There were high stakes being played for when the Saints and Cats met at the Junction Oval in Round 16, 1946. With both sides separated only by percentage at the bottom of the ladder, it appeared certain that the loser would finish the year with the wooden spoon. A result that first year St Kilda Coach Allan Hird all but guaranteed his team would avoid during the lead up to the 1946 season.
“St Kilda hold the wooden spoon at present — but only temporarily,” The Sporting Globe reported him saying in the lead up to Round One. “There is excellent material offering, and the team must be much stronger. Beware the wrath of the Saints,” vowed the grandfather of future Essendon Brownlow Medallist James before explaining the reason for his bullishness.
“Saints were hit very badly during the war.” Hird continued, “But no fewer than 20 former players have returned from the Services and are available. Many are good types and quite young. This alone should greatly strengthen the side, but with recruits such as [Keith] Rosewarne, whom I expect to be a leading rover,” he said. These observations would seem on the mark at the conclusion of the Round 16 match up with the Cats.
One of the players St Kilda welcomed back from military service was a dashing key position player by the name of Keith Miller. Percy Taylor of The Argus wrote of the warm welcome the 26-year-old received on his return to Saints training, fresh off making his Test Cricket Debut for Australia v New Zealand in Wellington. “Miller, tall and well built, was a success both at full-back and full forward before going abroad with the RAAF,” Taylor wrote. “It should not take him long to return to form.”
The game against Geelong would prove to be Miller’s second last game at VFL level before leaving the game to focus on cricket. Two years later he would be part of the 1948 Invincibles team, led by Donald Bradman, that would complete their tour of England undefeated. Remarkably, Miller was not the only Invincible who was a part of St Kilda’s 1946 campaign. Sam Loxton, who would win the club goal kicking, was also a key part of Coach Hird’s plans for the season. Unfortunately, his season finished a week before the Geelong game and he too would retire at season’s end to pursue his Baggy Green dream.
Keith Rosewarne, despite it being his debut season, well and truly lived up to Hird’s pre-season declaration and became one of the competition’s leading rovers. A one-eyed St Kilda supporter, he had captained the club’s thirds before joining the AIF in 1942. Posted to Victoria upon the end of World War II, he was eager to return to the Junction Oval. According to Bruce Andrew of The Sporting Globe, ‘he was waiting with his togs on for St Kilda’s practice matches to begin.”
Known from his school days on as ‘the little kid with his socks down,’ Rosewarne quickly proved that what he lacked in height he made up for with cleverness and tenacity. He was selected for the Saints first game of the season and never looked back. In Round Three, he was widely considered Best on Ground and was recognised as such by The Sporting Globe. This was particularly remarkable as the Saints lost by 10 goals.
A week before the Cats game he was joined in the centre square by the familiar face of ruckman Roy Fountain. The pair had played many a game of inter-unit football while they were both stationed in New Guinea and Borneo. Their combinations formed during those years would play a role in Rosewarne’s best performance of a remarkable rookie season.
The 6000 fans in attendance would have had no idea of what they were about to witness when they arrived at the Junction Oval on a blustery Saturday afternoon. They would have remained so, when the Cats took a narrow first-quarter lead after taking advantage of the breeze on offer. Yet, powered by Rosewarne, Hird, Fountain, and Miller, the home team blew the visitors off the park in the second quarter. Displaying plenty of pace and determination they, as The Age described it, ‘indulged In an orgy of goal getting which nothing Geelong did could prevent.’ They would kick six unanswered goals and take a 35-point lead into the main break.
After breaking even in the third term against the breeze, it was a matter of how far St Kilda? Kicking goals from all angles, they would enjoy a fourth-quarter procession. Rosewarne would finish the day with six goals from the midfield and Miller two. The Saints final score of 20.10 (130) would prove to be it ‘s highest in four years and its highest ever against the Cats and the final margin of 71-points was also a record against Geelong.
For Alan Hird, this would arguably be the highpoint of his time in charge at Fitzroy Street. His reign as St Kilda Coach would come to an end at the end of the 1947 season and he would be replaced by Fred Froude. What he would have given to have had Loxton and Miller available but St Kilda’s loss was Australian Cricket’s gain.
For Sam Loxton, he would finish 1946 as a member of the Victorian Cricket team that would win the 1946-47 Sheffield Shield. Personally, he would finish eighth on the competition’s leading run-scorers list a list that would be headed by his St Kilda teammate Keith Miller. On top of his part in the Victorian’s Shield victory in 1946-47, the dashing Miller also played a starring role in Australia’s 3-0 Ashes victory.
Rosewarne’s 1946 season would end with the 22-year-old crowned St Kilda’s Best & Fairest, a fitting reward for a remarkable first season. He would play 92 games and kick 151 goals before retiring at the end of 1951. A quality player, he would represent Victoria and would be a stand out for the Saints throughout his time at the club.