It has been a difficult few days attempting to understand what to feel after the Saints third consecutive loss on Saturday. If before the season Saints fans had been told they would be 4-4 after an opening couple of months that included matches against four of 2018’s top six, they would have greedily accepted it. Rather than a sense of excitement at what would have once been thought an overachievement, there is instead a nagging question as to what the last few weeks actually mean.
For large parts of the Round Eight match against the Eagles, they were able to stifle their more highly rated opponents but similarly never truly looked a likely winner of the match. That said, equally true but contradictorily, had either Matt Parker or Jack Newnes converted chances in the final term the Saints would have considered themselves well within striking distance and with all the momentum.
While Newnes and Parker were the players in these final quarter moments, they were far from the only players to miss their chance. As has been the recurring theme of the last three weeks, the team as a whole has failed to receive full value for their effort. Despite having won the possession battle and all but broken even in the clearances against the Eagles, the Saints failed to take advantage of their opportunities as effectively as their opponents. This discrepancy in efficiency highlighted in the fact that the Saints scored just six times from their 30 clearances in contrast with the Eagles who scored 13 times from 34.
In the end, despite the Saints undoubted willinginess, it was the difference in class of the two midfields inherent in this statistic that ultimately proved their undoing. Time and again they would drag themselves back into the contest but not being able to prosper fully from their toil meant the task was too much for them. As a result, where they once appeared to be riding the crest of an emotional wave, they now find themselves on the outside of the eight looking in.
The wait for this teams rise up the ladder has been a long one, with the decade all but spent in the bottom half of the AFL ladder. Does their ability to win the battle for possession and territory in matches point to the fact that this long-awaited rise is nearly upon us? Or is their inability to make it count suggest that the finals drought has some time to run?
Some promising signs of the former could be seen in the season to date of Josh Battle. Nominated for the Round Eight AFL team of the week after his shut down role on Jack Darling, a nomination for the AFL Rising Star can’t be too far away for the 21-year-old.
After a few disappointing weeks, Josh Bruce reminded the football world of his capabilities with a career best game for contested marks. He dominated the air against the Eagles and if he can use this to hit the scoreboard in future weeks, it will be a big step in the side getting back on the winners list.
Luke Dunstan and Seb Ross toiled away in the midfield winning a lot of the ball. Dunstan, in his first game back since Round Three, was also effective without the ball laying a team high five tackles. Despite registering his second 30-possession game of the season, Ross will again be disappointed with some of his disposal especially entering forward fifty.
Jack Sinclair, named by Champion Data in 2018 as the Saints only A-Grade Player, displayed some of his undoubted class against the Eagles. One particular moment where he was somehow able to keep the ball in play on the city-side wing was particularly clever.
Jack Billings continued on his merry ball-winning ways, collecting 25 on the night. There was a reminder of his match-sealing goal against the same opponent from the same flank two years ago and a touch of magic with another six-pointer in the fourth quarter.
On any other night Billings’ effort might have been the highlight of the match but not on this night. Shane Savage locked down that status earlier in proceedings with a goal of the year contender. While it was the high point, it was far from the sum of the former Hawks efforts in another impressive performance across half back.
Having fought out another admirable loss without a number of key personnel, it leaves the possibly unanswerable question of whether the glass that is the Saints situation is half full or half empty. Having oscillated between both answers for much of the time since Saturday night, it is hard to imagine it being conclusively resolved anytime soon.
AFL ROUND EIGHT
ST KILDA 2.1 4.5 6.8 10.10 (70)
WEST COAST 3.3 5.6 11.8 12.16 (88)
St Kilda: Kent 2, Billings 2, Bruce, Gresham, Sinclair, Savage, Membrey, Steele
West Coast: Kennedy 2, Petruccelle 2, Allen 2, Cripps 2, Venables, Ryan, Sheed, Darling
St Kilda: Dunstan, Bruce, Ross, Battle, Billings, Gresham, Savage
West Coast: Hurn, Cripps, Yeo, Sheed, Shuey, Gaff, Ryan
St Kilda: Nil
West Coast: Nil
Umpires: Donlon, Nicholls, Glouftsis
Official crowd: 24,246 at Marvel Stadium