St Kilda v GWS – The Mongrel Review

The Saints had not been Road Warriors to this point of the 2023 season. Not due to dire form, but lack of opportunity.

Outside Gather Round, St Kilda had made just one interstate stop – a loss to the Crows. This was the second leg of their back-to-back away stand, and they were determined to square the ledger.

Matt Parnell has a look at this one from a couple of different angles.


Modularity 102

Jack Sinclair’s matchwinning turn came when he stepped more into midfield, but that oversimplifies it – Sinclair stepping into the midfield gave the Saints a midfield. Not to get all inside baseball on you, but a lot of this game involved a lot of looking at the team sheet to try and work out who was in midfield and, to a lesser extent, where they were.

One of my favourite things about GWS is their modularity. Players don’t stick to set positions and can largely skirt up and back a position or so. In the 6-6-6 era, it’s a bit confusing, but it works for the roster they have, due to the sheer number of players they can give midfield minutes if they need. They’ve always had an abundance.

Although the Giants didn’t convert what felt like a midfield advantage from the eye test, the game really turned when the half-forwards and half-backs got themselves into the mix. Stocker and Sinclair got themselves up the ground, Hill and Higgins came farther back with the ball to give the Saints some extra men and a bit more run. Thsi helped them out in transition, seeming to confuse the Giants and freeing up room inside 50 for Max King. It was particularly noticeable for Higgins, who kicked two and could’ve had a third but for the ball arriving late into the 50.

For GWS, their lack of ability to capitalise on their perceived midfield advantage and not turning it into scoring opportunities (or just straight-up scores) meant that the game was always in the balance for whoever set their side up better to take advantage of the situation.


The Swarm

GWS didn’t capitalise on that advantage for two primary reasons, and they’re both down to the way they set up the midfield. They throw more bodies in there and buzz around the ball (hence the advantage) and they play high up the field, which means that they get the ball and can transition as a team. The result of that is that there’s often no one to kick to. If there was anyone to kick to, it was often Aaron Cadman in a one versus two situation, a high variance position but not one you want to rely on. It’s effective, but creates sacrifices higher up the ground because you’re trading the ability to go forward to let yourself get the ball in the first place.

The other problem with this is that you’ve gotta be fast and smart, both with your legs and your ball usage. When GWS create an artificial transition and the swarm connects, wonderful. Majestic. But if you get outrun, or if the defence was set like St. Kilda’s often was, then there’s a ceiling on just how good this can be with the players they have. It just doesn’t work if you run out of legs or if you can’t break through. The team had to be united and at times just weren’t, both due to the skill ceiling and crafty work from Ross Lyon’s defensive structure. Despite his haters, he is a great coach when it comes to the way he not only inspires his own troops, but works t the deficiencies of his opponents. That felt like the primary reason GWS didn’t put up the score it looked like they were capable of.


What Does The Mean Mean

This is gonna sound harsh, but going into this game I would’ve said that both of these teams were among those who were most over or underperforming their level. No disrespect to St. Kilda, but they’re not a top-four team, They have overachieved, which is not a terrible thing. Actually, it is quite admirable. The same feels true for GWS, who have looked better than results would indicate. Therefore, this game felt like one between two teams with something to prove going in and could result in either a galvanising win or a disappointing defeat.

That said, I don’t think this St. Kilda team plays sustainably winning football, and although it didn’t happen today (although it could’ve), a regression to the mean is on the horizon. However, the big swing factor there is how good Max King can be. This was a performance in which their players played largely to their level, and GWS could’ve had them if not for their aforementioned conversion issues. On a similar note, it felt like GWS played to their level, and an average performance by both teams led to a St. Kilda win, which feels fair, on the balance of things. The large-scale point here is that this large portions of this match felt as though the game was crying out for someone to go a bit crazy, a la Toby Greene of a few weeks ago, and when Jack Sinclair did, his team won.

I’d keep my eyes out on both of these teams in future weeks, though, for their records to balance more in line with what you’d expect before the season started.


No sign yet of the Saints best forward line

There’s a bit of Max King love up there, but this really felt like the game where things would click for the nascent St. Kilda front six. Camaniti’s gone from not on a list to a viable second banana, and Phillipou wore the early burden well in King’s absence. The idea of the three of them combining with the surging Mitch Owens and the (relatively) experienced Higgins and Gresham would’ve got Saints fans excited.

It wasn’t a great day for Mattaes Phillipou. 13 touches, mostly on the wings, and listed as the starting centre. Maybe it is Ross the Boss testing what the kid can offer all over the park, but it just seems a bit of a confusing one for a player who’s clearly so talented, to have no real opportunity to show what he’d look like playing off Max King. On the other hand, it was a great day for Max King. Immediately the alpha in that forward line, he marked well, kicked well, and scored a from open play when he punted one out of the stadium. He was ably supported early by Gresham, who scored a couple when it looked like GWS were starting to gain control.

It’s an interesting one to watch going forward, given that that’s six players all under 25 who look like they should fit well together moving forward. They just didn’t have the opportunity to do that today.


The kids will be alright

There was a passage with about seven minutes left in the first quarter that exemplified the aforementioned swarm but also really showcased the player development GWS have done/have had to do. They win the ball and break down the far wing, all handballs- Peatling, Coniglio, Kelly, Whitfield, Callaghan, Bedford, Whitfield again, Cadman. All draftees and all bought into how they wanted to play, but also an indication of generations of GWS players with Coniglio, Kelly, Whitfield interpolating with younger players in the same role.

It just felt like it demonstrated just what they’ve had to do with their list. Although rarely players elect to go to GWS and players often leave, they still have the way to mould the players on their list to be what they need them to be.

In the end, the game belonged to Jack Sinclair. Clearly the difference between the two and the one player who stood up when the game needed someone to do just that. When you talk about someone being a difference-maker, check out the difference he made when doing what he has become so good at – moving from half-back int the middle and lighting a fire under the Saints.

A second AA blazer seems to be a formality.


Next week, the Saints should be able to account for the Hawks, who may be filled with confidence after pulverising West Coast, but hey… everyone pulverises West Coast.

Meanwhile, GWS will likely continue their run of honourable losses as they head to Sleepy Hollow to face the Cats.


PS – I’d like to thank Matt for stepping in at very late notice to cover for a writer who could not complete the review due to unforeseen cucumstances – HB


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