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The Age

Horror night for Saints

Author: Peter Blucher
Date: 25/03/2005
Words: 970
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 1
Nick Riewoldt's injury compounds the Saints' Gabba misery. Peter Blucher reports

ST KILDA'S 23-point loss to the Brisbane Lions may have come at an enormous cost, with skipper Nick Riewoldt facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Riewoldt was forced from the Gabba midway through the third term on Thursday night with a shoulder injury and, judging by his tears as he sat on the bench in the final quarter, he could miss several weeks. In a worst-case scenario, if Riewoldt has cracked his collarbone, and a plate needs to be inserted, he could miss up to eight weeks.

The 22-year-old superstar was a victim of a double-barrel incident in the third quarter. First, he collided with Lions ruckman Jamie Charman. Moments later he crashed heavily as he spilled a diving chest mark.

Then, in a display of gamesmanship which underlined the feeling in the season opener, Brisbane pair Mal Michael and Chris Scott cannoned into his bad shoulder as he returned to his position.

"We knew the aggression had to be shown early," said Michael later.

"It was just one of those things. You get caught up in the action of the game.

"I was just testing it for him and seeing if it was OK."

Scott also said he hoped Riewoldt would recover quickly, but admitted his "going off helped us".

Saints coach Grant Thomas, who would not be drawn on the actions of Michael and Scott, said the damage was done when Riewoldt hit the ground diving for the mark.

The Lions, too, paid a price, with Jared Brennan likely to miss a fortnight with a quad strain and Nigel Lappin to have X-rays for a fresh ankle injury.

A personal war between perennial opponents Scott and St Kilda's Aaron Hamill was a feature of the night - a Lions trainer carrying two of Scott's teeth following a Hamill back-hander in the third quarter was a lasting reminder of the ferocity of the contest.

"We're both competitors, he plays hard, as I do. I enjoy playing on him," said Scott.

In an extraordinary start to the 2005 AFL season, Brisbane kicked 4.3 to 1.4 in the fourth quarter to win a titanic struggle between the superpower of the early 21st century and the emerging superforce.

Several players from both sides suffered cramp in the warm, humid conditions before the Lions, 28 points up just before half-time and five points down midway through the third term, stood tall to deliver a stinging blow to the St Kilda psyche.

The home side, winners of 52 of its past 56 games at the Gabba before last night, took the challenge of St Kilda personally and ran out the winner, 18.8 (116) to 13.15 (93).

Heavily undermanned against a near full-strength St Kilda, the Lions served notice that they will not surrender easily as they posted their 11th consecutive Gabba win over the Saints in a sequence that dates back to 1991.

St Kilda, whose decision to play an underdone and goalless Fraser Gehrig backfired horribly, will anxiously await the outcome of scans on Friday but it would seem a four-week stretch on the sideline for Riewoldt would be the best possible result.

The AFL's season-opener was everything it was tipped to be - a sensational contest of fluctuating fortunes in which Brisbane, sparked by the brilliance of Chris Johnson and Brennan and the steely leadership of Michael Voss, was better and harder for longer.

Johnson, dynamic in the back half early and equally brilliant when moved forward, was best afield in a Brisbane Lions side which ran and tackled as if the premiership was on the line.

St Kilda, 28 points down 30 seconds before half-time after a lacklustre and low-intensity opening, surged brilliantly in the third term with five unanswered goals, including two from Stephen Milne, to bring the season-opening blockbuster to life.

Just as important as the five goals the Saints kicked was the five they missed.

It told heavily as the Lions rose to defend their turf.

Brennan was the spark across half-forward as the Lions rallied with four of their own, and only an Andrew Thompson steadier for the Saints on the three-quarter-time siren stemmed the tide.

The last time the Saints won at the Gabba, they beat a Carrara-based Brisbane Bears side coached by Robert Walls. But the Lions of last night served a reminder to allcomers that they are anything but old news.

For the first time in AFL history, the season began outside Melbourne.

Riewoldt, who became St Kilda's youngest captain and the 13th-youngest in league history at 22 years 158 days, came to the fore early with a strong mark and goal from outside 50 metres with his first touch.

The visitors opened with newcomer Cain Ackland in the ruck, allowing coach Thomas to use Justin Koschitzke as the third tall defender on Clark Keating, who slotted into the forward role filled for so long by Alastair Lynch.

Lacking early opportunities, Keating was replaced by Jason Akermanis - the changing offensive structure a sign of the Lions' times, post-Lynch.

But Daniel Bradshaw filled the breach with two goals, and even without Lynch and Brown, the Lions finished with more targets than St Kilda.

DETAILS

BRISBANE LIONS

4.1 10.5 14.5 18.8 (116)

ST KILDA

2.4 6.6 12.11 13.15 (93)

GOALS - Brisbane Lions: Brennan 4, Keating 2, Bradshaw 2, Akermanis 2, McGrath 2, Pike 2, Lappin, Copeland, Voss, Adcock. St Kilda: Milne 3, Riewoldt 3, Hamill 2, Harvey 2, Fiora, Thompson, Ball.

BEST - Brisbane Lions: Johnson, Brennan, Michael, Power, Voss. St Kilda: Ball, Hamill, Riewoldt, Goddard, Dal Santo, Ackland.

INJURIES: Brisbane Lions: Brennan (leg), Lappin (ankle). St Kilda: Riewoldt (collarbone).

UMPIRES: S McBurney, S McLaren, S Ryan.

CROWD: 33,369 at the Gabba.

 
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