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Could Dal be the difference?

Nick Dal Santo will play in his seventh preliminary final – and his 300th AFL game – when he takes the field for North Melbourne against West Coast at Domain Stadium on Saturday night.

With three unsuccessful Grand Final appearances with St Kilda (2009, 2010 draw and replay) also under his belt, he said during the week that he was as hungry as ever to win his first premiership. 

"(Preliminary final appearances) don't really count for a lot unless you do take those opportunities," Dal Santo said on Tuesday.

"In regard to my football career, winning a premiership would feel like it's complete.

"There's definitely something I haven't achieved that I would love to tick off. Then I can move into post-football feeling a lot more comfortable with what I've done." 

With so much experience on his side, Dal Santo, 31, will be crucial to North's chances of causing an upset over the Eagles in Perth. 

Here is a snapshot of how the smooth-moving midfielder has fared in the six preliminary finals he has taken part in for St Kilda and North Melbourne.

2004: St Kilda lost to Port Adelaide by six points

13 disposals (four kicks, nine handballs)
Dal Santo, 20, was part of a young Saints on-ball brigade that also included a 20-year-old Luke Ball and a 24-year-old Lenny Hayes. It was not Dal Santo's finest performance although Hayes led from the front to collect 32 disposals in the thrilling six-point loss to the Power at AAMI Stadium.

Dal Santo tackles Jarrad Schofield in the 2004 preliminary final. Picture: AFL Media 

2005: St Kilda lost to Sydney Swans by 31 points

23 disposals (17 kicks, six handballs)
In a tough night for the Saints, Dal Santo was a shining light. It was the Saints' second consecutive preliminary final loss but Dal Santo was one of the keys to keeping St Kilda in the game in front of 73,344 fans at the MCG. Only Robert Harvey (24 touches) and Ryan O'Keefe (24) had more disposals than Dal Santo.

Dal Santo celebrates a goal in the Saints' loss to the Swans in 2005. Picture: AFL Media

2008: St Kilda lost to Hawthorn by 54 points

15 disposals (11 kicks, four handballs)
Eventual premier Hawthorn comfortably accounted for St Kilda, thanks largely to Mark Williams (five goals) and Jarryd Roughead (four goals). Dal Santo was quiet throughout. Just four St Kilda players had 20 or more touches – Brendon Goddard (33), Lenny Hayes (27), Raph Clarke (25) and Sam Fisher (22).

Michael Osborne and Mark Williams confront the Saint in the 2008 prelim. Picture: AFL Media

2009: St Kilda defeated Western Bulldogs by seven points

31 disposals (23 kicks, eight handballs)
In a titanic struggle, Dal Santo and teammate Lenny Hayes owned the stoppages after quarter-time. Dal Santo was influential throughout, perhaps shaded only by Nick Riewoldt (four goals) as best on ground. Hayes (34 disposals) and Sam Fisher (30) were also prolific for the Saints.

Dal Santo gets a handball away despite Tim Callan's tackle in 2009. Picture: AFL Media

2010: St Kilda defeated Western Bulldogs by 24 points

16 disposals (seven kicks, nine handballs)
More heartbreak for the Bulldogs as they lost their third straight preliminary final. Dal Santo was not at his damaging best, with Leigh Montagna (33 touches) and Lenny Hayes (26) pivotal in the win. Dal Santo lifted in the two subsequent Grand Finals against Collingwood and was probably the Saints' best player in the losing replay, tallying an equal-game high 29 disposals. 

Dal Santo and Stephen Milne walk off victorious in 2010. Picture: AFL Media

2014: North Melbourne lost to Sydney Swans by 71 points

24 disposals (seven kicks, 17 handballs)
Dal Santo had his moments in last year's heavy loss to the Swans. He laid the key tackle that led to Ben Brown's opening goal of the match and he was poised with his disposal throughout the game. Only Ben Cunnington had the ball more for the Roos (28 touches), but the Roos were thoroughly outplayed as the Swans stormed into the 2014 Grand Final.

Dal Santo rues the Kangas' heavy loss to the Swans in 2014. Picture: AFL Media