Following two weeks where the Saints fell back to the pack, there was no doubt in the hearts and minds of loyalists that a huge showing against the Cats was required. Trailing by 14 points at halftime, you could forgive plenty of St Kilda supporters for thinking they may have been at risk of dropping out of the eight completely.
And then it occurred.
They call the third quarter the premiership quarter, as it is when the good teams either rise above and put their foot on the throat of an opponent, or erase a deficit and establish themselves as the team to beat.
With a seven-goal blast, St Kilda gained that which they have desired in 2022 – legitimacy. To fight back and beat a quality outfit like Geelong after looking as though the game may slip away from them takes character, and this team demonstrated it in spades.
After kicking the first of the third term, Geelong hit back hard with the next two, and you got the genuine feeling that one more may have broken the St Kilda resolve, but hard running from the at-times-maligned Seb Ross, Jade Gresham, and young gun, Marcus Windhager, who is in the running for coolest name in the league, saw the Saints power back into the contest.
When all is said and done in 2022, this third quarter may be the moment that fans reflect upon and identify as the moment their team stood up and staked their claim on the season.
At the time of writing, St Kilda resides in the top four, though I am sure they’ll be displaced by the end of Saturday night – Sydney are playing Essendon, after all. But this win places them well for an extended assault on the top four, and if they’re playing like this, they’ll be hard to stop.
Let’s jump into the review.
DOES THIS PERFORMANCE RUBBER STAMP JACK SINCLAIR’S ALL-AUSTRALIAN APPLICATION?
If anyone was questioning his credentials, I reckon they may be a little quieter after this outing.
Playing his customary role off half-back, Sinclair was once again integral in the Saints’ stability behind the footy. In this review, I’ll probably mention the third quarter a lot – it was so important, not just to this game, but the season of the St Kilda Football Club – and in that period, Sinclair pushed up his defensive positioning to form part of the St Kilda wall, hemming the Cats into their own defensive half.
He had eight touches in that quarter, with none of them coming inside defensive fifty as he and his partners in crime – Cal Wilkie and Marcus Windhager – set up perfectly to capitalise on the forward pressure being exerted further up the field. If the Cats hacked the footy out of there, these blokes were waiting with reinforcements to send the footy back from whence it came.
In a point that will make a little more sense once you read the next section, Sinclair averaged 20.96 metres per disposal, indicating that, unlike some others, he was playing direct and damaging footy.
So, who are the other contenders for the AA half-back position that may nudge Sinclair out of the running?
Jayden Short looked as though he had a mortgage on one spot, but the Tigers have started running him through the guts over the last three weeks. That could work against him.
Stewart will likely own one of the spots. He was below average today, but has had some monster outings over the course of the year.
Bailey Dale is an option, as his run for the Dogs has been great, but I reckon he misses targets more than Sinclair.
Jordan Dawson is staking a claim in Adelaide, Daniel Rich in Brisbane, and Nick Blakey in Sydney would all be considered, as well.
Right now, if I was to pick two half-back-flanks, Stewart and Sinclair would have one each.
WAS COOPER SHARMAN PLAYING ON TOM STEWART EFFECTIVE?
One could look at the stats and make your mind up that way.
Of course, people who do that are mostly idiots. You can use numbers and percentages to prove anything you like – 67% of people know that. However, despite the fact that Tom Stewart racked up a heap of the footy, notching 27 touches, his intercept work was down considerably.
Now, there’ll be some who attempt to convince you that it was because Stewart played so much time on the wing. Usually, I would give them that, but just because he started on the wing, does not mean he stayed there. If you watch back, Stewart barely ventured past the centre, folding back inside defensive fifty almost immediately after the centre bounces.
He did manage to get his hand – singular – on the footy quite a bit, but the defensive attention inside fifty from Sharman limited his ability to control the contest the way he has become accustomed to. He just wouldn’t let him take the intercept grabs he usually does.
Need further proof?
I’ve got ya.
Stewart eats up distance when he plays in defence. He has notched a game this season where he has run and kicked the footy over 900 metres in a game. His season average is 21.13 metres gained per possession. Take it from me – anything over 20 is excellent, considering the number of handballs and sideways kicks we see in the game.
Today, that number was down to 11.48 metres per possession.
So, what does that mean?
It means he was under pressure and forced to kick backwards and sideways way more than he usually would. We can sit here and look at the basic stats of 27 touches, 93% efficiency, and so on, but he did not hurt the Saints with his touches, and damn it, put some respect on Sharman’s name for his role in making that happen.
The 21-year-old finished with just nine touches and a goal, but his efforts in this one were something that simply does not translate into stats. 67% of people know that, remember?
WHAT DO WE MAKE OF JACK BILLINGS’ RETURN?
He was handy. Not brilliant, but only a fool would think he was going to be on his return game after such a long lay-off. He was good on the outside, but some of his kicking… yuck!
Can we put that down to working off the rust?
You’d want to hope so – the bloke had 22 touches and 11 of them were turnovers, but he made good space, and played his best footy in the second half. What was pleasing was that he appeared to be able to run the game out well, collecting touches both deep in defence and inside forward fifty.
If I was to give him a score out of ten, it’d only be around a five, as those turnovers had the potential to bring the Saints undone. That said, I expect he will be much better for the run, and his return could allow for some more switching in the wing position between him, Daniel McKenzie (who had the worst turnover of the night), and Mason Wood.
If two of those three blokes can sneak forward and hit the scoreboard each week, the Saints become a very dangerous proposition.
JUST HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO KEEP TOM HAWKINS QUIET FOR THE WHOLE GAME?
It’s like trying to move a fridge at times – not one of those pussy single-door fridges, but the big double-door efforts that you get into the right place and swear you are never moving it again.
Then your missus says “we probably need to clean under the fridge” and you just die a little on the inside.
What? Does that only happen to me? Damn…
I really rate Dougal Howard, but I reckon he will be very pleased to put this game behind him and discount any career change that would involve moving fridges. Hawkins is a massive unit and as Howard found out the hard way, if you are forced into a situation where you’re testing your strength against the Cats’ big man, you’re likely going to end up being shoved out of the way and have a mark taken against you.
Howard had a good first half against the big fella, forcing him up the ground to get involved early in the game before the second half saw Hawkins start using his muscle. How hard is it to get good position on Hawkins?
Put it this way – Dougal Howard’s last four games of footy have seen him register no less than 15 one-percenters. As a matter of fact, until this game, he had not registered under ten for the entire season.
Tom Hawkins has a way of changing those types of runs.
Dougal recorded just two one-percenters in this one. Yep, -11-point-something on his season average. He was in the contest – he just couldn’t get his lanky arms around Hawkins to impede him enough.
Where Howard’s strength lies is in his elite closing speed. We saw this when the ball hit the deck and he hunted Hawkins, winning a holding-the-ball decision in the process, but body-to-body, Hawkins is a killer, and likely should have finished with six to his name in this one, with some uncharacteristic poor kicking letting Howard off the hook.
Put it this way – in finals (and I do expect both teams to be well and truly in the mix), Brett Ratten will be wanting to fold numbers back quickly to aid his full-back. As good as Howard has been, stopping Hawkins is no one-man job.
IF THE AFL ARE SERIOUS, DOES JAKE KOLODJASHNIJ GET A WEEK OR TWO FOR PUTTING JACK HIGGINS OUT OF COMMISSION?
I hate writing about this, as it looked to me like a pretty good bump. It rattled Higgins and you could tell it shook him up a bit, but I was quite surprised to see him subbed out of the game.
I don’t think Kolodjashnij will be too surprised if he is cited with a high hit, however.
As I am writing this, I saw Brett Ratten saying Higgins sustained the concussion in a marking contest with Tom Stewart. Maybe I will withhold my judgment on this until I get a better look?
Then why am I writing about it? Well, because I already started and I hate deleting stuff. So, yeah…
HOW MUCH LONGER WILL PEOPLE UNDERRATE BEN LONG FOR WHAT HE ADDS TO THE SAINTS?
Surely not much longer.
He does what no one else is capable of doing – he hits people hard!
There were a few occasions in this game where he just went harder at the contest than everyone else and either won the footy, or caused the play to be disrupted with pure, physical pressure.
Long would have been a monster in the late 1980s or early 1990s, back when you could run through someone like it was an everyday occurrence and not bat an eyelid. When I watch him do his work, I see a bloke that has to continually restrain himself from putting people on a stretcher, and the great thing is – I reckon his opponents all know that he is capable of doing that at any given moment.
Whilst I know there have been moments where his aggression has got him into hot water – the Sean Darcy hit a couple of years back leaps to mind – when you have a bloke like this on your team, what he adds is an uncompromising attack on the footy and the opponent. He is not going to let opponents off the hook because he is a nice bloke – hell, he might be, but this is called the football business, not the football friendship, and I would absolutely hate to be in between Ben Long and the footy when he has a head of steam.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES JADE GRESHAM MAKE TO THIS MIDFIELD?
Okay, I have to come clean, here.
I prefer to see Jade Gresham play as a hybrid mid/forward with a 40/60 split. I genuinely believe he has the capacity to be a player that snags four on a regular basis in that role.
But I guess that’s why I write for this crappy wonderful website and not in a coaching role, somewhere.
Gresham spent the majority of his time in the midfield in this game and was spectacularly good. His clean hands and his creativity with the footy in hand gave the Saints options galore. And when the whips were cracking in the third quarter, it was Gresham leading the offensive charge.
It was fantastic to see Gresham doing his best work when the Saints needed a lift. He had 12 touches in the third, including four vital clearances as the Saints pummelled Geelong and set up their win.
Combining with Brad Crouch, these two elevated their game in the wake of Jack Steele’s shoulder injury that saw him moved into a reduced role inside 50. Between them, they combined for 36 touches and 13 clearances as they rallied around their wounded captain.
So, in answer to the actual question – what Gresham provides is another reliable avenue for the Saints. I found myself wondering if Brad Crouch was the answer in 2021? Was he the man to aid Jack Steele, or did he need that little bit extra? Gresham is more than just a little bit extra, as he provides class either winning the footy, or getting on the end of a handball chain.
Assuming Steele gets back up and going in the middle, I love what the Gresham/Crouch/Steele combination offers as a collective. They really do cover all bases.
WHAT WILL THE CATS DO WHEN JOEL SELWOOD HANGS THEM UP?
It will be a sad day in Geelong when this champion of the game hangs up the boots.
At 33, and after a career of putting his body on the line week after week, how he can get out there, throw himself into contest after contest and manage to be the number one clearance player on the park is simply outstanding.
I know many people reading this will be St Kilda supporters, and you may very well hate Joel Selwood, but after watching him in this game, if you don’t respect the way he goes about it, you’ve gotta have rocks in your head. He is STILL their best midfielder. He is still their hardest player, and if there was a loose ball ten metres away and you matched him up against any other player, I would still back Selwood to win it.
I’m a Hawks man – I have watched him tear my team apart half a dozen times, dragging the Cats back when I thought my team had them beat. I’ve witnessed how good he is, and we got just a snippet of it in this game. 23 touches, ten clearances, eight score involvements and a goal assist… he’s got a bit left in the tank, yet.
IS THIS THE POINT WHERE GEELONG LAMENTS THEIR RUCK STOCKS AGAIN?
It’s not just the fact you have two rucks capable of being the best player on the ground at St Kilda. Sure, that’s nice in and of itself – however, it is a huge bonus that either one of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall can go and plonk themselves in the goal square and cause all types of problems for the opposition that makes this one-two punch a potential knockout blow.
Ryder was the standout in this one, slotting two goals in the last quarter after completely losing his man on one occasion, to seal the deal for the Saints. His aerial ability has always been his strength, but to see him hand-feed Jack Billings for a goal in the third quarter was just about as good as ruckwork gets.
AT some point this season, I would really like to see Marshall start taking control of games the way Ryder did in this one. At 34, Paddy is not going to be around forever, and at 26, Marshall should be right at the peak of his powers. I know that having the two of them playing in concert is ideal, but looking forward, it is imperative that Marshall takes the bull by the horns at some stage and starts to be the number one man.
Anyway, having Ryder as the number two option and snagging a couple of goals every week wouldn;t be so bad, would it?
WHERE IS THE BEST SPOT FOR ZACH TUOHY?
Basically, wherever you want to put him.
He is a weapon – strong in the contest, runs like his life depends on it, and he stands in tackles until they fall away from him.
Whilst I was effusive with the praise for a few players in this game, very few had the type of impact on the contest Tuohy did. Starting at half-back, his power running through the middle and wings saw him get forward to slot two goals for the contest (there’d be quite a few forwards who would like that type of return), and though I have seen him deployed on the wing quite often this season, he seemed to be quite content running off whoever was unlucky to play on him in this game.
His run to burn off an exhausted Seb Ross at one stage was brilliant, and at 32, is another of the Cats’ older brigade that shows no sign of slowing down.
ANY OTHER QUICK BITS?
Yep – loved the hard run of Zak Jones. He is a gut-runner of the highest order, and will add so much to the Saints as the season progresses. As his tank improves again, he will pick up a couple of BOG performances. You can see it coming.
Really solid effort from Sam De Koning, playing on Tim Membrey and matching him in the air. He collected 11 intercepts to make up for the attention Tom Stewart was getting.
Four contested marks for Max King, but I finished watching this game feeling as though he was pretty well held for the most part. My expectations of him are elevated, now.
Some really good defensive wins from Josh Battle in this one after a pretty slow start.
And Brett Ratten… more Windhager, please. Looks the goods.
And that’ll do. Saints fans would be rapt with this I=win. They get the Crows next week at Adelaide Oval. These are the types of games good teams simply do not drop.
As for the Cats, they get Port Adelaide on a four-game win streak. The good news is they get them at Kardinia Park. Didn’t think I’d be saying this about them at this stage, but they really need that home ground advantage at the moment. The ship needs to be steadied.
Massive thanks to all our members. And if you’re not a member… why not?