BRETT Ratten can rightfully ask where this St Kilda has been all season. And Damien Hardwick can rightfully ask what on earth was that?
With their finals hopes nearly over, the Saints resuscitated their campaign with a shock 40-point win over Richmond on Friday night. But that only told some of the story.
The 9.8 (62) to 2.10 (22) result saw the Tigers record their lowest score since 1961, their lowest score at the MCG since 1927 and their sixth lowest score in their long and proud history.
St Kilda's win was as simple as it was surprising, built on effort, an aggressive edge and an efficiency in attack. The St Kilda hierarchy should wonder where this has been all year. Remember, it was only 10 weeks ago the Tigers belted the Saints by 86 points – which was one of their four embarrassing big defeats in the first half of the season.
But this was a different St Kilda that reduced Richmond to its lowest ebb in its recent dominant run, and could see the reigning back-to-back premiers end the round outside of the top eight with their finals hopes in jeopardy. Almost certainly it puts an end to their ambitions of making a late run for the top four as they aim for an historic three-peat of flags.
The dirty defeat could also come at a cost, with defender Noah Balta (knee) a casualty of the contest in the second half with what appeared a serious knee concern. But the Tigers' night was over well before then, with St Kilda's pressure and intensity overcoming Richmond at its MCG fortress.
TIGERS v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
The Tigers were out of sync and making uncharacteristic errors across the night: captain Trent Cotchin kicked out on the full, Shai Bolton missed a simple target, Dustin Martin's running shot skewed off the side of the boot and Jack Riewoldt was held to just one behind.
But the Saints forced those errors as well. They dominated the midfield battle, with best-on-ground Luke Dunstan (32 disposals) and skipper Jack Steele (25) excellent, while in attack their took their chances to put themselves back in the mix of sides fighting for a top-eight berth.
St Kilda's wastefulness has hurt it this season but its efficiency was the hallmark of its start, with the Saints leading by 15 points at the first change after keeping the Tigers to their first goalless opening term of the season.
It was straight kicks by ex-Tiger Jack Higgins and Max King, who have both rued inaccuracy this season, that helped the Saints' jump ahead. Higgins combined with King to open the Saints' account in the second term, before recruit Mason Wood streamed into an open goal to slam home their fifth.
All of a sudden, the Saints had leapt to a 27-point break halfway through the second quarter, with Richmond under siege.
Eventually the Tigers broke their drought through Martin, but it was not the opening of the floodgates Hardwick would have been hoping for. It remained Richmond's only goal for the half, in its lowest half-time score since round 16, 2017.
The Tigers snagged one more in the third quarter but St Kilda struck three of its own, including a long-range bomb from Daniel McKenzie, who also kicked the opening goal of the game. By the final change, the Saints' 36-point break was insurmountable, even while staring down the champions in yellow and black.
Balta's body blow
Richmond hearts suck when young defensive gun Balta went down in the third term clutching at his right knee after it twisted awkwardly in a tackle. He spent some time in the hands of trainers before walking off the field, but the 2020 premiership backman, who rose to prominence last season, was substituted out of the game. The athletic 21-year-old was magnificent last year and is a key player in Richmond's future, so the Tigers will be nervously hoping he can avoid a long stint on the sidelines.
Dunstan stands out when it matters
The Saints midfielder put in a terrific performance. Dunstan has been in solid form for the Saints since returning to the side in recent weeks but he saved his best for the Tigers as clearly best afield. His 32 disposals included a game-high 11 clearances, and he also led the way for metres gained (667). Dunstan is an unrestricted free agent this year, having been at the Saints since the 2013 NAB AFL Draft, and the South Australian remains out of contract for 2022.
Ruck dominance gives Saints the edge
St Kilda's midfield was well served by ruck pair Patrick Ryder and Rowan Marshall throughout the contest. Ryder and Marshall combined for 42 hitouts to Richmond duo Mabior Chol and first-gamer Samson Ryan, who recorded 19 hitouts. Getting the ball on a platter clearly benefited the Saints' onball unit, too, with them winning the clearance count 42 to 23 across the night. The absence of first-choice ruckman Toby Nankervis was obvious, with the Tigers missing the three-time premiership big man as he nurses his knee injury for at least a couple more weeks.
RICHMOND 0.5 1.6 2.7 2.10 (22)
ST KILDA 3.2 5.3 8.7 9.8 (62)
Richmond: Edwards, Martin
St Kilda: King 2, McKenzie 2, Dunstan, Higgins, Long, Ross, Wood
Richmond: Vlastuin, Pickett, Graham, Baker
St Kilda: Dunstan, Steele, Sinclair, Crouch, Webster, Byrnes
Richmond: Balta (knee), Broad (ankle), Chol (hand)
St Kilda: Billings (knee) replaced in selected side by Connolly, Coffield (hamstring)
Richmond: Mansell (replaced Balta)
St Kilda: Connolly (replaced Coffield)