Now, this is big

Finally, it’s here. After a big build up across the entire year, particularly in the last few weeks, the Saints will host the inaugural Pride Game on Saturday night. An initiative born and raised by the Yarra Glen Football Club, the Saints have taken the concept to the national stage, adding even more meaning to a momentous night for the club. Saturday night is a mini final. It’s do or die. If the Saints win, their season remains alive. And if the Kangaroos lose earlier in the day, the finals flicker burns brighter. Admittedly, the chances of St Kilda featuring in September are remote, but there’s a heartbeat. By 10:30pm on Saturday night, the gap between eighth and ninth could be just four premiership points, with two rounds to play. So, there’s plenty on the line this weekend.

Welcome back Paddy

After missing three weeks due to his latest concussion – his third of 2016 – Paddy McCartin returned via the VFL a fortnight ago and will complete his comeback under the roof at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night. The budding spearhead has endured a frustrating second season, with talkback programs, TV shows and newspapers documenting his year of head knocks. But amid a trying season, the 2014 No. 1 pick has flaunted his prodigious talent at times, tantalising observers with his powerful overhead marking and textbook set shot routine. After booting five goals on a wintery, cold day in Ballarat last weekend, McCartin returns to the Saturday night stage, bolstering an array of weapons in attack that will face one of the stingiest defences in the game. With at least three games to go this season, an opportunity presents for McCartin to build some momentum into the pre-season and into 2017.

In-form Saints attack set for date with stingy Swans

Less than a week after kicking their second highest score of 2016, St Kilda’s forward line has been strengthened by the return of McCartin. He joins in-form duo Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce, who put nine goals past the Blues and hauled in a combined total of 13 marks inside 50 last weekend. Six-time Trevor Barker Award winner Nick Riewoldt thrived playing across centre-half forward last weekend, hauling in 16 marks and 21 possessions. He could spend more time on a wing this weekend with the return of McCartin. Sydney’s defence presents an enormous challenge for St Kilda, with an ultra-disciplined group leading the Swans to the No. 1 ranking for points against this season at a measly 66.6 points per game. Heath Grundy has been the general down there and Aliir Aliir has emerged as a dependable young stopper. All Australian’s Nick Smith and Jarrad McVeigh are stars and then there is Dane Rampe who is in the frame for his first All Australian guernsey. Add Rising Star favourite Callum Mills into that mix and the Swans diverse back six is more than a handful.

Enormous engine room assignment

While the Swans back six is highly rated, their midfield is one of, if not the, deepest in the AFL. They possess Brownlow medal favourites Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker, along with dual All Australian Josh Kennedy, ball magnet Tom Mitchell and co-captain Kieren Jack. They are uncompromising with their attack on the ball and have polish on the outside to service Lance Franklin and co inside 50. With the above ensemble, the Swans are ranked No. 2 for contested ball differential (+14.7), No. 3 for scores from clearances differential (+11.9) and No. 4 for disposals (391.8). Alan Richardson will require an even spread of contribution on Saturday night. And with Luke Dunstan out for the rest of the year, Jade Gresham will get more opportunity to demonstrate his prowess in congestion. Last week he had six clearances in the second quarter alone, before finishing with a game-high eight from limited midfield time. After a couple of quieter weeks by his lofty standards, St Kilda will need Jack Steven to fire on all cylinders. He has had 33, 31 and 35 in his last three games against the Swans.

100 up for Roberton

Versatile St Kilda defender Dylan Roberton enjoyed a breakout season in 2015, playing 20 games – the equal most in a season – and finished sixth in the Trevor Barker Award. This year, he has followed up his outstanding 2015 campaign with another year of dependability in the back half. On Saturday night, the former Fremantle backman plays game No. 100, reaching the milestone after playing his first 37 games in purple. Following an injury interrupted first half of the season, Roberton has settled into the back six in the back half of this year, alongside reliable backmen Sean Dempster and Jarryn Geary. The 25-year-old produced one of the finest performances of his first century last Sunday, collecting 28 possessions (10 contested), 415 metres gained as well as kicking a goal from inside the goal square.

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