Greater Western Sydney has progressed to the second week of September for the sixth time in eight seasons after a resilient 24-point elimination final win against St Kilda at the MCG on Saturday.
The Orange Tsunami was back on the big stage after a one-year absence, but this time under first-year coach Adam Kingsley, bringing a relentless mix of grit and flair to see off several challenges from the Saints and win 15.11 (101) to 11.11 (77).
It continued an excellent record for the club, which has won at least one final in all its finals campaigns, including the first five under previous coach Leon Cameron, when the 2019 Grand Finalists were first dubbed the 'Orange Tsunami'.
SAINTS MATCH CENTRE: View all news, stats and videos from our elimination final
Our season may be over, but our journey has just begun.— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) September 9, 2023
Thank you for joining us in this new chapter, Sainters. pic.twitter.com/iyrmUJ73YU
The Giants, whose run and dare was a key factor on Saturday, will hit the road next week after booking a semi-final place against the loser of Saturday night's clash between Brisbane and Port Adelaide at the Gabba.
It is season over for the Saints, who twice fell more than 40 points behind but never gave up in the first final between the two clubs. There was ultimately a gulf in class at the top end, however, as the Giants' runners set the tone.
Experienced pair Lachie Whitfield (31 disposals and seven inside 50s) and Josh Kelly (27 and two goals) who were both there when the team last played a final at the MCG in the 2019 decider, were outstanding, while young midfielder Tom Green (36 and nine inside 50s) produced a massive finals performance.
The run of half-back Lachie Ash (31 and 10 rebounds) was critical, with ruckman Kieran Briggs (28 hit-outs and eight clearances) also giving the team an unexpected advantage against Rowan Marshall, with the Giants winning the hit-outs 35-18.
In an otherwise even team performance that was orchestrated without key midfielder Stephen Coniglio (eye), who was a late withdrawal, Jake Riccardi booted three goals and Toby Bedford (two) stood up in attack after his fortnight of Tribunal uncertainty.
Two of this year's surprise finalists after appointing new coaches in the off-season, the Giants and Saints each entered September in form and went goal for goal early as they fought to get the game on their terms.
It was Kingsley who eventually won out as GWS went on a run of six straight inside 50s and dominated field position, with Green, Kelly and Briggs establishing the midfield ascendency and the defenders pressing up high.
When Brent Daniels converted his 45m set shot, the Giants had their highest first-quarter score at the MCG and an 18-point lead at the first break in enemy territory.
They gathered pace to start the second, with Jesse Hogan taking a contested mark to kick his second and Riccardi and Daniel Lloyd snapping accurately. When Daniels got creative in the pocket to find an accurate Kelly with a skilful pass, the Giants were in total control and seven goals clear.
Well held to that point, Max King spearheaded the Saints' first challenge, kicking back-to-back goals after prevailing in contests against gun opponent Sam Taylor.
Bradley Hill then snapped accurately with five seconds to play in the first half, cutting the margin to 23 points.
The Giants had all the answers again in the third as they rebuilt a 43-point lead, holding the Saints' goalless for more than 20 minutes and adding three of their own in what looked like the match-defining period.
As they had in the second term, however, the Saints struck late and kicked three quick goals on the back of Hill's creative run, including a snap from Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera as the siren was about to sound, to cut the margin to 25 points and set GWS a challenge to finish the job, which they did.
ST KILDA 2.3 6.6 9.8 11.11 (77)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 5.3 10.5 13.9 15.11 (101)
St Kilda: King 3, Sharman 2, Hill 2, Higgins, Marshall, Owens, Wanganeen-Milera
Greater Western Sydney: Riccardi 3, Bedford 2, Brown 2, Hogan 2, Kelly 2, Callaghan, Greene, Daniels, Lloyd
St Kilda: Steele, Sharman, Marshall, Wanganeen-Milera, Hill
Greater Western Sydney: Green, Kelly, Whitfield, Ash, Briggs, Bedford, Idun
St Kilda: Wood (eye)
Greater Western Sydney: Nil
St Kilda: Nil
Greater Western Sydney: Stephen Coniglio (eye) replaced in the selected side by Xavier O'Halloran
St Kilda: Liam Stocker (replaced Anthony Caminiti at half time)
Greater Western Sydney: Nick Haynes (replaced Isaac Cumming in the fourth quarter)
Crowd: 68,465 at the MCG