A finish amongst the bottom rungs of the AFL ladder now appears certain after the Saints crashed to another defeat on Saturday night. A spirited third-quarter charge saw them draw within touching distance of the Dockers on Saturday night at Optus Stadium. In the end though, a lack of composure and finishing saw them condemned to their sixth defeat of the season.
In an otherwise forgettable evening the Saints produced a withering third-quarter burst to turn the contest on it’s head. After falling 43-points down after half-time they discovered a potency that has been lacking for much of the season to date. Unable to win or retain the ball in the first half, they completely dominated the ball and contest in the third quarter. Their new found proficiency saw them pile on six goals to draw back within 14-points at the last change.
Unfortunately, their chance to ram home the advantage was lost when their waywardness in front of goal returned in the last term.
Camped inside their forward half in the opening stages, gettable shots at the end of their first three forward forays were wasted. This profligacy was compounded when the Dockers punished a Tim Membrey miss he would have kicked in his sleep in recent seasons. The resulting Docker kick-in finished with an Adam Cerra goal which was like a dagger to the Saints surge.
As exciting as this third-quarter flourish was, it did little to disguise the Saints scoring difficulties. The Full story of wastefulness and lost opportunity on full display in the meagre tally they could muster throughout the rest of the match. In quarters 1, 2 & 4 the men in red, black and white could translate their efforts into just two goals nine behinds on the scoreboard!
He’s hurting, we’re hurting. They are opportunities he’d normally nail. No one works harder on their skill, his is marking and kicking and leading. He’s a real pro so that will turn.
Alan Richardson on Tim Membrey post game
Whilst unfair to single one player out for these woes, the microscope must focus on Tim Membrey after his efforts on Saturday night. In what might otherwise have been a match-winning effort instead became another chapter in the ‘Great Saint Miss-A-Thon of 2018’. Throughout the evening the former Swan caused the Dockers no end of headaches with his ability to present and get on the end of attacking thrusts. Unfortunately for all his efforts he was only able to record 1.5 from his multitude of chances.
While the final tally is nightmarish enough, the nature of the misses is what will cause Membrey sleepless nights this week. Four of his five misses were from shots that should represent straight-forward opportunities for an AFL forward. After kicking 82.32 across the last two seasons, Membrey has managed just 6.12 this year. Without placing all the blame for the Saints woes at Membrey’s feet, it is hard to cover for a forward whose accuracy goes from 75% to 33% almost overnight.
Despite the inefficiency in front of goal is an obvious area of frustration given the measurable cost of the error, it is not the only area of concern. As the number one team for uncontested ball, the Saints rely heavily on retaining possession of the ball. With this in mind it makes the team’s butchery of the ball hurt double.
Not for the first time, the Saints had half the team with disposal efficiency numbers lower than the League average of 72.1 against the Dockers. While this can be inflated sometimes by low possession getters, it wasn’t confined to those with low disposal numbers on Saturday. Luke Dunstan, the Saints second highest disposal winner, only managed to find a team mate with every other one of his 26-disposals. While Dunstan battled throughout the night a disposal efficiency of 50% from one of your key ball winners is a killer.
At two key junctures of the last quarter, Dunstan’s shakiness in finding a target was cost the Saints dearly. In the early stages of the final term the Saints set up camp in their forward half and pressed hard. In the ascendancy, it caused the Dockers to flood back in large numbers in an attempt to limit the damage. After maintaining possession in the search of a way through the vast numbers of purple jumpers, the ball found its way into Dunstan’s hands. After his team mates careful efforts to maintain the ball, the 23-year-old wildly hacked the ball into a nest of Dockers. In an instant a promising raid ended and the Saints were forced to defend a sling-shot attack forward from their opponents.
After his lack of composure in attack cost his team a chance to reduce the lead early in the quarter, an effort in defence late in the term ended the contest. Providing a book end to his earlier butchery, a miskick when charged with working the ball off halfback gifted the Dockers the sealer. It is fair to say that Dunstan wasn’t on his own in this regard. Captain Jarryn Geary had his own howler he would like to forget, but the timing couldn’t have been worse for the number seven. He has been much improved this season but, despite winning ‘Sainter of the Day’ status from the Saints social media team, the boy from Woodville will not look back fondly on his trip to Perth.
It is an understatement to say winning in the AFL is pretty difficult at the best of times. When your forward line can only score goals with 44% of their scoring shots it becomes harder still. Throw in and a key midfielder who is as likely to end a possession chain as he is to continue it and winning becomes almost impossible.
While on the subject of negatives, the Nat Fyfe-Jack Carlisle incident is one that warrants greater examination on a number of fronts. The AFL goes to great lengths to stress that the head is sacrosanct. It is for this reason we are told it is imperative that every errant hand that finds its hand on a shoulder must be punished with a free kick. The fallacy of the AFL’s position on this was laid bare on Saturday night.
In the second quarter, Jake Carlisle was KO’d by an accidental knee to the head from Nat Fyfe. The Saint went limp as a result of the contact and had his head cradled by a concerned opponent in the aftermath of the blow. What did the umpire, who we are told is meant to view that the head must be protected, decide was the correct decision after seeing a man knocked out by an opponents knee? A free kick against him for holding the ball!
While we are in no way suggesting any malice from Fyfe, just like we don’t believe there is any in 98% of high tackles, we simply ask why the much more dangerous accidental knee is not punished at least as harshly as an accidental tackle. The farce continued for St Kilda, who after having their player injured by an opponent, were punished with a free kick that they had to defend a man down as Carlisle was taken from the field.
If the AFL is genuine about their efforts to protect the head they need to ensure future incidents like these are firstly punished with a free kick. Secondly, players that need to be taken from the field to undergo concussion testing should be treated like a player leaving the field under the blood rule rather than a problem for his club to decide upon.
If a cut ear allows a team to replace a player at their leisure, a player knocked out by an opponent but might return, shouldn’t require a team to decide between defending a man short as they rush him off the field, or being without him for half an hour if they stretcher him off.
Not only does this current situation feel like unnecessarily adding insult to injury, it also proves that the competition offers just lip service to protecting the head. If the head truly was sacrosanct, seriously dangerous actions would be penalised and clubs wouldn’t be punished for their players suffering head injuries.
A rare positive from the match was the performance of Ed Phillips. After a series of strong showings in the VFL, Phillips earned a first call up to the senior side for the Saints trip west. Having bided his time patiently at Sandringham, he showed no sign of first game jitters after finally getting his chance to show his wares at AFL level.
Looking calm and assured, playing off the halfback and through the middle, the 20-year-old collected 24-possessions. Displaying good decision making he finished with a disposal efficiency of nearly 80%.
To put his night in perspective, measured by disposals, it is the eighth best debut by a Saint and the best since Brodie Atkinson in 1993. With the Saints season all but over before it began, for their sake lets hope they can find a few more gems like Phillips as they turn to youth at the selection table in coming weeks.
With the season now shot to ribbons at 1-6-1 it must be a matter of time before some risks are taken at the selection table. While it is our view that the team isn’t as bad as the record indicates there is no longer any benefit in continuing on the same path that has led it to this position. With 14 games remaining and nothing to play for, it is the perfect opportunity to see what talent lies within the rest the list. The benefit of this strategy is three-fold, not only does it potentially fast track the development of some of the younger players, it gives the club a chance to get a true understanding of the depth of the list, it also gives the club’s long suffering supporters a chance to be excited in the weeks to come after a most disappointing start to the season.
FREMANTLE 3.2 7.5 9.9 13.11 (89)
ST KILDA 1.2 1.5 7.7 8.11 (59)
Fremantle: Cerra 2, Matera 2, Ballantyne, D.Pearce, Fyfe, Mundy, Tucker, McCarthy, Neale, Sandilands, Cox
St Kilda: Gresham 2, Hickey, Steven, Gilbert, Geary, Newnes, Membrey
Fremantle: Fyfe, Langdon, Sandilands, Neale, Blakely, Mundy
St Kilda: Webster, Dunstan, Steven, Ross, Acres, Phillips
Fremantle: S.Hill (quad) replaced in selected side by Nyhuis, Ballantyne (corked thigh)
St Kilda: Carlisle (concussion)
Umpires: Hay, Gianfagna, Mollison
Crowd: 41,752 at Optus Stadium