Is there any better lead in to Easter Sunday and its promise of chocolate eggs and hot cross buns than a comprehensive victory of Saints over Demons the day before? Perhaps, but St Kilda’s Saturday twilight victory over Melbourne made for a much more contented long weekend than was experienced last year when a much more prominent fixture brought disappointment and despair.
The chasm between the expectations and performance on these two Easter weekends a microcosm of the disparity between St Kilda 2018 and 2019. Good Friday last year saw the Saints meekly surrender to North Melbourne after a preseason that held great anticipation of a return to prominence. By contrast, the committed and determined ambush of Melbourne this year amidst almost zero expectation couldn’t be more dissimilar in any measurable way.
Rowan Marshall was tasked with the ominous prospect of taking on Melbourne’s twin towers of Max Gawn and Brayden Preuss. A task that appeared especially troublesome when Pruess bobbed up to score two of Melbourne’s three first-quarter goals. Over the course of the afternoon though, the ever-improving Marshall stuck to his task and was able to quell the effectiveness of Gawn and help his team gain the midfield ascendency in the second half.
Losing the clearance and inside fifty battle early in the match, the Saints defensive structures were put to the test and, to the frustration of their opponents, were found to be up for the challenge. Despite the gaping holes left by the season-long absences of Dylan Roberton and Jake Carlisle, the back six continued their miserly start to the season.
Jarryn Geary was a welcome addition to the team after illness kept him out of the team against Hawthorn. Maligned by some in the media last year as the worst captain in the AFL, his reputation as an inspirational leader continues to grow. This will no doubt be further enhanced by the news that he had played out the game with a corked thigh that required surgery post-match.
The Accountant, Callum Wilkie has been a revelation in the opening rounds of the season. The mature aged recruit from North Adelaide has barely missed a beat this year and has genuine claims to the title of recruit of the year after five rounds. A cool head and a reliable ball user, he has quickly become one of the more integral members of the Saints best 22.
Another post-season addition, Dean Kent, had a major impact against the Demons. His first game against his former team was his best so far in the red, black and white. A thorn in the Dees side he kicked three goals, had eight score involvements that helped the Saints take advantage of their forward thrusts.
It was this efficiency that proved pivotal as the Saints held on grimly during the second quarter. With the ball almost exclusively in Melbourne’s possession and at their end of the ground, it was a brave effort from Alan Richardson’s men to stay in the match. Unlike the 2018 Saints, rather than wilt in the face of this onslaught they not only absorbed the Demons best shot but returned it with interest. Having conceded just one goal in the quarter, they kicked the last three of the term to take a 15 point lead into the half-time break.
It was an incredible turn around, and just reward for their structure and effort. Despite not being able to get first hands on the Sherrin, the Saints continued to out run and out pressure their opponents. Their appetite to apply pressure regularly thwarting the Demons just when they appeared certain to score. Their gut-busting running continually meaning they had more players at the contest wherever the ball was in dispute. It also manifested itself in damaging sling-shots that saw them score four first-half goals from defensive half turnovers.
In a hint to what the second half might hold in-store if they could get first hands on the ball, the last major in the shadows of the half time siren was scored by Jack Billings on the back of a Jack Steven clearance. It was an opportunists goal fitting of Billings former status as a permanent forward. His move away from this role has been pivotal in the club’s changing fortunes this year, with the silky-skilled 23-year-old thriving in his new role in the centre third of the ground. Influential once again against the Demons, Billings was the Saints leading possession winner and hit the scoreboard with two goals.
Where swimming against the tide was the cause of excitement at half time, the mood at three-quarter time was lifted higher still on the back of a quarter of domination. Getting the edge in clearances, the Saints were able to win the inside fifty count 18-11. By quarters end, after being able to dictate terms for the first time all day, the game was blown wide open after five unanswered goals.
Despite the victory being all but assured, there was no let up on the relentless pressure the team had applied all game. While Melbourne was able to win the quarter, it was not as a result of any drop in intensity. One particular example of this commitment to the end was a chase by Tim Membrey late in the term where his pursuit saw him chase his opponent to the half back line eventually resulting in a turn over. It was one of 13 pressure acts by the former Swan on the day, on a day his each way running saw him kick four goals.
A late goal from Membrey, and an after the siren effort from Billings saw the final margin back out to 40-points. A fair reward for the Saints effort on the day it, saw the team temporarily move into top place on the ladder and will most likely bring to an end four rounds of flying under the radar for the Saints. After seeing off a pre-season premiership fancy this week, another test lies in store next week with the possibility of favouritism against the Crows at home. It looms as another opportunity for the 2019 Saints to further enhance their reputation and the momentum growing behind them.
ROUND FIVE 2019
MELBOURNE 3.3 4.5 4.8 7.13 (55)
ST KILDA 4.1 7.2 12.5 15.5 (95)
Melbourne: Preuss 2, Melksham 2, Petracca, Brayshaw, Harmes
St Kilda: Membrey 4, Kent 3, Bruce 2, Billings 2, Acres, Lonie, Long, Parker
Melbourne: Brayshaw, Oliver, Gawn, Harmes, Salem
St Kilda: Billings, Kent, Membrey, Newnes, Acres, Steele, Geary
St Kilda: Long (corked thigh)
Umpires: Chamberlain, Whetton, Harris
Official crowd: 35,558 at the MCG