This contest looms as something of a harbinger for two teams that have been heavily hyped as big improvers in 2017. St Kilda is coming off a campaign that saw it miss finals on percentage while Melbourne is brimming with young talent. Under new coach Simon Goodwin, it should only be a matter of time before the likes of Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver take the competition by storm. The big question will be whether those young players can consistently deliver this year, or whether they need more time to develop. For the Saints, Jake Carlisle will finally make his club debut, while recruits Nathan Brown and Jack Steele are also expected to play. This match presents a couple of hoodoos for the Demons. They have not beaten St Kilda since 2006 and have won only once at Etihad Stadium in their past 25 matches.
WHERE AND WHEN: Etihad Stadium, Saturday, March 25, 4.35pm AEDT
TV AND RADIO: Click here for broadcast guide
PAST FIVE TIMES
R17, 2016, St Kilda 15.20 (110) d Melbourne 11.8 (74) at Etihad Stadium
R6, 2016, St Kilda 20.15 (135) d Melbourne 15.6 (96) at Etihad Stadium
R17, 2015, St Kilda 12.11 (83) d Melbourne 6.10 (46) at the MCG
R11, 2015, St Kilda 12.13 (85) d Melbourne 12.11 (83) at Etihad Stadium
R1, 2014, St Kilda 10.8 (68) d Melbourne 6.15 (51) at Etihad Stadium
THE SIX POINTS
1. When these teams last played, St Kilda won the game but Melbourne had 38 more disposals, 33 more uncontested possessions and won the clearances. However, the Saints had 10 more inside-50s.
2. St Kilda has dominated Melbourne over a long period of time, winning the last 14 contests between the two sides. The Demons' last win was in a 2006 elimination final.
3. Melbourne ranked third in 2016 for average disposals per game, with 393.1. St Kilda was ninth for average disposals, with 377.1.
4. The Saints ranked equal-third for centre clearances in 2016, averaging 13.5 per game. However, they were equal-14th for clearances, with 34.4 per game.
5. Not in the Demons' favour is their history at Etihad Stadium, having lost 24 of their last 25 games at the venue. They haven't defeated St Kilda at Etihad since 2002.
6. Both teams have four players in the top-100 of the Schick AFL Player Ratings. However, the Saints will be without No. 64 on that list, Leigh Montagna, who is dealing with a right calf strain.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR… Max Gawn.
The ruckman won a spot in the All Australian team for the first time in his career last year but Tom Hickey had the wood over him twice in 2016. Hickey is coming off an excellent performance in St Kilda's final JLT Community Series match against Sydney and will want to back that up.
PREDICTION: St Kilda by 15 points.