THE CLASS of Melbourne has proven too much for St Kilda, kicking an astonishing 6.5 in the final term to run out 41-point victors.
The Saints were rank outsiders against one of the flag fancies, but stuck with the Demons for three impressive quarters in the 9.10 (64) to 3.5 (23) result in hot conditions at Casey Fields.
But Melbourne flicked the switch in the last quarter, capitalising on the wind and a weight of numbers in attack to turn an even scoreboard at three-quarter time into a percentage-boosting triumph.
It was a hotly contested first half, with St Kilda's pressure combined with Melbourne's over-handballing making for a scrappy affair.
Inaccuracy in front of goal has long haunted the Demons, and they failed to capitalise on their opportunities inside 50, kicking 1.5 in the second term with the wind.
The Saints didn't have nearly as many chances, but the young talent in the squad was on show when debutant Ash Richards took possession between two Dees and delivered a centimetre-perfect pass to Nicola Xenos, who cut the margin to just three points before the main break.
Tayla Harris – predominately watched by Rebecca Ott – was an ever-present threat in attack, marking well and kicking 3.2.
A perfect encapsulation of the match came in the third quarter. The Saints had held up well, but loose checking in defence meant Daisy Pearce aborted her set-shot, and passed off to an unmarked Kate Hore who promptly capitalised.
But the Saints held their head up, winning a quick clearance before Molly McDonald's snap saw the score all tied up at the final break.
The composure and leadership of Karen Paxman (19 disposals) was on show in the midfield, Sarah Lampard (16) directed play off half-back, while key back Libby Birch was locked in an antagonistic battle with Kate Shierlaw.
Versatile Saint Tilly Lucas-Rodd (22 and nine tackles) found plenty of ball in the middle, defenders Bianca Jakobsson and Hannah Priest stood up well under pressure, while Xenos was a constant threat in attack.
Young midfield core means Dees will stick around
Melbourne's win was built on the back of strong contest work, but it wasn't just veteran Karen Paxman leading the charge. Tyla Hanks was very influential in the last quarter, rookie Eliza West was finding the footy at will, Megan Fitzsimon played with great composure, while Eliza McNamara and Alyssa Bannan worked hard on the wings.
A forward line without 'G-Train'
St Kilda coach Nick Dal Santo made a statement by dropping 2020 AFLW leading goalkicker Caitlin Greiser, and the forward line looked a little different as a result. Kate Shierlaw was the tallest target, with Jacqui Vogt in support, while Xenos, Richards, Darcy Guttridge and Bella Shannon provided plenty of run and pressure at ground level. While the side lost by 41, firepower in attack wasn't the issue.
Two rucks? Don't count on it
Melbourne traditionally has played with Lauren Pearce as its sole ruck, preferring to have Eden Zanker, now-retired Tegan Cunningham or even Shelley Scott to pinch-hit. Young ruck Maggie Caris – who also plays elite netball – has played her first three games this season, but coach Mick Stinear said she was helping lower Pearce's minutes in the ruck, after the 2019 All-Australian suffered COVID just before round one. He indicated it would not necessarily be a tactic they would stick to for the entire season.
"It probably started with our contest work, we went to ground a lot and didn't really help ourselves, and then our mids were able to be clean and go from the inside to the outside a bit quicker. Then, we got some genuine one-on-one's ahead of the ball." – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
"At no stage did I feel like we stopped competing or trying, it was more the execution. The reality is, there was a breeze in the last quarter, and the Dees did a brilliant effort in utilising it and putting pressure on us, and I thought at times we looked a little tired, but they still gave the effort." – St Kilda coach Nick Dal Santo
Melbourne could well be featuring in the match of the round, taking on Adelaide at Norwood Oval on Saturday afternoon. The Saints will have an opportunity for a breakthrough win against West Coast at Trevor Barker Oval on the same day.
MELBOURNE 1.0 2.5 3.5 9.10 (64)
ST KILDA 1.2 2.2 3.5 3.5 (23)
Melbourne: Harris 3, Hanks 2, Hore, L. Pearce, D. Pearce, Fitzsimon
St Kilda: Vogt, Xenos, McDonald
Melbourne: Paxman, Lampard, Hanks, Harris, Hore, Birch
St Kilda: Lucas-Rodd, Jakobsson, Priest, Xenos, Shierlaw
Melbourne: Fitzsimon (cut head)
St Kilda: Nil
Crowd: 1217 at Casey Fields