of them was everywhere as they got on top of McInerney and really started to make the Lions pay for their style of consistently kicking the ball long down the line. They got on top in the hit outs, which included some sublime tap work, particularly from Ryder (Aside from one tap to Zac Bailey we won’t mention), as well as some very strong contested marking, which was huge in turning the match towards St Kilda’s favour.
Ryder and Marshall are definitely a sum that is greater than its parts. Together they form the best tandem ruck duo in the competition. There is no time where the Saints are weaker for one of them being somewhere else. This is unlike other tandems such as Gawn and Jackson or Naitanui and Vardy, where one is clearly supporting the other.
It was posed in the Mongrel writers’ group if Membrey was one of the most underrated players of the last few years. I tend to agree. He’s lead the Saint goalkicking multiple times and has been their most consistent key forward. He has a great leap and a good set of hands and is a reliable set shot. Membrey probably suffers the same fate as Jack Steele (Albeit to a lesser extent, obviously) that he suffers from performing in an unsuccessful side. In this match he assisted in making that side successful. He had 17 disposals, 14 marks (five inside 50) and two goals for his efforts. This included one ripper set shot from the boundary in the third quarter to halt the Lions momentum and grab the lead back for the Saints.
The Other Stuff
Injuries in Footy
Shattered for Eric Hipwood. Injuries will always be the worst part of footy (well maybe except for the Umpiring, am I right Lions fans?). Here’s hoping he can begin his recovery form his likely ACL injury and return for the Lions in 2022. In saying that, this is a huge loss for the Lions, they’d already lost Cam Rayner to an ACL earlier in the year, and now Hipwood. That’s two of their starting six forwards gone. Another injury to either Daniher or Cameron and you’d have start questioning how much damage they could actually do in any September action.
The Long Purple Patch
How’s the burst from Ben Long in the last quarter? Talk about coming good at the right time. The guy couldn’t do anything wrong as he set up a goal, kicked a goal and took a hanger, as he played a key part in ripping the game away from the Lions.
Another cracking game from Luke Dunstan. He’s really elevated himself since breaking back into this Saints team. If he can hold this form he will play a big role in the Saints push for a finals birth and will be one the feel-good stories of the AFL this year.
Daniel Rich just keeps doing Daniel Rich things. Another lazy 27 disposals in this game, 23 of them kicks, and a whopping 700+ metres gained! Rich is simply deadly by foot and was only really hampered in this games because of the relentless Saints pressure. He was lacing out teammates with 50-metre bullet passes. Only for the teammate to be hounded out of the mark by a Saints player, or to do something stupid like play on cause a turnover.
I really liked this performance from Brad Hill. I think the shift into defence has definitely helped him get into the game more and the look of him streaming from defence with ball in hand is what Saints fans have been crying out for. Hill also had some good defensive efforts and was hard at the contest, which are not things he is well known for. To me, he looks like a player who is buying into this change to try and recapture the form that saw the Saints recruit him to the club on big money.
Daniher and McStay
A disappointing outing from the Lions key forwards. Once Hipwood went down they had to commit to not letting themselves be out-marked. They definitely had to realise the workload they were going to have to pick up and, that if Brisbane were to win the game, they would both need to hit the scoreboard. They were my biggest disappointments in this match. I’m sure Lions fans are hoping for a better performance next week or they’ll be staring down back-to-back losses and will go from fighting for a top two spot, to fighting to stay in the eight.
I don’t know what to make of the incident between Paddy Ryder and Brandon Starcevich in the last quarter. Both players looked like they were going for the footy to me. I looked at it a few times and Ryder looked to have his eyes on the footy until he saw Starcevich in front of him and braced for contact (The AFL hates that) and the subsequent force of both players meeting threw Starcevich into the fence. I don’t believe there was any malicious intent from Ryder, and yes I am aware he has a habit of doing these things, but he hasn’t quite got the reputation of a Shane Mumford, has he?
Nevertheless, I believe he is likely to get cited for it. Three reasons. The aforementioned bracing by Ryder. The fact Starcevich was clearly hurt as a result of the incident, and I don’t believe he went back onto the field? Lastly, the contact itself occurred outside the boundary line. That’s not going to help his case. I hope I’m wrong, but who knows these things anymore? Maybe the departure of Steve Hocking could see a bit more clarity in these incidents develop in the future…
This could prove to be a loss the Lions couldn’t afford to have. Now, with injuries looking to play a significant part in the way they adjust their game style, the next two weeks will be critical. Two games in a row at the MCG against the Tigers and Hawks. The Lions will be looking to go 2-0 and put a massive dent in the Tigers finals hopes. Lose one of those games, and possibly drop a bit of form and lose touch with the top couple of teams and Gold Coast could smell an upset in the making in the Q-Clash. This next stretch is going to be a real test of character for the Lions.
Well, the Saints are coming. You could say they’re marching. And boy they better hope they’re in lock-step as they have a doozy of a run home. Next week they play the Power in a massive Saturday night clash at Marvel Stadium. I guess the Saints will have to ask themselves. Are they a top eight team? Because if they are, then based on Port Adelaide’s current record, that should put them in pretty good stead. Then it’s a trip to Perth to play the Eagles in a game that will be their chance to jump another team above them in a direct match-up. After that they play another huge game against Carlton at Marvel Stadium, and I hope that restrictions in Victoria have eased by then as that could be a sell-out crowd, with both teams playing for their season (should the Blues win their next two games against Collingwood and North Melbourne). Have the Saints left their run too late? They’re in a position where one bad loss could end their prospect of finals.