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Josh Gabelich  April 21, 2017 3:18 PM

After more than a year and a half out of the senior side, Billy Longer is back on Sunday.

After more than a year and a half out of the senior side, Billy Longer is back on Sunday.

Longer returns after long time out of the spotlight

Forgotten big man Billy Longer has emerged from the wilderness after a range of setbacks in 2016. The former pick No. 8 will play his first senior game in 617 days after banging down the selection door, following a handful of eye-catching performances over the last two months. The 23-year-old played two JLT Community Series games, but was pipped at the post by Tom Hickey after the 2016 No. 1 ruckman produced a best on ground display in the Saints’ final pre-season game. Since then, Longer has built strong form at Sandringham and was one of the Zebras best in their seven-point win over Essendon, where his work against Tom Bellchambers and Shaun McKernan sewed up his spot. Now, the former Lion has the opportunity wrestle back the spot Hickey has owned for the last 12 months.

One star in, one star out

A week after David Armitage returned from injury, the star midfielder is out again. But as one star departs, another returns. This time in the form of Jack Steven. After missing the last fortnight, the three-time club champion returns against a midfield containing two of the best midfielders in the land: Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood. While it remains unclear how long Armitage will be out for just yet, Alan Richardson said “he’ll go out for a while” at a press conference on Friday morning. The Saints will be looking for another even spread of contribution in the middle part of the ground, just like last week against Collingwood. The inclusion of Steven will definitely boost St Kilda’s chances around the ball, especially after losing stoppage 40-22 against Collingwood on Easter Sunday.

Brown is the new black (and red and white)

Nathan Brown is in form, but so is the man he will man on Sunday afternoon. After four rounds, powerhouse full forward Tom Hawkins is the in-form forward in the competition. The two-time premiership spearhead is leading the Coleman Medal on 16 goals, having put another four past the Hawks on Monday. Along with Dan Menzel, who has 13 goals to his name so far, Geelong is ranked No. 2 for points for (121.8 points) and ranked only behind the Saints for scores per inside 50 (54.4 per cent). But while Hawkins has demanded attention so far this year, so has Brown. The former Collingwood premiership full-back has performed strongly against Josh Kennedy, Josh Schache and Darcy Moore in successive weeks, instantly rewarding the Saints for providing him with a change of scenery last October. If the Saints are to turn their win-loss ledger in their favour, Brown will need to have a defining say in this battle.

Will Ross get the job on Dangerfield again?

For those who paid close attention to the coaches votes last week, Seb Ross featured prominently following his match-up on Magpies star Adam Treloar. It came just two weeks after his captivating display against West Coast Brownlow medallist Sam Mitchell. More of a reference point than something of a hard tag, Ross has worked off the opposition's best in recent weeks and could get a similar role this weekend. In Round 14 last year, Ross received a similar role against last year’s Brownlow medallist Patrick Dangerfield. Not only did he nullify Dangerfield, he won plenty of his own ball and was instrumental in the thrilling win. Just like his side, the Cats’ superstar is a slightly different proposition in 2017. He is finding almost the same amount of ball as last year (31.0 per game), but he is using it by hand a lot more (averaging 19.8 handballs, up from 15.6), winning it at stoppage more (8.0, up from 6.8) and putting it inside 50 less (4.8, down from 8.1). If Ross goes to Dangerfield, he will be in for a different kind of challenge on Sunday. Although, a challenge nonetheless.

Recent record fuels Saints' belief

St Kilda heads to its natural habitat inside Etihad Stadium with plenty of belief against the Cats. In their two most recent encounters, the Saints have faced their more fancied opponents and taken the game right up to Chris Scott’s men. Two years ago, St Kilda held on for a thrilling draw. In Round 14 last year, the Saints burst out of the blocks, leading by four goals at the main break in one of their better halves of 2016. But after having the lead reeled in, St Kilda rallied again in the last quarter, with two goals in the dying minutes from Jack Steven and Jade Gresham winning a pulsating clash. At his pre-game press conference on Friday morning, Richardson said his side would take confidence from recent performances against the Cats, at a time where the Saints launched into the second half from.

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