SYDNEY has hung on against a dogged and inaccurate St Kilda, winning by nine points at the SCG.
Jack Higgins (23 disposals, 12 marks) tried his heart out throughout the game, but blew three late shots in front of goal to finish with 1.6 in the 13.14 (92) to 12.11 (83) loss on Saturday.
SWANS v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
Co-captain Josh Kennedy's goal out of a stoppage halfway through the fourth looked to be the final blow, but the Saints kept coming and had the chance to take the lead in the dying stages only for Higgins to miss two set shots before James Rowbottom sealed the result.
After a fairly congested start, Sydney hit its stride halfway through the first quarter, piling on four quick goals as the Saints looked on rather helplessly.
Higgins' strong running was rewarded with a goal, before setting up Max King in the goal-square before the stroke of quarter-time.
The Saints' renewed pressure in attack after the first break saw them briefly take the lead, until Lance Franklin stamped his considerable authority on the game with a few physical contests and a goal.
Momentum see-sawed between the two teams in the third term, the lead changing four times before Luke Parker converted a vital set shot on the eve of three-quarter time, taking the margin to 10 points.
Sydney second-gamer Joel Amartey showed a strong pair of hands and some strong running, rotating between key forward and second ruck, while Jake Lloyd, Callum Mills and Tom McCartin were settled and controlled in defence.
After being held to just six disposals by North Melbourne's Bailey Scott last week, Bradley Hill ran with freedom off half-back, creating plenty with his 18 touches to half-time (at 100 per cent efficiency). Hill finished with 25 for the game.
St Kilda recruit Mason Wood was subbed off at quarter-time with a hamstring injury, while Jarryn Geary was forced down to the rooms and taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder late in the game.
Coach Brett Ratten also revealed tall forward Max King was playing with an injured back, having hurt it on Thursday at training before reaggravating it in the first quarter.
Inaccuracy costs Saints at crucial moments
Seb Ross' first-half howler aside – running into the goal-square and spraying it left – the Saints had a comparatively accurate day in front of goal up until the final quarter. But with the game in the balance, both Max King and Jack Higgins missed set shots from gettable positions. After Ryan Byrnes had cut the margin to just five points, Higgins had a further two shots on goal, but clearly feeling the heat, rushed both kicks, which drifted wide.
Two Tim Membreys, please
St Kilda's coaching staff could be excused for wanting some cloning technology on hand, such was the importance of key position player Tim Membrey (20 disposals, eight marks, 2.2). The tall was swung back and forward with regularity, taking saving marks as a loose in defence and playing an important structural role in attack. Whatever line he was currently playing on exposed the other end of the ground.
Clearances the key for the Swans early
Despite losing the hitout count by 10, Sydney's midfield set the tone in the first three quarters, particularly around the ground. The Swans were at one stage up by 10 in the "clearance from stoppage" count, with ruckman Tom Hickey clearly benefiting from a week off to rest his ongoing PCL injury. The big man was his team's leading clearance player, finishing with seven to go with his 21 touches. The Saints rallied late to close the gap in the clearance count, but when the game was hot early, it was the Swans who controlled play.
SYDNEY 4.6 6.7 10.11 13.14 (92)
ST KILDA 3.4 5.7 9.7 12.11 (83)
Sydney: Hayward 3, Franklin 2, McDonald 2, Heeney 2, Papley, Parker, Kennedy, Rowbottom
St Kilda: Membrey 2, Byrnes 2, Wood, Higgins, King, Steele, Butler, Ross, Billings, Battle
Sydney: Parker, Rampe, Hickey, Heeney, Lloyd, McCartin
St Kilda: Steele, Higgins, Membrey, Crouch, Hill, Sinclair
St Kilda: Wood (hamstring), Geary (shoulder), King (back)
Sydney: Bell (unused)
St Kilda: Highmore (replaced Wood)