ST KILDA has put a horror week behind it to kick-start its 2019 campaign in impressive fashion, riding a strong display from key forwards Tim Membrey and Paddy McCartin to defeat North Melbourne by 25 points in the JLT Community Series at Avalon Airport Oval on Saturday.
The temperature hit 38 degrees during the clash as the Saints won 15.12 (102) to 11.11 (77).
St Kilda learned this week star midfielder Jack Steven would take an indefinite break from football to deal with mental health issues, which was followed soon after by the news that Jake Carlisle's ongoing back troubles could require season-ending surgery.
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson would have been able to forget about these blows momentarily at least on Saturday afternoon after watching his forward line capitalise on the good work of their teammates up the field.
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McCartin, 2014's No.1 draft pick, has been one of the competition's most heavily scrutinised players as he has struggled to live up to his obvious talent.
However, the key forward (two goals and seven marks) was dominant in the air, especially early in Saturday's game, and also set up his teammates with some classy passes inside the Saints' forward 50m arc.
Tim Membrey also worked well alongside McCartin and finished the Roos off in the final quarter with three goals, while fellow tall Josh Bruce showed encouraging signs he can rediscover the form that made him such an aerial threat in 2015-2017.
'IT WAS A CHALLENGING WEEK' Watch Alan Richardson's media conference
As satisfied as Richardson would have been with his key forwards' performances, North counterpart Brad Scott would have equally concerned about his key defensive stocks ahead of the Roos' round one clash with Fremantle.
Ben McKay battled hard on McCartin, but North was seriously undermanned with Scott Thompson, Robbie Tarrant and Majak Daw all sidelined.
Only Tarrant (AC joint) is a chance to take on the Dockers in round one and with Fremantle likely to field talls Jesse Hogan, Rory Lobb and Matt Taberner in the season opener the Roos could be left seriously exposed.
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North had a major scare after just 10 minutes of play when prized recruit Aaron Hall appeared to suffer a serious knee injury.
Hall was injured when St Kilda ruckman Lewis Pierce fell across his left knee after a centre bounce, and the former Sun was assisted from the ground by two trainers, struggling to put any weight on his left leg.
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However, after having his knee strapped, Hall returned to the ground at the start of the second quarter and was straight back into the thick of the action.
He didn't take the field after half-time after reporting soreness in his knee, but Scott said after the match this had been a purely precautionary measure.
St Kilda ruckman Lewis Pierce's day ended midway through the first quarter after a head knock that left him with concussion, but Bruce and rookie Callum Wilkie stood up in his absence.
It was a sweltering day at Werribee and just as hot around the contest, with Roos Shaun Higgins, Kayne Turner and Tarryn Thomas all coming from the ground temporarily during the third quarter after head knocks.
As impressive as their forwards were, St Kilda enjoyed notable victories elsewhere as veteran defender Nathan Brown held star North forward Ben Brown to just one mark and one goal late in the game, while Jack Steele, Seb Ross and Jack Newnes all impressed in the midfield.
Defenders Jamie Macmillan (40 possessions) and Marley Williams were the Roos' standouts, while Scott would have been heartened by how seamlessly recycled recruits Jared Polec and Dom Tyson slotted into the midfield.
Second-year midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke also played his best game, while father-son recruit Bailey Scott put his name firmly in the round-one mix.
What we learned
North Melbourne: Luke Davies-Uniacke played seven games in his debut season last year but supporters generally expect more from No.4 draft picks. After a quiet start on Saturday, the 19-year-old showed some of the tricks that made him such a standout junior. Davies-Uniacke finished with 27 possessions, six inside 50s, five tackles and four clearances, but most significantly showed the explosiveness around stoppages that North believes can, in time, make him an elite AFL midfielder.
St Kilda: The Saints have the firepower in attack to trouble teams, especially under the new centre bounce rule. Paddy McCartin gave St Kilda a strong aerial target early in Saturday's game and should be one of the beneficiaries of the quicker, cleaner clearances expected to come under the new 6-6-6 starting positions. Tim Membrey was the standout for the Saints in attack, kicking three final-quarter goals to rubber-stamp the Saints' victory, while fellow tall Josh Bruce also showed signs he can return to form after a difficult 2018.
North Melbourne: Wingman Jared Polec provided what it was expected he would add to North's midfield – dash and class – while fellow recycled recruit Dom Tyson gave the Roos an extra big-bodied presence around the stoppages. Aaron Hall had a serious knee scare early in the first quarter but returned to play the second term before sitting out the second half; Jasper Pittard showed glimpses of his class with some pinpoint kicking that included a clinical goal on the run in the second quarter, and Tom Campbell rucked strongly in limited game time. Father-son recruit Bailey Scott found his feet quickly at senior level in an assured performance that suggested he will be firmly in the mix for round-one selection. Fellow draftee Tarryn Thomas had a quieter day, but his fierce tackling stood out at times.
St Kilda: Former Demon Dean Kent showed enough to suggest he will be a handy addition to the Saints' attack with his grunt at ground level, the highlight of his day a clever snapped goal in the second quarter. Nick Hind was the pick of the Saints' 2018 draftees, showcasing his speed and toughness across half-back, while Matthew Parker was also impressive in attack with two goals and mature-age rookie Callum Wilkie stepped up to help the Saints cover the loss of ruckman Lewis Pierce in the first quarter.
North Melbourne: First-year midfielder Bailey Scott (MID, $174,000) looks a readymade AFL player and if he continues the form he showed on Saturday should debut early in the home and away season.
St Kilda: First-year defender Nick Hind (MID, $170,00) also looks a bargain with a body that's ready for senior football.
The Kangaroos travel to play Port Adelaide at its Alberton Oval home next Saturday, while the Saints will enjoy an eight-day break before taking on the Western Bulldogs at Ballarat's Mars Stadium next Sunday.
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.1 6.1 9.7 11.11 (77)
ST KILDA 2.2 10.4 11.8 15.12 (102)
North Melbourne: Atley 2, Ziebell, Turner, Larkey, Pittard, Larkey, Goldstein, Campbell, Murphy, Brown
St Kilda: Membrey 3, McCartin 2, Steele 2, Parker 2, Billings 2, Phillips, Kent, Battle, Gresham, Newnes
North Melbourne: Macmillan, Williams, Polec, Dumont, Davies-Uniacke, Tyson
St Kilda: Steele, Ross, Brown, Membrey, Billings, Roberton, Savage, Newnes
North Melbourne: Hall (knee)
St Kilda: Pierce (concussion)
Umpires: Haussen, Howarth, Donlon
Official crowd: 1596 at Avalon Airport Oval