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Oppo Watch: Round 8

Prime-time, Saturday night, on our home deck. A blockbuster awaits. - St Kilda Saints,West Coast Eagles
Prime-time, Saturday night, on our home deck. A blockbuster awaits.

Saturday night shapes as a huge clash for St Kilda, as they come up against the reigning premiers in West Coast following back-to-back losses.

Although sitting at 4-3, the Eagles’ talent remains among the best in the competition.

Undoubtedly the biggest danger lies in West Coast’s offensive half, with the twin towers in Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling a monumental threat come Saturday.

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While they haven’t quite hit their lofty heights this season on the scoreboard – kicking a combined 26 goals – their presence alone is more than enough for the Saints’ defence to manage.

The return of Nathan Brown will be pivotal as they attempt to combat the Eagles’ tall timber, with the 30-year-old likely to go to the big-bodied Kennedy.

Restricting the giant Eagle will be no mean feat, Kennedy having booted six majors against St Kilda when the two sides last met, and a total of 20 goals in their last four encounters.

Tim Membrey’s firepower will be more important than ever following his quiet fortnight, but the key Saint can take confidence from his six-goal haul last season against the Eagles.

St Kilda’s defence will have to juggle the force of Darling – something they didn’t have to contend with last season due to his first-quarter injury – and will likely turn to Josh Battle to rein in the two-time club goalkicker.

While no Willie Rioli has offered some comfort to opposition teams, the subsequent emergence of Jack Petruccelle will serve as another thorn in the Saints’ side, with his 10 goals placing him third on West Coast’s goalkicking in 2019.

St Kilda’s on-ball brigade will certainly be up for the challenge against one of the classiest midfields in the league, headed by a multitude of stars.

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT? Watch the Round 8 team selection here

Andrew Gaff has arguably been the most influential, his elite form a reminder of just how potent the Eagles can be.

From five games this season, Gaff has had just the one game below 30 disposals (29 against Geelong) with a season average of 33 touches per game to place second in the league behind Brisbane’s Lachie Neale.

The 26-year-old’s damaging spread, ability to rack up uncontested ball and dominate around the contest will see him firmly in the Saints’ scopes on Saturday night.

Tim Membrey had a field day last time the Saints met the Eagles.

Meanwhile, Gaff’s flair will be complemented by Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo through their brutal tackle-work and contest ball-winning ability.

The Saints will need to bring their A-game in pressure – something the inclusion of Luke Dunstan should help – if they are to get on top of the Eagles in the middle.

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Relentless opposition pressure has been present in all three of their losses (against Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Geelong), most recently submitting to an uncharacteristic losing margin of 48 points.

While the premiership defence has been exposed on occasion this season – exacerbated by Tom Barrass’ absence – the remaining backmen have performed proficiently.

West Coast have averaged 103 marks per game this season, 92 of which have been uncontested.

It’s served as the foundation of their sound defensive structure, with skipper Shannon Hurn the standout.

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The All Australian captain leads the Eagles for intercept possessions (65), rebound-50s (49) and metres gained (3434), and looks well on track for a second All Australian honour.

Add Brad Sheppard and the ever-reliable Jeremy McGovern, and West Coast’s defence will certainly be hard to crack, even despite the Saints’ ability to gather repeat entries forward.

A prime-time Saturday night clash against the reigning premiers implies a blockbuster.

And under the roof at Marvel Stadium with thousands of screaming Sainters, the red, white and black are sure to come out firing.