Saint Billings battles on hurt in his free-agency year

St Kilda’s Jack Billings is being managed carefully due to a foot injury in a crucial year for the free agent’s future.

Billings has been suffering from plantar fasciitis, but has still played all six games for the Saints, including their heavy loss to Richmond when he tore the plantar fascia in the warm-up.

While there has been strong interest from rival clubs, Billings has not entertained any offers yet, including from the Saints. He is a restricted free agent.

Jack Billings.Credit:Getty Images

The Saints believe that Billings is on the mend from his foot problem, that the worst of the painful injury is behind him; for the midfielder – and for many who have had plantar fasciitis – tearing the plantar fascia and allowing it to heal is a better outcome than carrying the injury without a tear.

Billings, a restricted free agent, was a solid performer in the opening four rounds, but has been quiet in St Kilda’s past two losses to flag contenders Richmond and Port Adelaide.

St Kilda coach Brett Ratten insisted on Thursday that Billings would play, despite only managing a light training session due to the foot issue.

Talented ruckman Rowan Marshall also suffered from plantar fasciitis earlier this year, an ailment that the Saints think might have contributed to the stress fractures in his feet.

But Marshall has recovered and has returned to the side against Port Adelaide. He will be greatly assisted against Hawthorn on Saturday by the return of Patrick Ryder, whose tandem with Marshall was critical to St Kilda making and winning the elimination final last year and the absence of the tandem – a point of difference with other clubs – has exacerbated the struggles of their midfield.

Ryder, who took leave from the club for personal reasons, returned from his layoff to play for Sandringham in the VFL last weekend, impressing with his ruckwork.

St Kilda’s opponents this weekend, Hawthorn, have been hit hard at selection by the loss of key playmaker Jaeger O’Meara and the talented Chad Wingard to injury, losses that are only partially offset by the return of forward Jack Gunston for his first game of 2021. Veteran Shaun Burgoyne is also out injured.

Tall forward Emerson Jeka also has been promoted to make his debut for the Hawks, having booted 19 goals in his last four outings for Box Hill in the VFL. He has shown rapid improvement as a key forward this year, his second on the club list after he was drafted at pick nine in the rookie draft of 2019.

The Saints regain Ryder and Jimmy Webster, and promoted Ryan Byrnes. Jake Carlisle, Ben Long and Jack Lonie were dropped and Daniel McKenzie is out suspended.

O’Meara is a major loss, given that he was one of the major catalysts for Hawthorn’s comeback victories this year over Essendon and Adelaide.

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