ST KILDA is hopeful Essendon will still field a team in the NAB Challenge, insisting it needed to play a quality opponent as part of its round one preparations.
There is a chance the Bombers will boycott the NAB Challenge to protect the identity of those players serving provisional suspensions as a result of the club's 2012 supplements program.
They are scheduled to face the Saints in Morwell on March 7, with pre-season matches against Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne to follow.
St Kilda, which has left all negotiations around the Morwell match to the AFL, faces the prospect of playing another intra-club game on that day, or scheduling a match against VFL affiliate Sandringham.  
The club is committed to playing in Morwell regardless of the opponent.
"Until we don't think there's a game, then we're preparing for a game against Essendon at Morwell on that date," football manager Jamie Cox said.
"We certainly need the game as part of our pre-season so if it's not Essendon, we'll need to play someone.
"Our bottom line is, we need a game and we need it to be against as good an opposition as we can possibly muster.
"We need three games in our pre-season against good opposition."
Cox said it was up to the AFL to arrange an opponent for the Saints if Essendon was not an option, saying: "It's their competition and we're part of that".
He said playing Sandringham, which will contribute top up players for the Saints' own intra-club match on February 21, would not be ideal.
Coach Alan Richardson said he was confident the Saints would end up facing an appropriate opposition.
"We want it to be a really stiff opposition so we can get as good a preparation as we can," he said.
"We just hope the decision that's ultimately made takes into account that it's a pretty significant game for us. It's not just about one club, it's about a couple of clubs."
The Saints launch their NAB Challenge campaign against the Brisbane Lions on February 28 and finish against Hawthorn on March 19.
The Giants and Melbourne are scheduled to face the Bombers on March 13 and March 20 respectively.