Collingwood confronts old foe Carlton
Rohan Connolly previews round two of the 2013 AFL season with the highlight being Collingwood up against old foe Carlton.PT5M45S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2h70r 620 349 April 3, 2013
Richmond on the rise, St Kilda on the slide. That's what most folks thought over summer. Last week's round-one results probably confirmed that. And if the Tigers beat the Saints on Friday night, it will be definite confirmation.
Even though we are just into the second week of the season, this is a crunch game for both sides. It's a game Richmond should win. The Tigers are back on familiar turf at the MCG, after surviving last week's blockbuster against Carlton. They have had a couple of extra days to prepare, and they haven't had to travel to Queensland to play in the draining humidity as St Kilda did. So with plenty going for them, the Tigers shouldn't let their supporters down.
The Saints just can't afford to drop their first two games of the season, especially against sides that didn't play finals last year. If they do, they'll be playing catch-up football, which is what they did in 2012. They were stiff not to play finals in Scott Watters' first year as coach. Twelve wins and a very healthy percentage (123) would usually cement a top-eight spot, but not last year.
'Do the Saints still have the fire in the belly and some young, quick legs to spark them?' Photo: Getty Images
The Saints lost five games by 13 points or less, so they should not be dismissed lightly. Few would realise that the Saints' average score of 106 points per game was second only to Hawthorn. Watters gave his team more licence to attack than his predecessor, Ross Lyon, did. During Lyon's five-year tenure, the Saints' average score was 89 points per game, so Watters was able to conjure an extra three goals per game out of his players. But did that goal gain come at a cost?
In the two years that Lyon coached St Kilda to grand finals (2009 and 2010), it was the best defensive team in the competition, conceding on average just 68 points per game. Last year under Watters, the Saints conceded 86 points per game. In last week's loss to the Suns, the scary thing was that Gold Coast was able to kick seven goals in the final quarter to steal victory.
Watters is to be commended for implementing change. It had to happen. Good to see second-year players Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera thrown into a forward line far too reliant on two players - Nick Riewoldt and Stephen Milne.
Needing to lift: Sam Gilbert. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Pleasing to see 22-year-old ruck prospect Tom Hickey chosen last week over fading veteran Justin Koschitzke. Playing Rhys Stanley and Arryn Siposs in defence is helping their development and promoting the team's flexibility. And increased opportunities have made David Armitage and Jack Steven improving midfielders. But two who need to return to their best positions are Sam Gilbert and Clint Jones. Having Gilbert run with Gary Ablett was a disaster in round one. The rangy Saint is very good at taking intercept marks across half-back and his run and carry can launch positive attacks. But he gets lost in heavy traffic, when quick decisions have to be made. Jones is a tight tagger who does his best work in the thick of heavy traffic. Playing a permanent role in the back half limits the Saints' run and creative options with Jones back there. It's to be hoped he gets the tough job on Trent Cotchin on Friday night.
Both of these teams could learn from each other. The Tigers were fierce and frantic against Carlton, but you can't sustain that for 100 minutes. They needed to slow the game down at times to deny Carlton the ball and keep their composure. They couldn't do it, and almost lost.
The Saints, on the other hand, have plenty of battle-hardened veterans who have played in plenty of tight games and generally controlled the tempo to win more than they have lost. But do they still have the fire in the belly and some young, quick legs to spark them?
I would love to know why Brendon Goddard left St Kilda. Was it money, or a belief that his team could no longer match it with the best? Perhaps it was both.
It was only one game, but against the young Suns could Riewoldt and Milne have chased harder in the forward line? Between them they had one tackle. Did Nick Dal Santo spend all that he had? Was Farren Ray's mind on the job, because there were fumbles aplenty. Has the game gone past Jason Blake? And can Ben McEvoy become a top-line ruckman as he enters his sixth season? There are not enough fresh legs, so again, it's up to the old boys to carry the can. This time next year, Riewoldt, Milne, Koschitzke, Blake, Dal Santo, Jones, Lenny Hayes, Sean Dempster, Leigh Montagna and Sam Fisher will be 30-plus, with Adam Schneider not far away.
I think Richmond will try to run the Saints off their legs early. I also think I know the main reason Goddard decided to bail out on St Kilda; he could see a window closing.