There are some instances on the footy field that are so special that they just can’t be put into words. The disaster that was St Kilda’s round one opener with Melbourne certainly wasn’t one of them. Insipid, disastrous and catastrophic are words I would use to more aptly describe how poor the Saints were.
St Kilda came into the game with an imposing 10 year unbeaten run against Melbourne and they looked good value for another win at quarter time, but everything went downhill quickly from there.
The first quarter from the Saints was imposing. They were frantic and they pressed Melbourne at every turn. Every Demon had to run and juke through the gauntlet just to get a handball off. As the Saints swarmed defensively they also ran rampant through the midfield with the ever-green Nick Riewoldt providing a very viable avenue to goal. The Saints manic pressure managed to press Melbourne into a plethora of mistakes which meant the Saints could capitalise heading into the break 4 goals up.
That's all the positives, from what was a pretty bleak showing from St Kilda.
Melbourne took over in the second quarter as Petracca, Lewis and Vince had the ball on a string. Alan Richardson was out coached by first year head coach Simon Goodwin as the move to put an extra midfielder in around the contest left St Kilda floundering. Melbourne's dominance in the contested possessions and centre clearances began to show as they were always first to the ball and it just seemed as if they had an extra man out on the field. Lewis impressed in his first game as a Demon with 20 first half disposals and his ability to lower the eyes and pick out targets with short kicks dissected the Saints. It was obvious in the first quarter that Roberton’s role would be to play off his man and try to drift in front of contests and rack up some easy intercept marks. Roberton reads the play incredibly well so he was very influential in snuffing out the long balls forward to Hogan and Watts and the Demons struggled to have an inside 50 without Roberton looking like he would cut it off.
Everything changed in the second quarter, and credit to Simon Goodwin for what turned out to be a very important change. Not only did they have that extra man in the midfield but instead of looking for the long ball to the goal square the Demons midfielders kicked it short to targets and removed Roberton’s influence. As he hung back laying in wait to charge forward and grab the intercept mark the Demons kicked short and just removed him from the game.
The Saints never recovered.
A quick flurry of 5 goals in 8 minutes seemed to set the narrative of the rest of the afternoon as things went from bad to worse for St Kilda. The Dee’s got on top and wouldn’t let go, finishing +13 in the clearances which led to a punishing 140 to 77 possession third quarter. The Demons piled on 6 3rd quarter goals to realistically put themselves beyond reach and the Saints never even looked like challenging them after that.
I did say things went from bad to worse, but in the 4th quarter things went from worse to horrifying. Nick Riewoldt writhing in agony is something St Kilda fans have experienced before, and certainly would not have good memories off. The silence in the crowd was deafening as many believed they were witnessing Riewoldt’s final game as a Saint, eerily reminiscent of Bob Murphy last year. Thankfully there was no structural damage in the scans so it appears Nick’s career in the red white and black may not be over just yet – but he is probably still due to miss some time and that will deal a serious blow to the Saints finals hopes.
Key Takeaways from Game 1
Jack Steele is good
The young bull was very impressive in the first half, clunking a few big marks and popping up all over the ground. Steele is a ferocious tackler and has a knack for finding the footy and it was very evident throughout the first half. He ran out the game, unlike a few others, and managed to amass 23 disposals (12 contested) along with 4 tackles. He looks to be a fantastic addition by the club and could be very important for this team in the years to come.
Disposal efficiency is an issue
As a team, they used the football with 70% accuracy, not horrible but definitely leaving room for improvement. What was more worrying was the poor disposal from what are normally some of the Saints most prolific ball getters. Steven had 27 disposals but only 14 of them hit the target, with similar poor numbers for Armitage, Billings and Weller who all hit less than 55% of their targets. Those numbers are shocking from what are considered to be St Kilda’s best ball users and just hacking the ball forward from a clearance isn’t going to cut it. I expect Richardson to address this heavily throughout the week.
St Kilda falls after getting smashed out of the middle – again
Seems to be a worrying trend for the Saints from last season. In games where they aren’t continually getting first use of the football, and winning the ball out of the clearances, they tend to get beaten inside and out. It’s as if the wheels begin to fall off the cart because the load becomes unbearably heavy. This loss reminded me of the touch up the Saints received at the hands of the Swans last year, as they get smashed out of the middle and they let the outside players beat them with their speed and precision. They lose their structure and let the uncontested possessions rack up for the opposition, and with the time and space they’re given they just tear the Saints apart. For a team that prides itself on its pressure it should never be -150 in uncontested possessions like they were today.
Riewoldt is still St Kilda’s best player
The pick of the Saints forward line by a country mile. Riewoldt was fantastic for the bayside club all game long and he continually made a good target as a get out of jail card for the defence. He also did some of his best work up forward using his customary gut-busting runs to open the forward line up for Bruce and Membrey to operate. He also managed to snag 4 goals. Make no mistake, Riewoldt is still St Kilda’s best player and one of the best-contested markers in the AFL to boot.