TRAVIS Varcoe's blazing pre-season has not only caught the eye of Geelong's coaches, but AFL Fantasy coaches as well.
Varcoe battled a lingering stress fracture in his foot for much of 2012, managing just one game against the Western Bulldogs in round 22.
But the Cats speedster (FWD/MID, $234,400) has proven throughout the NAB Cup he's raring to go for season 2013, looming as a Fantasy certainty this year.
Other potential Fantasy options on the 'comeback trail' include Port Adelaide's Jasper Pittard (DEF, $132,600) – one of the Power's best in their recent hit-out against the Swans - and Greater Western Sydney's Setanta O'hAilpin (RUC/FWD, $157,700).
Forgotten Adelaide defender Richard Tambling (DEF, $208,100) is also certain to get his chance this year after Brenton Sanderson confirmed on Tuesday he had been flying though the pre-season, despite a back injury.
Tambling is in his last year of a contract and needs to perform to stay on the club's list.
Collingwood's deputy vice-captain Luke Ball is another sought after mid-priced midfield option (MID, $343,100). But Fantasy players need to tread carefully, as he is in strong doubt for round one with a hamstring/knee injury.
What the coaches says
Adelaide – Richard Tambling, DEF, $208,100
Tambling's 2012 season saw him only able to break into a settled Adelaide line-up once throughout the year. However, he showed consistent form at SANFL level (winning Sturt's best and fairest), and will be desperate to make the most of any opportunities that should present themselves at senior level throughout 2013. He's the sort of player worth keeping on the radar for the NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team competition.
Brisbane Lions – Brent Staker, FWD/DEF, $132,600
With his dual position status, the only question for NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team coaches is whether or not Staker's body will allow him to get on the field. If he can return to playing for the Lions, he looms as a great depth player who can cover two parts of the ground and potentially deliver rewards for coaches who have him in their squads.
Carlton – Marc Murphy, MID, $522,000
At one stage in 2012, Marc Murphy was arguably the most in-form player in the competition. An unfortunate injury curtailed his season, but with a solid pre-season under his belt he looms as a premium choice in the midfield, as he averaged 101 points per game in his 16 games last season, ranking him inside the top 20 players in the competition by average points per game.
Collingwood – Luke Ball, MID, $343,100
The Pies have a host of players expected to return to action in 2013, with Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer likely to be a vital part of coach Nathan Buckley's plans. But none loom larger than Luke Ball, whose 2012 season was ended following a serious knee injury. If he can have a comeback like that of the Saints' Lenny Hayes in 2012, expect Ball to be a favourite of NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team coaches looking for a mid-priced option who can push toward returning to premium status.
Essendon – Tom Bellchambers, RUC, $412,800
With coach James Hird indicating that Bellchambers will be the Bombers' starting ruckman for 2013, he is a solid choice for NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team coaches looking to take a risk in their ruck position so that they can invest elsewhere in their squad. In 16 games in 2012 he averaged 80 points, a more than respectable number.
Fremantle – Nathan Fyfe, MID, $458,500
If Nathan Fyfe can return to his best, that mid $400,000 price will look like an absolute bargain. Despite his injury-interrupted 2012, Fyfe averaged 89 points per game, which is a very impressive number for someone who had shoulder issues throughout the season. His 2011 year was outstanding, and if he can recapture that form he's destined to be a player worth selecting in the NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team competition.
Geelong – Travis Varcoe, FWD/MID, $234,400
His 2012 season ruined by injury, Varcoe only managed one game for the year. The 24-year-old has hardly missed a training session this pre-season, and has starred in the Cats' match practice drills, regularly breaking the lines with his speed and guile. Varcoe has also built a solid fitness base that should allow him to play in bursts through the midfield this season.
Gold Coast – David Swallow, MID, $380,400
His season blighted by injury, David Swallow will undoubtedly be one of the bargain buys for the 2013 NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team competition. He only managed 12 games last year to complement 21 on debut in 2011, but if he can get a full season under his belt in 2013, expect that price of $380,400 to rise quickly – he's a player who can win his own ball and also find it in space.
Greater Western Sydney – Setanta o'Hailpin, FWD/RUC, $157,700
The big Irishman had his first year on the Greater Western Sydney's list cut short with a serious knee injury, but if he can overcome that he looms as a solid buy for Fantasy coaches wanting a dual-position player. With his big body and experience, he would also be a chance to lead the way for his young teammates.
Hawthorn – Michael Osborne, FWD, $259,100
Osborne played the first seven games of the 2012 before a knee injury brought an end to his season. The Hawks veteran was cut by the club to free up a spot on the list for a delisted free agent, later confirmed as former Cat, Jonathan Simpkin, before being re-drafted by the Hawks with selection 70 in the NAB AFL Draft. A tough nut, he brings great defensive intensity to the Hawks' forward line and is a fan-favourite who is more than capable of returning to senior ranks in 2013.
Melbourne – Dan Nicholson, DEF, $367,200
After playing 11 games in 2012 thanks to a litany of injuries, Nicholson has been one of the stand-outs on the track for the Demons in the 2013 pre-season. With a spot open as a rebounding defender thanks to the retirement of Clint Bartram and the move of skipper Jack Grimes into the midfield, Nicholson looms as an astute choice for NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team coaches looking to pick a smokey selection in their backline.
North Melbourne – Jordan Gysberts, MID, $262,800
The lightly-framed Gysberts had a wretched time with the Melbourne Football Club, unable to string consecutive games of football together thanks to a variety of injuries. Traded to the Kangaroos, he's a player who can rack up big scores in the NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team competition, averaging over 70 points per game in his first two injury-interrupted years at the Demons. With a fresh lease of life at North Melbourne, he's one to keep an eye on in the NAB Cup.
Port Adelaide – Jasper Pittard, DEF, $132,600
The injury-plagued but ever-promising Jasper Pittard has excelled over the pre-season, adding bulk to his frame and getting some much-needed run into his legs. He was fantastic in the side's trial match against the Port Adelaide Magpies and is one to look out for during the NAB Cup. Expected to play the rebounding role, his price may rise dramatically early in the season.
Richmond – Tyrone Vickery, FWD, $244,400
Tyrone Vickery has impressed throughout the pre-season ahead of the 2013 NAB Cup with both his running and contested marking. Shoulder surgery ruined his 2012 season, limiting him to only 9 games. A cheap option as a forward, there's also the distinct possibility that he will be used by Tigers' coach Damien Hardwick as back up for ruckman Ivan Maric – that should certainly help propel his average points per game far beyond his average of 47 in 2012.
St Kilda – Tom Hickey, RUC, $272,000
The Saints put a lot of effort into ensuring that they snared Hickey from the Gold Coast in the Trade Period, and after ten games with the fledgling Queensland club he seems set to play a lot more football with the Saints in 2013, rotating between ruck and forward with Ben McEvoy. That's great news for NAB AFL Fantasy Dream Team coaches, who will no doubt watch his NAB Cup form with interest.
Sydney Swans – Kurt Tippett, FWD, $373,200
It may seem strange to label Tippett a 'comeback king' in the 2013 season, but following the completion of his suspension from competition, that's exactly what he'll be for the Swans. He is said to have been a standout with his fitness levels in the pre-season, and will undoubtedly be desperate to impress the reigning premier once he is available for selection in round 12 - he's one to think seriously about trading in when available.
West Coast – Andrew Embley, MID, $264,300
The young talent on West Coast's list has been motivating the club's senior players to reach new heights this pre-season, with Andrew Embley a standout among the veterans prior to being injured in the NAB Cup. The 2006 Norm Smith medallist ran a personal best 2km time trial on the eve of his 15th season and has been an energetic leader on the track. Embley played a career-low eight games last season because of a serious shoulder injury, but he is on track for round one and is clearly determined to remain an important part of the Eagles' running brigade in 2013.
Western Bulldogs – Shaun Higgins, FWD, $396,200
After struggling with injury and illness in past pre-seasons, Shaun Higgins has finally had a preparation that will give him the best chance of making the most of his considerable talent. He played mainly as a half-forward in 2012, but the 24-year-old is eager to spend more time in the midfield this year, where his clean ball use will complement Brendan McCartney's contested-style game-plan. Champion Data has rated the Dogs' midfield strength 15th for quality in 2013 but that ranking should improve with Higgins feeding off an imposing unit of inside midfielders led by skipper Matthew Boyd.