ST Kilda has enhanced its finals credentials with a come-from-behind five-point win over Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
The Saints trailed by as much as 26 points in the third-quarter, but worked their way back into the contest by three-quarter time.
Alan Richardson’s men hit the front with less than five minutes remaining in the game, before holding on for a 10.14 (74) to 10.9 (69) win.
The loss was compounded for the Hawks by the loss of captain Ben Stratton (concussion) and key defender James Frawley (hamstring).
St Kilda playmaker Seb Ross starred against a bare-bones Hawthorn midfield that was without Liam Shiels (hamstring), Tom Mitchell (leg), Shaun Burgoyne (hamstring) and Jaeger O’Meara (hip) with 39 possessions (13 contested), six clearances, six inside 50s and one goal, while emerging tall Rowan Marshall continued his strong start to the season, stuffing the stat-sheet with 17 disposals, 28 hit-outs and seven clearances.
The much-maligned Jack Billings backed up his 32-possession, two-goal effort in the round three loss to Fremantle with 34 touches while Jack Steele epitomised St Kilda’s hard-nosed approach with a team-best seven tackles among his 27 disposals and six clearances.
Jack Lonie was the Saints’ most lively forward but failed to take full toll of his opportunities, booting a wayward 3.5.
James Sicily and Jack Scrimshaw marshalled Hawthorn’s defence superbly, the pair combining for 24 intercepts.
Tom Scully was impressive in his second game in the brown and gold with 26 possessions and two goals, young gun James Worpel led the way at the coalface with seven clearances among his 25 disposals and Ricky Henderson generated plenty of run and carry with 25 touches (22 uncontested) and two goals.
After an opening term in which nothing separated the two teams on the scoreboard, Hawthorn made a run late in the second-quarter with a major from Paul Puopolo followed by a Henderson conversion after veteran defender Nathan Brown conceded a 50 metre penalty for overstepping the mark on the wing.
The Hawks had the better of the territory battle in the first half but were unable to shake St Kilda off, the Saints tackling pressure (35 tackles across the first two-quarters) helping to keep them in the game.
Hawthorn got on top in the clinches early in the third term and got goals through Luke Breust, Chad Wingard and Scully, after a clever tap from Puopolo, to race out to a handy 26-point lead.
Alastair Clarkson’s men appeared to have the game under control, but the Saints improved their ball movement and fired back with three of the next four majors to close the gap to 11 points.
St Kilda created the first five scoring changes of the final term, but in an all too familiar theme for the Saints they could manage just a return of 1.3 and an out of bounds on the full.
They finally found their radar with Lonie putting through his third to give his team the lead. The score review system gave Hawthorn a life when Jack Sinclair’s snap a minute later was overturned and called a behind, but St Kilda held firm in the closing minutes to record a win that will have pundits re-evaluating their pre-season predictions.
Next on the agenda for St Kilda is a meeting with Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday, while Hawthorn will look to bonce back when they lock horns with modern-day rival Geelong at the same venue.
ST KILDA: 3.2 5.5 8.9 10.14 (74)
HAWTHORN: 3.2 6.5 10.8 10.9 (69)
ST KILDA: Lonie 3, Long 2, Bruce, Marshall, Acres, Newnes, Ross
HAWTHORN: Roughead 2, Henderson 2, Scully 2, Nash, Wingard, Puopolo, Breust
ST KILDA: Ross, Lonie, Marshall, Steele, Newnes, Acres
HAWTHORN: Sicily, Scully, Worpel, Scrimshaw, Henderson
ST KILDA: Geary (virus) replaced in selected team by Paton, McKenzie (concussion)
HAWTHORN: O’Meara (left hip) replaced in selected team by Howe, Frawley (left hamstring), Stratton (concussion)
ATTENDANCE: 35,883 at Marvel Stadium