AFL 2022: St Kilda defeats Fremantle by 10 points in Perth

Brett Ratten let a wasteful St Kilda have it at quarter-time, and it turned the match against Fremantle on its head – with one of the villains of round 1 helping spark the turnaround.

Tim Membrey faces off with his Fremantle opponents. Picture: Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Tim Membrey faces off with his Fremantle opponents. Picture: Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Brett Ratten gave his side a good old-fashioned and almighty spray at Optus Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

At the time, St Kilda trailed Fremantle by 14 points and hadn’t yet scored a goal.

Whatever he said at quarter-time, it worked.

The Saints settled in the second term, before exploding in the third to set up a 10-point win.

Three goals in four minutes from the boot of Max King finally gave the Saints some reward for the work they were doing.

Jack Higgins went with King, also kicking three goals in that third term.

Both ended with four in the Saints 9.11 (65) to 8.7 (55) victory.

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Max King crashes the pack. Picture: Daniel CarsonAFL Photos
Max King crashes the pack. Picture: Daniel CarsonAFL Photos

King’s fourth, with just four minutes left in the game, finally took the fight out of the home team.

The Saints walked off Marvel Stadium in round one having lost by less than three goals. Higgins had 0.4 next to his name and Max King 1.3.

Ratten was pleased with how both players, Higgins in particular, rallied.

“The pleasing aspect of Jack; he got some feedback during the week… he was our best pressure player in our forward half and the reward came with the goal scoring,” Ratten said.

“The way he went about it, he worked hard all day and got his rewards.

“Same with Max. Max had an opportunity early and it didn’t go his way. But he persisted and got three vital goals, which were important.

“But I like his resilience and him sticking to his task.”

It was the Saints’ first win at Optus Stadium, having lost both previous attempts against the venues two residents.

While the Saints left Perth injury-free ruckman Paddy Ryder will push for selection after a successful return from an achilles injury, in the VFL.

He played more than three quarters for Sandringham and finished with 26 hit-outs.

“His timing looked a little out in centre bounces, but I think he had good impact and it was good to have him out there,” Ratten said.

“He marked the ball around the ground, which is something we want to see. He did a good job.”

STARTS IN THE MIDDLE

Rowan Marshall and Jack Hayes were solid in the ruck against Fremantle’s Sean Darcy and Lloyd Meek, at least halving the hitouts.

But the Saints midfielders dominated the clearances, taking an advantage in that area by 11 around the ground.

The centre clearances is where they really impacted though, winning that battle 14-4.

Brad Crouch, Jade Gresham, Jack Sinclair and Jack Steele were too much for Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw to contend with, although he tried.

Notably, the game changed dramatically early in the third term when Darcy was forced from the ground with an ankle injury. He returned the ground, but didn’t last long and was subbed out at three-quarter time.

Jack Higgins found his radar in the second half. Picture: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos
Jack Higgins found his radar in the second half. Picture: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos

FAILURE TO ATTACK

Although the Saints trailed by two goals at halftime, the signs were good.

They took on whatever Ratten said to them at quarter-time and were the best team on the ground from that point.

They certainly created more than enough opportunity to be in front at the main break.

Against Collingwood in round 1, lack of opportunity in attack cost the Saints. Only West Coast and Richmond had fewer inside-50 entries last week.

While they did the extra work early on Sunday, they failed to make the most of their chances early.

The Saints went forward 11 time more than the Dockers in the opening half and had nine shots on goal to Fremantle’s six.

Yet they trailed.

But when you go forward with 34 per cent efficiency, you aren’t going to win too many games.

Max King kicked three goals in a four-minute purple patch. Picture: Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Max King kicked three goals in a four-minute purple patch. Picture: Will Russell/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Alex Pearce had managed to keep King to just two possessions to that point and the Saints key forward was forced to spend a bit of time on the bench.

Purely on weight of numbers, the Saints were going to give themselves a chance to get back into the game after the main break.

Sparked by King and Higgins that efficiency improved to almost 50 per cent by the end of the game.

GOOD KICKING IS GOOD FOOTBALL

It’s an old saying, but teams who kick accurately at goal have a greater chance of winning.

Fremantle, the least accurate team in the competition in 2021, kicked what looked like a very accurate 3.0 in the first term on Sunday.

But the scoreboard doesn’t show the three shots, from Michael Walters, Rory Lobb and Sam Switkowski, that failed to score anything at all.

Fortunately for Fremantle, the Saints weren’t making them pay at the other end,

Gresham and Higgins had the first two scoring shots of the game, missing both.

Higgins, who kicked 0.4 in the Saints 17-point loss to the Pies in Round 1, finally got on the board in the second term when the Saints started to get on top.

It was to be his first of four goals, including those three in the third term.

If Tim Membrey had converted better than the 0.3 he had at halftime, the Saints could well have been in front.

Bradley Hill loses the ball in a tackle. Picture: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos
Bradley Hill loses the ball in a tackle. Picture: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos

SCOREBOARD

DOCKERS 3.0 5.1 6.4 8.7 (55)

SAINTS 0.4 2.7 8.10 9.11 (65)

ELBOROUGH’S BEST

Dockers: Brayshaw, Ryan, Young, Brodie, Switkowski, Lobb.

Saints: Crouch, Battle, Steele, Higgins, Hill, King.

GOALS

Dockers: Lobb 2, Colyer 2; Walters, Brayshaw, Meek, O’Driscoll.

Saints: Higgins 4, King 4; Butler.

INJURIES
Dockers: Darcy (ankle). Saints: Nil.

Umpires: Meredith, Dore, Heffernan.

Crowd: 25,284, Optus Stadium

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

BRAD ELBOROUGH’S VOTES

3. B. Crouch (StK)

2 J. Battle (StK)

1 A. Brayshaw (Frem)

More than winning will keep Ratten safe

– Jon Ralph

Any coach who goes into the last season of his contract with the spectre of Alastair Clarkson hanging over him is very far from safe.

But as Brett Ratten attempts to coax fire and brimstone from a Saints team labelled “meek” by club champion Nick Riewoldt, the terms of reference to win a new contract are important to define.

St Kilda fans might be sick of hearing the calls for patience but in their heart of hearts they know the list is not yet good enough to contend.

Despite the vast sums spent on Dan Hannebery and Brad Hill.

Despite the treacle-slow list build that has seen the Saints play in only a single finals series since 2011.

Brett Ratten knows he has to produce on two fronts this season.
Brett Ratten knows he has to produce on two fronts this season.

Despite the open letter written to fans by president Andrew Bassat that the window of opportunity starts this year.

Rattan’s task this year is to play highly competitive finals-winning football that simultaneously fast-tracks kids who might one day make up that premiership side.

Ken Hinkley’s second-to-last contract had a clause which literally granted him another season if he dragged Port Adelaide into the finals in a given year.

Yet St Kilda’s powerbrokers believe Ratten will be their long-term coach and point to the side he selected in Round 1 as proof he is coaching for the future as well as the now.

There was Jack Hayes instead of journeyman Tom Campbell, rewarding the club in one of footy’s most astonishing breakout games.

NGA midfielder Mitch Owens was handed a debut instead of emergency Ben Long in another nod to the future, with 2021 draftee Marcus Windhager not too far off.

No. 11 draft pick Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera was last week’s sub and given his elite disposal will make his debut in the actual 22 proper against Fremantle this week.

Jack Hayes made a stunning debut in a great sign for the future at St Kilda.
Jack Hayes made a stunning debut in a great sign for the future at St Kilda.

Ratten’s No. 1 priority is to win football games for this side, so he won’t play the under-23s if the veterans are ahead of them.

But he has the support of the club’s football hierarchy to play a team that meets both objectives — playing finals while progressing the list.

None of that exonerates Ratten from questions that could still get him fired should this season turn pear shaped.

Why haven’t Ben Long and Josh Battle developed as planned, even if Battle has now found a role in defence this year?

Why has Dan Butler gone backwards from that 29.12 first season at the Saints?

How does he expect St Kilda to win playing 20 minutes of quality football?

St Kilda did consider extending Ratten’s contract over summer but ultimately made a decision it was in no rush given this season would give it a bigger sample size.

It knew that delay would heighten the pressure on Ratten, and getting rolled by a rebuilding Collingwood side was the worst possible way to avoid a season of scrutiny.

The Saints will have cap space to be aggressive at year’s end, with Hannebery missing a games-based trigger clause and money set aside for newly re-signed Gold Coast star Ben King.

In another positive for the Saints, ruckman Rowan Marshall is keen to kick off contract talks.
In another positive for the Saints, ruckman Rowan Marshall is keen to kick off contract talks.

Ruckman Rowan Marshall wants to stay and the club will kickstart contract talks as soon as he gets games under his belt, but he isn’t going anywhere.

If Ratten unearths four exciting kids but wins nine games does he still get that extension?

If he scraps his way to 11 but the Saints further from contention what happens then?

The hope is that by introducing Wanganeen-Milera’s elite kicking, by watching King turn into an elite forward, by turning Sharman into a genuine third target the Saints play finals AND open a flag window.

Moving on Ratten would be a departure from St Kilda’s plans so he needs to make it easy for departing CEO Matt Finnis and Lethlean, elevated from his football role to the club’s new chief.

Bottom line: this list just isn’t good enough right now so Ratten’s job has twin objectives, which makes his job twice as challenging.

But at least he knows the score ahead of his year of living dangerously.

Originally published as AFL 2022: St Kilda defeats Fremantle by 10 points in Perth

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