Carlton and St Kilda kick off the AAMI Community Series at Marvel Stadium on Thursday night, with both clubs envisaging playing finals this season.
It’s been a long rebuild for the Blues, but 2021 could be the year it all comes together under coach David Teague, who will look to guide the club to their first top eight finish since 2011.
Three-time All-Australian Nick Dal Santo explained why he’s bullish on Teague's emerging Blues.
“I think the signs last year that some young guys were starting to step up – and that’s the greatest challenge – can they perform over the course of a whole year? Dal Santo told SEN’s Whateley.
“Last year was an exception to the rule because of all the circumstances, but I’m bullish, I think they’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle that will give them a really good opportunity to play finals, and I think they’re capable.
“I think they should be somewhere between sixth, seventh or eighth position by the end of the year, I think they’re capable of that.
“I think that would be an exceptional year for them and a nice steppingstone for what the next two or three years after this year could be.”
As for the Saints, Dal Santo says making the eight and winning another final would equate to a successful season for his former club.
But the champion Saint feels Brett Ratten’s side lack an x-factor player who can turn matches single-handedly and they could be tested by a tougher draw.
St Kilda will play reigning premiers Richmond, runners-up Geelong, preliminary finalists Port Adelaide, and 2018 premiers West Coast twice throughout the course of the year.
“I think if they can replicate last year, that’s fine, that’s another steppingstone to ultimately pushing forward,” Dal Santo said.
“If you want to try and be the best, you’ve got to play these teams regularly and beat them.
“They won the one final last year against the Dogs, if they can get to finals and win a final and hopefully win more, but if that was the end of their season again then I see that as the ability to back up.
“Do I ultimately think they’re going to win the flag? No. I still think they’re one, two, three, four years away from that for this young group to really come through, I still feel they’re missing a genuine x-factor.
“I know there’s only one Dustin Martin, but let’s say a poorer version of Dustin Martin, I still feel they’re missing someone like that who can at any moment within a game can just flip it on its head and change the momentum instantly.
“I just don’t know if they’re quite in that bracket just yet.”
Carlton opens their 2021 season against Richmond at the MCG on March 18, while St Kilda takes on GWS at Giants Stadium on March 21.