Nick Riewoldt and Lenny Hayes were back for St Kilda and so, too, was the Melbourne fade-out as one quarter of football proved all the difference in Saturday's NAB Cup game at Cranbourne.
The Saints overcame a 22-point deficit early in the game to kick seven consecutive goals during the second quarter with the hot northerly at their backs at Casey Fields. St Kilda secured a third win from four pre-season games.
Point made: Saint Stephen Milne celebrates a goal against Melbourne. Photo: Getty Images
But it was a familiar story for the Demons, who despite matching their opponents for three quarters, were never a chance of reeling in a 31-point deficit at half-time given coach Mark Neeld was without his two most potent forwards, Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes, and both sides were careful to manage their players in the heat.
St Kilda's burst began with a soccered goal by Stephen Milne in the opening minute of the second term and finished when Nick Dal Santo sank a nine-pointer on the run 20 minutes later. Milne added one more later in the game. The St Kilda skipper kicked one goal but was just shaded by opponent James Frawley. But Saints coach Scott Watters was pleased his star forward and Hayes, the club's reigning best and fairest winner, got through their first games of the campaign unscathed.
'''Roo' and Lenny have done a lot of training and to get them through a modified game where they played a tick over a half was pretty important for them. They'll now build towards next week and beyond,'' Watters said.
The coach was also satisfied with the way his players went wide and kept things tight after three early Melbourne goals and then, with the breeze, played long and direct, with Beau Maisten and Tom Lee prominent as targets and Milne lurking.
Melbourne's loss was its third of the pre-season - two of them close - but the second quarter brought back memories of the first half of last season when the Demons were exposed for costly lapses. Neeld took satisfaction from three solid quarters, but the one bad term clearly stung.
''It's another indication where we're at. If we have another non-competitive quarter it will cost us the game,'' he said.
''When you're playing against good, experienced sides you can go and go and go and things are level. But if you drop your guard, or in our case you drop the work rate, they'll take advantage. The Saints were very, very good at taking advantage of that in the second quarter.
''The positive for us was the way we responded in the second half. The positive would be that we fought our way back in to the game pretty well but, eventually, honourable losses, you get sick of them.''
Watters was pleased with the club debut of long-kicking draftee Brodie Murdoch, while Jack Newnes also took another step forward in arguably his best game for his club.
Defender Sean Dempster left the ground with tightness in his legs. With ruckmen Ben McEvoy and Tom Hickey to return next weekend, along with David Armitage, Ahmed Saad and possibly Adam Schneider, big man Rhys Stanley [knee] is the only Saint in doubt to play the Gold Coast in round one.
Melbourne can likely boost its midfield next week through the returns of Jack Trengove, Jordie McKenzie and Jack Viney, but Neeld said there were about seven or eight places that were still up for grabs.