AFL 2020: Monday’s Experts – Round 18 v GWS

The biggest story on Monday night was the controversy surrounding the AFL’s preferred location for St Kilda’s Elimination Final against the Western Bulldogs. While this was the main source of Saints related conversation, Brett Ratten’s appearance on AFL 360 did mean there was some positive stories too.

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On The Couch did a statistical deep dive into the game against the Giants. While it was from the standpoint of how disastrous it was for GWS it is still of interest to Saints fans with it illustrating the dominance of the team in the second half of the Round 18 encounter. “They are nine points behind [at half time] and still a mathematical chance of playing finals footy,” he said. “You are hanging on to that for all you are worth. Post half-time they fail to score a goal.”

“They didn’t score and they ended up losing the game by 52-points. Forty-Seven points against, four points for in a half of footy with the talent on that list that we know that’s been there. So that’s as damning as anything we can show you and probably sums up where they are as a footy club as much as anything else,” he said.

On The Couch illustration of the Giants second half statistics against St Kilda in Round 18.

Nick Riewoldt presented another interesting statistic regarding the output of the Giants All Australian defender Nick Haynes. While praising Josh Battle, he also questioned the tactical nous of Leon Cameron when his star players are challenged. “Guess what, Josh Battle goes to him and he has zero intercepts for the game. He hasn’t had that since 2012. His debut year.” Riewoldt said bringing some much-deserved attention to one of the more underrated and underacknowledged players in the St Kilda team.

Jack Lonie was another unsung Saint whose efforts against the Giants caught the former skipper’s eye. “This guy is a really important role player for his side,” he described Lonie before using the lead up to Paddy Ryder’s third quarter goal to illustrate his point. “So this is the life of a small forward, Jack Lonie. He wins possession and gets up the ground and then a real hard release to get back inside fifty. You are going to lead, but guess what? No one is ever going to kick it to you so this is how you make your living. You surge hard to get to the predictable spot. If you don’t win it, your job flicks then you become a pressure player. So, great small forward play from Jack Lonie there. Going to be really important the Saints small forwards.

On AFL 360, Ratten discussed with the satisfaction he felt after the win confirmed the Saints place in the finals with Gerard Whateley and Mark Robinson. “It was, as Gears [Jarryn Geary] put it, a bit of a relief,” he said. “We had been around the mark but to get the victory and to be able to play finals and have this opportunity it was fantastic for the football club.”

Nick Riewoldt was equally excited about his old team’s return to the finals and the prospect of a ‘Josh Bruce Cup’ Elimination Final on On the Couch. “It’s really exciting, he told Gerard Healy. “It’s a really exciting contest. I think both these sides are young up and coming sides. The Bulldogs have clearly been there as recently as a few years ago and gone all the way from a really similar position.”

“It’s got a real feel of last year for the Bulldogs doesn’t it? With the build that they’ve had then they obviously came up against the Giants who tore them apart. For the Saints they are excited about the opportunity. Brett Ratten spoke about it not being the final destination though so they’ll have an edge about them.”

Asked about the scenes post match where the entire club sang the club song before he addressed them all calmly afterwards, Ratten admitted that he addressed particular individuals and the group as a whole. “A bit of both Robbo,” he answered. “The first part was the song where we brought everybody in because it wasn’t just about this year which has been a very hard year for our supporters, our staff and people who have been put off.”

“It was just to represent the season but also some people haven’t been involved in finals footy and what they’ve done and sacrificed to be up here in the hub as well. So it was an opportunity to bring everybody and celebrate that moment but then the next part was ‘we’ve made the first step but now the hard work get’s going’. We spoke about individual’s growth and our growth as a collective group so that was really the message but we know that we want to celebrate this moment, and we’ve spent a couple of days doing that but we know the hard work starts from now.”

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The Post-Match scenes were also highlighted by the On The Couch team, with Gary Lyon full of praise for the spirit in the group. “What we saw from St Kilda post game. I loved. This is Brett Ratten who has been able to bring a club together that has over time been disjointed for whatever reason,”

“12 months he has done this in,” Riewoldt interjected.

“This is pure joy,” Lyon continued as footage of the team singing the club song was shown. “What I saw in this is a club reveling in the success. Not of themselves. Not whether I am the Coleman Medallist or whether I am an All-Australian or whether I have had 35-touches. They are reveling in the success of the bloke next to them and that club there is everything that the GWS Giants aren’t.”

With Bulldogs Coach Luke Beveridge joining Ratten on AFL 360, the conversation turned to the prospect of the two of them squaring off in the first week of the finals. With the program taped prior to the Collingwood v Port Adelaide game it was not yet certain but Beveridge welcomed the prospect.

“Yeah, [but] as I said off air we’ll be the underdog,” he joked.

“Oh Bevo, Bevo, Bevo,” Ratten responded while smiling and shaking his head. “You’ve started already haven’t you.”

“You touched us up last time mate,” Beveridge continued. “So we’ll be definitely be coming from a few lengths behind,” he said with smile wide.”

It wasn’t all jokes from the Bulldogs coach though, he also expressed his deep respect for Ratten that was forged in the two years the pair spent as Assistant Coaches to Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn. “Yeah well I was with Ratts in ’13 and ’14, a couple of premiership years there at the Hawks, and Ratts is an outstanding coach,” Beveridge said.

“Actually before Ratts was appointed [as St Kilda coach] he never thanked me, but the Saints did ask me what I thought of him. They were doing their due diligence, he didn’t have me on his referee list but I gave him a glowing reference. Not that he needed it because he is an outstanding man and a great coach and obviously he has done significant things with the Saints this year. I really enjoyed my time with Ratts and we had a great rapport.”

Ratten’s responded that the feeling was most definitely mutual. “I back that up,” the Saints Coach said. “When we won on the weekend Bevo was one of the first people to text and Wished us well and congratulated us. He is a premiership coach and he has gone to the top of the mountain and I respect him enormously. What he did at Hawthorn but also what he has done at the Bulldogs. Yeah, it would be interesting if we played each other. We might not talk for a while afterward but we will probably catch up for a beer somewhere down the track.”

Despite the shared kind words, Beveridge was keen to maintain underdog status when asked by Robinson if that was still the case. “That’s right,” he responded. “Ratts is in the red and we are about 4-1”

After breaking the news on Fox Footy during the day, Tom Morris joined the On The Couch team to discuss why the AFL had failed to release the fixture for the first round of the finals upon the completion of the final game of the home and away season. “Normally we know at least by now, and maybe even before the last game of the season if the results are certain, exactly where the four finals are going to be in week one of finals,” Morris said. “But it seems at this point that the AFL is planning for St Kilda to play against the Western Bulldogs in an Elimination Final at the Adelaide Oval.”

“The obvious question is why?” he continued. “There is two reasons. One is a bigger crowd [at] the Adelaide Oval. About 20,000 at the Adelaide Oval as opposed to 7,500 at Metricon. So it would be at Metricon if it was in Queensland. The second reason is financial. It’s a big financial boost for the code to have two finals in South Australia and two finals in Queensland.”

It is at this point that we must point out that the first reason is a furphy, St Kilda had requested to play at the Gabba so a comparison between the Adelaide Oval and Metricon is about as relevant as comparing it to the home ground of the Noosa Tigers. Proud as punch though, Morris then asked Riewoldt thought of the carefully leaked AFL proposal that he had just shared. Needless to say the former Saints skipper was less than pleased by the idea.

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“It’s about the ability to at least have a choice. If you’ve finished sixth and have the right to a home final, you should be able to make that choice (of venue),” Riewoldt said. “Whether that is at the Gabba or at the Adelaide Oval, I think St Kilda as the home final team have earned the right to make that choice for themselves,” he said.

Gerard Whateley raised the subject with the St Kilda Coach on AFL 360. “Brett, are you being strong-armed? Could it be at Adelaide Oval if you do host the Elimination Final?”

“We’re not sure,” Ratten responded. “It’s been proposed a few venues so we’ll just wait and see but if that was the case we’ve been really happy to travel and do what we have to do as a football club. If the call is for us to go to Adelaide Oval, we’ll go there. So we’ll just wait and see.”

“You’ve nominated the Gabba though haven’t you?”

“I think it would be a preferred ground for us [given] where we are situated but it will be what the AFL decide and if it’s not there we’ll make it up as we go,” Ratten responded.

“The controversy is that I think everybody was of the view that the sides finishing in the top position on the ladder would get the choice as to where they play,” Gerard Healy offered to Tom Morris after having shown the clip of Ratten’s response to the subject.

“Yeah but if you look back to last year and previous years with Geelong for example and GMHBA the AFL picks where games are played,” Morris said, likening the 76km distance between GMHBA Stadium and the MCG to the 2000km between the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval. “Now clubs get a preference but I’m told very reliably that the AFL in the end the makes the final call and the final call, it looks like, will be the Adelaide Oval for that Elimination Final with the Saints and the Western Bulldogs on the Saturday Afternoon. Which will then presumably allow Brisbane to play against Richmond on the Saturday night here at the Gabba.”

“Do you think the AFL is strong-arming St Kilda? St Kilda is a club that, along with a few other clubs, rely on the support of the AFL financially,” Johnathon Brown asked Riewoldt. “If that’s Collingwood, do you think we’re having the same conversation?”

We should point out here that, if Morris’ reports earlier in the day were true we already knew the answer to this question. Morris reported prior to their clash with Port Adelaide, if Collingwood won and finished sixth that they would have hosted St Kilda in the Second Elimination Final at the Gabba.

“Probably not. Probably not,” Riewoldt responded.

“How does that make you feel then?” Asked Gary Lyon.

“We got spoken to at the start of the year about the 16 minutes (quarters) and not being able to change back to 20 because of the ‘integrity of the competition’ so if we’re true to that, well then the integrity of the competition, the team that finishes sixth should get the choice, shouldn’t they?” Riewoldt responded.

Riewoldt supported the club digging their heels in. “To the point it doesn’t become a distraction.” He also praised the manner in which Brett Ratten was responding. “I think Brett Ratten’s messaging was really good. Hey, we’re happy to play anywhere, anytime, doesn’t matter. Fly us to the moon, we’ll play there and we’ll win. It’s a good attitude,” he said.

The denial by Essendon in Round 18 to afford the retiring Tom Bellchambers a send-off game, despite the contest having no bearing on the finals brought back memories for Riewoldt of the last game of one of his good mates. “So Justin Koschitzke’s last game, which was his 200th game. I think it was also Milney and Blakey’s last games as well,” Riewoldt remembered. “So Kossie, this was when we had the sub, Kozzie was forced to wear the green vest in a dead rubber. In a game that we were up by 10 goals at half time and didn’t come on [until late in the third quarter]

“He should have come on earlier,” Healy asked?

“That’s embarrassing,” Brown said.

“It was a bit disrespectful. Yeah it was disrespectful we all felt. In a dead rubber,” Riewoldt concluded.

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“It leaves a bloody bitter taste in your mouth doesn’t it,” Healy agreed.

Riewoldt was also unhappy with an incident that occurred during the Saints victory over GWS that could have ended in disaster for Dan Butler. “We’ve legislated head bumps out of the game because they pose a serious risk to players,” he said during On The Couch’s The Good The Bad and The Ugly segment. “So the contact below the knees it got a little bit lost there for a few years and we paid it when it shouldn’t be, but this textbook reason why the free-kick was brought in. Because of moments like that where, if that leg gets trapped that’s potentially career-ending for Dan Butler. We saw it with Jamie Graham, we aren’t going to show it again because it’s so gruesome but I think its time to legislate that action out of the game and introduce suspensions.

With both coaches on the program, attention turned to the state of both lists on AFL 360. As a result Luke Beveridge fielded questions about Aaron Naughton’s fractured cheek bone and Mitch Wallace’s should injury that were picked up during the Bulldogs Round 18 match against Fremantle. “We think both boys should be ok depending on the circumstances on where we play,” Beveridge answered with an Elimination Final trip to Perth still a possibility for his team.

“Mitch had a bit of a deadening and numbing of the arm at the arm so you probably saw the expression on his face and the shock to the system. It appears as though he’s obviously got an injury there but we think that he is going to be ok. He might have a little bit of instability in his shoulder, it remains to be seen. Our medical staff will need to strap it up but I don’t think it is something that’s going to hold him back. Naughts will be operated on tomorrow and again, as I said, depending on the circumstances we’re hoping that he is going to be available based on the history of these types of injuries.”

In contrast, Ratten was happy to announce his squad was at near full strength. “We should be all clear for Zak Jones to come back. He’s got a bit of work to do but he’s progressing really well so hopefully he’s right to be available but we look pretty good. Lonie had a bit of a knee where he jarred it but he should be fine.”

While there were no injury concerns for the club a pair of veterans had hospital visits ahead of them in the near future with a pair of potential father/son or father/daughter prospects expected soon. “Yeah, well Em [Jarryn Geary’s wife Emma] is due, I think it was today actually. So we sort of are waiting to see,” Ratten told Whateley and Robinson. “Gears put an order in for Em if she could have it on Thursday which is our day off so hopefully it goes to plan but we’ll just wait and see.”

“They’ve been outstanding the girls and what they been put through and they’ve come up here. Jake Carlisle is expecting as well but Mel has gone back to just over the border in NSW there to be around family and she left about four or five weeks ago. So she’s not far off being due as well so we’ve got a couple of boys in that space.”

Robinson published his All Australian team in the Herald Sun on Monday Morning with Jack Steele in the centre position and Dan Butler on the interchange bench. Selections Ratten wholeheartedly endorsed. “Jack has had an outstanding year,” he said. “I think he would have voted probably the most times of any player in the Coaches Votes and Dan Butler is the number one small forward for scoring goals, I think he’s got 27, and I think he’s +10 over anyone else at forward fifty tackles. So he leads the goals and the pressure so I think they are really worthy selections.”

Did he think anyone else was worthy of Selection? “Dougal Howard has had a solid year. Rowan Marshall’s played well but I think those two boys have probably stood out the most throughout the season. Paddy Ryder’s last six weeks have been brilliant as well but I just think those two have probably had the most consistent years of everybody,” he said.

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