JULY 8 last year. St Kilda v Richmond at Etihad Stadium for a round 16 match. 

The half-time score shows the Saints 82 points clear. At full-time, 67 points separate the teams.

After the completion of all matches that weekend, Richmond sits sixth on the ladder, a nine-win, six-loss score line accompanied by percentage of 105.34. St Kilda is seventh, equal on 36 premiership points and six losses, with just 1.38 less percentage. 

Given the events which followed, the July 8 Saturday night game is one of the great AFL mysteries.

St Kilda lost its next three matches, and five of the home and away season's remaining seven, to miss the finals.

Richmond won six of the remaining seven premiership season games, and then won a qualifying final, preliminary final and Grand Final by a combined 145 points. 

Damien Hardwick aside, no one in football rated Richmond a premiership possibility after round 16 last year. Yet some were beginning to ponder the extreme positive possibilities for St Kilda. 

Internally, the Saints moved on quickly from missing the finals. The club's board, a week after Richmond defeated Adelaide in the Grand Final, re-contracted coach Alan Richardson through to the end of 2020.

It was a significant act of faith, given Richardson was already locked away for 2018 and coming after he had taken the club to four, six, 12 and 11-win seasons in his four years in charge.

Richardson was appointed coach late in 2013, after the Saints sacked Scott Watters in early November.

In that year's trade and draft period, among the St Kilda ins were Jack Billings, Blake Acres, Josh Bruce, Mav Weller, Shane Savage and Billy Longer. Among the outs were Nick Dal Santo, Stephen Milne, Ben McEvoy, Justin Koschitzke and Jason Blake.

Significant changes continued at the end of Richardson's first season. Paddy McCartin, Jack Lonie, Tim Membrey, Jack Sinclair and Hugh Goddard were added, while Lenny Hayes, Clint Jones, Rhys Stanley and James Gwilt exited.

Jake Carlisle was the big "in" at the end of 2015, with no one else of note being added or lost. Similarly, after the 2016 season, the Saints were relatively quiet – Jack Steele and Koby Stevens among the ins, two-time best-and-fairest Sam Fisher a retiree.

Last year, with national draft picks seven and eight, St Kilda acquired Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield. It lost retired stars Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna and Sean Dempster. 

Alan Richardson is feeling the heat after a disappointing loss to the Kangaroos. Picture: AFL Photos

The Saints will still back themselves to improve with the additions since Richardson's arrival, and while he missed 2016 with a suspension linked to a drugs program during his time at Essendon, Carlisle was a very good choice, and has probably emerged as the Saints' best player. 

Jack Billings is tracking well to justify his No.3 overall selection in the 2013 draft. Jack Steven has won as many best-and-fairests (three) as Lenny Hayes, Seb Ross is a key player and captain Jarryn Geary is as tough as any in the competition. 

But there is a sameness to a lot of the other St Kilda players, with other clubs viewing the list as a "safe" one, a group full of good young, intelligent men who are yet to prove they can gel together under Richardson and take the Saints deep into a finals series. 

And while the overall debate about the progress of McCartin, the No.1 selection in the 2014 national draft, rightly includes acknowledgment of his diabetes, the football part of the conversation correctly places significant questions marks over his ability to become elite. 

In selecting McCartin, St Kilda recruiters weighed up each aspect of his football and private life, as all recruiters do with every talented football-playing teenager in the land. 

At an early stage of the third quarter of last year's round 16 match against the Tigers, the Saints shot 95 points clear. Think about that – sixteen goals in front of the team which, 10 games later, won a premiership.

But just as the Saints board chose to disregard the dismal close to the 2017 season when it came to assessing its big picture views of the coach, Richardson, too, chose to not let it adversely impact on his forecasts for 2018.

"The Saints have the potential to do anything," Richardson told Fox Footy in February.

A scrappy win against Brisbane and a bad loss to North Melbourne in the showcase Good Friday game to open the 2018 season has rocked the Saints, with a snap meeting of players and coach called last Saturday morning to address several aspects of performance and training. 

Adelaide, Geelong, GWS, Hawthorn, Melbourne and Fremantle (in Perth) are the Saints' next six games. 

We'll know what this club stands for by early May.

Twitter: @barrettdamian