Our Jack’s will be nimble
Our Jack’s will be quick
The Saints say thanks
For our first round pick.
With that message, the St Kilda cheer squad expressed publicly what many already knew, that the Saints have an overabundance of Jack’s on their list and that their fans have a second team to support in 2017 – whoever is playing Hawthorn. Due to off season trading that saw St Kilda acquire Hawthorn’s first round pick this season, the Saints have a vested interest in the position the Hawks end 2017. Round 7 was the team’s first and only opportunity to inflict some damage on the Hawthorn season, it was a chance they took with both hands.
From the opening bounce of the match, St Kilda completely out enthused their opponent. The swarming Saints harassed and harangued in defence but ran and spread quickly when they won the Sherrin. This maniacal effort was reflected in the match stats. First and hardest to the ball, the Saints won the possession and contested possession stats comfortably, but remarkably also out tackled their opponents too.
For most of the match the Hawks had an extra man in the defensive half, but could do little to limit the damage. In fact, you could argue that it was more damaging than beneficial with Jimmy Webster, the man left unopposed at the other end, tearing the Hawks up in defence. The Saints backline as a whole produced a stellar performance. With Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle blanketing the Hawthorn big men, the creative play of Dylan Roberton and Blake Acres was able to set up wave after wave of Saints attack from the back half.
A familiar foe was perhaps the only reason the game wasn’t over as a contest at half time. St Kilda’s inefficiency in front of the big sticks saw a dominant first half only yield a 22-point lead at the main break. While he is far from on his own in this regard, Jack Billings’ kicking for goal is bewildering. He has shown how silky his kicking can be, most famously in the comeback victory over the Bulldogs a couple of years ago, yet put him in front of the sticks now and there is very little faith in him converting. That said, Josh Bruce would not feel comfortable questioning the youngsters goal kicking after his howler from the goal square in the final quarter.
The third quarter was a thing of beauty for those fans who bleed red, black, and white. The intensity St Kilda had at both the man and ball was simply unrelenting and the Hawks wilted under the relentlessness of the pressure. This was evident whenever both sides moved the ball, St Kilda seemingly with an endless supply of open men, could transfer the ball quickly and effectively, while the Hawks were unable to buy a target and had to be slower and more measured when attacking. Unlike in the first half, this dominance was reflected on the scoreboard for St Kilda as they kicked 8 goals to 1 in a powerful display.
During the onslaught, Nick Riewoldt slotted home his 700th goal, becoming the 23rd man to do so in the history of the AFL. In his 17th season of top flight football, the former skipper is still able to leave a massive imprint on games when most of his former contemporaries are reaching for the zimmer frame. During the week, Paul Roos suggested that Riewoldt could play on for another four or five seasons. After 20 possessions and four goals against the Hawks, coach Alan Richardson would be hopeful that Roos’ comments prove prophetic.
Jack Steven, in his second game back, was again one of the Saints best. The midfielder terrorised the Hawks with 36 touches, like the rest of his teammates he was also strong without the ball, laying 8 tackles too. Leigh Montagna, Seb Ross and Dylan Roberton were also in danger of contracting leather poisoning as a result of their efforts in Launceston. Former Bulldog Koby Stevens was also effective in his first game for the club helping himself to 28 touches and kicking two goals. Mav Weller’s stats line mirrored Stevens, as he was at his ferocious best in the forward half of the ground for the Saints.
Aggressive and clinical, it was the most complete four quarter effort for the Saints in 2017. In almost every measurable metric the Saints shaded their opponent. Harder at the contest, they easily won the clearances and contested ball. Their structures were much more resilient than the Hawks and they went forward much more freely and accurately. Despite being consistently first to the ball, they out tackled and outworked the Hawks without the ball too. At 3-3, the Saints have their season back on track after their 0-2 start. A sterner test awaits the team next week with their appointment with the premiership favourite Giants under the bright lights of Friday Night Football. A challenge Coach Richardson and his charges would relish after their afternoon’s efforts in Launceston.