R13 – St KIlda v Gold Coast – The Mongrel Review


What’s a weekend of footy without a controversial decision?


Gold Coast and St Kilda are two teams that had supporters pretty hopeful leading into the season. Both sides can claim a list that makes use of A-grade talent as well as a top-level coach, and a lot of hope for a breakthrough run at finals.

The Suns have flirted in and out of the top eight for much of the season, while the Saints have struggled to put together four-quarters of football when seriously challenged, so no doubt their fans will be happy with their ability to recover from a late game fade out that almost cost them the victory, hanging on to win by three points. Some may point to the late free to Max King as the reason the Saints prevailed, but if we’re being fair, the Suns had their chances in the dying moments. too.


Head to head

The last five encounters between the two sides have been mostly low-scoring affairs, with only one score above 100 in round four, 2023 where the Saints put a hurting on the Suns 113-60. In these matches, the Suns averaged just over 65 points per game (65.2 to be exact) while St. Kilda averaged 78.4, and won four out of the five matches, with Gold Coast’s win coming in round 18 of last year to the tune of 26 points.

Both sides enjoy a play style that focuses on scoring launches from half back, as well as mobile midfielders willing to use the corridor in transition to find a King brother on the lead. They also focus on a very accountable midfield, with tackling pressure a key element rather than playing many wide outside mids as part of their general structure.


Ins and outs

In a rare occurrence, both teams went in without any changes from the previous week. I honestly can’t remember the last time this happened. Jarrod Witts looked likely to come back into the side, but instead it seems the selection committee took a cautious approach and gave him another week on the sidelines rather than have him make the trip to Melbourne with the AFL or VFL teams.

Max King was subbed out of the game against West Coast last week with a leg issue, but came up well at training, so could play against his brother once again.

Both sides have been fortunate with injuries so far this season, with only the aforementioned Witts and Lachie Weller missing from the Suns best 23, while the Saints only have to cover Liam Stocker due to abdominal strain after being fairly reliable since joining the Saints.


The start

Some games start with a burst of intensity and then settle down into a more routine pace, but this match was more about cautious movement and sticking to the gameplan and structure. Both teams tried to deny space to the person with the ball, with the first break from the opening bounce resulting in Paddy Dow winning a holding the ball decision on Noah Anderson that set the tone for the new interpretation of the rules.

Both teams were able to transition a little too easily out of defence, while also struggling to hit their targets inside 50.

It didn’t take long through for the Saints to open their account as Wanganeen-Milera showed a bit of candy to Fiorini, balked a shot at goal and then hit Higgins with a 20-metre pass. Higgins converted from 30 out to give the Saints an early lead that it took Gold Coast until ten minutes to go in the last quarter to overcome.

As mentioned earlier, a lot of the game time say the ball being halted and rebounded from half back by both teams, as midfield pressure made it difficult to evaluate good disposal options, while some strong intercept work from Mac Andrew and Jack Sinclair blunted what would otherwise have been goal-scoring opportunities.


The moment

It’s been said that tagging is something of a lost art, but I don’t think that’s true at all. If anything, it’s become something of a dark art that is rarely spoken of, but everyone knows exists. The role-that-shall-not-be-named. Some players revel in the run-with role—pulling on the guernsey, stepping on toes, making remarks about the wanton sexual prowess of the opposition player’s mother…

It takes a certain sort to embrace the role of villain in modern football.

And yet, Marcus Windhager’s ability to stifle opposing mids seems to be based on genuinely trying to out-work opponents rather than troll them to distraction. It’s been reasonably effective so far this season, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s a little too reluctant to fully embrace his inner demons and give himself over to the dark side.

In this match, he was brilliant in smothering Touk Miller for a majority of the match. While Flanders and Sexton have been vital in launching possession chains off half-back, it’s been Miller and Rowell who often function as that transitional playmaker role through the middle of the ground. Miller in particular has an almost super human ability to gut-run for the whole length of the ground to be an option for his teammates.

So for Windhager to keep him to 14 touches for the game (with a large portion of those coming in the last), I think it’s fair to say that he fulfilled his role to a very high standard for a majority of the game.

But… As they say, it may not be your night, but it can be your moment. After a tough fightback from the Suns and with his team down by four points, a boundary throw-in in gold Coast’s forward pocket resulted in a congested ball, but while Windhager approached the back to stifle any movement, Miller kept outside the stoppage and was ready to swoop on the ball paddled his way. Miller collected, took two steps and slotted a beauty to give his team the lead. His teammates went straight to him as he hyped them up as much as he could.

It was the moment where Gold Coast started to believe they could win, and with seven and a half minutes on the clock, they just needed to find another goal or two to put the game to bed.

Unfortunately, they squandered their shots that should have given them the victory, with Ben King having multiple chances to either take a long bomb shot or set up a teammate, and instead doing neither. That’s not to hang it all on him though, as the pressure and willingness to flood back in defence from Saint Kilda was excellent, and you could see that even after the final siren, most of them were too spent to celebrate much.

As a coach or supporter, you can’t ask for more than your players giving them everything they have, and I think supporters of both sides can be happy with the effort shown, even if the execution could use a little polish.


King’s free

OK, so we’re at the sharp point of the game—the game-winning kick that came from a controversial holding decision to Ben King.

With three minutes to go, the Suns in front by 3 and Membrey with the ball just forward of centre, King gets a holding free.

Just to set the standard, let’s look at what the 2024 AFL laws of the game have to say about it:


18.3.1 Spirit and Intention 

A Player who makes the football their sole objective shall be provided every opportunity to do so. 

18.3.2 Free Kicks – Prohibited Contact 

A field Umpire shall award a Free Kick against a Player when that Player makes any of the following Prohibited Contact with an opposition Player: 

Blah, blah, blah…

(d) holds an opposition player who is not in possession of the football; 

So, we can say that you can’t hold an opponent when they don’t have the ball. BUT, in practice, when two players are doing it to each other, the umpire will usually let it go.

Watching the replay, it’s plain to see that both players are engaged in holding each other, but whether it was smart forward craft or just the luck of the moment, King has his back to the umpire in the area, while Andrew is facing the umpire, and then he and King did a collective 180 turn, where King let go of Andrew before they’d reversed their positions.

“Arms around,” said umpire Paul Rebeschini. “The one I saw (was) right around.”

“He’s doing it to me!” Screamed Andrew. “It’s gotta go both ways…. AUGGGHHH!” as Sexton and Flanders came over to cool him off.

Had the umpire had the convenience of multiple camera angles and instant replay, he would most likely have not paid that kick. But, an ump can only call it as they see it. From his position up the ground, he could see one player with arms around another, not two players grappling for position.

In a perfect world, that’s not a free kick, but with human umpires only able to make calls based on their point of view, well, it makes sense, and I can’t see any way to stop that without adding more reviews and delays.


Mac Andrew v Max King

With King kicking the deciding goal as a result of an Andrew free, you might be forgiven for thinking that King had the better of the encounter, but to my mind, Andrew did an excellent job for the majority of the night. He was shrewd in knowing when to come off his man and float into a leading lane for an intercept, as well as when to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with King.

It’s unfortunate that Andrew had two free kicks paid against him that perhaps shouldn’t have been, with each resulting in goals. That is the lot of the backman though—every forward in the game will put as much mayo on any contact as possible, and do whatever they can to get an easy shot at goal.

King though was a workhorse all day. His ability to lead one way while calling it to be delivered another was reminiscent of another St Kilda forward in Nick Reiwoldt, though he doesn’t quite have the nimbleness that Saint Nick showed in his time at the club. That’s not a sleight on King, but an example of how mobile Reiwoldt was.

Whether you appreciate clever forward craft or enjoy watching the emergence of a quality intercept backman, this match-up had something for fans of both. I think King gets the win in this match up for his smarts, but for a 20-year-old kid still filling out his frame, Andrew looks like he has bucket loads of potential in the key defender role.

Staging for frees

The other free paid against Mac Andrew happened in the second quarter, where Dan Butler initiated contact with Andrew, then fell backwards all too easily when Andrews shoved him back.

I can’t blame Butler for doing this. He knows Andrew is a young lad, and he’s much bigger than Butler. Rightly or wrongly, when umpires see a big backman push a smaller forward to the ground, they pay the free to the smaller man a vast majority of the time.

Plenty of players made careers out of creating these frees. It’s smart forward craft that exploits inexperienced backman, and even the more accomplished ones if they’ve got a bit of heat in their blood.

But… it’s a terrible look.

Butler is just the example here, but he’s certainly not the worst offender. Backmen have had a lot of their tools taken away, and the preferential treatment given to forwards means that it’s harder than ever before to play in defence.

Staging for frees isn’t just against the rules, it’s a reportable offence. It’s tolerated because the line between ‘making sure the umpire sees it’ and ‘flat out flopping’ can be hard to define, but every year it seems players take it further and further. I don’t want to throw shade at other codes, but no one wants to see AFL turn into a soccer-style event where players act as if they’ve been shot due to practically no contact (there’s plenty to enjoy about soccer, but players rolling around on the ground after a near miss isn’t one of them).

We talk a lot about an umpires call costing teams the game, and plenty of comments call for that umpire to be removed from the top level, but if we’re going to do that, we need to also accept that if a player contributes to that by staging for a kick, they need to face harsh consequences as well.

Again, Butler is just the guy that put about 50% extra on the contact this week. It happens in every game, and pretty much every forward does it. I just think that we need to draw a line at some point before it becomes farcical.


Thomas Berry

I just want to highlight this lad because I think some people miss out on his contribution.

His shepherd in the forward line after giving the ball to Rowell at three minutes before three-quarter time gave Rowell the space to take his shot, giving his side a sniff after being outplayed all day.

Any coach would love to have a few players like that in their squad. A team needs stars, but also players who can help their stars shine.

Berry won’t make headlines, but he’ll make his teammates look good, and that can be enough.


Darcy Wilson

Some have Wilson as a smokey for the rising star award, and I can see why. His run and carry from half back into the forward line was a highlight of the match.

Of his ten disposals, five created scoring opportunities with delivery inside 50. He gained 290 metres for his team, most of it coming from running with the ball and showing his more senior pursuers a clean set of heels—and this wasn’t even one of his better games.

Wilson was once again calm under pressure, and tried to find the right option rather than just blasting the ball forward when he felt the breath of an opponent on his neck. He wasn’t afraid to take the game on, and knew where he had to be in the structure.

He did struggle to get separation, but I think it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a player that opposition teams will need to put some time into stopping, so he should get use to some close checking sooner rather than later.


Ruck battle

With Witts out for now, Moyle had the chance to try and give his team a reason to keep him in the side when the Vice-Captain is ready to return. His main opponent was Rowan Marshall. Aside from the six years of experience, Rowan has over Ned, their physical attributes are similar enough to not matter.

Both players had good games, with Moyle especially dangerous floating across half back to blunt the quick ball movement by foot that Saint Kilda used to move into attack. The stat sheet shows Moyle with zero intercept marks, but his ability to spoil with a mighty punch was worth a mark and a kick a majority of the time.

As for the pure ruck work, Moyle just had the edge in total hitouts, while Marshall had more hitouts to advantage. Around the ground, Marshall dominated the stoppage clearances, and also proved dangerous when floating on the thin-side wing to hamper the Gold Coast transition game.

I have to give Marshall the points here. Moyle was good, but with Marshall finding his own ball and giving his teammates first use more often than the younger lad, he gets the ruck crown for today.


The killing road

The Suns have targeted winning a final as their goal for 2024. The problem they’re facing is that they struggle when playing away from home. Their last true road win was round seven last year against Richmond (though technically they do have some ‘home’ wins in Darwin in that period).

If Gold Coast want to play finals, they presumably also want to win them, and there’s every chance that’ll mean travelling South and winning at some point. Winning away from your home ground is usually considered harder to do, but it’s something that the Suns will need to focus on if they want to move beyond the middle of the table.


Next up

St Kilda head over from a cold Melbourne to a hot Queensland to take on the Lions, who know something about going hot and cold themselves.

No side is quite as mercurial at the moment than Brisbane. After being blown away by Hawthorn in round 11, they gave the Bulldogs a hurting the very next week—and looked great doing so.

The home ground advantage will suit them well, but Saint Kilda’s disciplined approach to structure and defensive mindset will give the Lions’ forwards trouble finding open leading lanes. Daniher and Hipwood can overcome it easily when in form, but if they’re not, it’ll be a long night for the Lions.

I’m still tipping Brisbane here though, mostly for the home ground advantage, and the fact that if they want to play finals, this is a must win—and no one wants to go from a grand final to having only Mad Monday to look forward to in September.

Brisbane by 13.

Gold Coast have a bye before they get another shot at a road win as they travel to Perth to play Fremantle. Freo will be coming off a match against the Bulldogs, so the extra travel time for the Suns will be offset by having fresher legs. Whether it’ll help or not is anyone’s guess, but the Dockers have been in decent form lately.

Still, I’m tipping what might be considered an upset, with the Suns to get the chocolates.

Gold Coast by 5.