THE WESTERN Bulldogs' exciting youth caught plenty of traction ahead of this year's AFLW season, but it was two emerging young Saints who helped steer St Kilda to a thrilling nine-point win in Friday night's round one clash.
The talented Georgia Patrikios and first-gamer Tyanna Smith starred as the Saints opened their second AFLW season with a 8.3 (51) to 6.6 (42) victory at RSEA Stadium.
SAINTS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
Midfielder Patrikios was everywhere, with the 19-year-old following on her exciting debut season when she was named the AFLPA best first-year player. Patrikios gathered a game-high 23 disposals and created plenty of opportunities, particularly in the first half.
Smith also took the eye with 15 disposals and a goal in a memorable first outing in Saints colours for the top-10 NAB AFL Draft pick, while Tarni White (18 disposals), in her return from a knee reconstruction, was excellent.
Isabel Huntington was a presence for the Bulldogs, with the former No.1 pick shifting back to the forward line after last season in defence and booting two goals, while captain Ellie Blackburn was also terrific.
It was frenetic from start to finish, with six goals shared in a brilliant and high-scoring opening term.
St Kilda had the early upper hand, with a speedy run from veteran Kate McCarthy setting up a goal for Kate Shierlaw and Patrikios showing her class drifting forward to hit the scoreboard.
But the Bulldogs struck back as Huntington capitalised on her opportunity to kick a long goal and steer her side to a three-point lead at the first change.
The more mature Saints took control of the contest in the second quarter, booting three goals to none to set up a crucial 13-point advantage at half-time, with Smith's clever snap a highlight.
A goal on the three-quarter time siren to Huntington – the only one of the term – gave the Dogs some hope and placed them within eight points at the last change.
The Dogs continued to fight hard, with Blackburn's brilliance seeing them push to within two points to set up a tight last quarter, before Guttridge's late sealer in the final 90 seconds saw the Saints take the points.
Alice gets bragging rights
It was father vs daughter as Saints legend – and now Western Bulldogs AFLW coach – Nathan Burke faced daughter Alice Burke, who made her debut for the Saints on Friday night. The small 18-year-old didn't have a big impact on the contest, registering two disposals, but she threw herself into everything when she got her opportunity on the field and belted out the Saints' theme song after the win.
Blackburn underlines star quality
Another season of AFLW, and another reminder of Ellie Blackburn's standing among the elite of the competition. The Bulldogs skipper was terrific throughout the clash, gathering a team-high 21 disposals in a willing midfield performance while also proving a threat in attack with two goals.
Blink and you'll miss it
Caitlin Greiser took off exactly where she left last year, with the St Kilda power forward booting the first goal of the game in the first 20 seconds of the clash. After a quick clearance, Greiser was awarded a free kick – and then a 50-metre penalty – to make her first major of 2021 a formality after being the competition's leading goalkicker last season. She went on to nearly boot the goal of the year in the third term, and then kick another from close range in the fourth quarter to finish with two goals.
They said what?
"It could have gone either way, it was a great game of footy. I was pretty proud of the brand that our girls played and pretty proud of the way the Bulldog played their game. If you were an outsider watching women's footy I think you'd walk away pretty excited about where the game's going." – St Kilda coach Peta Searle
"Everyone has bagged me over summer saying 'You've got to play Issy back, she was All-Australian last year' but my theory is if you've got a player like that you'd rather have her kick goals than stop goals. Once she actually gets herself into a bit of match practice as well – because to her own admission she's probably not sure when to lead and when to go – so when she figures it out, look out." – Western Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke on moving Isabel Huntington forward
The Bulldogs will open round two with a home clash against Carlton next Friday night at Victoria University Whitten Oval as both clubs search for their maiden win of 2021 after round one defeats. St Kilda heads to Arden Street Oval on Sunday to face North Melbourne.
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ST KILDA 3.0 6.0 6.2 8.3 (51)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.3 3.5 4.6 6.6 (42)
St Kilda: Greiser 2, Guttridge 2, Patrikios, Shierlaw, Smith, Vogt
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn 2, Huntington 2, Toogood 2
St Kilda: Patrikios, White, Smith, Phillips, Greiser
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Toogood, Huntington, Hunt, Lamb
St Kilda: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil
Crowd: 2523 at RSEA Park