It seems no team can beat the premiership favourite Saints after the Bulldogs couldn’t, writes Colby Allen.
The match had been billed as one of the games of season 2009. Two teams desperate to taste premiership success for only the second time in their proud histories, so there was no doubt we were in for a showcase of Aussie Rules football at its finest. The Bulldogs suffered a big blow before the game had even begun, with Lindsay Gilbee pulling out of the blockbuster clash for personal reasons. Dylan Addison came into the side in his absence.
The Saints drew first blood early on, James Gwilt converting a soft free kick decision to put the ball through the big sticks from 30 out. The free flowing style of football that fans were promised in the pre-match build up was on show early on, with the Saints looking to play on from marks whenever possible. Saints skipper Nick Riewoldt started well and had the chance to add to the Saints goal tally early on, but spurned a chance from outside fifty. The Bulldogs sparked to life mid-way through the first quarter, as Matthew Boyd found some space and laid on the first goal of the game for the Dogs. The defensive pressure all over the ground was the focal point of the opening term, bone-crunching tackles meaning players had only seconds to dispose of the ball.
The Saints went into the quarter time break with a hard earned 13-point lead, the scoreline reading 4.3.27 to 2.2.14 after an intense opening term. Gwilt was the only multiple goal scorer from the opening quarter, with two goals to his name at the break. Riewoldt also aided his team’s cause with some hard running and 1.1, while Jason Gram also managed to score off a long bomb from outside the 50. Addison and Boyd were the only goal scorers for the Bulldogs, Boyd shaping up to have an exceptional match, picking up an impressive 11 disposals. Saint Brendon Goddard wouldn’t have surprised many with his excellent first quarter outing, picking up a lazy 15 disposals and directing traffic for the rampaging Saints. Will Minson would be disappointed with his output in the first term, the big man for the Dogs dropping two simple marks and letting rare scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs go to waste.
The Saints once again came out in their typical explosive fashion in the second quarter, Stephen Milne scoring a snap shot from 30 to give the Saints a three goal lead. The livewire forward added another to his tally shortly after The warning alarms were ringing for the Bulldogs, they’d need to dig deep in order to keep up with the current ladder leaders. The Dogs desperately needed someone to step up and steady the ship. That man was Robert Murphy, who slotted a set shot to give the Bulldogs some hope. The Saints looked a class above the Bulldogs throughout the second quarter, directing traffic and completely controlling the game with ease. St Kilda had soon amassed a 33 point lead, with two quick goals from Sean Dempster and skipper Riewoldt. The hopes of the Bulldogs fans were sinking, as the prospect of a massacre at the hands of the league leaders started to sink in. The Bulldogs brought the margin back to 31 points on the cusp of half-time after a long bomb from Callan Ward sailed between the big sticks. As the siren sounded, the Bulldogs walked off the field knowing they’d have to pull off a minor miracle to topple the St Kilda powerhouse.
Milne had a wonderful second term to break the backs of the Bulldogs, kicking three goals to provide headaches for Rodney Eade. Lenny Hayes as always was in exceptional form, at the half-time break having racked up an amazing 26 touches, with Goddard closely following with 21 disposals off the half-back flank. Boyd and Shaun Higgins were two of the few Bulldogs to inflict any damage upon the Saints, racking up 48 disposals between them with Boyd also kicking a goal to try and give his side some hope.
A spray from Eade at half-time seemingly lifted the Bulldogs at half-time, a chase and tackle from Mitch Hahn inside the forward fifty saw the Dogs score the first goal of the second half. But the good start made by the Dogs was halted when gun midfielder Higgins broke down with a groin injury early in the third quarter. Despite the improved intensity the Dogs made simple skill errors which kept them from capitalising on their efforts, and only the Saints’ inaccuracy in front of goal kept the margin within six goals. Not to be denied the Saints eventually broke through and scored a goal from point blank range courtesy of Robert Eddy.
The Saints were content to simply drain the intensity out of the match, often chipping the ball around until an option presented itself, a direct contradiction of their typical fast-paced game plan. It proved to be a long time before we saw another goal in the third term, but Ryan Griffen tried to make amends for an unusually quiet game and broke away from his opponent to kick just the third goal of the term. A rare mistake from Sam Fisher saw the umpire ping the 27 year old for holding the ball. Long serving Bulldog Nathan Eagleton made no mistake with the free kick, nailing the shot and breathing some life in to the once dead Dogs. There was a faint glimmer of hope for the Bulldogs as the siren went to signal the end of a lackluster third term. The crowd rallied behind the players to get them over the line, but with Higgins gone for the night it would take a tremendous effort from the tenacious dogs to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.
As always Boyd was leading the charge against for the Bulldogs, picking up 30 touches to bring the best out of his team-mates. A worrying sign for the Dogs was the fact that they were yet to have a multiple goal scorer, with seven different goal scorers for the match. It was a different story for St Kilda however, Milne had three goals to his name with Riewoldt and Gwilt chipping in with two goals a piece. The scoreline of 10.7.67 to -7.7.49 would have encouraged the Bulldogs, as they would surely think themselves capable of overtaking the Saints’ three goal margin.
In one of the most bizarre starts to a quarter in recent history, the Bulldogs incredibly started the final term with an extra man on the field, the resulting free kick from the goal square was easy for Riewoldt to slot through to halt any momentum the Bulldogs had taken out of the third term. The hearts of Bulldogs fans around the country sank at the site of Milne running into goal to slot home his fourth major of the match to surely seal the fate of the Bulldogs. The sounds of silence from the Bulldogs fans were deafening, all the momentum had shifted into the Saints favour, it was now just a matter of stopping the bleeding for the tiring Dogs. An encouraging sign for the Bulldogs was an excellent piece of play between Liam Picken and Ward which saw the Bulldogs ping their first goal of the last quarter, but the fight the Bulldogs had been showing was slowly fading away, as the players slowly but surely accepted their fate. An inevitable flood of goals ensued, the Saints kicking four goals to run out 45 point winners to re-affirm their status as the best side in the land.
The final score line read 16.10.106 to 9.7.61, a clear indication of the dominance that St Kilda enjoyed for most of the match. Boyd racked up an amazing 39 disposals with 6 marks, 6 tackles plus a goal and it’s no hard feat to figure out who will be picking up the three Brownlow Medal votes tonight. Goddard lead the way for the Saints, also picking up 39 disposals and 9 marks to orchestrate a brilliant win for the Saints. Between them, Milne and Riewoldt kicked 10 goals of St Kilda’s total 16 major scores, practically winning the game off their own boot.
With this decisive victory the Saints confirm their place as the league and ladder leaders, is there any team that can defeat the premiership favourites? Is there any side that can even hope to end the Saints’ dream of an undefeated season? Is there a team in the league that can keep the Saints from winning only their second premiership in their history? Only time will tell, but on tonight’s performance, it’s not likely.