Before you walk: Hawthorn's Brad Sewell leads the crawl for the ball last night. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
HAWTHORN 3.6 8.9 13.11 18.15 (123) ST KILDA 3.2 7.3 12.7 13.10 (88)
GOALS Hawthorn: Rioli 6, Franklin 5, Roughead 2, Whitecross, Hale, Smith, Breust, Puopolo. St Kilda: Koschitzke 5, Riewoldt 3, Saad, Stanley, Fisher, Milne, Milera.
BEST Hawthorn: Rioli, Franklin, Lewis, Mitchell, Shiels, Guerra, Sewell. St Kilda: Koschitzke, Goddard, Hayes, Blake, Steven.
INJURIES Hawthorn: Stratton (knock to head). St Kilda: Armitage (back), Fisher (hamstring), McEvoy (knee) replaced in selected side by J Koschitzke.
UMPIRES Findlay, Mollison, Hay.
CROWD 42,289, at MCG.
AFTER stuttering starts to the season, no two teams in the AFL more needed this win. Hawthorn got it, courtesy of its usual suspects.
Cyril Rioli played football that spoke of a place far from a freezing Saturday night at the MCG to kick six sinuous, scintillating goals. At his peak last night, the crowd was searching him out, trying to second-guess his next trick. Few footballers have such a mesmerising effect.
That faraway place was on Rioli's mind, which was dwelling on the death on Friday of an uncle, Sebastien Rioli, father of former Essendon player Dean, in the Northern Territory. No more eloquent tribute will be heard than Rioli's display last night.
Lance Franklin kicked five and missed six in a typically mercurial performance. It was not that Sean Dempster, an unorthodox choice of opponent, was humbled. It was that most footballers look humble beside the sublime Franklin in full flight. If anything, the Hawks were unaccountably reluctant to play through him. Sometimes, they look as if they are trying to kick the perfect goal, rather than the next.
As is their wont, the Hawks were shaded for clearances, but cleaned up elsewhere. Sam Mitchell led all-comers with another 30-touch game. Despite some uncustomary profligacy in field kicking in the first half, weight of forward entries eventually told. Rather than fade out in the last quarter, a fatal failing this season, the Hawks dominated, turning a 10-point lead into a 35-point win.
St Kilda did the night as it is doing the season, hard. It had to replace three players before the match, including ruckman Ben McEvoy. It lost its plus-one master, Sam Fisher, just before half-time, with two debilitating consequences. One was the loss of his vision and drive from half-back. The other was to further free Luke Hodge, who was playing the same role at the other end, but now could take liberties, and did.
Most of what was good about the Saints on the night was accidental. Justin Koschitzke, not picked originally, played one of his twice-a-season goal-square colossus games, marking powerfully and kicking five goals. Nick Riewoldt was typically brave and might have had five of his own. This was the Saints' old firm. It needs new investment.
It also showed up an old soft spot in Hawthorn's otherwise purposefully assembled list. It was not helped this night by a heavy - and mostly self-inflicted - blow to Ben Stratton, which kept him off the field for the best part of a quarter.
At length, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson decided to cut a loss, replacing Jarrad Boumann, who had played most of the night on Koschitzke, with forward Paul Puopolo. His snapshot midway through the last quarter snuffed out the Saints' last expiring chance.
The other semi-serendipitous accident for the Saints was Fisher's exit, which played into the game Ahmed Saad, a mature-age recruit from the Northern Bullants. Classically, he goaled with his first kick, fastening onto a handball from Stephen Milne and snapping knowingly. Here was a glimpse of a new firm. But Milne, from the old firm, was blotted out of the match, kicking his only goal late in the last quarter. This is perhaps where the Saints are; between eras. Nick Dal Santo was well held last night, but Jack Steven continued to grow in a like role.
In a season that is taking longer than most to settle into a pattern, the place of these two sides in the grand scheme became a little clearer. Hawthorn recovered a little of its mojo last night, and with a string of eminently winnable games to come, ought to re-establish its claims - sorry, Alastair, our claims on them - to be a premiership pretender.
The poor old Saints, still without a prize scalp this season, get Carlton, West Coast and Sydney back-to--back. It is a route march.
NIGHT OF TRIBUTES
The Saints wore black armbands in support of retired teammate Steven Baker, who lost his father Greg during the week. A passionate supporter of his son, Greg Baker was famously one of the ground invaders at AAMI Stadium after Fraser Gehrig scored his 100th goal in a 2004 final. The Hawks wore armbands too, for Sibby Rioli. The uncle of Cyril, and father of former Essendon player Dean, died suddenly last week.
SAINTS GO MISSING
The Saints lost three players - Ben McEvoy, Beau Wilkes and Jamie Cripps - before the match, but it was Hawthorn who looked on the back foot midway through the first term. After clashing heads with David Armitage (the man who once had half an ear almost ripped off in a similar clash as a junior), a groggy Ben Stratton was helped over the boundary line. He was back in time for the second term. Instead it was the Saints who lost another, forced to sub Sam Fisher out at half-time.
St Kilda got good value from all its ''ins'', with Justin Koschitzke scoring goals at the start of the first, second and third quarters - then another two late in the third - and Dean Polo, who played a solid first half before conceding a 50-metre penalty - for Rioli's fifth goal - midway through the third term. Ahmed Saad was subbed on for Fisher in the third quarter and celebrated quickly, snapping a running goal.