Jack Steele has welcomed the return of fellow midfielder Jack Steven as a timely boost for St Kilda's round-one AFL clash against Gold Coast.
The Saints are coming off a tumultuous few months, making significant off-field changes and showing signs of life with two pre-season wins.
But Dylan Roberton (heart) is out for the season, Jake Carlisle (back) is a long-term casualty and Paddy McCartin has concussion issues.
Coach Alan Richardson said on Friday star recruit Dan Hannebery needs to be rebuilt because of ongoing leg problems, and is several weeks from playing.
Steven also needed time off because of mental health issues, but has returned for the Saints' season opener at Marvel Stadium.
"He's our best player - if he's playing, it gives me a lot of confidence that we have more of a chance to win," Steele said.
"Especially for the young blokes, having a senior player like that come back into the team after we've lost players like Dylan Roberton, Jake Carlisle and Paddy McCartin, it definitely helps."
Callum Wilkie and Matthew Parker will make their AFL debuts and former Melbourne forward Dean Kent will play his first game for the Saints.
The Suns will unveil No.2 draft pick Jack Lukosius, and Chris Burgess is their other debutant.
None of the pundits have St Kilda finishing outside the AFL bottom four in 2019, but Steele has other ideas. He wants a return to 2017, when they were on the verge of returning to the top eight.
"We're looking at pushing for finals this year, that's definitely our goal," he said.
Steele starts this season aiming to build on last year's personal success, when he finished third in the Saints' best and fairest.
He picked up some big scalps as a run-with midfielder.
Assistant coaches Brett Ratten and Brendon Lade now want the 58-game onballer to go to the next level and find more of the ball himself.
"The term that Richo uses a lot is 'control and exploit' - take care of their best mid and obviously try and exploit them defensively," Steele said.
Australian Associated Press