Tom Harley of Geelong and Nick Riewoldt of St Kilda hold up the Premiership Cup during the 2009 Toyota AFL Grand Final Parade. Slattery Images
Ever since Nick Riewoldt clutched at his right hamstring on Friday evening, the footy world has waited with bated breath to hear the official diagnosis. The Saints have been loath to confirm any length of time.
But it now appears certain Riewoldt won’t be back until late in the regular season.
It is a big blow for St Kilda. His extended absence leaves a gaping hole.
Saints coach Ross Lyon’s off-the-cuff post-game comment that “if it was off the bone, do you reckon I would have half a smile on my face” (despite just overseeing a gutsy and resilient victory over a premiership contender) said it all.
Little did Lyon know his worst fears would be realised, even though Riewoldt’s hamstring tendon tear wasn’t off the bone.
A point raised in pre-season was that Riewoldt is probably the most important player to any team in the AFL and that the Saints would be a much weaker side without him.
So when he went down injured, so too did the Saints premiership hopes, according to some.
St Kilda doctor Tim Barbour confirmed on Wednesday: “We’re not going to give a definite number of weeks because he has to go through a rehab process, [but] we feel the latter minor rounds is a good estimate of when he’ll be back.”
It’s a long period of time without your most influential player, especially as a firm flag favourite trying to build a challenge for the premiership. There’s no doubt, in terms of quality, St Kilda will be weaker for his absence.
But this is a Saints side made of stern stuff.
They proved that last season when they went on a 19-game winning streak, before making it through to the Grand Final only to lose arguably through their inaccuracy in front of goal.
And coach Ross Lyon has a mantra which is all about doing whatever it takes and not making excuses or taking shortcuts, especially as they seek redemption for 2009’s Grand Final loss.
Riewoldt’s absence could be an easy excuse for a form slump, but you fancy Lyon won’t let that happen.
Brilliant vice-captain Lenny Hayes will step up to lead the group in Riewoldt’s absence and he won’t let standards slip either.
And the evidence of Friday night reiterates this point, as the Saints kicked six second-half goals to Collingwood’s none after Riewoldt limped off in the second term.
The Saints found a way to win without Riewoldt and against a genuine premiership contender.
And finding a way to win is something St Kilda have been doing for the last 12 or so months and if you look through their results in that period (including the NAB Cup), they rarely get beaten and often win close matches.
On Friday night, they didn’t necessarily need to kick a lot of goals, they just strangled their opposition (who admittedly struggled to kick straight in front of goal) in typical St Kilda fashion.
Lyon labelled it ‘magnificant’, while Riewoldt called it ‘amazing’.
The point must be made the Saints needed an ‘amazing’ performance to get over the line without Riewoldt and that won’t be easy to produce week-in week-out in his absence.
But the Saints will meet a lot of sides worse than Collingwood this season and efforts like last Friday’s won’t be demanded of them every week.
They will drop a game or two or three in Riewoldt’s absence, but considering the standards these Saints set, they should be thereabouts when Roo returns and we know he’ll be bursting at the seams come finals time.
And in some ways Riewoldt’s absence could be a blessing disguise if he’s mentally and physically fresh for September, so all is not lost for Saints just yet.
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