NAB Cup – Round 1, Pool 3
At AAMI Stadium, Sunday, 17th February at 4.40pm
Adelaide Crows 0.0.4, 0.3.6 (24)
St Kilda 0.4.1, 0.8.2 (50)
Port Adelaide 0.5.2, 1.9.2 (65)
St Kilda 0.1.2, 0.2.3(15)
The extreme heat was an added reminder to everyone that Sunday wasn’t real footy. I remember a 30-degree day for St Kilda vs. North Melbourne in Round 3 of 2005, but otherwise Novelty Rules Football is deservedly played in novelty weather.
Footy Park began its final tour – and unless there are design and construction calamities that rival that of Docklands, there’ll be no John Farnham-esque reprisal – in heat that nudged 39 degrees, as the Saints played third-wheel to a faux-Showdown.
Apologies for going straight for Dwayne Russell ahead of anything else but before Port and the Crows rounded out the incredibly sweaty ménage à trois he declared that every showdown was “100%” and that this encounter would be no different. Before making any statements like that he’d only need to look at the 47 people that turned up, let alone ask them their thoughts, to see that this was for all intents and purposes a televised practice match. In another blow to competition’s integrity – just joking, it doesn’t have any, etc. – Swat came right out before the weekend and said the club has “no interest” in winning the thing.
It was hot enough in Melbourne as well and I’d spent most of the day southside at my Grandma’s for her birthday drinking white wine. That’s typically a recipe for me to seriously want to nod off by 6pm, but I just guess the excitement of watching the Saints play in front of a few people who had nothing better to do with their Sunday afternoon in novelty games that no-one will remember took place in a few weeks’ time won out, and I was firmly awake to see the Saints put in a decent showing before capitulating in the heat.
And yes, some more faffin’ about before I get to the faffin’, i.e. obligatory observations on the new clash jumpers. I was a fan of last year’s clash as it was an obvious improvement on the awful “vague cross” 2011 design, but its fatal flaw was the horizontal stripe of the cross being wider than the vertical. This has been rectified in this year’s version; it’s probably the closest we’ll get to the tri-panel design being used as a clash, it looks good and relevant anyway and it’s effective. Arguably our best clash since the candy stripe.
The opening minutes of the season showed us that some things never change as we were treated to the typically shonky disposal from Sam Gilbert and Clint Jones, and Jimmy Gwilt took a few attempts to dust off the cobwebs. The ‘Fro came good, intercepting the footy to ultimately set up Terry’s opening goal and finding plenty of the footy across the back half. I was a little relieved because I had nagging thoughts in my head that he might just never be the same post-knee reco, this being a useless pre-season game or not.
Terry added another one to his opener as all the small forwards got themselves involved. TDL kicked a couple as well in his first showing as a Saint, and Saad and Milne chipped in with some classy goals of their own. Milne’s in particular was vintage Tip Rat, a one-motion snap in traffic after some nice service from Big Ben.
Perhaps the Adelaide players didn’t know which small forward they were on. There were four of them buzzing around, but Fox Footy pushed the boundaries of casual racism by focusing on Terry Milera for an extended period of time after TDL had goaled, with TDL’s stats hovering alongside him as the commentators spoke about TDL. Order was restored when Terry himself kicked a major soon after, and the Fox Footy production team managed to track down the right guy. Let’s put it down to a one-off for the moment.
It would be rude to say Big Beau Maister was playing the lone key forward role, but that’s genuinely what I’d typed before I remembered Tom Lee was there too. The man whom the Saints gave up pick 12 for (as well as swapping pick 20 for 24, but it’s easier to leave that out and keep the sentence shorter) was dropping them everywhere against the Crows. One of the more comical pieces (until the Port game, which eventually had us all questioning why we’d been excited about footy season returning) saw him drop one of the lead before the ball went straight up the other end for Roberton to drop an easier chance in the back pocket and Johncock to kick his second. Tommy was a bit luckier soon after; Milne cleaned up one that bounced off his chest (which, in the first place, had come from a questionable sliding free kick against the Crows), crumbed expertly and handed it off quickly to TDL who goaled.
Speaking of ineffective St Kilda forwards named “Tom L.”, ex-Saint fan and player Tom Lynch found himself in all sorts, getting caught holding the ball, kicking into the man on the mark, turning the ball over and bouncing off Gwilt onto his arse after the ‘Fro had calmly rushed a behind.
Back to Big Beau, he took some nice grabs and was in the rights spots at the right times. A couple of goals was a nice return, but he would really add to his game if he could take more contested marks further up the ground. Last year there were occasions where he and Roo got in each other’s ways acros half-forward and the wing so we’ll have to see how those two and Kosi (not to mention Big Ben and Big Tom Hickey) operate on the same field.
One of Beau’s grabs was taken right out of Milera’s hands after a sensational kick forward from My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs. He played from half-back as he did towards the end of last year and last week’s intra-club, and he’s very much in the mould of BJ. Calm with the ball, great disposal, a good set of hands and has shown great signs both ends: I really am excited about him and would like to shamelessly/shamefully declare that I was on the Lamb bandwagon from the star; I must point out (no, I don’t) that I know his girlfriend through my brother and when I saw her last she offered to ask him to sign things for me. I couldn’t go through with it. It didn’t feel right.
Farren justified the club’s public backing of his spot on the list in the trade period last year by finding plenty of the ball off half-back with the ‘Fro, which, along with Gwilt and Lamb meant a whole lot of sweeping. Gilbert and Roberton were there too, but…you know.
A comfortable win was nice but clearly took its toll on the players. The older guys particularly needed to be managed through it. Kosi sat out the first game and Milne the second, whilst Lenny, Roo, Sam Fisher, Schneider, Dempster and others were out anyway. Dal was one of the best in the first game but looked wiped in the second (see his dropped mark from a lovely Armo kick in the forward line), and Joey spent both being a little rusty, but forgivably so considering that no-one cares.
The second game saw an injection of inexperienced guys with “The Neck” Webster, Ferguson and Saunders coming in, as well as Ledger to go with Nathan Wright, Hickey and Lee. I saw Big Jay Lever warming up in the rooms with the players before game two, but I don’t actually remember seeing him at all from that point so I’m not sure if he did any things from that point.
St Kilda was a collective write-off after an hour in the heat. It meant most of the guys were farked and the inclusions were kids who’d barely played, let alone enough to be cohesive with said farked guys. Jimmy Webster somehow warranted a mention in the few “ins” that Dwayne highlighted pre-match, before being beaten to the first ball forward by the livewire Jake Neade and promptly giving away 50 metres. He backed that up by kicking it straight out of bounds and pick 7 in last year’s draft Oliver Wines goaled for the Power after the Novelty Rules free kick.
Port were all over it, with newer guys like Wines, Wingard and Neade giving plenty of February hope to the Power fans. That might have been dulled a little by their fading-out in game three (albeit not as bad as the Saints’) but with a new coach who has come in with confidence and these younger guys showing something then the fans have every right to optimism after what the club’s given them since 119.
The bad kind of special mention must go to the Port fans behind the goals chanting after every goal. We’ve all heard the “Seven National Army” chorus at various Association Football competitions but it just really doesn’t work at a game of footy. The game itself is more than absorbing enough. The last time anyone tried anything of the sort at a St Kilda and Port game was the “Spider Dance” at Waverley in 1998, and look how long that lasted.
Wright played both games and didn’t do anything overly special but the fact he’s already getting game time is good. Jackson Ferguson looked pretty comfortable, and fellow rookie Tom Curren was busy around the packs. Curren is in the Emerging Leaders Group, which isn’t bad for a player on the rookie list, but it seems like there are more people in a leadership group down at Seaford than not.
The commentators seemed to be impressed with Tom Hickey. I certainly thought he was alright, and he took a couple of nice marks. We gave up the BJ compensation pick for a chance at having our very own Stephen Merchant, but he’s had some great wraps on him from across the competition. But it’s tough to gauge anything when it’s the first game of the year and it’s over by the time you’ve figured out who the hell it is that’s supposedly playing for your club.
I was really keen on seeing Seb Ross play but he was only out there for the second game. He got beaten to a ball by fellow 2011 draftee Chad Wingard, which stuck out for me and he backed it up with a fumble but I hope The Only Ross at St Kilda was just blowing out a few cobwebs of his own. nother 2011 draftee Ahmed Saad “only” kicked one for the afternoon but he laid a couple of huge tackles which was great. If he can couple that up with speed that’s a great weapon to have.
Sticking with the 2011 draft theme I think a lot of people really are on the Jack Newnes bandwagon. He seems to have a hardarse edge to go along with Nathan Wright and Seb Ross (yesterday’s efforts not withstanding for Seb) and he already looks more comfortable out there with the bigger bodies. A long way to go but getting to smokey status for 2017 premiership captain. Might have to wait until the Twenties though.
In Tom Lee’s defence, he did improve in the second outing. He snapped a goal after a Power kick-in ricocheted into the air off the man on the mark, and the ball eventually was scrambled into his hands. I was surprised he held onto that one, but he composed himself enough to finish the job. He took a great mark near the wing later in the first half, and probably looked more comfortable on the move and higher up the ground – he seemed to put himself in a good position often but his hands would let him down. He composed himself nicely to set up Kosi for the other goal, and later on he found himself on a lead and taking a mark in the forward pocket but he sadly sprayed the kick; he didn’t even strike the ball well enough to kick it out on the full. Nonetheless, pick 12 hasn’t been thrown away just yet. For now.
The game itself was running out the clock in the last few minutes. Neade squeaked out a bemusing kick in the midfield that was turned over, before some serious ping pong in the Saints’ front half ended, eventually, in a behind. No one wanted to be out there; Fox Footy cut to a young kid smacking himself over the head repeatedly with an inflatable clapper after a Power goal (he was a Port supporter).
Ideally, the game is rarely going to be played in this kind of heat, so there’s not too, too much to learn out of the drop off between games by the Saints. Yes, there was a 50-point loss in a half of footy, but we don’t care anywhere near half of what we would if this was a game for points. I learnt during the broadcast that Gerard Healy was a St Kilda supporter, via the ad in which he’s wearing a scarf and talking about the 1971 Grand Final. I think I genuinely found that more absorbing than the actual Novelty Rules Football
When three teams are playing off against each other on the same afternoon and by the end of it “everyone is a winner”, you know it must be February. If not, then our future selves will know that Demetriou went totally bananas.