In recent years, we’ve seen both St Kilda and the Gold Coast come together to deliver thrilling finishes to their contests – in their last five games, the average winning margin has been four points, with four of five of these games being decided by less than a kick.

By halftime, we were heading in the direction of another grandstand finish between these two teams. It was goal for goal in the opening term, and only poor accuracy in front of goal in the second term kept the Suns within striking distance at the main break.

After halftime, we saw the Saints lift elevate to another level, just as they have done over the past couple of weeks, delivering a convincing 26-point win over the Suns at Docklands to make it four in a row.

A lot of people immediately dismissed the Saints after their Round One defeat to Collingwood, who finished in the bottom two last season. But since then, they’ve been on the rampage, as if they’re demanding respect and commanding the outsiders to acknowledge them as serious contenders.

We’re only five weeks in, but it’s hard to argue the results from the past few games, and this game was no exception – the Saints are looking ominous in the early goings of season 2022. The Suns faced lapses in the second half, but also showed a lot of promise and fight all throughout the game.

In my first autopsy for the AFL men’s competition for 2022, let’s cut into this game and find out what happened in this contest.

 

JACK’S SERVING SNAGS

I can imagine how Saints’ supporters would be frustrated with Jack Higgins since his arrival from Richmond.
There have been games where he’s torn things apart with his goal sense, there have been games where he’s thrown chances away because of poor accuracy, and then there are games where he gets enough of the ball but he’s stationed a little further away than he probably would’ve liked.

His start to 2022 has been nothing short of inconsistent – four behinds against Collingwood backed up by a four-goal haul against Fremantle before being concussed against Richmond and forced to sit out against Hawthorn last week.
So, he came back into the side this week and delivered one of his best games in St Kilda colours to date with a five-goal haul. There was plenty to like about Higgins – he’s got an enormous work rate and has the smarts to pick out exactly where to be on the lead.

It was fascinating to see Fox Footy show at three-quarter time who exactly the Saints had been targeting inside 50 – Higgins was top of the list with nine. Don’t worry, I’ll get to young Maximus shortly, but it emphasises just how savvy Higgins is around goal. Right place, right time, right result.

One slight knock on Higgins’ game was the miss in the third term that saw Higgins mark inside 50, not a tight angle and about 25 metres out. Going for the kick around the body, he failed to take the moment to fully assess the situation and just went off and hooked it terribly. The around the body kick was a letdown for the Saints full-stop in this game and that was just one of a few examples.

But all in all, you’d take 5.2 from 16 disposals and seven marks from a small forward, wouldn’t you? Can’t imagine a Saints fan that would say they were displeased with that performance. Liars if they do.

 

HAPPY 100TH JADE GRESHAM

Everyone has got a favourite player in each club, even the ones they have an extreme dislike for. My favourite player at the Saints is Jade Gresham, with Tim Membrey a close second.

In his AFL infancy, Gresham was more used as a forward option, and it was his cleverness around goal and his willingness to get his teammates involved, as well, that won me over as a fan.

It’s been a shame that injury in recent years has hampered his career; a back issue in 2020 was the cause of his season being cut short, and then a season-ending Achilles injury on Easter Saturday last year meant that in just one shortened season and one full season, Gresham played only 14 games out of a possible 41.

Today, he played game 100 and is currently enjoying career-best football. He put up a career-high number of contested possessions against Richmond a couple of weeks ago and is currently averaging 25.2 disposals and 1.5 goals per game – getting a balance like that as a midfielder is tough to achieve in football currently.

The Saints had a lot of winners in the middle and were on top of the Suns in clearances and contested ball in this game; +18 in clearances, +9 in the centre bounces and +9 in the stoppages and were around +20 in contested possessions for most of the game.

Gresham had six clearances, three of them from centre bounces – only Brad Crouch had more in this game, and the pair of them alongside Jack Hayes all had three centre clearances each in this game. Jack Steele, well it goes without saying, doesn’t it? The real man’s man of the AFL just gets it done every week and this game was no exception. But what separates Gresham from his teammates is his forward potency. In his first four games, Gresham has attended 63 percent of centre bounces so far this season, which means for the other 37 per cent he’s either on the bench or resting up forward, and that’s even before we consider what he does when the ball is in general play.

To go with his seven score involvements, he delivered with two majors in this game – including a pearler of a kick from the boundary in the opening quarter. It takes him up to eight goals from five matches this year to open the season.

All I hope is that he has a clean run of health, because when he is, the Saints are much better off for it.

 

THE KING V COLLINS MATCHUP

How good is it to see Max King near the top of the Coleman Medal ladder five games into the year? King was drafted in 2018, knowing that it will take some time to recover from a knee reconstruction and didn’t play in 2019 due to a setback in lieu of preparing for his debut.

He had some games last year where he mentally did not look confident on his own game and the side suffered for it as a result, no such problems so far this year.

Which made this match up a very nice one to look out for. Sam Collins is unassuming, but also very good with his defensive craft and actually won out their best and fairest in 2020.

I was asked by our resident Suns’ tragic Brett Hodgson about who took the chocolates in this duel, because it’s an argument you can go both ways about.

Max King has had this penchant for really coming alive in one specific quarter per game so far this year and this week we saw him clunk marks every time it came in his direction and had a multitude of scoring shots. He should’ve had at least three goals to his name by halftime, possibly even more, but had to settle with two.

He would go on to kick a third, being on the end of a cheapie in the goal square, but I thought, for the most part, Collins played him very well and I feel more inclined to give him the honours in their duel.

There were many instances where Collins neutralised the one-on-ones every time the ball was directed to big Max. There were also instances where he and Charlie Ballard worked well to cover him off and allow Collins to float in as an intercept mark – he had six intercept marks and nine intercept possessions all up.

But for as good as Collins was, it’s hard to ignore the imprint that Max has left on this game – 3.2 from eight disposals and three contested marks is a solid return despite the significant defensive pressure by both Collins and Ballard.

 

SOMETHING ABOUT MALCOLM

He may not get many plaudits coming out of this game by the media mob, but I came out of this game very impressed with the work of Malcolm Rosas.

Last week against the Blues, he delivered with three goals in a great win against a side that had started the year with three wins in as many games. And whilst he will come out of this game with no goals next to his name, it would be incredibly foolish to drop him next week when there are a few other forwards that really struggled to introduce themselves to the footy – Izak Rankine, Josh Corbett, looking your way, boys.

The most obvious thing that people will spot in Rosas’ game is his work at ground level. There were many times throughout the game where he found himself at the foot of the contest and was clean with his gathering and overall was smart with his use of the ball.

Everything about his gather in the stoppage inside the Suns’ forward 50 in the third term off the Jarrod Witts hitout was sublime, except the desired result, but give him the time and the experience on the big stage, he’ll be polishing those off with a regularity that will excite the outsiders.

On top of that, he attended a few centre bounces as the game unfolded and certainly didn’t look out of place in winning a clearance, he won a centre clearance, but also got a further two from stoppage work.

The other thing that people might not spot as easily in Rosas’ game is his defensive work. The Suns were +10 in tackles inside 50, applying 16 for the match and Rosas was responsible for six of those. On top of that, he was the equal leader of the Suns for pressure acts with 26, alongside Matt Rowell.

They’ve got themselves a good one here, he’s a player prepared to work both offensively and defensively and the Suns would love a few more of those types running around.

 

PLAY IT AGAIN TOUK

All-Australian for the first time last season, Touk Miller is looking like he’s wanting back-to-back blazers this year.
In a match where the Suns had very few consistent contributors in comparison to the winners, Miller was at his best, running the ball through the midfield and working his backside off to make sure the Suns stay with the ball in their possession.

The thing about his game that stands out this week was his inside 50 entries. He had seven for the game, but three of them delivered direct goal assists and a further two were involved in scores.

He finished the game with 32 disposals, half of them coming direct from contested situations, and on top of that, had four clearances. Only Noah Anderson had more clearances in this game, but his game I thought was a little hit and miss.
Miller is the man that leads by example, a player that’s willing to do the hard yards to ensure the Suns keep the ball moving.

The only problem with his game here was his tackling… or lack thereof. He laid zero tackles in this one. Last year he was tackling with a consistency that you’d stamp as a staple to his game and a big reason he emerged as a star player, he averaged over seven per game last season for crying out loud.

Zero tackles is not a great look on the stats sheet, but one thing that he’ll have in his defence is that he was still applying pressure, laying the 19 pressure acts in this game – fourth most of all Suns in this game.

But look, that doesn’t outweigh the positives he’s had in this game, and there was plenty to love about Touk, once again.

 

OTHER BITS

Not sure how to assess Ben Ainsworth’s game, popped up with a goal early in the piece, and made no significant impact on the scoreboard until the game was basically over. Presented well further afield at times, and pressured well as a forward, but I feel like I’m wanting more.

Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera… This kid is going to be some kind of player, isn’t he? Not often do draftees come to a side’s 22 early on and thrive on the wing, but he is already holding good width, being used as an outlet and is slotting in rather comfortably, look out for the real rise in a few years’ time.

Really liked Nick Holman’s game in this one – kicked a goal, laid six tackles and had 19 pressure acts in this game, he has this attitude where he plays every game as if it’s his last, he attacks each contest as good as the last – zero fear.

Daniel McKenzie had a really good start to this game, I think the stat line read 11 disposals and seven marks to quarter time – he was huge, popped up for some big intercepts and showed some good run and use of the ball in the forward half.

Not sure how the Suns fans assess Levi Casboult’s start to Gold Coast life this year, but I’ve liked his application to contests so far this year. In this game, he halved the contests often and his set shot hasn’t been too shabby so far this year.

Been very maligned has Bradley Hill since arriving at St Kilda, but there were more good moments than bad this week, following his four-goal performance last week. Looked good when in motion and featured prominently in some scoring chains throughout the game.

Compared to Rowan Marshall, Jarrod Witts looked very rusty with the ball in his hands and a bit slow. His ruck craft was still decent – 31 hitouts, 11 to advantage in comparison to Marshall’s 22 hitouts and six to advantage.

For Marshall, loved his spread from the stoppages and his ability to push forward as a marking option in the forward half. Took eight marks, two contested and also six tackles and four clearances, outlining his second efforts.

Liked Brayden Fiorini’s game. Linked up very well and found plenty of space along the wings of Marvel Stadium – had 10 marks, 400 metres gained and 14 kicks at 78 per cent efficiency.

Paddy Ryder was stiff to be suspended, but how long has he got left before Brett Ratten, Brendon Lade and company say that they prefer Jack Hayes to him? I thought Hayes came in and played a pretty neat role behind Marshall as the secondary ruck and the forward option, got a goal and contested well.

Have the umpires scrapped the five-metre protected zone? I reckon I saw at least four separate instances where players ran through the protected area without a man and the umps failed to blow the whistle – wake up you bastards.

There were plenty of other solid contributors for the Saints – Josh Battle stuffed up a few kicks in the defensive half, but his intercepting has been outstanding so far this year, Jack Sinclair’s run and poise was top-notch, glad it’s getting more attention now. Tim Membrey was solid linking up with their ball movement in the forward half and the defensive games of both Callum Wilkie and Dougal Howard were pretty good too.

But with all of that said, that’s me done for this game, good to be back covering the men’s side of things for the time being and a great start to the year for the Saints, entrenched in the top four for the time being.

They’ll take on GWS next Friday night in a game that you would expect them to handle given the flip-flop nature of the Giants so far this year. They could really do a serious statement to the rest of the competition if they bring the right mindset to next weekend.

Gold Coast will head into next week’s QClash with the Brisbane Lions 2-3 and staring at the barrel of back-to-back losses given the Lions have won four of their first five games this season. But then again, these kinds of rivalry games have surprised us before.

Who’s to say it won’t happen again?

 

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