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Richo's homecoming St Kilda coach Alan Richardson visits East Burwood Football Club.
AFL 2015 Rd 21 - St Kilda v Geelong

Jack Newnes will skipper the Saints in their NAB Challenge opener

Our focus is to go out and be as competitive as we can and win games

WINNING NAB Challenge matches is still important to build confidence at St Kilda despite the Saints resting some of their biggest names for Saturday's opening clash against North Melbourne, coach Alan Richardson says.

Skipper Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, star onballer David Armitage and veteran backman Sam Fisher have all been left out of the Wangaratta contest.

Instead, Saints fans will get first looks at the likes of top draft pick Jade Gresham, while 22-year-old Jack Newnes will captain the side.

"Most weeks we'll be reasonably young," Richardson said. "We think it's best for our more experienced players to make those the last couple of games. It's really about individuals and their preparations.

"Part of our preparation is getting guys ready with how many games works for them, how many minutes.

"We'll look at players in different positions, I'm sure the Kangaroos will be doing the same, we'll look at different strategies, but winning is part of our preparation.

"So certainly our focus is to go out and be as competitive as we can and win games of footy." 

After impressive performances in last week's intraclub match, Richardson hoped Seb Ross, Blake Acres and Jack Billings continued their solid form. 

Billings, whose second-half of last season was wiped out by a shin stress fracture, will have his playing minutes managed against North after only returning to full training last month. 

But Richardson had no doubts the emerging star had built the aerobic capacity to push higher up the ground in 2016, even with a reduced interchange cap. 

"He's certainly improved his endurance, I can't see that being an issue for Jack," the coach said. 

"He's put on a bit of size to go with his running capacity, so we expect him to play more significant time through the midfield."

With their second pre-seasons under their belt, Richardson is also keen to see a fitter Paddy McCartin and tall backman Hugh Goddard take another step in the NAB Challenge.

"We expect (McCartin) to play the role that we ask him to, which is to give really good contest, when he can get off his man to look to mark the footy, to defend strongly, to get up and back," Richardson said. 

"We expect Paddy and Hugh to be strong in their roles, they've now had a taste of AFL footy, so they know what it's all about and they'll be excited as we are to see how they go after a strong pre-season." 

Meanwhile, Richardson said the Saints were comfortable with their program for banned recruit Jake Carlisle after Mick Malthouse proposed training some of the Essendon players sitting out 2016 for doping offences.

Carlisle can't resume training with the Saints until September, but he has started working with a club sponsor in the construction industry.

"We've got a program in place for Jake that is as much about what he does away from footy as footy itself," Richardson said. 

"We just want to make sure the support for him from a welfare perspective is really strong, and that he's busy and proactive away from footy." 

Luckless recruit Nathan Freeman continues to be held back as he recovers from his latest hamstring setback, but Richardson said the former top 10 draft pick had earned his teammates' respect with his work ethic.

"He's certainly ambitious," Richardson said. "We need to make sure we give him every opportunity to be a really strong player for our club for three-to-four years.

 

"We're not worrying about one game of footy, or round one or round two, it's about long-term and at this stage he's going well."