2010 NAB Cup Posts

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarro Rivalry (update)

The Ross Lyon defection brokered a new sensational chapter in the ridiculous rivalry between St Kilda and Fremantle, which I’d written on in 2010.

Whilst Ross took things to a new level, this past weekend threw up a couple more very interesting links:
– St Kilda’s first Grand Final appearance was in 1913, against Fitzroy. Freo will make their first Grand Final appearance 100 years later.
– Freo’s strange decision to wear their clash jumper on Saturday makes them just the second club to do so in a Grand Final. The first team to wear a clash jumper in Grand Final was St Kilda – also under Ross – in 2010.

Here’s the original post, “St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry” (I’m not sure why I didn’t take the golden opportunity to throw in the Seinfeld reference then and there) from 2010:

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue readingRound 15 of 1999 will be remembered for the mark that was taken by umpire Peter Carey. Early in the match, Docker (and former Saint) Adrian Fletcher centred a short pass to Brad Wira on the wing, only for the experienced Carey, who was in the path of the ball’s trajectory, to take the mark and call for a ball-up. Needless to say, the incident was a massive talking point in football circles, though ultimately it would take its place in VFL/AFL history as a wonderfully unique and humourous moment in a game that has a habit of throwing those up from time to time. The Dockers would go on to win the game by 23 points, and send St Kilda’s season into a further downward spiral.

By the time the two teams met in Round 12 of 2001, both teams had new coaches and were sharing 14th (St Kilda) and 16th (Fremantle) places on the ladder; by season’s end they would be 15th and 16th respectively. On this Saturday night at Subiaco, the Saints won their third game of the year after a young Stephen Milne sprang to life in the final term, on his way to kicking three goals and giving the Saints a 10-point win. However, captain Robert Harvey would seriously injure his knee in a gang tackle that continued well past its use-by date; with the ball locked up amongst the scrum, the umpire inexplicably chose to let play continue, long enough for the Dockers players to force Harvey to the turf as his knee buckled under him.

It would also be Malcolm Blight’s last victory as coach for the Saints, with his brief tenure at Moorabbin ending just three weeks later.

The next season threw up a couple more notable matches – in Round 2, the fast-finishing Dockers would roll the Saints by three points at home after trailing for much of the day, and in Round 17 St Kilda played a rare home match at Princes Park and defeat the Dockers in a dead-rubber in front of just 8,078 fans.

A skip to 2004 would find Brent Guerra breaking Docker Byran Schammer’s arm in a devastating bump as a barnstorming St Kilda extended their winning streak to seven to begin the season, as well as Fremantle wearing their predominantly white away/clash jumper for the first time in the return match in Round 22 at Docklands.

A trio of thrilling matches followed. Strange, thrilling matches.

In round 2 of 2005, St Kilda won their first match of the season by a solitary point at York Park in Tasmania. The Saints would overhaul the Dockers in trying conditions, with Aaron Hamill earning a free kick for holding the ball and scoring the winning point – but not before a final Fremantle charge into their forward line, with defender Luke Penny expertly safely punching the ball out of bounds in the final seconds from a marking contest.

The infamous “Whispers in the Sky” clash was a dire battle in Round 21 at Subiaco. St Kilda were pushing to solidify a top four spot after being outside of the 8 after Round 13, though tipped by many to win the premiership on the eve of the season. Skipper Nick Riewoldt has broken his collarbone in Round 14, and stand-in captain Justin Koschitzke had powered his way to stunning form and lead the Saints’ fight for redemption. He earned 11 Brownlow votes in just five matches, and with Riewoldt back, he was seen as a key component to St Kilda’s premiership hopes as September neared. Fremantle, meanwhile were hoping to return to finals action after St Kilda had knocked them out on the eve of the 2004 finals series.

What happened on that Friday night is now a part of St Kilda-Fremantle rivalry folklore. Awful and questionable umpiring decisions went Fremantle’s way all night, gifting the Dockers several goals and depriving the Saints of several chances of their own. Koschitzke would injure a quad muscle in the third quarter, and he would not be fit enough to return to the side, which bowed out in the preliminary final several weeks later (had St Kilda defeated Sydney in that match, he would have been a huge chance to return for the Grand Final).

The final term was an old-fashioned thriller. In the final minute, with the Saints up by a point, Justin Peckett was run down by Luke McPharlin just outside Fremantle’s 50-metre arc; the resulting kick forward saw Justin Longmuir take a spectacular mark over the top of the pack just 25 metres out from goal. His kick was straight, and the Dockers had won by five points, and were to face reigning premier Port Adelaide the following week in the final round for a spot in the finals.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones – travelling back to Melbourne from the game after Nine’s coverage – claimed that he heard umpire Matthew Head, who had made a number of the decisions that went Fremantle’s way remark, “Now I know what it feels like to have a victory”. Several other passengers made the same claim as Jones, but the AFL cleared Head of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the matter that week.

Though they would start strongly, Fremantle lost to Port Adelaide the following week and finish 10th as the Power clinched eighth spot. St Kilda would go on to record two amazing victories over the following two weeks – their biggest win in the club’s 132-year history over the Brisbane Lions, by 139 points, and a brave eight-point win over minor premiers Adelaide in the First Qualifying Final at AAMI Stadium, to secure a home Preliminary Final and a week’s rest.

But the centrepiece of this rivalry – so far, at least – came in Round 5, 2006; the final installment of this trilogy taking place where it started – at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) in Tasmania, referred to as “Sirengate”.

The Dockers were truly dangerous in 2006, and were only knocked out a week short of the Grand Final. Though notorious for poor interstate form, on this day they were all over an inept St Kilda, who were making another slow start to a season. Though the Saints would be in with a chance all day, that chance seemed to have disappeared as the clock counted down to zero as a desperate Dockers defence forced a stopped in the Saints forward line, with their team up by a point. The siren sounded, and Fremantle players around the ball began celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But the siren was quite faint, and umpire didn’t hear it – and play continued from the stoppage well after full-time. The Saints forced the ball to Steven Baker, whose flying shot at goal – a number of seconds after the siren – missed to the left, tying the scores. The umpire then awarded Baker a free kick for a hit he got as he kicked it, and so he was to take the kick again, with the first behind taken back, and the Saints again down by a point. As this was occurring, Fremantle officials had stormed on to the ground to remonstrate with the umpires, with coach Chris Connolly finding himself arguing with St Kilda player Lenny Hayes. Verbal stoushes were springing up between officials, umpires and players left, right and centre, and amongst it all, Baker missed again. The game was a draw.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas declared the game “one for the blooper reel” in the post-match wash-up, whilst Connolly was understandably furious. Fremantle immediately took the issue to the AFL. Sensationally, the AFL overturned the result during the week, with final score officially at 13.15 (93) to 14.10 (94), the Dockers victorious by a point.

The sides would meet again at Subiaco in Round 20. To date, this match is the most important game the clubs have been involved in against each other, with a top four spot up for grabs. Fremantle trounced the Saints, with the only highlight for St Kilda being a goal kicked by Brendon Goddard from an enormous kick late in the match; from just inside the centre square, Goddard’s kick would go through the goals at post-height.

The Dockers would finish third on the ladder, with fellow Subiaco tenants West Coast in first place. Though they would lose the Second Qualifying Final to Adelaide away, they won their first final of any sort at home against Melbourne a week later. Sydney knocked them out a week later, otherwise the MCG would have been set for an all-Western Australian Grand Final.

Several things of note come out of this. Firstly, St Kilda would have finished third on superior percentage if the “Sirengate” result had stood, forcing eventual Grand Finalists Sydney out of the top four, and forcing a Western Derby as a First Qualifying Final. Instead, the Saints finished sixth and limped out of the finals series in the first week, losing to Melbourne in the Second Elimination Final. Of course, if the Saints had won that game – which was a good chance of happening through the final term – they would have faced Fremantle in a semi-final, bringing the two teams face-to-face in massive game; as it happened, Grant Thomas would be sacked just days after the loss to the Demons. The other point worth considering – albeit a hypothetical one – is if the AFL would have overturned the result the way it did had Baker actually kicked a goal from either of his shots, “winning” the game for St Kilda. It’s one thing to overturn a draw, but to  completely reverse the outcome of a match would have made this issue far, far greater, and a much more daunting prospect for the AFL.

The following season was a disappointment for both teams. When they squared off in Round 20, with the Saints hoping to snatch a finals spot under new coach Ross Lyon, a collision between Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer would be the talking point of the competition for the following week.

Farmer left the ground concussed, with blood pouring from his face, after evidently running into the back of Baker. No umpires nor cameras saw or captured the incident, but a Fremantle trainer said that Baker had been malicious in the collision, and this was influential in the seven-match suspension Baker received. The Saints appealed, but this fell on deaf ears from the AFL. The decision would prove costly for the Saints, who were now without their star tagger as they were coming up against West Coast the following week, a must-win game for the Saints. The Eagles’ midfield of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr were able to run far more freely and eventually the Eagles would win by eight points; though St Kilda defeated Richmond in Round 22, they would finish the season in ninth position after Adelaide also won their final round match to knock St Kilda out of September calculations.

Round 13 of 2008 saw a spluttering Saints wielding the axe on senior players Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne after just three wins from the previous ten games of football. Ben McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen would all debut for the Saints on a dogged Friday night, with the Saints prevailing by eight points. It would be the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Ross Lyon and his men, who would win eight of their final ten matches in the home-and-away season to finish fourth, including the return game at Subiaco in Round 20 which Stephen Milne played out with a grotesquely swollen cheek. The Saints would fall one week short of the Grand Final.

The Saints would go one better in 2009, as Fremantle were again finding themselves at the wrong end of the ladder. In Round 4, the Saints crushed the Dockers by 88 points, and keeping the visitors to a scoreline of 4.4 (28), the joint-lowest score at Docklands. Of course, that record is shared with St Kilda, who could only manage 3.10 (28) against Collingwood in Round 6 of 2002.

Most recently, their 2010 NAB Cup semi-final match was nearly called off, after storms ravaged the Melbourne CBD, leaving Etihad Stadium with internal roofing damage. The players ran out for a later start to no crowd in attendance, and the 5,000+ fans were eventually let in over the first quarter, but only allowed to be seated on the bottom level. St Kilda would win a position in the Final easily, but would lose that to the Western Bulldogs, who were making their first Final appearance of any kind in 40 years.

And now on Sunday evening, the two teams will be squaring off, and coming into this round are occupying the top two positions on the ladder. It’s definitely the first time this has happened with these two clubs; Fremantle will be looking to be on top of the AFL ladder at the completion of any round for the first time in their history, whilst the Saints are going to be entering a lengthy period of time with injured captain Nick Riewoldt. The football world will be watching this intriguing clash, which will hopefully be remembered for some good football, promising individual performances and solid teamwork. As long as no umpires take marks or feel like “having a victory”, or the siren fails, or there are unseen and inconclusive clashes which result in massive suspensions, or storms unleash fury over Melbourne, then there’s a good chance that just might happen.

But who knows?

Links

Umpire Peter Carey takes a mark in Round 15, 1999

Justin Longmuir kicks a goal after the siren to win the game for the Dockers in the “Whispers in the Sky” match, in Round 20, 2005

“Sirengate” finish Part 1, Round 5, 2006

“Sirengate” finish Part 2

Brendon Goddard’s monster goal, Round 20, 2006

RWB 2011 player reviews – Part 4 of 4

In the fourth and final part of our 2011 player reviews, we look at St Kilda’s list from speedster Brett Peake to one of 2011’s eight debutants in Nicholas Winmar.

Stats courtesy of Pro-Stats.

Part One features players from Warrick Andreoli to Nick Dal Santo, Part Two features players from Zac Dawson to James Gwilt, and Part Three features players from Lenny Hayes to Leigh Montagna.

Brett PEAKE
19 games, Club 2nd for run and bounce with 32
All seemed lost for the ex-Docker after disappointing performances in both 2010 Grand Finals, and more so after being dropped after Round 3’s big loss against the Bombers. However, like several others, Peake found form in Round 9 against Melbourne upon his return to the side and played every game from then on.

It seemed he was finally able to utilise his great speed once the entire side got their spreading right, admirably creating space going forward with the run of play as well as when moving towards it from deeper forward. His stints in attack demonstrated his ability to create space up forward; I’ve mentioned “space” a lot in these reviews but it certainly was the order of the day/year in 2011. For a while it seemed his much-maligned disposal had improved for good but towards the end of the year there were some glimpses of bad habits.

With Ross’s defection to Yeeeeee-oooooo, perhaps Peake may come under consideration for trade should the Dockers come knocking (as in the case of CJ and Zac). There’s not many in the club with his speed, so his worth may come down to whether or not he can correct his disposal for good.

Dean POLO
15 games, Career-high for most tackles with 49
What seemed to be an odd recruiting decision delivered probably better than what many expected, although much of that would be to do with the absence of Lenny Hayes, the emergence of Jack Steven and the move of David Armitage out of the middle.

Polo spent a lot of time around stoppages, playing his trade as an in-close specialist and defensive midfielder. Whilst his kicking wasn’t great, his handballing through traffic was superb and his hands were quite good when the ball came in overhead. If he survives being delisted, he will be pushed back in line in 2012 for players such as Hayes, Armitage and Ledger.

Farren RAY
21 games

Several players that had played important roles – as role players – in the 2009 and 2010 campaigns took steps down in 2011. It felt as if Farren was one of those; whilst his stats weren’t overly bad – he was ninth overall in the club for disposals with 372 – they were a noticeable drop from those of the past two seasons. An average of 22.2 disposals and 5.1 marks in per game in 2009 and 19.5 and 5.7 respectively in 2010, down to 17.5 and 4.3 respectively in 2011.

Farren’s presence does give side versaility; a strong mark for his size, he also provides plenty of run off half-back. It felt as if there was less of that too in 2011, but the entire side suffered together – perhaps bringing the silly “chicken or the egg” argument into play. With reports that he and CJ are the object of the Yeeeeee-oooooo’s interest, an opportunity to continue his career in his home state may present an opportunity for the Saints to make a deal with a player that could actually be worth something decent.

Nick RIEWOLDT
22 games, Club 2nd for goals with 36, Club 1st for marks with 158 at 7.2, Club 1st for marks inside 50 with 56 at 2.5, Club 1st for inside 50 target with 191, Club equal-2nd for tackles inside 50 with 19, Club 3rd for TOG with 2507 minutes
Where to start? A calamitous off-season and equally depressing first two months of the season had Roo fighting it out with BJ for the title of Person That Hates the World Most. The only upside was his new Nazi-esque undercut, which for mine had him as clear winner in “Best Hair in the AFL” stakes. His less obvious undercut sported by season’s end was still a winner, but nowhere near those earlier heights.

Roo, like BJ, simply looked to be trying too hard to do too much. That said, he was double- and triple-teamed often and still had teammates bombing Sherrins on top of his head. The Catch-22 here was that he couldn’t quite run his opponents off in the same as seasons past, partly due to his dodgy knee and perhaps also because of his 2010 hamstring injury.

Either way, he couldn’t find any space; when he did, shoddy delivery from further afield made everyone hate everything more. The above paragraph-and-a-half can be summed up with his stats – the number one forward target inside 50 on 191 occasions throughout the year, he could only manage 56 marks inside 50 and 36 goals.

End-of-season knee surgery and an early finish to the season will give him and others more than enough time to be fresh for the pre-season after last year’s late start (although that didn’t hamper the raging Magpies), and perhaps a new coach may breathe new life into the skipper. We all hope so.

Adam SCHNEIDER
21 games, Club 3rd for goals kicked with 30, Club 5th for inside 50s with 66, Club 3rd for marks inside 50 with 22, Club 5th for goal assists with 17

I was going to begin Schneider’s review saying, “Another player to have taken a step down from their 2009 and 2010 form…” and I realised it was probably easier to just say at the beginning that this was a given for nearly all players, and that only Nick Dal, Milne, Steven, Big Ben and Jimmy Gwilt really stepped up from last year.

That said, Schneider’s intelligence with ball was still on display through 2011, able to weight and curl kicks according to what the situation dictated. As he did last year, he continued to push further up the ground and by the end of the season was ranked fifth in the club for inside 50s to go with 30 goals of his own. His experience and deft disposal will be handy to have around with an influx of youth in 2012.

Tom SIMPKIN
2 games, Club 1st for average 1%ers per game with 8.0, Club 1st for average run & bounce per game with 3.0

Head was promoted to the senior list nearly a year ago after finishing second in Sandringham’s 2010 Best and Fairest, and was ultimately one of the last of the eight players to make their debut in 2011. A willingness to confidently hold on to the ball and wait for an option to present when in space showed he has some composure about him (as his run & bounce stats show), though he did find himself holding on to the footy a little too long at time. Second and third efforts on debut against Collingwood were eye catching, though he had to be subbed off as he simply couldn’t run out the game; senior footy seemed to be too much for the youngsters in 2011.

Either way, having been re-signed this week the club certainly has faith in him to be an integral part of the defence in future.

Arryn SIPOSS
5 games, 5 goals
A long goal from inside the centre square late in his debut game was the beginning of The Guy Whose Childhood Hero Was Jason Cripps becoming somewhat of a cult hero. The lifelong Saints supporter didn’t get too much of the ball but when he did, he used it well. His confidence was obvious from the start – the temerity to have a shot at that stage of the game from that position against Carlton showed it. He followed it up next week by setting up his captain for the first two St Kilda goals of the match and finished two goals of his own.

Like other St Kilda debutants through the year, the stress of senior footy was too much for the less-developed bodies and Lamb missed much of the second half of the year with shin splints. Talked up as one to watch in the future by others in the club, a role in the forward line is waiting to be taken by him.

Alistair SMITH
3 games, Club 2nd for average inside 50s per game with 4.3
The speedy Smith showed plenty of promise in the 2010 NAB Cup, but it was another year before we saw him in red, white and black again. His debut against Essendon in Round 3 was promising as he racked up 16 decent-quality touches in a losing side. Unfortunately, his disposal suffered in his next couple of matches and was dropped after the Adelaide match in Round 6.

Some good VFL form wasn’t consistent enough to warrant a call-up as selectors stayed conservative in the run-in to the finals, but he was named as an emergency for the Elimination Final. A poor attitude is perhaps holding him back from fulfilling his potential, and his disposal will have to improve to justify being kept on the list beyond this year.

Rhys STANLEY
2 games
Two games was a poor return for the tall athletic forward after playing a handful of games in 2010. With Kosi missing for parts of the season and a the team crying out for a revamped forward structure, it would have seemed a natural progression for Stanley to be sighted more than twice in 2011. However, hamstring injuries hampered his chance to catch the eye of selectors through the season. Hopefully 2012 will see Stanley given more game time and begin to have a real impact on games; until then, we can see how he goes in his second Grand Final sprint on Saturday afternoon.

Jack STEVEN
21 games, Club 5th for clearances with 60, Club 6th for tackles with 99,
Jack finally found a place in the side in 2011, as a speedy midfielder with a handy attacking side to his game. It took until late in the Round 8 loss to Hawthorn for Jack to get a real run in the centre, but he followed a couple of clearances (on a day that the midfield was smashed after quarter time) with 27 possessions against Melbourne. The Skater was an integral part of the side from then on, providing valuable drive through the middle in a makeshift midfield line-up. His numbers didn’t match those of Dal’s, Joey’s or BJ’s but he constantly injected an attacking edge to plays.

The emergence of Jack to go with that of Big Ben in the ruck was a rare highlight for the club in 2011. Added to that was Jack’s re-signing with the club, ensuring a more dynamic midfield with the return of Lenny and more game time for players such as Ledger from 2012.

Tommy WALSH
0 games
The most loved player to have not played a game for St Kilda took Sandringham and Saintsational forums everywhere by storm with his VFL performances. I spent most Thursdays thinking about 5pm and seeing “In: Walsh” in the team lists but it never happened; for whatever reason Ross the Ex-Boss just didn’t want to play him. Others were picked ahead of him despite Walsh’s seemingly superior VFL form, not to mention his versatility in being able to play down back and up forward effectively.

His six-goal matchwinning performance against Collingwood late in the VFL season should have been enough to warrant the club offering him a new contract if they hadn’t already. The good news is Walsh will be playing footy next year no matter what – it depends where, and we can only hope Ross or his legacy don’t force Walsh to seek gametime elsewhere.

Nicholas WINMAR
2 games
The prospect of having another Nick Winmar appeared to be infectious from the top down, as selectors had Winmar pencilled in for a debut from the beginning of the season. Whilst others youngsters in Zebras colours appeared to put forward a better case for St Kilda games with good VFL form, Winmar had obviously worked hard enough from early on to catch the eye of coaches and staff.

Two raw appearances in Rounds 9 and 10 gave Nick a taste of the big time, and a two-year contract signed during the season will ensure he’ll get plenty more opportunities to work his way into the side. His athletic build and decent height have given him a head start.

September 2010 – A chance for redemption

One year ago, the St Kilda football club and its fans had just completed and witnessed their most successful home-and-away season since its establishment in 1873. Despite consecutive narrow losses to lesser opposition in Rounds 20 and 21, a solid win in the final match meant Saints fans’ could enter September with a renewed confidence.

It would be a September to remember for Saints fans, but one ultimately of heartbreak. Missed opportunities on Grand Final day saw Geelong run over the success-starved club in the final minutes of the epic encounter, and a premiership that had seemed so close throughout 2009 had been lost.

Fast forward one year, and the Saints have been shaken around quite a lot on their way to comfortably finishing in third place in a rearranged top four from the previous season.

It started with Luke Ball walking out on the club and the Andrew Lovett saga in a tumultuous off-season. A NAB Cup Final appearance was only able to yield another losing Final, and repeated the 1996/97/98 respective placings of pre-season premiers, minor premiers and losing Grand Finalists, and pre-season runners-up.

In Round 3, the season looked set to be a struggle when Nick Riewoldt went down with his serious hamstring injury, particularly when losses in three out of four matches soon after questioned the Saints’ worth as a team.

Another off-field distraction in the form of questions about a teenage schoolgirl’s past with two players, and some major splutterings after Riewoldt’s return were batted away by the Saints. The full-ground defence and pressure hasn’t been as consistent nor convincing. Teams have kicked higher scores against the Saints more regularly. The Saints arrive in September 2010 by no means favourites for the premiership, but they are definitely a realistic chance to break that drought.

It’s the unpredictability of finals that will bring such a range of emotions to all supporters involved over the next month. For St Kilda fans, last year’s heartbreak may be followed by a magical ride this time around, with moments to rival and maybe better Riewoldt’s heroics in the preliminary final against the Bulldogs, or it could all end in the shattering way that 1998 did – the last time St Kilda came off a runners-up season – in successive defeats.

Above all, however, September will be difficult. This whole season has been difficult. It wasn’t and it’s not going to be anything else after St Kilda lost a Grand Final in the way they did in 2009. But we’ve arrived at the finals again, and as Saints fans learnt so well last year, anything can happen.

Round 6 Match Preview – Two Saints with a lot to prove

Much of the news coming out of Wednesday’s press conference with Ross Lyon centred around his backing of power forward Justin Koschitzke and beleaguered full-back Zac Dawson.

Both have been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in Season 2010.

Dawson, coming off a surprisingly good showing in 2009, was monstered by Bulldog import Barry Hall in the NAB Cup finale, and has struggled for form since. His physical presence in contests has been lacking, his opponents outmuscling and outmuscling him far too often and easily.

Koschitzke in the meantime has been put under enormous pressure to become the dominant Saints forward in the absence of captain Nick Riewoldt, with a number of Saints fans hoping for a repeat of the stellar performances “Kosi” strung together in 2005 in the similar circumstances.

That pressure had time to build as he awaited return from a three-week suspension after Round One. His comeback was a sore point in the fallout of the disappointing loss to Port Adelaide. In trying conditions for a tall forward, he could only manage 0.1 and failed in important marking contests in the final term. Riewoldt’s absence was all the more obvious in a game in which the Saints were crying out for an effective target up forward.

Continue reading

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry

Edit: This post has had an “update” with a couple of additional minutiae, in Grand Final Week of 2013, here.

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue reading