The perfect response

By Richard Lee

“The St Kilda side”, as Clarko referred to them in the post-match, were just too good.

That’s not the most poignant intro to a match report, but I thought I would take the opportunity to use that phrase while it was vaguely available.

Yet in all honesty, the size of the margin was as much a commentary on where Clarko’s boys are at as it is on “The St Kilda side”. Clarko’s Cluster is busted.

What was most pleasing was that St Kilda hit the ground running after what was a capitulation in their loss last week to the Cats. Ross, Steele and Stuv were showing signs of leather poisoning early on, as the side camped itself in Hawthorns half for the majority of the opening stanza. Typical of 2017, there wasn’t an appropriate ROI and the Hawks second major saw them sneak within 2 goals at the first change. Arguably, on the balance of play, the result should have been sealed by this point.

The halftime margin of 22 points in the Saints favour was a little more indicative of the general play, although the second quarter was more of an arm-wrestle. Finally, the Hawks were getting a bit more of the ball – more due to some of their stalwarts standing tall in the backline than anything. Jaeger O’Meara’s return wasn’t paying many dividends, although fellow recruit Tom Mitchell continued his stellar form and was one of the solitary Hawks to have broken-even come the final siren.

Like I mentioned, the efficiency in the front-half has been a sore point from the get-go this year, and until a breakout third term (8 majors), again it threatened to be a factor – Billings leading the charge with three behinds.

But this game was always going to be about the Saints’ midfield.

One of the most telling things to come out of last week’s last quarter meltdown was how frank Richo was in his post-match presser. He didn’t back down when saying that midfield had essentially turned it in; thrown in the towel; wilted. It was cut and dry analysis – and correct too. Even the pundits, who had predicted a big leap for this group this year, would concede that the midfield remains a question mark.

For what it’s worth, they answered in the right fashion, albeit against brittle opposition. Steven is definitely building in form and confidence, and played his best game for the year – he had a game high 36 possessions. More importantly he wasn’t alone, in fact the Saints had 9 players with 26 or more touches. For a week at least, the skeptics in the stands (and forums) will be stifled. Seb Ross seems to have legitimised his faux nickname as The General; not only is he getting possessions in bulk but his ability to sense time and space has really stood out. Steele played his most complete game for The Club, and the new additions, Sinclair and Koby Stevens, both put their stamp on the side. Koby actually was one of the team’s best. If he delivers 28 touches and 2 goals in all of his games then he will have completely exceeded all forecast KPIs for him to hit.

And although, some of the more hyped prospects, like Blacres and Billings were not anything to write home about, they definitely played their part – throwing in some special moments too. In fact, given the surprise omission of Luke Dunstan, this week seems like as good a time as any to take the temperature on the draft class of 2013. Hotline Billings had 20 disposals – which makes it two weeks in a row, after his big 28 against the Pies. Twenty isn’t going to light up footy forums, but it’s been popular opinion since his first games in the AFL that Jack isn’t the type of player that necessarily needs to rack up possessions in order to have a big impact. Again, he’s not broken into the stratosphere of young players like we’d hoped, but his 2017 is actually looking up after seemingly hitting rock bottom versus the Lions. Acres too was a steady contributor. Like a typical Blacres game, he flirted with brilliance, swooping through and out of tight spaces with great ease. Both of them felt like peripheral figures, rather than the key cogs in the machine we’ve hoped for them to grow into; the problem is, given the elevator-music vibe with which a lot of the second half was played, getting out of third gear was never something that they were forced to do.

This was especially so after things clicked in the third term. Eight goals were scored, and suddenly, any lingering anxiety about the result was a distant memory.

The tall timbers up forward were all prominent – lumping Roo into that category too. Saint Nick lead the way with 4 goals, including one snap after fluffing the simplest of chest marks. Membrey and Bruce had 3 each, making it an cool 10 amongst the big forwards. This was reasonably timely, given that the pressure on Membrey and Bruce has started to simmer in recent weeks, with McCartin’s VFL building steadily (spoiler alert: he kicked 7 on the weekend too) and Rohan Marshall quickly becoming a legitimate rookie upgrade option. As much as the Membrey/Bruce axis has not set the world on fire, the blame for the lack of polish inside forward 50 this year can by and large, be square at the feet of the midfielders and their wayward and harried disposal. On Saturday, Bruce and Membrey combined for 8 marks inside 50, and as a general rule that’s a result that would make any coach across the league happy as Larry. Unfortunately, when it comes to Bruce, you feel he could make so much more of his chances at times. He does so much right, in terms of how many contests he gets to; how many times he finds himself poised to be in the box seat for big grabs, but his body work often lets him down at the last minute. Luckily, it was neither here nor there – even though he won’t be living down his goal square miss for a long, long time.

While we are roughly on the topic of goals and goalkickers, Roberton and Carlisle found themselves in the goalkickers column. Robbo’s two majors, along with 29 disposals, and his usual raft of timely spoils, reaffirmed his status as probably the leader in the Trevor Barker Award right now. He’s been that consistent, and that pivotal in a lot of how we’ve moved the ball this year that it’s probably too late to even talk about “peak Robbo”. He’s set a new bar for his play and let’s hope he can maintain it. Carlisle’s sausage on the run, after intercepting a Hawks pass, was gravy and a great pat on the back after his smooth return to the big time.

*****

Looking ahead to next week, I think the 22 will continue to be shuffled. Billy Longer was thoroughly beaten by Ben McEvoy. Darren Minchington was pretty subdued, but surely still has enough carry-over points from the Cats game. Sam Gilbert’s usage as a faux ruckman may have saved his spot for now – yet, his selection status should still be a constant question. Gresham has now strung together two disappointing games – save a brilliant intercept and goal in the last quarter – and I think looks ready for some VFL time to recharge his batteries if nothing else.

There was the potential after last week’s dynamic Sunday at the Dome, for that loss to turn out to be a haymaker. Stellar efforts from the likes of Dangerfield and Selwood really underscored where the Saints are lacking and, depending on who you ask, how far they are off being a serious team. Despite the travails of the opposition, the Saints were almost as emphatic as you could ask for in their response. Ultimately though, you feel a 2017 retrospective is going to be defined much more by games against the likes of the Cats.


Sidenotes:
- Bruce may have benefited from Gilbert taking over the role of back up ruckman. Josh ran out the game strongly.

– Roo’s 4 goals, brings his average up to 2.6 per game for the year. He’s the solitary Saint with an average over two right now.

– It was really strange to see the #35 on the back of Jack Sinclair.

  • Harry

    Agree that the response to the Cats fade out could not have been more emphatic, with only a couple of below average contributors. I hope that McCartin is not rushed back in on one stand out game at Sandy; better to wait for a couple more 5+ efforts.

    As we move into May, it is informative to look back on the best players for the month of April. No surprise that my vote would go to Seb Ross, a consistent and good quality start to the season. Following on would be Dylan Roberton and for third I would push for Nathan Brown (a very low key but effective start to his time at St Kilda). Interested in what others may think.