In a low-scoring season, negatively influenced by overly cautious ball movement, fear of turn overs and an emphasis on defensive structures, St Kilda is one of a few sides providing a sense of football fulfilment.
For the second time this season, I commentated a game involving the Saints on the weekend and came away wanting more.
The Saints approach to Saturday’s clash with Richmond was a stark indication of the self-assuredness flowing through the side from Moorabbin.
A careful approach to ball movement and denying the Tigers possession has been an effective method for stifling the reigning premier. But rather than follow the pack, St Kilda played its style. A style that’s both compelling to watch and effective.
The Saints filled a clear void in their playing list by adding genuine speed and evasive line-breakers. Bradley Hill, Zac Jones and Dan Butler have given them much-needed zip, zig and zag.
The Saints’ wins over the Bulldogs and Richmond were built around a style of football that’s exciting to watch and a departure from the modern defence-first mindsets that detract from the spectacle.
Brett Ratten has given his side the freedom to enjoy the game — to play with instinct and natural flair. There’s a want to move the ball quickly, a willingness to use the centre corridor or go long to a forward-line contest.
And when the ball is on the ground, look out. A crew of crafty crumbers including Butler, Jack Lonie, Dean Kent, Jade Gresham and Jack Billings, is ready to swoop.
Richmond clearly isn’t playing to the usual Richmond standard, but I fully expect the Tigers to be relevant again at the business end of the season.
In modern football, teams that are even just a few per cent off their best get beaten.
The Tigers are lacking their usual synergy and aren’t bringing their trademark pressure on a consistent basis, but write them off at your peril.
The slow start to 2020 has led to valid questions about Richmond’s desire and the form of key players has been rightly scrutinised.
Last year’s premiership-winning side is clearly frustrated by its lack of performance and that’s been reflected in several undisciplined acts in recent weeks.
Defender Nick Vlastuin lost his composure against the Saints on Saturday, while Jack Riewoldt’s forearm to the back of Hawk James Sicily last week was out of character.
Riewoldt has been a magnificent servant of the Richmond Football Club. A three-time Coleman medallist and heart-and-soul competitor.
Much like the team, he seems flat. Grandstand expert and former Essendon Premiership player Adam Ramanauskas wants Riewoldt pushed up field to gain some confidence.
“But he wasn’t in the game today, the ball went to Lynch a lot.
“I just think Jack needs to come up the ground a little bit, just get himself into the play, come behind the ball, even put him on a wing for 10 minutes in a quarter just to get him going.”
On Thursday night Richmond plays West Coast on the Gold Coast. It’s a crunch game in this condensed season and one likely to shape the fortunes of two sides expected to contend this season — two sides slow out of the blocks and needing to take Usain Bolt strides from here.
While Richmond and West Coast have perplexed, Port Adelaide has produced. The Power is the AFL’s only undefeated side, with a whopping percentage of 236 and a power-forward finding ominous form.
Physically, Charlie Dixon is a beast of a player and a nightmare matchup for defenders. He’s aggressive and imposing — like an old-growth tree surrounded by saplings in marking contests.
But despite these attributes, Dixon’s only been a sporadic performer, often cruelled by a few wonky limbs.
His six majors against the Eagles have him leading the Coleman medal. If Dixon can find some consistency he’ll take some beating this season — something his side has already proven.
Dixon’s former side, Gold Coast, claimed a third consecutive win with a 13-point victory over Fremantle. The Suns have been this season’s surprise packets and sit inside the top four with three wins and only one loss.
Gold Coast enjoyed a similarly productive start to 2019 and proceeded to lose their next 19 games. But this appears a different and, dare I say it, more trustworthy outfit.
The Suns will travel to Kardinia Park this weekend with justifiable belief they can win at a venue where they’ve lost on all five visits — three times by more than 100 points.
It’s a huge test, but don’t rule out a huge upset. After all, this is 2020.