THE STATE OF PLAY AT THE 18 AFL CLUBS AHEAD OF THE NAB CHALLENGE BEGINNING THIS WEEK
After enduring a tumultuous 2015, the Crows enter a new era under Don Pyke, who has served a long coaching apprenticeship. Ex-Blue Troy Menzel shapes as an interesting addition. But who will fill the giant hole left by the departed Patrick Dangerfield?
Another off-season of major personnel change at Brisbane. Ryan Bastinac, Josh Walker and Tom Bell will be expected to play more pivotal roles with the young Lions than they did at their previous clubs. Convincing ruckman Stefan Martin to stick around was a coup for coach Justin Leppitsch.
How long will new coach Brendon Bolton be able to sustain his sunny demeanour? The pre-season comp will allow a first look at top-end draftees Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow. Big Matthew Krezuer has been a pre-season standout.
The expectations on marquee recruit Adam Treloar will be huge. James Aish has plenty to prove after being granted his wish for a departure pass from Brisbane. And how is Darcy Moore progressing as the Magpies continue the search for a key-forward foil for Travis Cloke?
Where to start? How does new coach John Worsfold go about replacing the likes of Jobe Watson, Michael Hurley and Dyson Heppell? What are fill-ins such as James Kelly, Ryan Crowley and Mathew Stokes going to be able to offer, especially early in the season? Can Matthew Leuenberger grasp the mantle as No.1 ruckman at his second club?
Much-hyped recruit Harley Bennell is managing a calf injury and will not be rushed into action. According to experienced track watchers, the star of the Dockers’ pre-season campaign is the dynamic Michael Walters, who has been flying.
Cats fans are salivating over the prospect of Patrick Dangerfield starting in the centre square alongside skipper Joel Selwood. Lachie Henderson is another big-name local lured home by Chris Scott. And Daniel Menzel will finally start a season with his focus firmly on football rather than his oft-injured knees.
Surely Rodney Eade and the Suns can expect a change of luck after the side was cruelled by injuries in 2015. Skipper Gary Ablett (foot strain) is unlikely to be sighted until the final round of the NAB Challenge.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Geelong’s triple-premiership hero Steve Johnson was the big-name off-season arrival. Another former Cat in Dawson Simpson will be hoping to make a much bigger impact at his second club, who know they need someone to provide solid ruck back-up for Shane Mumford.
Tim O’Brien and James Sicily have been flagged as the men most likely to fill the big boots of key forward Jarry Roughead, who will miss at least half a season with a knee injury. The fullback slot is also vacant following the retirement of Brian Lake.
Key forward Chris Dawes is an unlikely starter in the pre-season competition due to a calf injury, giving Cam Pedersen and Sam Frost the chance to stake a claim to partner Jesse Hogan in attack. Forgotten man Jack Trengove (foot) is also inching closer to a return, having not played senior footy since early 2014.
After two years ruined by foot and Achilles tendon injuries, Daniel Wells is fully fit and raring to go. It’s the best possible news for coach Brad Scott, with genuine midfield speed being one of the few missing pieces of the puzzle at Arden Street.
Outside Essendon, it is Port who have been hardest hit by the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling, with ex-Bombers Angus Monfries and Paddy Ryder banned for the year. Ex-Sun Charlie Dixon and spearhead Jay Schulz will both miss the start of the Power’s’s pre-season campaign.
Brett Deledio won’t be sighted until late in the NAB Challenge as he manages an ongoing Achilles issue, while the club are also taking no risks with ex-Blue Chris Yarran. But in welcome news for coach Damien Hardwick, the luckless Reece Conca has put a long run of injury problems behind him.
A sore back will keep star midfielder David Armitage out of the Saints’ opening NAB Challenge clash against North Melbourne. There will be plenty of focus this year on Paddy McCartin, who enters his second season as the heir apparent to Nick Riewoldt as the Saints’ goalkicking saviour. Jake Carlisle’s season-long doping suspension is a significant blow.
After missing last season’s finals series to deal with a mental issue, Lance Franklin looked a rejuvenated figure in last week’s intra-club match. Midfield tyros Luke Parker and Kieren Jack have recovered from serious injuries.
Lewis Jetta and Jack Redden are the big-name arrivals as the Eagles look to build on their second-placed finish in 2015. Ruckman Jonathan Giles will also be eager to mark a mark at his third AFL club.
Twelve months after doing an ACL in the opening round of the 2015 pre-season comp, star midfielder Tom Liberatore is back and firing. Much more will be expected of multi-million dollar man Tom Boyd, whose first year at the kennel in 2015 was nothing special.