On a warm and still Perth night, the Saints’ hard running players ran themselves into the ground on the vast expanses of the Eagles’ home turf. In the final stanza, with both teams nearing exhaustion, it was the class and superior finishing of the Eagles that punished the Saints. The Saints began with a clear advantage in the ruck with Tom Hickey winning taps against a depleted Eagles’ ruck led by journeyman Jonathan Giles. Consequently, the Saints midfielders gained a slight advantage in clearances at center bounce downs and around the ground. The Eagles did themselves no favors by gifting the competitive Saints two early goals. Firstly Jeremy McGovern kicked-in poorly after the Saints scored a point, to allow Jade Gresham to mark and goal. Blake Acres booted the Saints’ third goal after intercepting a poorly executed Shannon Hurn kick-in. The inspired Saints were prepared to run to contests and often outnumbered a stunned West Coast. The Eagles relied on their zone defense to repel St Kilda attacks, but it was found wanting as the Saints’ midfielders repeatedly streamed into attack to create free players, leaving the Eagles flatfooted. By the end of the first quarter the Saints had dominated with thirteen scoring shots to four, yet they only led by 19 points courtesy of the Eagles scoring goals with each of their four shots.
In the second quarter the Eagles began to reorganize, but struggled for impact as St Kilda’s use of man-on-man tactics smothered Eagle breakouts. The Eagles found they could not outrun the determined Saints, which left ball users having to kick to contests rather than to free players. Luke Shuey lifted his output in the midfield for the Eagles which improved their midfield system. Both teams had an equal number of shots at goal in the second term, but the Eagles were again more accurate, kicking four goals to two. Nathan Brown at fullback was effective in keeping Josh Kennedy quiet with the Eagles’ spearhead only managing one point to the main break. Sebastian Ross was strong in the middle for the Saints and he was well supported by Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven, but their determined work did not translate into scoreboard impact.
In the third quarter the Saints continued to run and the Eagles struggled to find space. Andrew Gaff lifted his rating for the Eagles, picking up 12 midfield possessions for the quarter, and Elliot Yeo took some towering marks around the ground but the Saints midfielders were still on top. Saint Kilda defenders Dylan Roberton and Jake Carlisle continued to have the better of their highly rated opponents Mark LeCras and Jack Darling. Josh Kennedy had kicked only one goal to three-quarter time. Despite the Saints having more shots at goal the Eagles had reduced the difference to just six points with a late goal to Shuey. The Eagles were poised to strike.
The Saints scored the first goal of the final quarter when Yeo gave a free kick to Tim Membry, courtesy of a clumsy tackle. The Eagles’ supporters were incensed, despite the Eagles receiving the benefit of the majority of umpiring decisions during the game. An unthinkable home loss loomed. At the seven minute mark, the Saints launched another attack from defense but their midfielders did not run through the middle to support their forwards. They were done. Their legs could not carry them to the next contest. Gaff, Matt Priddis and Shuey seized the opportunity to take control of the midfield, and along with a previously subdued Sam Mitchell, delivered precision kicks forward. Kennedy took advantage and came to life and kicking three goals in thirteen minutes. The Eagles hit the front and kept going. The Saints much improved were left to ponder their early misses and what could have been.
Next week, the Saints return home to Etihad stadium with the hope they can register a win against Brisbane. The undefeated Eagles will travel to the MCG where their opponents, the Richmond Tigers, have also won their first two games.
Scores: West Coast Eagles 4.0 8.3 13.5 18.8 (116) St Kilda Saints 6.7 8.12 12.17 13.19 (97) Best: West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Yeo, Priddis, Shuey, Masten St Kilda Saints: Hickey, Roberton, Ross, Steven, Montagna
Article last changed on Monday, April 03, 2017 - 12:28 AM EDT