ST KILDA emphatically tossed its hat into the ring of AFL finals aspirants with its most significant win of the season, a surprise 24-point victory against Carlton at the Docklands last night.
The four points were enough to elevate it into the eight, at Hawthorn's expense.
St Kilda looked more comfortable with Scott Watters' new method than they have all season, with small forwards Stephen Milne (four goals), Ahmed Saad (two) and Terry Milera (three) pivotal to the new look.
Stephen Milne shows his joy after kicking a goal. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Watters said that despite the attractive way St Kilda played, it was old-fashioned aggression that won the game. "First and foremost it's about the contest," he said. "I thought our guys were terrific in that regard. Unless we took care of business there, it wouldn't have mattered what forward structure we had in front. Having said that, we're starting to see some progression in some different types of forward set-ups. We need that."
The first-year coach said St Kilda was not about to transform itself into a free-wheeling and high-scoring team. "There's been a lot said, probably incorrectly, about wanting to play a game with flair and offence. You take that statement in isolation and it's incorrect. We want to be a strong defensive side.
"That will be the basis for anything that we do. But I've said this a number of times, we want to be a side that hurts oppositions on both sides of the coin. We want to become an offensive threat."
St Kilda ran and carried the football with more daring than it has showed since 2009, when it was the dominant team in the AFL before losing the grand final to Geelong. Watters' new game plan embraces the fanatical defensive pressure evident under former coach Ross Lyon, but has added leg speed and panache through the recruiting of mature-aged players Saad and Milera from the VFL and the SANFL.
It was a lost opportunity for Carlton, which would have taken top place on the ladder for the first time in three years had it won as most pundits expected. The Blues were generally subdued, conceding 11 goals in the first half and failing to apply sufficient defensive pressure.
Key Carlton playmakers went missing, notably Marc Murphy, who was obliterated by Clint Jones' heavy cloak. Captain Chris Judd was the only Blue to stand up throughout, winning 30 possessions and trying in vain to inspire his teammates.
Interestingly, St Kilda's win was achieved without heroics from skipper Nick Riewoldt, who was well held by Lachie Henderson, Nick Dal Santo or even Lenny Hayes, who spent most of the match manning up with Judd. The Saints were also without Sam Fisher, James Gwilt, Ben McEvoy and Adam Schneider.
St Kilda's heroics came from the likes of the 24-year-old Milera (recruited from Port Adelaide), Saad, 22, picked up from Northern Bullants, and Farren Ray, who came back into the side and played one of the best games of his career.
Earlier in the night, the Saints denied suggestions they have a looming salary cap problem with president Greg Westaway saying: "Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no crisis at the Saints. Every year there are 15 to 20 players coming off contract. It's the nature of the business."