GEELONG 5.3 11.9 11.13 18.15 (123) ST KILDA 3.2 6.5 9.12 11.15 (81)
GOALS Geelong: Hawkins 6, Podsiadly 2, Motlop 2, T Hunt 2, West 2, Mackie, Murdoch, Stokes, Chapman. St Kilda: Milne 4, Saad 3, Schneider, Goddard, Armitage, Geary.
BEST Geelong: Hawkins, Kelly, Duncan, Johnson, Stokes, Taylor. St Kilda: Goddard, Gram, Milne, Hayes, Montagna, Fisher.
INJURIES St Kilda: Blake (ankle) replaced in selected side by Stanley. Stanley (suspected fractured ribs).
UMPIRES C Donlon, S Meredith, B Rosebury.
CROWD 38,169 at Etihad Stadium.
AHMED Saad spilled the chest mark but scrambled quickly to his feet. With Matthew Scarlett hovering, just a step or two behind, the St Kilda forward got the ball back under control as it bounced towards the boundary line at Etihad Stadium, then placed it onto his right boot. There were about 17 minutes gone in the second quarter when his kick bounced once, rolled over, bounced again and squeezed through the right side of the goal post.
It was a brilliant kick, StKilda’s second goal in a row and one that brought the Saints to within two kicks. But it was what happened next that said more about what had already unfolded, and where this game seemed headed. The Cats won the next centre bounce, Joel Corey looped a long handball to Trent West and the ruckman kicked a running goal from the 50-metre line that, all things considered, was as good if not even more skilful than Saad’s shot.
That was less than 18 minutes in. By the 22-minute mark Geelong had another goal up, after Steven Motlop took a downfield free kick. Twenty-five minutes in, the Cats were more than four goals clear, after Mathew Stokes pushed his own set shot centimetres over the outstretched arms on the goal line. When James Podsiadly slotted his first goal, with less than a minute to half-time, the Saints had some work to do against a side that was getting players into space, finding them with quick, clean kicks and defending with cohesion, as if the backmen were reading each other’s minds.
Where the Cats had Tom Hawkins taking marks, kicking goals and disposing of opponents, the Saints were without Nick Riewoldt, looking for a kickless Justin Koschitzke and relying on their smaller forwards to keep in touch, with Stephen Milne kicking three of their six first-half goals and Saad two. Where Lenny Hayes was winning plenty of tough midfield ball, with seven contested possessions, the Cats were winning more of them, through a wider collection of players, and getting into space much more easily. Taylor Hunt snapped two goals in the first few minutes of the match, playing on Nick Dal Santo, to help set this scene. It was a job they were willing to take on, though.
A third-quarter goal to Milne, his fourth, got St Kilda off to the sharper start in the third term. Another, through David Armitage, made the gap a much more gettable one, and Brendon Goddard’s mark and goal, less than halfway through, brought it back to within 15 points, as it began to dominate possession and force the Cats to second-guess themselves, much, much more than they had done in the first half. Mistakes happened, and the forward line suddenly wasn’t so easy to find.
By the end of the quarter the Saints had won 44 more possessions and taken the ball inside 50 six more times than the goalless Geelong side. Were it not for missed shots by Dal Santo and Rhys Stanley, who won a free kick after Scarlett nudged him into Tom Lonergan, who had bravely backed into the marking contest, they could have taken the lead.
Jason Gram’s play off half-back became critical, Leigh Montagna got his hands to the ball much more often and with Koschitzke subbed off for Adam Schneider, the Saints’ even smaller forward line was harder for the Cats to manage. At the same time, they started to defend with more pattern, Hawkins suddenly the key forward struggling to find room to move.
But it was Geelong’s turn to come up with something, even more so after Saad kicked his third to start the last quarter, then tapped the ball to Schneider for his first from the goal line. There was just one point in it then, but Hawkins found a new way to kick his fifth — roving — Jordan Murdoch slotted his set shot and Andrew Mackie kicked another to push the lead back out to three goals with 10 minutes to go. From there the Cats were not only able to hold on, but to take control: clean again, efficient again and able — again — to see off a serious challenge without seeming too alarmed or panicked by it.
Cats big man Tom Hawkins found himself the centre of attention last week when he landed heavily and was forced off in Geelong's narrow loss to West Coast. It didn't take the 24-year-old long to show that he was in perfect shape last night, kicking two first-quarter goals and repeating the feat in the second.
Ahmed Saad has made a good impression this season with his opportunism in front of goal, and he showed that to keep his team in touch halfway through the second period when he dropped a mark but recovered quickly enough to twist and turn past Matthew Scarlett and create the space to dribble a shot through.
When you are hot, you are hot. But when you are cold you can be freezing. Alas for Saints fans, big man Justin Koschitzke was cool enough to usher in a new ice age at Etihad. By half-time he had barely registered on the stats sheet, his one hitout balanced by the one free kick he had given away. His miserable evening lasted only seven minutes into the third quarter when coach Scott Watters replaced him with substitute Adam Schneider. - MICHAEL LYNCH