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JLT Review - St Kilda v North Melbourne

Our third JLT viewing of the week saw North Melbourne and St Kilda square off in Werribee, of all places. Had I known it was there, I may have jumped in my car, gone for a drive, and then ended up at home to watch on the couch anyway.

Pretty nice for people in Werribee, though.

I really felt as though this game could’ve gone either way, and of the three I’ve watched thus far, this is the one that felt the most like a genuine practice match. You know what I mean, I’m sure? Plenty of free-flowing running from both teams, almost as though both were able to strut their stuff in periods without too much in the way of fierce defensive pressure.

The Saints had something that North simply didn’t in this contest, and that was a forward who looked like he wanted to be out there. Paddy McCartin is someone I’ve almost been ready to put a line through at times, but he demonstrated today why he is worth persisting with.

Paddy finished with two goals, but was also responsible for two direct goal assists. Whilst his decision making probably leans toward being a little too unselfish for his own good, sometimes leading to a turnover, the fact he was out there clunking marks, leading well and converting shows that when they look to direct their offence through him, he has the potential to be very effective.

It was interesting to see the Saints opt to take Jaspar Pittard to the goal square and make him defend one-on-one whenever they could. He was beaten in a couple of man-to-man contests on the day by both McCartin and the initially butter-fingered Tim Membrey.

Membrey clocked up a couple of goals, but missed three set shots, his goals coming over the back late in the game. I’m sure no one needs to remind Saints supporters of his inaccurate start to 2018, but that’s the way he looked today. At least he’s getting it out of the way in the JLT series, right?

The absence of Lewis Pearce really opened the door for Todd Goldstein to have a significant influence on the game, and I thought he was one of North’s best for the afternoon. He had 19 touches to go with his 33 hitouts and a goal. Tom Campbell was able to get his hand on a lot of taps as well, with the Saints unable to have any impact in the ruck. Rowan Marshall may have been handy - I like what he provides.

Jamie Macmillan was able to do as he pleased off half back for the majority of the game, running around and picking up 40 touches in the process. His career high in an actual game is 31, so it gives an indication as to how much fun he was having out there.

But the fun stopped for North when Aaron Hall injured his knee early in the piece. Despite having several run throughs and returning briefly, he was unsighted on the ground in the second half. You don’t push these sorts of things in JLT games, and I was glad he didn’t reappear.

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You think teams will wake up one day and have someone go within shouting distance of Jared Polec? He gave North fans a glimpse of what’s to come, finding plenty of space all day long and being one of the primary targets for switches all day long. Only one of his 27 disposals were contested all day. He plays such a bruise-free style, that when you look at it, he seems easy to shut down. I love his running, and his change of direction when there’s an oncoming player is excellent, but he got so much easy ball today that it was crazy.

Polec is one of the few North players with the capacity to run, carry and make the 50 metre diagonal kick to open the game up. If you’re playing against North, you’ve got to at least try to shut that down. If you try, and he has ten contested touches as a result, that’s fine – at least he’s earning them. 26 uncontested possessions… wild stuff.

Marley Williams had a heap of it, but for mine he doesn’t hurt with his disposals. So many of those were as the third person in a four person chain of disposals that went absolutely nowhere. See, in this situation, I’d usually try to write something nice about someone to balance it out, but I’m feeling a bit grumpy today – screw it. I think Marley wastes it, and I didn’t like his effort to get back to cover a ball bouncing through for a goal, either. He might be my North player to hate on this season. Maybe not… there’s also Mason Wood.

Nick Larkey had a 3-4 minute purple patch in the third quarter, and is a good long term prospect for North as the second marking option up forward. It won’t be this year, however, and if North are relying on him and Mason Wood, the fears that they’re going to struggle to kick a winning score may be very real.

How did Wood go? Terribly, is the short answer. Six touches and four marks was his return for the day, and he even spent a little time in defence. He couldn’t get near it, but he did have a nice little palm down to set up Ben Brown for his only goal of the day. And yeah, Brown couldn’t get near it either. He looked every bit like a guy who had off-season hip surgery. He looked like Dirk Nowitzki, and not the 2011 Dallas championship version – more the broken down 2019 version staggering around the court. I don’t think Brown has ever been overly mobile, but he looks like he might be a little behind the eight ball this season. North are going to need someone else to step up early on.

The return of Dylan Roberton was a wonderful success for the Saints, providing reliable defence all day for the Saints. This wasn’t a game of high defensive intensity, by any stretch, but when Roberton was near the contest, he attacked it hard. Seeing Josh Bruce out there was also a good shot in the arm for the team, but it was the overall game of Jack Newnes and the steadiness of Jack Steele that powered St Kilda. Newnes' 22 touches and six marks saw him as a standout through the middle and in setting up teammates, whilst Steele's two goals and seven tackles steadied the Saints' ship early on.

I want to spend a little time writing about the best problem the Saints have – the Billings-Gresham combination. What a problem to have! Listening to the commentators in the fourth quarter, I realised Gresham only had 14 touches, and I wondered if that was wrong. He is very noticeable when he gets his hands on it, and looked at home in the centre square.

Whilst he was on midfield duties, Jack Billings drifted forward, and between them, they basically make up the perfect small forward/mid role. I’m buying Jack Billings stock despite many selling last year. I still believe he is an All-Australian calibre player, and if he can reverse the goal kicking accuracy issues that have plagued him, he is the sort of player that can elevate an entire offence.

You throw him and Gresham into the same team, and though you are getting many similarities, you’re also creating immense headaches for the opposition. One of my St Kilda mates believes the Saints should choose between them. I don’t think you have to make any such choice. If you get these two in a balanced forward/mid role each, you are on a winner. The challenge is there for Alan Richardson to get that balance right and capitalise on two of the best small forwards in the game in your side. His ability, or inability to do this might go a long way to extending or shortening his career at Moorabbin.

I hope this is the year for Billings. Saints fans have been patient.

A few little things – I enjoyed Matthew Parker’s attack on the ball and the man. He takes no prisoners and wants to be out there for the Saints. He played like a bloke who relished the opportunity to pull on a St Kilda jumper. That’s what you want to see.

Good to see Shane Savage hitting targets. I’ve had a soft spot for him since he was at the Hawks, and he had his kicking boot on today.

Just 11 touches for Shaun Atley today. He went at 100% efficiency, but at what point do you think he will reach his potential? Will he ever?  I rated him so highly five years ago, and have waited for the progression. It’s never come.

Ed Vickers-Willis at half back – what’s your verdict North fans? He might turn out okay, but there’ll be some games where a good forward gives him a bath this season unless they can get soldiers back to bolster that backline. Ditto for Ben McKay – showed a bit, but I don’t trust him yet.

Seb Ross did just enough today, and looked like a star player on cruise control. That’s all well and good in this forum, but with Jack Steven out indefinitely, we’ll need to see plenty of desperation from him this season, much like my mate Joe Ganino at 3am at the over 28s night.

It must warm the cockles (tee hee) of the St Kilda hearts to see Jimmy Webster running off half back and sinking that left foot into the ball. Whilst he wasnt hitting a heap of targets today, I rate this bloke so highly and think he’d be a very good bet for the Saints B&F if he stays healthy.

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Highly touted, Tarryn Thomas showed a bit in flashes for North, but there is obviously a lot of work to do. Luke Davies-Uniacke looked like a genuine midfielder in the second half, and Bailey Scott did a few nice things as well. Add that to the inside work of Paul Ahern and the North midfield looks set to bloom in the coming years. LDU should start producing this season after, what I thought was, a less than stellar first season – of all the high picks, I thought he got a little lost. Ahern is the other that should cement a permanent spot in the midfield. He looks a lot fitter, and will complement Higgins, Cunnington and Anderson well.

Jack Ziebell reminded me of myself at a party, today. He started really well, faded quickly, and was done relatively early and ready to head home. In the first quarter he looked like a genuine marking target, but that was short lived. He is the perfect third option, but if forced to consistently fly with big defenders, he’ll be found out.

Dean Kent snagged a couple of goals, which is exactly what the Saints recruited him to do. He will be a livewire for them up forward if he can stay healthy, which was always the issue at the Dees. I liked what I saw from him today, although once that fitness base builds, I’d like to see more defensive pressure. Of course, I’d like to see more of that from everyone out there.

As I said at the beginning, this was very much a your-turn/my-turn kind of game in terms of offence, and felt like a practice game. The Carlton v Essendon, and West Coast v Geelong games felt like legitimate contests. In this one, the amount of players free inside 50 for long periods, even when there was a stoppage in play screamed that either there was an agreement that this was a bit of hit and giggle, or that between these teams, defensive structures are a bit of a struggle.

My missus thinks Jack Billings looks like Simple Jack from Tropic Thunder. She was pretty happy when she found out his name was also Jack.

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Best handball of the game – tied between the hands from Jack Lonie to set up Gresham late in the second, and the mid-air catch and give by LDU to Ahern in the third quarter.

Finally, Dom Tyson at North… he looked really good, but I struggle to see him getting anywhere near Cunnington in the rotation, and that’s the role he belongs in. Jed Anderson, when fit, will be the second position he can usurp, but it’ll be reliant on injury. I thought he was very serviceable today, but is in this side as insurance, for mine. Pretty good insurance policy, though.

Keep an eye out for the rest of the weekend as we cast our eye over as many games as we can. At The Mongrel, we’re all about the footy.

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