BEN RUTTEN hasn’t shown a lot of emotion in his brief time as Essendon coach, but he was caught cracking a smile a few times in his side’s 75-point routing of St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Saturday.
Who could blame him? After having copped plenty of criticism just two games into his tenure, for reasons ranging from his side’s play to where he coached from (he was in the box on Saturday), the Bombers put on a scintillating display to give Rutten his first win as they crushed the limp Saints, 22.11 (143) to 9.14 (68).
Essendon dominated in the middle, led by Darcy Parish (34 disposals and 10 clearances) and Zach Merrett (34 disposals), while Jake Stringer and Cale Hooker had their way in attack and combined for nine goals.
The warning signs were there for St Kilda early. Jack Steele was typically influential, but he didn’t get any support as the Bombers shot to an early lead.
BOMBERS v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
Then as the margin grew, St Kilda’s intensity dropped even further. Some of the Saints’ errors in the final term were comical in what was an insipid performance.
An Achilles tendon injury to Jade Gresham soured their night further and he was spotted on crutches with his right leg in a moon boot.
The Saints slipped to 1-2 and, if they’re going to be playing in September, things are going to have to turn around very quickly.
Young Dons give fans plenty to be excited about
There was just so much to like. The skill level displayed by big man Nik Cox was special. Harry Jones looks like he will be a key part of the club’s forward line for the next 10 years. Archie Perkins has been highly touted and he looked so impressive when he slipped a tackle and almost nailed a difficult shot on the run. With Dylan Shiel (knee) and Dyson Heppell (back) out, 23-year-old Parish led the way through the middle and Brayden Ham set a career-high mark for disposals (25). In his first game for the club, Alec Waterman showed courage when taking a mark going back with the flight and displayed a left leg that can be relied upon in front of goal.
Brutal blow for Gresham
The injury to Jade Gresham looked bad and, unfortunately for St Kilda, was confirmed as a worst-case scenario post match. "He’ll be out for nine months" Brett Ratten said after the game. "He’s popped his Achilles." Saints fans will be devastated with Gresham arguably the most talented player on the list. Repeating their feat of reaching the second week of finals will become a lot harder with the nimble midfielder/forward watching from the sidelines.
The Saints are in trouble
Nothing went right for St Kilda. Brad Crouch was quiet in his first game for the club (15 disposals) but he wasn’t on his own, with most of the midfield struggling to have an impact. The Saints were outworked and their meagre tally of 33 tackles, compared to 51 for Essendon, was evidence of that. Bradley Hill started down back and was then sent forward, but was ultimately disappointing once again, while Gresham could be out for a while. Recapturing the form that saw them make a semi-final last year will be difficult over the next few weeks as they come up against West Coast, Richmond and Port Adelaide.
ESSENDON 6.4 12.6 16.10 22.11 (143)
ST KILDA 3.3 4.5 6.9 9.14 (68)
Essendon: Hooker 5, Stringer 4, McDonald-Tipungwuti 3, Snelling 2, Waterman 2, Jones 2, Cox, Redman, McGrath, Smith
St Kilda: Higgins 3, Billings 2, Membrey, Crouch, Steele, King
Essendon: Parish, Merrett, Stringer, Hooker, Ham, Ridley, Smith
St Kilda: Steele, Membrey
Essendon: Redman (right hamstring)
St Kilda: Gresham (right Achilles tendon), Jones (right ankle)
Essendon: Tom Cutler (replaced Mason Redman)
St Kilda: Ben Long (replaced Jade Gresham)