Footy looks to shake the tag

Saints tagger Clint Jones tackles Dockers captain Matthew Pavlich.IN THE Mick Malthouse reign at Collingwood, the Magpies stopped using taggers. Possibly it was by necessity, since they did not have a really good one. More likely it was by choice.
Nanjing Night Net

If you are choosing your starting midfielders and you have Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Luke Ball and more recently Dayne Beams and Steele Sidebottom at your disposal, why put a tagger in there, since he would tend to be, by definition, an inferior player?

Yet taggers still exist and their roles evolve, swinging more toward the offensive mould. The Tony Liberatore-types of the 1990s were replaced by the Brett Kirk-Cameron Ling model of the 2000s, where the defensive player was required to win a share of football. Even now, Geelong uses Taylor Hunt to run with the likes of Gary Ablett.

Carlton employs Andrew Carrazzo, and last Friday Carrazzo did a fine job on Beams. Yet the other side of the equation is this: instead of tagging Dane Swan, Carlton sent Chris Judd to play on him.

Judd is not a defensive player but he did make Swan accountable for a man. When he’s matched by a tagger, Swan knows that man will be coming for him at stoppages or if he pushes forward into space. If he’s matched by someone like Judd, he knows that he has to be wary of what damage Judd can do. Which, as it turned out on Friday, was quite a lot.

St Kilda, arguably the best defensive team of the past five years, is forging a new method under Scott Watters’ coaching.

Watters has been portrayed in the media as having released the shackles at St Kilda, and in a sense it is borne out by bare statistics. St Kilda is second in the competition for scoring, but easier to score against than it was under Ross Lyon. Ten teams have conceded fewer points than the Saints this year.

But it is not as simple as that. Every time a reporter puts up the idea that St Kilda has been released to play the game, Watters chips them and delivers a reminder that he wants to coach a team that has strong defence. He was, after all, Collingwood’s defensive coach.

People seem to want to believe that St Kilda was merely dour under Lyon, and free-flowing under Watters. It is a simplification of the facts.

All good teams play strong defence. What Watters appears to want is a two-sided game, a team that can score when it is on top, and defend when it needs to.

So on Saturday night St Kilda had to deal with Bomber Jobe Watson, among the top handful of extractors in the competition. He also had an issue with Brent Stanton, whose running capacity generally demands a hard tag.

Watters chose the Collingwood method. Hence, St Kilda’s definitive tagger, Clint Jones, started on the bench and then came on without following an opponent. Watters sent Nick Dal Santo to Watson and Leigh Montagna to Stanton. While neither Saint is known for his defensive game, the coach had issued a challenge. It was good player versus good player.

”Dal’s a leader at our club and he accepted that challenge and I thought he handled it very well,” Watters said. ”Watson’s just a great player. Dal’s been OK without being as good as he can be, and I want to push him to really strive for that top echelon of his game.”

Dal Santo’s 27 disposals (12 contested, 74 per cent efficiency, game-high six clearances) stacked up with Watson’s 23 disposals (70 per cent efficiency, five clearances). Montagna also held up (20 disposals, four clearances to Stanton’s 22 and two). Neither Bomber had a big influence.

St Kilda kicked 21 goals but Watters would have noted that Essendon kicked just eight, in what the coach called ”a well-rounded performance”. St Kilda has had some big scores kicked against it, and it seems to have worried Watters. He had lots of numbers back on Saturday night, but he said it is not the way he wants his team to play.

”We’re not a side that wants to flood and play in the back half of the ground. We want balance in our defence. This year because we’ve moved the ball differently, I guess it’s a challenge for us to learn to defend on the back of a different offence. We’ll work on that as the year progresses. We’ve had ups and downs with that.”

Is this philosophy the way forward for St Kilda? Not necessarily, according to Watters. ”It’ll be horses for courses depending who we play. It probably says something about the challenge I wanted to throw to a couple of our senior players. At some points in your career, I think you need to have the responsibility to take on a good player. In no way is that at free-wheeling opportunity of one player going head-to-head and trying to accumulate possessions. That was a job that needed to be done for both of those players, with a defensive intent.”

The departed Ross Lyon used to say that to be a really good footy team, you needed to be around top-four in both the offensive and defensive ranks. St Kilda is a way off that, but it’s a work in progress.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.