Heads-up: Melbourne's Nathan Jones evades St Kilda's Rhys Stanley on Saturday night. Photo: Mal Fairclough
ST KILDA 1.3 4.5 8.610.8(68) MELBOURNE 2.22.10 4.116.15(51)
GOALS St Kilda: Riewoldt 3, Stanley 2, Armitage, Templeton, Geary, Gwilt, Saunders. Melbourne: Byrnes 2, Vince, Terlich, Tyson, Toumpas.
BEST St Kilda: Jones, Riewoldt, Dunstan, Ray, Curren, Dempster. Melbourne: Jones, Tyson, Watts, Vince, Grimes.
UMPIRES: Scott Jeffery, Chris Kamolins, Heath Ryan.
OFFICIAL CROWD: 31,657 at Etihad Stadium.
No one would ever accuse St Kilda of having a bandwagon these days, but what little popular critical support the Saints have been able to muster all but evaporated after their lamentable NAB Challenge performance against Greater Western Sydney a few weeks back.
By the time the Saints picked their 22 for Saturday night's season-opener against Melbourne, minus Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes, Jack Steven, Sam Fisher and Adam Schneider, they were about the least fancied football team in town.
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Riewoldt (3.0), Stanley (2.0), Saunders (1.1), Templeton (1.1), Armitage (1.0), Geary (1.0), Gwilt (1.0), Billings (0.1), Dunstan (0.1), Jones (0.1), Savage (0.1)||Scorers||Byrnes (2.0), Vince (1.4), Terlich (1.0), Toumpas (1.0), Tyson (1.0), Pedersen (0.3), Bail (0.1), Howe (0.1), Jones (0.1), Trengove (0.1)|
Which makes their 17-point win over the more-fancied Melbourne (perhaps in itself an indication of how far on the nose were the Saints) a nice little thumbing of the nose exercise for an entire club. Particularly after a start which served only to underline the critical disdain.
Melbourne dominated the first 15 minutes of this game so completely that it seemed only a matter of time before it converted that advantage to something more fruitful on the scoreboard.
The Demons had the first goal within two minutes, aided by St Kilda's stumbles, Sean Dempster's hurried clearing kick finding Jimmy Toumpas, who banged it back over his head. More ominous still from an individual as well as team perspective was the second for Melbourne - Jack Watts sweeping through the centre, taking on opponents, exchanging a one-two with handball then giving off to Dean Terlich, who got the Demon fans roaring.
Melbourne did all the attacking, had a mortgage on the early stoppages, and could easily have had several more goals on the board, Bernie Vince hitting the post twice. St Kilda didn't even open its account until 16 minutes in. But once it did, it began to more than hold its own.
Suddenly, it was the Demons starting to make the basic errors, a turnover ending with a mark and goal to the Saints' Rhys Stanley, the difference only five points at a quarter-time. And by the half-time break, Melbourne was looking as fumbly and uncertain as the Saints had at the start.
It was three goals to zip in the second term, St Kilda hitting the front only a minute in thanks to Josh Saunders. Now, it was the Saints' turn to get excited, recently promoted rookie Eli Templeton in perhaps the play of the first half picking up cleanly, dishing off and getting it back from Saunders, and slamming through his first goal in AFL football.
Templeton wasn't the only bright light for the new-look Saints. Draftee Luke Dunstan was particularly impressive, and the still-raw Jimmy Webster and Tom Curren also played leading parts in their side's resurgence.
Watts was busy for the Dees, and co-skippers Jack Grimes and Nathan Jones what you'd expect, but the possession game Melbourne was attempting to play for its new coach Paul Roos amounted to little.
Watts would continue to offer hope with his jinking runs, too. Another within a minute of the start of the second half had Melbourne within a point as Shannon Byrnes got on the end of a chain of handballs.
But St Kilda was about to unleash its best football of the night. First, Stanley capitalised on a costly turnover from experienced Demon James Frawley in the middle of the ground. The same Saint set up the next, with a long kick to Nick Riewoldt, who'd been busy all night but was about get busier.
His second goal was followed by a third within a minute, marking in front of Demon defender Tom McDonald, who'd been hobbling around on one leg since before quarter-time. And the pick of them came from David Armitage, running on to a lovely tap from Saint ruckman Tom Hickey and dobbing one on his left boot from hard up against the boundary. Now it was the Saints by 26 points.
And from there the Saints clung on to their advantage well enough. Dom Tyson's goal early in the last quarter put Melbourne within 13 points again, but it was answered soon enough by a long bomb from James Gwilt.
Bernie Vince repeated that dose for the Demons, but Jarryn Geary restored the status quo. And in a game that anyone or either team really struggled to take by the scruff of the neck, that was that.
St Kilda's own Jones, Clint, one of three in this game, deserved some pretty decent raps for a career-high 39 disposals. He's never been a stylist but his actual desire can seldom be questioned.
First-up winning coach Alan Richardson will be rapt with Dunstan, the still largely unheralded Curran and Saunders, Hickey in the ruck. And, yet again, the tireless Riewoldt.
And Melbourne? Well, the gap was a lot closer than it has been at times these past few miserable years. But the bottom line remains defeat. Just six goals for the game, and only four after the seven-minute mark. And a 17th consecutive loss at Docklands. Paul Roos will leave his mark on this side yet. But even he probably has a better idea now of the size of the task ahead.