R5 – GWS v St KIlda – The Mongrel Review

GWS have quickly become the premiership favourites this season. They are one of only three undefeated teams, and have arguably been the most convincing of trio. Coming into this game, many would have expected the Giants to continue their winning ways, but the Saints have had the better of GWS lately, winning four games in a row before GWS broke the steak with the elimination final win last season. This, coupled with the poor start last week against Richmond, meant that the Saints had something to prove and it set up for an interesting contest.

But a slow start again hurt the Saints, taking until the 30-minute mark for them to even register a score. The Giants were able to use their trademark run off half-back with ease throughout the first term, whereas the Saints were repeatedly forced to go slowly down the line, often resulting in turnovers. The Saints always seemed just a metre too far away from their opponent, with only wayward goal-kicking preventing the Giants from blowing the game open.

When Sam Taylor was taken from the ground after a sickening fall from a collision with Jack Steele, the Saints looked to try to make the most of the break in momentum by locking the ball into their 50, but the Giants broke free for another goal. Despite this, the Saints refused to give up and finally got their first, and could have been closer but missed a couple of late chances.

The memo at quarter-time appeared clear for the Saints – move quicker! They tried to get going through handballs but pressure, both real and perceived, caused fumbles while the Giants continued to look calm. However, as the quarter progressed, the belief started growing, and the faster the ball moved, the harder it was for the Giants to stop it. But just as the Saints were starting to claw their way back on the scoreboard, the Giants were able to put the pressure back on with a couple of goals of their own. The game then dissolved into an arm wrestle, with neither side making the most of their opportunities at goal and both seemingly desperate to get to half-time for a break.

The premiership quarter started with a goal to captain Jack Steele, who was a shining light for the Saints, and was quickly followed by a clearance goal to Brad Hill as all the pressure turned back onto GWS. But once again the Giants were able to just keep their cool and slow the Saints up enough to prevent easy forward 50 entries, turning them into rebound chances. While the Saints kept fighting, they couldn’t break through the GWS defence and time and time again the ball went racing down the other end of the ground for a Giants opportunity. Despite all their efforts, the Saints suddenly saw themselves down by 29 points at the final break

An immediate goal to the Giants took what little steam there was out of the game and despite Brad Hill’s early efforts to try to keep the run going, the game felt like it was all stitched up. Sensing this the Giants seemed to be more comfortable chipping the ball around to wear out the Saints and chew up the clock.

But we all know it’s foolish in football to ever think you’re safe.

Slowly but surely the Saints kicked the next three goals in a row before putting the foot down to get two goals in a minute, bringing the margin to one straight kick before the Giants seemed to realise the game was in danger. Somehow, the Giants scrapped through a golden point but the ball went to the other end in a blink for another Saints goals with plenty of time on the clock. It took a big game-saving mark from the sub, James Peatling, to secure the win as the Giants survived the late surge by a lone point after leading by 35 points early in the final quarter.

The Saints will be left frustrated that they let the Giants get so far in front before launching their final assault, but they have been able to do something no other teams has yet – they made the Giants look vulnerable. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Giants as they face the big test of fellow unbeaten side (or until recently an unbeaten side) Carlton next week. For the Saints, they’d be disappointed to be sitting at 2-3 after being talked up over the pre-season, but there are plenty of positive signs going into their Thursday night match against the Bulldogs, provided they can fix up their first quarter sluggishness.


The Talking Points


The little things count

One area where the Giants were a class above the Saints was their kicks into the forward 50. Time and time again, they had the patience and vision to land a small 15-metre kick to their forwards rather than blasting the ball long to a contest as the Saints often resorted to. Unfortunately the Giants had the wrong boots on and kicked a poor 11.14 for the match. Had they been able to make the most of their more efficient entries, they would have had the game as firmly in their grasp as they seemed to think it was.


Fast football is king

This game highlighted just how important it is for teams to move the ball quickly. Both sides had moments when they moved slow and when they moved fast, and moving fast was more profitable every time. More importantly, GWS were shown to be vulnerable to their own style of quick ball movement, especially coming from a centre clearance. The difference was the Giants were able to find ways to halt the Saints when they were starting to get the upper hand in the game, whereas nothing the Saints seemed to do was able to stop the Giants’ run out of half-back. It seems the secret to beating the Giants lies in doing what they do, just better, but that’s a tall ask when the Giants have one of the best midfields in Tom Green, Stephen Coniglio, and Josh Kelly.


Hero to Zero to back again

Mitch Owens’ second quarter was an interesting one. He took a great leaping mark in defence, only to kick it right to the most dangerous forward in the league right now, Jesse Hogan, for a goal. He quickly made up for his error though with a great crumb and goal, but then followed this up with an out on the full from a simple kick around the corner. He was quieter for the rest of the game and didn’t add any further score, perhaps feeling the whiplash of his own topsy-turvy game.


Get ready to talk about concussion…again

No-one ever wants to see a player go down to concussion, and the way Sam Taylor’s head hit the turf was particularly sickening. But it was one of the unfortunate incidences that will continue to happen no matter how hard the AFL tries. It was simply two players going hard at the ball, and it’s something we love to see from the players as they put everything on the line for their team. No doubt though, there will be some commentators somewhere saying things like ‘when is it brave and when it is dangerous’ and ‘players need to put safety first’.

At the end of the day, footy remains a contact sport, and contact sports come with risk. Of course there are ways to make the game safer, but it seems every time there’s a concussion, the talk becomes ‘how can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?’

Simply put, you can’t.

Here’s hoping that Taylor is alright and has no long term effects from this knock.


Can’t go without mentioning..

Rowan Marshall was a clearance beast. He had his own record beat by three quarter time with 13 while the next closest players only had four. He finished the day with 16, three times as many as Jack Steele and Tom Green who had five apiece, and was a huge part of why the Saints were able to get so close. Along with his 28 disposals and 25 hitouts, he surely did enough to get the notice of the umpires and earn some Brownlow votes.