PARTY like it's … 2011?
St Kilda will play finals football this season, ensuring the nightmare of a nine-year drought outside of the AFL's top eight will be broken with a resounding 52-point victory over Greater Western Sydney on Friday night.
SAINTS SECURE FINALS Full match coverage and stats
Nervous tension had bubbled away throughout the early stages of the side's 12.10 (82) to 3.12 (30) victory at the Gabba, but the Saints controlled the contest after half-time to notch one of their most important wins of the last decade.
Veteran captain Jarryn Geary is the only remaining member of St Kilda's last finals side, but it will be a new breed of Saint that will guide the club into an elimination final in a fortnight's time.
Emerging midfielder Jack Steele (19 disposals, 10 clearances, two goals) was again instrumental in the contest, while developing forward Rowan Marshall (16 disposals, six marks, one goal) was dominant in attack.
Their influence was particularly prominent in a barnstorming second half, where St Kilda shed the pressure of the 'final before the finals' to kick seven unanswered goals that stretched a slender half-time lead into an unassailable one.
Greater Western Sydney was powerless to respond. Needing victory – and a significant one at that – to keep any chance of a finals push alive, the Giants wilted after the break and couldn't halt the momentum of the Saints.
Stephen Coniglio shrugged off the ignominy of last week's axing to win 23 disposals and six marks, but his efforts in attempting to inspire an unlikely surge into the top eight were ultimately in vein.
Instead, a third straight defeat means there will be no repeat of Greater Western Sydney's stunning run to the Grand Final from last year. This time, the chance to re-write history come finals time will be St Kilda's responsibility.
What the Saints win means for the finals picture
Firstly, it means that St Kilda advances to its first finals appearance since 2011. The Saints also took a big step towards securing a top-six spot, meaning they could choose their elimination final venue. However, that still relies on Collingwood not upsetting Port Adelaide on Monday night and the Western Bulldogs not making up more than 10 percent against Fremantle Sunday evening. On the other hand, Greater Western Sydney's season is over. The Giants would've still had to rely on other results going their way, had they won on Friday night, but defeat puts last year's Grand Finalists out of their misery.
Veteran support comes to Saints' aid
Having not played since round five due to a hamstring injury, Dan Hannebery's return on Friday night was pivotal. After a slow start, the veteran midfielder worked his way into the contest after half-time and quickly became one of the side's most important players. He'll prove just as valuable come finals. One of only seven St Kilda players from this weekend to have featured in a final, the 2012 premiership winner will undoubtedly play a significant mentoring role over the next fortnight. As will Jarryn Geary, Bradley Hill, Dan Butler, Dougal Howard, Paddy Ryder and Jake Carlisle – the other Saints with finals experience.
Captain Cogs fires back
The reaction was inevitable. After being unceremoniously dumped from Greater Western Sydney's team last week, captain Stephen Coniglio was bound to respond on Friday night. Coniglio had 10 disposals and four score involvements in the first quarter alone, with his contested work and zip at stoppages a feature all night. The Giants didn't have too many key contributors in a disappointing second-half showing, but Coniglio's presence was a constant in a battling 23-disposal performance. If his shock axing from the side last Saturday night was surprising, his performance in being recalled made it look just as puzzling one week on.
ST KILDA 3.3 5.5 8.9 12.10 (82)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 1.5 3.8 3.10 3.12 (30)
St Kilda: Lonie 2, Steele 2, Membrey, Battle, Hill, Butler, Marshall, Billings, King, Ryder
Greater Western Sydney: Lloyd, Riccardi, Greene
St Kilda: Steele, Marshall, Clark, Hannebery, Butler, Hill, Billings
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio, Whitfield, Lloyd, Hopper, Perryman
St Kilda: Nil
Greater Western Sydney: de Boer (back) replaced in selected side by Cumming