ST KILDA coach Brett Ratten has praised a "very creative" Jack Higgins for equalling his career-best four goals and adding a spark that helped set up an upset victory over a red-hot Sydney.
Higgins looked lively as he crumbed and snapped three first-half goals to ensure the Saints made the most of their early ascendancy, then added another after the main break to go with 16 disposals.
SAINTS v SWANS Full match coverage and stats
The 22-year-old’s accuracy in front of goal was a turnaround from the 1.6 he kicked when these teams met in round 12, which included two shots late in the match that could’ve put the Saints in front before the Swans kicked a sealer to win by nine points.
Higgins has now kicked 24 goals in 17 matches in his first season with the Saints since moving across from Richmond in last year’s Trade Period.
"I was just pleased for him to hit the scoreboard and play his role in the team. He was one of our better players, very creative," Ratten said.
"Regardless of whether it's against Sydney or anyone, his performance was solid. That's what we expect from Jack and it was great for him to deliver that.
"Our smalls had an influence tonight, which is great. We haven't had that, so it was really pleasing for them to get to the drop of the ball and finish their work."
Ratten was also proud of the efforts of key defender Callum Wilkie who lined up on Lance Franklin and limited the superstar forward to one goal from four kicks and no marks.
Wilkie was also able to get involved in the Saints’ spread and transitions from defence as he gathered 16 disposals, and might have a quiet word to teammate Brad Hill about the free kick he gave away in the first term to allow Franklin to kick his only goal of the match.
"Buddy is a star and one of the all-time greats, to play on him and keep him to one goal he did a fantastic job," Ratten said.
"I thought he got some support though from [Tom] Highmore and [Darragh] Joyce and others around, which helped Cal, but he did a fantastic job."
The Swans again had to deal with disruption before the first bounce when gun midfielder Callum Mills was a late withdrawal as the teams were warming up.
Mills was also one of the four Swans players who were exposed to a COVID-19 hotspot ahead of their clash with Greater Western Sydney in round 18, and he was pulled from that match in the hour before the first bounce along with teammate Harry Cunningham, then forced to isolate for 14 days.
The 24-year-old’s late withdrawal from the match against the Saints was due to ongoing soreness in his Achilles that coach John Longmire said didn’t get the training it needed during Mills’ time in isolation.
"He’s had Achilles soreness for a fair bit of the year and we thought we were getting on top of it before he went into isolation," Longmire said.
"It needs a bit of loading, through that period he wasn’t able to get the loading he required and he’s sort of taken a step backwards.
"Hopefully we can get him right for next week, it certainly wasn’t right for tonight. We were hopeful we could get him to be OK, but it was getting worse the closer we got to the game rather than better."