I hope this does not come across as disingenuous at all, because it most definitely is not. This is the game I was most looking forward to, as I thought it was line-ball, and if the Suns were going to make a statement at all this season, this would be the game they’d do it.
Expectations for the Gold Coast season were low, and injuries to Rory Thompson and Izak Rankine had their backs against the wall. The Saints took the Suns’ injuries, and raised the stakes, losing McCartin, Carlisle, Roberton and Hannebery for extended periods.
It was a battle of the underdogs, but in every game, one team has to be favoured. In this one, it was the Saints.
It was also the game that my wife thought would be the game of the round… for much different reasons. She isn’t a footy fan at heart – she tolerates my obsession and has a passing interest, but knows only Alan Richardson and Stuart Dew in relation to these teams, affectionately known in Casa Del Mongrel as “Sad Coach” and “Fat Coach”. She is even tempted to write her own review of this game…
… yes, I am afraid, too. Maybe it’ll happen – maybe it won’t, but in the interim, you’ll have to settle for the standard good, bad and ugly from the old Mongrel, himself.
The Last Quarter
Pulsating, hard and the result was uncertain. Sure, those things may directly relate to my friend, Joe Ganino’s sex life, but on this occasion, we are talking about the cracking last quarter of this game.
Nobody took a backward step, and yes we’ll get to the individuals who stood up – the Charlie Ballard, Jack Billings, David Swallow, Dean Kent and Josh Bruce performances that swung the momentum back and forth, but there was no player out there who didn’t go when his turn game.
The young Suns and the uncertain Saints waged a war of attrition, with bodies hitting the deck at every contest, and in the end, it was a combination of turnovers and an unwillingness to take responsibility to have a shot that decided the result.
Peter Wright got a free kick on the boundary, just over 40 metres out and elected to hit the top of the square – it almost came off, but almost isn’t good enough. George Horlin-Smith marked just outside 50 and he opted to pop it up into the congested area 20 metres out. It was cleared. Had either of them got the ball close to the line, Jarrod Witts could’ve been there to thump it through and tie the scores.
I get that the Suns wanted the win – you don’t play for draws – but truth be told, I wanted them to have something more than just a courageous loss. Sadly, that’s all they got, as the Saints landed their one counter-punch, and it proved enough.
If you thought the Suns would be pushovers, think again. If you thought the Saints may take advantage of such a young side, think again.
If you thought you’d be watching a cracking contest… you were right.
I have a bone to pick with Champion Data – they reckon this kid is rated poor. Yep, POOR! To them I say, watch this game, look at what he does, and how he finds the ball, and re-assess. He led all players with 30 disposals. It was the fourth time he has had 30+ in his career, and there’ll be plenty more.
The Suns securing him long term should be a priority. This is his fourth season on the list, and he looks like he is ready to make a stand in the middle to help Touk Miller. He had six clearances, seven score involvements, and sent the Suns inside 50 on five occasions. He also added two direct goal assists to his name to round out an excellent day at the office.
If Gold Coast fans are looking for something to hold onto as the season progresses, the development of Fiorini as he grows into this midfield role would be something I’d recommend. Screw you, Champion Data – he can flat out play!
After taking time away due to mental health issues, Steven returned to his bullish behaviour and monstered the Suns at stoppages. With Jarrod Witts dominating hit outs, Steven showed the Saints how best to rove to an opposition ruckman, and compiled 10 clearances to lead all players.
His run, and ability to get his disposals away both in traffic, and when wrapped up in a tackle made a huge difference to a Saints midfield that seems to have so many players that are too similar to each other.
He had 16 contested touches amongst his 23 possessions despite a question mark over his tank. I hope the Saints fans clapped this guy as he walked off the field. Without him, I have a feeling their team would’ve been in huge trouble.
He is in here almost on guts alone. Hobbling around like a peg-legged pirate, Captain Swallow stood up when his team needed him most, and despite lacking the proper use of a limb, he kicked two vital last quarter goals to keep the Suns in the game.
He was absolutely robbed on a contested mark about 40 metres out as the Suns surged, but rather than drop his head, he went back to the goal square, got a one-on-one contest on the next clearance, and took a contested mark.
I have to be honest – when I heard that Swallow was named as a co-captain, I wasn’t sold on the decision. He has been so injury-plagued, and you really want someone leading your team that can stay on the park, but after today, I got a real glimpse into what makes him tick.
A lesser player – a lesser captain would’ve taken his seat on the bench and started thinking about what was in store during the week in terms of rehab. Not Swallow. He stayed on, limped around the park and made a huge contribution when his team was down and almost out. He reached down, grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and pulled them up with him. That’s what leaders do – I’m sorry I doubted him.
This bloke has the tools to be an All-Australian player, but the way he has travelled the last couple of years, he has kind of been at the crossroads where he was either going to blossom, or wilt.
If today was any indication, maybe the blossoming has started.
Splitting time between half forward and the midfield, he picked up 28 possessions and ticked over at 82% efficiency for the game. Billings has the capacity to win his own ball, but spent a lot of time outside today, picking up 21 uncontested touches, and sent the Saints inside 50 four times. He had eight score involvements, indicating that when he did get the ball, he made things happen. It would’ve been nine had Dean Kent not somehow missed everything from 35 metres out in the third quarter.
Billings has the chance to be a special player, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that at another club, he’d flourish. I call BS on that. Billings will be special, and he’ll flourish when he is ready to do what is necessary to flourish. Perhaps 2019 is that time?
The Gold Coast kids
I’m going to excuse Jack Lukosius from this section as he is clearly a boy trying to play a position you’re required to be a lot stronger to hold down.
I’d rather focus on Jack Bowes, Charlie Ballard and Will Powell.
I’ll start with Powell – I know he had a couple of monumental turnovers, but I am not going to hold that against him. He’s 19 years old and is being thrust into a situation where’s he’s required to make tough decisions coming out of defence, and at times he misses the mark.
Sadly, for Powell, the Saints really hurt the Suns going back the other way when he did make a mistake. It’s an unforgiving game at the highest level.
But what I saw in between the mistakes is a kid who attacks the contest, makes things happen, and is definitely unafraid to have a crack at any contest. His 23 touches were hit and miss, but he puts himself in the right spot, and some of his raking kicks down the line on the far wing were absolute bullets.
It’s those risky inboard kicks he has to master. Those turnovers will kill you.
Charlie Ballard made one mistake in the last quarter, giving away a free kick at half forward for a push that he didn’t have to do. Other than that, I think we may be seeing a defensive star in the making. Forget his toe-stubbing JLT form – watch him in the last quarter today if you get a chance. He is as steady as a rock in the back half, and reads the play beautifully.
If you’ve got Ballard as one of your defensive pillars for the next ten years, I reckon you’d be pretty happy about it.
And then there’s Jack Bowes. Sent forward early in the game, he worked into the game from the second quarter and showed the kind of form that has Suns fans raving about his potential… okay, maybe it’s just been me that’s been raving about his potential, but damn it, the potential is definitely there.
Add in Fiorini, who we’ve spoken about, and the three draftees from this year, and the Suns have a solid nucleus to work with going forward.
I heard Nick Riewoldt speaking about him a couple of weeks ago, and he spoke so glowingly about Bruce’s workrate, and ability to impact a game late in the piece due to his aerobic capacity.
We saw a bit of that today, as one of the great weaknesses in the game is players’ inability to finish off after doing all the hard work. How often do we see players run their backside off to get the ball and once they get it, their disposal just isn’t there?
There was no such problem for Bruce today, who finished with three goals, and laid a couple of big tackles inside forward 50. His presence, with both the absence of Paddy McCartin, and the long leading Tim Membrey taking him away from goal, was vital to the Saints. Whether he was clunking a mark, or applying forward pressure, Bruce was sorely missed in 2018, and he made a real difference today.
I wrote about this bloke in the pre-season, and distinctly remember concentrating on his ability to get to the right spots, and find the goals more often than anyone else on the Suns’ list. I feel vindicated today.
Sometimes I watch him and see a bit of Luke Breust in him, inasmuch as he just hits the spillage at the right time to capitalise, and he did that exceptionally well today. He kicked four goals and looked ultra-dangerous whenever a chaos ball entered the Suns forward 50.
With Peter Wright working hard to bring the ball to ground at the very least, the opportunistic Sexton should have a good year in front of goals. If you give this bloke an inch, you’re going to pay. I fully expect him to attract the attention of several of the game’s best small defenders as the season progresses.
And I expect him to beat quite a few of them.
Sorry guys – he needs to lift. The Suns gave up pick two (Andrew Brayshaw) for this bloke, and it’s about time he started returning their investment.
At half time today, he had four touches to his name. Yep, just four.
In a game where the Suns were looking for people to step up, he stepped back. He lifted his workrate in the second half, but went at just 50% efficiency for the game. Of his 16 disposals, just eight were good. He is averaging 18 touches per game for his career, and will need to lift that significantly in order to make the price the Suns paid for him worthwhile.
His decision making is suspect – what was he thinking with that 40 metre floater to centre half back in the first quarter which saw Saints converge from everywhere? Luckily, an iffy free kick was paid to his teammate for in the back to bail him out. He needs to be better than what he showed today.
This is year five. His time is now.
When you’re one point down… have a shot
I wrote about it above, and I wonder how much of this would be different if runners were allowed to get out there and give an instruction?
Two-metre Peter, and George Horlin Smith were both within their rights to go for home and either level the scores or put the Suns in front. In a congested forward line, that lob up to 25 metres out… it hurt seeing those chances go begging.
Yeah, I readily admit it – I was barracking for the Suns.
Ainsworth has his legs taken
So since we’ve seen the AFL crack down on sliding into a contest to take the legs of an opponent, I’ve been a little dubious about the rule. As it was designed, it was to stop actions like Lindsay Thomas snapping Gary Rohan’s ankle – remember that?
Then it was extended to “contact below the knees” which is so open to interpretation that you often see players unsure whether they’ve got a free kick for having their legs knocked, or if they’ve given one away for kneeing someone in the head.
So when Jimmy Webster threw himself across the legs of Ben Ainsworth; an act just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than 90% of the “contact below the knees” free kicks we see called, why was Ainsworth not awarded a free? Webster obviously didn’t make the smother. The ball sailed through for a behind as Ainsworth writhed on the ground in pain and play went on around him for the next 30 seconds.
Sometimes our rules befuddle me. Ainsworth tried to soldier on, but his ability to influence the game was severely hampered by the incident. I’m not one for introducing new rules, but the interpretation of this one, where a player can take the legs of the kicker was clearly contact below the knees, only this time the ball wasn’t in dispute – Ainsworth was in possession. In my book, that makes it worse.
But I am happy for you to tell me I’m wrong.
As the contest wore on, I really wanted to see Jarrod Witts start taking the ball out of the ruck and clearing it himself. I know it is easier said than done, but he was far away the best big man on the ground today, and was easily outmuscling whoever the saints threw at him.
The problem was, when he was winning taps, smart Saints midfielders started roving his taps. Steven, Gresham and Ross started stealing his taps.
I thought Anthony Miles did exactly what he was recruited for in this game. 24 touches, nine contested possessions, and a goal is a nice return. He also put his head over the footy countless times.
I hate the roof open at Docklands stadium. I’m also not a fan of half the grass coming up when someone changes direction, so I see why the AFL wanted to leave it open. Who else can see the turf at that stadium becoming a huge issue over the next month? It’s like we go through a cycle with that place every few years.
I thought Tim Membrey really drifted out of the game in the second half. 11 touches for the day and working all the way to half back to get a mark later in the game indicates he was successfully stifled after looking dangerous early.
How good was the evasion of Matt Parker which gave him the time to have a shot (and miss by a long way) in the second quarter? That jump sideways to buy time and space, get himself open, and completely lose Ballard was the sort of thing Jordan de Goey does to buy time. Scary.
Amongst all the fumbles, the clean hands of jade Gresham were nice to see. I don’t think was anywhere near his best, but he has a touch of class about him, and sees the game evolving as well as anyone. Where do you prefer him? Midfield or deep forward? The more I think about it, the more I’d love to see him at half forward. He can get midfield influence but be responsible for either taking the ball inside 50, or having a shot himself. I don’t trust many Saints with the footy, but I trust him.
The Saints really punished the Suns on the turnover. As a matter of fact, I reckon the majority of their opportunities came from turnovers. The Suns were all in on forward entries, and when it didn’t come off, the saints were ready to go back the other way, and caught them out too often.
So what are the upsides here?
The Saints get the narrowest of wins, which removed the heat from the sad coach for a week and with Essendon being pummelled by the Giants this week, they’ll smell a little blood in the water. That might be just red cordial with the way the saints played, though.
The Suns get the Dockers at Metricon stadium – very winnable if they can replicate the last quarter pressure, but those turnovers… man, if they can just limit them, those who predicted they’ll go winless would be eating their words already.
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