Acres and Membrey do heaps of good stuff

By Tom Briglia

Round 6, 2016
Melbourne 5.3, 8.3, 11.5, 15.6 (96)
St Kilda 3.4, 9.9., 17.11, 20.15 (135)
Crowd: 27,260 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, April 30 at 1.45pm

So for all intents and purposes Saturday was to be the day that Melbourne broke two long-standing droughts – their first win against the Saints since 2006 and their first win at Etihad since 2007. Who else other than the Saints to provide such a wonderful opportunity for so much relief and joy in the one hit? Mmm yeah. *Edit* But it wasn’t until Tuesday morning after the game I realised that they’d knocked off the Giants at the Corporate Dome in the last game of last year, so I guess I was running on a distracting and distorting cocktail of cynicism and, uh, cynicism.

Our disappointing showing against GWS made the performances against Collingwood and the Hawks seem like distant memories and the Dees had won back-to-back games for the first time in half a decade and were ready to show they were taking the next step beyond the muddling, bumbling teams around them, including ourselves. The time was right.

To make things more poetic the build-up in the week featured the revelation that it was to be Christian Petracca’s first game, 18 months after being selected in pick number 2 and an ACL injury; more pointedly following much public toing and froing by Trout et al as to whether the Saints would pick him or Paddy McCartin at number 1 in the 2014 draft.

By that draft week I was completely sold on Petracca. He was the explosive midfield bull our midfield needed going into the future, with midfield depth one of our key concerns going forward although by the end of 2014 just about everything was a concern. Concensus seemed to be he would be our number one choice, too.

But Paddy didn’t have the Tom Boyd or Jonathan Patton wraps of key forwards that had gone number 1 before him, nor of the day’s other looming nemesis Jesse Hogan. When it leaked early in draft week we were going with Paddy I must admit I did have to readjust my excitement levels.

At this early stage, and through all the whispers and innuendo since draft time Paddy is considered to be the more professional of the two and the one with greater leadership qualities. At the very least, I feel more confident that he is the professional individual the club has touted him to be. It wasn’t really until a few moments in his few games this year to date that McCartin showed some really improved dynamics in his game – whether it was the pack-busting marks at full speed or the hard leads deft turns high up the ground. It’s a shame he’s found himself struggling to string several games together without some kind of injury happening. I know the the diabetes thing has been floating around a fair bit but again, for now anyway, that just seems to be innuendo and an easy shot at people professing to have some sort of.

But I always thought Petracca’s gamestyle and his bubbly/boyish/confident/whatever personality struck me as the kind of player that would tear us a new one forevermore, for as long as he was a Melbourne Dee and we were the St Kilda Football Club. Thirty-plus possessions and three goals each time to torment us for not picking him. I dare say we’ll always have “Ball ahead of Judd” in the back of our minds, not to mention he’s gone to a team that just might represent one of our biggest threats to a premiership should our long-term development go as planned.

And what did the Saints do this week? “Managed” Paddy out of the team, with the official line being he needed a week off after his hamstring and concussion hits so far this year. Poetically there was something cynical about this move, like our match committee fully expected Petracca was fully expected by the match committee to dominate and kick a sealing goal as Melbourne hit party time in the last, and they needed to protect Paddy from being out there and taking it personally after five good touches in the first quarter and then fading fast.

More pragmatically, he’s here for ideally a long time and so to see him “managed” this week shouldn’t be cause for too much concern for anyone, particularly considering the concussion wasn’t due to a Kosi-style haphazardness but rather a pack-busting mark going back with the ball telling of the type of player he is, which he followed up the week after a key moment in the game (albeit without the goal to finish).

After all that I’d nabbed Melboure at $1.80 after they opened up a little lighter. I couldn’t resist. They were due and we’d be shown up something royal the previous week. I certainly wasn’t expecting Paddy to have at least temporarily lost his spot by game’s end. But if they haven’t won at Etihad by the next time we play them in Round 17 then back I’ll be backing them again.

A couple of coffees at my de facto home/office McIvers North on a beautiful Melbourne autumn morning to get things moving and set up the mind for a day void of high hopes but rather a nice social outing in the Medallion Club with Matt and Evan. I left at 11.30; it was time to meet Matt early for beverages. “I’m off to watch St Kilda lose” were my parting words to owner Cath. She couldn’t care less either way but I needed to articulate it to someone somehow.

The Medallion Club doesn’t particularly hold good memories for me so our rare vantage point from the corporate seats just reinforced the feeling of dread and inevitability. A mid-2005 loss to a lowly Essendon that put us in crisis mode, but indeed turned around our season around; black hole losses to Richmond and West Coast as the 2014 season was lowered into the ground halfway through the year and then the Schneider poster special of last year against Essendon again.

Whilst they weren’t all day games in typical Corporate Concrete Dome fashion the roof had been closed every time I’d been there. Saturday was a beautiful Melbourne Autumn day featuring two teams with a combined 301 years of history and of course, the roof was closed. The word on the roof came through on the Twitter machine late in the morning whilst I was  on the tram in so I had ample time to ready myself to sit in a section that thought it had the weight of centuries of its own history behind it that the MCC actually does, alas it doesn’t have quite the outdated pomp which sees it employ elderly grumpy people in fun blazers who pine for the day of ladies’ tickets.

My afternoon plans of a no-stress but still deflating social outing were off to a comfortable start when Membrey took off where he left us in 2015 by not leading up to the ball and hitting it on the move from a good kick from 2018-2022 Premiership Captain Jack Newnes. This year the field kicking seems to be a lot more reliable – Newnes, Savage, Sinclair, Dunstan, Ross, maybe Steven; it’s not a total calamity with ball in hand this year around.

Either way, Hogan had not just the first but the first two goals within a few minutes and with typically no one in the corporate section of the Corporate Dome we’d settled in with our padded seats and drink holders. I’m probably being harsh on the Medallion Club here because on level two of the pocket opposite us there were several bays highlighting the disdain non Etihad-tenants hold for the stadium and the disdain Saints fans have for away games even at their home ground. Ticketek, or Ticketmaster, or whoever the fuck obviously didn’t even both releasing the seats to the public.

Things opened up after haphazard disposal a neat chain of Steven and my Favourite Hair in the AFL found Membrey who ended with our first goal but it was a rare clean moment early in the game. Roo and Bruce spoiled each other in a marking contest close to goal, went up the other end for Watts to miss. If Jack Watts had kicked a goal like then my cynicism alert would have exploded, but they’d end up 17 points up late in the first term with Bugg’s goal being annoying enough. No sign yet of a Petracca dominance though.

It was around this time Acres started to really get involved. After a few games where he’s racked up decent numbers but found himself straight back at the Zebras it’s’ safe to say he won’t be dropped this week. The closest St Kilda parallel is that he’s this generation’s Brendon Goddard; finding the ball all around the ground, able to generate play, make space and finish things off. He’s always looked like a natural footballer but yesterday he really showed it off. He was in right spots several times to be part of scoring chains; his reading of the ball in the pocket in from the short throw in in the second quarter and snap goal was a real highlight in a game in which his biggest influence came in the second and third quarters in which we really made our move.

If anything he looks more sure of himself now than Goddard did at this early point in his career. Goddard was one of the closest things we had to a whipping boy in the 2004/2005 tilt and whilst he was obviously very talented it was an exponential improvement upon coming back from the knee he did in early 2007 that gave him the reputation he has today. I’m certainly not saying he’ll be as good or whatnot, but for Saints fans the type of player Goddard was for us provides something of a template.

The fact that he was been able to come straight back into the team and play that kind of game – and finish with two goals the highest numbers of any Saint if you wanted some sort of empirical proof as to his influence – reflects his natural ability and that he’s willing to back himself despite the dual personal setbacks in a short space of time. A NAB Rising Star nomination to top things off and all of a sudden we’re feeling a lot better about the “other” early pick from the 2013 draft.

Blacres’ partner-in-crime who I thought who really got things moving as the game shifted gears in the second quarter was Jack Sinclair, who right now is probably our best small forward. Lonie might get his chance to come back into the team next week following three goals and 33 possessions for the Zebras but he had gone largely missing in the fortnight or so prior, and Minchington on the weekend probably ran out of a little steam as far as his current run in the seniors goes. His seven tackles last week against the Giant masked his small numbers otherwise but on Saturday he didn’t quite have the same presence off the ball. I don’t quite count Billings in here because he’s graduated to playing a more sophisticated role with forays high up the ground (though I’ll get that in a second).

It was just after Acres was involved before Dunstan’s nice finish that Sinclair helped to set up Roo and then kicked a great goal of his own, taking on the play off the 50 metre arc, and his snap goal in the third was very deft.

One thing he has done this year, in a similar vein to Billings, is press up the ground more. He’s not spending a heap of time up there but he seems to know when it’s required. His field kicking is probably underrated too, and his pressure off the ball is consistent. The more performances he churns out like this the more remarkable it is that we picked him up in a rookie draft because we’d already drafted his mate.

A surprise in a different sort of way is the continuing good form of Seb Ross, which for me has echoes of Josh Bruce’s breakout year last year simply because I never expected it to happen. Bruce looked and still does look like the last-second fill-in for your futsal team, whilst on the other hand Seb just looked like a B-grade midfielder with an unremarkable frame and a bad haircut. But so far this year Jobe’s cousin has made me look like the whinging blog hack that I am, finding plenty of the ball and using it very smartly whether it’s been in close (most of the time) or in space.

It was a game in which we didn’t particularly dominate the stoppages, despite Hickey mostly negating man of the moment Max Gawn, but rather created turnovers via pressure in general play, which Richo alluded to in the post-match presser. It’s where guys like Ross, Steven, Armo and Dunstan looked at their best, not mention Acres and Sinclair registering five tackles, and even Minchington also.

By the time they’d run out for the second half things had really clicked, and by the three-quarter time siren we’d kicked 14.7 in two quarters. With a clumsy Josh Bruce roaming around – albeit one that finished with three goals – and no McCartin the forward line was anchored by the evergreen Roo and, of all people, Tim Membrey.

Roo is, in a way, but not an totally accurate one, in Brownlow form. Multiple goals and 20-plus possessions every week should see you get votes every time, but I have no idea if he keep this up for a year. But what are you going to do, just begrudge for not being the incredibly dynamic, well-haired player he’s been so far this year? He’s getting it done all around the ground and if he can stay fit enough – and by that I mostly mean if his knee or calf don’t give way and he can stop himself from getting knocked out regularly – then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t play in 2017. I’ve said before on here I spend more time talking about guys who are either playing poorly or who are emerging, because what else is there to say about a Nick Riewoldt that hasn’t already been said and that we don’t already know? FFS I hope he gets another finals tilt.

On the other hand, Membrey is the other, other forward that you think is good for a goal or two in the first half before fading away and you forget he’s out there until he gets a cheap possession late in the game when it’s well and truly. But something clicked on the weekend or his tattoos started working or something because he ended up with five freaking goals. One of the pleasing things was that he got from a lot of different avenues – on the break, finding space for a lead goaling from a mark, or following up a contest and snapping a goal. Between him and Acres there was plenty of novelty new guy excitement, and as I said, he just might have kept a number one draft pick out of the team. But we have to remember he hasn’t turned 22 yet and Saturday was just his 14th game. I’m not going to be expecting him to kick five next week but unless he was just making a Beau Maister club appearance we now know some of the things he’s capable of.

The moment that probably summed up the game best was Newnes pressure, steal and goal in the third quarter after Jack Viney took a mark and played on in our forward line. It was aggressive and the goal out of mid-air was a flashy finish and it all looked great but it was the intent that punctuated it. The showing against GWS was incredibly disappointing and like the follow up to the similarly droll loss to the Bulldogs there was a real sense of wanting to atone for the poor performance. There’s been six games now and we can say confidently that at least half of them have been played with a real sense of purpose and pride and in what the club and its personnel are trying to build and achieve. We’ve waited a while for those times in which you can say, that’s what we’ve been looking for in the younger guys, or from this team who’s next serious premiership tilt won’t feature the more senior players but rather the kids. It’s not the leap to an entirely new level just yet – that’s still some time away – but for the first time in what seems a long time it feels like we’re seeing the right signs. 2016 Best Player Votes – Round 5
Blake Acres – 3
Nick Riewoldt – 3
Tim Membrey – 2
Jack Sinclair – 1
Jack Steven – 1

Nick Riewoldt – 10
Jack Steven – 9
Jack Newnes – 6
David Armitage – 5
Leigh Montagna – 5
Jack Billings – 4
Tom Hickey – 4
Blake Acres – 3
Seb Ross – 3
Sam Fisher – 2
Tim Membrey – 2
Shane Savage – 2
Josh Bruce – 1
Sean Dempster – 1
Sam Gilbert – 1
Jack Sinclair – 1
Mav Weller – 1

  • Campbell

    It’s funny you thought the Dees were a certainty pre game. I can understand why, I just felt we were always a shoe in for this one. They’d had some really soft kills and lost to the Dons. Plus, we’ve got a much more even and hard working team with far superior ball movement.

    Jack Sinclair’s second quarter was something else. Acres had been building and certainly had been showing signs, still leaves a lot to be desired re disposal though. Membrey had threatened this sort of performance a few times last year but delivered in spades on Saturday.

  • Harry

    Spot on with your comments, Tom. It is a good reflection that so far 17 players have featured in your Award votes.

    It is also positive that there is still young talent such as McCartin, Goddard, Lonie, McKenzie, Templeton, etc waiting to step up in the future.

    A strong and consistent performance against North will show how far the group is progressing.