Grand Final preview: St Kilda to upset Collingwood?

21 September 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Collingwood v St Kilda

Saturday 25 September, 2.30pm AEST at the MCG, Melbourne (Channel 7)

Last Time They Met: Collingwood 15.10 (100) defeated St Kilda 6.16 (52), round 16, 2010 at MCG

Recent Form: Collingwood’s first quarter against Geelong at the MCG last Friday night was as electrifying and professional as you’ll ever see. The Magpies put on a clinic, kicking an accurate 7.2 to the Cats’ inept 1.1 to set up a convincing 41-point win over the reigning premiers in front of more than 95,000 spectators. Collingwood’s relentless defensive pressure, speed around the ground and tenacity at the contest exposed the Cats who were forced into committing uncharacteristic mistakes. Once again, Magpie midfielders Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury were close to unstoppable, gathering 57 disposals and kicking four goals between them.

St Kilda was forced to work a little harder in order to earn its grand final spot against a brave Bulldogs outfit last weekend. The Saints looked extremely rusty during the first half, kicking only three goals at a pitiful 49 per cent kicking efficiency. But they came out after half time as if they were a different team, dominating the third term to kick 7.4 to 1.3 and set up an 18-point victory. The Saints moved the ball quickly and directly through the centre corridor in the second half and put the Bulldogs’ defence under enormous pressure. They were competent in their decision making and accurate when disposing of the footy.

Key Players: The scene is perfectly set for Alan Didak to put on a show this Saturday. There is no better way to announce yourself as a player than with an outstanding individual performance in a grand final. Didak thrives on the big stage amidst the limelight and the big crowd and he has a freakish ability to turn a game on its head. He is a high-class, highly-skilled athlete who has developed into one of the most dangerous players in the competition. The last time Collingwood and St Kilda met, the 27-year-old gathered 33 possessions and earned three Brownlow votes during the Pies’ 48-point win. Whoever plays on Didak has to keep a very close eye on him because the Saints simply can’t afford to let him roam free around the ground.

St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt won’t have too many fond memories of last year’s grand final. In horribly wet conditions for a tall forward, the 27 year-old managed just the one goal from eight kicks and five marks. To make matters worse, Geelong’s Harry Taylor played the game of his life and made it super difficult for Riewoldt to get his hands on the footy. We would also learn a few weeks after the loss that the skipper tore an adductor muscle during St Kilda’s closed training session two days before the big match. Riewoldt’s time to make amends is now. Maybe the most encouraging sign for St Kilda during its win over the Bulldogs last weekend was the form of its captain. Riewoldt led his team’s second half revival to finish with 21 possessions, seven marks and three goals. There is no doubt he will be fit and firing come Saturday afternoon and will look to assert his authority on the game early.

Who Wins?  This game is a case of attack verses defence. During the home-and-away season, Collingwood was ranked second for the most points scored, while St Kilda conceded the least number of points out of any team. The Pies, they need to force an open, free-flowing contest if they want to walk away with their 15th premiership. Meanwhile, the Saints need to make it an ugly, low-scoring slog if they want to walk away with their second premiership.

It’s hard to anticipate who will be under more pressure when both teams run out onto the ground. The Magpies have only won the one flag in 51 years and will carry the hopes of millions of supporters right around the world. But the Saints have only won one premiership in their entire history and will know that two grand final losses in two years is just as humiliating as finishing on the bottom of the ladder for consecutive years.

On form, Collingwood win. The Magpies have been in scintillating form during their last two games, emphasising the fact that they have been the best side all year. Their forward pressure is something to behold and their evenness across the whole field is excellent. They are fresh and virtually have a full list to choose from, while injury clouds hang over the heads of a few St Kilda players such as Nick Dal Santo, Jason Gram and Justin Koschitzke.

Collingwood’s Ben Reid and Nathan Brown have been nothing short of outstanding this season in the key defensive positions.  However there is an old saying which says that the team with the best defence wins premierships and both players are still very young and possibly vulnerable to the big stage situation. The 21-year-olds will be up against Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke, two men who are hard to stop once up and firing. Both Reid and Brown will need plenty of assistance from Heath Shaw and Harry O’Brien in order to curb the influence of the two big Saints.

But who could forget the absolute devastation on the faces of all the St Kilda players after Geelong won last year’s premiership by 12 points. Brendon Goddard, Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Stephen Milne all seemed inconsolable and it was hard not to feel sympathetic for them. After such a heartbreaking loss, they understand what’s required to win a grand final.

The Saints have been there and have already had the experience of a grand final week. They are a well led club both on and off the field, and their coach Ross Lyon is as switched on as anyone in the business. I think the Saints will be able to get the game on their own terms and will have a strong resolve to avenge last year’s devastating loss.

Prediction: St Kilda by 12 points

Norm Smith Medallist: Lenny Hayes (STK)

Ben Waterworth is a  Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University who has contributed dozens of articles to upstart during 2010. In the coming weeks he will be reporting from the Aquatics Centre at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. You can read even more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought.