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Final flourish too little, too late for Saints


St Kilda should be tuning up for their first AFL finals campaign in six seasons when they play Richmond next Sunday at the MCG.

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Instead, they are 10th and hoping for a miracle on the last day of the home and away season.

By contrast, the Tigers will confirm the double chance if they beat the Saints.

It is a stunning turnaround from when the two teams last played, just six weeks ago.

If the Saints miss the finals, as expected, nothing better sums up their lost opportunity this season.

On July 8, St Kilda played some of the most exhilarating football of the year in the first half against Richmond, mauling them with 14 goals to one.

The Saints won by 67 points, leaving the two teams on 9-6 and their seasons at the crossroads.

While Richmond impressively put their season back on track immediately, the Saints fell into a ditch.

St Kilda lost their next three games, killing any momentum gained from the Richmond win.

By contrast, the Tigers have won five out of six matches since that disastrous Saturday night, and are now a game clear in fourth spot after thrashing Fremantle by 104 points in the Dockers’ final game at Domain Stadium yesterday.

The Saints are themselves coming off a dominating 49-point win over North Melbourne, but the loss to Melbourne the week before meant they lost control of their finals destiny.

For 10th-placed St Kilda to snatch a finals berth, they must upset the Tigers and rely on Essendon (eighth) and West Coast (ninth) losing their Sunday games.

The Eagles are hosting top side Adelaide, but two hours before St Kilda’s game, Essendon will play Fremantle at Etihad Stadium, with the Dockers coming off successive 104-point losses, having been touched up by Sydney last weekend.

Saints coach Alan Richardson said after the Kangaroos win that they are heading in the right direction, but they have much that needs improving.

“There would be a lot of things that we’d look back on that we need to address,” he said.

“We won’t lose sight of what’s working for us and our strengths, we’ll build those to another level.

“But there are areas that we’ve let ourselves down in. we’ll leave no stone unturned to make sure we get that (improvement).

“This is going to be a really good footy team, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re heading the right way.”

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick isn’t getting carried away just yet either, despite his side being on the cusp of locking down a top-four spot.

The Tigers looked shaky early, with Fremantle dominating the inside-50m count 18-6 in the opening term as the home side opened up a four-point lead.

But Richmond blew the game wide open with an eight-goals-to-nil second term to set up the 25.5 (155) to 7.9 (51) romp in front of a crowd of 34,204.

Former GWS midfielder Jacob Townsend finished with a career-high six goals, a feat all the more remarkable given it was his first AFL match of the year. Before the match, Hardwick revealed, he went up to Townsend and jokingly ordered the former Giant to kick six goals.

Jack Riewoldt (four goals), Kane Lambert (three), Dustin Martin (36 disposals, two goals) and Shaun Grigg (36 possessions) also had big games.

Richmond will guarantee themselves a double chance in the finals if they account for St Kilda at the MCG next Sunday.

But if they lose, they could drop to as low as sixth, with Hardwick expecting another tough tussle against Richardson’s side.

“St Kilda thoroughly embarrassed us the last time we played,” Hardwick said.

“We have to make sure we come to play. I’m not sure they are still playing for a finals spot, the Saints, but they are certainly playing for a legend of the game and a legend of the footy club in Nick Riewoldt.

“So it’s going to be a hell of a game.”

Sunday’s win was Richmond’s biggest ever over Fremantle, shading their 90-point victory over the Dockers at the MCG in 1998.

The result was also the equal biggest defeat in Ross Lyon’s coaching career, following on from last round’s 104-point loss to Sydney.

The capitulation was extra disappointing for Fremantle given it was their final match at Subiaco Oval ahead of next year’s move to the new Perth Stadium.

“Our ability to defend over the past two weeks has been deplorable,” Lyon said.

“I mean they had 50 entires and kicked 25.5, so the ball’s not rebounding out.”

The one bright spot to come out of the game for Fremantle was the successful AFL return of the injury-dogged Harley Bennell, who booted two-first quarter goals.

Meanwhile, Melbourne are poised to play AFL finals for the first time since 2006 after a six-goal haul from Jesse Hogan propelled them to a 13-point win over Brisbane yesterday.

The Lions trailed by just seven points with under two minutes remaining, but the Demons held their nerve to record a 16.8 (104) to 14.7 (91) win in front of 30,422 fans at the MCG.

But it could yet come at a coast, with former Adelaide star Bernie Vince’s clash with Brisbane skipper Dayne Beams set to be scrutinised by the AFL’s match review panel.

Beams left the MCG for medical assessment in the second quarter after he was floored in a desperate spoiling attempt by Vince, whose forearm made contact with his opponent’s face.

The Lions’ skipper was able to return and play a key role for his side, but the Demons veteran still faces a nervous wait.

“From the naked eye when I was watching it looked like guys going at the footy,” Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said after the match.

“We’ll wait and see how that looks.

“I think that’s just the way he plays… he just attacks every contest and goes about his business.

“He plays the game in a physical way, he attacks the contest, he goes when it’s his turn and every now and then he’s probably got it a little bit wrong.”

Vince also collected Claye Beams in the head with his legs contesting a loose ball.

Vince has already been suspended twice this season and the Demons can ill afford to lose him on the cusp of their first finals campaign since 2006.

Port Adelaide defender Tom Jonas’ off-the-ball hit on the Western Bulldogs’ Luke Dahlhaus will also be assessed.

Jonas, who served a six-week suspension for striking last season, floored Dahlhaus when he made high contact with his forearm late in the Power’s Saturday win in Ballarat.

But Dahlhaus was unharmed by the contact and Jonas received backing from an unlikely source.

“It’s a challenging one… because I think everyone has come to realise it is an outcome-based penalty or sanctioning approach,” Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.

“(If) a player gets up and they’re fine, then the perpetrator’s probably okay.

“So, I’d imagine Tom Jonas is probably fine because Luke’s okay.”

Sydney will fight for a top-four finish when they host Carlton at the SCG on Saturday, but Zak Jones will sweat on the MRP’s assessment of his late bump on Adelaide’s Brad Crouch.

St Kilda defender Jake Carlisle was booked twice for striking in a quarter-time melee against North Melbourne, while Fremantle ruckman Sean Darcy was reported for striking Richmond’s Nick Vlastuin.


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