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After the siren: Richo's Saints need to get moving

The 10: round 21's best moments We countdown the best highlights from the weekend, what is number one?

FOOTY doesn't stand still, so even with two games of 2017 remaining, the 'where to now's' and 'what next's' start for St Kilda.        

The club's 2017 campaign came to its effective end on Sunday, the Saints beaten by 24 points by Melbourne in a performance that was largely emblematic of their season – OK in fits and spurts, but not quite good enough at the crunch.

Given how both teams finished last season the question was always going to be which of the Demons and Saints would take the bigger steps in 2017 and after two wins in the matches between them to Melbourne and with a likely finals appearance, that question has been firmly answered.

The Saints were up against it from the start. With so much to play for, they fell behind by 32 points in the first quarter and they just butchered the ball. They turned the ball over 32 times and were killed by the Demons on the rebound.

And then in the third quarter, when they played their best footy for the match, they kicked 4.7. Poor kicking has ailed the Saints all season – they were 2.12 at one stage against Port Adelaide a fortnight ago – and it hurt them when it mattered most on Sunday because there were patches of the game when they were in complete control but couldn't apply enough scoreboard pressure.

At the start of the year the Saints were keen to hose down the hype around then. The spin out of Seaford after last year's 12-10 campaign was that they could lose more games this year and still have had an improved season.

They are likely to win one fewer game than last year. They're 10-10 now and we're giving them a win over North next week (in Nick Riewoldt's final home game) but not the season finale against the top-four bound Richmond back at the MCG.

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The Saints have had improvement from the likes of Seb Ross, Dylan Roberton and Jack Billings, whose form has started to make St Kilda supporters think less about the rampaging Marcus Bontempelli, taken one pick earlier at the 2013 national draft. Imports Jake Carlisle and Nathan Brown have fortified the backline this year.

Like the Saints, Jack Billings emerged beaten and bruised. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Photos

St Kilda also earmarked better performances outside Victoria heading into this year and the 75-point hammering of Hawthorn and the last-gasp eight-point win over Fremantle are signs of progress.

But they're going to miss Nick Riewoldt's class and leadership and they're going to have to learn to win big games without him. The same for Leigh Montagna, whose hamstring injury is likely to keep him out of last two games and throws open the prospect of a retirement announcement this week ahead of the home finale against North on Sunday.

They'll also face a question on the coach at some stage soon. Alan Richardson has done much of the hard yards at St Kilda and has the respect and affection of all. But this will be four seasons at Seaford without a finals appearance and you have to look hard and fast at the honour roll to find many coaches who survive in the long term at the same club with that sort of record.

We're all barracking for 'Richo', one of the genuinely good people in the game. But the 'good bloke' factor has a use-by date and he would want to steer the Saints into the finals next year.


Demons' new weapon passes the test

The 53,115 fans at the MCG on Sunday, even those in St Kilda colours, collectively held their breaths for a few moments on Sunday when Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw clashed heads with Saints hard nut Koby Stevens.

We all know the back story. After a brilliant debut season for the Demons in 2015, in which he finished fifth in the NAB Rising Star Award, a series of head knocks has since kept him to just 13 games and Sunday's clash was just his third of the season.

Brayshaw stumbled for a moment, but then dusted himself off, went in search of the next contest and ended up with 26 disposals in a brilliant display that had coach Simon Goodwin openly thinking about the new weapon at his disposal in the lead-up to the finals, which for the Demons appear more likely after the win on Sunday.


"We know he's got some extreme talent," a chuffed Goodwin said afterwards. "He can mark the ball, create off half-back and he's got genuine speed. He'll be an important player for us."

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The challenge for Goodwin will be whether there is room for the talented, but out-of-form Christian Salem, who was dropped this week to make way for Brayshaw. The Demons have plenty of midfield grunt already and Nathan Jones and Clayton Oliver offered plenty in that department on Sunday.

Brayshaw might be a playmaker off half-back and a good one at that. His form on Sunday was a reward for Melbourne, which has played the long game with the talented youngster, giving him all the time and space – as well as love and care – he needed to get back.

"I was always said he would tell us when he's ready to play and last week he showed us he was ready," Goodwin continued. "I thought today there were critical contests he won and he really linked up well off half-back. We found a new asset in the back half of the ground."

And spare a thought for Stevens, whose first season with the Saints has also been beset by ailments, including a bout of salmonella. He ended up with concussion and a perforated eardrum.

The run home: Dees dare to dream, top four locked in?

Will WA's new stadium outshine its tenants? 

The new Perth Stadium opens for business next season but the anchor tenants aren't selling a great deal of optimism as they approach the selling season for their new Burswood digs.

At present, it is Josh Kennedy and not much else for the Eagles. It took six goals from the West Coast spearhead to engineer the 17-point win over the battling Blues at Domain Stadium. As for the Dockers, Saturday at the SCG was the nadir of Ross Lyon's 259-game coaching career, a 104-point loss to the Sydney Swans. On current form, the Dockers might be the worst team in the competition.

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Nat Fyfe has recommitted to that club and has regained some form, which is a great thing, but will the 2015 Brownlow medallist alone drag 60,000 fans into the new stadium every fortnight? Doubtful.

The new stadium looks glorious and should be on the bucket list for every visiting football supporter. It will be yet another reason to visit one of the great cities. The economics of Perth Stadium won't entirely rely on having premiership-contending AFL clubs as the anchor tenants, but it would help. And right now, both teams look a fair way off it.

It's past time to speed up the MRP 

We've banged on about this before and social media was full of similar views almost as soon as it happened on Friday night, but it borders on shambolic that Toby Greene won't learn of his fate at the Match Review Panel until sometime Monday afternoon, nearly 72 hours after his clash with Luke Dahlhaus.


This is 2017. Best practice demands that important decisions like these are made quickly by key officials who have the time and the flexibility to drop what they're doing and to convene. Surely Telstra, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the AFL, has the video-conferencing technology to make this happen without the MRP members having to leave their homes.

It could have been done and dusted by Saturday morning.

This is a tricky case and in many ways unique. Not many similar incidents spring to mind and because Greene is at the centre of it, the commentary is only magnified.

ANALYSIS: Five questions the MRP must answer

And in the opinion of this column, Greene should be right to play next week. This clash was the unfortunate by-product of a contact sport and Greene is entitled to jump from the ground while attempting to get the ball.

And just on Greene, he was magnificent on Friday night. Shortly after the clash with Dahlhaus, he took a wonderful contested mark and kicked an important goal. He is a wonderful footballer. Yes, a ticking time bomb who carries some baggage, but a gun footballer all the same. I'd have him at my footy club in a heartbeat.

Why the Cats are mad about Harry

Harry Taylor is a weird cat, but a hugely important Cat, as was shown at Simonds Stadium on Saturday with his four-goal performance that helped Geelong to such an important win over Richmond.

It wasn't just the four goals, but the manner in which he stymied Alex Rance in the process that helped shape the win that keeps the Cats on track for a top-two finish.

Five talking points: When Harry met Rancey

Teams are putting work into Rance now. In some cases, they opt for purely defensive forwards, whose sole focus is to negate Rance and take him away from the ball. Then there's Taylor, who kept Rance from doing what he does, while hitting the scoreboard at the same time.

Against Richmond, it is hard to think of a more valuable afternoon.

It was a great afternoon for the Cats. Great win and a fantastic old-school, home ground vibe. It has cost the Cats, some of their benefactors and the taxpayers a fair bit of money over the journey to turn Simonds Stadium into the showpiece it is. Days like Saturday make every cent spent seem worthwhile.

Other observations

1. That the Western Bulldogs lost to the Giants on Friday night wasn't all that surprising. The Dogs had won four straight before then, which in this year of parity, represents a good return. But the decline of the Western Bulldogs in 2017 can be surmised by the second quarter, when they went inside 50 on 22 occasions, for a return of 3.6. The Giants went inside 50 four times for three straight goals. The Dogs had similar periods of dominance last year (the semi-final against the Hawks comes to mind) where they put teams away.

2. Sydney's come-from-the-clouds story in 2017 is resonating with fans. Saturday's clash with Fremantle attracted a season-high 39,281 crowd at the SCG. At this stage, the Swans are on track to host at least one home final and it is hard to imagine there will be too many spare seats for that one. It might be a few metres short at either end for an ideal AFL-sized ground, but as a venue, it is a winner. About 700km north, the 14th iteration of the QClash took place at Metricon Stadium where the Lions fans made some noise and liked what they saw. Good things are happening in Brisbane. 

3. Not so on the Gold Coast. This is a team that badly needs to make a splash, with its coaching appointment and at the trade table. Having no home games for the first half of next season because of the Commonwealth Games isn't going to help, either. You don't envy the job ahead for Tony Cochrane, Mark Evans and whoever the next coach will be.

4. The weakness of the existing AFL-VFL alignment was on show at Windy Hill on Saturday. Box Hill led Essendon by nine points at the final change of a big game with the make-up of the finals on the line, but were unable to hang on in the final quarter and lost by a goal with Jaeger O'Meara fit and well and watching on from the bench. O'Meara had slayed them until then, with 29 possessions (16 contested), six clearances, seven tackles, and three goals, but the plan all along was that he played for just three quarters, and play for three quarters he did. It was a repeat of the 2014 Grand Final when Cyril Rioli sat on the bench for Box Hill in the final quarter of his comeback game and watched as Footscray came from behind to win. The alignment between Hawthorn and Box Hill is now in its 18th year. It is what it is. But it must be hard for old-time VFL/VFA loyalists to swallow what their competition has become as the needs of AFL clubs over-ride those of the junior partner.

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5. Damien Hardwick spent eight years playing at Essendon under Kevin Sheedy, the master of deflection. With his post-match comments about the umpiring on Saturday, Hardwick, the coach of the Tigers, showed that he has learned those lessons well.

6. Not many style points overall for Port Adelaide this week, but it got the points over Collingwood in the end on Sunday evening despite a few anxious moments as the Pies came at them hard. The Power would likely have been satisfied with any margin, at all given the horror show that was the Showdown the week before. What we can watch over and over, however, is Robbie Gray's freakish Harlem Globetrotter style gather, behind-the-back move and spear pass to Sam Gray in the final quarter. One of the best footy party tricks you'll ever see. 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs