St Kilda's talent shone as Essendon continued to search for connection. Image via Chloe Williams

Essendon’s strong contest work was ultimately not enough to secure victory against a dominant Saints

Essendon’s strong contest work was ultimately not enough to secure victory against a dominant Saints side at RSEA Park this afternoon, this resulted in a 66-point defeat.

St Kilda showed off their polish, structure and potent forwardline, claiming a massive 16.10(106) to 5.10(40) triumph during a windy affair at Moorabbin. 

Young star Darcy Wilson put on a show of pace early and looked strong when presenting in the contest. 

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The Saints’ depth across the forward line was on display, with Tim Membrey proving his importance to their structure, whilst Cooper Sharman continued to create and make the most of his opportunities.

Mitch Owens too showed off his athleticism and pressed his case for further midfield minutes this year and star forward Max King looked lively as a result of a full pre-season.

The latter slotted four majors, most of which were from long range, in promising signs for the St Kilda faithful. Membrey, Sharman and Jack Higgins also contributed heavily with three goals each.

“Max has been back in full training for a long time after his shoulder, Tim’s had pretty much a full pre-season, so there’s no reason why those two boys can’t have strong years for us and play most of the games,” said St Kilda midfield coach Robert Harvey post-game.

“You inject in a Wilson and a Henry into the front half and it just spices it up even more, which is exciting.”

The aforementioned Liam Henry – and Riley Bonner – showed their worth with early goals and continued to be heavily involved in the Saints’ scoring. Bonner, in particular looked settled in his role, emerging as one of the Saints’ top accumulators for the day.

St Kilda picked up where they left off in 2023 – utilising their strong set up behind the ball to pinpoint targets down the ground, moving the ball by foot through the likes of Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera.

The Bombers owned the contested ball early, excelling between the arcs with their fast handball game, however, they remained unable to escape the Saints’ strong defence when entering inside their defensive 50.

On the flip side, Essendon were trapped in their own defensive fifty for much of the match – kicking long down the line to the contest, which inhibited their ability to maintain possession.

With Sam Draper, Peter Wright and Nate Caddy among their absentees, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern for the Bombers, but rather something to keep a watch on when they face Geelong next Friday night at GMHBA Stadium.

Jordan Ridley was another notable omission who is integral in aiding The Bombers’ exit our of defence. 

It was evident that last year’s finals berth has galvanised the Saints’ playing group, whilst Essendon’s group appears to have work to do in the area of synchronicity. 

St Kilda’s refined skills held them in good stead, with Wilson and Mattaes Phillipou among those displaying class in the air and by foot – allowing them to create plenty of opportunities. 

Callum Wilkie continued to display the qualities which saw him rewarded with his first All-Australian blazer last year, preventing Essendon’s early repeated forward fifty entries from resulting in scoring chances.

Josh Battle provided Wilkie with some respite, playing a vital role in ebbing the flow of Essendon’s running power.  

Ben McKay presented strongly down back – emerging as a key ingredient in solidifying Essendon’s defensive structure. Fellow recruit Jade Gresham also provided flair down forward, whilst Sam Durham looked comfortable attending centre bounces. 

Kyle Langford was a shining light for Essendon – providing two of its five major scores and continuing his strong 2023 work rate. 

The Bombers eventually prioritised faster, deeper entries, allowing them to maximise opportunities in front of goal whilst ebbing the flow of St Kilda’s scoring. This emergence was short-lived, however, as their defensive efforts continued to let them down.

“We didn’t make the most of our ability to get the ball forward and then try and put them under pressure, so that will be a big work on,” said Essendon’s midfield coach Dan Giansiracusa post-game. 

“We think we’ve made improvements and this was our first real challenge against a different opponent. 

“Everything’s about improvement and that’s what we’ll be trying to do throughout the week.

“It was Reid and McKay playing together for the first time – they held their own when the ball was coming in quite fast and they were under the pump.”

Marcus Windhager left the field early following a break in his hand, but is still expected to be available for Round One. Jayden Laverde and Josh Battle returned to play following respective collisions.

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