Round 1, 2015
St Kilda 3.0, 5.2, 7.5, 11.12 (78)
GWS Giants 3.5, 7.9, 9.12, 12.15 (87)
Crowd: 18,794 at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, April 5th at 1.10pm
Ok so we can now officially confidently say we have another season of slop ahead of us.
If we all turn around for the next few years does any of this really happen? The better periods of yesterday aside, we’re essentially left with the club’s time-honoured formula of “1. Opening bounce 2. ????? 3. St Kilda win” for the foreseeable future.
Now, firstly, I’m feeling very coy about this review as although I watched the game in its entirety, did my usual notes, post-match, etc. I actually didn’t go to the game. Having only missed a handful of games since the beginning of 2007 (my first year out of school) I still feel like I’ve broken a window when I don’t go to a game. This was the first Round 1 game in Melbourne we’d played that I’d missed since we ran over Carlton to open 2002. The icky feeling this week was tempered only by the fact that Matt and I had recently renewed our Social Club memberships.
Easter Sunday family duties called – we’re not religious but it’s a very close family, so we’re obliged yada yada – and I was still content watching the game with Matt and dear cousins Evan and Ben on the couch with several beverages. Mum and Dad are still in the UK for the time being so correspondence and reviews shared with them may only begin once I know for sure Dad’s seen the game given the time difference, so whatever happened I would be going over the match again with him in depth. There’s a lot riding on them.
Both dedicated RWB readers would have noticed that I didn’t bother with a review for the Hawthorn NAB Challenge match. Mostly because I CBF but also because it was a final chance to take a deep breath before having to experience, read and write about the next six months of us being where everyone likes us being.
Either the AFL have a sense of humour or they were being kind, but this just might have been our best chance for a win for the season. I can’t tell you who else we’re going to beat, outside of extreme role reversals of 2013 and 2014 Freo matches proportions.
The late morning tram and train trip across town included discovering David King had said on SEN, “I find myself falling in love with Jack Newnes”. Which makes sense (alright face, in pretty good shape, good footballer, I like his name; his hair could be a little better) but is bemusing because why would anyone pay attention to a player like that at a club that’s in our position? I know there’s the drive to be professional and educated, but this was suss. And the weight of Kingy’s affection obviously got to Jack because he ended up with 14 touches on a relatively quiet day.
His prospective 2018-2028 Premiership Co-Captain Luke Dunstan didn’t fare any better. A return of 13 touches essentially made up his numbers and, first up, these guys were a quick lesson to all of us that even a player of their promise will be inconsistent for some time. For all the optimism of a new season for what the young guys may bring us, once you actually land here it’s much more of a slog.
The flipside to that was Jack Lonie, who only found the ball nine times but made good on the promise shown in the pre-season that he was indeed ready for this level. His one-on-one with Curtly Hampton and then set-up of Schneider was one of the classiest things that happened by a player in a St Kilda jumper. He pushed up the ground hard and pinpointed a couple of teammates when decent disposal was at a premium. Saints fans (myself included) like to think of him as mostly part-Schneider and little part-Milne and they’re probably right; capable of cheeky things but good footskills around the ground, smarts and able to cover more of the field.
Worth pointing out that the GW$ dominant colour of orange is also the colour of a few bays of sponsored seats on Level 2, so for all the running out later than usual for the game, dressing up the ground and post-match kick-to-kick, it ended up looking like the Giants’ ground more than St Kilda’s.
At first it looked like Tim Membrey would be the stand-out new face. We probably forgot (before we even learnt at all) that he’d only played one game and is 20 years old. Maybe it’s the tatts, or maybe it’s the PR offensive the club thrust on us when we secured him in the off-season but his strong grab and goal to open the account in the first few minutes today started things optimistically.
As Richo said in the post-match, he got to a lot of contests. He probably didn’t get the purchase on the footy he would have liked though, but as we’re going to have to remind ourselves countless times, “It’s [player’s name]’s [really low number]st/nd/rd/th game”. In this case, it’s his second. And I liked that his second goal came with a more opportunistic streak and keeping his cool reading a chaos ball of sorts.
At the risk of this reading simply like a player review piece, Membrey’s game up forward naturally leads us to Josh Bruce. I think we’re all genuinely up and about for him, and it’s not just the sensational topknot and facial hair which currently has him at second in the Club’s Best Hair rankings.
It’s because he played by far the best game of his short career, threatening to drag the Saints over the line. Is this the making of him, or is this Daniel Wulf’s four goals that threatened to propel the Saints over the line against the Cats in Round 19 of 2002?
Because to be honest I’d written him off at some point during the rapid sinking of the SS Season 2014. It’s hard to remember when – probably somewhere between him not looking like a backman and not looking like a forward, or an elite Australian Rules footballer at all, really. But I didn’t pay attention to my own bleating about how these guys are either incredibly young, incredibly inexperienced or both, and for tonight we may have to think about the loss but for the six days – until we get towelled by the $uns – we can think about what he could become from here.
I’d written him off to the the point I thought his naming at full forward was a scathing indictment on the state of Tom Lee’s career more than anything else. During the first quarter he just looked like he was vaguely there, almost literally so there was a large chunk of human flesh floating around in the forward half.
In fact it wasn’t really until the third quarter that his game really took off. He got into a good position off his opponent near the 50 metre arc, which came as a surprise I guess to most of us. Looking at my notes I took during the game, I simply have “Josh Bruce nice mark and then long goal wtf”. I should say that by this time his physicality hadn’t quite reached Hamill-esque proportions, but had at least begun to show. My Favourite Hair in the AFL, playing under immense duress, was finally being given a genuine chop-out up forward.
Despite the energetic start to the match, things plummeted over the remainder of the half, punctuated by Shenton’s wayward short kick to Armo out of the back pocket. Armo might have been slightly caught out but his effort to take the footy was barely there and the Giants mopped up. Shenton might be lucky that Roberton is looking more likely to come out of the side for next week after being subbed.
So of all people it was Josh Bruce that appeared to spearhead any fight the Saints might have had. His mark and goal, and then genuine Mark of the Year contender – which, much like Brett Burton’s mark in 2011 Fox Footy didn’t capture properly as all several cameras were zoomed in too far on Bruce, so is much better captured here by Quinn Rooney – and subsequent miss were enough to drag the margin below five goals and throw some momentum back in our favour going into the last term. His crunching tackle just inside 50 and resulting goal at the beginning of the final stanza set the tone.
They didn’t come before some sadly telling passages, however. Armo kicked a great goal from a tight angle which was a carbon copy of his goal against Melbourne in the third quarter of the opening round last year at the other end of the ground, but that was heavily shat on but Membrey messing up a great opportunity on the rebound for Lonie who was out on his opponent around the 50 metre arc with terrible kick. Bruce then forgot what
The Several Kinds of Dog Shit Platter was led by four Saints going up for a mark on a back flank, with Savage floating directly across the front of Riewoldt, and the ball spilled for the Giants to kick it straight to full forward where Jeremy Cameron took the mark as one of three Giants swamping one Saint in the goal square. As afters, Membrey, Saad and Lonie couldn’t sort out effectively a three on zero near goal, Newnes missed a shot from the pocket and the resulting set shot from My Favourite Hair in the AFL’s big mark only landed in the goal square.
In fact, aside from Josh Bruce, Shane Savage was next in line to not just keep us in it but add some real spark on a day in which basic disposal seemed a tough ask (the same applied to himself). His two long goals – namely the second from out wide, in the final quarter – were exactly what he was recruited for.
But cue Tom Bugg, who cannoned into the back of Roo the My Favourite Hair wasn’t coming back onto the field. Bugg might have been running to the contest but you don’t just miss Nick Riewoldt right in front of you and he had no qualms about cannoning straight into his back. Perversely, no free kick was paid (regardless of it being an accident or not – the umpire was right next to it as well) and the MRP took no action on the hit, but rather things ultimately emerged with Bugg taking a free kick.
Enter Josh Bruce again, who took it on himself to floor Bugg as he took the kick. It ended up as a downfield free, but what does Josh Bruce’s hit on Bugg do for everyone? It gives Bugg and the opposition a sign that what he did wasn’t ok, and importantly it shows his teammates that he’ll fly the flag for them.
You could say what Josh did was undisciplined, particularly at a crucial time in the game, but we’re caught in the middle here. Because what’s the difference if you win or lose right now? What wins from the 2000/2001/2002 era do you remember? It’s not quite about those, it’s about the attitude and culture you build. You’ll get the odd win here and there (11, and two draws in that above era) which helps, but actions like that lay the groundwork for what approach you take into every game when things are meant to count.
Of course, you could rightfully point out that the Saints were the victims of poor umpiring throughout the game and in its vital late stages which may have impacted on the result. And of course we’d feel aggrieved. The first two 50 metre penalties to money grabbers were questionable, the Roo non-free the obvious glaring miss, and the Lonie hold in front of goal overlooked before McCarthy received a gift in front of goal at the other end. But for all of those there is Geary’s out on the full set shot from not that far out in the third quarter, a Armo missing two running shots on goal in the final quarter, and Joey’s weird torp-thing which was a complete waste of a forward 50 entry. The final quarter saw us with 21 forward 50 entries to seven, for a total of 4.7 to 3.3. Add to all of that Sinclair’s shot too, sure, but those other examples are given because they’re senior players who are meant to prove the sure heads and get the job done in this situation. It’s why you have guys like Roo, Joey, Dempster, Fisher, etc. around when the list is in this state. That’s their end of the bargain. Not to win games themselves necessarily, but, like Bruce’s hit on Bugg, instil some necessary qualities in the younger guys. That was their role in those moments in that context.
So next we venture off to the Gold Coast next Saturday to take on Franchise #1 at the home ground. You expect a few changes every week when young guys are prone to such inconsistency and Sunday was no different. Billings is surely a lock for next week after looking a class above by all reports in the VFL practice match on Saturday. His skills are, as we all know, something that we don’t have much of right now, and with Eli and Saad very quiet across half forward there’s certainly a couple that could come out for him. Shiel’s delivery forward from the centre square in the final term which led to a goal, as well as his own clever snap highlighted the gulf between the quality and development of the younger players at the clubs. Ironically, he might be a sneaky chance to land at Seaford/Moorabbin/Junction Oval come year’s end.
Eli I think might be more susceptible given he was given a task of playing higher up the ground, but with Lonie very pleasing and Sinclair impressing in his short time on the field (Dribble File effort at a critical time aside), you’d think at least one of Eli and Saad will be out. Adam Kingsley certainly hinted as much on the post-game Facebook chat (which I’m sure he was thrilled to be doing) that the coaches were pleased with Sinclair and that Billings would be playing next week. Saunders and McKenzie were apparently very productive also, and might be get a look in (the former more so).
Blake Acres had 20 touches and two goals, and perhaps with Roberton subbed out for being only OK there might be a chance for him to come in (if we’re running with a very vague like-for-like), but he’d be further back than a Billings right now.
Paddy sounded like he struggled (I wouldn’t throw him into the greasy Metricon conditions first-up anyway) whilst Spencer sounded half-decent and Tom Lee didn’t even play up forward. Tom Hickey kicked three goals as well, and if both Billy and Tom play either one will need to up forward just about all of the time. With Josh Bruce incredibly playing an actually good game, Riewoldt fortunately OK for next week, Membrey’s couple of goals and good movement enough to earn his spot and Hickey into calculations for the ruck and resting up forward the only I doubt Spencer will break in just yet.
Finally, a mention to Roo. I’ve obviously named him and his actions several times through this but you have to acknowledge the purpose he played with so soon after his sister passed away. He doesn’t need someone like me to say to him “good on him” or “what a great bloke” or anything like that.
You the sense that Kevin Sheedy told the younger GWS guys they were a bit too special in their early days. It was nice to see Roo give Toby Greene a huge shove, and the Bruce hit of course. But you know what? When you’re the St Kilda Football Club, someone else will have the last laugh. Ten years after he was felled in questionable circumstances in the opening round, Roo’s found himself as the post-match headline in a tough loss for the same reasons. We would lose our captain and best player for the most important few minutes of the match with, incredibly, no consequences.
Ten years ago was a very, very different time. Now, we’re being pushed around and felled without consequence by the competition’s newest money-grabbing franchise.
This year’s slogan may be “How I Want To Be”, but that’s a long way off. For now, we’ll have to endure How We’ve Been for most of the past 142 years.