Coach calls on Saints to step up in AFL

Jack Steven and David Armitage have set the standard at St Kilda that coach Alan Richardson demands their AFL teammates follow.

With so many veterans missing from Saturday’s opening pre-season game against North Melbourne, the spotlight instead will be on emerging Saints at Wangaratta.

Richardson said Seb Ross, Blake Acres and Jack Billings were all coming off strong summers as they worked towards becoming frontline players.

The Saints’ coach pointed to last year’s club best-and-fairest award, which Steven won for the second time in three years and Armitage was runner-up.

Veteran Leigh Montagna was fourth and legendary captain Nick Riewoldt was seventh.

“There are certainly going to be some opportunities for the guys who are in their third, fourth and fifth year,” Richardson said.

“We saw last year with Armitage and Steven coming first and second in our best and fairest, as opposed to ‘Rooey’ and ‘Joey’ … that’s the growth we’re looking for.”

While Ross, Acres and Billings are all in this Saturday’s squad, Riewoldt and Montagna are in a large group of veterans who will sit out the match.

Billings is coming off an eye-catching performance in last week’s intraclub match.

The No.3 pick in the 2013 draft only managed nine games last year because of a shin fracture, amid plenty of excitement about his potential.

“He’s certainly improved his endurance,” Richardson said.

“He hasn’t done everything in terms of the lead-up, hence he … won’t play the full game.

“But we like the way he’s tracking – he’s put on a bit of size to go with his improved running capacity.

“So we expect him to play more significant time through the midfield.”

Jack Newnes’ solid pre-season was rewarded with captaincy for Saturday’s game ahead of Maverick Weller.

One veteran who will play on Saturday is utility Sam Gilbert.

He had a strong end to last season after recovering from injuries.

Richardson likes Gilbert’s versatility in defence or attack and also through the midfield.

“He’s probably going to play a bit more through the midfield than he has in the past,” the coach said.

“We were really pleased (last season) with what he does for us in there – his pressure is really strong.”

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