Sunday twilight has never been a timeslot renowned for attracting supporters in big numbers through the turnstiles. When combined with a match between teams 10th and 14th on the ladder, it’s perhaps no surprise that you end up in a situation where the sound of a Nathan Brown spoil of Tom Lynch, can echo around Etihad Stadium and be heard above the noise of the crowd.
Despite the early timidity of the crowd, the contest in the middle was anything but. In the early stages of the match, St Kilda’s pressure was almost at its maniacal best. Running in diagonal waves across the ground the Saints got numbers to the man with the ball, and to his options too. It was a double-edged approach which cut down the ball carrier’s options along with his time to make a suitable decision. It meant for the first twenty minutes of the contest St Kilda seemed to have a numerical advantage all over the ground.
A common theme for St Kilda in 2017 has been the wastefulness of the team during these moments of dominance. Unfortunately for Alan Richardson and the Saints faithful, this was again on display in this match against Gold Coast. Having controlled the first quarter, at times looking likely to blow the game open, the Saints went into quarter time behind.
Trailing but it could have been so much different had they been more accurate in front of the big sticks. Three goals from nine shots was the return in the first quarter, set shot misses from Jack Newnes, Tim Membrey and Mav Weller were especially disappointing. Jack Newnes’s miss from 15 metres out, all the more frustrating when he kicked one from the 50-metre arc a minute later, and repeated the feat later in the match for good measure too. Mav Weller’s miss has become sadly predictable in 2017, coming into the Gold Coast match with a set shot record of 4.12. The former Sun isn’t a lone offender though, with the Saints season tally over the same period 145 goals 165 behinds.
Where St Kilda had made the running early, the Suns took full advantage once the Saints surrendered it. By the midway point of the second quarter, the Suns looked the more cohesive unit, belying the fact that they had made seven changes to the team that had lost to Carlton last week. With the half-time break looming in this battle of two beachside towns, it was the Saints who found themselves swimming against the tide.
Jade Gresham did his best to bring his team to life. In consecutive St Kilda forward thrusts, Gresham attempted goal of the year and mark of the year too. Corralled deep in the pocket, the same one he kicked his sensational goal against the Cats last year, he nearly threaded the needle for an impossible score. Moments later he added to his already sizeable highlight reel, flying high over Jack Leslie to take a spectacular mark.
After speculation in the Herald Sun the previous week as to whether he should continue in 2018, Nick Riewoldt spent the majority of the contest as a deep forward. Leading hard and often, he attacked the contest without much reward until time-on in the second quarter. In a matter of minutes, the veteran turned his day and the match on its head with two goals in as many minutes to wrest the lead back for his team.
Jack Billings, in the middle of the best stretch of form of his career, was electric for the Saints in the first half. Helping himself to a team-high fourteen touches, at 100% disposal efficiency, he had 8 score involvements. When deep in red time he received a handball from Leigh Montagna on the attacking edge of the square and kicked truly from fifty, he brought the Saints fans to life. As the Saints continued to press, Koby Stevens missed an opportunity to ram home the advantage moments later, but in 10 minutes the Saints had turned the tide.
Gold Coast completed a series of tacking and bumping drills upon their return to the ground after the half-time break. It didn’t translate to the contest though, with the Saints’ tackling, run, and pressure still greater than their opponents during the third quarter. A large part of this was St Kilda’s tackling pressure. On the back of a beastly performance from Koby Stevens who laid 15 tackles, the Saints out tackled their opponents 75-55 in the match. The Suns had no answer to the Saints onslaught unable to kick a goal until the 25th minute of the quarter. Despite this, the Saints’ continued yips in front of goal, meant the Suns’ hopes were still alive in the last quarter.
With quality forwards Tom Lynch and Peter Wright, this meant the Suns’ were more than a punchers’ chance, trailing by only 17-points at three-quarter time. Nathan Brown kept Lynch on a short leash all day with the Suns’ captain only managing two shots at goal. One a long-range effort after a hacked kick from the midfield dropped short, as he and Brown ran towards Forward Fifty. The other a bombed kick forward in junk time with Brown on the pine. Wright while only managing two goals, was an ever-present danger for the Saints.
Riewoldt’s third goal early in the last quarter helped settle the Saints but, when he was run down attempting to kick his fourth and the Suns scored immediately, there were some anxious moments for Saints fans. These nerves were settled when Jake Carlisle, showing why James Hird was so keen to play him forward at Essendon, marked and goaled from the pocket.
Jack Billings, after his blistering first half, carried on with the job and was Saints Summary’s man of the day. The developing superstar had 30-possessions by game’s end along with 7x Inside 50’s, 12x Score Assists and a goal. Nick Riewoldt made sure that his limited opportunities had an impact on the scoreboard with Newnes and Membrey also hitting the scoreboard on multiple occasions. Jack Steven’s 29-possession day could have been infinitely more impactful, if not for his three shots at goal resulting in behinds.
The victory saw the Saints improve their season record to 7 & 6, it also saw them return to the eight after Round 14. After losing the first three games of their season-defining nine-game stretch, they have now won two with four left. There have been promising signs in the last fortnight, but it will most likely require more than what they have produced if they are to play a role in September.
ST KILDA 3.6 8.11 10.14 14.19 (103)
GOLD COAST 4.2 7.5 8.9 10.12 (72)
St Kilda: Riewoldt 3, Membrey 2, Newnes 2, Bruce, Weller, Billings, Lonie, Carlisle, Dunstan, Sinclair
Gold Coast: Wright 2, Lemmens, Shaw, Swallow, Witts, Fiorini, Lyons, MacPherson, Saad
St Kilda: Billings, Newnes, Roberton, Ross, Geary, Sinclair
Gold Coast: Lyons, Harbrow, Thompson, Hanley, Miller
St Kilda: Nil
Gold Coast: Hanley (left hamstring)
Umpires: Gavine, Nicholls, Hosking
Official crowd: 16,844 at Etihad Stadium