Nick Dal Santo Posts

Hoping for maybe having long-term optimism

So we’re at the point now where looking forward to the weekend’s game is about looking for effort and promising signs from the younger guys, as opposed to whether or not the Saints will win or lose and do short-term premiership chances any favours.

As Adam Schneider is quoted as saying in The Bubble, “Give me Grand Final nerves any day”. We’ve fallen a long way, but if Siposs, Murdoch, Wright, Ross, Saunders, etc. show some more good signs – not to mention the hype we’ve generated around Spencer White and Jimmy Webster after last week’s Sandy highlights – then the way back up might be a little quicker and very enjoyable.

Tom Lee is apparently injured, so The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind lives to wreak havoc on the opposition and teammates another day. At first thought that’s a shame, but then you think, well, maybe he’ll straighten things up. Chances are, however, he’ll take a good mark early, maybe kick a goal, and then be the third or fourth person to three or four contests throughout the rest of the game.

The BIG RHYS BANDWAGON reached new heights for me this week upon hearing he has pugs and does work for the Pugs SOS organisation on the Mornington Peninsula (scroll through the photos and you’ll find he’s the merch guy for the St Kilda Football Club AND Pugs SOS). My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs is still My Favourite Player, but Big Rhys might be sharing the title with him for the pug factor alone.

Said Bandwagon might find itself parked at centre half-forward if the team lists are anything to go by, but I dare say it will be somewhere in the vicinity of Travis Cloke. It makes sense on paper; he’s taller and faster than Cloke so Cloke won’t be able to get a touch, I rest my case, goodnight everyone. There’s also the Q-Stick to take into account, and new guy Witts who is huge, so maybe raffle Gilbert, Sammy Fish or Dempster playing on him with the others running around a little more loosely. Rhys stays down back you assume because Big Ben will get ruck support from Kosi, if he hasn’t been falconed out of the game first, but given players built like Cloke have monstered the Saints over the past 12 months, he or the Q-Stick might prove very difficult to contain if the Collingwood mids get first use.

Lenny, Dal, Joey, Armo, Steven and CJ will need to be playing at their best, and guys like Saunders, Murdoch and Ross will need to give them a chop out if the Saints are any chance of winning; these are the kind of games that Armo and Jack need to step up in if they want to prove themselves as genuinely good footabllers. Likewise the senior guys at the extremes of the field – My Favourite Hair in the AFL up forward and Sammy Fish and Sean at the other. Collingwood might be playing two debutants and a few other guys with little experience – Seedsman, Elliott and the other Thomas – but even those guys are already showing solid signs and this is a team with an eye firmly on 2013.

Not sure where Siposs will play, but there’s certainly an opening for him up forward with Maister out and Kosi questionable. It might give him a bit more purpose than the seemingly vague rebounding defender role he played earlier in the season, although his disposal is too good to not use around the ground. The way I worded that sentence seems to lay blame on the coaching staff for his quiet form, but Swat alluded to Lamb needing to improve on some aspects of his game to earn a call-up. He got 24 touches for Sandy last week off half-back, so for now anyway I’ll assume he’ll be playing around there most of the time; he might demand to be played there if he can begin to translate his VFL form across to the big time.

This is a really good chance for the younger guys to show the football world what the future for St Kilda might be like. Of course, they’re prone to inconsistency and after an impressive showing collectively last week against the Swans they might already be due for an off week. Should that happen, the media and wider football community might have any pessimism about the club’s direction heightened, but it probably wouldn’t mean any more or less than the same kind of showing at Corporate Stadium in the dud 4.40pm Sunday time slot. Either way, this year is a week-by-week exercise in expectations management.

Kicked when we were already down

Well, Dwayne Russell mentioned pre-siren to all watching that “this could get nasty early”. And boy – or baby as Dwayne would say – was he right. Not too early, but come midway through the second quarter the Saints were just another victim in the Bombers winning streak. Nothing more, nothing less: there was an element of routine to this victory for Essendon; they did what needed to be done.

What a head spinner for Saints fans the loss was. In the hours after the close defeat to the Tigers, I thought I had resolved in my head that we, the Saints, had already found out where the team was at. Then last night happens. St Kilda certainly didn’t roll out a red carpet for their foes, but they appeared to be in a different weight division for much of the night.

When viewed in cold isolation the margin is actually not that unpleasant, but that’s what was so disturbing about the game – Essendon appeared to have been in cruise control for much of it. They always had a gear or two to go up to and the Saints seldom forced them to contemplate kicking into one of them. It felt like a 12 goal defeat, really.

Armo had the game’s first clearance, Farren Ray the first shot on goal shortly after. It was a very gettable one; he pulled it left though. If the Saints were ever going to push the Bombers then all those chances had to be taken and then some. That Faz Raz miss set a bad trend for the night: the Saints were terrible in front of goal and it repeatedly came back to bite them. Who got the first goal on the board you ask? One Brendon Goddard. It was on the back of a splendid mark too. Trendsetter for the night number two: St Kilda’s inability to spoil in marking contests. At games end the Dons had 22 contested marks to the Saints 9.


Mellow and slack

Round 2, 2013
St Kilda 3.1, 6.6, 11.7, 12.10 (82)
Richmond 4.5, 8.10, 12.12, 14.15 (99)
Crowd: 56,783 at the MCG, Friday, April 5th at 7.50pm

“Are these the nights of going over the cliff that people pre-empted over the past couple of years?”

Rich said this as he and I were sitting at Hell’s Kitchen drowning sorrows that might be a regular feature of this year.

“We probably won’t know it when it’s happening, but we’ll know in hindsight.”

Last night post-match – a quick couple of drinks and a chat about the game – certainly didn’t feel as dramatic as “going over a cliff”.

We’re not necessarily going to go to bed one night from the extreme of playing off in Grand Finals (yes, plural) to waking up one morning at the bottom of said cliff. Sure, Swat has made it clear he wants this group to remain competitive and to not bottom out at all as the club sees a changing of the guard. But what if that doesn’t quite happen, and we soon find ourselves on the rocks? All those times during 2009 and 2010 when we thought “What if this is it?” equally had the countering thought, “What if this isn’t it? What happens next?” We’re about to find out.

As Rich said, we’ll most probably know only in hindsight where we’re at right now – only a day after the Saints have lost a second close match from two, and gone to 0-2 for the first time since the Tim Watson feat. Tony Delaney disaster that was the year 2000.

I headed to the MCG with dear cousin Evan after dumplings at North-East China Family, our go-to pre-event eatery that has kicked off nights featuring many St Kilda games, Melbourne Victory games, Radiohead and Morrissey. As good as the dumplings were, they didn’t lift my own expectations that we’d be 0-2 by the end of the night. Now that it’s happened, I feel a bit more uncomfortable than I thought I would. We haven’t been in this kind of position for a long time.

Owing to my fetish for footy jumpers, I think what I was anticipating most keenly was what the teams would be wearing. Last year when the sides met it was a St Kilda home match, but the Saints wore the home jumper with white shorts whilst the Tigers wore their clash jumper with black shorts. This time around it was the straight black shorts for home, white for away arrangement. It’s good to see teams wearing their traditional jumpers against each other – we may never see a St Kilda home jumper on the same ground as a Carlton, Essendon, or Melbourne home jumper again.

As an aside, my weekly 140 Years heritage jumper in the crowd count was at seven last night (Bonus stat: Three of last year’s “Thank You” jumpers were also spotted).

Swat’s keen to tell us the Saints had a red-hot crack in front of a few Saints fans and more Tigers fans at a “home” game at the MCG. The inclusions of Fisher, Dempster, Montagna and Schneider were supposed to shore things up a little anyway, although I think most of us were expecting to Swat’s Late Withdrawal Lotto to yield at least one winner from those. Surprisingly there were no Division One claimants, and we move on to the jackpot prize next week.

Fisher and Dempster both seemed underdone, with Dempster off to a rusty start as he lost transmission with Blake early and they let Jack Riewoldt snatch a mark in the pocket. Jack didn’t quite present the problems in the air that he did last time around, but he was wreaking havoc in general play instead – his smother of Dempster’s lazy clearance attempt set himself up for goal number two within 13 minutes, and a few of his goals would come from snaps. Sean would eventually have the excuse of playing most of the game with a “broken” wrist, but that didn’t cover him for those early errors.

The Saints enjoyed a lot of the play for a period in the first quarter but it was actually senior guys in Roo, Lenny, Joey and Milne in quick succession wasted entries going forward. Lenny gave away a soft down-the-ground free on Griggs that resulted in a Tigers goal, Roo handballed it straight to the opposition on the rebound forward of the centre square and Milne let the boos get to his head when he marked on the 50-metre arc and played on a bit too quickly to prove a point.

I’d officially cracked the Ahmed Saads in the second when Jack Riewoldt kicked his third and Jake King got a rubbish free in the pocket and bananaed it home.

This report wouldn’t be complete without a paragraph on the umpiring. I really don’t like talking about umpiring, but I’ll whinge anyway: when one side has 23 frees to 13, and is able to kick 4.2 from those frees as opposed to 0.0 (please correct me if I’m wrong), then something is up. Vickery’s free against Blake for freak knows what in the third and Jack Riewoldt’s the last were incredibly soft and perfect examples of the Tigers benefitting from the umpires’ untoward involvement.

Umpires’ influence or not, a) the difference between winning and losing games like these isn’t going to cost this club a premiership in 2013 and b) the Saints freaked themselves over with shoddy disposal, such as the examples above. However, there’s certainly a number of things that we can take from last night, which is nearly a 100% increase on the week before.

Justifying my BIG RHYS BANDWAGON fever, Stanley got to play another game in his new defensive position, and although he was playing closer to goal and rotating through the ruck for the first half slotted in nicely once he made the move. I really wouldn’t have minded seeing him go straight to Jack Riewoldt from the first bounce, but perhaps that’s me getting overexcited. What I do know is that he’s looking more comfortable that he has before. Obviously that’s because he’s had more game time anyway, but he’s far more involved this way.

As for the other big guy, McEvoy enjoyed a really good game both in the ruck and around the ground. He might not have had too many hitouts to advantage, but he finished with 26 and he’s getting the first part down. Some outlets had him as best for the Saints – I’m not sure I was that excited about his game last night, but he did give us some reminders as to why we’re excited about him.

Not sure if Hickey comes back in if fit next week. Having the one genuine ruckman meant taking Rhys out of defence – one of the most valuable backmen – for occasional spells, and then when Swat realised things were too dire in the last quarter to do just that, he was forced to throw Maister into a centre bounce.

Dylan Roberton looked like he’d grown in confidence exponentially in the last several weeks. I didn’t question his willingness to get involved against the Swans in the NAB Cup but he looked a bit out of place. Last night he really tried taking the game on and it seems as though he’s really bought into the game plan; not only that but he was executing really well also. He might prove to have been a very underrated pick-up.

Saad and Milera looked busy, but are still going to be in and out of games. Saad didn’t pick up too many possessions but he worked hard to pressure around the ground, and very nearly finished with two great last-quarter goals. Milera finished with five tackles and gave off a goal to big Rhys after a nice receive from a long Jack Newnes kick.

Jack made a number of errors, but guess what? He’s played less than 10 games and that’s happen when kids start their careers. He really got involved and didn’t drop his head after making mistakes – he showed with his kick to Terry that he can already execute well, he just has to find the consistency and that will come with more game time.

Another youngster that made a number of errors was My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs, who backed up his worst career kicks last week with a couple of shockers. He ended up being subbed out for Schneider; maybe he needs a week out, or maybe he needs to have another crack in the forward line? With Gwilt and now Dempster out for a few weeks there might all of a sudden be more space for him in defence, and sqeeuzing him into the forward line might be a bit difficult. Maister was good in parts last night, he didn’t spill the early mark at the top of square and was actually looking half-decent for a time before he indeed reprised last week’s shocker and crucially in the last quarter he dropped a gimme uncontested about 40 metres out. It was made worse by the fact Dal had it covered and Beau called him out of it.

Armitage and Steven are somewhere in between the younger guys (it’s the seventh and sixth seasons respectively) and the senior guys, and there were some more good things from both of them. Armo justified his position in one of the eight leadership groups with some really hard contests low down and Jack got plenty of the ball in all sorts of the ground, and really tried using his speed to take things on.

I can’t tell if it was a good thing or bad thing that some of the truly senior guys were the best players. Lenny and Dal got plenty of the ball as always. Sam Gilbert was pretty good in his more attacking role – he can break the lines, he can move things quickly by spreading effectively or maneuvering through space. Clinton Jones played his best game for the club for at least a couple of years. Rich pointed at that they were “manic”. Players like those need to be – they need to be busy at all times; they’re certainly not going to damage you with their slick disposal from 15 touches (there were the obligatory Sam Gilbert Specials, but his delivery to Roo in the third was an example of his good side).

One guy who can do some damage from a few touches is Adam Schneider, who should play a full game next week now that he’s got some game time into him. His slick disposal was very welcome when he was subbed on; same couldn’t be said for his small forward mate the Tip Rat who played what was really a poor game. He wasn’t that involved in things, and when he was he wasn’t effective, bar a quick reply snap in the third (which was answered by the Tigers immediately).

But these guys more than likely not going to be there when this club makes its next tilt at that second flag. Joey too; he was good, but the way people were talking about him being an important inclusion would have had you confused as to who you were watching turn over the ball going forward with a couple of minutes left.

They played well but what does it really mean? Swat praised My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s leadership in what ended up being a really good captain’s game. But these are men whose premiership window has shut. We can only take so much out performances like these.

Next week we look to GWS with our gazed turned further from percentage-boosting wins and more towards making a good contest of things in the first place. Dempster is out, Siposs is down and out, but as I said there might be a more focused role for My Favourite Player in defence now. Hickey or Simpkin to come in? I’d like to see Stanley spend more time in defence than he did last night, but I don’t think the coaching staff read RWB, let alone take any notice of anything I say.

Right now there are only questions, and that list will grow throughout the season. In all sorts of schemes of things these are the dawn ages. It’s been a while since we’ve been here and we’ve got nothing to show for it.

Rich said, “Your headline could be, ‘It could be worse – we could be Melbourne supporters’.” I could have made it so, but that wouldn’t change the fact that we’re St Kilda supporters.

RWB’s 2013 Preview Podcast

Rich and I took out a night of last week to record our second podcast, the 2013 Preview Podcast. I took far too many hours to edit it, so please at least humour us and click on the link so our SoundCloud plays count ticks over to somewhere above seven or eight.

In this edition – mercifully shorter than the 2012 Season Review’s running length 1:39:29, but still a rather unpalatable 1:10:50 – Rich blames David Armitage for the club not winning the 2009 premiership, I burp and we discuss the 2022 premiership captain.

For your enhanced listening functionality, here’s a running sheet, with each section broken up by clips of us breaking all sorts of copyright law (again):
0:00:00 David Armitage
0:06:20 NAB Cup discussion
0:18:30 Rich’s 22
0:34:00 2013 fixture
0:41:33 The game plan and game style #1
0:54:22 The game plan and game style #2
0:57:35 Scott Watters
1:05:34 Season 2013 predictions

We’re not far away, don’t worry

2013 NAB Cup – Round 3
Melbourne 1.2.2,  1.3.4,  2.5.6,  2.7.6 (66)
St Kilda 0.1.2,  2.6.8,  2.8.8,  2.10.13 (91)
Crowd: About 5,000 at Casey Fields, Saturday, 9th March at 2.30pm

An RWB road trip courtesy of Rich’s RWBmobile saw us head from Melbourne’s inner north out to Casey Fields to see Melbourne and our Saints. It was a long drive and a hot day and I was feeling a little more lethargic wearing pants with stains from the previous night’s chicken shish wrap from Tiba’s still prominent.

The traffic was absolute rubbish northside, with Hoddle Street presenting its usual problems due to flashing ambers at Punt Road and Swan Street. We panicked a little given we hadn’t bought tickets, and we didn’t want to drive out to Casey Fields for nothing…relatively.

I said last week that it was equally fitting that the Naming Rights Cup should be played at Corporate Stadium last week and on the outskirts of metropolitan this. It was more applicable once we got to the Waverley’s Wellington Road-esque sole traffic lights to get into Casey Fields; the complex obviously wasn’t designed with the foresight that more than 50 people might rock up on the one day. Metro trains obligingly joined the party, with the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines obviously buckling under the weight of nobody heading out there, as well as the first sign of weather.

The wait to get into Casey Fields kept me on edge as I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, but things were worse on the way out. It took us about 45-50 minutes in scenes that again resembled Waverley with a crowd of 50,000-plus, only this time there was about one-tenth of that. About 30 of those minutes were spent stationary, with David Schwarz and Rob Waters on SEN to keep us company as they took excitement about the NAB Cup to Dwayne Russell levels.

In between the echoes of Waverleys gone by the Saints shut out the Dees in a reasonable performance in ridiculous conditions. It was breezy enough throughout Melbourne, let alone at the wind bowl of Casey Fields, and the first quarter saw the Saints hitting crowd members on the outer wing more often than their teammates. A Sam Gilbert Special was the most notable, but it probably would have ended up in the same row without the wind.