Chris Kowald reporting for AFANA from Optus Stadium, Perth
The West Coast Eagles remain undefeated and have won their tenth consecutive game, but they left the ground to subdued celebrations after being pushed by a stubborn St Kilda team, who refused to be intimidated by the league leaders.
The cool windless evening suited open play and fast ball movement and West Coast started in hot form. The Eagles had three goals on the board by the eight-minute mark with big men Nic Naitanui, Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy all flying for big marks (catches). Naitanui out marked St Kilda’s Tom Hickey to kick the first goal.
Dom Sheed swooped on a loose ball to snap the second; and then Kennedy out positioned Jade Gresham to mark and kick their third. The Saints then composed themselves with run through the Eagles mid-field web, using pace from defense and quick hand passes to work the ball forward. Paddy McCartin brought up the Saints’ first goal thirteen minutes into the quarter to signal that the Eagles would not have it all their way. The Eagle attacks were based on breakouts from defense with players running in a wave of five, or more, through the middle and launching long kicks to the full forward zone.
High marking was a feature as Kennedy and Naitanui responded with goals to re-stamp the Eagles’ authority. At the 24-minute mark the Eagles’ most successful forward this year, Jack Darling, went down with an ankle injury. The Saints used the advantage of a man free, as Darling was being walked from the ground, to run the ball down the wing to allow Tim Membry to boot their second goal and to keep them in touch.
St Kilda’s Tom Hickey matched both Nic Naitanui and Scott Lycett in the ruck. As the second quarter progressed, the Saints had a slight edge in clearances. The Eagles defense absorbed most of the St Kilda attacking moves and then responded with precision kicking to their high-flying forwards. Jeremy McGovern ruled the air in the Eagles’ back line with intercept marks and Shannon Hurn used his penetrating boot to advantage. In the middle of the ground the Saints’ Jack Sinclair showed plenty of smarts with the ball. He was well supported by Jack Steven and Sebastian Ross. However, whenever the Saints kicked a goal the Eagles responded with two. St Kilda lacked the finish of West Coast, but they had enough good moments of play to keep the Eagles working. A goal snapped out of a pack by Jack Newnes, just on the half-time break, gave the Saints some hope.
The third quarter saw the Eagles add another five goals as St Kilda managed just two. Andrew Gaff, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden lifted their work rate in the middle for the Eagles but Ross, Sinclair and Steven, were still winning their share of the ball. However, the Saints could not contain Josh Kennedy who was dominant up forward for the Eagles and kicked four goals for the quarter, in an imposing return to form.
The final quarter began with the Saints playing for pride. Maverick Weller, who had operated well in defense, pushed forward and booted the Saints’ first major for the quarter. Andrew Gaff responded two minutes later for the Eagles, but the Saints refused to throw in the towel.
With St Kilda midfielders running and switching the ball around their Eagle opponents, the home team suddenly looked flat and jaded. Without pressure from the West Coast midfielders, the Saints delivered with surgical precision to Tim Membrey, who responded by kicking three goals for the quarter. Typically, the Eagle defenders prefer to zone-off their man, so that they can take intercept marks, or spoil from behind when opposition midfielders misuse the ball under pressure. However, they were caught out of position when the Saints midfielders’ delivered with laser-like accuracy. By the 22 minute mark the Saints had booted four unanswered goals and the home crowd fell into stunned silence. St Kilda won contests all over the ground and at the 27 minute mark the unthinkable became thinkable as Jade Gresham kicked the Saints fifth. Racing the clock, the Saints launched two more desperate attacks, only to be thwarted each time by Jeremy McGovern who took two crucial intercept marks in the last line of defense for the Eagles. The Saints charge had run out of time and the home side prevailed.
The Eagles breathe a sigh of relief as they head to their bye week and a chance to refresh and refocus for the second half of the year. The Saints return home to Etihad Stadium to host the Sydney Swans. Their form against the Eagles suggests that St Kilda are not far away from their second victory.
Scores: West Coast Eagles 5.0 10.1 15.3 16.5 (101) St Kilda Saints 2.1 5.3 7.3 14.4 (88) Best: West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Sheed, Hurn, McGovern, Kennedy St Kilda Saints: Ross Sinclair, Steven, Weller, Membrey
Article last changed on Tuesday, June 05, 2018 - 12:42 AM EDT