AFL: Key Saint Jack Billings in the frame for the return as a senior

The Saints have exceeded expectations this year and are improving from week to week, but they must make a decision on one of their important forwards.

Jack Billings is set to play his first senior game of the year on Saturday as St Kilda prepare for a six-day breakthrough against Geelong at Marvel Stadium.

The 26-year-old midfielder has amassed 53 disposals in the past two weeks for Sandringham in the VFL, including 30 and 11 disputed possessions on Saturday, returning from a pre-season hamstring injury.

A setback delayed Billings’ return, but he’s back in shape and looks like a potential replacement for Dan Butler, who was replaced by Sunday’s defeat to Melbourne due to an ongoing Achilles problem.

The Saints have yet to bar Butler from clashing with the Cats, but manager Brett Ratten hinted that they were inclined to give the little striker a break after admitting to doctors over the weekend that he “couldn’t push.”

“Dan had an Achilles problem that we managed and he was pretty sore during the week and was for a couple of weeks,” Ratten said.

“But he got sore during the match. We know the story of Achilles, with (Jade) Gresham triggering it and what it does, so you have to be aware there, but this is one that’s been lingering for a while.

“We have a brief turnaround next week … it will challenge it, I think.”

Hunter Clark (shoulder) played his first game in the VFL and looks like he is at least another week away from being considered for senior selection, but the likes of Jarrod Lienert and Jarryn Geary are in contention.

Ruckman Tom Campbell was also a great performer, but he’s stuck behind Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder, even with Jack Hayes (knee) out for the season.

Billings hasn’t played since round 20 last year after a separate hamstring injury prematurely ended his season.

“Hunter looked a bit scratchy. I thought Billings was pretty solid, ”Ratten said.

“Our performance at the VFL level was good again which was fantastic and put some players under pressure.

“It’s nice to see some of our dudes below really pushing and knocking on the door, so we’re going to have those discussions.”

Outside of Butler, there are only four other St Kilda players unavailable, including Nick Coffield and Hayes (both end-of-season knee injuries), Jack Bytel (knee) and Dan Hannebery (calf).

Zak Jones played his first game of the season against the Demons, after taking a personal leave and then contracting Covid-19.

Originally published as AFL: Jack Billings is ready to return to St Kilda as Saints consider what to do with Dan Butler’s achilles pain