St Kilda can take a giant leap in their AFL rejuvenation against Essendon on Sunday.
At Etihad Stadium, the Saints can jump above the Bombers on the ladder and cement their place as an AFL team on the rise.
A victory for Alan Richardson’s men would see his young side sit alongside last year’s preliminary finalists Port Adelaide on the table – something few would have thought possible on season’s eve.
Richardson’s right-hand man, St Kilda coaching and strategy director Danny Sexton, says the key to their improvement has been competitiveness.
Not wins, but competitiveness.
In their 2014 wooden spoon season, the Saints suffered 10 losses by more than 50 points.
At the half-way point this season, only Hawthorn and Collingwood have inflicted similar pain and Sexton says it could be the making of the Saints.
“Last year, a few of the losses were demoralising,” he said.
“You’re managing the emotions of your players, you’re trying to stem the flow in other areas and you don’t get to drill right down into your game.
“But this year we’ve been able to be consistent, meaning you can really drill into your defence, your ball use and your stoppages.
“We can work on the finer things and get better.”
Essendon beat the Saints by just two points in their memorable round five meeting.
In Bombers captain Jobe Watson’s 200th game, Sexton said that memory wouldn’t be a talking point.
“We’re not going to use our last game with Essendon as motivation,” he said.
“But we’re not thrilled to lose close games, far from it.”
Essendon, which has recalled David Zaharakis and lost Jake Carlisle (ankle), have lost four matches in a row, heaping pressure on coach James Hird.
St Kilda returns Sam Fisher to their line-up for the first time in six weeks.
The match will take place on an otherwise sombre day, with the Adelaide v Geelong match called off in the wake of Crows coach Phil Walsh’s tragic death.
Sexton said the Saints were touched by Walsh’s sudden death.
St Kilda’s strongest link to Walsh is Adam Kingsley, whose playing career with Port Adelaide overlapped with Walsh’s time as assistant coach there.
Kingsley, now the Saints midfield coach, addressed St Kilda players on Friday morning.
“It’s a big industry but it’s still a small community … it was tragic and Adam spoke really well,” he said.