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2021 Toyota AFL Premiership
Round 1 • GWS Giants v St Kilda
GIANTS Stadium Sydney
78 11.12
Full Time Saints by 8
86 13.8
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    Match Preview: Saints set for tough slog on Giants' turf

    A tough contest beckons against a simmering GWS outfit, hellbent on atoning for last year's exit at the hands of the Saints.

    Only together, united behind one banner, can we achieve what others said we couldn’t.

    Now, it's time to make our stand and begin our rise for 2021.

    A tough contest beckons against a simmering GWS outfit, hellbent on atoning for last year's exit at the hands of the Saints.

    With key players out, a hard-fought contest in difficult conditions looming and a fiery reception from the Giants set to open the year, the red, white and black will be put to the test.

    But the Saints are up for the fight.

    Round 1 | 2021

    GWS v St Kilda
    Sunday 21 March
    GIANTS Stadium, 3:20pm
    Broadcast live and free on Channel 7

    The key storylines

    1. Saints’ depth to be put to the test

    St Kilda’s depth – and fortitude – will be put to the test against the Giants following a recent wave of injuries to key position players in the lead-up to Round 1.

    Opportunities have subsequently opened up for several Saints waiting in the wings, with debutants Paul Hunter and Tom Highmore determined to impress in their maiden appearances.

    The Saints will be without Jarryn Geary (leg), Rowan Marshall (foot), Paddy Ryder (personal leave), Dan Hannebery (calf), Max King (concussion), James Frawley (hamstring), Zak Jones (hamstring) and Ben Paton (leg).

    2. Green rucks to lock horns

    Both the Saints and Giants will unveil untried ruckmen on Sunday afternoon, with Paul Hunter and Matthew Flynn set to go head-to-head in their respective AFL debuts.

    The 28-year-old Hunter, delisted by the Crows in 2019 after four years on the rookie list, takes the place of the absent Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall, but will be supported by fellow signing Shaun McKernan at centre bounce.

    Flynn, meanwhile, has been on the Giants’ roster for over five years, with coach Leon Cameron confirming a senior call-up on Monday afternoon.

    3. The rains are here!

    With the Harbour City being hammered by storms over the past few days, Sunday's match is set to descend into a hard-fought slog, particularly with more downpours incoming.

    The conditions will be a change to what the Saints are normally used to on their Marvel Stadium home deck, with Brett Ratten's side preparing for a physical contest at GIANTS Stadium.

    07:51 Mins
    Published on

    'We're going to have to apply ourselves': Ratten on the approach to Round 1.

    Senior coach Brett Ratten spoke to the media ahead of our season opener against GWS.

    Published on

    While the Giants hold several well-framed midfielders in their line-up, the Saints have a few of their own through Jack Steele and Jack Bytel who will thrive in the contested game.

    4. Revised rules on the Premiership stage

    Season 2021 will bring several tweaks and amendments to the League rulebook, most notably through the revised manning of the mark rule.

    Brett Ratten’s troops have had two matches against opposition to get a feel for the new ruling, with last year’s leading goalkicker Dan Butler saying the Saints have been looking to “expose it offensively” across the course of the pre-season.

    A drop in interchange rotations from 90 down to 75 will also take effect from Round 1, with key position players including Callum Wilkie and Tim Membrey to spend majority, if not all, of game-time on the field.

    Sunday afternoon will also mark the implementation of the 23rd man – or medical substitute – wherein a player can replace another on the field in the event of injury or concussion.

    Team line-ups

    The Saints will introduce five new faces on Sunday, with Jack Higgins, Shaun McKernan and Mason Wood joining AFL debutants Tom Highmore and Paul Hunter.

    Fan-favourite Jimmy Webster will feature in the senior line-up for the first time since Round 8 2019, while Jade Gresham is set to join the on-ball brigade after a back injury cut last year's campaign in half. 

    GWS will blood two debutants of their own through Tanner Bruhn and Matt Flynn.

    IN: Higgins (new), Highmore (debut), Hunter (debut), McKernan (new), Wood (new)

    Where the match is won

     Stoppage dominance. St Kilda’s last two matches against GWS have been dominated by scoring power out of stoppages, with 60% of its score coming from that source compared to the long-term average of 38%.

    In 2020, Jack Steele (10 clearances) and Hunter Clark (five) stood tall as the firing outfit kicked a season-high 52 points directly from stoppage wins – while keeping the Giants goalless from theirs – coincidentally in a 52-point win.

    The Saints learned their lesson from 2019 when, despite scoring six out of 10 goals from clearances, they conceded 12 opposition goals – the side’s worst figures for the year.

    Up for the fight. Photo: Corey Scicluna.

    Digging through the record books…

    The last time St Kilda played the same opponent in consecutive home-and-away matches was against Geelong 17 years ago.

    After losing to the Cats in Round 22 2003, Grant Thomas’ side turned the tables in Round 1 2004 with 11 consecutive goals in a 61-point win.

    On the radar…

    If there’s a player to be a thorn in the Saints’ side on Sunday afternoon, that man is undoubtedly Toby Greene.

    The newly elevated vice-captain was well-held by Ben Paton in last year’s clash, but will be itching to reignite his trademark niggle and cause plenty of headaches for the visitors.

    Toby Greene tangles with Ben Paton in last year's match at the Gabba.

    Despite a hamstring injury last season, Greene polled in the top-10 of the club’s Best & Fairest count and kicked 17 goals from 13 matches – five of which came against Richmond in Round 8.

    Others to watch: Coniglio, Finlayson, Haynes, Taranto, Hopper

    Keep an eye on…

    Several Jacks will looking to take down the Giants, but new Saint Jack Higgins will arguably be the pick of the bunch.

    The livewire forward is poised to pack a punch in his childhood colours, with the past two practice matches seeing him line up inside the attacking arc and through the midfield.

    Higgins slotted two majors against North Melbourne in February to be one of the Saints’ best, before netting 24 disposals and a goal over Carlton as part of the AAMI Community Series.

    Last time we met…

    With a long-awaited finals spot on the line, St Kilda stormed past an unflattering GWS line-up by 52 points to book its place in the following fortnight’s elimination final.

    Jack Steele and Rowan Marshall were among their side’s best, with the Saints’ midfield dominance paving the way to an ardent victory.

    05:46 Mins
    Published on

    RD 18 | Highlights v Giants

    Relive all the action from the Saints' do-or-die clash with GWS under Friday night lights.

    Published on

    ST KILDA   3.3  5.5  8.9  12.10 (82)
    GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY   1.5  3.8  3.10  3.12 (30)

    GOALS
    St Kilda: Steele 2, Lonie 2, Battle, Billings, Butler, Hill, King, Marshall, Membrey, Ryder
    Greater Western Sydney: Lloyd, Riccardi, Greene

    BEST
    St Kilda:
     Marshall, Steele, Butler, Wilkie, Ryder, Ross, Clark, Long
    Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Coniglio, Lloyd, Hopper, Perryman

    BROWNLOW
    Marshall (3), Steele (2), Ross (1)

    Moment of the match

    A ripping roost from Josh Battle after bouncing off his opponent Nick Haynes – signalled one of the most memorable passages from the finals-affirming win. 

    The No. 26 went on to play a crucial shutdown role on the All-Australian defender, keeping him to eight disposals and zero intercept marks as the Saints stormed home.

    00:41 Mins
    Published on

    RD 18 | Battle kicks a ripper from 50

    Josh Battle produces a great goal for the Saints

    Published on

    Saints edge out Giants in thrilling season opener

    St Kilda has edged past Greater Western Sydney by eight points in a see-sawing clash at Giants Stadium

    An undermanned St Kilda has snatched a gutsy eight-point win over Greater Western Sydney in slippery conditions at Giants Stadium.

    The Saints, whose list of injured absentees included Zak Jones, Dan Hannebery, Max King, James Frawley, Rowan Marshall and Jarryn Geary, led for the majority of the third term.

    The Giants looked the likely winners when Harry Himmelberg had a shot to put his side 16 points up midway through the final term, but hit the post from close-range.

    St Kilda promptly piled on three successive goals, including a stunning snap by Jack. Lonie, to wrestle back the lead but the 13.8 (86) to 11.12 (78) win wasn't sealed until Dan Butler produced a goal from a holding-the-ball free kick in the final minute. 

    Tim Membrey was outstanding for the Saints with three goals, 21 disposals and seven marks in conditions that didn't suit tall forwards, while Jack Billings (30 touches, one goal) and Hunter Clark (24 disposals in an encouraging midfield display) were also solid.

    Saints fans relished the return of Jade Gresham, who showed a classy display with 28 disposals and five clearances. 

    It was a battle of the captains with Leon Cameron making a surprising call to send Stephen Coniglio to Jack Steele in a tagging role from the opening bounce. Steele had 15 disposals and five clearances in a quarter-and-a-half, but just four disposals for the rest of the game. Coniglio, meanwhile, finished with 24 disposals.

    Round 1 v GWS

    Round 1 v GWS

    The Saints rebounded after a scrappy first term, with Jack Lonie levelling the scores early after Isaac Cumming gave away a 50-metre penalty.

    New recruit Jack Higgins (two goals, 12 disposals) kicked a controversial first goal in his new colours, with GWS player Phil Davis claiming the ball hit the top of the post. 

    SAINTS MATCH CENTRE: View all news, stats and videos from Round 1

    Himmelberg and Coniglio combined to give GWS the lead early in the third term, before Higgins took it back for the Saints and an end-to-end goal finished off by Seb Ross extended the margin.

    Membrey further extended the lead to a game-high 16 points before Callan Ward gave the Giants a much-needed response followed by another free kick which ended with a goal from Toby Greene, further tightening the margin.

    Momentum ebbed and flowed during a hectic final quarter of the wet-weather contest, before Butler's desperate lunge sealed the result in St Kilda's favour.

    01:02 Mins
    Published on

    Team song: St Kilda

    Watch the Saints celebrate their round one win

    Published on

    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, Jack 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)

    GOALS
    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

    BEST
    GWS: Taranto, Perryman, Coniglio, Flynn
    St Kilda: Membrey, Billings, Clark, Gresham

    INJURIES
    GWS: Nil
    St Kilda: Nil

    SUBSTITUTES
    GWS: O'Neill (unused)
    St Kilda: Wood (unused)

    Crowd: TBC at Giants Stadium

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