MATCH REPORT: St Kilda v GWS | Round 10, AFL 2023
There is a big, big sound, but it’s not coming from the west of the ground. It is coming from Linton Street as we fly home giant slayers. We chipped away at the beanstalk one behind after another, eventually reaching the summit and vanquishing the orange team. It wasn’t pretty, which is a staple of our game recently, it was frustrating and riddled with errors, but a win is a win and fans feel better than we did after the North game.
Despite the ladder positions, this game was never going to be easy. It never is against the Giants. The first quarter was exasperating but had some redeeming moments. None more so than the return of Max King. He kicked our first goal and then directly set up our second. King looked switched on early, and by half time had three majors next to his name. The frustrating parts were glaringly obvious. The old St. Kilda set-shot curse was in full swing, failing to capitalise on our chances. The Giants were cutting us to pieces through the middle, we had no answer for their ball movement. The playing surface was absolutely horrendous. There were so many divets in the ground it looked like I’d just played a round of golf. Players were slipping over at every contest. The ground hasn’t been used in two months so of course we were the guinea pig side to test if it was ready. Spoilers: it’s not. Toby Green dominated us, as usual, and at times GWS worked around us like we were stationary witches’ hats. Our intensity and pressure fluctuate a lot recently, and it seems more often down than up. Giants kicked a goal in the last minute of the quarter, which was no surprise.
The second quarter presented a see-sawing contest, with multiple lead changes. One team we could kick two on the trot, and then the other would follow suit. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and dumb mistakes prove to be costly. When Nas switched the ball in defensive fifty, only to have it intercepted easily, we were lucky Wilkie was able to lay a goal saving tackle otherwise they were out. Nas did play phenomenal though, and in only his second year we are reaping the rewards of his skill and he’s proving to be a star. Saints seemed to dominate a lot of play this quarter, but their inability to equate that dominance into score conversion was tough to swallow. Gresh in the middle looks sublime, his aptitude to weave through traffic and get a clearance is more critical to our side than we give it credit for. Unfortunately, his good is often followed by some bad, and instead of centring from the boundary, Gresh went the miraculous snap at goal and it was intercepted. From that interception it took the Giants three possessions to move the ball from one end of the ground to the other and kick a goal. We have become easy to score against at times, and are often unable to stop the opposition linking up. Despite GWS playing an inexperienced ruckman, and having Himmelberg take a lot of the stoppages, Marshall failed to gain an advantage for a lot of his ruck work. A majority of our clearances came off the back of the midfielder’s hustle, and around the ground Marshall was getting out-bodied. We went into half time 6-10 down in centre clearances, and down 8-19 at around the ground clearances.
The second term though will be remembered for the sickening collision that saw Owens stretchered off the ground. It was brutal and upsetting to see, but Mitch joined the boys on the bench for the second half in a tremendous display of character.
That third term had everything we know and love about the team, a goal to the opposition in the last minute and absolute dominance by us around the ground but a failure to convert. At one point it was 11-3 inside 50’s in our favour, but two goals to nothing in their favour. It was just rinse and repeat – every time the Giants won a contested ball anywhere on the ground, they were able to run it forward and score. For the Giants, Haynes and Himmelberg were off injured, so they were lacking a lot of height but our aerial game was not reflective of this advantage.
Liam Stocker was good this quarter, and our three tall defenders had eleven intercept marks between them. Jack Sinclair was truly magnificent this term, with twelve touches and a goal, and Brad Crouch was tireless at the coalface, leading the team with four tackles for the quarter.
The fourth quarter was a tale of two halves. We got the ascendency early, and put the burners on and kicked two goals in a row, which ended up being our only two goals. From this point, it was a battle to stop them scoring. We had our chances to break away, but terrible goal kicking held us back. We kicked six consecutive points to end the game, and a lot of those were easy goals. Butler set shot, Phillipou running into an open goal unmanned, and fittingly, Byrnes sprayed a set shot after the siren. For the last fifteen minutes of the game, the time in forward half percentage was about 80-20 in the Giants favour. We defended with our lives and the pressure picked up and there were some game-saving efforts from the lads. Brad Hill is becoming the smother master. His trademark sprint and dive came at a crucial point when the Giants were loading up to attack. And hats off to Dan Butler, he finished with two goals and it could have been more, but the most critical moment of his night was the chase down tackle in the last few minutes, resulting in our free kick. We had one more rotation than the Giants and it seemed to be the difference in the end, with our boys showing more attrition than the orange team.
Jack Sinclair played his best game of the season. He was unbelievably damaging with his ball use, of which he had a lot, finishing the game with 37 at 82% efficiency. Jimmy Webster was beautiful too with ball in hand, going at 100% from his fourteen touches. And while we’re talking about efficiency, how’s big Dougs going at 93%? Crazy.
Jack Steele was a raging bull in the last term. His willingness to smash packs and put his body on the line showed a captain who was not okay with losing. He seemed back to his best, and if Steele can be anywhere near his best, we are always a chance. Finishing the game with team high ten tackles was exemplary.
It’s a testament to Rowan Marshall that despite looking like he got beaten by his direct opponent, he still finished with 21 touches and 28 hit-outs. There were many times during the last quarter he was able to out body his opponent and throw it on the boot forty meters. Also, who the hell is Kieren Briggs? Upon reflection of the stats, he didn’t have a huge game, but the bloke looked massive and in the final term really came to life.
It was at times painful to watch, as we butchered many opportunities, but we won. We fly out of Sydney with four points and with our captain back to his best, Max back to his best, and a lot of other boys high on confidence. All Saints fans across the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Next week we come up against the Hawks, and yes they are not very good, but they’ve just won by 116 points and are not to be taken lightly. North Melbourne bought out the worst in us, and if we’re not switched on from the outset it could turn into an arm wrestle.
3 – Sinclair
2 – Steele
3 – King