Battle for spots in resurgent Saints’ midfield
St Kilda will showcase most of its new-look midfield in Thursday's pre-season opener.
The Saints play Hawthorn at Moorabbin at 7.10pm in the first Marsh Community Series game, Brett Ratten's first hit-out as the Saints' permanent senior coach.
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Much of the attention at last week's intraclub game was on Max King's four goals, but the midfield stocks are also vastly improved and Ratten has plenty of competition for spots.
Like most of the club's first-choice players, Dan Hannebery, after a full intraclub hitout, will play two of the three pre-season games.
St Kilda has two Marsh Series games, which bookend a bushfire relief fundraiser on Friday week against Hawthorn in Morwell that the Saints will use as a fully fledged contest.
Last year was miserable on the injury front with No.4 draft pick King missing due to ankle problems, Hannebery breaking down continually and defender Dylan Roberton ruled out with a heart issue.
St Kilda believes all senior players apart from Matt Parker will be fit to play two games in the next three weeks.
That includes captain Jarryn Geary, who is easing back after calf problems and a broken leg.
Parker (ankle) is working back to full fitness, but may play the third game.
Only rookies Sam Alabakis and Jack Bell are not fit.
Seb Ross played a half last week on his way back from a minor calf injury.
Brad Hill is available for Thursday's match despite missing last week with a corked leg.
They join Jack Billings, Zak Jones, Hunter Clark, Jack Steele, Luke Dunstan and mid-forward Jade Gresham - and ruck recruit Paddy Ryder - in a midfield with new depth.
Whether all those players fit into the Round 1 side against North Melbourne remains to be seen, which is why St Kilda's pre-season contests will be so instructive.
Ryder missed some practice sessions with knee soreness since crossing from Port Adelaide but likely to play on Thursday's clash.
Geary is still easing back into training after calf issues and his broken leg but should play two games in the lead-in to Round 1.
St Kilda suddenly has a wealth of tall options with Dylan Roberton (heart issues) fit to play alongside Dougal Howard, Jake Carlisle, Cal Wilkie and Nathan Brown, with Josh Battle a swingman comfortable at both ends..