St Kilda travelled to Perth not having won in the west since 2001, despite recent rain, they found Domain Stadium was in tremendous condition for their Round 16 match-up with Fremantle. With a share of eighth place on offer for the winner, there was understandable niggle between both teams in the games’ earliest stages. Spot-fires continued to break out throughout the match with a major skirmish in the second quarter, the mass of aggressive players saw an initial free kick and fifty-metre penalty to Hayden Ballantine reversed as emotions simmered.
Facing the returning Aaron Sandilands, and the hulking second gamer Sean Darcy, Billy Longer was set for a testing afternoon. Nicknamed Hodor, after the Game of Thrones character, Darcy had an impressive debut against Geelong last week, so impressive that his entrance to the game was greeted with rousing applause from the Fremantle crowd. He had the crowd on their feet again when he tackled Nathan Brown at full pace. Longer showed his readiness for the contest early with a huge leap at the opening ruck contest and a strong mark in the opening minutes. In fact, his work around the ground throughout the game was much improved taking numerous strong grabs around the ground but Darcy did hurt him with his first career goal.
An inability to compete with the Dockers, or even stifle their dominance in clearances was costly in the opening quarter. The Saints strength at transitioning out of defence was again on show but unfortunately, so was their yips in front of goal. Sam Gilbert, Jack Billings, Nick Riewoldt, Jack Newnes, and Tim Membrey, would all no doubt like to have their shots at goal all over again as their misses were punished by a Fremantle team who had no such problems.
Hayden Ballantine had an impact on the match in the second quarter, in quick succession he was involved in an incident which saw Jack Steven reported and later sparked a skirmish between the majority of players on the paddock. The spilling over of emotions seemingly sparked the Saints into a life as they responded with renewed pressure and attack on the ball. Back in the contest as result of their intent, their execution continued to let them down as they frittered away opportunities in their attacking fifty.
The wastefulness continued as the Saints dominated the Third Quarter. Despite their best efforts, until Josh Bruce kicked truly in the 14th minute to level the scores, they only had five behinds to show for their dominance. Bruce’s goal was answered immediately, Michael Walters’ fourth goal for the match regaining the lead for the Dockers. Walters was simply outstanding for the home team with the Saints having no answer for the 26-year-old midfielder. His left foot continually hurt St Kilda, not just his ability to find a teammate but also to hit the scoreboard, each of his goals seeming to come at just the right time to stifle mini Saints runs. A week after coming agonisingly close to winning the game in the dying seconds in Geelong, he couldn’t have done much more to win this game for his team. Twice in the final term he helped Freo settle, with each of his fifth and sixth goals he regained the lead but it was not enough.
Jack Steele was vital in ensuring the Saints stayed within touching distance at three-quarter time. While not collecting a lot of possessions he did manage to hit the scoreboard with an important late goal. His true value for the Saints though was felt in his pressure and tackling, his 13th tackle for the match an outstanding effort to run down Brennan Cox as he seemed certain to extend the lead for the Dockers in the shadows of the final change.
While Steele’s tackling caused Freo all manner of discomfort during this game, it will be a tackle of Koby Stevens from a few weeks ago that will be causing them some grief during the week ahead. Stevens was suspended for a sling tackle against GWS and this suspension will give Fremantle some worrying moments with Cam McCarthy likely to face scrutiny for a similar tackle on Sam Gilbert. The veteran Saint was unable to take any further part in the game after being stretchered from the field. It was heartening to see the Fremantle crowd applaud the wounded Gilbert from the ground but they should be prepared for their spearhead, McCarthy, to spend some time on the sidelines.
The final quarter was a see-sawing heart in mouth affair as both sides battled for the advantage. Membrey put the Saints in front early and was unlucky not to extend the lead moments later after his marking efforts went unrewarded by the umpires. The lead changed hands another four times as Walters kicked Freo ahead twice either side of another Membrey goal.
With the contest hanging in the balance it was Josh Bruce he proved the match-winner. Twice in the final two minutes, the key forward bobbed up in the forward fifty to settle the contest. Retaking the lead with a snap that has since been given the Everything is Better with Titanic treatment, then on the run in the final seconds, he put an emphatic end to a match that had been anything but for the Saints.
It sets up a mouth-watering top eight battle with Richmond next weekend. The Saints will enter the contest full of the kind of confidence that only a win on the road can give. They will also know that the kind of wastefulness in front of goal will hurt if they cannot resolve it soon.
FREMANTLE 4.3 7.5 10.7 12.8 (80)
ST KILDA 1.5 6.8 8.14 12.17 (89)
Fremantle: Walters 6, Ballantyne 2, Neale, Darcy, Cox, B.Hill
St Kilda: Gresham 3, Bruce 3, Carlisle 2, Membrey 2, Billings, Steele,
Fremantle: Walters, Neale, Hill, Johnson, Darcy, Hamling
St Kilda: Carlisle, Stevens, Gresham, Ross, Steele
Fremantle: Sandilands (right hamstring)
St Kilda: Gilbert (concussion)
Reports: Jack Steven for striking Hayden Ballantyne in the second quarter
Umpires: Margetts, Deboy, Williamson
Official crowd: 30,541 at Domain Stadium