St Kilda v West Coast – Alternate Worlds

This loomed as a real danger game for the Saints as they trekked west to take on the Eagles.

Our resident West Coast man, Daniel Jon Kershaw was keen to cover his boys and The Slugger wanted to take a look at this game through the eyes of a Saint.

Here’s what they saw, from two very different perspectives.

 

Who was the match winner? 

DJK – With Steele and Crouch amassing 40 and 38 touches each, you might be forgiven for forgetting that Marcus Windhager was the most influential player on the ground. Not only did he keep lock up Tim Kelly and throw away the key, but he also had 23 touches and seven inside 50s.

It’s mindboggling that someone who tagged the Eagles’ best player was able to exert so much influence the other way. I believe Unsolved Mysterious are interested in producing an episode on it.

 

SLUGGER – Man of Steele

Jack Steele… what a man. When the Saints needed a hero, Steele answered the call yet again. I think I forget just how good Steele is and how hard he works when I stop watching the Saints for a couple of weeks.  But you just cannot ignore such a monster game through the middle to propel his team to victory. I mean 25 disposals in a half of footy, in a game that your team cannot afford to lose if they want to play finals football. When your captain comes out and plays a game like this, he’s simply saying, “come with me, boys” and it was good to see that some players did.

It was said that the Saints had a bit of an honesty session this week and the pressure was put back on the players to deliver on their potential and form they ad previously shown. Well, Steele definitely responded to this emphatically.

Steele wasn’t alone, as Brad Crouch also played a blinder (a word I think that has been robbed from our footy culture of its genuine meaning by those damn google ads), as the two combined to control the midfield battle in this match.

 

Where did we win/lose the game?

DJK – Eagles have been criticised for their effort a lot in the past few seasons, but that is no longer the problem as the fresh crop of Eaglets are showing a lot of heart. They’re applying themselves to the contest, they’re hungry for the ball, but what’s failing them is simple skill errors. Eagles were destroyed in disposals – 328 to 401. Despite this, they still managed to rack up 70 turnovers. I don’t know what to say except this is absolutely atrocious. Sure, I love the new fast-paced game plan, but at what cost? They won’t win games continually handing the ball over to the opposition.

If they are backing themselves into using this new game plan, I hope they’ll be running drills all off-season to get it right.

 

SLUGGER– I said the same thing yesterday about the Cats, but we won this game of footy at the coalface. Our stoppage work and grunt through the middle was the difference in this game. The Eagles may have ended up with more clearances, but we got so much more value from ours. I reference this later in the moment that mattered most. We just got that much more value from our work out the middle and ultimately that was the difference. From Steele, Crouch and Windhager clearing the footy, to King and Co’s ability to compete in the air and then Butler and Higgins working hard at ground level. Everyone played their role.

 

What would have you done differently?

DJK – Besides sender an enforcer to take out Marcus Windhager’s leg?

But seriously, I think Simmo handled this game pretty well as a coach. I particularly liked the magnets being thrown around with Rotham in a new ruck/forward role (which has probably saved his career) and Darling rotating down back to help out. If anything, if I was to suggest anything, it’s to do more of the same. Sure, winning is great, but it’s all redundant at this point, so they might as well run a few crazy things up the flagpole and see how it flies.

For example, have I lost all sense in suggesting that Witherden might benefit from some time in the forward line I mean it could be the worst idea since casting Christopher Lambert as a Scottish highlander, but someone with such a booming foot who is used to chasing his opponent might be right at home upfront.

 

SLUGGER – I honestly can’t think of anything to have done differently. Ratten clearly came into this game with a firm strategy and highlighted some critical matchups and pretty much everyone executed. It’s football, so not everything is going to go your way, but the boys fought through it and Ratten stuck to his guns, and we got the win. What more could you want?

 

Most underrated performance

DJK – I’ll put my hand up and admit for the better part of 2022 I’ve complained pretty much non-stop about Bailey Williams not being up to AFL level. Despite what my other half says, I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong.

Bailey Williams played his best game in the blue and gold in this one. Up against a formable opponent in Rowan Marshall, Bailey got 18 touches (13 contested), 22 hitouts, ten clearances, and a goal. Great in the ruck, influential around the ground and best of all? He’s only 22 and likely to get a further year or two under Nic Nat before he hangs up the boots.

For the first time ever, I am suddenly a believer that Williams could be part of the future of West Coast.

 

SLUGGER – Probably not underrated but you have to go with the performance of Marcus Windhager. Windhager was given the job of tagging Tim Kelly and boy did he set the standard. The Eagles’ best midfielder was restricted to four disposals (three contested), two clearances, three tackles and MINUS 10-metres gained… Meanwhile, Windhager took the confidence from his excellent defensive work and attacked Kelly the other way and collected 23 disposals of his own in what was his best game at AFL level. Consistently, whenever we saw Kelly on-screen fighting for the footy, Windhager was just a step behind him. With some huge games in the upcoming weeks against the Hawks and Cats, Windhager will have some potentially massive matchups in the middle if the Saints are going to win those games.

I also want to give a wrap to Mason Wood who had another strong performance and has really found himself a good bit of form on the wing for the Saints this year. I’ve had my doubts about Wood in the past and he has more than proven me wrong.

 

The moment that mattered most

DJK – I’ve always considered Jack Darling a bit of a barometer for West Coast. If he’s up and about, things are looking good for the Eagles. And this is no truer than in 2018, when before sustaining a fracture to his leg, he was probably the best player in the competition.

So, in the first quarter when he decided to kick around the corner directly in front of goals and miss, I knew it was going to be one of those games where things didn’t go right.

Now I know the kick-around provides a greater area of contact with the ball and is considered to be “scientifically” more accurate, but we all know that when it comes to science, Jack Darling is not a leading authority.

 

SLUGGER – With one minute to go in the first half, the Eagles had brought the margin back to four points. They were in the game and had looked to have steadied after the Saints had wrestled the lead back from them in the second quarter. It had been a good quarter for us so far, we’d kicked five goals and regained the lead. Surely both teams are content to take the current margin into the main break? Wrong. The Saints respond with two telling centre clearances and create enough pressure in their forward fifty to kick two very telling goals that give them a 16-point lead.

The work in this hot minute of footy was awesome. Steele’s power, Crouch’s work rate pushing forward to kick the first goal. Windhager’s dare with his newfound confidence, Butler and Membrey’s poise and pressure up forward.  Everything clicked and we got those quick goals that we can sometimes leave on the field uncapitalised.

I say these goals, as they created the buffer that allowed us to hold the lead in the third quarter when the Eagles made their move and give us that edge when the whips were cracking. If the Eagles had managed to get their noses in front in that third quarter when they had the momentum their way, who knows what could’ve happened. That’s why those two late ones in the second quarter made all the difference.

 

Which player let us down?

DJK – It’s the second week in a row Kelly had been tagged into oblivion. With only four touches to his name, it’s no surprise that opposition coaches are sending a body to Kelly – it’s extremely effective and they will continue to do so until he learns to break it. Don’t get me wrong, I think very highly of Kelly, but it’s a significant weakness in his game. Perhaps he needs to take some lessons with Luke Shuey, who still won a Norm Smith getting tagged for half a granny.

 

SLUGGER – Possibly the player I thought may have been a bit quiet was Ben Long. Only the five disposals but still had the seven tackles. Also kicked a telling goal in the second quarter. Yeah, probably to harsh to have him here.

It was a real team performance and I think pretty much all players played their role. Everyone has moments they’d like over again where they could do a little better, so I’m not going to hang someone out for a bad moment or two.

 

 Which players from the opposition do you admire?

DJK – I don’t know what happened in the half time break, but Jack Steele came out like a man possessed. Sure, he didn’t set the world alight with a choc-a-bloc scorecard full of clearances and tackles, but he always presented as an option, tallying a massive 25 possessions in two quarters. I really love how his bloke goes about it and it’s great to see him rediscover his form after being injured for a good portion of this season.

The other player I admired was Dan Butler because he obviously read the scouting report which (most likely) said that West Coast have struggled against small forwards all year after the forced retirement of Sheppard. His bag of five goals came purely from hanging around the contest like a hyena ready to pick the bones of a fallen zebra after a lion has had their share.

 

SLUGGER – This has to be Tom Barrass. The man was a brick wall in defence at times during this game. It’s not often that a key defender leads a team in disposals for a match of football, but Barrass was just that good. Barrass notched a Mongrel defensive double-double with 10 intercepts and 11 spoils in the game, as he stood as a key pillar in the Eagles gameplan. Also, it’s not like Adam Simpson protected Barrass to play a loose man in defence, or anything out of the ordinary, he was still matched up on enigmatic forward Max King.

If you consider how much footy goes through King, the fact that he only had 12 disposals, five marks and two goals for the match, speaks volumes for the job Barrass did. Then you add in his work going the other way and you can really see that Barrass probably kept the Eagles in this match a bit longer than they really should’ve been.

I also can’t not mention Jai Culley. What a story. He looks a player, too. I hope to see a lot more of him as the game needs characters and players with a bit of personality and, dare I say it, a bit of mongrel.

 

Wrap up

DJK – I think most Eagles fans reading this would agree that this game was a far cry from those heartbreaking and frustrating losses early in the year. Sure, if we had better connection to our forwards, the day could have looked a lot different, but with so many kids on the field, the future is suddenly looking a lot less bleak. The emergence of Hough, the potential of Bazzo and the emergence of none other than our saviour, Jai Culley has been a pleasure to witness in the last couple of weeks.

I’m hoping that the AFL don’t realise their mistake in allowing us to pick up a prestigious talent in the mid-season draft. Much like another mid-season recruit named Jai, Culley will be the topic of Rising Star discussions next year. I know it’s a big call, but I honestly think we got away with one here. This kid should be top five in the national draft, not a freebie for a COVID hit side.

 

SLUGGER – We banked the win, Saints fans. Richmond opened the door with a poor month of football, and we finally took a step forward to getting ourselves back into serious contention for eighth position. The Bulldogs winning is not ideal, but we just have to focus on winning this week against the Hawks while they travel down to the Cattery before it’s our turn to head down the highway. Richmond hosts the Lions, so we’re hoping they can get the job done for us. With our other games being against Brisbane and then Sydney who are both fighting for possible top four spots, our future is now back in our hands, and I think we should adopt an adapted saying from a Pixar classic, that Dory sings “Just keep winning. Just Keep winning”.

 

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