After what was a superb first week of finals, we head in to week 2 with another two cracking games ahead of us. First up we get Richmond v St Kilda. The Saints were superb in their victory over the Dogs, whilst the Tigers were well beaten by the Lions in the Qualifying final but played well enough to knock off many sides. Sadly, for the Saints, they will be without Paddy Ryder, who was a clear best on ground against the Dogs and tore his hamstring just a minute before tasting success for the first time in a final. They also lose Jake Carlisle, who has gone home to be with his wife for the birth of his 3rd child, whilst hard-nosed half back Ben Long was suspended. The Tigers however get two premiership players back in Tom Lynch and Nathan Broad.

How do the Tigers win?
Re-established their brand and stop the undisciplined play. They looked like they thought they had it won at qtr time, yet when the Lions didn’t wilt under their pressure early in the second, they lost control of both the game, and their emotions. The Lions held on, fought back, and took control. This was un-Richmond like, and you expect that the Saints will bear the brunt of it this weekend.

What they want:
-The Twin towers to fire. Riewoldt presented well last week, but was simply out-played and out-manned. With Lynch back, they have the one-two punch they lacked last week, and with Carlisle out it’s a perfect time for Lynch to return.

-Clearances. They are the second worst clearance side in the comp, the Saints are in the top 5. They stopped the Lions at getting clean clearances, but with a potentially exposed backline, their ability to get their hands on the footy first means their forwards can dictate terms.

-The Saints on the slow. They can’t afford the Saints to move the ball quickly. As shown last week, when they Saints were able to get out and run, they looked incredible. Add to that they have good marking options up forward, so they need to be able to control the tempo and allow their defence to set up as well as they do.

What they don’t want:
-More 50s against. They gave away four on the weekend, including a 100m penalty which cost them a goal and get Neale up and running. It was unlike the Tigers, though it’s something that has crept in more and more this year. Have to stay on task and not get frustrated, otherwise it gives the other team momentum.

-Defence being well held. It’s strange to suggest you have to hold their defence, but the Tigers get so much rebound from their defenders that it’s crucial to beating them. The Lions took Grimes out of the defensive, they stopped Vlaustin from intercepting, they stopped Houli from really controlling the game from half back. They can’t afford it again here, as the stakes are much higher now.

How do the Saints win?
Fast footy, dominate the air and hold firm in defence. They have genuine pace through the middle, hard-nosed ball winners too, and many of those afore-mentioned types have genuine silky skills. Last week their talls killed the Dogs. Max King was a danger up forward, as was Marshall, Paddy Ryder dominated the ruck and his opponent in English and Membrey & Geary were able to get contested marks to score. Whilst they lose Ryder, they’ve brought in another tall in Jono Marsh, to again stretch the opposition. In defence, they’ll be up against quality talls, so they have to work as a team to hold strong, especially with Carlisle out who would have likely taken Lynch.

What they want:
-Confidance of last week to endure. They played out of their skin last week for 3 qtrs, but got jittery late. What they need is to re-find that touch of the first 3qtrs and take the game on again. Back in their game plan, back in their talls and just do what they have all year

-Smalls to create havoc. The Richmond defence is quality, so it’s up to the likes of Butler, Kent, Jack Sinclair and Jack Lonie to really make sure that the Tigers defence can’t sag off and cover each other. And when they do get the ball, they can’t let them run. They have to put that defence under pressure and not allow easy exits from their F50.

-Hill and Hannebury to fire again. Both were superb last week, both have strong finals experience, both have excellent skills and creativity. For the Saints to win, these two have to have probably 20+ touches as if they do, they’ll be a strong offensive threat.

What they don’t want:
-Lynch to fire early. With no Carlisle, they will be short down back Wilkie and Howard will get first crack if it goes wrong it will probably fall to Battle, and whilst Battle is a good player, I’m not sure he can go head to head with Lynch or Riewoldt. Lynch fires early, it creates issues immediately for the Saints. Regardless, Lynch looms large for mine.

-Martin on fire. Dustin Martin started the game well against the Lions (not sure you’d have known though from the commentary on the night……), but he struggled after half time as did his team. The guy is a finals master, the Tigers best player and the guy that can take a game apart in an instant. Saints have to find a match up for both in midfield and up forward.

-Finals fatigue. It was an awesome win last week. for many of these guys, it was their first finals win. They weren’t favored, but they managed to knock off the Dogs, though after fading late, it was tighter than it should have been. After that excitement, the concern is the struggle to get back up and do it again. We know the Tigers can……but can the Saints?

Key Match ups:
Tom Lynch V Dougal Howard – Lynch missed last week with injury, though was apparently right to go. Howard has been the Saints best defender of the year and will get the first crack at Lynch. Howard hates to lose, and is strong one on one and reads the play well. Lynch is a monster of a man and has shown he can dominate finals. Going to be
one to watch

Max King V Dylan Grimes – King was great in his first final, though his stats mightn’t necessarily reflect it. He competed well, rarely beaten in a contest, kicked 2 goals and had 5 marks. Grimes was taken out of the Forward 50 last week and struggled as a result. He is unlikely to have to follow King out of the Forward 50 too much, so he can set up like he always does. King just has to keep presenting and being an option. If he doesn’t, then Grimes will drop off and help out his fellow defenders.

Hunter Clarke V Dustin Martin – Clarke is my man for one of the biggest jobs in footy. He can go with Martin in the midfield, is strong enough to match him around the contest, and can go with him when Martin goes forward. What Clarke can also do is hurt Martin going the other way, as he’s a beautiful user of the footy. It’s not going to be easy, but I have a feeling Clarke is the Saints best option on Martin.

Geary V Vlaustin – Geary did a good job on Caleb Daniels last week, kicking two and slowing the Dogs key user of really impacting the game for the first 3 qtrs. Vlaustin is a key for the Tigers, a great intercept mark and good user of the footy. If I was the Saints, this is who I would send Geary too. Make Vlaustin accountable and stop him being the defender to drop off his man.

Marshall v Nankervis – Marshall is a quality young ruckman, but will be coming up against a battle-hardened ruckman in Nankervis. Nankervis will hit in hard and can drift forward to kick goals. Marshall was able to be the second ruck last week whilst being a danger up forward. This week, with no Ryder, he has to become the man. Nankervis beat him last time they player, it’s time for Marshall to square the ledger

Key Players:
Trent Cotchin – It’s crucial the captain can have an impact this week, after not having much of an impact last week. He’s a real leader on the field and isn’t afraid to throw his body around to win contests. Classy user of the ball as well. Will be wanting to ensure his team settle early and stay focused.

Bachar Houli – Struggled last week and couldn’t give the Tigers the run they needed. He’s a beautiful user of the football and it creates so much of the Tigers attack from defence. If he has a big night, the Saints will be in trouble.

Dion Prestia – Will be better for the run last week, and has proven himself in finals. Tough and hard in the contest, he can also spread well and create forward entries. Their midfield was beaten last week, though Prestia was strong throughout. He’ll be right in amongst it.

Jack Steele – Has become the Saints key man and delivers week in week out. Struggled early last week but worked in to the game well. He’ll be better for taste of finals and I feel will have another really strong game tomorrow. The Saints need him up and going.

Dan Hannebury – arguably the Saints most important player. Runs through the middle, wins it in tight and out wide and is damaging and creative to boot. The one thing we know, he won’t be overawed. He’s got more finals experience than any other player on the ground. They need his composure and nous, and him to keep things settled when the heat comes, which it will early.

Callum Wilkie – Will likely get Riewoldt, and would get the second crack at Lynch in need. Rarely beaten, good intercept mark and is brave as they come. It’s a big job, but if he can hold Riewoldt, it means others can focus on Lynch.

Outcome:
Love the Saints last week, and love the way they play. Brett Ratten is one of football’s best people and you’d love to see him progress further with this team. Sadly though, I just can’t see it. Main reason, is the outs. Long offers hardness in defence, Carlisle is their key defensive post, whilst Ryder was a genuine difference maker for their side last week. Add to that Richmond get back Lynch and Broad and you have to suggest all the changes made this week favor the Tigers. Then you have the fact they are a proud group who have been whacked in the media all week and played really poor last week. It points to a comfortable Tiger victory sadly, as whilst I think the Saints will be gallant early, I have a feeling the second half will be very difficult for them.

Tigers by 29pts