St Kilda’s Rowan Marshall breaks the tackle of Hawthorn’s Ben McEvoy.
St Kilda’s Rowan Marshall breaks the tackle of Hawthorn’s Ben McEvoy.

Buddy stands between Hawks and top four

WHATEVER you have on next Saturday night, cancel it.

There's a heavyweight battle looming.

As the Hawks went through their paces in the bowels of Etihad Stadium, Lance Franklin led the charge in Sydney to ensure the Swans remained well in the mix for September - and a home final, no less.

Who could have thought that 10 weeks ago, or even more recently when the floating fixture was allocated its timeslots, that old foes Hawthorn and Sydney could have so much on the line come the final home-and-away showdown?

They couldn't have got it more right.

As for Round 22, this was the tight contest no one saw coming, and the 90 seconds that almost undid any hope of a Hawthorn home final.

As the Saints trailed by four points with just over a minute remaining, a wayward Jade Gresham goal allowed Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson to breathe the sigh to end all sighs of relief.

 

So close but so far … Tim Membrey after the final siren. Picture: Michael Klein
So close but so far … Tim Membrey after the final siren. Picture: Michael Klein

 

His Hawks got out of jail to keep the dream alive and secure fourth spot on the ladder at the most crucial time of year.

It's "back to the drawing board to work out what went wrong", veteran star Shaun Burgoyne said post-game, and there were lessons to learn.

But as the Saints try to keep the wolves from the door, Clarkson is merely sharpening the teeth of his men for a crack at some spring hunting of Tigers.

If there is any man that is capable of unpicking Richmond, it's Clarkson, but his team - that could welcome back star James Sicily next week, then skipper Jarryd Roughead soon after - will need more polish if it is to contend.

It wasn't convincing against the Saints, but that didn't matter. A four-point win for four even more vital points - the Hawks' fourth win this season by four points or less. They're cutting it fine.

When they have menace, they make it look easy. Their class is evident and while the Saints did everything they could to tighten the screws, Hawthorn's defence - albeit out on its feet - stood tall.

 

Rowan Marshall breaks the tackle of Hawthorn’s Ben McEvoy. Picture: Michael Klein
Rowan Marshall breaks the tackle of Hawthorn’s Ben McEvoy. Picture: Michael Klein

 

It was the type of week that needed a response from the Saints. Demanded one, even.

St Kilda had been pilloried this week - the situation at Seaford was "dire", club great Nick Riewoldt had declared, as word of rumblings at board level led president Peter Summers to deny the club was in crisis.

Come last night, these Saints meant business and showed speed and pressure that had seemed non-existent over the past month.

It was the exact response that coach Alan Richardson had been demanding after dismal losses to the Western Bulldogs and Essendon.

He finally got it. It finally clicked.

Luke Breust further pressed his claim for All-Australian selection, working the angles like a trigonometry professor while at the other end, Jack Lonie's impressive month rolled on with four goals.

 

Jack Steele made Tom Mitchell work for every possession. Picture: Michael Klein
Jack Steele made Tom Mitchell work for every possession. Picture: Michael Klein

 

Jack Billings fired, collecting 27 disposals, while Jack Steele clamped down on Tom Mitchell - who unleashed with a glittering third quarter, but was well-held especially in the first half.

Hawks defender James Frawley was felled with a back injury and did not feature after three-quarter time, while Saints skipper Jarryn Geary was pulled out of the game midway through the final term with concussion symptoms.

The Saints have not played finals since 2011. Hawthorn has missed September action just once since then.

These two sides couldn't have been further apart heading into their Saturday night meeting under the roof, and anyone who had predicted just two points would separate the two in the dying minutes would likely have been laughed out of Docklands.

And where each goes from here is intriguing.

The Saints have one game remaining and a crucial season looming in 2019.

And Hawthorn? Well, they've shown they're capable of magic. And with Clarkson wielding his wand, anything could happen.



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