Coach Brett Ratten has put St Kilda on high alert for a fierce challenge from North Melbourne in Sunday’s AFL clash at Marvel Stadium.
The Saints are starting solid favorites, especially given the Kangaroos’ well-documented woes.
There was a further crisis at North this week when three members of their recruiting squad quit and club legend Wayne Carey mourned them as a broken club.
But Ratten said even without those latest issues, there are several signs that Sunday will be much tighter than the form suggests.
North captain Jack Ziebell will be playing his 250th game, the Kangaroos challenged Melbourne last week and St Kilda were below par before successfully overcoming a challenge from Adelaide.
“Let’s get the media conversation out – when you have a player of the quality of Jack Ziebell, captain of their footy club, 250 games, you’re going to have a big spike right around that,” Ratten said.
“It’s going to be a hot game. Their form last week against Melbourne, halfway through the third quarter, it’s six points clear – that’s the game.
“They showed very good signs in the way they moved the ball, the way they performed against the best in the competition.
“We have to be ready for the fight.”
After two return games, Saints star Jack Billings has been dropped for Sunday and Mitch Owens will take his place.
Hunter Clark would have been the inclusion, but he is unavailable due to COVID-19.
“We thought we mixed badly last week – we had players playing more forwards or outwards and we probably lacked a midfielder,” Ratten said.
“Mitch was in very good form, so we wanted to bring in a midfielder and Mitch can also move forward.
“Those are tough conversations – Jack is a good player building up this year.
“It’s not like a year (when) he had a lot of continuity in his pre-season and stuff.”
Ratten added that he didn’t expect Billings to need much time in the VFL to get back into shape.
“Two weeks ago and it’s like, which direction are we going? We had a few players down last week and that was a good conversation, but we had players who had several weeks at level senior and played well and last week they had a slow week,” he said.
“So it would be quite difficult to remove them from the team – Jack had two weeks back.
“I know he’ll be back, whether it’s next week or the week after, he’ll be back very soon.”
Meanwhile, injury-plagued midfielder Dan Hannebery has returned from a trip to Europe to treat his troublesome calves and is set to race soon.
“He’s fine. He’ll start racing very soon and I think he’ll progress quite quickly – at what level, I’m not entirely sure,” Ratten said.
“It will be week by week, session by session.”