Just like they had twelve months earlier, in the same round against the same opposition, the Saints were required to overcome a large second half deficit to record a narrow victory over the Gold Coast Suns. While on this occasion the charge back into the contest began a little earlier than it had 12 months earlier, it was no less nail biting with the final margin just four points.
A much more familiar, but less enjoyable, story unfolded in the first half with the Saints horrific disposal entering their attacking third. As they had against Port Adelaide, and for much of the last 18 months earlier, the Saints frittered away attacking opportunities with use of the ball that would make even suburban footballers blush. In a diabolical display of foot skills, the Saints had a kicking efficiency forward of centre of just 49% in the first half.
While the Saints forwards had every right to be upset about the delivery from up the ground, they were not completely blameless in the first half debacle. In among the indiscriminate bombing forward, there were a number of well directed kicks that resulted in uncontested marking opportunities spilt by attacking players in dangerous positions. This combined with some terrible kicking for goal, meant that despite going inside attacking 50 four more times than the Suns, they had just two goals to show for their efforts at the long break.
With all due respect to Luke Dunstan’s first half major, Nick Hind’s effort will be remembered a little more fondly by Saints fans. The 24-year-old speedster was making his AFL debut against the Suns after having Having been overlooked in six drafts, since first nominating in 2012. The goal itself may well have been regulation, but the journey to it was anything but as was noticeable in his father’s emotional response captured by Fox Footy. While he may not have found much of the ball in his first outing, this didn’t stop him from having a telling impact with repeat pressure acts in the third term resulting in a Tim Membrey goal.
A left field positive in a dire first half for Saints fans, was the performance of a young Suns forward. In just his fifth game, Ben King was impressive early for the Gold Coast, perhaps providing a glimpse of what there is to look forward to from his twin brother Max in the years ahead.
A highlight that needed no imagination, was the continued outstanding form of Rowan Marshall. Despite having to overcome the Suns dual ruck brigade and umpires seemingly sympathetic to the home team’s efforts at ball ups, the 23-year-old was the dominant big man on the ground.
After conceding the first two goals of the second half to fall 31-points behind, the Saints were finally roused from their slumber. Increased effort and run, evident in almost 360 degree changes in the tackling and uncontested possession stats, saw the the previously impotent St Kilda attack spring into life. Three quick goals to Dean Kent, Tim Membrey and Jade Gresham, all coming from turnovers, reduced to just 12 points in less than seven minutes.
With Membrey influential up forward, he would have four score involvements for the quarter including a second goal, the visitors continued to press. A Sam Day goal, did little more than stem the bleeding with the Saints kicking another two goals before the term was over to close within seven points at the final change.
While the Saints charge seemed irrepressible, the Suns refused to succumb to it. Holding on for dear life it took until the 15th minute of the final term, after goals to Membrey and Kent, before they surrendered their lead for the first time in the match. Even then it took special intervention from a young Saints star to prevent them snatching it back in the games final minutes.
Jack Billings had been prominent throughout the match but it was in the final quarter that he turned a top shelf performance into a match winning one. Not content with being the leading possession winner and laying more tackles than any other player on the ground, Billings imposed himself on the match with two clutch goals to all but secure the result for his team.
The win sees the Saints improve to 6-6 for the season and keeps them mathematically within reach of the top eight. While they have not yet captured the kind of scalp that would suggest a finals charge is likely, that they are still in the equation is remarkable given the large injury list that has needed to be overcome each and every week. The result itself may have provoked memories of our trip north 12 months ago, the remainder of this season offers something that last years didn’t.
AFL ROUND 13
Saturday Afternoon 15th June, 2019.
GOLD COAST 3.5 5.6 8.9 11.10 (76)
ST KILDA 0.2 2.5 7.8 11.14 (80)
Gold Coast: King 2, Wright 2, Holman 2, Powell, Martin, Day, Sexton, Miles
St Kilda: Membrey 3, Billings 2, Kent 2, Dunstan, Hind, Gresham, Battle
Gold Coast: Swallow, Weller, Martin, Brodie, Fiorini, Ah Chee
St Kilda: Billings, Membrey, Ross, Dunstan, Kent, Gresham, Marshall
Gold Coast: Nil
St Kilda: Nil
Umpires: Foot, Power, Whetton, Harris
Official crowd: 7243 at Riverway Stadium, Townsville