AFL: St Kilda Saints overrun Hawthorn Hawks in Marvel thriller

St Kilda are reaping the benefits of their tumultuous AFL pre-season, with Sunday's nail-biting win over Hawthorn giving them an unlikely 3-1 start.

While the Hawks' bad 2019 injury run continued at Marvel Stadium, the Saints also showed plenty of grit in the 10.14 (74) to 10.9 (69) upset win.

Captain Ben Stratton (concussion) and James Frawley (hamstring), the Hawks' two defensive generals, were forced off during the match.

That followed the late withdrawal of Jaeger O'Meara (hip), plus the absence of fellow onballers Tom Mitchell, Shaun Burgoyne and Liam Shiels.

But the Saints have started the season without Dylan Roberton, Jake Carlisle, Paddy McCartin and star recruit Dan Hannebery, plus Jack Steven remains sidelined and captain Jarryn Geary was a late withdrawal with illness.

Dan McKenzie was also concussed during the game.

For all their personnel troubles over the summer, St Kilda have emerged from their pre-season as a fitter side and with a growing self-belief.

That showed when they fell 24 points behind during the third term.

Last year, the Saints would have fallen away - this time, Hawthorn did not kick another goal for the rest of the game.

St Kilda kicked 2.5 to one behind in the last quarter for a fighting win.

"Fundamentally, the guys have really strong belief in their legs," coach Alan Richardson said.

"They believe, on the back of incredibly hard work, that they're a hard-running team.

"They also have a lot of belief in each other now, because of this improvement."

Widely tipped pre-season as bottom-four certainties, the Saints have made an improbable 3-1 start to the 2019 campaign.

A big holding the ball decision was paid against Hawthorn's David Mirra 21 minutes into the last quarter.

Jack Lonie, who had sprayed 2.5, kicked the goal and put St Kilda in front for the first time since late in the second term.

While there were jokes in the Saints rooms at Lonie's expense about kicking the ball between the big sticks, Richardson called his game "a ripper".

Acting captain Seb Ross led superbly with 39 possessions and Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said he was the only player on the ground who had a complete game.

Clarkson was philosophical, noting his team also showed plenty of heart.

The loss leaves the Hawks with two wins from their opening month.

"It was tough - we couldn't get a hell of a lot of continuity and momentum," Clarkson said.

"Our boys worked hard, you couldn't question the endeavour.

"At crucial times, St Kilda had a little bit more polish with the footy."