THE SECOND Ross Lyon era at St Kilda has started in stirring style, with the Saints revealing a new game style that proved too much for Fremantle, winning a brutal clash at Marvel Stadium by 15 points on Sunday.

SAINTS v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats

Undermanned and underdogs against a 2022 finalist that is expected to improve, the Saints played with discipline and dare to give Lyon a first-up victory against the club he coached to a Grand Final.

It was nail-biting clash that remained alive until the final minutes, but the Saints refused to relent under pressure defensively and took their chances, kicking five unanswered goals to seal the 10.7 (67) to 7.10 (52) win.


To underline that this is a new era on-field as well as in the coaches' box, they did it with impressive performances from debutants Mattaes Phillipou and Anthony Caminiti, who each had key involvements in the final term.


It was always going to be a matter of system over talent for the Saints, who entered round one with 14 players on their injury list, including up to eight of their best line-up and a cluster of tall forwards. The Dockers, by comparison, were missing only Michael Walters from their best 22.

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Hard work at the coalface and an ability to force turnovers with relentless defensive pressure were the keys. Once they won possession, the Saints showed great dare to play on and move the ball through the corridor.


Midfielders Brad Crouch (30 disposals and four clearances), Jack Steele (28 and seven inside 50s) and Ryan Byrnes (27 and five) were excellent against the Dockers' highly touted onballers.

They gave the Saints a 35-29 advantage in clearances, despite the ruck dominance of the Dockers, who won the hitouts 46-19 through Sean Darcy and Luke Jackson, with Rowan Marshall battling manfully against the star pair.

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Half-back Jack Sinclair relished the Saints' new style and was a star with 26 disposals and 10 rebounds, while defender Callum Wilkie shut down dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe in his first game as a forward target.

Already undermanned, the Saints achieved the win while a man down for much of the second half after activating substitute Ben Paton only to lose defender Jimmy Webster to an apparent leg injury moments after. 


They were spent by the final siren and earned every one of the valuable four points, with Fremantle left to go back to the drawing board after its game style was blunted by a well-organised unit willing to stick to a plan.

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The Dockers, by comparison, were lacking in energy with their play and too often conservative with their ball movement.

They built a 12-point lead early in the third quarter but couldn't capitalise thereafter, with forwards Matt Taberner, Josh Treacy and Fyfe combining for only two goals and one mark inside 50.


The tall forward set-up was aborted early in the fourth quarter when Taberner was substituted out for Bailey Banfield and the result could force a re-think on what the Dockers' best attacking structure is. 

A shining light was Liam Henry, who forced his way into the team on a wing and showed skill and poise throughout with his 21 disposals and equal team-high six score involvements.


The Freo defenders racked up big numbers and – led by Brennan Cox and Luke Ryan – were excellent as a unit for three quarters, with scores tied at the final change. 

They conceded 4.1 in the final term, however, from St Kilda's 13 forward entries, with Mason Wood twice snapping goals on his left foot to break the game open in the first 10 minutes. 


The Dockers could manage only 0.4 from their 21 entries, with Fyfe and Jackson each missing opportunities before St Kilda recruit Zaine Cordy sealed the gutsy win when he converted a set shot to kick just his 13th career goal from 118 games.

Don't talk about the big screen
Leading by eight points early in the second quarter, St Kilda was the better team and had done an excellent job of restricting Fremantle's scoring opportunities. Where they came undone briefly was by referencing the big screen after free kicks and demonstrating their disappointment. It is clear umpires won't tolerate that action in 2023, with Callum Wilkie and Jack Steele learning the hard way as their seemingly mild complaints turned uncertain set shots in goalsquare goals for Matt Taberner and James Aish.


Cox controls the airwaves
Plenty of Brennan Cox's marks were racked up as the Dockers switched play in defence, but enough of them weren't for him to be a dominant figure in Sunday's game.  Already an elite key defender, Cox has his sights set on being a Therabody AFL All-Australian in 2023 and is on his way after one round. The 24-year-old's third quarter was sublime as the Saints went inside 50 15 times for a total of 1.2. Cox had nine disposals, eight marks and five intercepts as the centrepiece of an excellent back six. 

Brennan Cox in action during Fremantle's round one match against St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on March 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Where to for Freo?
The most obvious area of concern for the Dockers after the game was the lack of impact from their tall forwards and the lack of support they were given by the team's ball movement. Justin Longmuir will need to work out whether structural change is the answer, or finding a better balance with how the team plays. Fyfe (nine disposals and 0.1) was well held and didn't have space to impact the game once the Saints were set defensively. Taberner and Treacy had one tackle between them and one goal each, while Jackson's game was notable for a handful of moments rather than overall impact.


ST KILDA          3.3    5.4     6.6    10.7 (67)
FREMANTLE      2.1    5.4     7.6    7.10 (52)

St Kilda: Gresham 2, Owens 2, Wood 2, Bytel, Cordy, Higgins, Phillipou
Fremantle: Schultz 2, Aish, Frederick, Switkowski, Taberner, Treacy

St Kilda:
Sinclair, Crouch, Steele, Wilkie, Wood, Byrnes
Fremantle: Cox, Young, Ryan, Clark, Henry, Schultz

St Kilda:
Webster (leg)
Fremantle: Nil

St Kilda: Ben Paton (replaced Dan Butler in the third quarter)
Fremantle: Bailey Banfield (replaced Matt Taberner in the fourth quarter)

Crowd: 23,429 at Marvel Stadium