Josh Bruce kicks six goals wtf

By Tom Briglia

Round 2, 2015
Gold Coast Suns 3.5, 4.6, 5.13, 10.16 (76)
St Kilda 4.3, 12.5, 13.8, 16.8 (104)
Crowd: 13,694 at Metricon Stadium, Saturday, April 11th at 7.20pm

Well, as they say in the classics, “What the fuck?”

A look at the fixture through my own cynical eyes before the season had me working hard to find one win. Any four points, I thought, would only come with a freak occurrence such as last year’s Fremantle stunner, with us having a ridiculously good day and the opposition not just neglecting but point-blank refusing to turn up.

Commentators like 2018-2028 Premiership Co-Captain Jack Newnes advocate David King thought similar (although perhaps a bit more inclined towards saying outright we wouldn’t win a game), and to anyone who vehemently disagreed with that I’ll tell you now that you didn’t have this one pencilled in as a win.

Without that infinitely bemusing Fremantle win we would have been 357 days without a win going into last night’s match. Fortunately it did somehow happen so we vaguely remembered what a win may or may not feel like, and who better than the AFL’s original equivalent of the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak? Ok, it being there makes things a little interesting, but it cost unnecessary money and we could have put some other stuff there in the first place anyway (not that there was anything inherently wrong with what we had anyway).

It was an RWB Saturday Night Out, i.e. Rich and I having a few drinks and then probably just going home. Indeed, I was in bed barely after 12 midnight, but we didn’t think we’d be sneaking in a couple of Hendricks and tonics and delicious Boul…uh, Beilfel…Boulfilf…and delicious whiskey to celebrate a very unexpected and very promising St Kilda win.

We parked ourselves in South Wharf in Docklands for some reason, mostly because not too many people are usually there. Shocklingly, there were a few people around, so we had to be a bit crafty finding a spot with a decent view of a TV as we waited for the Collingwood vs Adelaide and Super 15s coverage to end. The staff were pretty tardy changing the channels over so we found ourselves plonked into the game a few minutes in, but not before we saw Jack Newnes run down Jarrod Harbrow, and Harbrow had just danced around him and run off. The resulting chain saw My Favourite Hair in the AFL pushing up the ground (and wheeling around on his left to continue last week’s theme), and Saad cleverly mopping up the spilled ball and kicking his first goal since returning.

The passage punctuated a few things set to run through the night – first, the pressure around the ground was immense, and caused turnovers higher up the ground which allowed for more space for the forwards to use as the ball came back into attack. Roo pushing higher up the ground at various points allowed him to play the role that he made a name for himself with in 2004 and 2009 particularly, but importantly was allowed to happen because of a functioning forward line (which I’ll get to). Finally, Saad played some really good footy before he was subbed out – two goals as well as a lot of presence and pressure, and he was helped out by Sinclair and Lonie as other small guys buzzing around the forward line creating problems and hitting the scoreboard. That was especially pleasing given Schneider was the late withdrawal so wasn’t out there to guide them through things.

But the pressure was the biggest thing on the night. When you’ve got Dylan Roberton dumping Jack Martin and then applying really smart, strong pressure on Gary Jr when he’s near goal then things just might be going your way. It needed to happen because by the time Dunstan (who already acts and looks like a 29 year-old who’s played 200-plus games) soccered a goal from relatively long range, the Suns had shown through Bennell and Rischitelli that they didn’t need much to bring their talent to the fore.

The second quarter essentially felt like a re-run of last year’s Freo match, and I mean that in the sense that every time anything happened – whether it be as a result genuine hard work to pressure or by chance – it seemed to go our way. More specifically, Rich and I couldn’t touch our parmas without something good happening, and it shows just how far we’ve fallen that this felt so incredible. You’d think Roberton topping off his heavy physical work with a great running goal (yes, that is a thing that happened) would be enough, but no.

So essentially for the second week in a row, let’s get to it: Josh Bruce. Never mind last week’s 2.2 and possibly Mark of the Year; his six goals on Saturday night inched into him a little different territory, past Daniel Wulf and Wayne Thornborrow’s four goal cameos in their short careers. Is this Gordon Fode’s five against Essendon at Waverley in 1994 (which earned our RWB Twitter buddy his own mention and highlight on Heaven and Hell; or perhaps his 5.9 of 25.17 in a 71-point win over Geelong in 1993)? Daniel Healy’s six against the Eagles in the memorable win at Subiaco against West Coast that punctuated the seemingly Grand Final atoning-form for much of 1998? Is he a Jason Heatley-eque proposition, or even Gary Lofts, being a key guy in attack but only for a few seasons?

I think we’re still stuck in a bit of a haze here; I certainly am. I think the best part of Saturday night was that it wasn’t simply six goals as part of a team that completely monstered the opposition (Fode’s 5.9 came against a team that also had a pretty decent guy called Gary Ablett, who kicked 5.5 of a score that would have beaten Saturday night’s Saints). Whilst the second term bordered on “procession” (I really didn’t think I’d say anything like that before the season started), Bruce’s four goals for the quarter all came from tough contested marks and genuinely good positioning and body work. His second goal came shortly after his first, from a pack-busting mark which made the sarcastic nature of comparisons to Aaron Hamill (made by the likes of myself) seem childish and ill-informed (in my defence, at the time I did think I was entirely correct and could never be wrong). They were just about all taken close to goal; three of them within a few metres resulting in two back-to-back banana goals from the pocket in the second term that took him to four for the quarter.

Watching Josh Bruce is kind of funny because despite him playing two tough and very effective games of footy to open the season he still doesn’t come across as an impactful AFL key forward. He’s more like the guy at futsal who’s pretty cute and has on-trend hair and facial hair and you think he’ll be the stereotypical handsome and athletic combo, but he wears Converse shoes when he plays and his touch is bit slow. Even when Bruce celebrates he kind of looks like a non-sporting guy getting more excited than their probably under-conditioned muscles can quite take – see his double fist-pump following his sixth goal, his quite endearingly smothering embrace of Jack Sinclair after the match sealer, and his quite bashful double-fister-with-bicep-flex on the siren.

What does it mean for the team? I’ll take the infinitely easier hindsight path first considering I’m continually botching the predictions. It means, as I’ve already said, Roo can push up the ground and use his senior influence and decent field disposal knowing that there is still a legitimate target up forward. When Bennell somehow missed the late shot at goal to bring the Suns’ run to six goals and have them just 17 points down, Roo took it on himself to work off his opponent and take the first possession from the resulting kick out. Membrey also comes into this point here for a similar reason, because it was him on the forward 50 arc that provided the target from the resulting chain, and he controlled the ball which soon ended up in Sinclair’s hands for final goal.

Like last week, Membrey didn’t have a ton of the footy but his body work was pretty vital in a couple of contests. Unfortunately, last week he actually finished with two goals which didn’t flatter his output but certainly changed his exactly what his output. This week he kicked 0.3, including a howler running into goal in the third which in hindsight probably would have taken things too far that the Suns simply would have slapped a CBF over the overdeal and not bothered mustering any sort of comeback in the last term. However, he gives Bruce a chopout which means Roo can do his thing further up the ground without having to worry if Bruce is being double or triple-teamed.

That he wasn’t, and that these guys were able to fulfil these roles to such effect, again comes back to the pressure of the other guys further up the ground and how quickly and effectively they turned that into attack. Armo had probably his best game of his career with 36 touches, doing a lot of his typical hard inside work to get things going for us as well as going inside 50 a match-high seven times; Jack Steven had “only” 22 touches but 10 tackles, Luke Dunstan 22 and eight, and he would have a big role in the chain leading to the final goal of the match, and Weller all figured prominently in the tackle count. That the next few on the list were backmen – Roberton, Shenton, Geary, and Delaney showed the same attitude across the ground.

To go with the really great game by Chips in his 200th, I think we finally got to see what a genuine, raw performance from Luke Delaney looks like. We saw what he can do not when the side is getting smashed in the midfield and the backline is getting bombarded with clean disposal from higher up; but rather what he can do when it’s all about himself and his opponent in an even contest and he came out really well, managing to thwart a number of Gold Coast entries. His excellent spoil was the beginning of the chain that led to Bruce’s sixth.

Also coming off the backline – and a part of a number of big plays off half-back – was New Zealand Jumper Model Shane Savage. A cagey start last week with his disposal eventually gave way to an effective game in which he kicked two great goals, and this week he was only behind Armitage in the team’s disposal count

To complete the circle, that pressure (officially now word of the week) also trickled down to the smaller forwards. Sinclair was running to all the right spots in attack when he wasn’t roaming around the middle of the ground and out wide, and the composure that went into his first goal showed he had learnt immediately from his Dribble File material late in the GW$ game. It was great that his second goal was the last of the match (to go with his enthusiastic celebration), putting a firm exclamation mark on St Kilda’s game, rather than the game being more defined by simply the weathering of the expected storm. The second term chain of Lonie’s over-the-shoulder handball to Roo’s volley which fell to Saad showed just how switched on we were, and Roo’s left-foot mongrel that fell in Lonie’s arms for his first goal showed just how much it was our night. Even the rubbish was going our way, although special mention must go to Billy Longer for clearly dropping the ball from a short throw to him after he got a free kick.

I liked Lonie’s obvious emotional reactions after he was pinged for in the back after working really hard to pressure his opponent, and then soon after when he wasted a really clear chance at goal. In Lonie and Sinclair there are two quick, energetic young guys who have come right into the side and looked immediately looked at home. Give the recruiting we became used to, who would have thought?

Curren came into the side and didn’t get a heap of it, but he was able to just finish off some of the cleanest footy played by the Saints in a few years, with Mav and Newnes charging out of the centre. However, he was the one that delivered the long balls to the goal square from wide on the 50 metre arc to ultimately set up Bruce and Sinclair for two of the three final term goals.

Underrated I think was Saad’s contribution. He only played a half of footy but was one of the liveliest off the ball in the forward half and in that short time finished with 2.1 and three tackles. With no sound at [Docklands Bar] the way he was gingerly walking off had me worried he’d hurt his adductor or groin or one of the other body parts and that his body had already given in under the pressure of the return to AFL footy. “Fortunately” it was concussion, and I say that now because it doesn’t seem too bad at all and it’s not going to keep him out for weeks like a muscle tear would.

After half-time things were different. Whilst we had the benefit of Nathan Wright coming on, who did it all in the middle of the ground and across half-back with some tough efforts low down and in the air – Richo was reluctant to say in the post-match presser that we’d tired. I know a lot of the talk coming from the players has been that they backed themselves to run out the game, but there was a little drop in intensity and for the all the class of Prestia, Rischitelli and Swallow there was a Lynch or a May (who had been moved forward) to contribute to the 1.7 they kicked for the quarter. Whilst it was expected the Suns would lift at some point, this seemed as though the game had shifted inherently.

We still managed to get to three-quarter time with what was still a match-winning lead, but I remember taking a second to mull things over as Rich got us another couple of pints and thinking how lucky we were that it wasn’t worse. If anything, it showed just how little you need to step back before it comes around to hurt you. So when the Suns’ five-goal sequence found Harley Bennell tripped just 20 metres out from goal with a few minutes left, the threatening 17-margin that Bennell would surely close the gap to seemed very, very manageable for the Gold Coast.

And he missed. If anyone could have messed it up, it was the St Kilda Football Club. And for all of Josh Bruce kicking six goals, Armo’s best game in his ninth season, Dunstan, Savage, Roberton, et al stepping up, it’s not until Bennell misses a sitter and Jack Sinclair kicks his second goal and uppercuts the Gold Coast humidity around him that St Kilda in April 2015 will leave the ground with a victory. It was time for a Hendrick’s and whatever that whiskey was called or two, and then for myself a long phone call one the way home with Dad in the UK, talking about the St Kilda win we had just watched from opposite sides of the world.

Fittingly, it was Bruce working hard up the ground – all the way to centre wing – to have the ball in his hands when the siren sounded. Three years ago I finished my Round 2 review – also of a (much, much bigger) St Kilda win over the Suns – with “just take the win and enjoy it”. Following on from what happened last year, we have no idea when we’re next going to enjoy a win – so I hope you’ve enjoyed this win. There are more genuinely good signs coming from the youth coming through this time around, however. Sometimes you get the sense that things are slowly falling into place.

  • Harry

    Early days yet but there does seem to be overall improvement in a number of players so yes maybe things are starting to fall into place (but at a high financial cost – $9m debt).

    Eagerly waiting for the Award votes.

  • Richard Lee

    I thought it was a big tick to Richo tactics-wise as well. The players really seemed on the same page, and good character shown at the end for the team to seal the deal.

    Interesting to see how the forward triumvirate will fair against more difficult defensive opposition.

    Awards should be up later today.