Rick Browner reporting from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Victoria
Saint Kilda was the firm favorite with the bookmakers on a warm and clear night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first game of Round 2 of the AFL season. Rain was forecast for late in a game that was billed as a clash of the forwards with the Riewoldt cousins (Nick and Jack) facing off. This game marked the first time that Richmond and St Kilda have played a Friday night game on the MCG. Richmond has had the better record over the years but since 2003 St Kilda has won thirteen consecutive matches.
Stephen Milne got the Saints off to a great start when he kicked the first goal with only 90 seconds on the clock. Richmond players were slow to tackle and early misses by both teams were costly. Brendon Goddard took a strong mark and played on to kick the Saints’ second goal. Milne kicked their third soon after and it looked all over for the Tigers, even at this early stage. It wasn’t until the 17 minute mark that Trent Cotchin got his team on the board and disaster struck when the Tigers lost their full forward in Jack Riewoldt to concussion. Riewoldt argued heatedly with the team doctors that he was fit, however they substituted him soon after. It was a move that actually helped the Tigers in the long run as they were forced to find other avenues to goal. Both teams traded goals as the quarter ran out with the Saints up by 14 points.
Dustin Martin fired up the Tigers with a snap across his body to goal from 30 yards out but the Saints were more focused on the ball and began to run away with the game again, kicking the next two goals. A couple of free kicks that were converted to goals had the Tigers back within touch. More importantly however they got fiercer and tougher in their tackling. Led by small hard man Jake King, with support from his bigger team mate Shaun Grigg, the Tigers hit the front. St Kilda became more and more pedestrian in their attacking moves and found themselves seven points in arrears when the half time siren rang. Richmond kicked seven goals to three during the second quarter.
Lenny Hayes, the Saints’ vice-captain, was carried off in the third quarter with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament ending his season. With him went the concentration of his team as Hayes is a leader and a fighter and his presence was sorely missed. To the Saints’ credit they fought strongly against some hard forward pressure from the Tigers. Ben McEvoy brought St Kilda back within three points of the Tigers to set the scene for a close and exciting final quarter.
Rain started to fall as the umpire bounced the ball and it was on for young and old with the game on the line. Richmond could sense an upset and there was a sense of disbelief from Grand Finalists St Kilda that such a young, inexperienced team was taking the game right up to them. Nick Riewoldt was the beneficiary of a controversial free kick when Luke McGuane was judged to have handballed deliberately through the point posts to avoid being caught holding the ball. Riewoldt kicked truly to tie the game, much to the horror of the Richmond fans. Milne kicked the next one to give the Saints a six point lead with only minutes left to play.
All was not lost for the Tigers when Grigg kicked the ball a country mile to goal and bring the scores back to even. There was still a lot of run left in St Kilda’s legs and Jason Blake brought the house down when he sprinted 30 yards to outrun the Tiger’s Jake Batchelor and kick the Saints ahead by a goal. In a bizarre incident, Jake King for the Tigers was running off for an interchange rotation when the ball nearly landed on the back of his head. He was alerted by the crowd’s screams and turned around in time to take a mark. His kick forward and resulting goal by Daniel Jackson had the Tigers up with with two minutes left to play. St Kilda kept the ball in its forward line until the siren rang but could kick only two points to draw the match.
It has been 100 years since there have been two drawn games in the first two rounds. Both teams were shellshocked by the draw, the Saints having wasted game-winning shots from Milne and Blake in the dying minutes and the Tigers having once again been in a winning position only to see themselves without the four points.
In a final twist to the game, the field umpire admitted after the game that he had erred when awarding a free kick against Luke McGuane in front of goal. The AFL Rules allow for a player to handball through the goal posts when under pressure. That is small comfort for Richmond who take two points from the game instead of the four they deserved.
Scoreboard Richmond: 2.4 9.5 10.9 14.11 (95) St Kilda: 4.6 7.10 9.12 13.17 (95) Best Richmond: B Deledio, S Grigg, T Cotchin, D Jackson, C Newman St Kilda: J Gram, D Armitage, S Milne, N Dal Santo, S Fisher
Article last changed on Sunday, April 03, 2011 - 7:40 AM EDT