Damn Stupid Pressure! (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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WHAT…ME WORRY?

Pressure. It has cost us some wayward government ministers,  it can drive young divas into a head -shaving, umbrella-waving fit of rage and it forced the temporarily rampaging Adelaide Crows into their shell during the third quarter last Saturday night. And Grant Thomas ate it for breakfast (plus a little bit more, you suspect…) but look where it got him!

That’s right – it’s preliminary final weekend and the buzzword this week has been ‘pressure’. Our two grand finalists will be determined by the end of Saturday night and for all four competing clubs, the pressure is freakin’ ginormous. Though Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse has his own little theory. He reckons that this pressure mainly applies to Geelong rather than his own club!

Apparently, the Cats are suffering under the weight of excruciating pressure that comes with being the outstanding team of the past three seasons but only have one flag to show for it. The Saints and Dogs are also under pressure having not won the comp for well over 40 years. His own club, however, seems devoid of pressure somehow…

MalthouseCake

Under pressure? Feeling stressed? Mick has just the thing for you…a nice piece of cake!

So lemme get this straight – the coach with ten years in charge at the self-proclaimed ‘biggest club in Australia’, responsible for a couple of really good years but no ‘great’ year and, most notably, no premiership to show for it; this guy is not under any pressure at all? And he thinks Geelong is under more pressure than anyone? Um…ok?

Not saying that Malthouse is a bad coach or even an overrated one – the guy is good; see last weekend as a case in point. But he has been at his current club longer than the other three coaches taking part at this preliminary final stage and, unlike the others, he also has a concrete deadline of September 2011 before handing over the keys to Nathan Buckley. No pressure though, Mick! Maybe writing these opinion pieces relaxes him…

His misguided attempt at psychological warfare has made this week a little more interesting but Bomber Thompson would not be the only person to laugh off something he has said this year. But before we see the Pies and Dogs do their best to handle the occasion on Saturday night, we have ourselves another little pressure-soaked prelim tonight!

FRIDAY NIGHT

First Preliminary FinalMCG, 7:45pm (local): St Kilda v Western Bulldogs (SEVEN)

RiewoldtIce

After being wrapped in ice for two weeks straight, Nick’s knee feels fantastic! A little numb though…

St Kilda have been the best team all year but not so great in recent times trying to leap this particular hurdle. But things are different this time…honest! And Shane Warne has been talking to the players so what could possibly go wrong?

They do look the stronger side and should prevail but if something bad were to happen to an especially important but troublesome knee joint, anything is possible. Except for Max Hudghton running out to play…that ain’t happening tonight.

DogsIce

If being coated with ice works for Nick Riewoldt, it’s good enough for the Dogs! Next…the head!!!

The Doggies are in the mood for an upset…but not the type of upset they felt after losing last year’s prelim! Saints coach Ross Lyon is aware of the danger the Dogs present but then again, what else is he going to say?

One thing he won’t say is ‘We’ve gotta shut down Will Minson’. Now, big Will is important to their structure and is a handy player and all but seriously – if he is so crucial that he holds the key to the Western Bulldogs making a grand final, I’d be more than a little worried…

SAINTS by 28

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Talk About Mixed Emotions! (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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VinceShattered

There’s no doubt about Bernie Vince’s feelings. Me? I don’t know how to feel…

Boy, what a challenging game to watch…and I’m not just talking about the weather! It was tough enough to digest that what promised to be an enthralling semi final battle would result in either Collingwood or Adelaide progressing through to a preliminary final. This was a prospect the majority of football followers around Australia, me included, found tough to swallow.

For the non-partisan viewer, having to follow the see-sawing fortunes of each particularly unlikable team during the night must have been excruciating. It was like the Crows, for example, were a punch in the arm. And the Pies were a slap to the face. When the Crows do well, it felt like you were getting punched in the arm repeatedly until it went numb.

But when the Pies have the upper hand, the punching stopped but somebody started slapping you in the face. You experience the relief that your arm starts to feel better…yet you are still being whacked in the head at the same time! And so it went; punch in the arm and slap in the face, back and forth,  relief and pain;  until the final siren sounded.

But at least there was some consolation; that final slap to the face was a cracker! Collingwood prevailed in one hell of a fighting effort that was settled in the final minute by a set-shot goal from John Anthony. It appeared that young Crows star Kurt Tippett had become the hero when he slotted a goal from beyond 50 metres to give Adelaide a late one-point lead. Then this happened…

RuttenHold

Yep, that’s a hold. No complaints about the free kick here…unless you are from South Australia!

Ben Rutten’s free kick for a hold on Anthony was clearly the correct call and no complaints from Neil Craig. He does, however, have plenty to complain about with his team’s mental strength. What happened to them in the third quarter? All this talk about the best forward line in the Crow’s history and they never looked like kicking a goal, mainly because half of them seemed to be in their defensive 50!

ScaredJack

Don’t be scared, Jack! It’s just Mark Howard…he’s just your standard lovable larrikin, he won’t bite!

JackStillCrying

Anthony was so emotional, he forgot the post-game interview rule of “Yeah, nah, good to get the four points, just focusing on the next game”. Good on him!

With six goals in that pivotal third quarter, the Pies recovered from a five-goal deficit to set up Anthony’s final minute heroics. He has been struggling for weeks and was not that effective on the night until THAT goal…no wonder the guy was highly emotional after the siren! And the pure excitement and joy on the player’s faces was quite stirring. It is probably as close as a Magpie team will ever get to winning me over…nah, that won’t happen!

GoodwinBadloss

Bad loss for Goodwin. But I couldn’t think of anything worse than seeing the Crows celebrating victory…

RejoiceEd

Ok…can I take that back?

So now it’s Cats and Pies next Saturday night for a spot in the Grand Final. They fought out a classic at this stage in 2007 but the Pies want to go one better. Can’t wait to sit through it…provided Geelong wins, of course! I’m tired of being slapped in the head!

Sorting The Wheat From The Crap (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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GarnierGriffin

The flowing long locks of Ryan Griffin – perfect product promotion for Garnier Fructis!!

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But Nathan Eagleton? Nah, not so much…

Septopia 2009 is all going to script so far. Top two teams in the prelim, bottom two teams on the drink. And now the Brisbane Lions can enjoy a nice shandy or two having been eliminated from the premiership race by the Western Bulldogs. While the game was quite physical at times, it lacked a lot of the tension we saw in three of the four matches last weekend…mainly because the result seemed assured from midway through the first quarter.

AkerSlammed

Relax everybody, Aker’s ok. But did anybody else kinda secretly enjoy this? Or was it just sadistic little ol’ me?

The Dogs didn’t allow last week’s setback to rattle them and the Lions just weren’t up to it. And that means the 2009 AFL Grand Final is now assured of having at least one participant with a legion of  long-suffering fans that have not seen a premiership for many decades. It’s the Saints and Dogs next Friday night – get ready for a barrage of emotional reportage!

But the early part of next week could well be dedicated to ‘Collingwood Stuffed Up…Again’ if tonight turns to disaster for the Pies. Either way, let’s hope for a less one-sided event than the slow inevitability of last night.

SATURDAY NIGHT

Second Semi Final – MCG, 7:30pm (local): Collingwood v Adelaide (TEN)

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Don’t worry Pies fans – that bloke on the left will help the bloke on the right next year.

Collingwood is not the most desirable place to be at the best of times but how sucky would it be if they were eliminated tonight? They lose some big names to injury as well, which usually spells danger but Pendlebury is the only one that will be tough to replace. Apparently Travis Cloke would really love Anthony Rocca out there but he is injured again…plus, doesn’t Travis realise that it is no longer 2002? Clokey has other things to worry about anyway…

GoodwinChair

Geez, Adelaide are confident…the fans are giving Simon Goodwin a standing ovation as his teammates carry him to the airport!

And why wouldn’t they be! They are in great form and intend on sticking with what works…apart from some ‘fine tuning’ direct from Neil Craig mechanical coaching workshop. Adelaide bring back Shirley and, sorry Jeff Kennett, this will be the closest we ever get to a female playing AFL. The Crows may not run away with the win like they believe they can but timing seems right for a semi final upset.

CROWS by 9

Out In Straight Sets? Can We Play Best Of Three? (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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akertennis

Is Aker taking to centre court for the final time? Will he be back next year? Will it be as a Bulldog? Will we ever hear the end of it?

Two premiership contenders who fell short in the qualifying final and now fight for survival with the prospect of being beaten twice and ousted from the finals. Two lower-ranked teams who each displayed different types of awesomeness to win last week and challenge for a preliminary final place.

This happens every year come second week of the finals…as does Half Back Flanker recycling the same old ‘straight sets’ joke and that image of Aker with his tennis racquet. But hey, it’s September – no time for experimentation! Just go with what you know…

For the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood, this weekend’s semi-finals are all about keeping your composure and displaying the kind of fight that help earn the double chance in the first place. But each face a different challenge. The Dogs have a brave but slightly wounded Brisbane outfit that are intent on piling the pressure on their more fancied rival. They say that they won’t fall for it…we’ll see.

The Pies, on the other hand, are facing what appears to be a rampant footballing machine from South Australia and are having a few personnel issues of their own. While some absences will be difficult to cover, others might be a blessing in disguise. And with the Crows surging to favouritism, can the Pies keep their focus and play again next Saturday night?

If Collingwood do bow out at the semi-final stage, they will join Carlton captain Chris Judd on the sidelines after he was ousted in straight sets. Of course, Judd challenged the two-match ban he received for…whatever it was he was trying to do to Michael Rischitelle’s face. That challenge was thrown out on Tuesday night but Carlton used their double chance and went to appeal. Funnily enough, that also failed and Judd misses the first three rounds of 2010! With all that time off, perhaps he can work his way through the entire back catalogue of Steven Seagal movies

But first, tonight…

FRIDAY NIGHT

Second Semi FinalMCG, 7:45pm (local): Western Bulldogs v Brisbane (SEVEN)

JohnsonThirsty

Look out Lions…Brad Johnson has revenge on his mind for Brisbane and ‘The Beer Wench’!

The Western Bulldogs should be favoured to qualify for the prelim in this one but they certainly need to lift. The senior guys need to show up…well, show up and perform, and the versatile Robert and/or Bob Murphy needs to play as he is the best writer/performer/footballer in their team.

But, most importantly, they need to start well! Um, yep…coulda guessed that starting well was part of the plan. And, bugger me, their opponents might have cottoned on to the same idea!! How did the Lions find out about this? Must be a spy in the ranks…

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Ok, Jared…you sorted out Josh Carr back in July but failed to get Aker in August. September, big stage, this could be your last chance…go for it!!

Yes, they might be the least attractive of the remaining teams but recent history shows that you cannot count them out  so easily. They also have a stronger look about them with a couple of handy inclusions and Jono Brown’s by-hook-or-by-crook attitude that might spur his boys on. However, I can’t see it being enough to beat the Dogs.

DOGS by 35

All Eyes On The Juddster! (Media Street)

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Visy ambassador Chris Judd reacts badly to Michael Rischitelli’s confession that he doesn’t recycle…

Two weeks ago, it was Buddy. Last week, it was Lloydy. This week…Chris Judd? For an alleged eye gouge? Not THE Chris Judd, surely! This can’t be true…must be a case of mistaken identity. Fev is the cause of all problems at the Blues, isn’t he? Must have been Fev! Or even that dancing guy of the same name that married Jennifer Lopez in 2001!

No, it’s true. Carlton captain Chris Judd has been busted for inexplicibly fiddling with the face of Brisbane Lion Michael Rischitelli during Saturday night’s elimination final! The Ruddster will be shattered…

Mr Judd will miss the first three rounds of 2010 unless he takes the early plea, reducing it down to two matches. But relax, football fans – not only is Judd eligible to win the Brownlow Medal this year and next, he can still attend football’s night of nights with his glamorous partner Rebecca Twigley. Forget the AFL tribunal…imagine the trouble he would have been in at home if they weren’t allowed to go!

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No Brownlow Medal night? Juddy would be lucky to escape with a bloody nose if that ever happened…

Interesting to see whether the Blues challenge this decision as it appears the Match Review Panel have not left much room for them to move. The incident was listed as a ‘misconduct offence in that he made unreasonable and unnecessary contact to the face’ and assessed as intentional conduct (three points), low impact (one point) and high contact (two points). With those parameters in mind, no doubt it was intentional and the face certainly falls in the ‘high’ category. Unless they can downgrade ‘low’ impact to ‘barely any’, I can’t see how Judd can beat this one.

ShutUpJudd

That’s enough Chris…No need to say any more…Ok, you need to stop…Just shut up now…GOD, MAN – WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?! STOP TALKING ALREADY!!!

What certainly works against him are comments made the day after the gut-wrenching loss to the Lions where he denied eye gouging Rischitelli. For reasons that cannot be explained, except for an early start on Mad Monday festivities, the normally measured Judd revealed he was aiming for some type of martial arts style pressure point on the guy’s face! Yeah, that helped clear things up.

Whether he was fair dinkum or not, it was probably the dumbest thing I’ve heard this year. And now we have knob-ends like Craig Hutchison chasing martial arts experts for comment and floating theories about how it could have been lethal. Nice work!

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When the going gets tough, Judd’s super tough…with a Hong Kong Phooey chop!

Something else that would work against any potential challenge is that incident back in 2007 where then-Eagle Judd was initially charged with eye gouging Campbell Brown in a match down in Tasmania. After some ‘generous’ evidence from Brown, Judd walked free. The Hawk hard man appeared to abide by the strict rules of the ‘player code’ on this occasion, though it certainly doesn’t apply in any incident involving Matthew Lloyd.

CampbellFaking

Here is Chris Judd doing ‘nothing’ to Campbell Brown’s eye in 2007.

Maybe Judd threatened Brown with some pressure point action…or did he use the Jedi mind trick?

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If Judd gets off this charge, we will know that the Force is with him!

Rough Start But It Sure Got Better! (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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The slow motion footage, the wanky opera music, the pissweak attempt to make Anthony Rocca appear graceful. Yep, must be finals time!

September action is finally under way! There was a bit of an ugly beginning on Friday night but after that we saw plenty of riveting footy action that made sitting through rubbish games like round 22 West Coast v Richmond all worthwhile. Typically in the first week of the finals, the results play out according to ladder position. The top two sides win through to the preliminary final and the seventh and eighth teams are eliminated. Boring! But this year…no just kidding! It all went to plan but it was far from boring.

RiewoldtIce

St Kilda will now encase Nick Riewoldt’s entire body in ice for two weeks to ensure he is right for preliminary final day!

Runaway leaders during the home-and-away season, St Kilda were destined for failure according to Dermott Brereton, the Bogan Football Oracle himself. If Brereton’s ‘theory’ held such weight then we are screwed this year because each of the top four teams have not experienced Hawthorn-style sustained success in the past 45 to 50 years. Shall we just not award the premiership cup this season because Dermie feels none of the clubs are worthy enough? It’s not just about culture – class goes a long way too; Nick Riewoldt and the Saints proved that on Sunday. This also leads us to the Cats…

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The media wanted the red, white and blue to triumph on Saturday. Well, it did….but only in the form of football’s favourite ranga, Mr Cameron Ling!

Geelong’s performance in the other qualifying final not only shattered the Western Bulldogs but ruined the football media’s fevered pursuit of a drought breaking premiership for the Dogs. There was no doubt that the preference for Saturday’s game was success for the ‘sexier’ storyline of the Doggies. Poised to make history! This might be their year! And Channel Ten spent the entire pre-match playing the Footsray violin and barely recognising the fact that the Cats have their own shot at creating some history going on this September.

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The 1954 Footscray premiership team pass the mantle to the cuurent day players. Didn’t realise the Doggies were already in the Grand Final?! Well, congratulations…I guess.

Don’t get me wrong – that feature made for good television. Really good television. It would have been perfect as part of the pre-game for the 2009 Grand Final…if the Bulldogs were actually playing in it! But the Dogs were the third-placed team playing a club that, believe it or not, actually finished higher than them on the ladder…and has been the best performed team for the past three years. The hacks had Geelong written off, forgotten and ignored…that will be hard to do now they are in the prelim!

ThirstyKnights

Matthew Knights would have been looking for something a little stronger to drink as the night wore on!

While the beaten Doggies and Pies live to fight another day, two teams are in the midst of conducting their alcohol-laced post-mortems after being eliminated on the weekend. The first team to be shown the door was Essendon…and it sure wasn’t pretty! Already undermanned and missing their first three ruck options, Essendon coach Matthew Knights gambled at the last minute by leaving out the only bloke they had over 200cms tall for ‘a runner’, which ended up being an Irish kiddie who cannot even spell Sherrin…let alone drop one onto his foot to kick a goal from the goal line!

Actually, they looked ok early until they coughed up a goal late in the first quarter…and then another 22 goals for the rest of the night! Reports of involvement by Bombers players in an altercation at some Adelaide nightclub proved to be false. For the second time that night, it seems that they were merely innocent bystanders!

LionsSing

You never see Jono Brown this pumped up! Either they have just pulled off a miracle comeback or Cold Chisel have reformed!!!

The Bombers were joined in post-season shenanigans by the Brisbane Lions Carlton? WHAT? How did this happen? The Blues were home for all money with a five-goal lead early in the final quarter but half an hour later, their season was over. Brisbane completed a true football miracle which resulted in euphoric scenes all around the Gabba, including some great footage of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd clapping, cheering and pretending to know every word to the Lions theme song…when it was clear that he had absolutely no idea!

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“We are Brisbane, la la la, hmm hmm something, blue and gold! We are good and stuff, la la la la, yeah wow hey something old!

No doubt the Ruddstar will make the trek down to the MCG for Brisbane’s semi final clash with the Western Bulldogs on Friday night…

The Games:

QuinnHowler

Anytime you can drop your only ruckman from a do-or-die game to bring in an Irishman who had never played the sport twelve months ago…you have to do it, right?

Adelaide are damn scary! They win their first final for a few years and could barely have looked more impressive in the process…plus they have a couple of key additions to come for the Collingwood game. Essendon did well enough to make the finals but lost more games than they won during the year so it’s fitting that they bow out at this stage. They probably wish that they weren’t exposed this badly in prime time though!

PissedDogs

Is it any coincidence that the only time Brad Johnson does not seem to have a smile on his face, Jason Akermanis appears to be running his mouth? Gee, good luck next year!

Geelong did exactly what it needed to do in order to qualify for a third straight preliminary final. How they prepare over the next two weeks will be vital as they aim for another grand final berth…well, they’ve had a bit of practice at it! The Doggies failed to deliver when it counted but Rodney Eade still believes they can go all the way. First things first – try starting with Aker’s old mob on Friday night! They’re coming…by whatever means necessary!

JuddFinger

Not sure what Chris Judd is up to here but I’m sure it’s all pure and sweet and innocent. It’s Chris Judd after all…

Whatever Vossy said, it must have bordered on genius – it was one of the best alright! The Brisbane Lions kicked the last six goals of the match to storm to victory, leaving Carlton a long off-season to figure out what the heck just happened to them. But hey, at least Brendan Fevola tried really hard for the entire game! Will we see this more often? Unlikely…

RiewoldtCelebrates

If any team other than St Kilda wants to win the flag, they have to find a way to stop this bloke!!!

The Saints passed their first finals pressure test with flying colourshope Ross Lyon enjoys his break! Like the Dogs, the Pies still think they can win it but they need to beat the rampant Crows with two less days to prepare. Scott Pendlebury’s season could be over while you wonder whether they will persist with the Anthony Rocca Experience. He did lead the team with two goals…he also managed team-high stats for pulling mean faces, talking smack and unnecessary displays of force which result in nothing of substance.

I Got A Fever! (Septocemia – 2009 AFL Finals Series)

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PaddyPunch

No final for you, Paddy. But if you have a handful of jumper when you hit a bloke, exactly like Luke Hodge did to you, you get away with it. Jumper punch equals no suspension…

LloydSewell

Same for you, Lloydy – a handful of jumper and you get away with it. Jumper Bump equals no suspension…ok, maybe not!

It’s finals time…you little ripper!!! After a home-and-away season filled with thrills, surprises, inspiring stories and some downright weirdness, we have eight teams left and four weeks to sort out the wheat from the crap.

This September, the League have again gone into promotional overdrive and declared the finals series as being In A League Of Its Own…it’s going to be harder, faster and fiercerer than ever before! Well, that’s a relief.

Personally, I think that the propensity for rugby league players to poo on the floor of hotels kinda puts the NRL in a league of their own but that’s just me.

Here at Half Back Flanker, the finals series will always be known as Septocemia in homage to my favourite AFL finals promotion from 2007 when the League attempted to transport us all to the mystical footballing fairyland that was Septopia! And it all kicks off tonight when Adelaide defeats Essendon in the opening game of the finals series…come on – they can’t win, can they?

FRIDAY NIGHT

BurtonMOTY

How the heck are you supposed to defend against this?

First Elimination FinalAAMI Stadium, 7:45pm (local): Adelaide v Essendon (SEVEN)

Gee, they are getting a little bit excited in Adelaide, aren’t they? Apparently this side is going to make history because they are better than the group that won two flags in the nineties! They are fully primed for finals action, choc full of flair (a term not usually associated with the Crows) and not even remotely fussed about missing a couple of key players. Are they getting too far ahead of themselves? Even if they are, they probably won’t get caught out this week…

BombersCelebrate

Essendon might just celebrate wildly tonight…if they kick more than two goals in a row against the stingy Crows, that is!

…because they are facing a depleted Essendon outfit that have little finals experience and a crap interstate record. They have some nice young kids and that ‘nothing to lose’ attitude but can the Bombers really pull off an upset of massive proportions? Um…no. Just no.

CROWS by 35

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

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Time for more Gary Ablett magic…the Cats certainly need some!

Second Qualifying Final MCG, 2:30pm (local): Geelong v Western Bulldogs (TEN)

Poor Geelong…what do you have to do to earn some respect around here? You dominate the comp for almost three seasons yet the Doggies were stoked to finish third (don’t be fooled!) to play them and avoid St Kilda. The Cats will find it tough to go all the way this year but with a little tackling practice and some good players returning, they might just earn the week off. This bloke sure hopes they do

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Beating the Cats, a prelim final, a week off…surely that would be worth two thumbs up, Rocket?

The Bulldogs have a couple of nice additions as well, meaning the coach has had one of those nasty selection headaches all week! It’s not about revenge from the 2008 finals…well, maybe a little – however the Dogs say they are better and not bitter. They are definitely better but if they can’t shake Geelong here, their path to the flag will become extremely difficult.

CATS by 21

SATURDAY NIGHT

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Are Brisbane a little nervous leading into this elimination final? Looks that way to me…

Second Elimination Final – GABBA, 7:30pm (local): Brisbane v Carlton (TEN)

The once-mighty Brisbane return to finals action but there were concerns early in the week that they might not be able to field a full team! Of course, that all changed come selection time and you just know that Michael Voss has been waiting most of his adult life to play all these crazy coaching mind games!!! Between that and his Rising Star, Vossy would be loving the week…

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Given that he stops trying in the odd game throughout the season, Fev should be fresh and ready to fire in the finals!

And Blues fans are loving it too because Carlton are here – back in the finals! They would have loved it a little more had their team not screwed up royally last weekend to lose the home final…but they have a proven finals performer leading the way and the timely addition of a few time-challenged players. But I think that every Blues player can chuck their alarm clocks away after the weekend because they will be on holidays.

LIONS by 9

SUNDAY

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To play Max or not to play Max…what a tricky question

First Qualifying Final – MCG, 2:40pm (local): St Kilda v Collingwood (SEVEN)

A lot can change in a month. St Kilda went from being on the verge of immortality four weeks ago to being questioned about their somewhat flaky play during irrelevant games and upcoming team selection issues. But they have finished off an outstanding regular season and can focus on winning that flag…though facing the Pies at the ‘G is not the greatest reward for finishing a clear first.

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Not meaning to bash Collingwood…but is THIS what we want to see on Grand Final day???

Collingwood didn’t fire in last week’s big game but it might be the kick in the arse they needed. But Josh Fraser has a bit of ‘the Adelaides’ about him; he reckons his Pies are fully primed for finals action and poised to go all the way. Yet he also thinks that Anthony Rocca can still play a role…really? Rocca might get a chance if/when St Kilda do the business on Sunday but not sure how much help that will be…

SAINTS by 19