PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 02: Sebastian Ross of the Saints looks to pass the ball during the round 15 AFL match between the Fremantle Dockers and the St Kilda Saints at Domain Stadium on July 2, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

With many regarding the season of 2017 as a failure for the St. Kilda Football Club, ‘noise’ is again coming out from Seaford heading into 2018.

Coach Alan Richardson, entering his fifth season in charge, believes that not only can the Saints cause some upsets, but can be real contenders in 2018.

The departures of both superstars in Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna have certainly impacted the leadership on the field, the absence will allow the likes of Paddy McCartin, Brandon White and Bailey Rice the opportunity to enter the team’s best 22.

Richardson has warned critics to not write the Saints off this year, with the midfield depth and young stars ready to elevate their game to the next level.

However, when you look at the top sides in the competition, the A-listers are crucial in taking the next step, something the Saints will be hoping to develop this season.

“There’s been a fair bit of talk about the no A-graders about our list … all I would say to that is ‘yet’,” the coach tells AFL.com.au.

“We wouldn’t have spoken about (Seb) Ross or (Dylan) Roberton the year before as blokes who could have a real influence on the game and they were in the All-Australian conversation.

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“We’ve got the talent there and that’s our job as coaches, to get them to maximise their potential.”

Ross, 24, is just one of these young guns leading the charge, becoming a real force in the middle of the ground, winning clearances and delivering it into the forward 50.

While he was recognised for a breakout season, it’s the next crop that are starting to turn heads on a regular basis.

The Saints, with the departures of Riewoldt, Montagna and Sean Dempster, have the fourth youngest list on paper, and with glimpses shown in 2017 of the talent they possess, consistency in 2018 will be paramount if they are to make finals.

Jack Billings put his injuries aside for 2017, and showed why he was taken with pick three in the 2013 AFL Draft, tearing games apart and becoming a match winner.

Add these two alongside the emergence of Jade Gresham, Jack Steele, Blake Acres and Luke Dunstan, the talent is there, and now hitting 50+ games, it’s time for them to deliver.

“Fundamentally we’ve got to let our footy do the talking, so I’m not sure you will have me or too many people jumping out and making grand statements, but I know what we want to do,” Richardson said.

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“When you win more games than you lose in two years, you’re knocking on the door for two years in a row, your group is starting to get into the 50-60 game range, and you think they’re talented enough and made of the right stuff in terms of their character … we want to be a contender.”

Richardson has put the pressure back on himself and his coaching staff, labelling that it’s their job to get the talent onto the list to be in discussion for ‘A-Grade material’.

“We’ve got the talent there and that’s our job as coaches, to get them to maximise their potential.”