To say it’s been a torrid week on the injury front would be a gross understatement.
It’s easy for pessimism to take hold given the circumstances. In some ways, that all-too-familiar feeling is almost entwined in our St Kilda DNA.
It strikes like clockwork year on year; players fall to injury, the exciting progress made in pre-season starts to feel hollow and Saints fans everywhere start asking who cracked the mirror.
But that sense hasn’t ensnared Brett Ratten and the Saints, who are intent on finding the positives following a series of injury setbacks to key position players.
“It is a blow to not have guys like Pato, Ro, Gears, Jonesy and Ronnie, but I think that gives others opportunity,” Ratten told saints.com.au.
“The more flexible we are and the better our ability to cover off other spots allows for some players to get into the team because of that.
Rowan Marshall, who will be off-legs for the next month through injury, is the textbook example.
It was a double concussion setback to ruckmen Lewis Pierce and Billy Longer following the 2019 season opener against the Suns that ultimately gave Prospect his big break.
The third-tall-forward-turned-ruckman was a revelation that blindsided everyone, with a second-placed Best & Fairest campaign cementing his spot and importance to the side.
Callum Wilkie was another to get his shot through misfortune, this time with following a swathe of setbacks to key defenders Dylan Roberton and Jake Carlisle. He hasn't missed a senior game since and has come as far as securing a gig in the Saints’ leadership group for 2021.
With Ben Paton out of the side, it could be Tom Highmore's chance to cement a place in the 22. Maybe Paul Hunter plays in tandem with Paddy Ryder in the ruck to form a new tall-timber partnership. Or perhaps it could be a familiar face like Jimmy Webster or Luke Dunstan who fires after their own debilitating injury lay-offs.
Nonetheless, there are hungry Saints on the sidelines waiting to make their mark and Ratten is a firm believer of adversity breeding opportunity.
This pre-season, the Saints have made a focus of upskilling the entire list, promoting versatility and cultivating the ability to play in multiple areas of the ground.
Swingman Josh Battle already sits firmly in that camp, as does Jack Sinclair, who is having a “super pre-season” according to Ratten.
?? “Sinclair, I thought I told you to trim those sideburns!” pic.twitter.com/psy008YRzp— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) February 15, 2021
But there are others who could soon join the pair in becoming multi-skilled talents to give their side flexibility and the opposition headaches through their unpredictability.
Seb Ross has received glowing endorsements all throughout the pre-season and young gun Hunter Clark is starting to show more of his silky footwork through the midfield, as is Jack Higgins.
Webster has added another string to his bow by skirting along the wings, while Geary showed he was more than handy inside the attacking arc last season.
“I think it’s a growth mindset, and the bit is for some players, it’s hard to get in front of a player who might be our best full-back, or centre-half back or ruckman or whatever it is, so it allows them to get into the team,” Ratten said.
“Especially when you’re a younger player too, you don’t usually go to your primary role until you’re a little bit older. Hunter played a lot through the midfield in his junior days, but he’s really started as a half-back for us.
“Those guys from last year who missed out are pretty hungry, so they’ve been really determined in their approach and the way they’ve attacked the pre-season.
“Some of them have had to play multiple positions or take on different tasks, so they’re really trying to make their stamp through this pre-season period and put their name up in lights to maybe get the chance to be in Round 1.”
While the chips may seem down, inside RSEA Park's four walls, Ratten and the coaching staff are confident the focus on adaptability will pay dividends.
Ben Paton is a tough lad and Zak Jones hasn’t let an injury slow him down. Rowan Marshall will be back and beaming before we know it, Ryan Byrnes has a bright future ahead, and we all know how much of a hardened warrior Jarryn Geary is.
So yes, it’s been a pretty average week on the injury front.
But there’s a locker room full of ripe Saints waiting to seize their opportunity, a sense of optimism at RSEA Park that hasn’t flickered, and a full season yet to come.