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On the knife's edge

Lions coach Michael Voss needs results in the final year of his contract - ${keywords}
Lions coach Michael Voss needs results in the final year of his contract
Richard Tambling

Tambling will never live down being selected before Lance Franklin at the 2004 NAB AFL Draft, but he moved to Adelaide at the end of 2010 to try and make a new name for himself. He's found it tough to cement his spot. Not that he's been far away; since the start of the 2011 season the 26-year-old has been named emergency 10 times. He won Sturt's best and fairest last season but, as the Crows' premiership window opens wider, time is running out for the once highly-touted Tambling to secure his future.

raining regime: how has your club fared this pre-season?

Brisbane Lions
Michael Voss

Now in his fifth season in charge, Voss is out of contract at the end of 2013. The triple premiership captain has had a rollercoaster time at the helm, making the finals in his first season, before a botched trade period that included the doomed signing of Brendan Fevola, led to just 21 wins over the past three seasons. The Lions took big strides forward last year, and with a host of players now topping 60 senior games, more should be expected. However, the club does not settle for mediocrity, and another losing season could spell the end for one of its favourite sons.

Jarrad Waite

Will Carlton's chief forward hope ever become the player Blues fans hoped he would be? Waite is highly talented, supremely athletic and critical to the Blues' fortunes. He has also just turned 30. Time is running out for a player who has been so injury prone. When he plays he can be exceptional, but he just hasn’t played enough – only 48 games in the past four seasons. It all seems to hinge on whether his body allows him to play with relative freedom on a weekly basis. He has had his best pre-season in five years, and alleviated an ongoing back issue in the process. Now he just needs some in-season continuity.

AFL club injury update

Alan Didak

The premiership player, club champion and two-time All-Australian has endured two frustrating seasons where injury has stopped him playing consistent football. He turns 30 in February so still has plenty of good football ahead of him if he can get the body right and string some games together. However the battle for a small forward spot will be fierce at the Magpies with Brent Macaffer and Andrew Krakouer fit, Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo emerging and Ben Sinclair and Tyson Goldsack capable of playing as defensively minded forwards. Didak will want to lock down a position early as he remains a threat to any opposition.

Scott Gumbleton

The Bombers will be hoping key forward Scott Gumbleton has an injury-free season in what looms as a make-or-break year for the 24-year-old. Gumbleton's six seasons at AFL level have been riddled by back and soft-tissue injuries, but in his 28 senior games he has shown why he was touted so highly as a junior with his marking and running ability. Gumbleton suffered a hamstring strain at the start of December and although he returned to training in January, he pulled up sore and has been managed closely since then. Gumbleton signed a one-year contract to remain at Essendon last year when he could have found a longer deal at rival clubs. Some luck with fitness might make all the difference.  

The veterans and Anthony Morabito

Veterans Matthew Pavlich, Aaron Sandilands and Luke McPharlin are all contracted until the end of the2014 season, meaning they have at least two years to spearhead Fremantle to its first premiership. At 31, 30 and 31 respectively, however, there is a sense of urgency for the highly respected trio and their club. This season shapes as an opportune time to strike with a belief that the premiership contenders are an even group. Midfielder Anthony Morabito also faces a critical point in his career when he attempts to return from a third knee reconstruction. After two standard reconstructions, the 21-year-old underwent LARS surgery in an attempt to return at some point in 2013.     

Mitch Brown

The 22-year-old tall forward has had a wretched run with leg and shoulder injuries in his time at Geelong, having played just five games since the Cats took him with the No.15 pick in the 2008 national draft. There was widespread speculation Brown would find a new home in October's trade period but nothing eventuated. In 2013, he faces the challenge of breaking into a forward line where Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly have been the mainstay talls in recent seasons. Brown will also face stiff competition for a senior spot from Nathan Vardy if he stays fit.  

Gold Coast
Sam Day

After being taken at number three in the 2010 AFL National Draft, big things were expected of the South Australian full-forward. Although still a pup in terms of key position players, Day has been matched – if not exceeded – by some of his lesser-known teammates in the past two years. Tom Lynch and Steven May both showed late last year they were excellent forward targets, while Charlie Dixon also revelled in the forward/ruck role. Day has all the athletic attributes to be a star, and now with no injuries and a good pre-season under his belt, needs to make himself a permanent fixture in the best 22.

Greater Western Sydney
Tom Scully

Scully was subjected to enormous speculation during the 2011 season before leaving Melbourne to join Greater Western Sydney. It seemed to unsettle the youngster, who failed to really fire in his first season as a Giant. He made 19 appearances and had some good moments playing a variety of roles, but was yet to justify the large investment GWS made in him. 12 months on he seems far more comfortable and has impressed with his improved leadership skills over the pre-season, leading to him being named vice-captain behind Callan Ward and Phil Davis. He has also added some muscle to his small frame and the club has talked up his progress. Fans will be hoping he takes a significant step forward in 2013.

Lance Franklin
The biggest name in the game is set to be in the headlines even more this year after declaring he wouldn't discuss a new contract with the Hawks until season's end. Every twist and turn the 26-year-old makes on the field will be accompanied by speculation about what's going on off it. If his form dips, is it because he's distracted? If he plays better than ever, how's it affecting his market worth? And what would it mean should, touch wood, he suffer a serious injury? All of this to deal with while trying to help steer Hawthorn that one step further than 2012.

Aaron Davey
No one doubts the quality of Aaron Davey as a player, but the question now stands: can he return to his best? He had some excuses last season with off-field disruptions arriving after an injury interrupted pre-season. Now the hunger has returned he wants to prove the doubters wrong. If he does, he will have many defenders looking over their shoulders when they take possession against Melbourne. He can chase down an opponent and is sneaky around goals. He also has the ability to use the ball well inside 50 or when pushing further up the ground. Davey burned on the track in Darwin during pre-season and made all the coaches sit up and take notice. If he stays fit, he could be an X-factor for the Demons. If not, he will be a huge loss.

North Melbourne
Majak Daw

Elevated to North's senior list in 2013 after three years as a rookie, Daw will be looking to break through and play his first senior game this season. The Sudanese-born Daw has steadily improved in the VFL over the past three years, but the time has come for him to test himself on the AFL stage. He has been training more as a forward than a ruckman this pre-season. However, with the three-pronged forward line of Drew Petrie, Lachlan Hansen and Robbie Tarrant one of the success stories of North's 2012 season, Daw might have to wait patiently for his senior chance.

Port Adelaide
Cameron Hitchcock

The injury-prone small forward hasn't managed to replicate the form that saw him drafted by the Power at the end of the 2009 season, or that was seen in his impressive debut season of 2010. Hitchcock booted 80 goals for Glenelg's Under-18 and reserves sides before being drafted and then kicked 20 goals in 17 AFL games in 2010. He could manage just 13 games in 2011 and just two last season due to persistent injuries. Having missed a month of this pre-season after foot surgery, out of contract at the end of 2013 and the Power boosting its small forward stocks with the arrival of Jake Neade and Angus Monfries, Hitchcock needs to impress.

Tyrone Vickery

Vickery didn't play after round 11 last year because of a shoulder injury and needs to rediscover his form of 2011 to have the graph heading back in the right direction. With increased competition from forward Todd Elton, who showed promise against the Indigenous All Stars in Alice Springs with a handful of nice marks, plus the presence of rookie ruckman Orren Stephenson, Vickery will be determined to remind the football world why he was a top-10 draft selection in 2008. He is expected to play in the NAB Cup after a strong pre-season.

St Kilda
The up-and-comers

The Saints have been carried by a core of champions for several years, but now is the time for the next generation to step up. Jarryn Geary (age 24), David Armitage (24) and Jack Steven (22) finished in the top 10 of the club's best and fairest last season, and all look capable of going up another notch. If fellow highly-rated youngsters Jack Newnes, Ahmed Saad and Terry Milera can also make further strides, St Kilda looks a genuine top eight threat. If they don't, Scott Watters will struggle to keep his team in contention.

Sydney Swans
Kurt Tippett

It might seem unusual to single out a player that will miss the first half of the season as needing a big year. But there is no doubt Tippett has to fire when he returns to the fold in round 12. Armed with a huge contract and a sullied reputation over his orchestrated move to the premiers, Tippett will be under the brightest of spotlights leading up to his Swans debut. Firstly he will likely elbow out a player that has been in the side for the first half of the year. He also needs to prove he can slot into a team that has been well settled over the past 12 months and not rock its excellent chemistry. For a club chasing a second consecutive flag, adding a key forward who commands the football halfway through the season will be fascinating viewing.

West Coast
Murray Newman

The troubled young forward has significant ground to make up after a nightmare start to his second season. The talented 19-year-old is facing a grievous bodily harm charge over a nightclub fight last year, and he returned to pre-season training in November in such poor shape that he was thrashed by coach John Worsfold in a 2km time trial. In a positive development, Newman played for the Indigenous All Stars in their win over Richmond. In the meantime, his next step will be to build early-season form in the WAFL and make himself fit and available for West Coast.   

Western Bulldogs
Adam Cooney

He may be a Brownlow medalist and only 27 years of age but 2013 looms as a career-defining year for Adam Cooney. A degenerative knee problem has curtailed the explosive midfielder's output in recent seasons, even to the point where it may force him into an early retirement. In a bid to save his career, Cooney travelled to Germany in October for cutting-edge treatment and so far the club has been buoyed by the results. The term 'flying' gets bandied around a lot this time of year but Cooney is burning up the track in his first full pre-season in four years. Out of contract at season's end, it’s a timely return to full fitness for one of the Dogs' favourite sons.

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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs