It may only be match simulation, but all signs are pointing in a positive direction with St Kilda overcoming Essendon in a comprehensive 66-point victory in front of a 5000-strong crowd at RSEA Park who braved the swirling winds and overcast skies.

Ross Lyon’s outfit had no shortage of contributors across all lines, however it was impossible to ignore another monstrous showing in the ruck from Rowan Marshall, whose strength at the coalface and marking deep in defence had an unmissable hand in the 16.10 (106) to 5.10 (40) result and barnstorming six-goal final term.

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Marshall led the midfield entourage of Jack Steele, Mattaes Phillipou and Seb Ross, while Hugo Garcia folded through the centre bounce rotations following an early left-hand injury to Marcus Windhager.

It’s a case of déjà vu for the developing inside midfielder, who similarly injured his opposite hand during last year’s practice game against Essendon. 

The engine room grunt of Phillipou and Steele - the former lining up in 20 out of 24 centre bounces - combined with the zip of Garcia in patches, saw the Saints leading forwards flourish; Max King (four), Tim Membrey (three), Cooper Sharman (three) and Jack Higgins (three) jagging multiple majors.

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Membrey in particular was a standout as a leading forward, kicking the first of the game to a strong crowd reception before helping bring the ball to ground for the likes of Liam Henry, Garcia and Higgins to feast on.

But goal of the day belonged to King; a rollicking snap off a few steps from outside 50, with some help from the breeze, earning the biggest cheers of the afternoon as he looks to piece together an injury-free campaign in 2024.

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St Kilda jagged nine of the last 12 majors, but was just as proficient early with six straight majors either side of quarter-time. Essendon struggled to have any notable impact inside the arc outside of Kyle Langford’s pair, seeing the visitors kept goalless in the second term as the Saints' stringent defence let little through the gate.

The half-back duo of Jimmy Webster and Riley Bonner were particularly pleasing on the eye, with Bonner filling the void left by the injured Jack Sinclair (calf) with multiple moments of sharp kicking both coming out of defence, heading into attack and even on the scoreboard himself with a big roost from outside the arc before half-time.

Essendon mounted several forays forward, however the Saints’ problem-solving while under pressure was a clear highlight; the composure of Callum Wilkie, Dougal Howard and the increasingly prevalent Josh Battle combining for several seamless transitions out of the defensive end.

A late stumble in a marking contest from Battle had him leave the field gingerly, but he played out the majority of the third quarter with a strapped knee before being rested as a precaution and replaced by Zaine Cordy.

Bonner was the pick of the Saints’ new faces, with Darcy Wilson dazzling on-lookers several moments of pace, smarts and class coming off half-forward, the speedy Liam Henry showing flashes at ground-level of what he’ll bring to the table in Saints colours and Garcia standing tall after being thrust into the middle during the first quarter.

Garcia’s pressure stood out in moments, but it wasn’t exclusive to the zippy midfielder as the whole brigade attacked and hunted as a team to keep their opposition on the back foot.

It wasn't perfect from front-to-back - some passages of play were let down at the close by some skill errors which could have eventuated in more scoreboard reward - however offered a solid first step as the season proper fast approaches.

St Kilda will have one more hit-out against opposition next Sunday at RSEA Park against North Melbourne as part of the AAMI Community Series before its season opener against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday 16 March.

ST KILDA  3.3  7.8  10.9  16.10 (106)
ESSENDON  2.2  2.5  4.7  5.10 (40)

GOALS
St Kilda: King 4, Membrey 3, Higgins 3, Sharman 3, Bonner, Garcia, Henry
Essendon: Langford 2, Redman, Guelfi, Caldwell

BEST
Marshall, Steele, Phillipou, King, Membrey, Bonner, Battle, Henry, Ross, Garcia

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