NAB Cup, Round 1: Saints somehow win a corker. Good night!

It’s all about presentation, isn’t it?

Ignoring the deplorable state of the actual turf at Etihard Stadium, Channel 7 (Sydney) tonight gave a very good argument for their not being awarded the broadcasting rights for the AFL at the next round of bidding.  Their commentary team is great: Bruce McAvaney, the fantastic Dennis Cometti, Leigh Matthews and the excellent ‘rookies’ in Tom Harley and Matthew Richardson all shone tonight.  But I’ve turned off the TV before even the (yawn) playing of the St Kilda song, and it’s now 3.42am on Saturday.

And what great televisual masterpieces relegated coverage of a superb game to a 1am kick-off, you may well ask?  At 8.30pm on this Friday, Channel 7 (Sydney) opted to run a (cough) film called Definitely Maybe, a formulaic romantic comedy made only vaguely interesting for the fact that the female lead is Isla Fisher, the Australian squeeze of Sacha Baron Cohen.   This was followed at 11pm by an utterly inane and forgettable piece of trash titled A Guy Thing. The 1997 review on the Rotten Tomatoes site concluded: “Wasting the talents of its leads, this predictable romantic comedy relies on cheap laughs”.  I have no idea what sort of programming philosophy could conclude that there would be any market for their advertisers with this extended outpouring of drivel, but had the game been shown at any sort of reasonable time it would have inevitably been preparing the ground for far greater market penetration throughout the forthcoming AFL season.

On this showing, Channel 7 simply does not deserve to have the AFL broadcasting rights.

This was a quite spectacular game.  It was played in less than ideal circumstances: the temperature was 32 degrees at the start, and the playing surface of Etihad resembled a back block in Afghanistan.  Both head coaches were present (Ross Lyon at the back of the St Kilda booth/Mick Malthouse in the rear row of the bench), but assistants technically ran both teams.  St Kilda followed the usual pre-season practice of running a handful of rookies, while Collingwood opted to field a team where every player had already been blooded at the elite level.  The Pies were very obviously focused on winning this encounter.

It also struck me that the St Kilda boys looked significantly more muscular than the Woods (most of the Saints also seemed to have spent quite some time in solariums).  The Magpie players were tight, but more streamlined in their physiques.  (Leigh Brown is definitely exempted from this comparison.)

Collingwood opened up in a highly impressive manner, playing crisp, clean play on football for the first five minutes or so.  Darren Jolly was dominant, and Leigh “The Anvil” Brown was doing a lot of great work in the forward lines, kicking the first goal of the game.  St Kilda seemed to be perpetually on the back foot, so it was quite a surprise when Andrew McQualter kicked the Saints’ opening goal after six minutes completely against the run of play, and it tied the game up.  St Kilda then kicked in to gear and it was a case of “meep meep – ZOOOOOM”.

It started with a really sweet transition up the left flank, mainly undertaken by the Saints rookies, resulting in a typically strong Nick Riewoldt mark wide and on an acute angle in the pocket, and an untypical arrow-like shot through the heart of the goals.  About  a minute later, St Nick again marked strongly directly in front, and then slotted that one away as well.  (With Richo now patrolling the sidelines in a suit and Riewey, with The Anvil kicking straight in this match, the thrill of set shots has really all but left the game!)  Two minutes later, Adam Schneider buried a nine-point goal, St Kilda were really sparkling, and Tom Harley was discussing the dangerous “St Kilda surge mentality”.

Despite Harry O’Brien playing brilliantly across half back, St Nick and the Schneiderman’s brilliance saw St Kilda ahead 1.5.1 (40) to 0.2.2 (14) at the first break.

In the second quarter, Riewoldt started to push up the ground – running far, wide and hard as he so often does – and Schneider was absolutely rampant in the midfield, but really stout-hearted work by O’Brien, Maxwell and  Wellingham turned the game in to a free-flowing but tight encounter.  Luke Ball was also having a really good game against his old mates, and as the St Kilda fans grew increasingly louder booing him, the Pies’ fans started to also become more animated in support of him.  I suspect that what the St Kilda supporters have done is basically bequeath Ball cult status at his new club; they’ve accelerated Ball’s assimilation in to Magpie hearts and minds.

After very little scoring action for the better part of the period, Brown and Lockyer goaled for the Woods in the very last minute to close the gap to 1.7.1 (52) to 0.5.4 (34) at the half.  Interestingly enough, there had been 140 interchanges in the first half as both benches – but especially Collingwood – had been doing all they could to combat the effect of the heat on their players.

Channel 7’s broadcast then started its half-time show with Travis Cloke discussing how he’s been working on his kicking accuracy.  It was a remarkable piece of timing, because although he’d been pushing Zac Dawson around like a rag doll, his two comparatively easy shots at goal to this point had both hooked wide to the right and had barely stayed within the behind post.

A bit of to-ing and fro-ing opened the second half, before St Kilda just plain exploded.  Jason Blake drifted through the centre area after about six minutes, and unloaded a bomb that bounced once in the vacated 10 metre  square and went through for a nine-pointer.  Immediately after it, Riewoldt presented, marked and was gifted a soft 50-metre penalty which all but gave him another goal.  He was given his second spell for the match on the bench after this, but his obviously cloned counterpart,  the wondrously athletic Rhys Stanley, grabbed another strong contested mark and blew the lead out to 43 points.

By now – half way through the third period – Collingwood looked stuffed.  Jolly had faded out after a very impressive opening spell on the ball, Didak was being totally smothered by the close tagging of Clint Jones, Dane Swan had been largely ineffective and Daisy Thomas was just plain off with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

That all changed in quite a rush.

First, Swan bobbed up with a classic opportunist’s goal.  Then Travis Cloke marked deep in the right pocket, where his tendency to hook the ball right sent it straight over the goal umpire’s hat.  Darren Jolly followed this with a nine-point goal on the run, and Cloke snared another from dead in front after an excellent and totally unselfish assist by The Anvil.  Finally, Jolly faded forward on the weak side of the field to mark and goal inside the last two minutes of the third quarter, and it was a case of the 43-point lead having gone  bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-10-point game at the final break.

The fourth quarter action commenced with Luke Ball marking about 30 metres out in front of his goal and lobbing his kick dead in to the middle of the St Kilda jeer squad.  He instantly became the epicentre of a cyclone of lurrrrve from team mates and the Collingwood army alike, but before they could settle themselves Stephen Milne had snuck out from under the rock Clint Jones had buried him under and got one back for the Saints.  The Anvil then scored his fourth straight after a bullocking pack mark (and fair dinkum: if he kicks four straight ever again the sun will rise in the west).  Margin was three points, and the tide was very much black and white, sans the red.  Dane Swan turned the hapless Peake inside out with a shimmy that should simply not be possible for any sort of vertebrate animal, but missed an open goal from about five-metre out (on an angle, and with a fair head of steam on – granted).  Then Brett Peake, who had been somewhat underwhelming to that point, popped up deep inside the St Kilda forward line and gifted Sam Fisher a goal with an astute pass.

Dane Beams was the next underachiever to step in to the spotlight, planting a good goal which tied the scores up.  At this point, St Kilda seemed to be wilting and the surge was definitely Collingwood’s.

With five minutes to go, Justin Koschitzke scored a behind from a very goalable close range set shot, and the inevitable riposte came two minutes later when Paul Medhurst kicked truly at the other end of the ground.  Both sides flirted with some very tentative footy at this point: first Brendan Goddard and then Scott Pendlebury both picked off very soft passes in to the attacking 50s at each end.  With a minute to go, David Armitage had the ball for St Kilda just outside their attacking fifty, and seeing Adam Schneider as amazingly alone and unloved inside the heart of the Magpie defence as a maggot in a Mortein factory, he chipped in the inevitable pass.

Thirty seconds remained on the clock.

Mark.  Goal.  Game.

Final score was St Kilda: 2.13.4 (100) to Collingwood: 1.13.12 (99).

BOG was Adam Schneider, who more than made up for his forgettable 2009 Grand Final.  Next was Luke Ball, who provided Collingwood with that real tough attack on the ball that every side needs in the midfield.  And I gave third to Harry O’Brien for constantly initiating Collingwood surges from the half back line.

It was an amazing game.  Collingwood won almost every statistical category, but the Saints won the game.  Even when the Saints were 43 points up halfway through the third quarter, Collingwood had still had more inside 50s.  The critical factor was offensive efficiency.  Period.

So on to the futile speculation.

St Kilda looked really good in patches.  Their periods of dominance were breathtaking, and the speed of the ball movement forwards was outstanding.  At times.  I was very impressed with Rhys Stanley, and I suspect that his imminent rise will impact most heavily on  Justin Koschitzke.

If there is a perceivable weakness from this game, it would be the rucks for me.  The Saints had no answer to Darren Jolly when he was on, and Stephen King was just plain ordinary.  Koschitzke had a run in the ruck in the fourth quarter, and Jolly towelled him.

I’m also not convinced by Stephen Milne’s performance, nor am I convinced that Zac Dawson can stand toe to toe with the strong mobile power forwards found in all the very good teams.  Schneider seemed to play more upfield than he has done in the past, and he did extremely well in this role.

I think that the Saints have lost nothing from last year, and that they seem to me to be shaping up with a very serious chance of taking the flag this season (on a par with Hawthorn’s performance last week).

Collingwood are not going to be far behind them.  I think that the scoreline flatters the Woods somewhat as they took a far more settled and experienced squad in to this game than their opponents.  Darren Jolly and Luke Ball are fantastic additions, and Leigh Brown’s performance was a revelation.  The backline seems dynamic and attacking, but they can’t afford the likes of Dale Thomas, Alan Didak and Dane Swan to be so easily nullified.

They will be genuine finals contenders, and a top four spot is a logical goal.  But I don’t think that they’re quite on a par with either St Kilda or Hawthorn just yet (they are close enough, however, for a good run with injuries to take them past both of those teams).

It’s now 5.38am, and I’m off to grab an hour’s sleep.

About Richard Naco

We are Geelong.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    You’re a better man than I Richard (though that’s not saying much).

    Sleep tight. Unlike Schneider, who will still be having nightmares about squandered GF chances.

  2. lol i was laughing so much at Princess Riewoldt’s orange tan, could have mistaken him for a carrot.

    i was clearly very upset about the loss but the family day i attended today ( a report on that should be up soon hopefully) made it all better.
    :)

  3. Good story Richard. As a fellow Sydney Sider, I am so annoyed with Ch 7’s coverage that I have set up a Facebook Group in protest. Not only is their game coverage piss poor, the lack of AFL matter in their nightly nws Sports bit, is appalling to say the least. Why they continue to give priority by promoting and reporting on the codes & sports that Ch 9 have the rights to instead of the game they do possess rights to is beyond me. Considering the AFL are trying to get a 2nd Sydney team up and running, Ch 7 are doing stuff all to promote it.
    About the game itself, despite being a Pies fan, I taped it and will watch it after the Swans/Carlton bore. You would think that they might have put on a better spectacle in this inaugural game in the west, than the crap they are serving up. Be hard to convert the NRL numbnuts with this kind of stuff.

  4. Being the devil’s advocate for Channel 7, ANYTHING they put on instead of AFL will outrate the AFL in Sydney – this has been proven time and again (remember the Iron Chef outrating the AFL?). It may well be a chicken and egg argument, but commercial realities rule.
    Same goes for Channel 9’s coverage of NRL in Melb – they won’t show the Storm’s matches live for the same reasons so don’t expect any of the other commercial stations to show AFL in Sydney in prime time.
    Unfortunately the only option for the foreseeable future will be Foxtel. Although I thought that Ten’s decision to show the Swans v Carl match on Sat night on OneHD was a good move. Probably more people have access to digital than Foxtel at the moment.

  5. I know all about it…ratings and stuff,,,however they knew what they getting into when they made their bid. If the deal with Foxtel hadn’t been struck {Foxtel were more than likely holding out for a cheaper purchase/offload price), then both 7 & 10 would have been obliged by the contract to show games live to the northern states.

  6. PS. Is it any wonder AFL doesn’t rate in Sydney with the way the Fugly Swans play the game. One hopes that when the new TV arrangements come up for renewal after the addition of the 2 new teams, that the AFL stipulates live coverage to the Northern States mandatory, without limiting it to just showing the 2 local teams in each state every week. At least Ch 10 show it at a half decent hour and on the same day..like 10.30pm, unlike 7’s 1am starts.

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