Saints v Tigers: New match-up makes for a mouth-watering season-opener

THE ONE AND only time St Kilda and Richmond have met in the NAB AFLW competition, the Saints held the Tigers to a demoralising three points on their way to a 39-point victory.

It was round six, 2020, and the following day the home-and-away season was brought to an abrupt close, as finals were hastily brought forward in a futile attempt to finish the season before the inaugural COVID-19 wave.

It proved to be the final game for Richmond coach Tommy Hunter, while counterpart Peta Searle parted ways with St Kilda at the end of the 2021 season.

Tigers star Mon Conti left the field in tears, Hunter and defender Phoebe Monahan were shellshocked in their post-match presser, while then-Saints captain Rhi Watt cracked gags about the toilet paper shortage.

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The two teams are now barely recognisable coming into their third AFLW seasons.

Ryan Ferguson leads the Tigers, while Nick Dal Santo has just taken the reins at St Kilda.

Of the inaugural squads of 30, both sides have retained just 16 players (by contrast, Brisbane has delisted only five in that time), while Poppy Kelly and Alana Woodward have also swapped clubs.

"I didn’t play that game (with concussion) but from all reports and watching from the sideline, they're always very unassuming, the Saints," Richmond skipper Katie Brennan said.

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"We're certainly not underestimating them and what they'll bring. Round one, it's always hot and you're always blowing in that first five minutes, nothing you do in pre-season really prepares you for it.

"We're going in really focusing on us and getting our game going. We probably didn't do it in that practice match against Geelong, they played us really well and we didn't quite get the game on our terms, and I think that's made us hungrier.

"[St Kilda] having a new coach and injecting some excitement into that group, I think it's going to be a real challenge for us on Friday."

Richmond's Katie Brennan in action during a practice game against Geelong on December 18, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

While Richmond will be without powerful midfielder Ellie McKenzie (calf), all eyes will be on St Kilda's engine room in the absence of its best two players in Tyanna Smith (ACL) and Georgia Patrikios (unvaccinated).

One returnee will be 2020 equal best-and-fairest Liv Vesely, who sat out the entire 2021 with a complicated calf issue.

"Liv has done a huge pre-season and mountain of work to get herself right and is good to go. We're really proud to have Liv back into the side as she's a super talent," St Kilda captain Hannah Priest said.

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"Rosie Dillon will be back in, she's such a smart player and super strong. Tarni White has had a huge pre-season and is looking really fit and strong. She's exceptionally composed with the footy as well, so we're really excited to see her get to work (after moving from defence).

"Molly McDonald, Tahlia Meyer and Cat Phillips are all looking good on the wing as well. We're really looking forward to the game and to have the opportunity to have those girls back in the side."

(L-R): Molly McDonald, Olivia Vesely and Cat Phillips at St Kilda's photo day on December 13, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

The season-opener will be the first AFLW match in Frankston, played at SkyBus Stadium as St Kilda enters the final stages of redevelopment at its home ground of RSEA Park.

"We were really stoked to get the season-opener. To take on Richmond as well, another club which is going into their third year, it's great to have that opportunity," Priest said.

"But also to showcase AFLW footy in Frankston, we're really excited and proud of the community we have in Frankston and hope we get as many fans down to SkyBus Stadium as we can."