In Saturday evening's Five things we learned, brought to you by Haier, the world's No.1 appliance maker, we discover that bold off-season recruiting can pay big dividends, a Saint's habits are hard to break and the Dogs still haven't found consistency.
SAINTS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
1. The Saints' trade blitz worked
St Kilda's coup of five recruits during last year's Trade Period went against the customary way a team gets itself back in the finals mix. But after sealing their first finals win in a decade, it can only be measured as a success. All five of last year's new names – Bradley Hill, Paddy Ryder, Dan Butler, Zak Jones and Dougal Howard – stepped up in the elimination final victory, with Butler's scorching goal in the third term a highlight. The foundations of the Saints' finals team were there pre-2019, but the addition of the fantastic five, and Ratten, has seen the pieces brought together.
2. Ben Long will be sweating on the MRO
The St Kilda defender has gained a reputation for eyeing off unsuspecting players with bumps and the Saint added to his catalogue on Saturday. Luckily for Jack Macrae, Long didn't quite connect with his bump early in the game, but he still clipped Macrae's chin when he had the option to tackle instead. After his three-game ban for a crude bump on Freo ruckman Sean Darcy earlier this season, the incident is sure to come under scrutiny from the Match Review Officer on Sunday. Later in the first term Long tried again to be a physical force, but missed target Tom Liberatore and instead collected teammate Dan Hannebery. It isn't a new thing for Long, who also cleaned up Carlton's Levi Casboult in a marking contest in 2019 (he was reported but cleared).
3. The Dogs' costly quarters haunted them again
In a gripping last term, the Western Bulldogs kicked four goals to one to nearly snatch the elimination final from St Kilda's grasp. But the Saints' buffer proved too hard to penetrate for Luke Beveridge's men, who fell three points short as St Kilda held on in a tense final quarter to progress to the semi-final. The Saints deserved their win but the Dogs will rue a costly third quarter when they conceded four goals to one, making it too hard to cut the deficit. Last year's elimination final thrashing at the hands of Greater Western Sydney sat in the stomach of the Dogs and this one will too, having been plagued by patchy showings throughout the year.
4. The big stage doesn't faze Max King
King was 10 years old and a mad Saints fan when the club last won a final in 2010. But on Saturday he was a king-pin in their breakthrough finals victory, hauling in two big marks close to goal and converting his shots in the first half to be a huge presence in the win. In his first full season at the top level after injury ruled him out of 2019, King showed that he is very much at home with the spotlight and finals cauldron. He finished with two goals from five marks and seven disposals but the 20-year-old's influence was far bigger than the numbers say.
5. Paddy Ryder deserved to lead the Saints in the ruck next week
It was a bittersweet outing for Ryder, who appeared to injure his hamstring in the dying minutes of the contest after what had been a brilliant finals game for the former Port Adelaide and Essendon big man. Ryder, in tandem with Rowan Marshall, outworked Dogs opponent Tim English around the ground, with the Bulldogs winning the hitout count (32 to nine) and the clearances. But Ryder also pushed forward to kick two valuable goals in what was a telling performance. However an emotional Ryder finished the game on the bench after the injury.