Under Ross the ex-Boss we grew accustomed to winning interstate; obviously for much of 2009 and 2010 the Saints were winning anywhere anyway.
So it meant a period of time (albeit brief, in the scheme of things) where we lived the dream of strong, cohesive performances interstate. The comedy hour displays that were a firm fixture in their own right- up until the players got out of the clown car to take on the struggling West Coast late in 2008 with a finals spot on the line – were shoved into Room 101. The hope was they’d stay there, with a premiership tempering any pain we would feel after slapstick efforts for another decade at least, in Victoria or interstate.
Those interstate performances gave us some memorable moments of skill, luck and controversy (most of those involving Fremantle), just to remind us all that at least if the Saints aren’t winning premierships, they’ll be providing genuine flashes of skill in vain, or be in the news for just about everything else.
But we enter a new era on Sunday, and for however many new eras this club should have had since 1991 where the laughing stock shackles were to be broken off once and for all (or at least for another few decades), there’ll be almost certainly teething problems as the players adapt to a new coach and game plan and the club adapts to new personnel. Comedy hour might well be making a triumphant return.
Playing Port Adelaide in front of a few fans and more tarpaulin could be just as much of a psychological challenge as playing in front of a packed house wearing purple at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium. The locals are just as unwelcoming, the tarpaulin indifferent to any of your heroic feats at the home of the enemy. Also, you’re St Kilda, and when things aren’t expected to go well in general they’re expected to go much worse interstate.
All of that said, St Kilda should win. Port had a pretty decent pre-season and the Saints didn’t as far as on-field performances went, but we all saw what happened at the MCG between Carlton and Richmond; if the Saints are good enough, they’ll switch on when the real stuff begins.
Their best is certainly better than this bottomed-out Port side, but with new personnel and a new game plan it might not click straight away. There’s a number of inexperienced or new faces in the line-up, with Ledger and Stanley certain starters and Siposs, Cripps and new boys Milera and Wilkes named on the extended bench. It probably won’t end up that way, but that’s potentially six players with 43 games’ experience between them.
Already injuries have come calling (losing Misson might be proving costly already), with Schneider and Gram to miss. Schneider’s absence opens the door for Milera to roam around half-forward – although I’d assume he’d be used as the sub if selected – or perhaps even Siposs after playing higher up the ground through the pre-season (although apparently his dad has said he’ll be playing for Sandy. Via Facebook of course, or so the story goes).
With development the order of the year, I suspect Cripps is only a slim chance to reprise his 2011 role of pinch-hitting forward (which he did with great effect) should he be selected, in favour of his more natural role of running through the middle from half-back.
A sunny day of 24 degrees with only light winds is forecast for Adelaide on Sunday, and it’s perfect conditions to be able to judge Stanley’s performance accurately. He needs to hold on to those 50/50 marks that he spills too often and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he and Kosi goes. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind moved incredibly well by his standards through the pre-season, and aside from the newer players selected we’ll have our eyes firmly on how he and fellow veteran Lenny perform.
Wilkes’ potential inclusion would probably see him played as a backman, although I’d probably prefer Blake if that was the case – the alternative is a far too tall forward line, regardless of how much more suited he is down there (although some would probably prefer him up forward to Rhys). The Port forward line could be rather tall at times (Butcher, Schultz and Westhoff) so another big body will be probably be needed, particularly with no Simpkin – the closest thing to a natural full-back.
With the defence looking shaky anyway, the midfield will need to reverse their leaky form of 2011. I’d personally take Hayes, Dal, BJ, Joey, Steven, CJ and Ledger over Cassisi, Ebert, McCarthy, Boak, Pearce and Rodan (a monty to give us grief if selected) but McEvoy, Kosi and Stanley will have to do the right thing by them too, not to mention that Lenny hasn’t played for 51 weeks. This is where the class of the Saints’ top players will need to really come through – as unhealthy the reliance is on the top several, that’s where this game will probably be won. Port will be introducing several new players themselves so that could be two teams out there on Sunday trying to find their way around things and putting on a good stage show.
As much as I like to laugh, I’m hoping the Saints keep as filled with resolve and hopes for the future rather than fodder for Monday’s weekend wrap-up. Either way, CJ will be playing, so there’ll be some character-based comedy on show at the very least.