The St Kilda Saints defeated the Sydney Swans 56-27 in front of 8,264 partisan AFLW fans at North Sydney Oval in Sydney. As devastating as the loss is, the Swans will be hoping a late injury to Montana Ham isn’t severe.
Late in the fourth quarter, Ham, Sydney’s 2022 number-one draft pick, fell awkwardly in a tackle and immediately clutched her right knee. Training staff helped Ham off the field, and post-game several Saints players came past to show support.
After the game Saints head coach Nick Dal Santo echoed his team’s thoughts in regards to the injury concern for the Swans star recruit.
“Our thoughts are with Ham and fingers-crossed it’s not as bad as it initially looks”, he said.
The Saints kicked off their campaign in style. Last year the team felt an area of weakness was converting on inside-50 opportunities.
To help address the issue, St Kilda traded for Nicola Stevens from the Carlton Blues in May 2022.
Within 90 seconds the forward won a free-kick in the forward 50 and converted for her first goal with her new club in her 50th AFLW match.
Sydney responded shortly after with the team’s first-ever AFLW goal when Rebecca Privitelli secured a free-kick and finished with ease from 25 metres.
The vocal crowd erupted to celebrate the moment.
Bella Smith gave the Swans their first lead moments later, narrowly missing a goal but securing a point.
However, a pair of points put the Saints in front at the break.
Minutes into the second quarter, St Kilda extended their lead. Nicola Xenos found space in the forward 50 and creatively converted just before Molly Eastman was able to tackle her.
Kate Shierlaw followed Xenos’ effort up with two quick goals, and the Saints were firmly in control.
Sydney struggled to enter the forward 50 and was having to soak up a lot of pressure.
After an ankle injury forced Swans co-captain Brooke Lochland off for treatment, she re-entered the game near the end of the half and kept the Swans within reach.
Lochland ventured deep into the forward 50, pounced on a loose ball, and used her speed and guile to elude Rebecca Ott. The midfielder had plenty of work left to score but did so in style.
The goal was a rare attacking opportunity as the Saints frustrated the Swans, effectively denying space throughout the second quarter. St Kilda was full value for their 13-point half-time lead.
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The opening ten minutes of the half was a tense affair, with both teams applying themselves defensively. However, St Kilda was able to spend considerable time in their attacking half.
Jessica Matin kicked the first goal of the quarter, and it was worth the wait. Matin gathered possession just inside 50, took a few steps and hit the ball sweetly, converting from 40 metres.
Cynthia Hamilton is a player to watch this season for Sydney, and she got on the board in the final minute to give the Swans hope.
However, celebrations were shortlived as Shierlaw secured another mark inside the 50 for the Saints. The siren sounded, and Shierlaw made no mistake in giving her team a 22-point lead.
Less than a minute into the final quarter, Shierlaw started where she finished off, with another mark inside 50. And another goal as the result.
Shierlaw finished the night with a perfect conversion rate of 4.0. Nick Dal Santo noted in his post-game comments that Shierlaw’s “work rate never drops off” and that it was pleasing to see her be rewarded.
After St Kilda stopped another Sydney possession in midfield, the Saints countered, and Xenos scored her second of the match.
Sarah Skinner pulled a goal back for Sydney on her debut with her mother in the stands to cheer her on after flying in from Tasmania.
Ham’s unfortunate injury marred the end of the game. The physio was unable to assess the extent of the injury.
The game ended with the scores St Kilda 8.8.56 to Sydney 4.3.27.
For St Kilda’s Nick Dal Santo he was pleased with the team’s aggressiveness with the ball and proactiveness when defending.
“Our pressure numbers were through the roof today. I was just really proud of our effort overall and the way we were willing to get after the opposition when they have it” he said.
Both coaches commented on the size of the crowd and the passion of the spectators.
Sydney’s coach Scott Gowans said, “the crowd definitely helped”. However, he said that it was an atmosphere that the players weren’t used to and put pressure on them.
“A lot of them [the players] said it was like a cauldron and they couldn’t hear each other. That’s what they’ve got to get used to, and it’s what they all want, but a lot of them haven’t experienced it [before].
“The girls are pretty disheartened, but I told them to use it as a learning experience, and that’s what this year is. I think you’ll see a lot of improvement as the year goes on.”
Both teams are in action again next Sunday afternoon. Next up for the Saints is an away match to the Hawks, while the Swans match up against the Magpies.
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