Riley Bonner celebrates a goal during St Kilda's match simulation against Essendon on February 23, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ST KILDA'S new faces Darcy Wilson and Riley Bonner have gone a long way to booking themselves round one spots after impressive showings in Friday's match simulation against Essendon.

However, the Saints' comfortable 66-point win over the Bombers at RSEA Park was marred by young midfielder Marcus Windhager suffering a broken hand in the first quarter and sitting out the remainder of the game.


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It was nearly a year to the day since Windhager broke his hand in a practice match against the Bombers at the same venue which saw him miss round one, but assistant Robert Harvey said post-game that Windhager is still expected to be available for the start of this season.

"At this stage it's a break in his hand, the other one from what he had last year. We're still hopeful he'll be [there] in round one, it's nothing serious. It's disappointing for him but he has had a great summer so we're looking forward to getting him back for round one," Harvey said. "He'll be able to run and keep fit so it's just a minor little setback."

The Saints' focus on adding speed and line-breakers to their team was evident as Ross Lyon takes on his second season back at the helm of the club, with former Fremantle wingman Liam Henry adding some buzz to the front half and No.18 draft pick Wilson displaying his running capability on a wing in the 16.10 (106) to 5.10 (40) win. 


Wilson was particularly impactful in the first half and looks likely to sew up a wing position for St Kilda's season-opener against Geelong, with his pace, overhead marking and flexibility across half-forward adding to Lyon's mix. Bonner, too, was impressive in his first game at the club after being delisted by Port Adelaide last year, setting up a goal with his left-foot ball use and then banging home a goal from long-range in the second term.

St Kilda forward Tim Membrey, in his first competitive hitout since missing last year's elimination final due to personal issues, kicked three goals and was a threat through the game alongside Max King, who also kicked four in an imposing showing. Cooper Sharman also slotted three goals. 


Essendon conceded four goals to none in the second term and then rested Zach Merrett, Jake Stringer, Todd Goldstein and Zach Reid for the second half. Kyle Langford's set shot halfway through the third quarter broke a run of seven consecutive goals for the Saints. 

Goldstein was among the four Essendon off-season recruits to don the red and black for the first time, with key back Ben McKay stationed in defence, Jade Gresham showing flashes in attack and Xavier Duursma playing on a wing. 

Assistant coach Daniel Giansiracusa said Reid's efforts in the first half, before he was managed, were a standout from the game.

"We're excited. We'll probably temper it a little bit just with his history but he was a top pick for a reason and has had a really strong summer and get out on the park and connect with his teammates," he said.

The Saints and Bombers played four 25-minute quarters with their main squads before a selection of AFL-listed players featured in the VFL game that followed. 


Young guns

As well as Wilson, Hugo Garcia was the other member of St Kilda's draft class from last year to get his first appearance. He played through the midfield and wing and offered some dash, and even squeezed forward in the second term to get on the end of a clever Henry handball and slot a goal. Essendon's No.5 pick from the 2022 draft, Elijah Tsatas, has enjoyed a strong pre-season and played on the wing throughout, alternating often with Duursma. Tsatas had a smart pick up and gather in the second quarter and showed again he can find the ball. Key defender Reid was sent to Saints key forward King in what will be a valuable experience as he looks to cement a key defensive spot this year, with Reid only playing the first half with his game time managed. 

Switching positions

The Bombers have trained up Nic Martin as a half-back across summer and that's where the emerging gun played for the most part against St Kilda. He looked more than comfortable as their set-up player as they look to build versatility throughout their squad. St Kilda's brigade of fresh talent sparked some positional shuffling but not significantly. 

Nic Martin kicks the ball during Essendon's match simulation against St Kilda on February 23, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Injury watch

Windhager's hand injury was an early blow for the Saints, who also had a scare on the half-time siren when Josh Battle crashed into Gresham in a marking contest. Battle was left with a sore knee but played out the second half with his leg bandaged. St Kilda is confident Jack Sinclair (calf) will be ready for round one, while Brad Crouch (knee), Hunter Clark (concussion) and Paddy Dow (knee) all missed the match simulation against the Bombers. Essendon is hopeful Peter Wright and Jordan Ridley will be back to face Geelong next week in its last hitout before the start to its campaign, while Ben Hobbs (shoulder) and Nate Caddy (soreness) will also be close. Sam Draper is racing the clock to be fit for the Bombers' first game against Hawthorn. 

Fantasy tempters

Wilson (MID/FWD, $249,000) will be a cheaper buy who looks ready to play at the level and be given opportunities. Saints skipper Jack Steele (MID, $884,000) had injury challenges last year but looks set for a stronger campaign in 2024, while Darcy Parish (MID, $965,000) looms as an obvious Fantasy option as a dominant midfielder for the Bombers. In his new role, Martin (MID, $769,000) should also have Fantasy coaches considering him. 

ST KILDA        3.3     7.8     10.9     16.10 (106)
ESSENDON     2.2     2.5      4.7       5.10 (40)

St Kilda: King 4, Higgins 3, Membrey 3, Sharman 3, Bonner, Garcia, Henry
Essendon: Langford 2, Caldwell, Guelfi, Redman


1. Jack Higgins, 2. Marcus Windhager, 6. Seb Ross, 7. Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, 8. Brad Hill, 9. Jack Steele, 10. Mitch Owens, 12. Max King, 13. Ryan Byrnes, 14. Liam Stocker, 19. Rowan Marshall, 20. Dougal Howard, 21. Zaine Cordy, 22. Darcy Wilson, 23. Liam Henry, 25. Mattaes Phillipou, 26. Josh Battle, 28. Tim Membrey, 29. Jimmy Webster, 32. Mason Wood, 34. Hugo Garcia, 36. Riley Bonner, 38. Tom Campbell, 43. Cooper Sharman, 44. Callum Wilkie, 47. Anthony Caminiti

Notable absentees: Jack Sinclair, Brad Crouch, Zak Jones, Dan Butler, Hunter Clark, Paddy Dow, Ben Paton


1. Andrew McGrath, 3. Darcy Parish, 4. Kyle Langford, 5. Elijah Tsatas, 6. Jye Caldwell, 7. Zach Merrett, 10. Sam Weideman, 11. Jade Gresham, 12. Will Setterfield, 13. Nik Cox, 15. Jayden Laverde, 16. Archie Perkins, 17. Todd Goldstein, 18. Lewis Hayes, 19. Nick Hind, 21. Dyson Heppell, 22. Sam Durham, 23. Harrison Jones, 24. Nick Bryan, 25. Jake Stringer, 27. Mason Redman, 28. Xavier Duursma, 31. Zach Reid, 32. Ben McKay, 33. Alwyn Davey jnr, 35. Matt Guelfi, 37. Nic Martin, 47. Jye Menzie

Notable absentees: Dylan Shiel, Jake Kelly, Peter Wright, Jordan Ridley, Sam Draper, Ben Hobbs, Nate Caddy