MATCH REPORT: St Kilda v Fremantle | Round 1, AFL 2023

Matt Tiffen
March 20, 2023
Rd 1 Article

St Kilda, the bottom-four sureties, have deflated the Freo hype balloon and sent the purple Perthites packing. The 23,000 Sainters who spent their Sunday afternoon at Marvel witnessed our most determined and gutsy victory of the year. Albeit our first game of the year, but it was still both of those things. Undermanned and under no illusion it would be hard work to get the four points, the boys gritted their teeth, dug in deep and got the job done. How good is footy?

In what’s become a tradition for us this year, the first goal was kicked within the opening minute of the quarter. The team was probably still shaken up after the announcer at the game said Nas was a debutant. Our first major for the term might have come ten minutes in, but it was stunning. A strong contested mark from Caminiti, quick hands to Phillipou who then sent it long with Gresh finishing it off. They then teamed up again for the next goal. The future looks promising. Hopefully, the silver lining in Max King’s injury can be that Caminiti shows he’s got the goods to be a genuine contributor for us moving forward.

Looking at my game notes I’ve written “WA mining corps sponsoring Umpires end of season trip.” Matt Stevic wasn’t even at the game and the standard was still… poor. If we complain about umpiring in public forums people think we’re being salty, but Saints TV is a safe space, so we can complain in unison. At one point during the second quarter, I heard someone say Freo had seven free kicks in four minutes. I don’t know how accurate that is as I haven’t watched the replay, but the roof of Marvel was in real danger of popping off. Bruce almost hit the roof, but so did the tension in the stadium. Our captain and vice-captain giving away 50 meter penalties for umpire dissent all because they pointed at the scoreboard is straight up not cool man.

It was a slug-fest for the whole game, with both teams trying to out-clanger each other at different stages. A notable issue for us was the long-bombing into forward fifty when we were majorly outnumbered. Jack Higgins sometimes had three tall defenders manning up on him as a high ball floated toward them, with the boys rushing their disposal (You’ve been seen, Jade). This tactic is evident if you look at Freo’s marking stats for the game – their top seven players for marks were all defenders with Cox having twenty all to himself. At 6:56 my dad message me saying ‘Ross Lyon just punched his desk and spilled his drink everywhere,’ I’m not sure what caused it, but I’m definitely not surprised.

For as sloppy a contest as it was, it was a damn good one too. The new game-plan was in full swing, with the boys playing on, sprinting and firing quick hands to advantage as often as they could; it was fast paced and fun to watch. Oftentimes Freo had all the space in the world to chip the ball around, but our zone was stopping them from any meaningful movements. Our defense was our saviour tonight; unlike the other positions, our defenders are at full strength and it showed. Wilkie was superb and I’m going to run out of ways to say that really soon, because he is superb every week. Same with Sincs, who just did what Sincs does week in, week out. Crazy to think how only a couple of years ago he found himself out of the team for half the season.Our clearance work was at the core of why we won the game. Although we only finished with six more clearances, the hit-out count was solidly in Freo’s favour at 45-19, which just showed how well we were able to read Fremantle. Crouch was instrumental at ground level, finishing with 23 handballs and Jack Bytel showed signs of why we call him ‘the top ten pick who fell into the forties’, after kicking a goal and laying seven tackles. Liam Stocker’s first game with the Saints was good too, leading the team for marks with ten and going at 85% disposal efficiency with his twenty touches. The other club debutant, Zaine Cordy did two nice things – setting up a goal with a piercing opposite foot kick, and kicking a clutch snag from outside fifty in the fourth. They were important moments in the game and he stood up, but overall, he didn’t have a lot of impact and looked sluggish at times chasing after opponents.Mason Wood was electric and match-winning in the final quarter, slotting home two goals within nine minutes of each other. Another player to really stand up was Mitch Owens, who is playing well beyond his years. It’s easy to forget he’s only a second year player. His presence around the ground is strong, his aerial abilities are strong and his nuance for knowing where the goals are is also strong. The media consistently underrates our list, declaring our future bleak and unpromising, but the core of youngsters coming through are not to be taken lightly, they have some serious potential. Put a few years into Owens, Windy, Phillipou, Nas and even players like Clark and Byrnes and we can be a force. Ryan Byrnes is a good spot to wrap the article up – he might of just played ‘that game’ that really elevates him into our starting 18. Twenty-seven touches and just looked like he was at every contest, gut-running and being a real link up player. If he can tidy up his 59% disposal efficiency, he could be anything.It is, after all, only round one, and perhaps I’m being biased because of how good it feels to get the win, but let’s bloody go. I’ve touched on my Myki card and I’m all aboard the Ross train. Hopefully we get a bigger turn out next week on Saturday night as the boys put the dogs back in their kennels. Go Saints.

Tiff’s votes:
3 – Wilkie 2 – Byrnes 1 – Wood
My votes don’t really count for anything but I’m giving them out based on all-round impact and swagger. If you have a different top three drop them in the comments!