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Pre-season guide: North Melbourne

Shaun Atley has noticeably lifted his training intensity this pre-season - ${keywords}
Shaun Atley has noticeably lifted his training intensity this pre-season

North's pre-season has again been centred around its annual high-altitude training camp in Deer Valley, Utah. This year's three-week camp had a stronger focus on skills work than the Roos' previous two US trips, given the widespread improvement in their youngsters' fitness and strength over the past two years. There was no respite for the Roos on their return to Melbourne in early December as they undertook a high-intensity training block before Christmas to capitalise on the fitness gains they had made in Utah. As its Arden Street training ground is redeveloped to Etihad Stadium dimensions, North has split its training in Melbourne between Craigieburn's Highgate Reserve and Princes Park.

Break: North finished training on December 21 and resumes on January 7.

Draftee watch: Taylor Garner, Taylor Hine, Mitchell Wilkins (all shoulders) and Ben Jacobs (ankle) underwent post-season surgery, but have resumed drill work and modified fitness programs. Mature-age recruit Daniel Currie's time at the Sydney Swans and North Adelaide has enabled him to quickly adjust to a full training load, while Mason Wood has coped well with a slightly modified program that has included contested work. Rookie Tim McGenniss has quickly made an impression with his impressive endurance running. International rookie and former basketballer Eric Wallace is quickly adapting to the skills of Australian football, but faces a significant challenge to build AFL-standard endurance.

Burning: Exciting 20-year-olds Shaun Atley and Kieran Harper have noticeably lifted their training intensity, pushing each other to personal best time-trial results. Sam Gibson and Ryan Bastinac have been leading the pack in most of the Roos' running sessions, while key-position players Robbie Tarrant and Luke Delaney have been waging an ongoing battle in contested drills. First-round 2011 draft pick Brad McKenzie has also significantly improved his fitness.

Medical room: Leigh Adams has recovered well from shoulder surgery in August, beginning training on day one of pre-season and restarting contested work in early December. Michael Firrito had minor knee surgery in the off-season and is on a modified program, as is Scott McMahon as he recovers from a lingering hip injury. Both are expected to resume full training in January. After foot surgery in June, young key forward Tom Curran re-joined the main training group in early December and has impressed in game-sense drills. Cameron Richardson has been on a limited program as he continues his rehabilitation from hip surgery at the end of 2011, but should be able to handle an increased workload from January.

What they say: "We're very happy with the way things have been tracking so far. We've been pretty much injury-free and the boys have really thrown themselves into everything we've asked of them. We had two weeks with the first to fourth-year players before we went to Utah and the three weeks in Utah went really well. We got back from Utah on a Saturday morning, the players had a recovery session on the Sunday and then were straight back into another really hard two weeks of training on the Monday. There's not much respite for the players, but they've embraced every challenge we've thrown at them." – Assistant coach Brett Allison.

NAB Cup schedule:

Round one: v Richmond and Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, Friday, February 22
Round two: v Gold Coast, Townsville, Saturday, March 2
Round three: v Geelong, Simonds Stadium, Saturday, March 9
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs