The fifth part of this six-part series features the five players that the Port Adelaide Power, Richmond Tigers and St Kilda Saints can least afford to lose in season 2021 plus an honourable mention.
St Kilda have survived a ferocious fightback from the Western Bulldogs to claim a thrilling three-point win and set up a date with Richmond in the AFL semi-finals next week.
Entering the final with a seemingly-comfortable 24-point lead, the Saints found themselves on the back foot as their more-fancied opponents found another gear to get to within three points.
But the sixth-placed side held firm over the last two minutes to book their first trip to the semi-finals since 2010.
The match started with a dramatic first goal to ex-Saint Josh Bruce, who clutched at his new club’s jumper with pride and, while not quite hitting the heights of last night’s classic, stayed frenetic through the first quarter.
Tim Membrey got an equaliser for the St Kilda soon after, with Jason Johannisen, Max King and Hayden Crozier trading goals thereafter. Saints skipper Jarryn Geary had the chance to level the scores after the siren, but stabbed at his set shot.
Vastly superior pressure around the ball was aiding the Bulldogs’ cause, with the tackle count reading a lopsided 17-5 at quarter time.
The second quarter was one of the strangest of 2020. St Kilda played like absolute dodos in their defensive 50 and didn’t lift their pressure at all, but managed to ahead by seven points.
Jack Lonie snuck through the pack in the forward pocket to kick a point-blank goal from a free kick advantage and, although Mitch Wallis was able to get one back with a great set shot, another great King pack mark and goal and a snap to Paddy Ryder saw the Saints move ahead by seven at the main break.
It was more bad news for the Doggies at half time too, with Zaine Cordy appearing to badly injure his ankle – and his absence hurt them in the third quarter.
KEY FORWARD COMPARISON
With the Saints already much taller than their opponents, Cordy’s absence and the lack of a second ruckman allowed King, Membrey and Ryder to wreak havoc up forward. The latter two of that trio kicked their second goal each in the quarter, as the Saints opened up a 19-8 advantage in contested marks.
Jarryn Geary and Dan Butler added majors too, compared to just the lone goal to the Dogs from Josh Dunkley, as the sixth-placed side opened up a commanding 24-point advantage at the final break.
It took until almost the halfway point of the final quarter for the Dogs to get their comeback underway, but when they began they simply couldn’t be stopped. Aaron Naughton kicked his first of the game to get the ball rolling, before Geary nailed his second to get the margin back out to 22 points.
That wouldn’t be the sealer, yet, with quick goals to Tom Liberatore and Caleb Daniel closing the margin to just three points. The Bulldogs had other chances too, with an uncharacteristic miss from Wallis doing them no favours.
But the Saints were able to hold sway over the last two minutes and seal a famous win.
Dan Hannebery did most of his damage in the first half, before finishing with 20 disposals – but the real story of the day was St Kilda’s aerial dominance. Geary, King, Jake Carlisle, Ryder, Dougal Howard and Rowan Marshall all had multiple contested marks.
Howard, in particular, ran rings around the Doggies key forwards, amassing 20 disposals and six marks, compared to a combined 11 disposals and two goals to Naughton and Bruce.
The Dogs were led admirably by Daniel (26 disposals), Bailey Smith (24 disposals, four clearances) and Bontempelli (20 disposals, four clearances), but were too far off it in the second and third quarters.
The Saints will play Richmond in next week’s semi-final, while it’s a second straight elimination final loss for the Bulldogs, who are yet to win a final since their 2016 premiership triumph.
St Kilda – 2.2 | 5.4 | 9.6 | 10.7 (67)
Western Bulldogs – 3.1 | 4.3 | 5.6 | 9.10 (64)
Saints: King 2, Membrey 2, Ryder 2, Geary 2, Lonie, Butler
Bulldogs: Bruce, Johannisen, Crozier, Wallis, Dunkley, Naughton, Hunter, Liberatore, Daniel