Saints Treading Water?

It was difficult to look at this contest without the weight of preconceptions. St Kilda have dominated the Tigers for a long time. Thirteen straight wins will tend to create an air of inevitability in the process. And the Saints are all about process.

The events of round one did little to dispel such impressions. Richmond were persistent, but fortunate the Blues were so profligate in the season’s opener, whilst the presumption was that the clamp-down Saints would be bent on extracting revenge for letting the Cats off the hook.

Channel Seven also appeared fearful of a mismatch: they were thrashing the Riewoldt vs. Riewoldt angle with even more desperate oversell  than  usual.

What we tend to underestimate though, is how regularly things change from one season to another. Elements are altered and new patterns emerge, it just takes a while to make sense of them. It may still be too early to make a definitive call on the sample of only nine games, but the impression grows that the much discussed rule changes for this season are having a significant impact.

What they would seem to be affecting most markedly is the kind of high intensity defensive maul that has been the Saints’ stock-in-trade in the Lyon era. Interchange totals remain fairly steady, but player fatigue is increasing. Maybe Adrian Anderson knows something after all? Collingwood may prove the ultimate test of this theory.

It appeared to be business as usual early in this match. Richmond’s current predicament is underlined by the fact they have the virtually the same average games played profile as the yet-to-hit-the-field Suns. As a consequence, 2nd gamer Conca found himself being led a merry dance by Stevie Milne. St Kilda had signalled more aggressive intent by lining up with Sam Gilbert forward, and the game was more open than expected. Sam Fisher was playing lose man in defence, and Gram and Dal Santo had too much latitude in the midfield.

Richmond’s problems were compounded by the early loss of their spearhead. In his first real jump at the ball, Jack Riewoldt had crashed his head on the turf, sending him rubber-legged from the ground. Despite protestations, he wasn’t to return. No cousinly shoot out tonight.

What the Tigers had going for them was St Kilda’s wastefulness from set shots. As had Carlton last week, they failed to convert general play advantage to the scoreboard. Richmond only trailed by 14 points at the break.

The plot took unexpected turns in the 2nd quarter. Matt White had blanketed Chris Yarran last week, now he was subduing Leigh Montagna. As a result, the Saints lacked anyone with the speed to break lines, giving them a worryingly one-paced look. Contrastingly, the young Tigers had plenty of run and they were winning the contested ball. The vaunted Saints’ defence, which would have been organised with Jack in mind, now seemed less sure where the ball was headed. St Kilda spent the term chasing Tiger tails to the tune of 7 goals to 3. Only an inclination to hurt themselves with skill errors stopped Richmond leading by more than 7 points at the half.

When Lenny Hayes crashed to the turf clutching his knee early in the 3rd term,  many St Kilda spirits would have followed. His team tried to rally, and with conditions now wet, the ball raced from one end to the other, but goals became scare.

Amongst several observable long-standing Tiger pathologies, the desire of their fans to punish their most talented is hardest to understand for outside observers. Until he crossed over into folk hero status, Richo seemed to serve as the focus of many Tigers’ frustrations with the world, their club, whatever.

As a number one draft pick in a struggling side, Brett Deledio seems to have taken his place. Not quite 24, with 134 games and two B&F’s to his credit, he wouldn’t seem to be travelling that poorly. Yet when he plays a less than stellar game, Tiger fans seem queued up ready to whack him. You would hope the attitude of some might soften after this game. Rather than the unconvincing defensive role he played last week, he started in the middle and provided a lot of early drive. Now, with the game evenly balanced, he took on the Saint who posed the most obvious threat, Brendon Goddard. He not only curbed the St Kilda champs’ influence, he wound up from 55 out to kick a crucial last quarter goal.

Trent Cotchin looks a star in waiting, and now he’s fit he seems ready to show it. Beautifully balanced, he keeps his feet and his head while others flail. Aware of the action around him, he’s one who makes his possessions count. Richmond look a chance when he gets the ball.

Dustin Martin made a huge impression in his debut season, with a physical presence beyond his years. You fancy other kids eyed him warily in the schoolyard. He’d been valuable up forward tonight, and when he pounced to slot his third an upset seemed on.

Then the umps remembered the rushed behind rule. Second season in, conjecture still thrives as to what a defender can and can’t do when under pressure. Luke McGuane was certainly some distance out when he handballed over the behind line. But he was also being tackled. That would imply pressure. Again, at a crucial moment, the umpire’s interpretation seemed to change. Riewoldt goaled from the free kick.

Milne had threatened one of his match-winning efforts all night, thwarted only by inaccuracy. This time he snapped truly and the Saints led again.

Shaun Grigg has come to Richmond with few doubts about his athletic abilities, but plenty concerning the quality of his kicking. As most tired around him, he had the ability to still run and present. He banged a speculative kick to the square and saw it float over the goal line contest. Minutes later, he had a set shot to put Richmond 7 points up. He missed, and almost inevitably St Kilda beat the zone from the kick out for Blake to put them back in front with a rare goal.

The Tigers weren’t done. Dan Jackson  pounced on a loose ball and the Tigers celebrated. But St Kilda don’t die easily. Armitage won a crucial clearance and first-gamer Archer marked. His shot from 45 was never on line. But Richmond couldn’t clear the kick in. Montagna rebounded and Milne ended up with it in almost the same spot. Set shots are not his forte, and with 4.6 to his name already he rushed the kick, as if hoping to imitate a snap. He missed. The scores were tied and so they remained.

Saints fans will be praying their side is just off to a sluggish start to the season. If Hayes’ season is over, it will be a savage blow. The touted Saints bubble will be tested yet again. A one point loss and a draw don’t constitute a crisis, but there are reasons for concern. The game moves on, but are the Saints? Precedent suggests the attacking duo of Riewoldt and Milne too easily becomes a Riewoldt solo come finals. Who else can kick goals? Can the Saints still run with the best midfields? Who is going to make the side better?  Tellingly, more Tiger youngsters caught the eye tonight. The St Kilda path to that long sought flag appears no easier. Meanwhile, Richmond continue the long trek to credibility.

St Kilda        4.6    7.10   9.12   13.17  (95)
Richmond    2.4    9.5    10.9    14.11  (95)

GOALS
St Kilda:
Milne 4, Riewoldt 3, Goddard, Gamble, Ray, Armitage, McEvoy, Blake
Richmond: Martin 3, King 2, Vickery 2, Cotchin, Morton, Edwards, Helbig, Deledio, Grigg, Jackson

Votes:

3- Deledio

2- Grigg

1- Milne

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.

Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Lenny Hayes gone for the year.

    Ouch in many ways. And a crying shame.

  2. Richmond out hassled St Kilda in the clinches. They appeared more committed and tougher.

    Once that became apparent it was obvious that the Saints ‘window’ of opportunity is closed.

    They would expect to be sitting two zip at the moment but are lucky to have two points.

    Unfortunately Lenny Hayes may never play again, at least not to his potential.

    It is clean out and reorganise time at St Kilda.

  3. John Butler says

    Phantom, you certainly couldn’t see them winning the flag on revealed form. I’m most surprised by their conservatism. Ross Lyon surely knows better.

  4. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’

  5. Devastated to see Lenny Hayes limp off. He is a people’s player.

    Why are all the good players getting injured in the first two rounds?

  6. Tony Robb says

    Hi JB
    Off topic but my prediction of a Blues bath was incorrect as you suggested. It was a tsunami. Id suggest that the GC be know as the Witches Hats from this point on. Same with the Gnats. They were towelled by 20 goals in a practice match against the Swans, The Swan’s seconds that is .I dont beleive they wil be able to win a game in the ACTAFL this year unless its the bye. Id have a bit on the bye just in case.

    We are travelling as a group (three) to Melbourne on 23/24 July and the Tigers/Blues game in on the fixture. I would love to catch up if you were about. Ive extended an inviation to Daff as well
    cheers
    TR
    Tony

  7. Tony Robb says

    BTW give me a yell on my email if you can make it

  8. John Butler says

    TR, 10 minutes in I was wondering what I’d been worrying about. My thoughts on Saturday night can be found elsewhere.

    Re the Tiges/Richmond, I’ll drop you an email, but would hope it’s all systems go.

    Cheers

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