YOU could feel the frustration from South Australia to Seaford.

In a season that promised so much, St Kilda's third straight loss last week, suffered against Adelaide, was on the back of yet another timid and uncharacteristic performance.

It was enough for fans to tear their hair out. It was enough for Saints coach Alan Richardson to dare his players to stop playing "not to lose".

But with the words "catch-up" and "reactive" used by Richardson to describe the St Kilda approach of recent weeks ringing in their ears, the Saints side the coach had hoped to see throughout the entirety of this season suddenly reemerged.

Ending its disappointing run with a statement of its intent in the second half of the year, St Kilda put North Melbourne to the sword in an initially convincing, yet ultimately unflattering 17-point win at Etihad Stadium.

The Saints trialled new things coming out of defence, experimented with different looks at stoppages and took more risks with ball in hand going forward.

The result was a fast start that helped a maligned forward group isolate their direct opponents and subsequently claim a significant early lead.

Jack Billings was particularly noticeable amid the early onslaught, with the young forward adding a touch of class the team had distinctly lacked recently.

He had two goals in the first term and was unlucky to see a third - and perhaps a fourth - chalked off by a touched review ordered by the goal umpire.

But the success of Billings was reflective of a more positive night for the team's forward group as a whole.

Tim Membrey was more involved higher up the field, Nick Riewoldt typically led hard all night and Josh Bruce was a constant threat as the deepest man.


Saints forward Josh Bruce.
Saints forward Josh Bruce. JULIAN SMITH

Well down on their output of previous years - and with Riewoldt having dealt with injuries and Bruce with a spell out of the side - the lift in output on Friday night was a reason for Saints fans to be optimistic about the future.

Riewoldt claimed a game-high 11 marks, while Bruce and Membrey combined for four goals in an effort resembling Saints years gone by.

But their success was a product of the entire side moving the ball quicker from one end of the field to the other.

The Saints had responded to their coach's call.

"Looking at the Saints, they've been fantastic tonight," analyst David King said during Fox Footy's coverage.

"They've changed the way they play. The break and the reassessment has probably come at a good time for them.

"The last four weeks, they've scored 85, 65, 58 and 54 points. But tonight, they've played aggressive footy."

Indeed, at Etihad Stadium, the dare was there.

Pushing harder than their Kangaroo counterparts to get extra numbers to the contest and then exploiting that extra run on the overlap, St Kilda benefited from returning to its roots.

And while North Melbourne was at least able to slow its opposition down early in the match, the Saints soon began to blow them out of the water.

Crucially, as well, it was St Kilda's skilful players getting their hands on the footy.

Leigh Montagna, Jack Newnes and Jade Gresham were among the team's biggest ball winners and, for the most part and particularly in the first half, were quite damaging in possession.

Meanwhile Billings, as well as impacting on the scoreboard, had 18 disposals, eight tackles and influenced the play effectively with virtually every touch.

While the game turned sloppy after half time - somewhat a product of St Kilda's bolder ball movement resulting in more turnovers - the Saints remained in control.

Sure, deficiencies still need to be ironed out. But, after all, this remains a young team. And finals remain well and truly on the agenda.

Behind the eighth-placed Essendon on percentage only, there's no reason St Kilda can't continue to compete for a long-desired finals berth.

But in order for them to do so - that dare must continue long into the second half of the club's campaign.

News Corp Australia

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