An injury-riddled evening at the Gabba has forced the magnets to be moved heading into Spud’s Game, and it might just be the opening needed for several Saints waiting in the wings.
With Daniel McKenzie and Mitch Owens sidelined with concussion and Zak Jones still a test for Friday night, there are at least two coveted spots up for grabs as St Kilda prepares for one of the most significant days on its calendar.
A three-game stint at VFL level for a player of Hunter Clark’s calibre is evidence enough of how tough it’s been to crack back into the Saints’ senior line-up.
This week against Essendon presents itself as the perfect opportunity for the smooth-moving Saint to return however, with Clark not seeing any senior action in 2022 after suffering an AC injury during the AAMI Community Series – also against the Bombers – in early March.
The 23-year-old has averaged a touch under 28 disposals per game for Sandringham, piecing together his most influential display over Carlton to finish with 31 touches and seven clearances.
His most recent performance at VFL level produced a precise 24 touches, with most of his game spent through the midfield and along the wings before being moved to half-back in the final term.
Clark looms as an obvious replacement for either Daniel McKenzie or Mitch Owens, who will both miss Spud’s Game through concussion.
Similar to Hunter Clark, a clean-cut path back into the senior side hasn’t been presented for Jack Billings this season.
Billings made his return from a hamstring setback in Round 9 against Geelong before being omitted ahead of Round 11 in the interest of team balance. He and Clark were picked as emergencies for the Saints’ clash with Brisbane.
The No. 15 responded for Sandringham with the perfect audition tape to reaffirm his credentials, closing out his afternoon as the Zebras’ best player with a game-high 32 touches, nine marks and a goal.
Majority of his afternoon was spent along the wing and going through stoppages, but also swung forward to snag a much-needed goal in the shadows of half-time.
Billings’ use and pace out of congestion was a particular highlight last weekend, and could hold the Saints in good stead should he get the nod for Friday night.
There is no shortage of outside options for Brett Ratten to choose from this week.
Nasiah Wanganneen-Milera is another frontrunner to make his return on Friday night, rested and refreshed after being managed for St Kilda’s fixture against Brisbane.
With winger Daniel McKenzie set to miss with concussion, the South Australia’s inclusion could be the perfect like-for-like swap to maintain the Saints’ hard-running outside brigade.
Wanganeen-Milera has made nine on-field appearances – plus another as an unused medical sub – in his debut season, with his best outing coming in Round 7 against Port Adelaide (18 disposals, 467 metres gained).
A four-goal bag from Cooper Sharman against Southport is bound to have the tall forward re-enter the selection conversation after being omitted last week.
Sharman kicked three of his four majors from set shots, first getting on the board while on the run with Southport’s Seb Tape hot on his heels.
The mid-season rookie impressed again aerially, but received particular praise for his ability to chase and apply pressure, which resulted in several turnovers for the Zebras to capitalise on.
Sharman has played three full games this season after breaking onto the scene in the final rounds of 2021 with 10 goals from four games.
Ryan Byrnes continues to push for a place in the Saints’ ranks after another solid performance for Sandringham last Saturday.
The young Saint collected 24 touches and six clearances in his midfield role, with this week’s performance perhaps edging him closer to selection contention after four matches at senior level as the unused medical sub.
Darragh Joyce played an important role in defence during the same game to chart 22 disposals and nine rebound-50s, but with St Kilda’s backline free from injury as yet may have to bide his time.
Jarrod Lienert will have eyes on holding his spot in the side after coming on as the medical sub after half-time against Brisbane, while Dean Kent made his return last weekend via the VFL after a knee complaint.