AN UNDERMANNED and never-say-die St Kilda has snatched a gutsy eight-point win over Greater Western Sydney in slippery conditions at Giants Stadium.
The Saints, who were without star recruit Brad Crouch and big man Paddy Ryder, and also had a list of injured absentees that included Zak Jones, Dan Hannebery, Max King, James Frawley, Rowan Marshall and Jarryn Geary, led for the majority of the third term.
But the Giants, desperate to make a R1 statement after a disappointing 2020, fought back to grab a two-goal lead halfway through the final quarter. There was another big twist in the tale, however, with a magical Jack Lonie snap sailing through the goals and a Dan Butler tackle at the death that helped the Saints claim a brave, come-from-behind win, 13.8 (86) to 11.12 (78).
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Butler, the Saints leading goalkicker in 2020, produced the game-sealing effort with 40 seconds remaining. He stunned Callan Ward when the former GWS skipper was attempting to clear the ball from the backline, earning a dramatic incorrect disposal free kick and nailing the subsequent set shot.
Tim Membrey (21 touches, three goals) was a threat in the Saints forward across the four quarters, despite the slippery conditions not being suited to marking forwards. And former Tiger Jack Higgins (two goals) was also lively up front.
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Jack Billings (30 touches, one goal) and Jade Gresham (28 possessions) were prolific in the Saints midfield, while 21-year-old Hunter Clark (24 touches, five tackles) showed that he is ready to spend more time playing on the ball as well as his more familiar role across half-back.
For the Giants, Harry Himmelberg kicked three goals and looks motivated to be the forward focal point after the departure of 2019 Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron. Toby Greene had his chances and will be disappointed to only finish with 1.3 as well as a few shots that missed the target entirely.
Matt Flynn (18 possessions, 34 hitouts) won the battle of the rucking debutants, having the better of St Kilda's Paul Hunter (nine possessions, 19 hitouts) around the ground and in the clearances.
Coniglio makes his mark
Giants captain Stephen Coniglio (24 touches, one goal) has taken his first steps on the road to redemption after a much-publicised miserable 2020 season. He set the tone early, in his 150th game, picking up 10 kicks in the first quarter and being prepared to throw the ball on his boot to gain territory in wet and slippery conditions. The 27-year-old noticeably brought more effort too, and his forward pressure early in the third term saw the ball spill free to Himmelberg who carried it closer to goal before giving it back to his skipper to snap truly from 20m. Coniglio will no doubt be more concerned with the result, but there were positive signs for him personally.
Air Toby takes to the sky
Toby Greene is known for being able to do things on a footy field that few others can. But on a day when most players were still coming to terms with the wet conditions and slippery ball, it was still a surprise to see the star forward rise up to get a sit on Dougal Howard and claim a contender for Mark of the Year. He went back to kick truly for the first goal of the match, 17 minutes into the contest.
New Saints settle well
St Kilda entered the match with four club debutants, and Tom Highmore was the pick of them in his first AFL game. The 23-year-old was overlooked by the Giants after being part of their Academy, but he showed what they missed out on in an assured performance in defence that included 19 tidy possessions. Paul Hunter was solid in the ruck, Higgins kicked two goals in a busy display, and Shaun McKernan showed his versatility to support Hunter and help bring the ball to ground in the forward line.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 2.3 4.5 8.9 11.12 (78)
ST KILDA 1.2 5.6 9.6 13.8 (86)
GWS: Himmelberg 3, Greene, Green, Hill, Coniglio, Ward, Taranto, Hopper, Keeffe
St Kilda: Membrey 3, Higgins 2, Lonie 2, Ross 2, Billings, Hill, Battle, Butler
GWS: Taranto, Perryman, Hopper, Himmelberg
St Kilda: Membrey, Billings, Clark, Gresham
St Kilda: Mason Wood (managed) replaced by Daniel McKenzie
GWS: Xavier O'Halloran (unused)
St Kilda: Mason Wood (unused)
Crowd: TBC at Giants Stadium