It has become customary to refer to a win in round one as a perfect start to the season but, even with it being just the second Round One win in the last eight years, to do so after Saturday’s victory over Brisbane would seem a little disingenuous. That is not to say that there was not a lot to like in St Kilda’s 25-point victory over Brisbane Lions, just that there was also large sections of the game that indicate considerable room for improvement.
A sloppy start to the first quarter put the Saints behind the eight ball but four goals in time-on, saw them take a 3 goal break into the quarter time break. On the backfoot due to being beaten to the contested ball and clearances, the Saints found it difficult to break down the Lions defensive crush. Thankfully they were ruthless on the counter-attack finding a way to goal four times on the back of Brisbane turnovers.
We are unabashed Jack Billings fanboys here at Saints Summary and his first quarter did little to diminish our view of the talented youngster. Collecting nine of his 26 possessions in the opening stanza, his cool head, and decision making was on full display as he was able to put teammates into space with slick disposals. By games end, he would add two goals and 14 score involvements to his stat sheet in another strong performance.
On a day in which the Saints faithful were offered the opportunity to farewell club champion Leigh Montagna, they were also able to see the debut performance of the new custodian of his number eleven jersey – Hunter Clark. The synergy of these events on full show when Clark kicked his first goal in the shadow of the quarter time break that Montagna would be honoured. It was a highlight moment for the top ten draft pick in a solid debut in which he showed no signs of being overawed by the big stage.
We should also take a moment to lament the passing of the deliberate rushed behind rule. In the 29th minute of the First Quarter, Luke Hodge soccered a ball through to concede a behind to the Saints. Those who like to defend these decisions will point to the fact that there were St Kilda players in Hodge’s general vicinity but if the rule wasn’t brought in to prevent these type of incidents, what on earth was it brought in for?
Having headed into the quarter-time huddle having wrestled away the momentum, a one-goal second quarter dashed any hopes that the Saints would go on and record a comfortable victory. If not for Blake Acres clutch set shot from a tight angle, the Saints may well have surrendered their hard-won advantage by the halftime interval. Acres, a much-maligned figure amongst those who sit around me at Etihad Stadium, had a tremendous afternoon. A difficult match-up for the opposition given his size and agility, Acres collected 30 touches around the ground against the Lions. A long and reliable kick, he finished with 83% disposal efficiency and should have gone a long way to silencing his doubters.
The Acres goal was but a temporary respite in the face of the Lions charge though for the Saints. Having been outplayed for all but a 10 minute period of the opening term, things looked grim when a six-goal to one blitz saw the Lions claim a seven-point lead at the midway point of the third term. Enter Jack Steven.
The three-time Trevor Barker Medallist was huge all day but was at his best when the game was slipping away in the third quarter. Booting two goals in a matter of minutes he dragged his team with him as they made a final charge to shake of their spirited opponents. A forgotten man when discussions take place about the elite midfielders in the competition, Steven had a day out picking up 34 disposals at 71% efficiency, 13 contested possessions, 10 marks, five clearances, 10 scoring involvements and two goals. It’s the kind of performance that should leave egg on the face of those who suggest the Saints have no elite midfielders.
All day the Saints played on and kicked long to advantage, this desire was rewarded with 6 goals 1 kicked from within 15 metres of goal. It no doubt played a big part in a much improved day in front of the big posts. This improvement was not helped by the usually accurate Tim Membrey who had a surprisingly off day in front of goal until he nailed two last quarter efforts.
By games end the difference in class and ball use was the deciding factor in a hard-fought contest. A fact highlighted by almost the entirety of St Kilda’s last quarter score generated from Brisbane mistakes. Having been stretched all day, being able to run away with the match in the final quarter was incredibly pleasing as was the site of Ben Long capping a strong performance with his first career goal in the final term.
A Good Friday encounter with North Melbourne lies ahead and a golden opportunity to begin the season 2-0. An improved performance will be required but the AFL season is a marathon, not a sprint and they have plenty of opportunities to get better than they were against the Lions.
ST KILDA 6.4 7.5 11.8 16.11 (107)
BRISBANE 3.3 5.8 9.10 12.10 (82)
St Kilda: Gresham 3, Bruce 3, Billings 2, Membrey 2, Steven 2, Acres, Clark, Long, McCartin.
Brisbane: Cameron 3, Berry 3, Bell, Rayner, Christensen, Hipwood, Robinson, Walker.
St Kilda: Steven, Acres, Billings, Ross, Newnes, Stevens, Gresham.
Brisbane: Martin, Berry, Beams, Roberton, Taylor.
St Kilda: Nil.
Brisbane: Rich (Left Ankle).
Umpires: Donlon, Haussen, Stephens.
Official crowd: 23,731 at Etihad Stadium.