Subiaco Posts

Avoid disappointment – get ready to laugh now

Under Ross the ex-Boss we grew accustomed to winning interstate; obviously for much of 2009 and 2010 the Saints were winning anywhere anyway.

So it meant a period of time (albeit brief, in the scheme of things) where we lived the dream of strong, cohesive performances interstate. The comedy hour displays that were a firm fixture in their own right- up until the players got out of the clown car to take on the struggling West Coast late in 2008 with a finals spot on the line – were shoved into Room 101. The hope was they’d stay there, with a premiership tempering any pain we would feel after slapstick efforts for another decade at least, in Victoria or interstate.

Those interstate performances gave us some memorable moments of skill, luck and controversy (most of those involving Fremantle), just to remind us all that at least if the Saints aren’t winning premierships, they’ll be providing genuine flashes of skill in vain, or be in the news for just about everything else.

But we enter a new era on Sunday, and for however many new eras this club should have had since 1991 where the laughing stock shackles were to be broken off once and for all (or at least for another few decades), there’ll be almost certainly teething problems as the players adapt to a new coach and game plan and the club adapts to new personnel. Comedy hour might well be making a triumphant return.

Playing Port Adelaide in front of a few fans and more tarpaulin could be just as much of a psychological challenge as playing in front of a packed house wearing purple at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium. The locals are just as unwelcoming, the tarpaulin indifferent to any of your heroic feats at the home of the enemy. Also, you’re St Kilda, and when things aren’t expected to go well in general they’re expected to go much worse interstate.

All of that said, St Kilda should win. Port had a pretty decent pre-season and the Saints didn’t as far as on-field performances went, but we all saw what happened at the MCG between Carlton and Richmond; if the Saints are good enough, they’ll switch on when the real stuff begins.

Their best is certainly better than this bottomed-out Port side, but with new personnel and a new game plan it might not click straight away. There’s a number of inexperienced or new faces in the line-up, with Ledger and Stanley certain starters and Siposs, Cripps and new boys Milera and Wilkes named on the extended bench. It probably won’t end up that way, but that’s potentially six players with 43 games’ experience between them.

Already injuries have come calling (losing Misson might be proving costly already), with Schneider and Gram to miss. Schneider’s absence opens the door for Milera to roam around half-forward – although I’d assume he’d be used as the sub if selected – or perhaps even Siposs after playing higher up the ground through the pre-season (although apparently his dad has said he’ll be playing for Sandy. Via Facebook of course, or so the story goes).

With development the order of the year, I suspect Cripps is only a slim chance to reprise his 2011 role of pinch-hitting forward (which he did with great effect) should he be selected, in favour of his more natural role of running through the middle from half-back.

A sunny day of 24 degrees with only light winds is forecast for Adelaide on Sunday, and it’s perfect conditions to be able to judge Stanley’s performance accurately. He needs to hold on to those 50/50 marks that he spills too often and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he and Kosi goes. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind moved incredibly well by his standards through the pre-season, and aside from the newer players selected we’ll have our eyes firmly on how he and fellow veteran Lenny perform.

Wilkes’ potential inclusion would probably see him played as a backman, although I’d probably prefer Blake if that was the case – the alternative is a far too tall forward line, regardless of how much more suited he is down there (although some would probably prefer him up forward to Rhys). The Port forward line could be rather tall at times (Butcher, Schultz and Westhoff) so another big body will be probably be needed, particularly with no Simpkin – the closest thing to a natural full-back.

With the defence looking shaky anyway, the midfield will need to reverse their leaky form of 2011. I’d personally take Hayes, Dal, BJ, Joey, Steven, CJ and Ledger over Cassisi, Ebert, McCarthy, Boak, Pearce and Rodan (a monty to give us grief if selected) but McEvoy, Kosi and Stanley will have to do the right thing by them too, not to mention that Lenny hasn’t played for 51 weeks. This is where the class of the Saints’ top players will need to really come through – as unhealthy the reliance is on the top several, that’s where this game will probably be won. Port will be introducing several new players themselves so that could be two teams out there on Sunday trying to find their way around things and putting on a good stage show.

As much as I like to laugh, I’m hoping the Saints keep as filled with resolve and hopes for the future rather than fodder for Monday’s weekend wrap-up. Either way, CJ will be playing, so there’ll be some character-based comedy on show at the very least.

WA Saints get ready for the WC Eagles

St Kilda will be taking on a very Western Australian flavour in 2012, and this week it travels to what has become the club’s de facto Motherland.

Legend has it the Swans were named so not simply because of the presence of the bird around Albert Park lake, but also because of the famed “Foreign Legion” that came from the west and helped yield the 1933 premiership.

The Saints won’t be rebranding themselves as the Swans anytime soon (perhaps a three-way merger some time around 2080 with Sydney and the Johannesburg WildThunderCats might bring it close) but there’s certainly a sizable WA clique.

Seven players on the Saints’ senior list are Sandgropers, with all of them selected in the 29-man squad for Saturday evening’s game against the Eagles. Among those are the popular 2010 draftees Tom Ledger and Jamie Cripps as they look to solidify their place in the side before Round One, and mature-age recruit Beau Wilkes who will return to Subiaco after spending his senior career thus far with West Coast and Claremont.

Obviously Swat is from WA, and he decided to bring most of the state with him. Simon McPhee was brought in to head up the Zebras after a premiership at Claremont, Jaymie Graham as a Development Coach and of course Dean Laidley as Midfield Coach.

As far as this group coming from Western Australia specifically goes, the effect that has on the club overall is probably not much – I’m far more interested in the club bringing the best available talent to Moorabbin/Frankston/Seaford on and off the field regardless of where they come from. As far as on-field success goes, the game has progressed beyond the good old days when Victorian players tended to be tougher and more physical due to playing in quagmires around Melbourne and Western Australians got ahead using their speed and slick skill in the drier conditions.

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Scott Watters

There has been a lot of weirdness between St Kilda and Fremantle since the Western Australian team’s inception into the AFL sixteen years ago. Sirengate at Launceston, Justin Longmuir’s game winning goal after the siren, the recruitment of Gavin Mitchell and Mark Gale to Moorabbin. So I’m pleased to say that former inaugural vice-captain of the Dockers Scott Watters is not very weird. In fact, the only thing seemingly weird about Scott is that his coaching record is not being trumpeted more loudly to the football community.

He ticks a lot of the boxes that young, AFL untested coaches seem to have to tick these days in order to get a fully-fledged position.

Coached a team in a his own right? Tick!

The former number 5 1988 pre-draft selection coached Subiaco in the WAFL for three seasons. Those three seasons delivered back-to-back premierships (2007/2008) and a runner-up finish (2009), if you don’t mind! That was after Mr.Watters had coached the Subiaco colts team in 2006.

Coached as an AFL Assistant? Tick!

Mick Malthouse brought said coach quick-smart to Collingwood for the 2010 season, where he would also sit alongside Nathan Buckley and Mark Neeld amongst the expansive Magpies coaching squad. Obviously, it goes without saying that the Pies have become the league’s benchmark, and like all Malthouse’s teams they are seriously well-drilled. Watters remained at the Pies for the current 2011, and is regarded as an astute tactician.

Been at a successful club during his coaching apprenticeship? Tick!

Naturally, assistant coaches who are involved in highly successful teams are often the ones who receive the plaudits and are able to muster a more significant profile. You only have to look at the appointments made over the last week to acknowledge this: Mark Neeld (former Collingwood assistant), Brenton Sanderson (Geelong), and Brendan McCartney (Geelong, Essendon) have all built their reputations by working at highly successful clubs. I’m certain that Watters would have relished working with perhaps the most credentialed coach of them all (Mick Malthouse) as well as Neeld, Buckley, McCrae and so on.

As well as the experience he has had at the Pies, the fact that he has coached in his own right so successfully make Watters’s CV doubly strong. These days assistant coaches are given increasingly more responsibility in regards to tactics, the line they’re in charge of, team selection and so on. But at the end of the day, there is nothing that compares to being in the hot seat itself – this is why question marks still linger as to how good a coach Nathan Buckley will actually be. So for Watters’s to be able to point to his successful tenure at Subiaco holds him in very good stead for the Saints coaching job and future coaching applications (if it comes to that).

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that Collingwood tactically have had the competition’s measure for this year and most of last year. They have taken the forward press to a new level, their zoning-off in defence is top notch, their ball use going into the forward fifty is sublime. Hence, to poach a coach that has been immersed in those structures obviously would have an upside.

At the minute it is all hearsay as to where Scott ranks amongst the other young untested AFL coaches seeking the St Kilda job. Also, it seems that the candidate’s ability to convey a vision for the club he is trying to woo is a big factor in winning the approval of the relevant selection committee for these coaching positions. That aspect of Watters’s coaching is one we do not know about. But what I do know about his coaching so far is pretty impressive.

Saints stuck in a hellish purgatory

Round 11, 2011
Collingwood 2.4,  6.5,  11.9,  16.12 (108)
St Kilda 2.1,  5.3,  6.7,  7.9 (51)
Crowd: 62,991 at the MCG, Saturday, June 4th, 7.10pm

…and the only way is up, or down.

That doesn’t make sense grammatically, but likewise there are conflicting feelings about last night’s game (that doesn’t quite make sense metaphorically either).

The result was arguably as the football world’s masses predicted – the Saints would start competitively, with the Magpie machine overwhelming and then obliterating another sorry challenger.

All the Grand Final Replay replay hype (what hype?) aside, enough had already happened this season for Collingwood fans to come to the game expecting to enjoy a comfortable ride akin to last year’s decider – in fact they were a St Kilda point short of the same scoreline come game’s end.

Some gross fans in the MCC gave it to Jones as he harassed and frustrated Thomas early on, and for the first half the Saints were worrying Collingwood. The obsessive haranguing of Nick Riewoldt subsided through the second quarter as St Kilda worked their way to the lead.

(Maybe it’s his 2008 Semi- and 2009 Qualifying Finals respectively, but I’ve never witnessed one team’s supporters so obsessed with an individual from another team. It was really an uncomfortable feeling to hear that, and I don’t mean that in the, “Look out, it’s the Magpie Juggernaut” sense that the majority of BigFooty would like to think. I mean that in the, it was really weird and a little disgusting sense.)

The effort and pressure seen a week earlier at Subiaco/Corporate Name Stadium was present. The Magpies found it difficult to move the ball cleanly through the field; Roo was playing higher up the ground, able to affect contests and find space for himself, and thus the Saints had an even reliance on players to to kick goals.

But as Collingwood took the ascendency in the second half, so did Thomas – who by the second half was running free anyway, being his usually dangerous self – and the Magpie fans felt safe enough again to give it to Roo, who as always when the Saints fall away had become the focal point up forward, at every opportunity. Order was restored.

That’s the obvious stuff out of the way.

Interestingly, a 57-point loss garnered far less criticism of the Saints than other losses this year. This would be due to a mix of the opposition, that we were all expecting a hefty Magpie victory considering St Kilda’s form anyway, and that the Saints were rather good for the first half whilst playing another two debutants, bringing the 2011 total to eight – the highest in the competition behind the Gold Coast.

Tom Simpkin had the daunting task of quelling the Magpies’ tall timber in Cloke and Dawes. He and Zac had their work cut out when the ball did go forward, particularly once the Pies broke the game open in the third term, though his second and third efforts on the half-forward displayed the attack he has shown in spades at Sandringham. Mercifully, he was subbed off for fellow debutant (and Tom) Ledger, but for Zac there was no respite.

Ledger, meanwhile, impressed in his quarter-and-a-bit of footy, and made sure he stayed in the good books of Ross the Boss (see The Challenge). He battled hard in a trying situation for seven contested possessions, for a total of ten; It’s hard not to be excited about his potential. Surely he has earned his spot for Friday night.

Jack Steven continued his impressive form working through the midfield and up forward, and Ben McEvoy worked hard for career-high numbers of possessions, marks, hitouts and tackles. He has plenty of development required in his ruckwork, but his endeavour around the ground can not be questioned.

So whilst Armitage and nearly-cult-hero Siposs were quiet by their respective standards, the youth in the side still have cause for optimism. Sam Fisher, James Gwilt (who found himself in the ruck at one stage) and Nick Dal Santo are surely in the top several players in the club Best and Fairest so far in 2011, and all played accordingly.

Otherwise it was a dirty night for the Saints; it’s been a dirty year so far, though slowly an upside is showing. But it’s not sure whether up or down is the next destination, and either way, it’s all difficult to take.

Saints sink Dockers in the sunshine

Round 10, 2011
Fremantle 0.3,  1.5,  4.10,  7.14 (56)
St Kilda 4.4,  8.8,  12.9,  15.12 (102)
Crowd: 35,482 at Paterson Stadium, Saturday, May 28th at 1.10pm (WST)

As winter in Melbourne really set in over the past few days, the scenes beamed through into the lounge room on Channel 10 on Saturday afternoon provided both literal and metaphorical hope for brighter days ahead.

For in brilliant conditions, the ruthless Saints we’ve become accustomed to since early 2009 were on show at Subiaco/Insert-Corporate-Name-Here Stadium from start to finish.

The trademark pressure was relentless as the St Kilda forced the Dockers forced into short, ineffective possessions through the middle, which were endlessly lapped up or neutralised by willing Saints.

Through all of Luke Darcy’s (and I’m any other neutral observers’) hoping for a Fremantle comeback to make the game some sort of a spectacle, the Saints went about their business in the near-perfect (if a little warm) conditions and did what they do best: ground their opponents into submission.

It’s something we’ve frustratingly only seen glimpses of in 2011, and I’m still not ready to say “They’re back!”, but Saturday’s effort was a truly a weight-of-numbers performance that makes any team hard to beat.

Underachievers this season – and arguably for much of last year – in Clinton Jones and Brett Peake put in some of their best performances for the Saints. Jones smothered the dangerous Stephen Hill and kicked two goals and provided plenty of offensive drive himself, whilst Peake booted three goals against his old side and was busy all around the ground.

Peake’s performance was particularly encouraging, for after a strong showing against the Demons a week earlier he was able to back it up with another good game of effective disposal and hard running – the two things he has been criticised for not showing enough of throughout his career. His pace is such an important asset to the side if used well, and he demonstrated this on Saturday.

Also adding pace to the line-up was the emerging Jack Steven, who shone again in a midfield role. His lovely goal on the run from a tough angle late in the game was the perfect way to finish off the best of his 16 games to date.

Though his task in the ruck was made infinitely better by absence of Aaron Sandilands, late inclusion Ben McEvoy laid seven tackles and showed again his willingness to compete (three of Ross’s favourite words) around the ground.

Of course, this was all done without the best player on the ground until quarter-time in Brendon Goddard, after the sickening collision with Zac Dawson. Surely the team will get added confidence out of playing well without Goddard, Hayes and a far-less Riewoldt-reliant effort than those seen in 2011.

Whilst Saint Nick played further up the ground and provided all sorts of pressure simply with his presence, he didn’t kick a goal and finished with a relatively low 14 disposals. It’s a much different set of numbers to his 31-possession, three-goal performance last week, but Saturday showed that the entire team giving the required effort trumps individuals’ numbers every time.

Old favourites Dal, Joey and Fish were in the best few for the Saints as they all gave strong followers’ performances across the ground. Armitage did likewise, continuing his great season and making the one-year deal he signed in 2010 all the more too short.

Much-needed improvement from Gilbert and Dempster (before being involved in a sickening collision of his own) down back, to go with another strong performance from James Gwilt, meant that the Fisher-as-midfielder experiment could continue without too much lost from defense; for the moment, the prospect of change to this side that was so feared earlier in the season isn’t looking so scary.

This all from a side that had four players with a combined 24 games of experience. The news got better with Dempster and Goddard, as well as Blake (knee) and second-gamer Lynch (finger) all cleared of serious injury and rated as chances for next week’s clash against the Magpie juggernaut, and further again with Sandringham’s strong win against Werribee featuring Clarke, Simpkin, Walsh and Ledger amongst the best and busiest Zebras.

Next week will be a much better indicator of where this reforming side is at.