If we weren’t sure before today, then we definitely are now; Sydney, after a crushing 50-point win over a hapless St Kilda, are officially back.
St Kilda Saints 10.8.68
Sydney Swans 18.10.118
Two teams in red-hot form will lock horns at Etihad Stadium when the St Kilda Saints host the Sydney Swans. Join The Roar for live scores, updates and analysis from 1:45pm AEST.
Many pundits tipped St Kilda to be one of the biggest improvers this season, and with five wins from their past six games, the Saints’ five-year finals drought looks set to end in 2017.
It has been a long and at times painful rebuild under coach Alan Richardson, but the Saints appear to finally be reaping the rewards for their patience, giving their supporters genuine hope that an elusive second premiership may be just around the corner.
The likes of Jack Steven and Seb Ross have been enormous in midfield, Tim Membrey has continued his rise into the game’s elite up forward, and the arrival of Nathan Brown and Jake Carlisle’s return from a doping suspension has filled the key defensive void that has plagued the Saints in the past.
And the inclusion of Brown and Carlisle has had a flow-on effect, with the newly freed up Dylan Roberton in All-Australian form across half-back.
An upset win over GWS in Round 7 got the footy world talking, with the Saints’ slick ball movement, ferocious tackling and brilliance up forward leading some to consider them a genuine premiership chance this season.
And while they weren’t quite as impressive against Carlton, their ability to grind out a win against a troublesome opponent would have been almost as satisfying for the coaching staff.
And with Paddy McCartin running rampant in the VFL, the selectors have had the luxury of omitting Josh Bruce for this match, with the 2014 No.1 draft pick coming in for his first game since Round 3.
While many predicted the Saints’ rise, the Swans’ fall from grace has taken the football community by complete surprise.
The struggles of Luke Parker and Dan Hannebery in midfield were noted, as was the lack of supply afforded to Lance Franklin up forward, and when the Swans were defeated by Carlton in Round 6, the eulogies were already being prepared.
But with their season on Death Row, the Swans have finally found something resembling their best form, and while they were always expected to beat lowly Brisbane in Round 7, their triumph over an in-form North Melbourne was more like the Sydney of old.
Parker and Hannebery have found some badly needed touch in the past few weeks, Isaac Heeney’s return from illness has been crucial, and youngsters Will Hayward and Zak Jones have continued to impress.
Even more encouragingly, their 42-point win over the Roos featured only one goal from Franklin, with the Swans sharing the load around with eleven goalkickers.
Remarkably, despite their 2-6 record, the Swans are still very much in the finals race, and a win here would confirm that they are, in fact, back to their best.
Dane Rampe’s return into the backline is a huge bonus for Sydney, who have sorely missed his intercept marking and calm head in defence, while Kurt Tippett’s inclusion will give Callum Sinclair some support in the ruck and up forward.
It’s difficult to judge whether Sydney have truly turned around their season, given that both Brisbane and North Melbourne are predicted to finish in the bottom six this season. St Kilda present a much tougher challenge, and at the end of the day, it should be the Saints saluting their fans with a fourth consecutive victory.
St Kilda by 17 points
Saints captain Jarryn Geary has won the admiration of teammates and fans alike with his fierce courage and determination, and the veteran is one of three milestone men for this game, with his 150th appearance coinciding with teammate Jack Newnes and Swan Dane Rampe’s 100th games.
Can Geary mark the occasion by leading his team to another confidence-boosting win? Or will the Swans prove to the footy world that they can’t be discounted in 2017 just yet?
Tune into The Roar from 1:45pm (AEST) for our rolling blog of the match, and remember to leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.