For the fourth successive week, St Kilda fans were treated to an absolute heart-stopper with their team recording a rousing five-point victory over Hawthorn. Having vowed pre-season to outrun opponents late in games, the Saints did just that against the Hawks kicking 5.9 to 1.2 after falling 28-points behind early in the second half.
It has been a thrilling ride to date with the team overcoming injuries to key personnel through a committed and hard running effort. Displaying a harder edge than what was evident in 2018, the young Saints have been true to their preseason claim to be the fittest team in the competition and promise to run teams off their legs.
After a rousing performance against Fremantle, Jarryn Geary was a late withdrawal for the clash against the Hawks with Ben Paton replacing him in the 22 and Seb Ross taking on captaincy duties. After a slow start to the season by his 2018 standards, leading the team brought out the best in Ross. In the middle of everything the midfielder accumulated 39 possessions, the Blue Ribbon Medal and 10 votes in the AFLCA Player of the Year Award in an outstanding return to form.
Jack Lonie and Ben Long were prominent early, as the first quarter became an arm wrestle for control. The Saints pressure in response to Hawthorn going coast to coast twice was immense, and it was via this avenue that they were able to hit the scoreboard with all three first-quarter goals coming from turnovers. This dedication to forward half pressure best exemplified by a tackle from Matt Parker that led to a Blake Acres goal.
After goals to Ross and Long to begin the second quarter, it appeared that the Saints had wrested control of the contest from the visitors. Three opportunities to press the advantage were missed giving Hawthorn an opening late in the term which they took full advantage of after goals to Paul Puopolo and Ricky Henderson to give them a half time lead. Henderson’s dagger-like goal sailing through as the half time siren sounded after a dubious fifty-metre penalty awarded against Nathan Brown.
If what followed is anything to go by, whatever was said during the long break should never ever be repeated. Three more goals to the Hawks seemingly blowing the game wide open with the visitors lead ballooning to a game-high 26-points. As they had a week earlier in similar circumstances against the Dockers, rather than wilt the Saints redoubled their efforts and willed themselves back into the contest.
Jack Newnes kicked the first goal of St Kilda’s long road back into the match. The much-maligned utility had an impressive afternoon against the Hawks. Despite being one of the Saints leading possession winners and an assured performance with Sherrin in hand, what was particularly pleasing was that some of his best work was actually off the ball. Hopefully it is the kind of performance that helps change the minds of fans that have spent much of the last 12 months judging Newnes on the contents of an infamous tweet from last year.
The Saints pressure began to tell on their opponents in the latter stages of the term. Over the last ten minutes, St Kilda kicked the ball at 72% efficiency while the Hawks poise disappeared completely by foot recording just 40% efficiency during this period. With their opponents all at sea, the Saints were able to camp at their end of the ground recording six of the last seven inside fifty’s of the quarter. Lonie and Josh Bruce benefitted from this dominance with red-time goals to see their team close within two goals at the final change.
Rowan Marshall cemented his status as one of the Saints most exciting developing players with two big grabs up forward to start the final term. Fortunately for the team, Marshall had been able to return to the field after a third-quarter head clash, unlike Daniel McKenzie who had been the leading tackler on the ground when lost to the Saints during the second quarter.
Brandishing the requisite half a roll of Elastoplast to stem his bloodied nose, Marshall converted one of his two set shots in a minute, to bring the margin within a goal and set up a grandstand finish. It was an exclamation mark on another exemplary performance from the ruckman. Despite Marshall being outpointed in hitouts, the Saints won the clearances comprehensively. Marshall himself one of the team’s leaders in this category, only Jack Sinclair winning more clearances than him on the day. His ability to win the ball around the ground was also prominent and will make his upcoming contest with Max Gawn all the more intriguing.
In the ascendancy against an opponent holding on grimly for dear life, the Saints scored twice more in the opening seven minutes of the term but were unable to find the goal to take the lead in the match. With memories of opportunities lost against Fremantle last week and the Hawks in Round 22 last year, the next 15 minutes were painful for Saints fans as the go ahead goal remained elusive and time ticked away.
With each passing minute the increasing the importance of not conceding, across every line there was a relentlessness of effort to ensure that Hawthorn did not add another goal to their total. While each player played there part in this single-minded effort there were a few examples that were particularly noteworthy. Blake Acres made a number of strong efforts in the middle of the ground, as did Jack Billings whose reputation continues to grow after another ball winning display. More spectacularly though were a pair of spoils by Callum Wilkie and Ben Paton to break down Hawks forward thrusts that had the Marvel Stadium crowd on their feet in appreciation.
In the end, after a fourth quarter in which the umpires had clearly made the decision to put the whistle away, the lead would finally change on the back of an umpiring decision. While the free kick awarded against David Mirra would have barely rated a mention if it had happened in the middle of the ground. The fact that Jack Lonie took full toll and kicked the Saints into the lead as a result, there has been much made of it in the press in the days following.
That Lonie would be responsible for the Saints lead was appropriate given the impact he had on the match. Widely considered surplus to requirements late last season, the 22-year-old has quickly become an important member of the Saints best 22. With three goals he was highly influential on this day but, with five behinds, he could have had a career day if he had taken advantage of all the opportunities he created.
There were two more chances to ice the game, one of which for a brief time appeared to have until the decision review system intervened, but there was no easy path for the Saints on this day. Clinging grimly to their five point lead they continued to repel the Hawks efforts until the siren finally made official their hard fought victory.
It was by no means the perfect performance, but for a team missing important personnel and widely tipped to finish in the bottom two or three teams, it was a win to savour. While it’s not yet time for Saints fans to line up for Grand Final ticket just yet, there is a lot to like about the effort of these men in red, black and white. That the side’s results have come on the back of a core of young players, after an off-season of near constant negative press attention and speculation, there is reason for hope again among the St Kilda faithful. If they can continue to bring this level of effort there is no reason that this hope cannot continue for some time to come.
ROUND FOUR 2019
ST KILDA 3.2 5.5 8.9 10.14 (74)
HAWTHORN 3.2 6.5 10.8 10.9 (69)
St Kilda: Lonie 3, Long 2, Bruce, Marshall, Acres, Newnes, Ross
Hawthorn: Roughead 2, Henderson 2, Scully 2, Nash, Wingard, Puopolo, Breust
St Kilda: Ross, Marshall, Billings, Lonie, Steele, Gresham, Acres
Hawthorn: Worpel, Scrimshaw, Scully, Sicily, Roughead, Henderson
St Kilda: Geary (virus) replaced in selected side by Paton, McKenzie (concussion)
Hawthorn: O’Meara (left hip) replaced in selected side by Howe, Frawley (left hamstring), Stratton (concussion)
Umpires: Findlay, Dalgleish, Haussen
Official crowd: 35,883 at Marvel Stadium