ROWAN Marshall’s first finals campaign as an Australian Football League player is off to a flying start, with the ruckman’s St Kilda side defeating the Western Bulldogs in an elimination final thriller on Saturday.
Marshall, originally from Portland, is in his fourth season with St Kilda and after finishing in sixth spot on the ladder qualified for a do-or-die final against the Bulldogs at the GABBA in Queensland.
In a nail-biting, hard-hitting contest that went right down to the wire, the Saints defeated the slightly favoured Bulldogs 10.7 (67) to 9.10 (64) and as a result have progressed through to the semi finals.
On Friday, St Kilda will travel to Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast and play reigning premiers Richmond, who have progressed to the semi finals after losing their preliminary final against Brisbane.
The Saints slipped behind the Bulldogs early in the elimination final, trailing by one goal at quarter time and for most of the second term until two late goals reversed the scoreboard and put the Saints ahead by seven.
That advantage was extended in a blistering third quarter effort, with the Saints booting four goals to one to set up a 24-point hold heading into the last.
Refusing to be outdone, the Bulldogs threw everything they had at the contest in the final minutes of the match and outscored the Saints four goals to one in the last quarter.
The lead was cut back to just three points in the dying minutes of the match but when the final siren sounded, the Saints held on by less than a goal.
Marshall was paired with veteran ruckman Paddy Ryder in the aerial contest with the Bulldogs’ Tim English and together the Saints comfortably won the ruck battle.
Marshall finished with 11 disposals, 10 hit outs, took six marks and had four clearances, while Ryder was arguably the most influential player on the ground, collecting 20 hit outs and kicking two goals.
The good news in the ruck department ends there for the Saints however, with Marshall and Ryder unlikely to team up again in 2020 after St Kilda revealed on Sunday that the 32-year-old veteran has a serious hamstring tendon strain and won’t be available against Richmond on Friday.
This will leave all of St Kilda’s ruck duties to Marshall, who will likely be facing Richmond’s Toby Nankervis in the semi final.
St Kilda’s Chief Operating Officer, Simon Lethlean, said it was frustrating to lose a player of Ryder’s influence.
“Paddy’s contribution to our group has gone far beyond what we have seen on the field and we know he’ll come back strongly from the injury with the same commitment he has shown throughout the year,” he said.
“All teams face injuries to key players and we now have to find a way without Paddy.
“Part of the motivation for our group now is to make sure we don’t let him down and instead step up.”
Marshall’s 51st game as a Saint was the club’s first finals win in 10 years.
St Kilda’s semi-final contest on Friday night begins at 7.50pm at Metricon Stadium.
If the Saints are successful, they will progress through to a preliminary final against Port Adelaide, where they will play for a spot in the grand final.