No Saunter on Beach Road for big Nick in 2004
The great Jim 'Frosty' Miller had only just hung up his VFA boots
when Sandringham full-forward Nick Sautner was born, in 1977. The
year before, Dandenong had met Port Melbourne in one of the most
violent grand finals in football history. As coincidence would have
it, it was the king-hit on Miller's opposite number, champion full-forward
Fred Cook that ignited the tit for tat violence that sent not only
Cook, but Norm Brown, Allan Harper and Paddy Flaherty to the ground
in a savage second quarter. Unfortunately, Channel Ten's decision
to pulp the bulk of its VFA grand final tapes means there remain
only a few snippets of the goal-kicking feats of the legendary Miller.
Spurned by Ron Barassi at Carlton, despite kicking a bag of goals
in a match against Collingwood, Miller went on to amass 883 VFA
goals from 183 games at an average of 4.8 goals per game.
MILLER SOARS AND GOALS IN 1975
I have one lasting memory of the sandy haired, bandy-legged boy
from Garfield. It came in the form of a soaring mark late in the
final quarter of a match at Dandenong's Shepley Oval in 1975, my
first year with Coburg. When the torpedo left Miller's left boot
it had only one mission, to pierce the goals, post high. It was
enough to give the Redlegs the lead and inspire them to victory,
despite the game looking to have been ours. It was no wonder they
Thirty years after Miller's departure from the alluring VFA, Nick
Sautner's march towards another Frosty Miller Medal (The VFL's goalkicking
award) is suddenly gathering momentum. A sometimes, enigmatic player,
with no qualms about expressing indignation at rough handling by
an opponent or officialdom, Sautner has never played better. Where
there had once a question about the strength and accuracy of his
kicking, on Saturday he drove the ball through the goals with sublime
confidence and strength. A fierce training regime in the pre-season,
that stripped him of excess fat and replaced it with muscle, has
given him an athlete's body and renewed pace and agility. On Saturday
he was simply too good for Essendon players, rookie Tim O'Keefe,
and Andrew Lee. Sautner's 6 goals against the Bendigo Bombers have
taken him to 45 goals for the season. With the Zebras almost certain
to play at least two finals matches he has given himself an outside
chance of kicking the ton, or at least beating his 93-goal tally
of season 2002.
Goals, goals, goals
With 581 goals from 182 games the 29-year-old Sautner is entitled
to puff out the chest. The transformation of the old VFA clubs into
hybrid AFL/VFL teams has brought great pressure on VFL listed players.
Before Port went alone, the brilliant goal-kicker, David Pitt, struggled
for the kind of a game time he needed, to amass goals. Many others
were in the same boat. So concerned was Sautner about the problems
created by alignments he left the Zebras in 2001 to play with the
stand-alone Frankston. After a stint with the Northern Bullants
it was back to the alma mater, Sandringham, in 2004, where he immediately
collected his sixth Frosty Miller Medal.
It might have been a rocky road, and he has certainly raised a
few eyebrows, but Sautner need only let his goals do the talking.
The VFL needs players such as Sautner. So too does it need stars
such as Ezra Poyas - 5 goals and man of the match last Saturday
- the exhilarating Zebra captain Chad Liddell and the likes of David
Gallagher. It needs its own heroes. Nick Sautner is now one of them.
I must admit to at times having wondered whether his goal kicking
feats could ever be compared to the likes of Miller, Cook, Ian Rickman
and Jamie Shaw. Right now he is emerging as a player who deserves
a place in the pantheon of VFA goalkickers. And with 4 premiership
medals around his neck and a couple of seasons left up his sleeve
there are a few chapters yet to be written in the Nick Sautner story.
In 1981 Rex Hunt kicked 110 goals with the Zebras and drew vociferous
crowds to the Trevor Barker Beach Road Oval. On Sunday, with the
Zebras at home to the Bullants in what could be grand final preview,
a big crowd is sure to descend on the old ground. Sautner at one
end. Digby Morrell at the other. That's enough to start Trevor's
father, Jack, talking.