There was plenty to like from St Kilda's 66-point match simulation victory over Essendon at RSEA Park.

Here are five key takeaways from an action-packed afternoon at our spiritual home as the march towards Round 1 gathers momentum.

A new half-back in town?

Organised and composed even without Jack Sinclair coming out of defence, St Kilda’s backline looked the goods to constrict Essendon to just five majors for the game.

But with the two-time All-Australian and Best & Fairest out of the line-up as he recovers from a calf setback, it was one of the Saints’ new faces in Riley Bonner who filled the void left by the No. 35.

Bonner’s ball use was proficient from siren to siren, biting off several kicks through the middle of the ground which threaded through throngs of Bombers to hit his teammates lace-out.

It was the same accuracy when spring-boarding out of defence, hitting up forwards inside the arc and even putting one through himself from long-range.

Defenders usually go through games flying under the radar, but it was hard to look past the latest cog in the Saints’ defence.


Kudos, Hugo

Hugo Garcia was only planned to pull on the boots for the Saints if any of his teammates ended up injured, however Marcus Windhager’s early injury - although disappointing - opened the door for him to flourish.

The first-year midfielder had immediate impact after coming into the mix in the opening term, lining up for 10 centre bounces alongside skipper Jack Steele, Mattaes Phillipou and Seb Ross.

Hugo Garcia was a standout at RSEA Park in his first hit-out in club colours. Photo: AFL Photos.

Despite his relative inexperience, the zippy on-baller didn’t look at all out of place, providing multiple moments of dash and sharp hand skills - plus a lively goal to boot - to entertain the onlooking faithful.

With the likes of Paddy Dow, Hunter Clark and Zak Jones currently on the sidelines, Garcia’s name could well now be in the options for the Saints’ line-up come Round 1.

Key forwards fire

Sixteen snags and triple figures on the scoreboard is a great result regardless of how and when they come, but when 10 come from the tall timber trio, there’s a lot to get excited about.

Max King led all-comers with four majors - including goal of the day with some assistance from the swirling winds in the final stanza - and was ably assisted by Tim Membrey and Cooper Sharman, who rounded out their days with three apiece.


After a season severely impeded by shoulder surgery in 2023, King left the Bombers defence with few answers as he stamped his authority both one-on-one and in clustered aerial contests for a captivating return.

Even with Mitch Owens held goalless and Dan Butler still on the sidelines, the Saints’ spread of scorers on Friday proved promising for what could transpire come the season proper.

Switching the midfield mix

Jack Steele and Seb Ross have been staples of the midfield brigade for several seasons now, however there a few new - and younger - faces getting exposure at centre bounces.

Mattaes Phillipou played exclusively as an inside midfielder after spending his first season in Saints colours as a high half-forward, lining up for 20 out of 24 centre bounces to help the engine room hum towards a strong clearance game.


Marcus Windhager was a notable presence through the middle until his hand injury prior to quarter-time, being replaced by Hugo Garcia who added a new element to the mix in his 10 centre bounce appearances.

The glue holding everyone together, Rowan Marshall was impressive in the ruck against Todd Goldstein, with a strong showing of support from Tom Campbell, who went on to feature for Sandringham later in the afternoon.

Troops in the shed

Although Essendon were missing several of its key players in Sam Draper and Peter Wright, plus skipper Zach Merrett only playing a half on Friday, the Saints still have a slew of troops in the shed.

Jack Sinclair, Paddy Dow, Hunter Clark and Zak Jones are currently on the sidelines pushing towards a Round 1 berth, while Dan Butler and Jack Hayes are hoping to retrench themselves into the forward line.

Having soldiers close to ready and waiting is a far cry from last year’s injury-hit pre-season, and while there’s still some weeks of left to go until this year’s season opener, the list is shaping up nice and clean ahead of another campaign.