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St Kilda's Indigenous stars outshine Collingwood's premiership heroes at the 'G

Andrew Mathieson -

The slick run and carry of Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera and Marcus Windhager, supported by Bradley Hill and Liam Henry, ensured the Indigenous brothers-in-arms walked off the MCG on Thursday night with a convincing St Kilda victory against Collingwood.

Wanganeen-Milera collected 32 disposals and Windhager another 24 in the back half, while Hill with 19 touches and a goal and Henry with 14 touches and two goals would end up finishing the the Saints pair's dominant execution up forward.

The magnanimous quartet, in fact, covered an immense amount of the ground collectively – both forward and back – that exposed the Magpies runners with quick ball movement to ensure the Saints kicked enough goals under Ross Lyon’s faster-moving game plan.

The 14.10 (94) to 12.7 (79) loss extended the wait of the reigning premiers for a win in its third match this year since the 2023 AFL grand final triumph over Brisbane Lions.

Lyon almost struggled to find enough superlatives to specifically describe the drive Wanganeen-Milera once again gave his Saints teammates after a breakout, second-year last season.

“He had a few of them (games) last year,” Lyon answered a reporter at the post-match press conference.

“He’s just a very special young player.

“(Nasiah) played pretty well tonight, didn’t he?

“I mean he has got great bloodlines, with uncle Gav (Wanganeen), but also he’s just as dedicated of a player that’s on our list.”

Wanganeen-Milera’s dangerous right foot hit targets superbly across the game-high 25 kicks, but it was his follow-up running that was almost the equal moving forward along the wings.

There were though two moments early on where fumbling turnovers from the 23-year-old did result in Collingwood goals to keep the season's out-of-form rivals in the contest.

But Lyon backed the Narungga and Kokatha man’s abilities after counselling his star prospect at half-time.

“The game went for 100 minutes, he had his ball in his hands for about a minute and two of those seconds he buggered up, but the other 58 seconds we were very happy,” Lyon said, putting the errors into perspective.

“That’s how we coach here. I sent him a message to ‘not go back into your shell – we got you here for your run and for your kick’.

“When I spoke to him in person at half-time, he lit up with a smile.

“So we don’t want to kick (our players) because you’re going to make errors.

“On grand final day, there were lots of errors.

“He showed resilience remarkably well because it’s a game of imperfection.”

Windhager moved off half back, where he was positioned for the bulk of last year and last game against Geelong, into the centre square and finished up with 10 kicks and 14 handballs.

The Pyemmairre man, of the Ben Lomond Tribe in the Tasmanian Plangermaireener Nation, took control with seven key centre clearances despite Collingwood’s dominance in the ruck contest.

Windhager most importantly shut down Collingwood star Nick Daicos, all the while holding onto six tackles around a fierce ball.

Henry looked almost as polished in just his second performance for St Kilda since the 22-year-old crossed over from Fremantle in the offseason.

But the Noongar/Wajuk and Walmadjari man came to the bench late in the pressured contest after pulling up tight with a troubled hamstring.

“We’re concerned about him, but in the end, it might be just severe cramp,” Lyon said.

“I think that because we all acknowledge his speed and his run.”

Though his number of possessions were hardly damaging, Henry clearly worried the Collingwood midfield when he did touch the ball from just the nine kicks and five handballs.

After just the two appearances in Saints colours following 43 in the purple of the Dockers across four seasons, including a first year under Lyon, the same coach acknowledged that Henry is the sort of player that can change his new club’s fortunes for good.

“We would like more of those players; we will be going more to the draft to find more of those kids, just like Lance Collard too,” Lyon said.

Hill sparked St Kilda in the first quarter after teammate Mason Wood was knocked out and the match stopped for seven minutes.

Picking up a loose ball from an errant handpass from Darcy Moore not long after the prolonged break, Hill snapped a ripping goal to set the Saints on a four-goal run.

The Noongar/Wiilman Noongar man impacted strongly throughout all four quarters with his 13 kicks and six handballs.

“Last week we were a bit disappointed with our first half, but we thought we have forced them hard (on Thursday night),” Hill told the TV broadcaster after the match.

“The effort tonight was unreal to see the work of the likes of Nas (Wanganeen-Milera), Mitchito (Owens) and all the boys coming through.”

Wanganeen-Milera stood alongside of Hill during the interview and almost began to blush as the three-time premiership hero at Hawthorn rattled off his admiration for one of St Kilda’s great hopes to bring home just the club’s second senior premiership ever.

“He’s pretty silky – you can see the Wanganeen genes there,” Hill said of Wanganeen-Milera.

“He’s growing into such a good player and I like watching him grow.”

While St Kilda’s theme song was played loudly in front of the bulk of the remaining 69,517 fans that turned up, Wanganeen-Milera was putting the team first rather than accepting the praise.

“It was just unreal – we obviously came into it after what happened last week (in the eight-point loss to Geelong),” the best-on-ground Wanganeen-Milera said.

“It is all process-driven at the Saints, and we’ve got a young group, we’re loving all of it with Ross and all the coaches, who are great and make it so much easier for us.”

 

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