St Kilda forward Tim Membrey celebrates one of his four goals in the big win over Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images
St Kilda forward Tim Membrey celebrates one of his four goals in the big win over Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images

Saints on top for first time since 2010

How fitting Blake Acres plays for St Kilda.

He and his teammates had all that space and more against a Melbourne side whose lack of desire makes them an unrecognisable side to the one who stormed to a preliminary final last season.

In stunning scenes at the MCG, the Saints kicked eight unanswered goals across the second and third quarters to blow the Demons apart and sail to an easy 40-point win.

Melbourne's staggering regression is mirrored by St Kilda's resurgence, but we'll get to the winners in a moment.

Here's a question - what in the world has happened to the Demons? Last week's win over Sydney wasn't the start of a resurgence, it was an anomaly.

The Demons are 1-4 and a season of huge promise is teetering on the cliff of irrelevance.

Now they have only four days to analyse and solve their problems before the Anzac Day eve meeting with a resurgent Richmond.

On this evidence, they need four months.

Melbourne was lifeless, mistake-riddled and lacked organisation forward of centre and accountability backward of centre.

The Demons led the inside 50m count 15-6 at quarter time and trailed by four points. At one stage it was 25-11 and the Dees only had 4.5 to show for it.

On the same day Jesse Hogan had 22 disposals, 14 marks and kicked three goals for Fremantle in one of the finest games of his career, Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman were invisible.

McDonald copped the Bronx cheers when he took his second mark 23 minutes into the third term.

Neither kicked a goal, but given the litany of simple mistakes in the front half, can't be blamed exclusively.

Those turnovers fuelled a Saints side, whose speed and ball movement worried the Demons from the outset.

Melbourne's waste was met by St Kilda's razor sharp efficiency. The Saints kicked seven goals from their first 17 inside 50s and 14 from 45 by the final siren, with Membrey dominant inside the arc.

 

 

 

Their energy and want to run and spread when in possession and to chase without it made Melbourne look insipid.

Here is a St Kilda side now 4-1 - and on top of the AFL ladder for the first time since Round 4, 2010 - when many had coach Alan Richardson sacked by now.

Jack Billings should have been traded - again - and now stands among the more influential on-ballers in the competition as part of what he calls a Saints "brotherhood".

"We love each other and have a really strong brotherhood at the moment and we've got to keep it going," Billings said after the 40-point win.

"It's been a journey for us. A game like today, I haven't really been a part of that, where we've been able to be seven or eight goals in front."

After yet another off-season as the subject of trade speculation, Billings is playing the best football of his career in a new permanent midfield role.

The 23-year-old, who had another 28 possessions and two goals against the Demons, said he'd worked hard over summer on harnessing the mental aspect of his game.

"I probably concentrated on more the mental side of things. It's elite sport so it's about being consistent with that, so I'm maturing and developing," Billings said.

"I put a lot of work into it. I love my club and teammates, but for me it's been my consistency (that's the issue) so I thought, 'What could I do?'

 

 

 

Saints defender Nathan Brown held Demon Tom McDonald in check. Picture: AAP
Saints defender Nathan Brown held Demon Tom McDonald in check. Picture: AAP

 

"A lot of the game is above the shoulders and footy is an unpredictable game - you can't know everything that's happening.

"But what you can do is control how you go about it, smacking in and winning the ball, putting pressure on, those things.

"I've worked really hard on my game and trying to contribute each week. But at the end of the day, as long as we're winning it's all good and we've got to keep it going."

Ben Paton, Jack Newnes, Jade Gresham, Jack Steven, Seb Ross ran the Demons ragged.

And just to salt the wound for Simon Goodwin, Dean Kent popped up in his first game against his old side to kick three goals in an excellent performance for the Saints.

 

 

TOP SAINTS

St Kilda sits on top of the ladder and, if the Cats lose to the Hawks on Easter Monday, it will be the first time time the Saints have ended a round at the head of the table in nine years.

In an extraordinary turnaround on preseason expectations, and despite injuries to a number of their best players, Alan Richardson's team has swiftly become feel-good story of the season.

They pulled off a stunning heist on last year's preliminary final Melbourne at the MCG yesterday, winning by 40 points.

That gives them a 4-1 start to 2019 after five rounds - which is as many wins as they recorded for the entire 2018 season, when they won four and drew one game, plummeting to 16th.

 

St Kilda hasn’t been on top of the ladder since they made the Grand Final in 2010.
St Kilda hasn’t been on top of the ladder since they made the Grand Final in 2010.

 

Now, the Saints are on track for the most unlikely of finals appearances.

If Hawthorn knocks off Geelong in the final game of Round 5, this will be the first time the Saints have finished a round on top since since Round 4, 2010.

That was the year in which they played out a dramatic drawn Grand Final against Collingwood before losing the replay the following week.

Richardson was considered 'the coach most likely to be sacked' heading into this year, but he and his revamped coaching group - and their well-drilled players - have turned their fortunes around.

Seb Ross expressed his delight at the club's performance, saying: "I'm just super proud of the boys for the start to the year they've had. They have worked their a---- off preseason."

"We've had some coaching changes and some player changes, and the boys have all bought into how we want to play."

"It is nice (to play on the MCG) and good to see a heap of Saints fans making plenty of noise. Hopefully we are here a little bit later in the season but we certainly enjoy playing here."

The Saints take on Adelaide at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.

 

 

Clayton Oliver was the Demons’ best player. Picture: AAP
Clayton Oliver was the Demons’ best player. Picture: AAP

 

 

 

MATCH UP NO.1

Clayton Oliver is considered by many to be untaggable, such is his relentless in-close work at stoppages.

But Jack Steele had a big a win as you can expect to have in a tagging role on the Demons' bullocking onballer.

Steele kept Oliver to 12 touches - only four contested - at half time, while having 11 himself.

Oliver lifted in the second half and ended with the usual set of numbers, but the damage was done.

 

MATCH UP NO.2

Jack Billings is finally playing the sort of footy most of us expected for an exceptionally-skilled No.3 draft pick.

Such has been the ongoing criticism down the years, it's almost a shock Billings is still only 23.

Simon Goodwin had seen enough in the opening weeks to assign Nathan Jones the run-with role off a wing.

But Billings had a game-high 24 possessions by late in the third quarter when Jones was put out of his misery and relieved of the assignment.

 

THE WHISTLE

Heard a lot of it in the first quarter. In fact, we heard it 16 times.

The AFL average this season is only 40. Ray Chamberlain was responsible for a large chunk of them, as the non-controlling as well as controlling umpire.

Jack Steven and Jack Viney got four frees each in the first term alone, as the whistle blew regularly from non-controlling as well as controlling umpires.

 

Demons star Max Gawn and Saints young gun Rowan Marshall fought out an entertaining battle in the ruck. Picture: Getty Images
Demons star Max Gawn and Saints young gun Rowan Marshall fought out an entertaining battle in the ruck. Picture: Getty Images

 

RICHO ON SONG

Saints coach Alan Richardson said his team had a renewed focus on defence and a Saints side who has never conceded fewer than 90 points per game under his watch is only allowing 69 after five games.

Asked if he felt vindicated, Richardson said: "We were the first to put our hands up and say that last year was incredibly disappointing, so no I don't."

"There's been frustrations from everyone at the footy club, none more so than us and our fans have been disappointed.

"So we understood the noise. We just had to control what we could and that was to get as fit as we could and whack in and get as physical as we could.

"We really challenged the group and it's only early, but they're going well.

"I think the biggest factor is the growth in being consistent in performance.

"We've all acknowledged that Billings and (Jade) Gresham are talented, as is (Jimmy) Webster, as is (Tim) Membrey … but they're having a bigger influence on the game."

News Corp Australia


BREAKING: Gympie region man found 'safe and well'

BREAKING: Gympie region man found 'safe and well'

Police and SES have located a 75-year-old man safe and well.

ILL WIND FOR NOOSA: Cooloola smoke pall heads south

premium_icon ILL WIND FOR NOOSA: Cooloola smoke pall heads south

Light north-westerlies deliver Gympie's coast a breath of fresh air

Woman charged - Gympie man stabbed in Hervey Bay attack

premium_icon Woman charged - Gympie man stabbed in Hervey Bay attack

Southside man, 33, taken to hospital after assault