Sports

Saints’ best win in a decade has them dreaming big, and Tigers’ ‘back to the future’ tactic works wonders




Twelve years and 10 months ago St Kilda beat Geelong under the roof at Docklands in one of the greatest games ever played.

Their encounter this time around was by no means as good as this absolute classic; but in terms of what it means for the Construction Saints, it could well be their best home-and-away win since Michael Gardiner made history.

All at sea early against the clinical Cats, with a sloppy elimination and lack of pressure contributing to a 22-point deficit early in the second quarter, what followed was some of the best attacking football we’ve seen this year. .

Crawling out of the middle, with the tap work of influential Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall and Jade Gresham enjoying the best quarterback of his already excellent year, the Saints scored six straight goals to take the game by the skin of the throat. It was ruthless, it was relentless, and it was an absolute joy to watch.

Where in the first half the Cats could easily earn undisputed points, as they wanted, and sneak down the hall whenever the mood took them, now whenever they take possession. , they ran into a swarm of red, black and white. On several occasions, short kicks have come unstuck due to desperate looting or a wayward pass caused by perceived pressure. And once the Saints got him back, they were off to the races.

Most of the headlines generated about the game will center around this term, and rightly so. But equally impressive was their stoicism in the final quarter to absorb everything the Cats threw at them.

A lesser side would have caved in when Tom Hawkins netted twice in the opening six minutes to close the gap to three points. The 2021 Saints certainly would have – and probably even the 2020 squad, and while we’re at it, we’ll also be opting for all the Saints teams from the previous decade. But not these saints.

Pushing the ball forward, Paddy Ryder found space to score inside 50 twice within minutes, really kicking the ball each time to steady the ship. It was a fitting reward for the man who, more than anyone except perhaps Gresham, got the Saints back in the game in the second half.

St Kilda’s reliance on the Ryder-Marshall combination in the ruck has been used as a point of criticism in the past, with the Saints looking unable to win without them both being fit and shooting. They’ve already proven that wrong this year, and now that’s clearly a highlight: with both, the sky’s the limit. Look at this faucet!

A 40-34 edge in clearances, and only 12-11 from the middle, doesn’t do him justice; when the saints won it, it was up to them to keep it.

Four goals from the pair (three from Ryder), along with two each from top targets Max King and Tim Membery, were ample reward on the scoreboard for further work. If the Saints can put together four quarterbacks as their second half against the Cats, then maybe they are the ones who can challenge Melbourne’s hold on the Premier’s Cup.

Saints’ Zak Jones celebrates a goal.

Across town at the MCG, Richmond had less trouble holding off a resilient Hawthorn after an initial scare.

While Shai Bolton’s brilliance, Dustin Martin’s return to something approaching his best and seven goals between Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch stole the show, equally fascinating was the Tigers’ continued use of an old-school tactic, which they used to great effect – twin ruckmen.

The Tigers, the same team that used Shaun Grigg as a backup ruck in their premiership run in 2017, have regularly used Toby Nankervis and Ivan Soldo to share the load this year. It didn’t always work, but today at least, and especially in the last quarter, it became clear why the strategy was right.

Facing the inexperienced Max Lynch and a forward in Jacob Koschitzke, the Tiger pair naturally led the hits 60-22, but it took until last term for that to translate into punt dominance. Then there was a flood, with the Tigers winning six of the first seven clearances of the final term to put the game beyond doubt. Lynch and Koschitzke are tired, with Team Tiger’s bigger bodies proving essential to winning the day.

Both Nankervis and Soldo had impact in front of the ball, scoring one and two goals respectively and providing another big body the Hawks have to worry about alongside Lynch and Riewoldt. But it has also helped the Tigers, whose midfield has been their weak link at times this year, to overshadow the Hawks, admittedly not the toughest Tests in 2022.

If the Tigers are going to challenge in a deep endgame, then their midfield is key. Their backline remains solid, if not quite at 2017-20 levels and vulnerable to a push, as the Hawks showed when they racked up goals in the final minutes to threaten a comeback. Their forward line is also going to provide better teams than the Hawthorn headaches for the rest of this year.

If the mediums can get their fair share of the ball — and they got 41 more kills than the Hawks on Saturday afternoon — the Tigers still have weapons elsewhere to bother just about anyone.




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