Mick Malthouse oversees the action at Carlton's intra-club match last Friday
While perhaps increasing the amount of running they've done slightly, the Crows have largely stuck with what worked for them last season and focused on building strength. Tackling remained one of coach Brenton Sanderson's focuses over the pre-season, and defender Brodie Smith says most players had become stronger than ever. The side hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel this summer, preferring instead to slug it out in the heat on Max Basheer Reserve, so as well as strong, Adelaide's players look fighting fit.
With half of the Lions' list now falling into the five year-plus category, they have made significant strides with their aerobic ability. It is Brett Burton's third year at the helm of the performance program, and the former Adelaide star said the players had now adapted to his endurance-based program. A number of players are noticeably leaner, including Tom Rockliff and Sam Docherty. Game simulation sessions have targeted the Lions' defensive set-ups – particularly from kick-ins – where they have concentrated on pushing up the ground.
New coach Mick Malthouse implemented his usual pre-season philosophy of taking his players to Arizona for altitude training and ordering minimal physical-contact work before Christmas. The approach has so far had great success with just one player (Andrew McInnes, knee) certain to be sidelined for the club's NAB Cup openers against the Sydney Swans and Greater Western Sydney on February 24. Of course, the three-time premiership coach has pushed for a greater emphasis on defence, while also introducing more goalkicking practice. Match simulation sessions have been sharp The Blues will step up their preparation with a second intra-club match at Visy Park on Friday.
Competition for spots will be strong at Collingwood when the season kicks off. Its players have undergone a tough pre-season and are presenting as a hungry group. Altitude training happened later than usual and draftees were able to attend for the first time, however it is at the senior end that the real pressure will be on. Quinten Lynch has already had an influence and will play the forward-ruck role. Clinton Young returned from injury in last week's intra-club match playing on the wing, pushing forward, while Harry O'Brien, while playing mainly in defence, also had a stint on the wing. Expect Paul Seedsman to push towards cementing his spot while Brent Macaffer has had a solid pre-season as he attempts to re-ignite his career. Ben Hudson is not there just for his good looks and is proving to be valuable on the training track hitting bodies hard and being a presence around the ball.
The Bombers made a concerted effort to do more running and endurance-based training before Christmas, where many players slimmed down and dropped weight. A group of 10 key players, including captain Jobe Watson and star forward Michael Hurley, travelled to Colorado last year for the club's first foray into high-altitude training. It appeared a success and many felt the benefits of the trip on their return. Since then there has been a focus on 'tried and true' footy methods, and the Bombers continue to spend significant time on the defensive elements of their game, an area they see as crucial to their success.
There has been less time spent "in the classroom" and more time putting Ross Lyon's methods into practice during the coach's second pre-season with Fremantle. Full-ground ball-movement drills have been regular, with most sessions ending with extra 'top-up' running. Lyon has been "driven about the basics" throughout what have been long, demanding sessions in the Perth heat. However, the coach also picked up game mechanics from English Premier League soccer and American football during a research trip to the UK and US late last year. Fremantle did not travel for high altitude training.
Geelong has completed a lot of its fitness work on bikes this summer. Its younger players completed some brutal sessions cycling up Falls Creek on a December training camp, which also included running and skills work at Mount Beauty Oval. The Cats took part in some spirited match simulation sessions against North Melbourne at Skilled Stadium in January to February. Geelong has increasingly incorporated a lot of match-practice work into its pre-season training.
The addition of former Adelaide fitness guru Stephen Schwerdt has resulted in some noticeable improvements for the Suns. Schwerdt joined Gold Coast in time for their high altitude training camp in Arizona in November and has since pumped the players running and more running. They are aerobically fitter – an area that needed continual addressing for the young list. While players like Karmichael Hunt and Steven May have trimmed down to improve their mobility, key position prospects Sam Day and Rory Thompson are much broader. The Suns have ramped up their game simulation sessions since Christmas and have worked hard on their defensive set-ups, pushing higher up the ground from stoppages.
Greater Western Sydney
The Giants' approach to their second year in the AFL has been similar to the first – quite simply, improve in all areas. Skills and game-time situations are always a focus, while the club is entering year two of a long-term strategy to develop all the young bodies to the level required in senior football. Wary of putting too much weight too quickly on such a young list, it has been a gradual process. Some players are already showing some good signs, perhaps most notably new vice captain Tom Scully. The former Melbourne midfielder had a reasonable first year with GWS, but he is keen to make a bigger impact and has added a few kilos to his slight frame and is impressing with his leadership.
"Hardest pre-season ever" is the usual assessment from players at this time of year, but according to veteran Michael Osborne, the Hawks' focus this summer has been on training smarter, and not necessarily harder. "I think in the past we've had some pretty full-on blocks of training where guys have gone as hard as they can to beat the bloke next to them and really pushed the boundaries, and a few blokes have broken down for a few weeks," the small forward told AFL.com.au. "Then you miss a whole training block. So with just being able to manage the group and certain players; it mightn't be too much less, but two or three per cent less means they can train for a few more weeks rather than breaking down and missing out."
Even with 14 new players on its list, Melbourne was able to hit the ground running this pre-season. Coach Mark Neeld said last week that the squad has attacked each session this pre-season rather than merely trying to get through it. The addition of Shannon Byrnes, David Rodan and Chris Dawes has been significant for maintaining the standards while Jack Viney, Matt Jones and Jimmy Toumpas have been impressive draftees. Aaron Davey appears much more ready to go this season than last while Colin Sylvia will be able to bounce out of the blocks. Much of the pre-Christmas work was about building the foundation whereas much of the time post-Christmas has been spent on game simulated training and refining structures on and off the track.
North's previous three pre-seasons under Brad Scott had a heavy emphasis on running as the Roos coach looked to boost the aerobic fitness of his young list. But with players such as Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington, Shaun Atley and Kieran Harper having made significant endurance gains in that time, Scott introduced a stronger skills focus this pre-season, incorporating some of North's fitness work into drills-based sessions. The Roos also travelled to Skilled Stadium and took on Geelong in four match simulation sessions over January and February, helping them to identify areas of their game plan that needed tinkering before the NAB Cup. North also held its third high-altitude training camp in Utah last November, again with a higher emphasis on skills work than in previous years.
With Darren Burgess returning to the Power having spent time with Liverpool FC in the English Premier League and with the Soccreoos, training was bound to change at Alberton. He promised to incorporate the high-intensity training styles of EPL clubs and hasn't disappointed. Players have described the pre-season as one of the hardest ever and the biggest change they say has been the intensity. While overall sessions might be shorter, players have been forced to work harder than they were last year and have been given less time to recover between drills.
Having been stung by a number of narrow losses last year, including three by less than four points between rounds 16 and 18 and then a draw in the final round against Port Adelaide, the Tigers have spent the summer focusing on maintaining their composure when things get hot. Former skipper Chris Newman said there had been an emphasis on "situational plays" when the pressure is on, like in the final five minutes of a game when the opposition kicks a string of goals. The Tigers also hope their recent recruitment of "mature heads" will further strengthen that philosophy.
If St Kilda's weekend intraclub match is anything to go by, expect Scott Watters to use his three mosquitos - Stephen Milne, Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera - in the forward line together at various stages throughout 2013. Watters has also worked hard to build the tanks of St Kilda's next line of midfielders - Jack Steven has been a standout in training - to lighten the load for Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna, Lenny Hayes and co. With multiple pre-seasons behind them, St Kilda's older stars have had tailored pre-season programs with a focus on round one. As expected, recruit Tom Hickey has worked closely with Ben McEvoy all summer with the club possibly looking at a two-pronged ruck attack come the start of the season. The club's trip to the high altitude of Boulder, Colorado, before Christmas formed the basis of a strong summer fitness program.
The Swans knew they were behind the eight ball preparing for the coming season after competing all the way to the final game of 2012. Typically subjected to running, running and more running early on, the Swans knew they couldn't take that approach this time around. Instead, they began ball work and game simulation earlier than in previous years in a bid to have them up to speed for round one. This time last year the Swans also put a huge emphasis on their skills, particularly kicking efficiency and conversion in front of goal, with obvious success. It is something the premiers are again continuing this pre-season. They also enjoyed a training camp in Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast as the influx of young players got to know their colleagues and the game plan.
With a maturing list, the Eagles haven't needed to protect many skinny teenagers this pre-season and training has taken on a more combative form. Drills have been more physical, particularly in the midfield, where Luke Shuey, Scott Selwood and Chris Masten are hardened footballers. There was a strong focus on skills from early in the pre-season and the club's coaches were pleased with the results. The club has also appeared to be proactive in lifting the running capacity of players in half-back and half-forward roles to build on its midfield options.
With the bulk of their running, strength and power training completed before Christmas, the Western Bulldogs have really ramped up their skills, contact and set-play work in the lead up to Friday night's NAB Cup openers against Collingwood and Essendon. The Dogs have gone against the time-honored tradition of an intraclub match this pre-season and instead opted for a series of match simulation sessions – the club reasoning it wanted a more controlled environment for its young list.