THE doubters were circling St Kilda - and honing in on its midfield.
After a disappointing fourth-quarter fade-out against Geelong, there were question marks over the endurance, workrate and mental strength of Alan Richardson's onball division.
The Saints coach responded, dropping young inside midfielder Luke Dunstan and bringing in ex-Bulldog Koby Stevens and Jack Sinclair off the back off strong performances at Sandringham.
There was never going to be a better opportunity to bounce back than against the resurgent Hawks in Launceston - a venue which has proved a nightmare for Saints fans in recent years.
The Saints stepped up.
While the early going was close, with the Saints holding a 10-point advantage at the first break, that was largely because St Kilda had struggled to convert in front of goal.
It could easily have led to yet another sense of deja vu, with the Saints holding all the early running, before succumbing late.
But Richardson's men weren't having that.
Instead of dropping off, they turned up the heat.
The Saints outran, outworked and outgunned their opponents, with midfield maestro Jack Steven leading the way in the centre of the park.
He had plenty of friends ready to provide support, with Jack Newnes, Stevens, the ultra-consistent Seb Ross, Jack Steele and Mav Weller all finding plenty of the footy.
Fox Footy's Alastair Lynch highlighted St Kilda's gutrunning and will to make it from contest to contest as the key factor setting it apart from a lacklustre Hawthorn.
"Once again, getting to the next play, theres more St Kilda players around this ball," Lynch said.
"That's what's stood out all day, their ability to get more players frm one contest to the next and support the running."
Having held a 22-point lead at halftime, the Saints cranked up the intensity in the third term.
With thoughts of a second-half drop-off clearly vanquished, St Kilda - led by its topliners in Steven, Leigh Montagna and Mav Weller, booted eight third-quarter goals to seize utter ascendancy heading into the final break.
"Pre-game, they had the full team meeting. Then most of the players left and he (Richardson) kept the leadership group back there ... he asked for a bit more effort from his leaders today. To come out and lead from the front," Jonathan Brown said on Fox Footy.
"They've done that fantastically well today and he'd be obviously very happy with their performance.
"Leigh Montagna's another senior player who's been outsrtanding tyoday off the half back flank. He's organised really well behind the ball.
"(Richardson would) be rapt I reckon, with his team's performance, especially the effort of his leaders."
The Saints, to their credit, kept their foot on the throttle in the final term, delivering the Hawks a 75-point thrashing.
A remarkable 14 players had 20 or more disposals for the day, led by Steven (36), Montagna (33) and Ross (32).
"St Kilda went into this season with a lot of promise and they're delivering today," Brown said.
The key now is to keep on delivering.
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