Riewoldt leaves Etihad a winner

ST KILDA
4.3 8.14 14.17 18.19 (127)
NORTH MELBOURNE
5.2 6.3 8.5 12.6 (78)

GOALS - St Kilda: Bruce 3, Gresham 3, Membrey 3, Riewoldt 2, Savage 2, Acres, Billings, Sinclair, Steele, Weller.
North Melbourne: Brown 2, Cunnington 2, Hrovat 2, Garner 2, Simpkin, Ziebell, Gibson, Goldstein.
BEST - St Kilda: Steven, Ross, Billings, Acres, Dunstan, Sinclair, Steele, Bruce.
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Higgins, Goldstein, Gibson, Garner.
INJURIES: St Kilda: Sam Gilbert (abdominal).
North Melbourne: Daniel Nielson (concussion), Todd Goldstein (left knee).
REPORTS: Carlisle reported for striking McDonald and Mountford.
UMPIRES: Kamolins, Margetts, Wallace.
CROWD: 29,126 at Etihad Stadium.

No player has played more games nor kicked more goals at Etihad Stadium than Nick Riewoldt. So it was fitting in his final match at the venue where he has provided so much joy for St Kilda supporters, Riewoldt went out a winner.

The Saints' final home game of 2017 was a tribute to the retiring club great, even to the extent that the sign marking the Coventry end under the shut roof at Docklands was replaced by the name "Riewoldt".

And as has been the way for the majority of his storied career, the former skipper made lead after lead to play a solid - if not starring - role in his side's victory over North Melbourne. The result means St Kilda remain an outside chance to make the final eight, but it is no more than that, given they will have to beat Richmond at the MCG next Sunday, while needing Essendon, West Coast and maybe the Western Bulldogs to lose.

Compounding their challenge, the Saints may also confront the Tigers without tall backman Jake Carlisle - who having overcome an injury scare in the warm-up, was reported for separate strikes on Roos Luke McDonald and Declan Mountford during a quarter-time melee.

Another Saints defender - Sam Gilbert - also looked to be in doubt for next week after sitting out the last quarter with a suspected internal injury.

St Kilda had wasted their best chance of finals seven days earlier, after playing an atrocious first quarter against Melbourne at the MCG. So as the Demons all but booked their spot in the top eight by beating Brisbane, the Saints had just settled into a duel of considerably lower stakes against the struggling Roos. These two sides played one of the season's most error-riddled games earlier in the year, and to be fair, this was a considerably better spectacle.

For the first quarter and a bit it was an even and free-flowing affair. With Shaun Higgins making use of his sublime skills, and Ben Cunnington getting his hands dirty, North took it up to the Saints. Nathan Brown struggled to control namesake Ben, who was, as expected, an imposing figure inside the Roos' 50 metre arc, with the Saints defender spared early blushes only by some sloppy finishing from the Roos forward.

Remarkably the first 12 goals of the game were kicked without either side notching consecutive majors. St Kilda finally broke clear at the back end of the second quarter, although as has been their way too often this year, it came with a string of behinds rather than goals. The wayward Saints kicked 4.11 for the quarter, with the worst miss coming from Luke Dunstan, who couldn't cleanly get boot to ball inside the goal square.

In the end, weight of numbers was always likely to win out given St Kilda had 19 inside 50s to seven for the quarter, an effort that came on the back of 13 disposals and seven clearances from best afield Jack Steven, who hauled his side to a 23-point half-time lead.

With their forward pressure vastly superior to that of the Roos, the Saints kicked on to pull ahead. Riewoldt slotted his second goal after having his lead honoured midway through the third quarter, and was involved in the next one too, working his way up to the wing to set up a chain eventually finished on the run by Jack Sinclair.

Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce piled on the goals late as St Kilda secured a comfortable four points in front of coach Alan Richardson, who opted to spend the game at ground level. Riewoldt was chaired off the ground, unsurprisingly to rapturous applause.

One positive for North was the form of Todd Goldstein. After a terrible performance against Hawthorn last week, the Roos ruckman showed he isn't entirely a spent force.

Notably, the first quarter ran just shy of 38 minutes after inexperienced Roo Daniel Nielson copped a knee to the back of his head in a marking contest late in the term. He was carted off the ground, but recovered sufficiently to be up and walking by game's end.

The story Riewoldt leaves Etihad a winner first appeared on The Age.

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