Same old jokes since 1873

by Tom Briglia

Round 17, 2017
St Kilda 0.2, 2.6, 4.11, 7.15 (57)
Essendon 2.5, 6.10, 13.12, 17.16 (118)
Crowd: 47,156 at Etihad Stadium, Friday, July 14th at 7.50pm

Ever since I had this platform I’ve whinged about the mere prospect of playing the Bombers, and after Friday night I’ll continue to do so. They’ve always presented a challenge for us. Even when we were challenging in the mid-aughts and they were suffering a sustained struggle they still gave us all sorts of problems. It was a loss to them in mid-2005 that was the catalyst for our stirring run in the second half of the season; we squeaked past them by three points in 2006 at a sodden MCG; they knocked us off with some arsey specials in 2007. Never mind the incredible last match the of 2008 home-and-away season that saw us smash through by 108 points to finish fourth on percentage. Of course, of course, of course it was the mid-table Bombers that would hand us our first defeat in 2009 following My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s post-siren miss, and then they knocked us off twice in 2010, before a thumping early in 2011 that really signalled our post-Gand Finals comedown.

I remember leaving the ground after that 2009 loss thinking that despite the loss, we finally looked like a club that might shirk those moments. That “it won’t matter so much in six weeks”. I remember those specific words running through my head. But here we are.

Sure, we’d accounted for them over the past three years in varying degrees, but the Bombers are now back to playing the fast footy that has troubled us regardless of ladder positions for…ever. It could be this week, it could be last decade, or it could be the league’s maiden season of 1897. Zero prizes for guessing who the premiers and wooden spooners were that year. Their culture of arrogance, aggression and success is entirely at odds with our own. “The past never dies”.

That’s not to say that’s what last night was all about. The Bombers have knocked off some quality teams – Port and West Coast comprehensively, and the Cats. They’ve come close to GWS and Richmond, and had the Swans and Lions fall through their fingers in recent weeks.

Because of that – as well as the aforementioned historical aspect – I hadn’t been this fucking nervous going to game for a long time. Arguably the most even season in VFL/AFL history and the essential cliche of “one week at a time” be damned. The media is growing tired of talking teams up or down, but after four wins the interrobang of Richmond game a few sneaky hopes for 2017 might have crept into the periphery of our minds. We were due a close game at the Corporate Dome television set too.

On the Friday morning Billings had the feature article in The Age, which is probably not a good thing. I remember Robert Walls’ write up of Brent Guerra in the same paper after he’d kicked seven in our Round 9 thumping of West Coast in 2004. We were 9-0 and looked to have the perfect compliment to Milne mopping up after the G-Train, My Favourite Hair in the AFL, Hamill and Kosi, not to mention being raging flag favourites. Guerra was never the same again (but of course played in a premiership…with another club. Twice.). On the same day, in the same paper, Jake Carlisle got a write up too ahead of his 100th game his old club, so it promised to be a big day for him, just like it was for author Wayne Carey with the announcement of Simon Lethlean and Richard Simkiss being forced to resign etc. etc. etc. See how easy that shit is? I’m sure a few St Kilda schoolgirl jokes got a run this week with the selection of St Kilda schoolboy Josh Battle.

So we opened with our first goalless quarter of the year. The opening few minutes gave me the same impression those of our first Sydney game did this year – we’re not switched on. It was last week inverted – the Bombers had more numbers at each contest and running for each other. They set up quickly enough to at least worry us out of the kick into the middle from half-back to open up the game, and when they had the ball off half-back they pulled players wide and kept space open in the middle for that kick that opens the game up. The quality of disposal was on display, too.

There were a few things in those early moments that we could worry about in isolation. Are we missing the option of Membrey going forward? Are we missing Webster’s disposal off half-back? Will we be able to catch them coming off two six-day breaks if this keeps going? And, miraculously, are we missing Billy Longer?

The bluntness of Richo in the post-match press conference was itself an accurate reflection of the performance. None of the above mattered. No intent, no DARE® Iced Coffee with ball. Despite finding himself again in the stepladder role, Carlisle was the only one who looked like he was on a mission. He actually had a few kicked on him by Daniher, but I’m not going to blame him too much for that. It wasn’t just that we were beaten so badly across the ground that the delivery to Joe was of decent quality, it’s also that Joe’s becoming so good now he’s the type of player you almost just concede will kick a few when they run out.

But no one else turned up. Carlisle’s good-time media buddy Billings was missing, Ross was quiet, Steele was a no-show and Steven was vaguely present as Merrett and Zaharakis went bananas in the head-to-head, again, an inversion on the previous week, this time of the Cotchin and Martin match-ups. Jobe’s absence was negligible.

Essendon’s poor kicking at goal kept us in it for a time, but through the second term the gulf in intent and class widened. They hit harder and got lower and it took Carlisle’s presence in the air out of the contest. Brilliant passes to Joe and a slick finish from Zaharakis at the St Kilda cheer squad end were damning, as up the other the Essendon fans ensured the dynamic of the Corporate Dome-style faux sell-out was based around the Bombers. When Newnes missed an easy set shot at their end it became an Essendon home match. When St Kilda showed they’d decided to keep going with the post-match interview with a player on the stadium screen even after a loss, and specifically after the other team’s song had played, and then had the ground announcer say “Go Saints!” before Essendon’s song started again, we looked stupid.

We’d prided ourselves in recent weeks on keeping North to 2.6 at half-time and then Richmond to 1.4. On Friday night we were 2.6 at the main break ourselves. We were up 92 to 10 against the Tigers at half-time and didn’t even end up doubling their score. Essendon were 3.9 during the second quarter but took themselves to 6.10 by the siren and more than doubled ours by the end.

Where was…anyone? I had to ask myself again standing around in the members’ section on level 2, which was flat as fuck compared to six nights earlier. Bruce had marked and turned on the 50-metre arc for a great G-Train goal but that was where it began and ended. There wasn’t even any vaguely interesting inane chat from coming through in the direct audio feed from the broadcaster’s ad breaks, which we’re privy to in toilets of The Doorman. It’s the kind of useless garbage you don’t think about during the week until you actually hear it.

Hickey’s hit-out straight to Green in the last few seconds of the half for an easy Bombers goal was probably where the whole thing was at. It’s hard to say “Longer has finally won”, because Hickey was coming back into the team after three months, including a knee injury, and in a week where no one else decided to run out either. I genuinely felt bad for Trickey running around out there, though. Kind of bemused and infuriated, sure. Peak Longer was something we’d never thought we’d see but if Billy doesn’t come back in next week then I hope they give Trickey another shot. Watching him get shoved around in the ruck, miss an easy shot at goal and walk into the path of Carlisle’s lead, and be outmarked by Bellchambers in the goal square in front of Essendon’s cheer squad felt like we might have been watching someone’s career be extinguished in two hours of footy. I really, really, hope it’s not the case. Holmes has registered 62 hit-outs and 57 in recent weeks but we’d be looking at a Longer-style ruck purposes-only player.

Meanwhile, up the other end Josh Battle was heading towards a Will Johnson-type debut (sans concussion), or perhaps even Jackson Ferguson given he’d been called up in the same week as a pantsing. I’d duly melted on Wednesday night when a tweet with some inside info came through saying the other, other JB – My New Favourite Player – would be making his debut this week. Just minutes later, the club confirmed as much on the site. His first goal showed he could at least kick straight when just about no-one else could. I wouldn’t be totally down on him coming out this week – given he’s still finishing school this was one more game than I expected him to play. Brett Thomas pointed out during the week that he was the first school student debutant for the club since John Georgiou, which is great historically, but also very not great historically. However, Georgiou’s time with the Saints did give us some quintessential 1990s Australian television feature journalism.

Bringing in Marshall surely has to be on the cards this week. Even if Hickey plays again, he can bring in support for the forwards and as well relief ruck duties, and keeping in mind Richo noted he was elevated to the senior list during the week more so to cover for height in the backline. Carlisle ended up going forward as it was and didn’t look out of place, but that’s more of a contingency place.

I use the term “My New Favourite Player” for Josh Battle with trepidation. “My Favourite Player” was Arryn Siposs, but unfathomably my support alone was unable to take him to the heights I was hoping he’d reach as a roaming half-forward. He and his family were massive Saints supporters, too. It seemed to fit. For a time he was genuinely a bright spot in the cold, dark fall-out following the 2009 and 2010 Grand Finals. Instead, names like Siposs, as well as Simpkin, Murdoch and Curren have joined those of Murray, Wulf, Beetham and Moyle from that last generation; those that gave some moments of genuine optimism for the years ahead, but were never quite a part of the serious challenges. Hopefully my ill-structured, convoluted ramblings can make Josh Battle the superstar cult hero his name alone suggests he could be.

Before the game it was nice to think Mav, Membrey, Webster, Armitage, Longer (?), Dunstan, Acres, Goddard, McCartin and to a lesser extent Minchington and Wright weren’t out there. The depth is building slowly, but it’s the trend line you need to look at. If the team isn’t psychologically switched on and isn’t working to provide a weight of numbers across the ground, or take the game on with the ball in hand, I don’t think Richo himself can do much more until we trade for or draft in some more class and quality. Otherwise, we’re hoping for some Seb Ross-style development from a bunch of guys. We’ve seen it happen in a few guys this season already, namely Billings, Sinclair and Roberton, but we’ll need more of it before we can slice our way across the ground, peak-Hawthorn style.

Given the type of season it is, of course it’s easy to get carried away with the next 11 weeks and feel like might be a chance of snatching premiership if we could only just scrape into the eight. That might be true, The list of guys playing for Sandy and the type of performance we turned in was a reminder that this group is still developing, let alone incomplete given our strong hand going into the trade and draft periods this year.

That didn’t change the sting of the loss immediately afterwards. We would have been sitting in the top four at the end of the night – as we should have been the previous Saturday night – had we won. Instead we were reminded what it was like to lose a game that genuinely meant something in the context of the season. It had been a long time. Welcome back to that disappointment.

A new high: Peak Longer

by Richard Lee

You know it’s just your night when Jack Lonie is doing checkside passes over his shoulder onto the chest of forwards. You know it’s your night when William Longer imitates a Lockett set-shot that then triggers an avalanche. You know it’s your night not even Mav Weller can spoil it.

If the win over the Giants game was to set the table for a big year, then this may have been the unctuous main course. Who knows when or what the dessert will bring?

I am, of course, indulging in the kool-aid of gazumping, thumping, K-Oing the reigning 9th place finisher. Wait – what.

Look, it was just darned enjoyable. The bar of the social club, on the second level of Corporate Whatever Rich Company Paid For Naming Rights Stadium, was over-bubbling in joyous footy chat. Half-time guest speakers Jimmy Webster and Mav Weller were met barely met with a shrug. As far as anyone was concerned, they were surplus – for one evening at least – seeing as they had not partaken in the onslaught that we had witnessed in the first half.

And it was an onslaught.

The un-tagged Jack Steven was back to his dashing, daring and deceptive best. He had 14 touches in the second quarter alone – as well as a goal. Billy Longer had the football game of his laugh, and managed to resist giving away a childish 50 meter penalty. Lonie was a pest as always, sucking Cotching into a first quarter tummy punch, but also managed to fit in time to play some good Australian Rules football. His checkside pass to Hotline Billings is genuinely a contender for Assist Of The Year (naming rights pending). Koby Stevens toasted himself to a great Saturday night, with his dazzling snap after a series of Robert Harvey dummies and shimmies.

The highlights were numerous, and they weren’t all forward specific either. I’ve never seen our back six mark the ball, particularly in contested situations, as they did on Saturday night. Aside from a few schoolboy gaffes from Daniel McKenzie, the performance from the defense was faultless.

Of course their effectiveness, as has been highlighted before, is reliant upon the cogs of the team defense machine turning over, and whirring along, like a Swiss watch. And on this night, it was on point. The Tigers squad of fleet forwards was rendered useless, and only on a couple of occasions in the first quarter did they have the half-chance to slingshot forward.

Instead, it was the likes of Newnes, Lonie, and Billings who were darting into space in the first term. Thanks to the great work of Longer, Ross, Steven and Koby the center square was ours, and as a result the forwards were loving the opportunity to operate in space.

Like I mentioned earlier, it was Longers best game since forever. I’m not ready to forgive against his wrap sheet of crimes against ball sports, but it was an undoubted step in the right direction.

An undoubted step in the right direction, and a big confidence boost are two things that really sum up the takeaways from the game.

For those ready to plan out their Grand Final Day right now, perhaps press pause. We played the Giants, and we conquered – on Friday Night Footy no less. And where did it get us? Not. Very. Far. It didn’t stop us from getting embarrassed on Adelaide Oval, nor did it stop us from laying out the red carpet for the reigning premiers or from getting out-foxed by the savvy Swans.

To say that the Tigers were off their game would be to completely dismiss the Saints. St Kilda was great. The challenge is for a performance like this to actually raise the bar of the side. Post-Giants win we fell right back into the pit that is the middle of the road of the competition. Suddenly finals felt like wishful thinking, the hopes were fading. Individual’s form was wobbling. Possible starlets like Acres, Billings, Dunstan were all being put back in the gun; Richo’s stock, in the fans eyes, had never been lower. And everyone was taking his or her frustration out on luckless Paddy McCartin too.

As much as I’m not ready to anoint Alan Richardson as the next Norm Smith, or Alastair Clarkson, I think he won’t be hoodwinked by Saturday night’s win. It was a new high point, a new bar to keep reaching for, but the challenges remain in front of us. We need to find the edge, the sharpness and that ruthlessness more frequently and against quality opposition.

Is Lonie all of a sudden the next Eddie Betts? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m unsure whether he will hold down his spot until the seasons end. The confidence that can be garnered from a win like that though can be significant, and for some players it can spin things on their head – in a good way.

Take Seb Ross for example. He seems three inches taller, and three steps quicker since that Friday Night win over the Giants.

And whilst we’re talking about Ross, it’s time to pay tribute to the midfield. The midfield has been my biggest concern about this side ever since the first steps of this rebuild. Yes, the depth has improved this year. Sinclair has added a new infusion of class and composure; Koby Stevens and Steele have reinforced a hardened edge; and Jack Newnes just keeps on running. Hard. On paper, they’re never going to make the juggernauts of the league quiver in their boots, but I’m not sure they fear any of the opposing engine rooms either, for that matter.

Billy Longer’s presence in this side has been a big bone of contention, particularly on this blog. He continues to divide the fans, yet games like Saturday Night will win him more fans no doubt. Billy definitely helped set the tone via some great tap work from the center bounces. I will continue to have a problem with Billy or any player, whereby we’re meant to do somersaults about when they make the effort to compete. If you’re an AFL player, competing and putting your body on the line should not just be a pre-requisite but be something that you relish. And so when I see players who don’t fall in line with that, it’s a complete red flag.

And so, they’re the standards that the Saints need to reaching and exceeding. As good as Saturday night, you don’t get any trophies for beating Richmond in July. Will this win be remembered fondly in a Troy Schwarz kind of way? Or is it a springboard to something more significant?

Stupefying more than electrifying

by Richard Lee

I still am not quite sure how that game was won. It was lost, and won, and lost. And won. And it just happened, and Josh Bruce ended up being a game winner – where am I?

I guess we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot one less time than the Dockers. Seeing this as words on a screen doesn’t lessen the ridiculousness of it.

The quick, just-add-water, headline grabber from this game was The Saints Win Away From Home – finally. Young side growing up; killing off the demons of traveling yada yada yada.

That’s all well and good but, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t live through 2012, 2013, 2014, to be barely clawing onto eighth. Issues are still present in many facets of the Saints game; it’s far too simplistic to say that inaccuracy in front of goal and Dustin Martin is all that’s missing.

With Jack Steven being nullified each week, the midfield looks very one-paced – particularly with Blake Acres out of form and out of the side. As good as Seb Ross has been this year, he doesn’t provide the incisiveness that Stuv does; he doesn’t bring others into the game as easily or as frequently.

Our litany of small forwards continually falls short on impact, both with and without the ball. Weller was anonymous until the last quarter, when he was thrown down back in a hail-mary play to quell Michael Walters. Lonie, after a decent showing against the Suns, reverted to his puppy dog nature of being way too enthusiastic for his own good. And he still can’t lay a tackle, I don’t care what the stat sheet says.

Of course, it was pleasing to see the mental toughness of the group shine through. Bruce worked as hard as anyone on the ground, and in the end it paid off for him handsomely. Richo’s Saints are nothing if not hard-working, and Bruce perhaps typifies that the most.

But that’s the rub.

Bruce, ended up with 3 massive goals in a low scoring affair, yet he still fails to be the aerial spearhead that is needed at centre half-forward. In all honesty, I had set aside to write and finish this match report last night, but I find myself still stupefied about the result. Just like some unbridled victories aren’t worth analyzing or dissecting, maybe these four points need to just be banked and nothing else.

At least the W sets up a big night at the Dome this Saturday night. I would love to see some changes made, and our hand will be forced on some anyway. Jimmy Webster is rubbed out for two weeks meaning that we’ll have close to zero chance to contain the Tigers brigade of speedy forwards. Maybe this means a Bailey Rice debut? Hickey would have to be a shout to make a long-awaited return, after 52 hit outs for Sandy. Let’s face it, I’m not going to be fully satisfied until Paddy McCartin is fit and prancing around the forward 50 again. That’s just me.

 

 

 

 

The fresh prince of Seaford

by Richard Lee

Round 14, 2017
St Kilda 3.6, 8.11, 10.14, 14.19 (103)
St Kilda 4.2, 7.5, 8.9, 10.12 (72)
Crowd: 15,844, at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, June 25th at 4.40pm

Let’s take time to give Hotline Billings a hefty, overly long slap on the back. We’ve all questioned his pedigree, and his mettle, at times but to his credit he has taken a significant step forward. Coincidentally, his 2013 draftee nemesis, The Bont has had a subdued 2017 which hasn’t hurt  JB’s story either. Jack was a big factor in the Saints overwhelming the Suns – he had 30 touches for the day, but more importantly the lion’s share of them were within scoring distance. His decision making and execution going inside 50 stood out, and his drive-by goal from 55m in the second term was the kind of gravy we still hope will become his calling-card.

Gold Coast hung around enough, and threatened to overpower the Saints with speed and dash through the corridor in the first half, but in Billings the Saints had an assassin with a steady trigger finger. I don’t think he’s the go-to man yet, but he’s becoming increasingly reliable. Richo’s correct in pointing out that as effective as he is up forward, he’ll need to become a part-time midfielder in order to maximise his potential.

I thought I would never be uttering these words, but Billings had at least one capable forward dagger in Jack Lonie. That, in my mind, was probably his best game of career. Was he in the votes? No. Did it convince me that Lonie will make it in the long run? I don’t think so. But, nevertheless, his usual enthusiasm was matched with some razor-sharp ball usage – he didn’t shirk contact either. More or less the same can be said for Jack Sinclair (a good day all round for the Jacks), who continues to sneak under the radar. He had 26 disposals, including a composed left-foot goal in the second term.

In hindsight, the second term was pivotal. The opening stanza felt flat, not just because there was a cold, lifeless atmosphere at The Dome at 4:40pm on a Sunday, but because the standard of footy felt circle-work like at times. It was very open, and the fact that only 7 goals were scored between the two sides says something about how they’re traveling overall. Whatever was said in the huddle, St Kilda’s structures seemed to kick into gear a bit more after quarter-time. The likes of Carlisle, Geary, Webster and Roberton started to impose themselves and repeat entries became a thing. Cue Billing – and Riewoldt.

(more…)

St Kilda Word of the Year 2017

by Tom Briglia

Round 13, 2017
North Melbourne 2.5, 2.6, 4.9, 10.12 (72)
St Kilda 5.3, 8.8, 9.15, 12.17 (89)
Crowd: 26,107, at Etihad Stadium, Friday, June 18th at 7.50pm

IMG_8633

 
There are different types of wins. “A win is a win” is a phrase used to describe a type of win, rather than throw a blanket over wins. The result after a grinding two hours in a concrete dome and four weeks of disappointment generally is probably about right for this.

At quarter-time, Dad, Matt, Richie and I moved from our Aisle 44, Level 1 seats that were being flogged on the cheap to four of the many, many free seats in the several bays immediately next to us, and sat ourselves in Row F. I don’t know how the North fans felt they stacked up in terms of turnout, but even after recent weeks feel like Saints fans still didn’t have an excuse to not rock up to this one. It certainly felt in the lead up as if no-one was left on our bandwagon. Three heavy losses to quality opponents, and then a week that saw Paddy out with a surprise injury, Carlisle under a cloud and Hugh Goddard out for the year, just because. The official crowd number I’m sure was bullshit, and whatever it was by game’s end it was probably deserving of the spectacle, but that’s not really how it works. We have a record membership but things always feel a little volatile at the Saints.

Aggressive /əˈɡrɛsɪv/ adj.

Taggers might just be back. There were a few things to learn out of this one. Jack Steven’s mullet was probably overrated. Not for its size – you can’t argue with physics – but for its supposed cultural impact. The G-Train’s receding hairline plus mullet number was far more organic and conducive to his on-field personality and game style, in an era that Channel 9’s rights to the TV coverage was turbocharging the idea of footballers as glamorous and well-connected celebrities.

Jack Steven’s ability to handle a tag is still a little up in the air. North threw second-gamer Declan Mountford in to watch him and Stuv hadn’t reached double-figures by the time Richo put him forward late in the second quarter (am I giving too much credit to Richo there?). However, Mountford wasn’t with him and Stuv kicked two goals late in the quarter that busted the game apart – the first a classy snap working off Higgins deep in the pocket and the second a crumbing goal via some quick thinking in a tight space in the goalmouth. On a night when Lonie, Mav Gresham and to a point the newly-christened Latte Billings were all having trouble rewarding the hard work up the ground, Stuv had enough quality in him to make the most of his chances.

The improvement of Seb Ross this year has been more than timely. That kind of trajectory is what we’ll be hoping for from players across the ground regardless of whether we land someone like Kelly or Martin, but right now he’s a genuinely good midfielder that can be particularly damaging. “If Steven can’t shake a tag then Ross is still free to do what he does” is a sentence that finished very differently even at the end of last season. Ross doesn’t have the speed of Steven but he has developed an acceleration that probably wasn’t present even last year, and that he’s utilised to good effect this year. The extra second he’s able to hold on to the ball allows anyone ahead of the ground to sort out what they’re doing and provide an option. Until Acres becomes more consistent, and/or Freeman/Kelly etc. come into the team this type of thing will be hugely important to the team. I never thought I’d say this but Ross become a rather dynamic player – his inside game is also strong, he’s now actually a kick and his hair is not that bad.

The midfield set-up sans Jack Steele seemed to work, but again the question about the Saints of 2017 – almost certain to prove the transitional pathway to the Saints of 2018 by personnel and dynamic – is about intent. I don’t think it would have mattered too much if the choice Steele of Dunstan would of made a tangible difference. The hunting in numbers was ferocious in tight, the aggression at the ball

Listen to the fans(?)

Richo was genuinely under the SEN/Twitter/BigFooty “news” cycle pressure for the first time, reflected in a growing divergence between where he publicly appeared to apportion reasoning for the trio of shocker showings and the personnel played, and what the fans believed to be the best thing for the club (this obviously varies wildly). It felt like this had hit some sort of crescendo when Richo revealed in the late-week press conference that Steele would be dropped. The reaction prompted Twitter to have its own article about it trending.

Perhaps Richo was thinking it was time for some tough love. Dropping Bruce had prompted his best game on his return, on a night in which we’d only kicked three goals at the final change. Perhaps the coaches are it will have the same effect on Steele? And maybe put others on notice too.

Dunstan has been see perhaps too one-dimensional and I think right now we’re hoping for a Seb Ross-style stealth development from him, gradually adding layers to his game. He showed off the upside of his inside work early as well as his newfound decent disposal, running to receive the footy that was turned over by Lachie Hansen’s chest mark drop on the wing and kicking beautifully to Bruce. The kick at goal was a huge reward for the passage that signalled the team’s intentions. Shortly afterwards he bulldozed through traffic on the opposite wing for two hard balls with a dish out to Lonie who kicked the first of incredibly rare back-to-back bullet passes. Gilbert to Billings was the second, and you can throw in Billings’ finish for the third if you like.

It was the lowered kicks and a distinct lack of clang that made Dunstan’s game seem much more like the Luke Dunstan of early 2014; a bolter in the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain stakes and what appeared to be our first draft pick since the Roo, Kosi, Lenny, Dal, etc. generation to make an immediate impact. The fear has been the ceiling was reached far too early, but if Seb Ross is what Seb Ross is now then I’m willing to accept Dunstan could follow a similar trajectory. His numbers of 18 possessions, six tackles and the token skewed set shot at goal felt like they said a lot more than his 28 touches against Carlton.

Maybe Dunstan will be one of those that answer the wake-up call of being dropped back to the broken-down Sandy. Bruce has now played his best two games for the year since returning from his omission.

A couple of issues come out of this immediately. Firstly, Sandy has the bye, meaning Steele has to wait at least one more week just to get the chance to prove himself, and I doubt he’ll come straight back in if Dunstan and Koby Stevens are still fit – not to mention Armo looking at a return to Sandy in a couple of weeks. That leads us to the second issue, which is team balance. I doubt our midfield can get by with all of Steele, Stevens and Dunstan in the same side, let alone throwing Armo in there as well, as much as I think Armo is quite possible cooked.

With the ongoing My Favourite Hair in the AFL and Joey situations, team balance is going to be a talking point throughout the rest of the year, regardless of how our season is travelling. Richo rather candidly said in the post-match that Paddy wouldn’t play in the same team with Roo, Membrey and Bruce. . “It’s unlikely, I reckon. That would be a bit unbalanced for us.” Usually the coaches give something a little more open-ended but Richo really put the acid on the forwards to perform, even if it’s only injury that takes them out of the team rather than form

Roo collected 21 possessions and kicked 0.3 – if he’d kicked straight we’d be praising him but instead we’ve got Sam Edmund going straight for the proverbial on the issue before the players have had time to hand the footys out to whichever smaller, younger humans are near the fence after the game. He played his roaming game and it still looks a little undefined but there’s no one with the same versatility and presence as him at the club.

Bruce didn’t have the stats guys working too hard but seven marks and two goals belied the quality of his contributions. His opening goal reminds not just his teammates but the opposition that anywhere up to 55 metres out from goal can be a dangerous part of the ground, and it was his strong contested mark at the back of the centre square and excellent kick to Roo on the wing that allowed the play to turn from Sam Gilbert being tackled hard up against the boundary in the back pocket to a Membrey goal in short time.

For his part, Membrey was one who set the tone early with very simple, straightforward attack on the ball. Much of it was working up the field and at ground level, showing a more agile side. We know he has good body strength given his presence in one-on-one contests (in tandem with his positioning instincts) and it was refreshing to see him use it differently, forcing a contest from a spilled ball or just making sure it was a Saint that was first to it even with contact or the boundary coming. That’s the kind of thing that says something to rest of the team, and again, the opposition.

When it matters

An encouraging aspect of this one was that there was no particular stand-out player that had to carry things. Membrey certainly wasn’t the only one playing their part and showing the oft-mentioned aggression that had been lacking in previous weeks. Stevens, Weller, Dunstan, Ross, Geary (C), Gilbert and Newnes all showed it from the start and through the first half in particular. Like Ross, Newnes has slowly grown his game to the point where each of the key elements of his game have become better and better over time – his decision making with the ball, his kicking, and particularly his attack at the ball at the contest – we could hear the hit of his contest with Tarrant from our seats in the pocket at the other end of the ground. In that space, Geary was excellent in picking his moments to go and when to leave his man and hit a contest again, and is obviously leading the 2018-2022 Premiership Captain betting as the incumbent, but for mine Newnes would be leading the rest.

It’s been made clear by Richo that when he talks about “aggression” it’s in reference to how we are with the footy, not just defensively. A little strangely this might have been best epitomised by Billings’ solo effort in the first quarter that resulted in his first overturned goal. A long kick to square had him outpositioned for the mark so he force the ball down front and centre. As Mav came though with his bandaged head (probably feeling pretty excellent about himself for it, too), Billings had spun around in the area and landed without any inhibition, and immediately stepped into the dangerous space to get the handpass from Roo.

Hotline Latte finished with 2.4 and eight tackles, and looked distraught when he fluffed his shot late in the game that looked set to deliver his third goal (for the third time that night). I thought someone should have given him a hug – he’d made a huge impact across the ground when the game was alive – but I’m hoping he’s well past letting those non-goals get to him in future games. Richo said after the game about the reviews, “If that happens in a Grand Final, then it’s a good thing”. It was frustrating on Friday night but I think we’d all agree with that. We’ve been there before.

The small forward line-up remains in limbo. Mav is still trying to do far too much when he gets the ball and not impacting the scoreboard enough. Gresham kicked 1.3 and would have had a much more if he’d kicked straight and like any forward, your game becomes a lot different if those numbers are improved on paper. He probably made an impact high up the ground for the first time in his career – his soccer-style control of the ball off half-back was a good one for the highlights reel – and I’d be keeping him after this one. Lonie had been anointed by the customary posting of a VFL highlights package to the club site during the week, followed by “In the Mix” hero shot. He’s kind of like a Gresham but way too excited. A couple of handy possessions here and there were ok but he, too can try and do too much with the ball. He tried to outdo Jeremy Howe in the last quarter when he simply should have stayed down from the pack, having a few minutes earlier attempted a 40-metre dribbler close to the boundary without looking inboard. Fortunately the game was already done. You could say he just needs to calm himself down and his missed shot from close range in the second quarter would suggest that. Interestingly it was Acres, Mav, and Lonie that all contributed something commendable to the chain that ended with Gresham’s goal late, with Lonie thinking his way through a tackle expertly.

He was one of our better players throughout and it was Jack Sinclair that had enough composure to kick the goal on the run and effectively ice the game just before the final change, after eight straight behinds from late in the second quarter. Since coming into the team in Round 6 he’s shown class and quality across the ground, delivering on the promise he’d shown in 2015, and in a role he’d struggled a little with last season. He makes purposeful, creative decisions and delivers on them. It’s a simple equation but players who can do that regularly really do stand out.

The rear end

Aside from a few nervous moments early when Waite got off Carlisle to kick the first and it looked as though Jake might be carrying more than he’d let on through the week. Richo said in the post-match that that he didn’t mention many individuals to the group after the game, but that he did point out Carlisle (incidentally, he said Bruce was one other that he mentioned). This appeared to be more to do with how he approached the week and the preparation, which is an excellent sign in itself. But by three-quarter time he was part of a defence that had only given away 4.9. Nathan Brown didn’t get a kick and only had six handballs for the game – going head-to-head with ball repellent Billy Longer – but they both did what they had to collectively on Ben Brown and Waite, and allowed Webster, Gilbert and Roberton to ply their trade as rebounding defenders, with Roberton back to his better form and Webster establishing himself as one of our most important and best-skilled players. The Carlisle and Brown combination is good if the midfielders and any players around the stoppages are aggressive (St Kilda Word of 2017) and use the ball cleanly going forward; i.e. if they give Carlisle and Brown an even shot at things. With Hugh out for the season again we’re going to really be hoping they both stay fit this year.

It’s also given more impetus for those keen on Joey to maintain his place in the team. All the Dermie faff from the previous weekend aside I’d been thinking that after all these years his experience was still only good for his loopy kicks no matter what the situation. Friday night didn’t particularly change my mind. Despite a couple of really good contributions, including a brilliant long kick on the rebound to Roo on the lead (Roo missed the goal of course), he still made some weird errors (not as weird as the 50-metre penalty Billy Longer gave away in the first quarter though). Most of these were confined to the first quarter – a high kick loopy out of defence to a contest featuring tall timber Jack Lonie, which came back with interest to Higgins for a shot at goal; he got the ball kicked up his arse by Newnes on the forward 50-metre arc because he couldn’t pick between shepherding and providing a handball option over the top of the opponent; and with 37 seconds left and a string of Kangaroos behinds that tempered the frustration of Billings’ first overturned goal, Joey took the kick-out and just had to hit a target, and we’d go into the first change with a lead of 22-point lead that even then wasn’t where it should have been. He bemusingly hoisted it to a pack not actually that far from goal, and from the throw-in Ryan Clarke snapped a very nice goal. Richo talked about what he brings to the team in a directive and leadership sense on and off the field, and his output certainly improved throughout the game. At what point do you need to start bringing in guys like Rice, White and D-Mac though? For as long we have a sniff of finals Joey simply won’t be dropped this year.

Richo watch

How are we feeling about him this week? Do we give him the credit for putting Bruce back into the VFL and sparking him back into action? What about Steele? Who is responsible for the drop-off in the last quarter? Which apparently season-defining and different questions will we be asking today/tomorrow/this week/next week about Richo and the players and the club? All this and more on Footy.