This was a game of two halves. The Saints dominated the first half, they were always first to the ball, they tackled hard and were able to find a target in their forward 50, leaving North constantly on the back foot. St Kilda just leaving the door open, not quite finishing them off on the scoreboard.
Played as it was with no crowd, the contest had a weird feeling about it. More like a VFL match instead of the opening round of an AFL season. While you want to win every game, there wasn’t quite the same excitement. From a North fan standpoint, this was exacerbated by the Saints dominance of the early stages.
Trailing by 29 points at half time, with three players sidelined for the afternoon by early in the third quarter, the North faithful were unsure as to where the next goal would come from. Fumbling the ball and missing targets they looked a beaten team. With a history of poor opening round performances, hope that Rhyce Shaw would have the team firing in the second half looked forlorn. To their credit though, that is exactly what happened.
St Kilda started the second half like they finished the first half; they could have put an end to North if they were to hit the scoreboard in the first six minutes of the second quarter, having had all of the play. North was able to dig deep being led by Ben Cunnington who had 12 possessions in the third quarter and six in the last for a total of 25 for the game Combining with the classy pair Jye Simpkin and Taryn Thomas, North kicked the next five goals to take to lead in the final term.
The most exciting play of the Kangaroos charge back into the contest day came two minutes before the three quarter time. A forward entry by Cunnington was touched and it missed its target. Ben Brown was the first to the fall of the ball and handballed it to Nick Larkey who snapped truly. Reminiscent of Drew Petrie, it was this moment that made me think we would win this game.
The win didn’t come without a few nervous moments though. With two minutes to play the Saints had one last chance to pinch the game but were thwarted by an amazing smother by Jamie Macmillan. His heroics were ably supported by his teammates who ran the ball out of defence and away from danger.
The win was another feather in the bow of Shaw who has given the team a new lease of life since being made head coach. He has a reputation as a people person who respects the players as people and it has shown since taken over, with players who want to play not only for themselves but also for their coach.
The announcement post match that the AFL season was to be suspended bought everything into perspective. With everything else happening in the world right now, win or lose it didn’t really matter in the great scheme of things. But winning sure beats losing.
AFL 2020 ROUND ONE
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.1 2.2 6.7 8.8 (56)
ST KILDA 3.3 6.7 6.11 7.12 (54)
North Melbourne: Brown, Larkey, Goldstein, Simpkin, Hall, Taylor, Cunnington
St Kilda: King 2, Billings 2, Steele, Membrey, Ryder
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Polec, Simpkin, Macmillan, Higgins, Dumont
St Kilda: Billings, Hannebery, Steele, Jones, Ross, Clark
Umpires: Chamberlain, Stephens, Brown