Greater Western Sydney stumbled at the first hurdle to hold their own as an AFL contender, losing an eight-point thriller to an understaffed St. Kilda on Sunday.
The Giants have done well to fight back from 16 points and take the lead in a tense final quarter – which, like the three before, ebbed and flowed with good moments for both sides.
But it was the visitors who got up when it mattered. Jack Lonie’s miraculous crack from the pocket, a long-range Seb Ross finish and a terrific goal from Tim Membrey brought them back to the front.
The 50-meter shot by Lachie Keeffe brought the Giants back to one point, but one controversial free kick against Dan Butler was enough to give St. Kilda a sweeping triumph from 13.8 (86) to 11.12 (78).
Butler had pushed Callan Ward, who dropped the ball on impact and pinged for improper disposal, but argued to the umpires that he was never actually attacked.
It was a win that set the season up for the Saints who were without almost half of their top 22, including Max King, Paddy Ryder, Rowan Marshall and Brad Crouch.
The Giants fell eight points in an opening-round thriller, which will do little to silence critics of the newest AFL club.
Membrey ended with three goals for St. Kilda, while Ross, yes ck Higgins and Lonie both ended with two goals. For GWS, Harry Himmelberg scored three goals as the team’s attack point in his first game after Jeremy Cameron moved to Geelong out of season.
There was far more at stake for the Giants on Sunday, who are determined to prove that the failure of the top 8 last year was an anomaly in a unique season – no sign of the future.
Your performance will do little to convince critics who believe their Premiership window is closing and it will immediately raise the heat of coach Leon Cameron, who signed a two-year contract extension last year before overseeing GWS’s relegation from the 2019 big finalists to 10th place on the ladder in 2020.
Also the Giants were a few key players but unable to match the Saints’ energy and serenity when the outcome was at stake.
The worst wild weather in Sydney wa r passed on initial impact at Sydney Olympic Park, but occasional showers and a slippery deck made it a close, low-scoring war of wear and tear – and so it turned out.
The hosts looked for it first and kicked the first two goals, with Toby Greene pushing Dougal Howard’s back for a mark of the year contender that led to the first goal – though it seemed to be touched first by the man in the lead, Paul Hunter.
But the Saints struck out five of the next six goals back – the first of many momentum swings in a competition that has changed hands five times.
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