X-factor Wells to return for North in AFL

Daniel Wells, the player touted as North Melbourne’s X-factor this season, will make his much-anticipated AFL return on Saturday in Wagga Wagga.

Wells’ selection highlights strong Kangaroos and Collingwood squads for the pre-season match.

At his best, Wells has been one of the league’s most-damaging midfielders with his pace and skill.

But injuries have restricted the 31-year-old to just 12 games in the past two years and he has not played at AFL level since round two last year.

The Kangaroos hope he can help take the next step after appearances by North Melbourne in the past two preliminary finals.

All-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein will also play his first game of the year, while the Collingwood squad features captain Scott Pendlebury, Travis Cloke and Darcy Moore.

Essendon will have a much clearer idea of just how challenging this season will be after they play Geelong on Saturday in Shepparton.

Reeling from the loss of 12 players to doping bans, the Bombers opened their pre-season with a morale-boosting win last Sunday over Carlton.

But the Blues were missing most of their key players.

The Cats’ squad will be a much-tougher proposition, again featuring star recruit Patrick Dangerfield.

Jimmy Bartel, Tom Lonergan and Josh Caddy will also return.

Fans will have to wait until round four for former Cats James Kelly and Mathew Stokes to play against their old club.

They are not among the replacement players named in the Bombers’ squad.

But Matt Dea and Mark Jamar will play their first games for Essendon.

As the regular season looms, Brisbane and St Kilda have also beefed up their squads for Sunday’s match in Mackay.

Rival captains Tom Rockliff and Nick Riewoldt will have their first runs, as will key Lions players Stefan Martin and Daniel Rich.

The Saints’ squad also features Leigh Montagna, David Armitage and Jarryn Geary.

High-profile Western Bulldogs key forward Tom Boyd will play against Melbourne on Sunday in Craigieburn.

But the Demons have rested their young gun forward Jesse Hogan.

Bulldogs midfielder Tom Liberatore will return from his knee reconstruction and Jed Adcock will debut for the club.

Captain Nathan Jones and fellow onballer Bernie Vince are notable Demons inclusions.

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