Round 9, 2018
St Kilda 3.5, 7.7, 9.9, 10.12 (72)
Collingwood 3.3, 7.6, 14.7, 15.10 (100)
Crowd: 33,994 at Etihad Stadium, Saturday, May 19th at 7.20pm
Script writers couldn’t have done it any better: one Rex Hunt was calling his final game on 3AW on Saturday night for St Kilda versus Collingwood. Rex has always been one to embellish and underline the weird, wonderful and pitiful in the game, and boy did he have some material to work with on Saturday night.
I believe he described people “playing chess at Pentridge” as having more fun than watching this game.
Having been there myself, yes it was darn ugly at times; and again highlighted the Saints plight. St Kilda continues to self sabotage it’s season via a thousand cuts in the form of woeful skills, spurned opportunities and half-baked contests.
Yet this was all set in motion at the selection table. Carlisle would be missing (concussion), McCartin wouldn’t be returning yet, Acres groin was worse than the original soreness diagnosis and so on, and so forth. So, to recap: that’s the runaway leader in the Trevor Barker Medal right now, the other bookend of the side and the Media’s selected darling all consigned to the medical room. And the injury list already had some noteworthy names mind you: Long, Gilbert, Bruce and medical room Gold Platinum Ultimate Elite member Nathan Freeman. In a nutshell, this was to be the weakest, most vulnerable Saints 22 put on the park in probably 3 years. 5 players with 10 games or less in experience, including newly minted debutant Bailey Rice.
And yet that didn’t stop them being ahead at the main break at Corporate Stadium.
Lonie and Newnes were spearheading a re-jigged, makeshift forward line – alongside Rohan Marshall. Little Jack kicked the first two – yet was a missing person thereafter – whilst Newnes finished the night with 7 shots on goal (4 converted).
Let me repeat that: Lonie and Newnes – alongside Marshall in his 6th game – spearheaded a the forward line. Lonie and Newnes. Welcome to 2018. Welcome to the End of The Road to 2018.
That’s not to give the players an out as such, and to be fair Newnes took the forward challenge head on. He was sharp in front of goal and made the most of a lot of one-on-one opportunities to notch up 4 majors. Up the other end Jimmy Webster was at his swashbuckling, decisive best and had ample help from the slick Hunter Clark and the zealous – yet naive – Coffield and debutant Bailey Rice. Dare I say it, the rearguard looked fluid and precise for stretches, particularly through the first half; even Nathan Brown was having a throwback performance, showing a steeliness that seemed to have pass him by. Yes they were aided by the fact that the Pies were sticking to their one tall forward structure, but for long periods they not only stood firm but also initiated a lot of great transition play for the side.
In the first half in particular, the makeshift nature of St Kilda’s forward setup seemed to almost force the players to lower their eyes and attempt to pick out realistic options, rather than blaze away to points on the oval that had been burnt into their retinas via numerous whiteboard sessions. Marshall epitomized this when he picked out Newnes with a lovely 20 meter pass in the first quarter; a complete departure from the panicked, crazed nature of our typical forays forward. And to go with this, Gresham and the reinstated Sinclair had the midfield humming with a bit more pizazz and verve. A team that was coming off of totals of 9.13 and 8.11 in it’s last two games, all of a sudden was chirping along with 7.7 at half time.
Unfortunately, the list of games in 2018 when the Saints had been able to sustain four quarters of effort and intensity is this: . And so when the game was opened up, and was played on more one-on-one terms in the second half, Collingwood seemed so much more at home. The Pies seemed to relish the extra running required; it cajoled them to life. The likes of Varcoe, Wells, Stephenson, Phillips et al had clear air to run into more often and they lapped it up like a dog hanging it’s head out the window. Suddenly, the Saints defenders were on the their heels on the regular.
To make matters much worse, Nathan Brown went off with a knee injury in the third term and subsequent the shuffling of the deck only accentuated the frayed nature with which the Saints tried to move the ball. With Marshall having been deployed to defence, the much needed escape valve ‘down the line’ was not there for the defenders, and so the Saints kept trying to play that bit faster, which seemed to buoy the Pies further.
That third term proved to be decisive. Frayed structure or not, Jordan De Goey was the biggest thorn in Richo’s side. The power, straight line speed and incisiveness was all on display and he again underscored what hot property he will be this off-season. He was pivotal in the Pies’ surging seven goal third quarter – to go with the 3 snags he snagged in the second term. Despite nimble backs in the ranks, Richo’s men had no answer for him. All of Coffield, Rice, Geary, and Webster only succeeded in providing life size training cones for him.
Like I mentioned earlier, the state of the 22 is vulnerable to put it nicely right now. Granted, this is accentuated by the team’s collective confidence being lower than a snakes belly. Nine rounds in, and blind Freddy can tell you that the anointed Next Generation aren’t ready to shoulder the weight of leading The Club forward. The plight of the side has been deepened and accelerated though by the amount of inexperienced players that are a regular part of the team this year too.
Funnily enough, those newbies were have provided some of our brighter moments in the last couple of weeks. Hunter Clark played his best game for the Club, whilst second gamer Ed Phillips continued where he left off against the Dockers the week before. Bailey Rice certainly looked confident enough; Coffield had a tough night defensively yet still was a clear thinker with ball in hand. The youngest bunch are doing their bit; Clark and Coffield in particular allow us to dare to believe that we’re not a Bermuda Triangle for budding stars.
At the other end of the spectrum, the side continues to be plagued by a raft of players that are non-contributing zeroes right now. Billings, Armo, and Savage are the ones that immediately come to mind. Mav too had a stinker. Lonie only cemented his burgeoning reputation as a player almost too good for the VFL and nothing more. In this day and age of footy, it’s very difficult to carry such a number of these players.
Billings has been a repeat offender this year. The coaching staff’s latest ploy was to have him sit slightly behind the ball as a loose man for most of the first half. 21 disposals was his final tally for the day, yet it’s the stuff in between all his touches that seems to irk me most. Firstly, he looks completely off the pace fitness and intensity wise. It’s one thing to be out of form, but intensity, desire, supreme competitiveness – these are things that can’t waiver; they’re must haves. And they’re something that should have been pummeled into Billings by now.
As I may have mentioned before, I believe it’s oh so wrong for the coaching staff to repeatedly try and massage the structure of the side to get Billings some cheap touches. Nine games in and he’s played in every part of the ground. This proclivity to throw him around seems like a cop-out; Billings’ lack of work rate and intensity is going to undermine him wherever he’s plonked.
The boy they call Latte, of course, isn’t the only one who should be in the gun. One thing that’s quite common amongst all our Next Generation players is that generally speaking they’re soft. Acres, Billings and Gresham don’t strike fear into any opponent. All like to get on the end of the play rather than generate it themselves. And most would agree that they would look a million bucks in a well-coached, well-oiled system. That’s all well and good, but it speaks to the type of players and personalities that they’re not.
One player who over the journey has indeed carried himself as an alpha-dog is David Armitage. Armo had 8 disposals, five of which were clangers. Enough said. Sav too had 5 clangers – and he’s meant to be our version of Silk.
What’s more worrying to me than the on-field results right now, is the kind of comments that are coming out of from the people that matter within the Club’s hierarchy right now. President Peter Summers and Simon Lethlean, have both in their own roundabout ways come out in the recent days to say that The Club:
- Did not overestimate the list
- Thinks the list is more than capable but is underperforming
- Wholeheartedly believes that Alan Richardson is the man for the coaching job
- Believes that the beginning to this season on-field has been completely unacceptable
Now. At least two of these points are completely wrong and/or at odds with the other points. I’ll let you connect those dots for yourself.
Though, while I’m at it, let me hone in on one thing. Why did the Club’s hierarchy believe we were so capable of reaching the finals this year? Apparently, it’s largely because of our victories over Richmond and GWS in 2017. Don’t get me wrong, they were enjoyable results. The Giants one did carry some weight, as not only was it a scalp, but it was under the bright lights of Friday night and it helped propel us forward towards the halfway point of the year. The Richmond result, was not a glitch, but anyone who saw the game objectively would acknowledge that the Tigers were not themselves that day. Indeed, Richo mentioned it clearly in the post-match press conference.
All that aside, it is utterly baffling and worrying that The Club can isolate two games and base their whole opinion of a list’s maturity, capabilities and readiness off of two games in a vacuum. That’s utterly absurd and speaks to a complete lack of insight and preparedness to judge the list as a whole. Were they not there to see the team get bent over by the other Grand Finalist again? Did they have memory loss regarding another systematic thumping at the hands of the Swans? Did they completely ignore the way the team folded like a pack of cards when the season was on the line against the Demons?
The examples of when the side has wilted in the face of any noteworthy pressure and intensity is extensive. We’ve seen the Saints lack of skill under pressure all through 2018. Yet it’s not a cold that the team just caught this winter; those symptoms have been at the surface for a good couple of years prior.