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NAB Challenge preview: What will your team produce?

Staff writers  February 17, 2016 11:51 AM

• Pick your pre-season stand-outs in AFL Fantasy now
• The medical room: Who's under a cloud at your club
• Your club's over-30s assessed

Adelaide

What’s new: The foundation of the Crows' game-plan has already been set – Phil Walsh put it into place with great effect last year. Don Pyke will add his touch, but for he most part the pre-season has been about players getting used to the new coach's approach.

Bolters: Wayne Milera has impressed with his skills and intensity at training over the summer and, if the Crows decide to field a young side against West Coast on Sunday, he'd be a lock for selection as a forward/midfielder. Mature recruit Jono Beech's SANFL experience has allowed him to slot in well and he is also tipped to play in the NAB Challenge.

Who’s back: Brad Crouch has been one of the most talked-about players in Adelaide this summer but after pulling up sore from the club's internal trial last Friday, don't count on him playing this weekend. He might, but the Crows' second pre-season contest looks the more likely option.

Wildcard: Tom Lynch believes he might push up onto a wing at some stage this season, so expect to see him trialled there during the NAB Challenge.

Missing: Matthew Jaensch (knee), Andy Otten (knee) and Charlie Cameron (knee) won't play in the NAB Challenge but are all likely to return to the selection mix if not by round one then early in the season.

Fantasy watch: Paul Seedsman (DEF/MID, $353,000) will be worth tracking, particularly as he hasn't played a pre-season game for three years. The 2015 Anzac Day medallist is fit and his 148-point breakout against Port a couple of years back isn't easily forgotten. - Harry Thring

Brisbane

What's new: After going undefeated in last year's NAB Challenge and then flopping in the premiership matches, the Lions will take a more conservative approach this time around. It'll be largely a young team in NAB 1 on Sunday and then closer to full-strength outfits for the final two matches. Watch for quicker ball movement – something the club has worked hard on during the pre-season.

Bolters: With the older players getting a rest first-up, a number of draftees are in line to play the Suns. No.2 draft pick Josh Schache has turned heads with his high work rate and superb goalkicking, while Eric Hipwood, Ben Keays and Rhys Mathieson have also done enough to earn games.

Who's back: Second-year player Jaden McGrath suffered the dreaded navicular bone injury in his debut season but has recovered strongly. The 19-year-old has trained in the backline all pre-season and is in line for a run in the NAB Challenge.

Wildcard: There won't be many surprises for the Lions, but after two seasons of being shuffled all over the ground, Sam Mayes will settle at half-back with the hope of using his astute kicking and decision-making as a springboard for the Lions' attack.

Missing: Dayne Beams (shoulder) has taken a conservative approach to rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and is likely to time his run for round one. Josh Green (foot) and Darcy Gardiner (shoulder and ankle) are outside chances to play during the pre-season, while Justin Clarke (concussion) has been ruled out indefinitely

Fantasy watch: Ex-Geelong Falcon Rhys Mathieson (MID, $158,000) notched impressive Fantasy numbers in the TAC Cup and can expect to press his case for a round one birth with plenty of pre-season minutes. - Michael Whiting

Carlton

What’s new: Brendon Bolton has brought a fresh outlook, preaching a unified approach. The Blues are much fitter than they were at this stage last season. There are 15 new players on the list and the coach says the NAB Challenge is an ideal opportunity to build chemistry and work on the game-plan. 

Bolters: Bolton has been particularly impressed with Jacob Weitering and Charlie Curnow and they are likely to play first-up. Weitering has slotted in well and will fill a role in defence and Curnow can play in the midfield or up forward. Ruckmen Andrew Phillips and Daniel Gorringe may be given game time. 

Who’s back: Dale Thomas, whose 2015 season was ruined by a shoulder injury, has enjoyed a solid pre-season. Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Walker, who were also curtailed by injury, are moving well on the track and ready to atone for last year. 

Wildcard: Back in the leadership group, swingman Walker is likely to return to attack, where he led the goalkicking in 2011.

Missing: Skipper Marc Murphy is on track for the premiership season opener against Richmond after follow-up surgery to repair his left shoulder. He has been named in the squad to meet Hawthorn but is unlikely to play. Lachie Plowman (hip) and Dennis Armfield (arm) are also missing.

Fantasy watch: Former Crow Matthew Wright (FWD/MID, $309.000) averaged a solid 80.3 in Fantasy in 2014 and is likely to play plenty of midfield minutes as the Blues add backbone to their young list. - Howard Kotton

Collingwood

What’s new: The recruitment of Adam Treloar and James Aish has injected more class, speed and depth into an already promising midfield, so expect the Pies to rotate a dozen or so runners during each NAB Challenge fixture. The Pies hope this greater spread of talent will contribute to slicker, though more calculated, ball use based on better decision-making by both the kicker and receiver.

Bolters: Tom Phillips dethroned Steele Sidebottom in a 2km time trial in November and could play a flank/wing role in the NAB Challenge. Mature-aged rookie Josh Smith has also impressed with his training intensity and it wouldn't surprise if he was in the midfield mix, along with Rupert Wills, whose stoppage work has been well noted.

Who’s back: Brent Macaffer missed most of last season after a second knee reconstruction but hasn't missed a beat this pre-season and has been touted to return to a defensive forward/tagging role. Talented midfielder-forward Tim Broomhead was sidelined for the latter part of 2015 with a fractured shoulder but appears primed to become a regular. Backman Jackson Ramsay has overcome a long-term shin injury, while ex-Lion Aish is also in good shape after missing the final six rounds last season with a finger injury.

Wildcard: Veteran Dane Swan will spend more time forward, where he will be a frightening prospect for many defenders, while Ben Reid will play a more permanent role in defence, rather than swinging forward and back. Reid looms as one of the keys to the Pies' season.

Missing: Treloar (groin) and Jamie Elliott (back soreness) could be available for the Pies' second NAB Challenge game, against North Melbourne on March 5. Versatile Tyson Goldsack continues to battle the knee tendinitis that prematurely ended his 2015 season but remains a chance to play in round one. Former Demon Jeremy Howe is recovering from foot soreness and a broken finger but is unlikely to be ready for the season-opener. Youngster Matt Scharenberg will miss at least the bulk of the season as he overcomes a second knee reconstruction.

Fantasy watch: Darcy Moore ($259,000) showed plenty in his debut season and there is certainly space for him in Collingwood's forward line along with some back-up ruck time to rake in the Fantasy points. - Ben Collins

Essendon

What's new: Where do we start? New coach John Worsfold has the unenviable task of moulding his young group and eight top-up players into a competitive unit. The Dons were honing a more attacking gamestyle before 12 of their best players were banned, but since then tactical talk has been stripped back to a simpler focus of gelling as a team.

Bolters: Darcy Parish is a beacon amid the gloom for fans and the No.5 draft pick has shown his class around the packs at training. Expect the midfielder to feature prominently in the NAB Challenge, while others like defender Aaron Francis – who was managed and didn't play last week's intraclub - are likely to get their shots at some point given the state of the list.

Who's back: Nick Kommer hopes his horror run with injury is finally behind him, with the small forward progressing from knee and thigh issues that derailed his 2015 to play a heartening cameo in an intraclub last week. Adam Cooney looked trim in the practice match after hamstring and foot battles hampered his first season at Tullamarine.

Wildcard: Renowned tagger Ryan Crowley impressed as a leading and strong-marking forward in the intraclub and looks set to take on a more attacking role.

Missing: There's a dozen handy players sitting on the sidelines until November serving doping bans, while former Brisbane Lions ruckman Matthew Leuenberger is managing an Achilles issue.

Fantasy watch:  – With Essendon in dire need of some strong bodies, Mitch Brown (FWD/DEF, $194,000) is likely spend time on the ball and also help with defensive duties. His low price and dual-position status make him a Fantasy must-have. - Travis King 

Fremantle

What's new: Kicking and ball movement have been the major focus areas for the Dockers this pre-season. They were 14th in the competition last season for converting rebound 50s into inside 50s. They have worked very hard on their kicking skills and will look for bolder, sharper ball movement in the pre-season. 

Bolters: Mature-age key defender Sam Collins is almost a lock to play in the NAB Challenge, particularly with the injury concerns for young key defender Alex Pearce. Collins has been very impressive in the pre-season. Darcy Tucker may also bob up and play in the NAB Challenge series, having hardly missed a session. 

Who's back: Zac Dawson played in the finals last year but missed a lot of football during the season due to groin issues, a thumb injury and suspension. He is fully fit and raring to go. Alex Silvagni is also fit after playing just two games last year.  

Wildcard: Michael Walters and Hayden Ballantyne are likely to spend more time in the midfield than they have in the past, due to the new interchange cap.

Missing: Harley Bennell has been carefully managed during the summer due to a calf issue and his availability for the NAB Challenge is still unknown. Alex Pearce is still in rehab, having battled shin and groin soreness through the summer. He appears likely to miss the start of the season. Anthony Morabito has been sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Fantasy watch: After collecting impressive numbers in the WAFL, Ed Langdon (FWD/MID, $260,000), grabbed a late-season debut for the Dockers in 2015 and showed a similar eye for Fantasy points to younger brother Tom. – Alex Malcolm 

Geelong

What’s new: Patrick Dangerfield is the big-ticket item in what is effectively a new Geelong. The midfielder's recruitment is expected to give the Cats an immediate bounce but don't underestimate the importance of Lachie Henderson in defence. Zac Smith should play early as he tries to hold down the ruck but Scott Selwood is still recovering from an ankle injury.

Bolters: The Cats don't have many recruits ready to step in, although Sam Menegola could bear some of the load during the NAB Challenge. He has the experience and running power to handle the pre-season. Jock Cornell has performed well in pre-season and might be given a taste while VFL player Tom Ruggles could be exposed to senior games in the pre-season.

Who’s back: Daniel Menzel, Josh Cowan, Nathan Vardy, Lincoln McCarthy, Mitch Clark and Rhys Stanley all head into 2016 with question marks over their resilience. Expect Clark to be held back but Menzel is ready for a first-up run. Stanley wants to play at least one NAB Challenge game as he returns from a foot injury and McCarthy has surprised many with a strong pre-season.  Cowan and Vardy are on track. 

Wildcard: Mark Blicavs won a best and fairest playing a fair amount of time in the ruck but the Cats hope he can play a different role in 2016 to maximise his running power and ability around the ball. He will be a midfielder/wingman with the capacity to fill in down back, although he is much better around the ball.

Missing: Cameron Delaney has been struggling through rehab while Billie Smedts, after a shoulder operation, and Scott Selwood, after ankle surgery, will miss. Smedts' recovery is progressing very well however. Skipper Joel Selwood also remains touch and go for round one, so is unlikely to be seen in action before Easter Monday.

Fantasy watch: At his third AFL club, Sam Menegola (MID, $127,000) is too cheap to ignore, given he averaged 27 possessions a game in the WAFL in 2015. He's ready, at 23, to slot straight into this Geelong side. – Peter Ryan 

Gold Coast

What's new: After a disastrous run with injuries in 2015, the Suns enlisted a new fitness department during the off-season. The focus has squarely been on getting players available for round one, which will involve resting a stack of top-end personnel in the first two pre-season matches. Coach Rodney Eade's gameplan has now had another 12 months to be ingrained.

Bolters: Top-10 draft pick Callum Ah Chee has excelled in his first few months at Metricon Stadium and will play in NAB 1 on Sunday. The West Australian shone early in the Suns' intra-club and has ticked every box to date. Darcy Macpherson could be another bolter after an excellent pre-season.

Who's back: They won't play first-up, but skipper Gary Ablett (knee and foot) and workaholic midfielder Dion Prestia (knee) will play during the pre-season competition after missing huge chunks of last year. Both have had almost full pre-seasons and will hit the ground running.

Wildcard: He excelled as a pressuring half-forward in his debut season, but watch for Touk Miller to play almost as a permanent midfielder during the pre-season.

Missing: The midfield will be thin, with Ablett (foot) to miss the first match, and David Swallow (knee) and Jaeger O'Meara (knee) likely to miss all three. Adam Saad (ankle), Jarrad Grant (wrist) and Tom Lynch (rest) will also miss against the Brisbane Lions, but return later in the pre-season.

Fantasy watch: The Suns tracked Brayden Fiorini (MID, $166,000) closely before drafting him and his strong under-age Fantasy numbers mean he has been priced slightly higher than most first-year players. One to watch closely in the NAB Challenge. - Michael Whiting

GWS

What's new: Three-time premiership Cat Steve Johnson adds some star quality to the Giants forward line, while Adam Tomlinson will likely be the lead-up target with Cam McCarthy on personal leave. That will leave star goalkicker Jeremy Cameron free to roam the forward 50 with big Jon Patton the power-marking target deep.

Bolters:
Jacob Hopper looms as the best chance to make his debut in GWS colours, with the 19-year-old extremely impressive since arriving at the club. The powerfully built academy product could fit straight into the midfield set-up.

Who's back:
Shane Mumford (ankle), Dylan Shiel (knee) and Tom Scully (knee) missed large chunks of footy in the second half of 2015 but all three stars are in great shape ahead of the NAB Challenge. The trio is vital to the Giants' fast-paced game style and extremely important members of the midfield.

Wildcard:
Promising key forward Harry Himmelberg has been training with the defensive group and could be a surprise packet down back with Nick Haynes injured.

Missing:
A groin operation in December means the promising Haynes probably won't see any game time until the regular season at best, while key defender Tim Mohr is working his way back from a second knee reconstruction.

Fantasy watch: Jack Steele (FWD/MID, $324,000) showed the kind of crazed attack on the ball Fantasy coaches love to see and notched over 80 points in three of his last four games in 2015. Could be considered for the final spot in your forward line if he plays a solid NAB Challenge. – Adam Curley

Hawthorn

What’s new: Not much will change for the premiers in 2016. There is a vacancy in defense with the retirement of Brian Lake at the end of last year, while the injury to Jarryd Roughead also provides an opportunity for a young Hawk to step up. Expect names like James Sicily, Daniel Howe, Angus Litherland and Jonathan O'Rourke to feature more regularly this year.

Bolters: Stocky midfielder Kieran Lovell is the most likely of the draftees to make a NAB Challenge appearance. Despite standing at just 173cm, the Tasmanian hasn't looked out of place in his first AFL pre-season. Lovell was a ball magnet in the TAC Cup and NAB AFL Under-18 Championships last year, but can also play as a defensive forward.

Who’s back: After a solid year in 2014, young defender Kaiden Brand injured his shoulder in the opening NAB Challenge game last year. The 21-year-old required a shoulder reconstruction that kept him out of action for the entire season. Brand hasn’t missed a beat this pre-season and will be hoping to make his AFL debut in 2016.

Wildcard: Coach Alastair Clarkson likes to experiment and keep his players on their toes with positional changes. Premiership defender Grant Birchall has been spotted training with the midfield group at times this summer and is set to spend some time in the Hawks' engine room.

Missing: Roughead won't be seen until the second half of the season after undergoing a PCL reconstruction. Swingman Matt Spangher has been on a restricted program after straining his calf and is unlikely to take part in the NAB Challenge.

Fantasy watch: Kurt Heatherley (DEF, $125,000) has shone on the track for the Hawks in this pre-season and is at a bargain-basement price in Fantasy. If he plays all three NAB Challenge games, he'll be a lock down back for many squads. – Nat Edwards

Melbourne

What’s new: Melbourne has spent much of this summer adding improved creativity and efficiency in the way it moves the ball, led by senior assistant Simon Goodwin and game analyst and education co-ordinator Craig Jennings. Goodwin, who will take over the senior coaching role from Paul Roos in 2017, will have the chance to lead the team through the NAB Challenge as part of the handover process. The Demons will also use the pre-season competition to determine their leadership group, which will again be skippered by Nathan Jones.

Bolters: Clayton Oliver, a big-bodied midfielder, will press his claim to play in the NAB Challenge, while Sam Weideman, despite a carefully managed pre-season, may feature alongside Jesse Hogan. Liam Hulett, a powerfully built young forward, is also likely to see game time. Of those yet to play games for the Demons, injury-riddled youngster Jayden Hunt has impressed on the track and will be in line for early games.

Who's back: Christian Petracca is likely to feature in NAB Challenge action following a year wiped away by a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The 20-year-old is still not yet back to full training after breaking his toe while playing basketball in the off-season. Jack Trengove's comeback continues to gather steam and he is a chance to play some pre-season football. However, the Demons have not yet put a timeline on his return to the field.

Wildcard: The Demons have flagged that Jack Watts is likely to return to the third tall forward role as they search for goalscoring options to complement Jesse Hogan and Jeff Garlett.

Missing: Chris Dawes (calf) and Ben Newton (ankle surgery) are the two players who have been ruled out of any NAB Challenge action. Dawes will miss a month with his injury while Newton has just begun running and looks unlikely to be fit for the start of the season. Heritier Lumumba (ankles) is still in rehab and will be slowly integrated into full training.

Fantasy watch: On the comeback trail after a serious hamstring injury, Dean Kent (FWD, $171,000) will be one to watch in the pre-season competition as the Demons need his pace and strength on the ball. – Ben Guthrie 

North Melbourne

What’s new: Look for the Roos to be fairly sharp in this year's NAB Challenge as they seek to avoid another slow start to the home and away season. North has had a heavier focus on match simulation this pre-season as it targets its first round one win since 2009. The Roos will also enter Saturday's clash with St Kilda on the back of two practice matches, having played none before the past two pre-season competitions. North supporters should also see former Hawks speedster Jed Anderson in the royal blue and white for the first time.

Bolters: Ryan Clarke's first pre-season has been so impressive North extended his contract by another season this week. The hard-running midfielder performed well in the Roos' intra-club game last Friday and is a strong chance to play against the Saints. So, too, is forward Corey Wagner who has impressed this summer with his ball-winning, breakaway speed and endurance.

Who's back
: Daniel Wells kicked four first-half goals in an impressive return to fitness and form last Friday. The two-time best and fairest winner did not play after round two last season because of Achilles tendinitis but a carefully modified pre-season program looks to have him on track for a solid NAB Challenge campaign.

Wildcard
: Wells is likely to spend more time forward of the ball this season, with North keen to take advantage of the veteran midfielder's ability to hit the scoreboard and set teammates up with his elite foot skills.

Missing
: Robbie Tarrant (back soreness) won't play against the Saints but is hoping to return later in the NAB Challenge, as is second-year tall Sam Durdin (shoulder) who has recently resumed contact training. Ed Vickers-Willis (shoulder) remains on track to play in round one of the VFL season, while Daniel Nielson (knee) should return for North's affiliate Werribee shortly after.

Fantasy watch: While spots aren't easy to come by at North, Trent Dumont (MID, $237,000) is next in line and set to build on the seven games he played in 2015. His strong VFL numbers put him firmly in the frame for Fantasy selection. - Nick Bowen

Port Adelaide

What’s new: After last year's fall from grace, the club was public in stating its ambition to simplify its instruction to the playing group for 2016. Talk of returning to "Port Adelaide football" has been constant this summer, so expect a refreshed emphasis on hard physicality and defensive intensity.

Bolters: Dougal Howard was mighty impressive in last Friday night's internal trial and he'll play in Port's first NAB Challenge game, both as a forward but also through the ruck. Aidyn Johnson's speed and courage will also likely see him offered a chance to show what he can do. Both have been training well for some time and have earned their opportunities.

Who’s back: Jared Polec has returned after missing all but five games last year with a broken navicular bone in his foot, while Ollie Wines is also fit after an interrupted 2015. 

Wildcard: Jack Hombsch spent a bit of time forward last Friday night and Jackson Trengove has played as a second ruckman – but with the Power hoping to push for a flag in 2016, the players' roles are pretty well established.

Missing: Jay Schulz (ankle) will likely return for Port's second NAB Challenge game against Melbourne, Logan Austin (shoulder) will also hope for selection against the Demons, while Charlie Dixon (knee) and Billy Frampton (foot) should be fit just prior to round one. Rookie Dan Houston will miss the first few rounds of the year with a hip/groin injury

Fantasy watch: Sam Colquhoun (MID, $313,000) was a ball-magnet at under-18 level but injury has slowed his AFL career. He was in and out of Port's side last year but delivered three scores over 80 in six games. - Harry Thring

Richmond

What’s new: A deeper, harder midfield that will feature recruits Jacob Townsend and Andrew Moore, as well as second-year onballer Corey Ellis. Contested ball is a religion at Punt Road Oval after last year's final defeat, so expect to see plenty of Tigers putting their bodies on the line.

Bolters: Mature-age recruit Nathan Broad appears certain to play in the opening NAB Challenge match, and from there could make a push for round one selection. He has impressed the Tigers all summer and could earn a spot as a tall defender or rebounder such is his versatility. Expect Daniel Rioli and Oleg Markov to feature early on.  

Who’s back: David Astbury is a virtual recruit for the Tigers after just four games in 2015. After a string of injuries, his absence last year was largely due to form but he has been among the standouts this pre-season. Nathan Drummond is still recovering from a knee reconstruction and won't feature in the NAB Challenge.

Wildcard: After spending time in the forward line this pre-season, key defender Troy Chaplin could be planted in attack through the NAB Challenge while Astbury and Alex Rance man the key defensive posts.

Missing: High profile recruit Chris Yarran (calf) appears at best a chance of playing in the final NAB Challenge match. Ruckman Shaun Hampson is also unlikely to feature early after shoulder surgery in the off-season. The majority of Richmond's A-graders will be unveiled in the second and third rounds

Fantasy watch: Nathan Broad (DEF, $125,000) has four years of WAFL football behind him, and as an outside, running defender, there are few cheaper going. – Nathan Schmook 

St Kilda

What’s new: A big focus at St Kilda this summer has been on developing more depth through the midfield. David Armitage and Jack Steven have done much of the heavy lifting through there, but the Saints are hoping Seb Ross, Luke Dunstan, Jack Billings, Blake Acres and eventually Nathan Freeman can step up to become elite midfielders. Another area of focus this summer has been kicking skills.

Bolters: First round draft selection Jade Gresham looked good in the intraclub affair last Friday with his work both at the stoppages and further up the ground and is likely to get a run in the NAB Challenge at some stage. 

Who’s back: St Kilda will be delighted to have Jack Billings back in the side this year. He sparked the miraculous comeback win over the Western Bulldogs last year with three last-quarter goals but didn't play the second half of the season because of a shin injury. He moved well in the intra-club affair.

Wildcard: If Paddy McCartin and Josh Bruce can hold down the two main key position roles, with the Jacks – Billings, Lonie and Sinclair – playing at their feet, the Saints will boast a forward set up with excitement and promise. Where does that leave skipper Nick Riewoldt? How about as an outside midfielder? He has the pace, endurance, athleticism and marking power to perform this role with distinction, even in the final year or so of his brilliant career. St Kilda has also been trialing erstwhile defender Sam Gilbert as a tall midfielder. 

Missing: The Saints have a healthy list, although defender Dylan Roberton is unlikely to play in the NAB Challenge opener against North Melbourne on Saturday after rolling an ankle in the intra-club match. Jake Carlisle is serving a season-long ban.

Fantasy watch: While the Saints aren’t badly served in terms of midfield depth, Luke Dunstan (MID, $389,000) is primed to lead the next generation at the club. He had three scores over 90 in his final five games last year and the graph is pointing heavily towards 'breakout'. - Ashley Browne

Sydney Swans

What's new: With Adam Goodes, Rhyce Shaw, Mike Pyke, Lewis Jetta and Craig Bird all gone, there's plenty of spots up for grabs, and the Swans are likely to give opportunities to Dean Towers, Brandon Jack, James Rose and Dan Robinson during the pre-season matches.

Bolters: There's a reason the Swans matched Melbourne's bid for academy product Callum Mills at pick No.3 in the NAB AFL Draft – the kid is a jet. Mills is likely to slot in at half-back where his class and foot skills can help turn defence into attack for the side.

Who's back: Buddy. His coach and his teammates say they've never seen him fitter during the pre-season and Lance Franklin looks happy and healthy, having done everything required of him over summer. It's a great boost for the Swans; not so much for their opposition.

Wildcard: Mills and fellow 2015 draftee Tyrone Leonardis will inject some youth into the Swans' defence, with both already showing a willingness to run and carry the footy and take the game on.

Missing: Co-captain Jarrad McVeigh (knee) will be directing his players from the coaches box this week and isn't likely to feature in the NAB Challenge, while Ben McGlynn (hamstring) and Sam Reid (hamstring) will also be out of action.

Fantasy watch: He's been a lock-down defender at the Swans, but Jeremy Laidler (DEF, $305,000) has talked of nabbing the more attacking role left vacant by Rhyce Shaw. Track his NAB Challenge numbers to see if this comes to fruition. – Adam Curley

West Coast

What's new: Not much will change for the Eagles. They continued to refine their ball movement through the summer. They may defend slightly differently with the return of Eric Mackenzie but the fundamentals of their 'web' defence will still remain.

Bolters: Luke Partington, Tom Cole and Matthew Allen are all a chance to play in the NAB Challenge. All three have trained impressively through the summer. Partington and Cole are highly skilled midfielders, but Cole can also play at half-back. Allen is a developing key forward.   

Who's back: Eric Mackenzie and Mitch Brown are itching to return after missing all of last season following knee reconstructions. Both look in exceptional shape, having completed all of the pre-season without a hiccup.

Wildcard: Jeremy McGovern could play anywhere but he will be trialled in the ruck at some stage in the NAB Challenge. Also look for Jack Darling to roll through the midfield at some stage to utilise his size, speed and running power. 

Missing: Jack Redden (adductor) and Dom Sheed (knee) are set to miss the first two NAB Challenge matches but are striving to be available for the third. Simon Tunbridge has been ruled out of the NAB Challenge with a back issue. Draftee Kurt Mutimer is unavailable for the NAB Challenge and the first month of the home and away season following hamstring surgery. Alec Waterman is unavailable indefinitely as he continues to battle glandular fever. Chris Masten (ankle) is also a serious loss for the next two months.

Fantasy watch: The Eagles gave Liam Duggan (MID/FWD, $250,000) a solid taste of senior footy last year and he showed all the right signs before a serious knee injury ended his season. Dual-position status makes his pre-season campaign well worth watching. Alex Malcolm 

Western Bulldogs

What’s new: Don'texpect too much to change from last year as the Dogsgathered great momentum out of the NAB Challenge into the season proper in 2015, so you can assume they'll field strong sides. Competition for spots looms as a factor, so the players will be out to prove they belong in the round one side to face Fremantle. 

Bolters: Draftees Josh Dunkley, Marcus Adams and Bailey Williams all impressed in the club's intra-club game last week and should play. Dunkley and Williams impressed through the midfield and up forward, while 23-year-old Adams took several contested marks playing as a key defender.

Who’s back: Tom Liberatore was back to his brilliant best in the club's intraclub after missing last year with an ACL tear. Despite the midfield gun gathering plenty of the ball and showing no effects of the injury, assistant coach Rohan Smith was hesitant to say how big a part the 23-year-old would play in the NAB Challenge.

Wildcard: Over the past few pre-seasons there have been calls for dynamic forward Jake Stringer to spend more time in the midfield. 2016 could be the year it happens, with the 21-year-old possessing speed, strength, agility and now a vastly improved tank.

Missing: The Dogs have only two players in the rehab group with ACL victims Clay Smith and Rourke Smith unlikely to be sighted until the second half of the season.

Fantasy watch: As the Bulldogs weigh up their ruck stocks, the No.1 spot appears to be there for Tom Campbell (FWD/RUC, $301,000) to take. Watch to see if he or Will Minson is favoured more strongly in the NAB Challenge. – Ryan Davidson