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.

Along with Gilbert, Saint Nick was pretty much anonymous in the first term, save for acknowledging one or two of Joey’s ineffective kicks – the Save Joey campaign rages on. Starting with Bruce, the side started to squander opportunities left, right and center, until Roo broke the duck from a set-shot, around 30 metres out. He was due was a good day in front of the sticks, and the three that he kicked were at important moments. Overall, it was actually a really mixed bag of a game from Saint Nick. Had the result somehow been reversed, his individual performance I think would have been given the CSI treatment. Fortunately his goal-kicking was on point – his two in the second term were poignant in their steadying effect as the team continued to butcher forward forays and shots on goal. His set shots aside, Nick struggled – and you could visibly see why he was confined to staying at full-forward, which isn’t something we’ve seen for near a couple of years. Ground balls were troublesome, he had a couple of horrid field passes and he got mowed down embarrassingly in the final term with the goal square beckoning. It was the first time I saw him and felt he looked decidedly old within the 44 on the ground.

As I embarked on the Glen Waverley train on the way home, overhearing some Saints fans, I think I’ve sensed the general discontent among them. Never mind the two wins on the trot, the frustration has grown at the lack of killer-instinct, the lack of class. As much as I don’t think the Suns are horrible, it should have been a 10 goal victory. It felt like a similar story against the Roos; in fact, it’s been a theme of 2017. The game in Perth (we kicked 13.19), as well as the victory over Carlton to a degree (12.13), were just as wasteful in this regard. Not mention kicking 9.15 in a win over the Pies.

And whatever rhetoric that gets dished out about ‘just wanting to improve’ and yada yada yada, make no mistake, the Club has clearly made scraping into the finals (at all costs) as it’s primary objective. So the profligacy in front of goal, in the very least could be crucial in the race for 7th or 8th come September.

My frustration has bubbled over at this strategy in recent weeks. When you’re constructing a side from ground zero of a rebuild, you obviously get consumed a lot in the Xs and Os of individuals making their way up the ranks. There are some things though, that obviously aren’t in their control though, such as the selection and strategy of the team. Footy historians in the future I’ve no doubt will look at this season with bewilderment that The Club has gone all-in on Bruce, Membrey and a banged-up Riewoldt at the detriment of the development of Paddy McCartin. Forget that McCartin got a knock on Saturday, he’s more or less been injury-free and hell, he actually was playing some promising footy – despite the team playing rubbish. Richo said so himself.

Why hitch your wagon to the inconsistent trio mentioned above? Or, more importantly, why is our most prized asset not been given priority. It’s touch and go whether Riewoldt will play a final again in his career, let alone a premiership. Membrey seems to have reached his ceiling, and Bruce is culprit numero uno in the side’s woes in front of goal. It’s hardly a convincing setup to put forward ahead of a potential pillar. I know Grant Thomas’ frank opinions rub people the wrong way, but he’s right to remind everyone that we’re in the premiership winning business. And that no individual is bigger than The Club.

Further, when you commit to tanking and a painful re-build, the number one thing you hope for is the number one pick. The Age’s Jimmy Bartel was one to say that you can’t “hand out” games to youngsters. Whilst that’s true as a rule of thumb, there also comes a time where a player can’t learn too much more from playing VFL. And I also think, that most pundits, like Jimmy, would agree that Essendon’s promising play is largely due to a full season in 2016 when the Club just threw it’s confidence behind it’s youngsters and let them grow together in the firsts.

Speaking of development, Lonie’s encouraging performance is just another twist in such a topsy-turvy season. The side still has only vague signs of improvement on 2016, yet finds itself inside the top 8. Lonie had seemed to have used up his 9 lives; Billy Longer continues to divide the fans; Acres somehow had 8 touches; Gresh provided a mark of the round contender and missed two goals from point-blank range; and Bruce just stunk it up in front of goal.

Look, the side has delivered on it’s mission statement on Dare that it issued after the Adelaide loss. These two victories have been punctuated with much more swift movement, and in turn the forwards have looked much more likely. Hoofing the ball forward has made way (for the most part), for more considered passing. Who knows what Paddy McCartin could have done with the ball coming in more fluidly? At the other end of the ground, the back six has regained it’s composure and it’s reliability. Roberton had 20 disposals, Carlisle had 16 and a goal, and Nathan Brown was diligent in cloaking Peter Wright and Tom Lynch.

Roberton was again in the best, in fact, and he probably has been in all of our wins this year. I don’t think he’s become a king of the spare-man at half back in the way that Sam Fisher and Josh Gibson mastered the role, but he has become somewhat of a barometer. If Robbo is playing well, it generally means the pressure up the ground is having an impact.

That said Billings will steal all the headlines, and that’s just fine. Billings’ BOG performance was a triumphant moment on a weekend when our prized number 1 pick, and presumed heir to Nick Riewoldt was felled again. Funnily enough JB didn’t do too much to quell fans’ fears by declaring on Twitter that McCartin’s head knock was “worrying”. Billings – whilst on the right track – still has much to learn. And yes, it’s all worrying still.


B&F Power Rankings (top 7)

  1. Seb Ross
  2. Dylan Roberton
  3. Jack Billings
  4. Jimmy Webster
  5. Jack Sinclair
  6. Jack Newnes
  7. Jack Steven

Other bits & bobs

  • What currently is the trade market? That’s currently what I pondered when I realised that the Gold Coast FC picked up Jarrod Witts off of Collingwood. If they did that, then maybe someone would rid us of Billy Longer?
  • Not sure what the current state of the small forward pecking order is right now. Lonie will stay in, but I’m predicting Minchington will be back in within 3 weeks.
  • Apparently Jack Steven kicked 0.4 – I don’t remember any of them, except the last shot.
  • Koby’s 15 tackles were apparently only 2 off of the official tackle record.
  • Jake Carlisle is due to play his 100th game against the Tigers, one week before we play his old club. D’oh!
  • Harry

    Thanks for the review and excellent comments. I think a lot of the fan frustration comes from the reality that there is no apparent improvement this year over last year and maybe the re-build is off-track. Will enticing an elite player to the Club do the trick or will we have to start to build again. Obviously building should be a continuous process, but until the elusive premiership No 2 comes along continuous building has to be set aside a la the tenures of Grant T and Ross L.

    The next 9 games will tell all. Except for the Kangaroos game, all the other 8 games are against teams either in the 8 or around level with the Saints. We need to win 5 of the 9 to make the 8 which seems a bridge too far, particularly when compared with Essendon’s very favourable run home.

    The interesting point about Sinclair and Lonie is that they both played a string of consecutive games at Sandy before coming back in. Maybe this is what Paddy McC needs, rather than back and forth every couple of weeks.

    Which raises another point. What has happened to Sandringham. Early in the year it seemed to be loaded with Saints players, but in recent weeks there seems to be many more Sandy players. And the results have shown it. What’s going on?