Sport AFL What your AFL club needs for a dream pre-season
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What your AFL club needs for a dream pre-season

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We may have barely finished celebrating the Socceroos’ Asian Cup victory, and are in the midst of cheering on the Australian cricket team at the ICC World Cup – but, believe it or not, footy’s back.

The ball is bounced for the pre-season NAB Challenge on Thursday night, with each team to play three practice matches.

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With draftees, new recruits and old faves returning from injury under the microscope, Kathryn Kernohan casts her eye over what will constitute a dream pre-season for your club.

Coach Phil Walsh may be the Crows recruit under most scrutiny this pre-season. Photo: Getty
Coach Phil Walsh may be the Crows recruit under most scrutiny this pre-season. Photo: Getty

Adelaide

The Crows hope for nothing more than the signatures of star duo Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane. In the meantime, expect to see a defence-first gameplan and harder edge under new coach Phil Walsh. New skipper Taylor Walker will lead by example, and hopefully be near his best almost two years after an ACL injury.

Fixtures:

North Melbourne at Centenary Oval, Port Lincoln, Sunday March 1, 4:10pm CDT
Geelong at Simonds Stadium, Thursday March 12, 7:10pm EDT
Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium, Saturday March 21, 3:10pm CDT

Brisbane

Brisbane’s formidable midfield has time to gel over the NAB Challenge. Former Pie Dayne Beams is a superstar, ex-Cat Allen Christensen a young gun, and there’s also the welcome return of Daniel Rich’s lethal left boot to look forward to. If ruckman Stefan Martin continues his 2014 form, the Lions shape as a surprise packet.

Fixtures:

St Kilda at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex, Burpengary, Saturday February 28, 3:10PM EST
Sydney at C.ex Coffs International Stadium, Friday March 6, 7:10pm EDT
Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, Friday March 20, 7:40pm EST

Carlton

Forward Jarrad Waite frustrated Blues fans, but he also delivered plenty of big games. In his absence, former Dog Liam Jones will try to reach his untapped potential alongside Lachie Henderson and Levi Casboult. Carlton will manage the pre-season minutes of Chris Judd and Dale Thomas to ensure they hit round one running.

Fixtures:

West Coast at Rushton Park, Mandurah, Friday February 27, 4:10pm WST
Collingwood at Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo, Sunday March 15, 4:40pm EDT
Geelong at Etihad Stadium, Sunday March 22, 4:10pm EDT

Jordan De Goey comes to Collingwood with big raps. Photo: Getty
Jordan De Goey comes to Collingwood with big wraps. Photo: Getty

Collingwood

A handful of premiership Pies are plying their trade at other clubs in 2015, giving Collingwood the sixth-youngest list this season. Nathan Freeman, a 2013 draftee who had an injury-plagued last season, has been a standout on the track while top-five pick Jordan De Goey oozes class and leadership. The Pies pray one – or both – star immediately.

Fixtures:

Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium, Thursday February 26 at 7:10pm EDT
Carlton at Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo, Sunday March 15, 4:40pm EDT
Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, Saturday March 21, 7:10pm EDT

Essendon

With the short-term playing futures of many Bombers unclear, James Hird will hope experienced recruits Adam Cooney, James Gwilt and Jonathan Giles can shoulder large pre-season workloads. Top-up players like Clint Jones and Jared Petrenko may be auditioning for home and away berths, so will attack the NAB Challenge with gusto.

Fixtures:

St Kilda at Morwell Recreational Reserve, Saturday March 7, 4:40pm EDT
Greater Western Sydney at Spotless Stadium, Friday March 13, 7:10pm EDT
Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, Friday March 20, 5:50pm EDT

Fremantle

Few teams boast two better small forwards than Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters. Walters missed most of last season while Ballantyne was absent for the Dockers’ semi-final loss. If both are buzzing around the forward line during the pre-season, the Dockers will again look threatening. Draftee Lachie Weller is one to watch.

Fixtures:

Melbourne at Fremantle Oval, Thursday March 6, 4:10pm WST
Sydney at Drummoyne Oval, Sunday March 15, 4:10pm EDT
West Coast at Domain Stadium, Sunday March 22, 4:10pm WST

Will Mitch Clark thrive at his new home in Geelong? Photo: Getty
Will Mitch Clark thrive at his new home in Geelong? Photo: Getty

Geelong

The Cats won the chase for talented big man Mitch Clark last year and the forward-ruckman, besieged by recurring foot and soft tissue injuries during his three years at Melbourne, will make his debut in blue and white hoops this weekend. If he’s fit, he’ll be a formidable foil for Tom Hawkins.

Fixtures:

Gold Coast at Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville, Sunday March 1, 3:40pm EST
Adelaide at Simonds Stadium, Thursday March 12, 7:10pm EDT
Carlton at Etihad Stadium, Sunday March 22, 4:10pm EDT

Gold Coast

Superstar skipper Gary Ablett is up and running, with the little master to make his return from a shoulder injury during the NAB Challenge. Former Swan Nick Malceski will immediately improve a young backline, and the Suns are confident youngster Jack Martin will make an impact after an injury-plagued debut season.

Fixtures:

Geelong at Tony Ireland Stadium, Townsville, Sunday March 1, 3:40pm EST
Greater Western Sydney at Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday March 7, 4:10pm EDT
Brisbane at Metricon Stadium, Friday March 20, 7:40pm

Greater Western Sydney

The likes of Adam Treloar, Dylan Shiel and Toby Greene have broken the 50-game milestone, so it wouldn’t surprise to see a breakout season from any. Spearhead Jeremy Cameron is fit and ready to reclaim his mantle as the game’s brightest young forward in the absence of Tom Boyd and the injured Jonathon Patton.

Fixtures:

Gold Coast at Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday March 7, 4:10pm EDT
Essendon at Spotless Stadium, Friday March 13, 7:10pm EDT
Sydney at StarTrack Oval, Sunday March 22, 1:10pm EDT

Hawthorn

The reigning premiers have a host of players trying to force their way into the Hawks’ best 22, like Brendan Whitecross, Jed Anderson, Jonathan Ceglar and new recruit James Frawley. With plenty of senior Hawks to be eased into the NAB Challenge, coach Alastair Clarkson will be thrilled if there’s competition for spots before Easter Monday.

Fixtures:

Collingwood at Aurora Stadium, Thursday February 26 at 7:10pm EDT
North Melbourne at Deakin Reserve, Shepparton, Sunday March 8, 4:40pm EDT
St Kilda at Etihad Stadium, Thursday March 19, 7:10pm EDT

Jeff Garlett has swapped Carlton for Melbourne. Photo: Getty
Jeff Garlett has swapped Carlton for Melbourne. Photo: Getty

Melbourne

Demons fans have been robbed of seeing number two draft pick Christian Petracca, who will miss the season with a knee injury. Forward Jesse Hogan and big-bodied Angus Brayshaw will play early, while premiership Pie Heretier Lumumba and former Blues forward Jeff Garlett will give an experienced look to the Dees’ pre-season team.

Fixtures:

Fremantle at Fremantle Oval, Thursday March 6, 4:10pm WST
Western Bulldogs at Eureka Stadium, Ballarat, Saturday March 14, 4:10pm EDT
Essendon at Etihad Stadium, Friday March 20, 5:50pm EDT

North Melbourne

North Melbourne will give increased responsibility to young players like second-year midfielder Luke McDonald during the NAB Challenge, while allowing new recruits Jarrad Waite and Shaun Higgins time to settle in to Brad Scott’s structure. The recruitment of Waite, in particular, will ease the pressure on young forwards Ben Brown and Aaron Black.

Fixtures:

Adelaide at Centenary Oval, Port Lincoln, Sunday March 1, 4:10pm CDT
Hawthorn
 at Deakin Reserve, Shepparton, Sunday March 8, 4:40pm EDT
Richmond at Etihad Stadium, Saturday March 21, 1:10pm EDT

Port Adelaide

Former Dons Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries will sit out practice games but that’s the only bad news for Port – even injured pair Chad Wingard and Jackson Trengrove are making good progress. The icing on the cake will be if Nathan Krakouer – who walked away from footy in 2011 and was redrafted last year – presses for senior selection.

Fixtures:

West Coast at Norwood Oval, Sunday March 8, 4:10pm CDT
Richmond at Lavington Sports Ground Albury, Saturday March 14, 4:40 EDT
Adelaide at AAMI Stadium, Saturday March 21, 3:10pm CDT

Richmond

The Tigers have had a good pre-season with Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin re-signing, and few injuries. Most eyes will be on the forward line, with Ben Griffiths, Tyrone Vickery and forgotten man Chris Knights essentially auditioning for a senior berth. Pleasingly, ruckman Ivan Maric has completed a full pre-season after injury cruelled his 2014 campaign.

Fixtures:

Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval, Saturday February 28, 4:40pm EDT
Port Adelaide at Lavington Sports Ground Albury, Saturday March 14, 4:40 EDT
North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, Saturday March 21, 1:10pm EDT

St Kilda fans are excited about top draft pick Paddy McCartin. Photo: Getty
St Kilda fans are excited about top draft pick Paddy McCartin. Photo: Getty

St Kilda

Number one draftee Paddy McCartin impressed in the Saints’ recent intraclub match and the key forward should debut against a makeshift Essendon side next week, alongside former Swan Tim Membrey. Supporters will welcome the return of senior Saints Jack Steven, Sam Fisher and Sam Gilbert, who struggled with injury last season.

Fixtures:

Brisbane at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex, Burpengary, Saturday February 28, 3:10PM EST
Essendon at Morwell Recreational Reserve, Saturday March 7, 4:40pm EDT
Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium, Thursday March 19, 7:10pm EDT

Sydney

Highly touted teenager Isaac Heeney has been held back by knee tendinitis but is expected to play at least one practice game, as will Kurt Tippett, looking to atone for a disappointing grand final. The Swans will look for good pre-season form to avoid a shock round-one loss, like its capitulation to GWS last year.

Fixtures:

Brisbane at C.ex Coffs International Stadium, Friday March 6, 7:10pm EDT
Fremantle at at Drummoyne Oval, Sunday March 15, 4:10pm EDT
Greater Western Sydney at StarTrack Oval, Sunday March 22, 1:10pm EDT

West Coast

Rookie utility Tom Lamb shone in West Coast’s exhibition match against the Indigenous All Stars last week and will taste senior football in the NAB Challenge. Former Pie Sharrod Wellingham says he’s ready to make up for two disappointing seasons, and a fit Nic Naitanui will be welcomed by all football followers.

Fixtures:

Carlton at Rushton Park, Mandurah, Friday February 27, 4:10pm WST
Port Adelaide at Norwood Oval, Sunday March 8, 4:10pm CDT
Fremantle at Domain Stadium, Sunday March 22, 4:10pm WST

Western Bulldogs

Eyes will be on a slimmed down Tom Boyd, leading the Dogs’ pre-season forward line in the absence of leading goal scorer Stewart Crameri. New coach Luke Beveridge isn’t putting pressure on the spearhead, but fans and the media might. Dogs fans will be hoping young gun Marcus Bontempelli avoids the second-year blues.

Fixtures:

Richmond at Whitten Oval, Saturday February 28, 4:40pm EDT
Melbourne at Eureka Stadium, Ballarat, Saturday March 14, 4:10pm EDT
Collingwood at Etihad Stadium, Saturday March 21, 7:10pm EDT

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