ST KILDA ruckman Rowan Marshall is set to return against reigning premiers Melbourne and five-time All-Australian Max Gawn on Sunday, after missing last Saturday night's one-point loss to Port Adelaide in Cairns.
The 26-year-old trained strongly at RSEA Park on Thursday after a deep cork in his quad against Greater Western Sydney in round six prevented him from playing last weekend, despite making the trip to far north Queensland.
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The Saints are considering recalling midfield pair Zak Jones and Jack Billings for the first time in 2022 following strong performances in the VFL, but could opt to give them another run in the reserves.
Jones has now played two games for Sandringham around a stint in isolation since returning from a leave of absence, while Billings played his first game since straining his hamstring against Essendon in the AAMI Community Series at the start of March.
St Kilda will be without assistant coach Brendon Lade on Sunday, with the Port Adelaide great joining fitness boss Nick Walsh and rehab coordinator Marcus Krygger in health and safety protocols, while backline coach Corey Enright will exit isolation on the morning of the game.
Saints coach Brett Ratten is confident Marshall will re-sign with the club beyond this year after the Portland product linked to Essendon this week, while it is understood other clubs are keeping a keen eye on his contract status.
"Rowan is a terrific player. He has this year to go, hopefully he signs here for a very long time. It is part of the game; we can't change that. He hasn’t told me he's not happy. He is a terrific player, a terrific person," Ratten said on Thursday.
"Clubs are going to make bids for out-of-contract players. We have our discussions about out-of-contract players for opposition as well – it's part of the game."
St Kilda is in the top four at 5-2 on the back of five consecutive wins between rounds two and six, but could be 6-1 after losing to Port Adelaide in slippery conditions at Cazaly's Stadium.
The club has been criticised this week for its decision to sell a game that could have been played under the roof at Marvel Stadium to Cairns, especially given the time of year and time of the game which suited the broadcaster.
Ratten said the venue shouldn’t have mattered when you consider St Kilda dominated most of the key indicators, but failed to make the most of its opportunities in front of goal.
"I think as a team, you've got to be able to play anywhere," he said.
"For us, 61 inside 50s, 22 shots at goal, +22 in contested ball, + 11 in tackles, the numbers were there with the opportunities within the game, so I don’t think it’s the venue. We just didn’t make the most of our opportunities.
"Whether it's Canberra, Sydney, Perth, it doesn’t matter. we had that opportunity and we missed it."
St Kilda's playing group was given Sunday and Monday off after arriving home from Cairns at 5am on Sunday after chartering a flight back straight after the game.
The Saints have spent the past few days preparing to tackle the biggest challenge in the game right now.
Simon Goodwin returns to the coach after missing last weekend due to health and safety protocols, but the Demons didn’t miss a beat under stand-in coach Adem Yze, extending its winning streak to 14 consecutive games.
St Kilda young gun Hunter Clark will play his first game since undergoing shoulder surgery in March when he returns for Sandringham against the Northern Bullants on Saturday.
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Former skipper Jarryn Geary has put himself back in contention to play senior football after overcoming the shoulder reconstruction that ended his 2021 campaign with three games to his name, plus concussion and a back injury.
The 33-year-old has played the past two games in the VFL after playing the opening two rounds of the season.