St Kilda have rallied to record a one-point AFL victory over Gold Coast, holding off the Suns in an unconvincing performance at Marvel Stadium.
The nailbiter was memorable for the mediocrity of both play and the pitch, with a late Jack Lonie behind proving the difference between the two sides.
St Kilda prevailed 13.7 (85) to 13.6 (84) on Sunday in a battle of two teams tipped to struggle in 2019.
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With just two minutes remaining after a see-sawing afternoon, Suns forward Peter Wright, in his 50th game, won a free kick in sight of goal with his team down a point.
Staggeringly, he chose to centre the ball rather than shoot for goal, ensuring the Saints would claim a tightest of victories.
Suns coach Stuart Dew chose not to single out Wright.
“We were finishing strong … we were running the game out and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Dew said.
“Players will sit there, we’ll all sit there and go back on different moments in the game and kick ourselves.”
St Kilda had more of the ball, more tackles and more inside-50s but couldn’t find clean routes to goal.
Two of the last year’s worst sides combined with round one rustiness to almost comical effect.
Out-on-the-full efforts were almost as prevalent as goals in the first half, while the first 13 minutes of the third term produced just one point as teams struggled to gel.
Gold Coast were fielding seven new faces, St Kilda three, with both sides handing two players their AFL debuts.
The pick of the bunch was St Kilda’s Matt Parker, who kicked two first-half goals in a livewire display.
The 22-year-old also put his first kick out of bounds and missed another second- quarter snap St Kilda legend and ABC commentator Nathan Burke described as the “biggest miss I’ve ever seen on this ground”.
Players weren’t helped by an atrocious Marvel Stadium surface, at it’s worst just in front of the team benches.
The AFL-owned venue’s turf was so poor, the emergency umpire spent time walking on the ground to replace sandy divots.
Two final quarter majors to Suns captain David Swallow looked to have tipped the contest in favour of his side before Dean Kent, in his first game for St Kilda, returned the Saints to the front.
Josh Bruce, who kicked three goals on his return to senior football after 11 months out of the game, took a terrific mark in defence to preserve St Kilda’s advantage.
“There’s been a real spirit of resilience shown by the players (in pre-season) and they had to do it again today,” coach Alan Richardson said.
“It was good our guys was able to hang in there and get the win.”
Bruce, Jack Billings, Seb Ross and Jarrod Witts were among St Kilda’s best.
For Gold Coast, Brayden Fiorini had a game-high 30 possessions, Touk Miller had eight tackles and Alex Sexton kicked four goals.