St Kilda coach Brett Ratten is looking forward to a new challenge this weekend when his side takes on the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.
The two clubs last played off in an Elimination final last season which the Saints managed to win by three points, despite a Bulldogs fightback in the final quarter.
Even though the last matchup may play on the minds of some, Ratten concedes the final is too far gone now and there’s a new focus on the meeting ahead.
“It’s too long ago and the game’s changed, the length of games, it’s changed. Where they sit and where we sit are different too,” Ratten told media on Thursday.
“They’re playing great footy, they’ve lost one game for the year, their first quarters are through the roof. I think they’re 9-0 [for] first quarter wins, so that’s an area of the game where we need to get off to a good start and make sure we’re with them at quarter time.”
Ratten says the midfield battle will be the telling story of the game against the Dogs, highlighting that area of the ground as one where their opponents excel due to the vast majority of major ball-winners.
“I think the quality they can just keep putting in there, it’s more just their ball-winning, they just turn up big numbers all day, every week,” he said.
“So to try and combat Bont (Marcus Bontempelli) and (Jackson) Macrae, Libba’s (Tom Liberatore) clearance numbers are through the roof. And then you’ve got (Adam) Treloar and (Bailey) Smith and the list goes on and it’ll be a challenge. Hopefully Paddy (Ryder) has a big influence in that.”
Continuing to label the Dogs’ midfield as a challenge they need to contain, Ratten knows where to start on limiting their impact – the centre bounces.
“They’re number one at centre bounce differential over the last month, [and] centre bounce clearances so it’ll be a big part of the game,” Ratten told.
“That’s where they really build. They get the ball in, they lock it in, assertive defence and they lock the ball in for long periods. That’ll be something we have to try and combat for them but hopefully we can get our hands on the footy.”
A key component to the centre bounces, the ruck scenario for St Kilda is strong with many options in the mix to help back up Ryder.
“(Paul) Hunter trained really well and played really well last week and (Shaun) McKernan kicked three and did a reasonable job as well,” Ratten said.
“We have (Josh) Battle in that secondary ruck spot as well. That’s the conversation. We wanted them to train today and have a bit of a look at it but they all did pretty well.”
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Brad Crouch also completed training on Thursday and has been given the green light after fracturing his cheekbone and going under the knife during the week.
“He’ll play for sure,” Ratten said.
“(Jack) Lonie had the cap on as well. It’s sort of blokes who have had collision-injuries, we don’t want to put them through another collision so we took the conservative approach and they just got though training so they’re available.”
Backman Jake Carlisle’s recovery from a back injury is continuing to be a slow process, but is meeting with club doctors. Veteran midfielder Dan Hannebery is still a few weeks away from a return.
“Jake’s still got his crook back at the moment so we’ll just work with him but it’s been a pretty slow process,” Ratten said.
“The continuity in [Hannebery’s] training is right up and that’s the pleasing aspect. He’s churning out 8km, he’s almost close to 10km per session. That’s all we’re after, to get that continuity in his training.
“We try and do that for a few weeks and that’s a big tick for him which is great.”
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