Two points. Two. Miserable. Stinking. Lousy. Points. Is all that separated St Kilda and Brisbane after a gripping encounter at The Gabba on Sunday. Over 1680 points have been scored in the Saints matches this year but it might be these two that wind up being the most season-defining. Despite proving themselves again capable of mixing it with the competition’s best, where victory would have seen them return to the top four discussions, defeat has consigned them to the six-team dogfight for the last three positions in the eight.
That is not to say that being locked in a six-team dogfight for the last three positions in the eight wouldn’t have been gleefully accepted by this Saints fan had the situation been offered at the start of the season. After eight long seasons without finals action, six finishes eleventh or below, five 14th or below, still being alive in the finals race at this stage of the season has been a source of joy in an otherwise forgettable year. It’s just that, if not for two lousy points, things could have been greater still. It is for this reason that the pride in the Saints efforts against the Lions is tinged a little with a sense of what-if?
We wouldn’t be the only ones feeling that way with Tim Membrey, one of the Saints best on the day, also likely to share the feeling after bookending the contest with opportunities to facilitate the one extra goal the team needed. After inexplicably stopping a flying shot from Rowan Marshall in the games third minute, he ended up playing goalkeeper to a second St Kilda chance too when his efforts to regather the ball prevented Jack Billings from soccering the ricochet through. He would have the opportunity to banish these actions to forgotten sidenote with a running shot late. Unfortunately his miss, followed shortly after by another by Zak Jones, meant it took on a greater sense of importance.
To lay the blame for the defeat on either him or Jones though, would deny their efforts in the third quarter that ensured that the game remained in the balance. Membrey was a prominent figure for the Saints in keeping the ball in the attacking zone. Time and again he pressured the Lions defenders and created stoppages and repeat entry opportunities. The best two examples being when outnumbered between half forward and centre wing he was able to force a stoppage and a relentless chase and tackle on Harris Andrews resulting in a stoppage from which Jack Steele kicked an important goal. The benefit of which was able to be maintained into the last break after a desperate smother from Jones prevented an answering Lions goal.
The game would start and end in much the same way, with the Saints pressing the Lions goal. After Membrey’s unfortunate intervention prevented both Marshall and/or Billings from kicking the opener, Dan Butler did the honours a few minutes later. After getting on the end of a scrubbed kick forward, he kicked truly from 45 metres out. That he had to take the kick so far out a cause of consternation given a 50-metre penalty should have been awarded when he was pushed over by Lachie Neale who had not been in the marking contest.
While this would prove to be the only goal of the quarter for the Saints, it was not through lack of effort and endeavour. There was coast to coast ball movement. Callum Wilkie, Ben Paton, Max King, Seb Ross, Jack Steele, Nick Hind, Rowan Marshall all involved in the most impressive movement of the first quarter. This particular movement would be thwarted by the ball being kicked into the mark at half-forward and it would be at this point of the field that they would continue to flounder.
While the Lions would have their own problems at the other end of the ground kicking for goal, the Saints problems were one kick earlier as they struggled to hit their targets inside 50. Harris Andrews and the Brisbane backline deserve some of the credit for this but they don’t deserve all of it. While the Lions took four marks inside 50 from their 11 entries in the quarter the Saints would take just one from their eight – Butler’s for the opening goal.
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Upon inspection, with just two other entries being kicked to the advantage of a St Kilda forward, it is easy to see why. The first resulted in a stoppage in an advantageous position the other in Membrey’s unfortunate piece of shot-stopping. The others resulted in two uncontested intercepts, two rebounds as a result of an outnumber and the most painful one of the lot where a pass to an unmarked Max King missed its target and a gilt-edged opportunity went begging.
Rather than take full toll, the Lions did their blasting away at the goals which would see them lead by just eleven points despite a scoring shot advantage of seven to one. While on face value this would appear a domination, it was inflated by an eight-point play across the course of the 16th and 17th minute. A rushed behind, was followed by two intercepted kick-ins as one forward thrust effectively became three shots on goal through the Saints inability to thread the needle bringing the ball back in.
Having seen a goal scoring opportunity wasted with a terrible pass to him in the first quarter, Max King’s luck didn’t change in the second but this time it was a little more of his own making. After the Saints churned their first two entries of the second quarter, their third saw the ball kicked to a two on two that included Paddy Ryder and King. After bringing the chance to ground, Ryder would shuffle out a quick handball to King. As the goal-scoring opportunity was unfolded for the young forward, Bruce McAvaney applied the ‘commentators curse’. “Paddy did well. Got it to King,” the legendary broadcaster told the television audience as King pocketed the ball and headed towards the big sticks. “He should kick a goal,” he exclaimed as the 20-year-old proceeded to kick the ball out of bounds on the full.
This opportunity might have been lost but the improved entry ball was a tiding of things to come. A strong intercept mark by Rowan Marshall allowed the big man to deliver a lace out pass to Tim Membrey and see the team’s marks inside 50 count double. Membrey would make no mistake with his set shot. Just as he made the most of his chance, the Saints began to make the most of theirs with improved forward entries. A fact well supported by the second goal of the quarter also coming from an inside 50 mark.
Seizing upon a turnover at halfback, Dougal Howard turned defence into attack and drilled a sharp pass to Butler at half-forward. Instead of being required to test his range, the former Tiger was able to pinpoint a pass to Dean Kent who had been left unguarded 30-metres out. The grateful forward made no mistake with his resulting shot and just like that the Saints were in front.
The lead would not last long though, an unlucky out of the bounds on the full free-kick granting Charlie Gardiner a chance to retake the lead which he did with a curling effort from the boundary. With Jack Steele having a massive game in the middle and Seb Ross curtailing the impact of Lachie Neale, the Saints continued to press as half time neared. Zak Jones and Brad Hill were also influential as they helped continually turn defence into attack. These efforts looked set to be given an exclamation mark in the form of a big contested mark by Rowan Marshall, the Saints sixth mark inside 50 for the quarter. Despite a relatively easy shot, his resulting kick for goal would not live up to the mark that proceeded it. Although he would make up for it immediately after the long break, it would not be the last time this would happen for the Saints at this end of the ground.
With the margin just four points at the long break the scene was set for an epic second half. Marshall would be the beneficiary of a free kick for holding almost immediately upon the restart. A quick clearance from the opening bounce leaving the Lions defenders scrambling to prevent the Saints marking options up forward. Gifted another chance to take the lead after fluffing his lines before half time, Marshall kicked truly.
It would be in the Lions response to Marshall’s goal that this game was ultimately decided. While the Saints would have the opportunity to pinch it late, the tight rope they were unable to traverse was pulled tight in the third quarter. Pressing hard, they would retake the lead through a Zac Bailey goal in the middle of a 1.4 run for the home team.
The Saints would get one back against the tide when Dan Butler got on the end of a brisk slingshot started by Brad Hill at half-back. Yet just as they looked to be back in the fight, five minutes of clearance domination handed Brisbane a decisive advantage. Goals to Tom Fullarton and Jarrod Berry giving the home team a 16-point lead, a massive break in the context of a game in which only 11 goals had been kicked.
The inaccuracy that haunted the Lions in building the margin would now plague the Saints in their efforts to reduce it. While Jack Steele brought it back to 10-points by three-quarter time, it could well have been less than a kick if not for a late miss by King after an electrifying clearance from Seb Ross. Like Rowan Marshall in the third quarter, he had a chance to make amends early in the fourth quarter after taking a contender for mark of the year. Unfortunately, near where Marshall had missed late in the second quarter, King missed to the left. It was one of those days for the young forward who, despite having a day he’d like to forget, he so very nearly had a major impact on the contest. It should be enough to have defenders around the league waking in fright at the thought of what havoc he might be able to reak on the competition when fully developed.
Redoubling their efforts, the Saints made all the running for the remainder of the match. Dominating the clearances, possessions and tackling the Lions into submission on the rare occasions they won possession, when Jack Billings kicked his contender for goal of the year, it appeared a matter of when not if they’d take the lead. For seven nail biting, edge of the seat minutes, they pressed for the go ahead goal. Six times they would go inside forward fifty. Marshall would have a shot smothered, so too Jones. Membrey would miss a running shot, followed soon after by Jones who had made space where there was none to generate the opportunity. It would prove the last the Saints would have. They would fall two points short.
Two. Miserable. Stinking. Lousy. Points.
BRISBANE 2.5 3.6 6.13 6.14 (50)
ST KILDA 1.0 3.2 6.3 7.6 (48)
Brisbane: Berry 2, Bailey, Cameron, Fullarton, McCarthy
St Kilda: Butler 2, Billings, Kent, Marshall, Membrey, Steele
Brisbane: Andrews, Berry, Lester, Bailey, Zorko, McCluggage
St Kilda: Steele, Jones, Marshall, Ross, Hill, Membrey
St Kilda: Nil