ST KILDA denied Fremantle the opportunity to break its finals drought and ensured Essendon will claim eight spot, closing its season with an impressive 58-point win at Blundstone Arena on Sunday.
The Dockers could have forced the issue and ensured the Bombers needed to beat Collingwood in their final round clash to claim eighth spot, but were outplayed by the impressive Saints, who kicked away to win 17.5 (107) to 6.13 (49).
The Saints, who were playing only for pride, jumped the Dockers on the ladder to finish the season in 10th spot with 10 wins, while the Dockers (10-12) slid to 11th and missed finals for the sixth consecutive season.
They produced one of their most disappointing performances of the year when their season was on the line, falling short with both their defensive pressure and ball use while squandering opportunities early when the game was alive.
The Saints booted seven of nine goals in the final quarter to turn a 33-point margin at the final change into their second biggest win this season, and their equal-third biggest win against the Dockers in what was champion David Mundy's record-breaking 354th game.
Fremantle clearly missed late withdrawal Adam Cerra, who has provided much of their clean ball-use going forward this season, but should not be excused for some of their errors with the ball and a lack of forward pressure.
SAINTS v DOCKERS Full match coverage and stats
St Kilda captain Jack Steele was excellent, winning an equal game-high 35 disposals, six clearances and six inside 50s to close an outstanding individual season.
Mid-season recruit Cooper Sharman also starred with four goals, while the Saints' half-back line controlled much of the game, with Nick Coffield, Brad Hill and Jack Sinclair all terrific as the team racked up 43 rebound 50s to the Dockers' 33.
Ruckman Rowan Marshall won his battle against a hampered Sean Darcy and sidekick Lloyd Meek, finishing with 21 disposals and two goals.
The Dockers were again best served by young gun Caleb Serong (35 and nine clearances), whose end to the season has cemented his status as a future star.
The Dockers were in control of general play early in the first quarter, leading the forward entries 12-5 halfway through the term but kicking 1.4 as the sharpshooting Saints converted three quick goals.
The pattern of the game then turned in the Saints' favour as they were rewarded for relentless tackling and an ability to hit short targets and control possession, in contrast to Freo.
When third-year midfielder Jack Bytel pulled down ruckman Lloyd Meek, winning a free kick and converting his set shot, the Saints had a game-high 20-point lead and were comfortably on top.
A 50m penalty against Brad Crouch for creeping over the mark after Matt Taberner took a grab beyond 50m opened the door for a simple goal and cut the half time margin to 15 points.
The Saints then ramped up the pressure in the third term, kicking four goals to one before a final quarter rout that only proved the Dockers were not yet ready for a breakthrough finals berth.
'The Greatest Sharman'
Mid-season recruit Cooper Sharman officially made his debut as an unused medical substitute in round 19 and has kicked multiple goals in all of his four games since. He was the star on Sunday, booting four goals and stepping up as a reliable aerial target in the absence of young gun Max King. It wasn't an easy day for the 21-year-old, lining up on Alex Pearce, but he was up for the challenge and often led his opponent to the ball and flew with confidence to take six marks, including four contested. He was tagged "the Greatest Sharman" by commentator Anthony Hudson when he ran in for his fourth goal early in the final term, putting the result beyond doubt.
Fremantle can't hide from clear weaknesses
Like has so often been the case this season, the Dockers were their own worst enemy in front of goal early and finished with more behinds than goals for the 15th time in 2021. When they didn't win the ball in attack, it was their other major weakness this season - tackling pressure inside 50 - that hurt them. They lost the tackle count 54-69 and will have two clear focuses for the summer. Playing a tall forward line that includes ruckmen Meek and Darcy rotating is a mitigating factor to a degree, but it's an area that needs significant improvement.
Steele falls just short of tackling record
Star Saint Jack Steele finished the home-and-away season with a massive 185 tackles, which was 36 clear of his nearest competitor, Touk Miller. He fell two tackles short of passing the record for a home-and-away season, held by Essendon's Devon Smith (186 in 2018), which he would have claimed if he'd reached his season averaged of 8.5, laying six on Sunday. The Saints' failure to play finals will deny Steele the opportunity to go after former West Coast and Geelong midfielder Scott Selwood's record of 202 tackles in a season, which he set in 25 games in 2011, the same year teammate Matt Priddis laid 193.
ST KILDA 3.0 6.3 10.5 17.5 (107)
FREMANTLE 1.4 3.5 4.8 6.13 (49)
St Kilda: Sharman 4, Membrey 3, Kent 2, Higgins 2, Butler 2, Bytel 2, Marshall 2
Fremantle: Crowden, Switkowski, Taberner, Henry, Banfield, Treacy
St Kilda: Steele, Marshall, Sharman, Sinclair, Hill, Crouch, Higgins
Fremantle: Serong, Brayshaw, Young, Mundy, Crowden
St Kilda: Hill (Achilles tendon)
Fremantle: Cerra (corked thigh) replaced in the selected aside by Acres, Switkowski (hip), Darcy (hip flexor)
St Kilda: Byrnes (replaced Hill)
Fremantle: Western (replaced Switkowski)
Crowd: TBC at Blundstone Arena