St Kilda duo Hunter Clark and Jack Bytel have been backed by their captain to take the next step in their careers as burgeoning midfielders amid an injury crisis that has hindered the club's engine room ahead of Round 1.
The Saints could line up against Fremantle in their season opener without Jack Billings (leg), Seb Ross (calf), Zak Jones (Achilles), Marcus Windhager (hand) and Dan McKenzie (calf) following a string of setbacks during the pre-season.
The overcrowded casualty ward at Linton Street is set to leave Ross Lyon shuffling the magnets to form his best midfield ensemble to face the Dockers, with captain Jack Steele and his right-hand man Brad Crouch set to take on a significant workload against the likes of Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong, Jaeger O'Meara and Will Brodie.
Speaking to Zero Hanger, Steele flagged that both Bytel and Clark have an opportunity to prove themselves under Lyon early into the new season as a host of senior midfielders are kept to the sidelines.
"We've had our injuries, there's no denying that," the St Kilda captain said. "We've been stretched a little bit.
"It's just gonna put a little bit more of an onus on myself and Brad Crouch to step up and drive the standard.
"It's just about encouraging them as much as possible and making them feel like they're going well. It's pretty normal to be left out of the side here and there and have your troubles with confidence.
"So we've got a really pump their tyres up, because they're going to be crucial for us."
Clark has spent the majority of his 68-game career with the Saints in the backline, with the former top 10 pick set for more minutes in the middle of the field this year.
A return to St Kilda's senior side will see Bytel snap his gameless run, having last featured into the top flight in Round 23 of the 2021 season, a game that also pitted the red, white and black against Fremantle.
The 22-year-old managed 16 disposals and laid seven tackles from 60% game time in St Kilda's recent pre-season hitout against Essendon, while Clark was among the leading ball-winners for Lyon's side with 24 to his name.
That performance saw the Saints respond to their disappointing opening clash against Melbourne last month - an outing the club took key learnings from.
Since returning to Moorabbin, Lyon has looked to implement a new system for the Saints to tackle for 2023, however has noted that there is a process at play.
Set to 'ride with the losses' as they continue their period of transition, Lyon has called for a sense of patience from his playing group.
"But the way Ross has been going on about things it's all about the process and not so much about the result.
"We looked at a few things we didn't do quite well against Melbourne and we were able to change that while sticking to our plan which was good for the confidence in our group heading into Round 1.
"We're in a much better place than what we were. There's gonna be times where we don't get it all right under a new coach and a new system, (Lyon) made that pretty clear. He said that's gonna happen, we'll have our losses but he'll ride that with us."
St Kilda's season opener against Fremantle is scheduled for Sunday, March 19 at 4:40pm (AEDT).