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AFLW: Pick one reaches critical phase in ACL return

Isabel Huntington in action at Bulldogs training - AFLW,Isabel Huntington,Kara Donnellan,Emma Kearney
Isabel Huntington in action at Bulldogs training

A NO.1 pick on the comeback trail, some new leaders in the west and a fiery training session in Tasmania rounded out the third week of the AFL Women's pre-season.

Round one for Izzy?

Last year's first pick Isabel Huntington is entering "a vital period" in her recovery from a right knee reconstruction and is holding out hopes for a round-one return.

The Western Bulldogs forward ruptured her ACL in round two of the 2018 AFLW season in early February.

"My rehab's going really well so far. I'm nine or 10 months in and all on track for this stage," Huntington told westernbulldogs.com.au.

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"Hopefully I'll be right for round one if I tick the boxes with physios in the next couple of months.

"It's a pretty vital period we're going to go through, but at this stage it's feeling really good and I'm feeling comfortable … (and) excited to get back with the group."

Huntington has now progressed to contact work and tackling and is hoping to be back in full training after Christmas.

It isn't the first knee rehabilitation she has gone through, having ruptured the ACL in her left knee as a junior in September 2016.

"A lot of things are pretty similar in terms of the recoveries. The last rehab was a bit longer. I took 18 months to play footy again and had a bit more time up my sleeve. I could take things a little more slowly, which was good," she said.

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"In saying that, this time around I've got the experience of having done a knee before and going through the whole rehab process.

"Being at the club with access to the facilities and staff (is great). They know how to go through it and have been great support."

Donnellan's deputies

Kara Donnellan will captain Fremantle's AFLW side for a third season, but she will be working with a different leadership group than in seasons past.

Best and fairest winner Ebony Antonio, uncompromising defender Evie Gooch and forward/midfielder Gabby O'Sullivan are official leaders for the first time.

Marquee midfielder Kiara Bowers, who has yet to take to the field at AFLW level after battling knee injuries including a right knee reconstruction, retains her leadership position.

O'Sullivan's rise has been rapid over the past few years; having returned from a basketball scholarship for the College of Coastal Georgia in the United States, she played nine games for East Fremantle before signing as a rookie in 2017.

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It's a slightly expanded leadership group which will work with new coach Trent Cooper, with the 2018 iteration having just three members: Donnellan, Bowers and the now-retired forward Amy Lavell, who is an assistant coach in 2019.

A captain's knock

North Melbourne's Melbourne-based contingent travelled to Hobart to train alongside their Tasmanian teammates in a pre-season camp over the weekend.

The Kangaroos have seven players and assistant coach Trent Bartlett in the Apple Isle and will play two games in the state in 2019.

The team took part in a bruising match simulation for the first time as an entire squad on Sunday, with captain Emma Kearney requiring stitches for a nasty cut above her eyebrow after a tackle gone wrong.

She was cleared of concussion and flew home with the rest of the squad on Sunday night.

North Melbourne also announced two new sponsors over the weekend, the Spirit of Tasmania and the University of Tasmania.