Max King's record against top eight sides in 2021 will be crucial in keeping St. Kilda's finals hopes alive. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

After suffering an adductor issue on Saturday night, St Kilda's Max King has been cleared to play in Saturday's do or die clash against Geelong. Starting to make a name for himself in big games, Saints coach Brett Ratten knows how key his young forward will be.

Max King was looking in doubt to play in Saturday afternoon’s clash between St Kilda and Geelong mid-week.

The rising young forward was substituted out of the Saints win over the Swans with a right adductor issue after kicking two goals and taking four marks (two contested).

After training well on Thursday however, he was named in the St Kilda side that will travel down the highway on Saturday.

It was another addition to King’s prolific outings against the biggest and best of the competition in 2021.

For key forwards, King has kicked the second most goals (21) and taken the most contested marks (27) of anyone against top eight sides this season.

This included a massive six goal, nine mark haul against West Coast in Round 19 and three goals and 10 marks against Brisbane in Round 17.

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Saints coach Brett Ratten has been impressed by the performance of his young tall. With quality opposition ahead in the likes of Mark Blicavs and Jack Henry, he wants to challenge King to continue to take his game to the next level.

“I think he’s just sticking to the process of what he really has been doing,” he said.

“The work that he’s done here at RSEA Park has been really rewarding to transfer well from here and get the results on game day against good opposition teams.

“He’s really marking the ball well and completing his plays well of late. To see him go through that and stick to it, that’s the challenge. Do you waver from the process or do you keep doing what you’re doing well?

“[It’s] not just the power of his marking, it might be him bringing the ball to ground. If those blokes want to go and support whoever’s playing on Max, they’re going to leave a dangerous forward at ground level.

“Last week was probably the best performance we had from our small forwards. [Dan] Butler, [Dean] Kent and [Jack] Higgins, those three really set up the win with their pressure and also how dangerous they were hitting the scoreboard.

“If [Max] is creating contests for us that’ll be pretty critical.”

With confirmation that Geelong’s Tom Stewart will be a late out for the clash, King’s life has now gotten a little bit easier.

The Cats’ defensive superstar and dual All-Australian has a penchant for intercept marking, supporting his fellow defenders aerially while the likes of Lachie Henderson, Jake Kolodjashnij and Jed Bews play more predominantly one-on-one roles.

If King can get the better of his direct opponent, his contested marking abilities will no doubt shine at the Cattery.

Keeping the finals focus

With the AFL off-season fast approaching, rumours have already begun to circulate around Moorabbin.

Jack Billings is one of the bigger names linked elsewhere, with his name being thrown up for a move interstate.

Port Adelaide has reportedly expressed interest in the former number-three pick, looking to add to its strong brigade of small midfielder/forwards.

Billing’s season was ended earlier in the month after he suffered a hamstring tear at training. He’d played every game in 2021 to that point, averaging 20 disposals, three inside 50s and kicking 14 goals.

Midfielder Luke Dunstan has long been linked to his home state, but is now drawing interest from the likes of Gold Coast and Carlton to shore up their inside stocks.

After playing a good chunk of the year with VFL affiliate the Sandringham Zebras, Dunstan has returned to the senior side in career-best nick. He’s averaging 25 disposals, six inside 50s, five tackles and five clearances.

This included a best on ground performance against Richmond in Round 15, where he earned the Ian Stewart Medal for his 32 disposal, 11 clearance, nine inside 50 and a goal game.

Ratten has stressed that transparency throughout this period, especially with finals on the line, is the best way to tackle the topics of free agency and trades.

“You just have the conversation with the players,” he said.

“We’re here to play footy and win games of football. Players are going to be out of contract, coaches are going to be out contract. It’s just a conversation that’s the norm really.

“Next year there’ll be a new crop of people, whether that’s more Saints people or from other clubs, but that’s just part of the game. [The players] know where we sit with them, and as long as we’re doing that… it’d be a bit interesting if we didn’t have the conversation I think.”

St Kilda will have to defeat both Geelong and Fremantle if the side hopes to keep its final chances alive.

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