By Braham Dabscheck
2.50 PM Sunday 27 March
At long last the 2016 season has arrived. Enough of this hibernation waiting for life to resume. The Saints were a little better last year. Will they keep on improving? Will the young brigade, aided and abetted by the few remaining veterans, mature and show the signs of a team that can give September a shake? Away to Port, a team who under performed last year, would be a hard test. On paper the Saints had a decent line up. There was only one debutante, Jade Gresham, a number 18 draft pick from last year. He had the distinction of kicking a goal with the first kick of his career. Going into the game most of those who know such things tipped Port to win. First rounds of the season often produce strange results; all clubs are not really sure how they will go. Could the Saints match it with Port; could they pull off an upset at the start of the season? They almost did.
The Saints went into the game with only one ruckman, Tom Hickey, to provide the side with an extra speedster around the ground. He was the dominant big man on the ground, had 56 hitouts, 20 possessions and produced possibly his best ever game for the Saints.
The match was tightly contested and fought out until the last quarter, when the Saints tired and Port took over and, once having got on top, kicked late, even fluky goals. Up until this stage, the Saints had more than matched it with Port. In contrast to last year, most of the Saints goals were scored easily, resulting from pressure applied down the field and accurate passes down the ground and almost a leisurely walk into an empty goal-square. Well into the third quarter, the Saints lead by 21 points and then fell away. The majority of Port’s goals resulted from contests in their forward 50.
There were some excellent performances by a number of St. Kilda’s midfielders; Jack Steven, Sebastian Ross, Leigh Montagna – who was playing his 250th game; well done Leigh, David Armitage and Sam Gilbert. Blake Acres had a purple patch in the third quarter. Port’s Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard proved to be the major difference between the two teams. When the Saints looked like they were getting away these two lifted and did something special.
The AFL has introduced new rules on deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds and creating more room for a player following a mark of free quick. Both seemed to work well, opening up and speeding the flow of the game. The reduction in interchanges will place more pressure on teams to field fully fit players.
Nick Riewoldt had trouble getting into the game. He still managed two goals, scoring the last of the game, and the 650th of his career. Next week. against the Bulldogs, he will play his 300th game, equaling Barry Breen’s record. Another milestone in St. Nick’s career as he marches onward in his legendary career. Let’s hope that he has a good game, topped off with a win.
Despite the loss, the good news is that the Saints look competitive and on the improve. The signs are good for Saints fans – there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Port Adelaide 4.1 9.2 13.9 20.13 (133)
St. Kilda 4.4 9.8 14.9..15.10 (100)
Port Adelaide: R. Gray 4, Ebert 3, Wingard 3, Dixon 3, Westhoff 2, Boak, Broadbent, Schulz, Wines, Ah Chee.
St. Kilda: Lonie 3, Weller 2, Bruce 2, Riewoldt 2, Gresham, Steven, Gilbert, Newnes, Acres, Armitage.
Port Adelaide: R. Gray, Wingard, Ebert, S. Gray, Hartlett.
St. Kilda: Hickey, Steven, Ross, Montagna, Armitage.
Umpires: Deboy, Nicholls, Kamolins.
Crowd: 43,807 at Adelaide Oval.
Our Votes: R, Gray 3 (Port), Wingard 2 (Port), Hickey 1 (St. Kilda).