It has been a long and disappointing season for both St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs yet both will enter this contest confident of victory given their opponents position on the ladder. The Saints will be in the unfamiliar position of favourite though, given the men from the western suburbs have tasted victory just once from their last ten starts.
The Bulldogs have a slight edge in the recent meeting between the two teams, with a 3-2 record over the last five matches. It might be a little more emphatic though, if not for the fifth greatest comeback in VFL/AFL history that saw the Saints sneak home after trailing by 55 points during the round six encounter in 2015.
Inaccuracy plagues both teams
Wastefulness in front of goal has been an ongoing tale of woe for the Saints over the last two seasons with a number of games lost due to an inability to split the big sticks. As hard as it might be to believe, the Bulldogs were even worse than the Saints in 2017 and join them again in the bottom three teams for goal scoring conversion in 2018.
This profligacy a big factor in both teams difficulties in posting winning scores with both sides cracking the 100 point barrier just three times. As a result the Bulldogs, who average just 59 points a game in their last 10 starts, sit 16th for points scored with the Saints 14th.
Slowest starters and worst finishers collide
The Saints are the worst starters in the competition, in the opening 20 minutes of their games they have been outscored by a whopping 156 points! In total contrast the Bulldogs, the worst second half team in the competition, have left their impotence until later in their contests outscored by 237 points in third quarters and 199 in final quarters.
It was a different story the last time the two sides met however, with the Saints in the ascendancy in the first quarter before a Jake Stringer inspired second half onslaught saw the Bulldogs run away with a 40-point victory.
Saints Unleash the Freeze
There will be a joyous subscript to Saturday’s encounter when Nathan Freeman makes his debut for the Saints. While all debuts are happy occasions, it will be especially so for Freeman who must have spent much of the last five years questioning whether this day would ever arrive.
Drafted by Collingwood at Number 10 in the 2013 Draft, he was taken behind the likes of Jack Billings and Marcus Bontempelli and ahead of Patrick Cripps and Blake Acres. Although highly rated, a succession of hamstring injuries and other setbacks has meant he has had to change clubs and impatiently wait through 1717 days from draft day to debut.
Needless to say, Saints fans are hoping his long wait is rewarded with a happy ending.
Will the Bont succumb to the Steele trap?
The man now known as backpack at Moorabbin will have his newly minted shut down abilities put to the test this weekend against one of the competitions prime movers – Marcus Bontempelli. The classy Bulldog has been damaging against the Saints in the past averaging 20 possessions, four clearances, one goal and a goal assist across five games. If Steele can curb his effectiveness, like he has against Clayton Oliver, Ollie Wines and Callum Ward in recent weeks, he may well have set his team on the path to victory.
A Bulldog weakness plays to a Saint strength
The Bulldogs have conceded more rebound 50’s than all bar two sides in the competition in 2018, which is a pretty damning stat in it’s own right but it doesn’t tell the full horrible story for the teams forward thrusts. Ranked just 11th for Inside 50’s, it means that an awfully high proportion of their attacks are diffused by their opposition. In fact, they see a larger percentage of their entries end up in an opposition attack than any other team.
This should be a mouth watering prospect for a St Kilda team who have improved vastly on their rebound game. The improvement has meant that they have been able to generate a competition high 22% of their scoring chains from their defensive 50.
Although mid table for Inside 50’s conceded per opposition possessions, when it gets in there the Bulldogs concede more marks and goals per entry than any other team in the competition. In these numbers their inability to defend opposition talls becomes as frighteningly apparent as watching Charlie Dixon do his thing last week in Ballarat. It also suggests that Saturday night could be a good night to be a hard at it contested grab taking St Kilda forward.
Josh Battle has been prominent since his recall to the side, without quite taking a game by the scruff of the neck. Against this defence, it might just be the night for the 19-year-old to announce himself on the AFL stage.
The former Bomber has fast become an important part of the St Kilda team with his intercept marking and ability to shut down opposition forwards. With the Bulldogs forward line troubles and their inability to lock the ball in their forward half, he looms even larger. If the Bulldogs aren’t careful, Carlisle could well be the decisive factor on Saturday night.
Herald Sun: St Kilda 24, Bulldogs 6.
The Age: St Kilda 8, Bulldogs 4.
Betting: St Kilda $1.60, Bulldogs $2.40.
Both teams will have looked to this game as one that was very winnable in their runs home. However in a battle between two teams that have struggled to make the most of their opportunities this year, the Saints appear a little more reliable. The Bulldogs will by no means surrender meekly but would appear to lack the strike power up forward to kick a winning score. St Kilda will win by 24 points.
What do you think? Will the Saints get the points or will they feel the Bulldogs bite?
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