St Kilda's hopes of playing finals football are still well and truly alive, after hanging on to secure a much-needed 12-point victory against a fast-finishing Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium.
With the margin for error so small at this stage of the season and a horror run to the finish to come, the Saints quite simply had to get all four points on Saturday evening to stay entrenched in the finals hunt and they passed the first test - but it didn’t come without a major scare.
The Saints looked to be on their way to a comfortable win after booting seven unanswered goals between the first and third terms which helped open up a game-high 44-point lead.
However, the Hawks had other plans, kicking eight of the last ten goals (including the final five) to create a grandstand finish but ultimately, St Kilda was able to stay resolute and come away with their 11th win of the season.
The 10.15 (75) to 9.9 (63) win is the Saints’ first back-to-back victory since round 11, which in turn keeps them right in the mix for the final spot in the eight alongside the Western Bulldogs and Richmond.
In a victory built off their dominance at stoppages in the early stages, Rowan Marshall (30 disposals, 35 hitouts, seven clearances) was central to giving the Saints ascendancy, while Brad Crouch (30 disposals, ten tackles, nine clearances) and Jack Steele (31 disposals) got to work at the coalface - while the returning Dan Hannebery (27 disposals) got through the game unscathed.
Despite its control at the contest, St Kilda, at times, was its own worst enemy, particularly in front of goal.
Had it not been for errant kicking (10.15), the margin at the final siren could have easily been much greater, with Max King, the Saints' only multiple goalkicker, adding five behinds to his two goals.
It was a game of two-halves for Hawthorn. Despite coming into the contest fresh off winning three games in a row and with a wave of momentum in its sails, Hawthorn was far from its best for much of the game but found injected a pep into its step in the final quarter.
Sam Mitchell’s side was also dealt a hefty blow on the injury front with Mitch Lewis (knee) and Josh Morris (shoulder) failing to finish the game.
In the early stages, both teams struggled to get going, with errant ball use and wayward kicking on goal the traits that summed up the majority of the opening half.
However, St Kilda grew into the contest as the first half wore on, taking control at stoppages (23-12 clearances) and turning its dominance in the middle into points on the scoreboard - booting three unanswered second-quarter goals to open up a 26-point halftime lead.
While it looked as if St Kilda would coast to an easy win, Hawthorn found its footing as the second half wore on and looked to make the wayward Saints pay.
The Hawks gained the ascendancy in the middle, and began to run over the tiring Saints who looked weary when Luke Breust cut the margin to 12 points with just under six minutes to go - but in the end, the Saints were able to do just enough to hang on.
Dan Hannebery: A feel good story. pic.twitter.com/jDSiUDvueQ— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 30, 2022
It's Hannebery time
While his appearances have been sporadic, Dan Hannebery has made a thing of returning late in the season for St Kilda, playing his first game at senior level since round 23 last season. After being an ever-present figure in Sydney’s line-up throughout the first ten years of career, Hannebery has been hampered by setback after setback at the Saints, with Saturday evening’s clash only the 16th time out of a possible 82 that he’s suited up for the senior side since making the move to Moorabbin at the end of 2018. It didn’t take long for the three-time All-Australian to make an impact on proceedings, booting his 100th career goal late in the first-term and ending the game with 27 disposals and five clearances.
Battle of the taggers
The tag is still well and truly alive. In recent weeks, both sides have opted to go down the road less travelled in the modern game by going with taggers. Fresh off keeping Tim Kelly to only four disposals last weekend, young Saint Marcus Windhager was given run-with duties yet again, saddled with the task of quelling the impact of Jai Newcombe on Saturday. The youngster was again impactful, particularly early in the contest, as he held Newcombe to seven disposals before he finished with 21. Meanwhile, Finn Maginness continued his role as a defensive forward, and performed admirably on a myriad of opponents, first going head to head with in-form Jack Sinclair before spending time on both Jack Steele and Brad Crouch in the second-half.
ST KILDA 2.2 5.7 9.10 10.15 (75)
HAWTHORN 1.2 1.5 4.6 9.9 (63)
St Kilda: King 2, Wood, Hannebery, Crouch, Butler, Ross, Membrey, Owens, Higgins
Hawthorn: Newcombe 2, Scrimshaw 2, Gunston, Butler, McEvoy, Moore, Breust
St Kilda: Marshall, Crouch, Steele, Hannebery, Paton, Clark, Sharman, Ross
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Ward, Morrison, Macdonald, Blanck, Nash
St Kilda: Nil
Hawthorn: Morris (shoulder), Koschitzke (leg), Lewis (knee)
St Kilda: Mitch Owens (replaced Tom Campbell in selected side)
St Kilda: Ryan Byrnes (unused)
Hawthorn: Emerson Jeka (replaced Josh Morris at halftime)
CROWD: 25,348 at Marvel Stadium