The two-hour bus ride from Noosa to the Gabba offers the perfect calm before the storm.
It’s a relatively quiet trip for the duration, but as the team bus pulls up outside the Gabba and the engine switches off, a quick flurry of “Go Saints” reverberates around the group.
After nine long years, it’s finals time again, and the Saints are ready for it.
The day starts early, with a contingent of coaches and staff hitting the beach for slips catches at 7.30am.
Favourite son and chief protagonist Aaron Hamill’s hulking frame fires a tennis ball at speed at the gathered throng, which includes President Andrew Bassat, CEO Matt Finnis and COO Simon Lethlean.
An early chance to settle the game-day nerves for the Saints’ key operators behind the scenes.
Back at Noosa RACV Resort, the Saints’ adopted home, Dan Hannebery sits down for breakfast after a swim to freshen up ahead of the long commute to the Gabba.
If he’s not training, he’s recovering with a fanatical commitment to making sure he has done absolutely everything possible to be at his best.
A message pings on the Saints WhatsApp group from Lethlean, who shares a hand-written note from Jordan – one of the resort’s key staff members who’s looked after the club for the past three months.
Off on leave for the next few weeks to get married, Jordan writes a heartfelt thank you to the club for making her feel such a part of the group.
Jordan, now a Saint in every sense, is among a group of RACV Resort staff heading to the game. Despite knowing little of the sport before the club’s arrival, they’re now as dedicated as any St Kilda fans.
Look no further than the tears of joy post-match from one of her colleagues to see how much it means.
Moorabbin may be the home of the Saints, but Noosa will forever hold a special place in the hearts of its people, made all the more significant by the friendships forged with these special locals.
Before the buses depart at midday, Captain Jarryn Geary sits down to lunch.
After a monumental two weeks – in which wife Emma gave birth to their son Freddie – the battle-hardened skipper is looking forward to that bus trip.
The calm before the storm, where he can think solely about the game.
Bradley Hill sits beside him on the lounge with a Poke bowl and happily admits he is feeling nervous.
“The butterflies are definitely there,” he offers.
Time to go, and Brett Ratten makes his way to the back of the team bus.
It’s only a recent superstition, but one that must be observed nonetheless.
One by one, the Saints and staff file in and take their places, the nervous energy palpable.
“Go Saints”, and the enormity of the hours ahead starts to sink in.
One of these teams won’t proceed.
The first thing that hits you walking up the race is the heat. The Queensland sun is high in the sky and there’s nowhere to hide on the vast expanses of the pristine surface.
Dean Kent’s usual warm-up partner Josh Battle is in the stands resting a sore foot, so Nick Coffield fills the void.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Kent jokes when asked if Coffield will do the job as kicking partner.
The entire playing group hits the field together as the sun dips behind the stands for the ‘Wilkie Warm-up’ – formerly the ‘Gresh Warm-up’ – a short set of drills that is now in the hands of the No. 44, who will also later lead the club song in lieu of Gresham.
After a more intense warm-up in the rooms, Ratten gathers the players in for one last word before they fight to keep their season alive.
The coach is at his best in these moments.
A natural motivator – he finds the balance between tactics and passion.
His message is simple: he reinforces his belief in the group and the elements of the game they need to get right to overcome the Bulldogs.
He highlights Nick Coffield and Paddy Ryder, the young and old, and reminds them that every single player will need to step up to help the Saints take another step on their journey.
Up in the stands, the players’ and coaches’ families wait nervously. This is the first game they have attended in person and their excitement is at fever pitch.
The morning was spent making banners; the evening will be spent chewing fingernails.
Bassat finds a spot on his own in an empty corporate box, knowing he usually becomes so absorbed in the game that being alone with his thoughts is the best way to go.
He’ll be joined by Finnis for the second half, where they will ride the ups and downs, desperate to see their beloved club win its first final in 10 years.
The game itself has everything.
Geary suddenly becomes a marking machine, Paddy Ryder a 32-year-old leaping giant and Coffield the master of composure.
When Geary goals to put the Saints almost four goals up with eight minutes left, the Saints look home.
But this tale has another twist.
The Dogs come hard, and with two minutes on the clock, the margin is back to just three points.
Ryder sits on the bench in despair knowing his hamstring is torn. All he can do now is watch.
Coffield again comes to the fore to put his head over it and earn a free kick.
Rowan Marshall marks strongly on the wing to soak up valuable seconds.
The Dogs go again for one final frantic thrust forward, with Saints hearts in mouths Australia-wide.
Then, it happens.
The siren sounds, the strong Saints contingent in the stands erupts, cue bedlam.
Ratten meets the players on the field as staff embrace on the sidelines.
The players head towards the sea of red, white and black, where the families are front and centre, before disappearing into the rooms.
And the only thing left to do? Belt out a famous rendition of a famous song.