Brisbane Lions Posts

St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarro Rivalry (update)

The Ross Lyon defection brokered a new sensational chapter in the ridiculous rivalry between St Kilda and Fremantle, which I’d written on in 2010.

Whilst Ross took things to a new level, this past weekend threw up a couple more very interesting links:
– St Kilda’s first Grand Final appearance was in 1913, against Fitzroy. Freo will make their first Grand Final appearance 100 years later.
– Freo’s strange decision to wear their clash jumper on Saturday makes them just the second club to do so in a Grand Final. The first team to wear a clash jumper in Grand Final was St Kilda – also under Ross – in 2010.

Here’s the original post, “St Kilda and Fremantle: The Bizarre Rivalry” (I’m not sure why I didn’t take the golden opportunity to throw in the Seinfeld reference then and there) from 2010:

St Kilda and Fremantle share one of the most bizarre “rivalries” in the AFL.

As the two least successful clubs in VFL/AFL history to date, it’s not all-important clashes between competition juggernauts that this rivalry has been based on.

Rather, it has been a mixture of the unique, incredible and questionable, with occasional flashes of both genuinely brilliant and sadly woeful football being played.

It began immediately – although inconspicuously – in 1995, when Fremantle played their debut AFL match in the Ansett Australia Cup against the Saints at East Fremantle Oval. Whilst the match itself was normal enough (St Kilda would win by 35 points), this would be the only time (to date) the Dockers would actually play in Fremantle in a competitive AFL match.

In Round 14 of the following season, St Kilda would break through for its first win at Subiaco, and in Western Australia – of course, against Fremantle – in a game which produced great goals from both sides.

The next clash between the two came on ANZAC Day of 1997, with Fremantle – in 10th place and the Saints in 16th – weathering a late St Kilda challenge to win by a straight kick. The return bout was played on a ridiculously blustery day at Waverley in Round 20 of that year, with Fremantle in 10th place (again) going into the match whilst St Kilda was second on percentage, on its way to a second minor premiership. The Saints that time won a scrappy game by 13 points after the Dockers got within a point in the final term.

St Kilda co-captain Stewart Loewe would be stretchered off in Round 9 of 1998 at the WACA after an awkward fall in which his head ended up making contact with his knee. Despite a thrilling running goal from ruckman Peter Everitt, the 4th-placed Saints were overrun by the 13th-placed Dockers in the final term.

After several years of minor quirks, things were about to get really weird.

Continue readingRound 15 of 1999 will be remembered for the mark that was taken by umpire Peter Carey. Early in the match, Docker (and former Saint) Adrian Fletcher centred a short pass to Brad Wira on the wing, only for the experienced Carey, who was in the path of the ball’s trajectory, to take the mark and call for a ball-up. Needless to say, the incident was a massive talking point in football circles, though ultimately it would take its place in VFL/AFL history as a wonderfully unique and humourous moment in a game that has a habit of throwing those up from time to time. The Dockers would go on to win the game by 23 points, and send St Kilda’s season into a further downward spiral.

By the time the two teams met in Round 12 of 2001, both teams had new coaches and were sharing 14th (St Kilda) and 16th (Fremantle) places on the ladder; by season’s end they would be 15th and 16th respectively. On this Saturday night at Subiaco, the Saints won their third game of the year after a young Stephen Milne sprang to life in the final term, on his way to kicking three goals and giving the Saints a 10-point win. However, captain Robert Harvey would seriously injure his knee in a gang tackle that continued well past its use-by date; with the ball locked up amongst the scrum, the umpire inexplicably chose to let play continue, long enough for the Dockers players to force Harvey to the turf as his knee buckled under him.

It would also be Malcolm Blight’s last victory as coach for the Saints, with his brief tenure at Moorabbin ending just three weeks later.

The next season threw up a couple more notable matches – in Round 2, the fast-finishing Dockers would roll the Saints by three points at home after trailing for much of the day, and in Round 17 St Kilda played a rare home match at Princes Park and defeat the Dockers in a dead-rubber in front of just 8,078 fans.

A skip to 2004 would find Brent Guerra breaking Docker Byran Schammer’s arm in a devastating bump as a barnstorming St Kilda extended their winning streak to seven to begin the season, as well as Fremantle wearing their predominantly white away/clash jumper for the first time in the return match in Round 22 at Docklands.

A trio of thrilling matches followed. Strange, thrilling matches.

In round 2 of 2005, St Kilda won their first match of the season by a solitary point at York Park in Tasmania. The Saints would overhaul the Dockers in trying conditions, with Aaron Hamill earning a free kick for holding the ball and scoring the winning point – but not before a final Fremantle charge into their forward line, with defender Luke Penny expertly safely punching the ball out of bounds in the final seconds from a marking contest.

The infamous “Whispers in the Sky” clash was a dire battle in Round 21 at Subiaco. St Kilda were pushing to solidify a top four spot after being outside of the 8 after Round 13, though tipped by many to win the premiership on the eve of the season. Skipper Nick Riewoldt has broken his collarbone in Round 14, and stand-in captain Justin Koschitzke had powered his way to stunning form and lead the Saints’ fight for redemption. He earned 11 Brownlow votes in just five matches, and with Riewoldt back, he was seen as a key component to St Kilda’s premiership hopes as September neared. Fremantle, meanwhile were hoping to return to finals action after St Kilda had knocked them out on the eve of the 2004 finals series.

What happened on that Friday night is now a part of St Kilda-Fremantle rivalry folklore. Awful and questionable umpiring decisions went Fremantle’s way all night, gifting the Dockers several goals and depriving the Saints of several chances of their own. Koschitzke would injure a quad muscle in the third quarter, and he would not be fit enough to return to the side, which bowed out in the preliminary final several weeks later (had St Kilda defeated Sydney in that match, he would have been a huge chance to return for the Grand Final).

The final term was an old-fashioned thriller. In the final minute, with the Saints up by a point, Justin Peckett was run down by Luke McPharlin just outside Fremantle’s 50-metre arc; the resulting kick forward saw Justin Longmuir take a spectacular mark over the top of the pack just 25 metres out from goal. His kick was straight, and the Dockers had won by five points, and were to face reigning premier Port Adelaide the following week in the final round for a spot in the finals.

Channel Nine reporter Tony Jones – travelling back to Melbourne from the game after Nine’s coverage – claimed that he heard umpire Matthew Head, who had made a number of the decisions that went Fremantle’s way remark, “Now I know what it feels like to have a victory”. Several other passengers made the same claim as Jones, but the AFL cleared Head of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the matter that week.

Though they would start strongly, Fremantle lost to Port Adelaide the following week and finish 10th as the Power clinched eighth spot. St Kilda would go on to record two amazing victories over the following two weeks – their biggest win in the club’s 132-year history over the Brisbane Lions, by 139 points, and a brave eight-point win over minor premiers Adelaide in the First Qualifying Final at AAMI Stadium, to secure a home Preliminary Final and a week’s rest.

But the centrepiece of this rivalry – so far, at least – came in Round 5, 2006; the final installment of this trilogy taking place where it started – at York Park (now Aurora Stadium) in Tasmania, referred to as “Sirengate”.

The Dockers were truly dangerous in 2006, and were only knocked out a week short of the Grand Final. Though notorious for poor interstate form, on this day they were all over an inept St Kilda, who were making another slow start to a season. Though the Saints would be in with a chance all day, that chance seemed to have disappeared as the clock counted down to zero as a desperate Dockers defence forced a stopped in the Saints forward line, with their team up by a point. The siren sounded, and Fremantle players around the ball began celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But the siren was quite faint, and umpire didn’t hear it – and play continued from the stoppage well after full-time. The Saints forced the ball to Steven Baker, whose flying shot at goal – a number of seconds after the siren – missed to the left, tying the scores. The umpire then awarded Baker a free kick for a hit he got as he kicked it, and so he was to take the kick again, with the first behind taken back, and the Saints again down by a point. As this was occurring, Fremantle officials had stormed on to the ground to remonstrate with the umpires, with coach Chris Connolly finding himself arguing with St Kilda player Lenny Hayes. Verbal stoushes were springing up between officials, umpires and players left, right and centre, and amongst it all, Baker missed again. The game was a draw.

St Kilda coach Grant Thomas declared the game “one for the blooper reel” in the post-match wash-up, whilst Connolly was understandably furious. Fremantle immediately took the issue to the AFL. Sensationally, the AFL overturned the result during the week, with final score officially at 13.15 (93) to 14.10 (94), the Dockers victorious by a point.

The sides would meet again at Subiaco in Round 20. To date, this match is the most important game the clubs have been involved in against each other, with a top four spot up for grabs. Fremantle trounced the Saints, with the only highlight for St Kilda being a goal kicked by Brendon Goddard from an enormous kick late in the match; from just inside the centre square, Goddard’s kick would go through the goals at post-height.

The Dockers would finish third on the ladder, with fellow Subiaco tenants West Coast in first place. Though they would lose the Second Qualifying Final to Adelaide away, they won their first final of any sort at home against Melbourne a week later. Sydney knocked them out a week later, otherwise the MCG would have been set for an all-Western Australian Grand Final.

Several things of note come out of this. Firstly, St Kilda would have finished third on superior percentage if the “Sirengate” result had stood, forcing eventual Grand Finalists Sydney out of the top four, and forcing a Western Derby as a First Qualifying Final. Instead, the Saints finished sixth and limped out of the finals series in the first week, losing to Melbourne in the Second Elimination Final. Of course, if the Saints had won that game – which was a good chance of happening through the final term – they would have faced Fremantle in a semi-final, bringing the two teams face-to-face in massive game; as it happened, Grant Thomas would be sacked just days after the loss to the Demons. The other point worth considering – albeit a hypothetical one – is if the AFL would have overturned the result the way it did had Baker actually kicked a goal from either of his shots, “winning” the game for St Kilda. It’s one thing to overturn a draw, but to  completely reverse the outcome of a match would have made this issue far, far greater, and a much more daunting prospect for the AFL.

The following season was a disappointment for both teams. When they squared off in Round 20, with the Saints hoping to snatch a finals spot under new coach Ross Lyon, a collision between Steven Baker and Jeff Farmer would be the talking point of the competition for the following week.

Farmer left the ground concussed, with blood pouring from his face, after evidently running into the back of Baker. No umpires nor cameras saw or captured the incident, but a Fremantle trainer said that Baker had been malicious in the collision, and this was influential in the seven-match suspension Baker received. The Saints appealed, but this fell on deaf ears from the AFL. The decision would prove costly for the Saints, who were now without their star tagger as they were coming up against West Coast the following week, a must-win game for the Saints. The Eagles’ midfield of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr were able to run far more freely and eventually the Eagles would win by eight points; though St Kilda defeated Richmond in Round 22, they would finish the season in ninth position after Adelaide also won their final round match to knock St Kilda out of September calculations.

Round 13 of 2008 saw a spluttering Saints wielding the axe on senior players Nick Dal Santo and Stephen Milne after just three wins from the previous ten games of football. Ben McEvoy, Robert Eddy and Jarryd Allen would all debut for the Saints on a dogged Friday night, with the Saints prevailing by eight points. It would be the beginning of a remarkable turnaround for Ross Lyon and his men, who would win eight of their final ten matches in the home-and-away season to finish fourth, including the return game at Subiaco in Round 20 which Stephen Milne played out with a grotesquely swollen cheek. The Saints would fall one week short of the Grand Final.

The Saints would go one better in 2009, as Fremantle were again finding themselves at the wrong end of the ladder. In Round 4, the Saints crushed the Dockers by 88 points, and keeping the visitors to a scoreline of 4.4 (28), the joint-lowest score at Docklands. Of course, that record is shared with St Kilda, who could only manage 3.10 (28) against Collingwood in Round 6 of 2002.

Most recently, their 2010 NAB Cup semi-final match was nearly called off, after storms ravaged the Melbourne CBD, leaving Etihad Stadium with internal roofing damage. The players ran out for a later start to no crowd in attendance, and the 5,000+ fans were eventually let in over the first quarter, but only allowed to be seated on the bottom level. St Kilda would win a position in the Final easily, but would lose that to the Western Bulldogs, who were making their first Final appearance of any kind in 40 years.

And now on Sunday evening, the two teams will be squaring off, and coming into this round are occupying the top two positions on the ladder. It’s definitely the first time this has happened with these two clubs; Fremantle will be looking to be on top of the AFL ladder at the completion of any round for the first time in their history, whilst the Saints are going to be entering a lengthy period of time with injured captain Nick Riewoldt. The football world will be watching this intriguing clash, which will hopefully be remembered for some good football, promising individual performances and solid teamwork. As long as no umpires take marks or feel like “having a victory”, or the siren fails, or there are unseen and inconclusive clashes which result in massive suspensions, or storms unleash fury over Melbourne, then there’s a good chance that just might happen.

But who knows?

Links

Umpire Peter Carey takes a mark in Round 15, 1999

Justin Longmuir kicks a goal after the siren to win the game for the Dockers in the “Whispers in the Sky” match, in Round 20, 2005

“Sirengate” finish Part 1, Round 5, 2006

“Sirengate” finish Part 2

Brendon Goddard’s monster goal, Round 20, 2006

The quieter side

After last week’s farceshambles it felt as though our collective care for this season had careered off a cliff and washed up in a bloody, broken mess on the jagged rocks below.

I couldn’t remember a bigger non-build up to a game than this, probably not since the early GT days. If the Ahmed Saad storey hadn’t broken I’m not sure we’d have actually realised we were playing this weekend.

This is what it feels like when your season has been winding down since May and results like those are thrown up in Round 18. After losing by a 100-plus point margin for the first time since 2002 we watched the Bulldogs the next day give their supporters more to be excited about, not just showing development as the season progresses but getting the results, too.

It didn’t help this game’s cause – not that humanity missed out on anything – that it was tucked away up at Brisbane on a Saturday night, with the Saints up against what has been arguably been the lowest-profile team in the competition in the last couple of seasons. This was new, upsettingly ghostly territory.

I’d gone into the city for a quick drink with a friend at Hell’s Kitchen, with the plan to walk around vaguely afterwards in the CBD and find a place to watch the game. I ended up going to Twitter for help, and Rich ended up telling me from our RWB account to go to the Imperial, so the Imperial it was.

I also ended up watching the game on my lonesome; Rich and Tamar were cooking up a storm for Rich’s folks at RWB’s Abbotsford headquarters; my Dad and brother were wisely staying at home to watch on the comfy confines of the couch, and it seemed everyone was staying at home themselves or tied up.

Rich titled his preview “The only way is up?”, but even with the question mark as a caveat this was tempting fate as only a supporter of the St Kilda Football Club can. After recent years, we look like we’ve won a premiership only because the Football Gods had an off day a while ago, rather than decided to help us out on one.

But for this week at least, it came off ok. This is how low we’ve slipped: “It came off ok” = a five goals loss. The margin did threaten to really blow out late in the game, and it could have been a 10 goal-plus margin.

As I’ve said, the thing that really struck me (kind of ironically, but not really) was the lack of any anticipation whatsoever. Not just during the week, but even during the day. I watched Sandy get rolled, and then on the tram into the city there was no excitement about anything at all. There was a guy on my tram with a Freo scarf which had red and green on it – that was the most exciting part of the tram ride, otherwise it was just cold and wet.

We’ve been rather spoiled in recent years, and I think we got used to having such high hopes (and quite reasonably, too) that right now it feels almost like there isn’t any footy being played at all by the Saints. These dead rubbers (for us anyway) feel beyond useless.

The game started off living up to the lack of hype. Jack Steven kicked the first, but he didn’t even get half the number of possessions he got against the Cats. That was a timely reminder that as exciting as he’s been this year there’s still some improvement to come in terms of consistency.

The Saints looked a bit more lively than last week, but it’s easy to forget we started that game quite well. Jonathan Brown hobbled off early for the game, and perhaps even for the final time in his career, but that didn’t really hurt the Lions. For all the Saints’ hard work there were blink-and-you’ll-miss-it goals to Rich and Merrett, and Docherty scored another goal on the rebound to have the Lions up at the first change.

One of St Kilda’s goals came from a great set shot kick to Ahmed, who incredibly came onto the emergency list for TDL. TDL and 2018 (or 2019) Premiership Captain Jack Newnes apparently were crook, so Ahmed was in. Jack’s Vice-Captain Big Ben was also affected, and apparently  a few in the team was, so that it would have been annoying to have the aisle seat on the plane.

My Favourite Hair in the AFL wasn’t getting on the end of any, and a stray kick from Dal on the quarter-time siren saw him crack the Ahmed Saads. Sammy Hamill, complete with slightly oversized polo, had to step in to calm him down.

The Imperial is more of an Association Football pub, and I was the only person there with a vested interest in the game, asides from one guy who had a Saints home jumper on under his hoodie (don’t know what year – couldn’t see the collar) but was there with his friend just as much watch the Liverpool-Olympiakos non-match. Seriously, how many matches does that sport want its teams playing? There are so many competitions and friendlies that the games lose a lot of meaning. How are Wigan Athletic fans meant to feel right now? What was the point of any of their achievements and follies in any competition last season? As they say in the classics, “Fark that”.

Armo had 30 touches for the game, which is the first time he’s had more than 25 since his supposed break-out game against GWS. He really did rack up the stats, but there were some glaring Tim Elliotts. The second term saw a passage that I thought really seemed to sum him up. He took a great contested mark on the wing as the Saints were coming wide out of defence, but kicked it straight to a Brisbane player (don’t actually know who it was, and that’s why I’m behind a keyboard). The player ran on but got caught by BIG RHYS BANDWAGON; the ball spilled and Armo, having run on and under a little heat, decided to take the advantage, collected the ball and fluffed the kick which went out of bounds. Soon after he put on a really boring hit on another Brisbane player (could have been the same one) that did donuts for anyone.

There was some genuinely good pressure applied in that quarter as well as the Rhys tackle. It was good to see Saunders put on a hard tackle, Tom Lee and Dal both caught Rich, allowing genuine space to open up and Milne – who had set the standard with a commendable effort on three Lions at the end of the first – to take the mark and goal.

As I put down my OK-ish cider and went to write a note I realised I wasn’t even thinking about the scoreboard. Have we been that deconditioned so quickly? Or is it just something inherent in us as St Kilda supporters? Is this the default setting?

It didn’t matter if I was caring about the score at this point, because Brisbane soon after got out the back to an open forward half and kicked a goal, before another from numbers running hard into the forward line.

There were both wasted opportunities at our end, although things were just breaking down anyway. Tom Lee hadn’t taken off yet and dropped a mark he should have taken; Roo was looking unfit, although as always he worked incredibly hard and he deserved the goals he finished with. That said, he continued cracking the Ahmed Saads throughout the game and I’m not sure how deserved it was? Curren kicked it real bullet to him at half forward, and then he totally went over the top of TOM LEE BANDWAGON who had put on a really good lead 40 metres out. I wonder if Tom cracked the shits with Roo?

The margin was only 19 but a really tired effort from Joey on the wing in metres of space to get to a low ball ended in the Sherrin trickling away out of bounds, and Rich kicked one of his great goals from the throw-in. Head Simpkin fumbled from the Lions’ forward 50 entry directly from the resulting bounce, and it looked like the cue was in deep conversation with the rack.

The deluge didn’t quite come then. Big Ben dicked CJ with an awful short centering pass in the middle, but CJ followed up further up the ground and kicked a most un-CJ like bullet to Tom Lee, but he had the arms out which forced the defender to hold him, and Saad took the loose ball, played the advantage and ran into an open goal. But I’d barely looked up from my cider and Merrett was lining up for goal.

A Jack Steven bullet from the centre bounce found Tom Lee again on the lead, but he went for the chest mark and the defender made things harder. He really learnt from that though and he had the arms out for the rest of the match.

For some reason in my head, before looking at the margin line again, the beginning of the end was Hanley and Rich goals. Hanley was all by himself goal side of the centrre circle and just needed to have the ball kicked to him and he was open from then on, and Rich kicked yet another monster.

There had been some good signs by half-time, certainly at least compared to the week before. The pressure and intent were up, as I’ve mentioned. Roberton put on a huge dumping tackle on Staker, and Dunell took a wonderful mark going back into oncoming traffic on half-back.

But by half-time the lead was four goals, BIG RHYS BANDWAGON had literally plummeted to earth and the Lions could always do things a little more easily. When a team is so low the sense of inevitability creeps in earlier and more surely.

I was already looking forward to going out from the Imperial, too. Someone was dicking around with TV in the course of putting on the Liverpool match on the main screen and instead of the half-time break I was left watching an idle input options screen. I eventually asked the manager to put it back on, but rather begrudgingly. Did I even want to stay around for this? It would also mean I’d have to end up writing about the WHOLE game. Whichever way you look at it, the manager happily obliged.

With the near blowout of the final term, even though the Saints won the third quarter my recollections of the second half are focused solely on some individual efforts. Dal’s four-bounce run and goal, Siposs getting low and setting Joey for another wonderful goal from tight on the boundary. I liked Simpkin hitting Green after the ball went out too.

I think most people’s highlight would have been Tom Lee. I’m well and truly on the TOM LEE BANDWAGON, and now the Big Rhys looks like he’s out for the year this bandwagon will be taking centre stage. It’s the fifth week in a row he’s kicked at least two goals, and he’d only played two games before that. But it’s his attack at the contest that was really exciting. I’m talking about the second half particularly – we’ve talked about Tom Lee dropping things – which is when he really lifted. Some great contested marks in the forward line and further up the ground weren’t just good in isolation, but he actually affected the game. Two goals in quick succession had the Saints right back in it, the second after a strong mark in a dangerous position and it wasn’t the first time he’d led to the right spot. Then there was his really good mark on the wing in the last, which showed an ability to lead up and provide a valuable target between the arcs.

He missed a goal trying to emulate Dal right after the fact, but he showed that he was comfortable and willing to take things on in circumstance he doesn’t usually find himself, i.e. with the footy coming out of the middle and with space up ahead.

Tom Curren and Jimmy Webster got plenty of the footy too. TC got plenty of the ball in his first game, which was a step in the right direction in translating his ball magnetism at VFL level to the top flight. He also disposed of the ball really nicely on a couple of occasions too, which has been a knock on him to an extent at Sandy. Two of those were straight to Roo on the lead, and one of those set up Roo’s first.

I didn’t mind Jimmy at one point holding on to the ball for a second longer and getting dumped on his arse, either. He also took on three Brisbane players wide off half-back, which set up the passage of play that ended up in Roo’s second goal. Wanting to take things on is a promising sign that early in anyone’s career.

But then there were the disappointing things. After having the momentum in the third, by the time the Lions had wrestled it back we’d only made up two goals. Some opportunities were wasted by senior guys in front of goal – Roo and Dal shanked consecutive shot at goal that came at a really crucial time in the game, and Armo wasted two opportunities well within range too. Roo and Dal are the most senior of players, and Armo is in one of the nine leadership groups, and they’re the kinds of moments that need to be seized if this side is going to win games and also for the kids to learn from – although they did have a number of good moments and performances to learn from on the night, it must be said.

There was also Milne kicking forward in the last quarter when the game was still thereto a two-on-one, with Saad as the one. He didn’t get near it, and it went straight up the other end to Staker close to goal. Milne knew it – he was in shot and put his hands to his head when Staker took the mark. He kicked one goal and had 12 touches, but I feel like that’s the kind of thing we’re expecting from him from now on? I don’t know if the end is very soon but – for so many reasons – it will more than likely end sadly.

I’m not sure where My Favourite Player Arryn Siposs is at the moment? Another quiet Saturday night for him. Schneider should come back in, and Ledger and Ross are knocking on the door, so there may be a couple of changes next week and he might be one of the first to go. I’d like to see him kept, and with Rhys out that opens a spot up at either end for him.

Fittingly, Goose Maguire scored the game breaker, and more so because it was his first goal for the Lions. He loved it, too – shrugging off Head and slotting through nicely from a good range.

I still don’t think the club should have let him go when they did, and I’m still bemused he wasn’t given a game when fit in 2009, despite his great VFL form. There’s nothing to lose for us right now, so I don’t mind saying it: so it should have been him to kick that goal. I feel a rush of anger towards the St Kilda Football Club when I say that. I think I’m angry that the club wasted an absolute gift of a chance to win a premiership, and the consequences we’re experiencing as a result,emotionally as supporters as well on the field.

I think Michael Voss has a sense of theatre. He threw Goose forward for much of the final quarter. But he can do that kind of thing – he’s captained three times more premierships than St Kilda has won in 140 years. He led a dynasty and created a legacy of strength and success at the Brisbane Lions. St Kilda – the club and the supporters – can’t tempt fate in that way. Look where it gets us.

I don’t know. Don’t ask.

I’ve got no freaking idea which St Kilda will turn up this week.

Brilliant one game, frustrating the next. The “catch” (in the best sense of the term) this week is that after a win, the Saints will be lining up against opposition they would be warmly expected to beat.

I say “catch” because, as we know, consecutive wins this year occurred just once. That was all of three months ago, too, when the Saints comfortably accounted for a lowly Bulldogs outfit after thumping an even lower Gold Coast side.

Since then the Saints have knocked off some high-flying sides – Carlton, Sydney and the Bombers – but have struggled with mid-rung teams in Fremantle, Richmond and North Melbourne. Perhaps its third time lucky the Saints will back up one of those better wins with another strong performance.

Because when the Saints have looked good this year, they’ve looked really good. Brisbane don’t offer the same kind of test that those stronger sides typically would, but perhaps having that tough test in front of them has kept the Saints on their guard. That said, a Brisbane win would see both sides at seven wins and eight losses after tonight.

(more…)

Rollercoaster cont.

Another week, another drastic change in how we’re feeling about this club in 2012.

The season felt just about done and dusted after the disappointing showing against North, the Saints having blown the match against Adelaide a fortnight earlier and with the high-flying Dons to come.

High-flying or not, the Dons always seem to pull something out of the proverbial and bring the Saints crashing back down to Earth, and three consecutive losses seemed a monty. Crazily, on Saturday night the Saints were all over the Bombers on the way to recording their second-biggest win over said opposition.

So it’s another week of afterglow, another week in which I’m to be served a delicious slice of humble pie. Three wins now against much fancied opposition, some very hefty victories and generally narrow losses means the Saints are sitting inside the eight with a healthy percentage and the perception they can take on just about anyone on their day.

(more…)

The critics have it: Carlton, Gardi as sub-plot the winners

It seems a foregone conclusion that Carlton will win tomorrow night, and the Saints will be heading to Sydney for the 2nd Elimination final.

I’d still be tipping Carlton anyway, but St Kilda will certainly have a point to prove, and they have a home final to play for. Sydney should dispose of Brisbane, though with that game wrapping up shortly before this one starts, a Sydney loss will really take the venom out of it.

Michael Gardiner has been given a chance to prove his fitness and form before September begins in the footy sense. His call up is his first for the season after a long struggle with injury, and it just might be the perfect time if Big Ben is going to have similar troubles with Mummy next week as he did a fortnight ago.

Gardi has created an interesting sub-plot, with Saints fans keenly eyeing his performance regardless of what the score is. Situation may dictate the Saints shut-up shop a little early, but Gardi will be doing his utmost all the while to prove himself ready for the real stuff.

Big Ben has been a revelation this year – he and Jack Steven have both stepped up to become required players of the 21+1 in 2011. He has certainly earned his spot in the team, but the recent Mummy monstering is at the forefront of the St Kilda mind. Whilst Gardi’s selection makes the Saints incredibly tall (barring a late change; a short emergency line-up features Baker, Smith and Gamble), it’s now or never – and with the luxury of at least knowing a finals spot is sewn up, it has to be now – to give the coaches some idea of how the experienced Gardi could fit into the side. It also gives the players themselves a week to test the set-up.

The prospect of facing Matthew Kreuzer and Robbie Warnock may not provide the same intimidation a rematch with Mummy might (in the context of the next two matches), but the Blues’ pairing has Judd, Murphy, Robinson, Simpson and Scotland helping them out. The personnel is added incentive for the St Kilda rucks to make sure Robbie isn’t able to give them a clean first chance at the fall of the ball, and it will go a long way to deciding who will win this game, and where the Saints will be a week later.

St Kilda’s worries about its forward line structure evaporated (for a couple of hours) last weekend, albeit against a disappointing Kangaroos outfit. The Last Man to Have Captained the Saints to a Premiership of Any Kind (TLMTHCTSTAPOAK) was Captain Calamity for all the right reasons – he crashed into the packs hard, gave brilliant support to Roo up forward and to Big Ben in the ruck against emerging star Goldstein. He also kicked three goals in the process; it should have been four but for a hilarious miss late in the game (he wasn’t the only offender, and fortunately the Saints were way, way ahead).

Not only proving his worth for structures alone, but last week Kosi was moving very, very well. It seems increasingly evident that ankle issues were the chief cause of his poor form early in the season – hopefully that’s the case, and what we’re seeing now is closer to a “default” Kosi. Again, with Gardi in the side, there will be some trial and error with Kosi also, some mix’n’match to see how this puzzle of giants fits together.

Of course, Kosi’s good form and forward/ruck rotations may be a moot point if Joey, Dal and Jack find themselves struggling against Carlton’s A-list. BJ did wonders through the middle last week and will surely find himself at the centre bounce a few times, but hopefully after St Kilda goals. The Blues could have an easy ride if Walker, Betts and Garlett are getting a constant supply of the footy. Kreuzer will be wanting to keep his comeback humming along before facing David Hille and Paddy Ryder, and a goal or two at least will do great things for his confidence and his team.

Whilst a home final is on the line, St Kilda is going to have win anyway in week one of the finals no matter where they play – the equation is that simple. “Good teams win interstate”.  With the inclusion of Gardi, the Saints are definitely bringing an element of testing to this week for the benefit of the following Saturday night. The Blues may also, but they’re going to be finishing fifth no matter what. As far as interest goes, it’s the Gardi sub-plot that may trump the performance of the stars tomorrow night.