2013 NAB Cup – Round 2
St Kilda 0.1.2, 0.6.6, 0.8.9, 0.13.12 (90)
Sydney Swans 0.3.2, 1.5.6, 1.7.9, 1.8.10 (67)
Crowd: “TBA” (not many) at Etihad Stadium, Sunday, March 3rd at 5.10pm
St Kilda won, although at no point do I remember the Saints being “on top”. It must be the NAB Cup.
There were a few other giveaways. I was looking at the line-ups for the teams – and trying to get over my immediate disappointment of learning Spencer White wasn’t playing – and they featured three subs and emergencies. And new interchange rotation restrictions; conflicting signs alone on a day in which things were hovering around 30 degrees (whilst I was on the number 8 tram into the city The Age mobile site said 14 degrees – incorrect).
As well as the above, ridiculous rules and no one caring about anything were also telltale signs that we weren’t quite there yet.
The thing that caught me eye on my arrival, apart from the 51,000 empty seats at Corporate Stadium, was that the Saints were wearing their clash strip. I really am a fan of this year’s design, but commercial considerations aside why in freak’s name were they wearing that against a team that is white and red (and a lot of white at that)?
Perhaps the Saints merch team had realised that the wonderful 140 Years jumper might dilute sales of the new clash so the latter needs maximum exposure, or maybe they just needed to appropriately cap off a week in which the strangest St Kilda jumper in history was unveiled.
I thought briefly we might be in for an echoing of Friday night’s match-up, which saw the Bulldogs’ NAB Cup/Training jumper up against Hawthorn’s Clash jumper. But the Swans did the right thing.
In honour of the 140 Years jumper, I will be posting a running tally of how many I see being worn at games this year. Our register is currently at six jumpers, including the two at the Lockett end which feature on a number of goal highlights to the left of screen. Strangely, four of the six that I saw were kids 12 and under; I thought this guernsey was a rather bold and refined design that would appeal to traditionalists. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come, but considering what the Hawks and Crows wore this weekend, maybe not.
As an aside, it’s worth noting I saw one guy wearing Sydney’s 1997 Ansett Cup jumper, which they wore in the opening round against St Kilda in a game that the Saints won by a point after ex-Saint Craig O’Brien missed a shot after the siren for the Swans.
Construction of the NAB2 building has just about finished ahead of its opening mid-year, and the whole precinct already has a different feel about it, particularly with the Medibank building shooting up [insert Essendon joke here] next to it. As a 12 year-old in 2000 I remember how futuristic the Stadium felt upon its opening; how large it seemed to loom over the surrounds with its bright Colonial Stadium signage. Now, the stadium that already lacked soul is getting closer to being just another building amongst other buildings.
So I guess it was at least partially appropriate to hold a Naming Rights Cup game there, but having next week’s game at Casey Fields makes just as much sense.
One thing I do like about no one turning up to these games at Docklands is that I can generally sit in several decent spots during the game. I nestled on the wing that actually had people sitting on it (the broadcast side) for the first half. The more people I realised weren’t turning up the more that I wondered what we were actually doing being there, but either way it was nice to be at a four-quarter game of footy (nine-point goals aside, but one thing at a time I guess).
Things started normally enough. My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs took the Saints inside 50 with a long, raking kick, before Big Beau Maister’s faffin’ brought things undone. Armo laid a good strong tackle on the back of some tough stuff in the opening round and Sam Gilbert disposed of the ball as only he knows how. The Jason Gram Specials are hereby named in honour of Sam. There were also three shots at goal that went out on the full in the first quarter, continuing last year’s theme of inaccuracy.
Some things were a bit more out of the ordinary. Seb Ross won a hitout, but something that was out of the ordinary and actually planned was that Big Rhys Stanley started in defence on Sam Reid.
I’m not sure what was more expected – that Rhys injured himself at all, or that he injured himself after putting in a really impressive performance. Before we all blow our proverbials over him we must all take a step back and remember that it’s the NAB Cup. Reid was essentially unsighted until Rhys went off (apart from the shove in the back Rhys gave him). Rhys had him covered for speed and height all around the ground, and put in a few good spoils. It also brought his field kicking into play, which was solid enough; he even took a few kick-outs. So we’ve seen two and-a-bit quarters of a potential X-factor in defence. How excited do we get? I’m pretty excited, but it’s got that under-ripe feel we all have in February and March.
That was honestly the stand-out for me. Reid didn’t turn the game on his head as soon as Rhys went off, but he was all of a sudden in the frame as a game-changer for the Swans. He took two big marks in the 50 and wasn’t far off having two goals from the resulting kicks. Swat might be on to something here – it certainly makes sense on paper, for the same reasons he’d make an excellent forward target. Two-to-four weeks is apparently the wait to see him again, but the buzz will continue to grow.
Also hovering around the backline was Dylan Roberton, who didn’t particularly give us much for the highlights reel in the first half. Jesse White outmarked him easily in the opening term close to goal but his purple patch came in the second. A nice grab on the wing led to him kicking to a two-on-one starring Clint Jones, who managed to eek out a handball to the calamity of Gilbert. Needless to say, the ball was coming back up the other end soon after and Roberton himself found possession and overturned it immediately.
What I did like about his game was that he was always doing something to get involved. He would have known better than anyone of us that some his disposal wasn’t great, but he didn’t let that effect his effort.
Roberton was by no means the only one contributing to the curious second quarter, which saw glimpses of NAB Cup brilliance and NAB Cup faffin’ in equal measures. From where I was sitting, it also saw silhouettes taking the place of most players for the term.
CJ made another appearance in the latter bracket, changing course whilst running out of a crowded back pocket, kicking on his RIGHT foot (I shit you not). Siposs couldn’t believe what had just happened and dropped the footy, picked it up before immediately scrubbing the kick and Rampe kicked a lovely nine-point goal for the Swans. It was passages like that that really made me think the Saints weren’t anywhere near it, NAB Cup or not.
Up the other end, both metaphorically and literally, Siposs, Big Beau and TDL all kicked great goals in the quarter.
My Favourite Player kicked a lovely set shot goal from right on the 50-metre arc, building up his own hype further and giving us something to look forward to not only this season but in the years ahead. He played off half-back but obviously found himself forward on a couple of occasions, moving sveltely through traffic at both ends. He quietened in the second half but we shouldn’t be too fussed about that just yet.
Maister hooked a nice goal around the corner from the pocket after Jack Newnes missed everything in the postcode from the opposite flank. He really battled hard, but he didn’t take a couple of contested marks that really good players would. He’ll only be so serviceable (he certainly isn’t bad) until he can change that; otherwise he really does get to a lot of contests and could really play a strong role in the side this year.
As for TDL, his snap on the outside of the boot from the pocket was the highlight of the quarter – and just about the game aside from Ahmed Saad’s great solo effort in the third quarter. As the game wore on the chemistry between they and Terry grew, kicking 5.3 in three quarters of footy and laying 13 tackles between them. However, with Milne and Schneider to come back I doubt all of them will get a start. Saad is probably just ahead of Milera and TDL at the moment, but that’s only going by a bit of McRules Football. Milera and TDL (and Schneider, for that matter) all have a better capacity to play further up the ground, which will have a big effect on selection. Either way, if they can work together effectively it will make for some exciting football.
Those small forwards had a big impact on the outcome of the game. Saad gave one off to Armo immediately after his goal in the third, TDL gave one off to CJ in the last (albeit after a free should have been paid to the Swans) and sealed the deal himself, and Terry’s pressure in the front half was a constant (he laid six tackles).
It was that opportunistic bent that saw the Saints over the line. On paper, the Swans had control of the game with their top line finding far more of the footy than St Kilda’s, and finishing with 40 more disposals as a whole; 56 of those were handballs though, as the Saints put on some good pressure around the ground. Look out for the switch this year as well as an important part of the game plan – it was highlighted in the broadcast of week one’s games and was used again, quite a few times. Stanley shutting Reid out for most of the game took away Sydney’s focal point, and the Saints seemed to be a little more direct going forward, although not incredibly clean. They simply had more left in the tank as well by game’s end, by which time I was on the far wing after sitting at the Lockett End in the third quarter.
It was great to see hardarses-to-be Wright, Ross and Newnes running out the game strongly and finding themselves relatively high in the possession counts. Wright and Ross looked far more settled for having played in the first week, whilst Newnes backed up his impressive performance and continues to find more and more of the footy. As Swat said after the game, it’s great for those players to get some exposure to not just playing at something resembling AFL level but also against quality opposition in Kennedy, Hannebery and Bolton. Jackson Ferguson also got a chance to defend against Reid and White, and actually found a bit of the ball himself. Having kept him on as a rookie for a couple of years now, there is every chance he’ll be upgraded at some point during the season and debut if he keeps playing well at Sandy.
Of course, it’s tough to read too much into the form of so many younger players in any NAB Cup game. You’d get as much from me saying “Hickey did some nice ruckwork and took a strong mark in the forward line, whilst Big Ben was stronger in the hitouts” as me farting out “Hickey: showed promise; McEvoy: OK.” But there really were some good signs from a lot of younger guys.
Other players showed improvement. Aside from Beau, Armo finally looks like he’s starting to hit his potential (again), putting in a few hard hits and tackles, and Geary has picked up from last year’s step forward. [Edit: Was it just me or did anyone else see Armo taking charge at quarter time and speaking to most of the group? I really hope that’s what I saw – great sign if indeed it was.]
It’s worth noting Joey and CJ were the two highest possession winners, and that whilst Joey is simply blowing off the cobwebs for another strong season, CJ still kicks like he always had. That’s fine if you’re about to embark on a premiership defence but we’re not.
There might be a fall this year (and there might not be, who knows? It’s March FFS) but something I got out of Sunday was that I feel more confident that there will be some upside to this season.