Wayward again in front of goal the Saints suffered their sixth defeat of the season against the Dockers at Optus Stadium on Saturday night. Despite a six-goal third-quarter giving them a hope of an upset victory at the last change, a lack of composure in the last term cost them dearly. The final siren heralded not only a 30-point defeat but seemed also to condemn the side to a season in the bottom reaches of the AFL ladder.
Goal kicking yips still persist
The Saints goal kicking woes have been well publicised, entering the match against the Dockers they were the lowest scoring team in the competition. Their position at the bottom of the scoring charts, in large part, because the team converted possessions, inside 50’s and scoring shots into goals at a worse rate than any other. Even after a third quarter in which they kicked six goals two behinds, their efforts against the Dockers did not improve their standing in any of these scoring categories.
Unfortunately for the Saints the yips that had plagued their season to the end of Round Seven followed them across the Nullarbor. The unfortunate poster boy for this against Fremantle was Tim Membrey. The former Swan who entered this season a reliable kick for goal managed just one goal five behinds in what would have been a match-winning performance if not for his conversion difficulties. What would haunt the 23-year-old most of all would be the fact that four of his misses were from shots he would have kicked goals from with his eyes closed in the past.
Saints strategy let down by disposal efficiency
Inefficiency in front of goal is an obvious area of frustration given the measurable cost of the error, but it is not the only area of concern. As the number one team for uncontested ball, the Saints rely heavily on retaining possession of the ball. With this in mind it makes the team’s butchery of the ball hurt double.
Not for the first time, the Saints had half the team with disposal efficiency numbers lower than the League average of 72.1 against the Dockers. While this can be inflated sometimes by low possession getters, it wasn’t confined to those with low disposal numbers on Saturday. Luke Dunstan, the Saints second highest disposal winner, only managed to find a team mate with every other one of his 26-disposals. While Dunstan battled throughout the night a disposal efficiency of 50% from one of your key ball winners is a killer.
Third Quarter Charge
Despite it only coming after the Saints fell 43-points behind, the third quarter charge they produced was perhaps the most exciting play the team has produced for the season. Goals to Membrey, Geary, Newnes, Steven and a double to Gresham was the reward for the team getting on top of the contest and stoppages.
That one quarter of football in a loss can be a highlight is pretty stark indicator of the depressing nature of the teams season to date. Putting this to one side for a minute, it is a promising sign of what the team can produce when they take advantage of their opportunities.
Debutant Phillips looks at home in the big time
After a series of strong showings in the VFL, Ed Phillips earned a first call up to the senior side for the Saints trip west. Having bided his time patiently at Sandringham, he showed no sign of first game jitters after finally getting his chance to show his wares at AFL level.
Looking calm and assured, playing off the halfback and through the middle, the 20-year-old collected 24-possessions. Displaying good decision making he finished with a disposal efficiency of nearly 80%.
To put his night in perspective, measured by disposals, it is the eighth best debut by a Saint and the best since Brodie Atkinson in 1993. With the Saints season all but over before it began, for their sake lets hope they can find a few more gems like Phillips as they turn to youth at the selection table in coming weeks.
Bruise free footy
The Saints entered the match against the Dockers as the worst in the competition for contested possessions. As bad as the Saints had been at this facet of the game, against an opponent ranked 16th it was an opportunity to make a statement in this area. Despite the Dockers own distaste for the hard ball, they dominated the Saints. It was only when St Kilda momentarily took control in this area that they were able to hit the scoreboard consistently.
The AFL’s slap dash approach to protecting the head
The AFL goes to great lengths to stress that the head is sacrosanct. It is for this reason we are told it is imperative that every errant hand that finds its hand on a shoulder must be punished with a free kick. The fallacy of the AFL’s position on this was laid bare on Saturday night.
In the second quarter, Jake Carlisle was KO’d by an accidental knee to the head from Nat Fyfe. The Saint went limp as a result of the contact and had his head cradled by a concerned opponent in the aftermath of the blow. What did the umpire, who we are told is meant to view that the head must be protected, decide was the correct decision after seeing a man knocked out by an opponents knee? A free kick against him for holding the ball!
While we are in no way suggesting any malice from Fyfe, just like we don’t believe there is any in 98% of high tackles, we simply ask why the much more dangerous accidental knee is not punished at least as harshly as an accidental tackle. The farce continued for St Kilda, who after having their player injured by an opponent, were punished with a free kick that they had to defend a man down as Carlisle was taken from the field.
If the AFL is genuine about their efforts to protect the head they need to ensure future incidents like these are firstly punished with a free kick. Secondly, players that need to be taken from the field to undergo concussion testing should be treated like a player leaving the field under the blood rule rather than a problem for his club to decide upon.
If a cut ear allows a team to replace a player at their leisure, a player knocked out by an opponent but might return, shouldn’t require a team to decide between defending a man short as they rush him off the field, or being without him for half an hour if they stretcher him off.
Not only does this current situation feel like unnecessarily adding insult to injury, it also proves that the competition offers just lip service to protecting the head. If the head truly was sacrosanct, seriously dangerous actions would be penalised and clubs wouldn’t be punished for their players suffering head injuries.