It’s a simple equation.
Win on Friday night against Greater Western Sydney and a nine-year finals drought will finally be broken. Lose and fate rests elsewhere.
Now, Brett Ratten and his coaching group have an incredibly difficult task ahead of them.
With Zak Jones out through injury and an assortment of finals campaigners and young blood on the hunt for a recall, there’s an unbelievable amount to weigh up as Friday night draws closer.
The stakes are high, the impacts far-reaching. The result, absolutely critical.
Earlier today, Dan Hannebery arrived in Noosa following his two weeks’ quarantine.
By Friday night, there could be a possibility he's at the Gabba and back in the red, white and black for one of St Kilda’s most important games of the past decade.
The 29-year-old last played in the Saints’ prime-time clash against Carlton in Round 5, going down during the third quarter with a minor hamstring strain before a subsequent hamstring tendon injury in July forced him to fly back to Victoria for surgery.
Hannebery has spent the past two weeks at the AFL’s Palm Meadows quarantine hub, training alongside Geelong’s Gary Ablett Jr and Richmond’s Shane Edwards as his side aims to break a nine-year finals drought.
Although he’ll will only be able to squeeze in one full session with the group before Friday’s clash with the Giants, the loss of Zak Jones (hamstring strain) might accelerate his intentions to join the Saints in their hunt for a consolidated place in the top-eight.
A hit-out at reserves level against his old side saw Jake Carlisle in relatively unfamiliar territory last week.
But the key defender will be hoping to find himself in more familiar surrounds on Friday night as part of St Kilda’s back six as a guaranteed finals spot hangs in the balance.
With the Giants’ tall timber in Jeremy Cameron, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg looking to cut loose after a quiet few weeks and a guaranteed finals spot for the Saints up for grabs, an additional experienced body to combat the prospective finalists would be well-received by the young backline.
Despite missing four of the past five matches, the Carlisle still sits in the top-three for St Kilda’s one-percenters (49) and spoils (44), and sits just two shy of third-placed Jack Billings for total marks.
The loss of Zak Jones leaves a considerable dent in the Saints’ midfield, but there’s a three-game Saint who could help fill the void.
Jack Bytel was last seen in the red, white and black in Round 13 against Brisbane, but has continued to string together reliable performances at reserves level to keep himself in the frame.
The 20-year-old was clean around the clearances in last weekend’s scratch match against Essendon, and along with Ryan Byrnes, was particularly strong through his ball-handling in the wet.
With dewy conditions likely for Friday’s under-lights encounter at the Gabba, Bytel’s skillset – backed by Development Manager Ben McGlynn, who said the conditions suited the young Saint and his inside style of play – could shape as an important inclusion for the significant clash.
A five-goal performance in the wet from Jonathon Marsh during last week’s scratch match against Essendon is bound to have him in the selection conversation for Round 18.
The energetic Marsh was joined up forward by Logan Austin (four goals), while Ryan Byrnes put in a clean and influential display through the midfield with Jack Bytel to press his case for a recall.
Jimmy Webster and Luke Dunstan also made their returns after extended periods of the sidelines and could have a comeback on the cards should the Saints advance through to the finals.
Shane Savage, Dylan Roberton and Daniel McKenzie remain as reliable defensive options after their consistent run of form at reserves level, while Ryan Abbott continues to deliver in the ruck and up forward after earning a senior call-up against Hawthorn.
Wingman Ed Phillips is also in the hunt for a return after four senior outings in 2020.
Round 17 line-up
IN: Hind, King, Membrey
OUT: Abbott (omitted), Marsh (omitted), Phillips (omitted)
|B||Jarryn Geary||Dougal Howard||Nick Coffield|
|HB||Hunter Clark||Callum Wilkie||Ben Long|
|C||Josh Battle||Sebastian Ross||Jack Billings|
|HF||Jack Lonie||Rowan Marshall||Bradley Hill|
|F||Max King||Tim Membrey||Dan Butler|
|R||Paddy Ryder||Jack Steele||Zak Jones|
|INT||Ben Paton||Jack Sinclair||Dean Kent|
|E||Dylan Roberton||Shane Savage||Jonathon Marsh|