Marcus Bontempelli at Western Bulldogs training in May 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

TOP-10 pick Ryley Sanders is swiftly building an early case for a round one debut, but Western Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli is not expected to return to full training until after the Christmas break.

Bontempelli underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle at the start of November after scans revealed minor bone spurs, following a training camp in the US with teammates. 

The now five-time Sutton Medallist – only Scott West (seven) and Gary Dempsey (six) have won more best and fairest awards at the club – was one of only a few Western Bulldogs players to undergo off-season surgery, with midfielder Adam Treloar undergoing a minor ankle operation and small forward Arthur Jones having both shoulders reconstructed. 

Adam Treloar (centre) at Western Bulldogs training on November 27, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Bontempelli wasn't on the track at VU Whitten Oval for Wednesday's two-hour training session, but the 28-year-old has been completing conditioning sessions on the AlterG treadmill and bike inside the Western Bulldogs' brand new training base. 

The five-time All-Australian will reintegrate into drills next week and is on track to return to full training when Luke Beveridge's squad reports back for the first time in 2024.

Sanders has made a strong early impression across his first fortnight at the club since being selected at pick No.6 in the 2023 AFL Draft, after the Bulldogs moved up during the Trade Period to secure Gold Coast's first pick. 

The Tasmanian finished second behind Bailey Smith in the 2km time-trial on the first day of the pre-season for the main group and has made a seamless transition to training at the next level, drawing praise from the coaching staff and senior players for his professional approach and ball use on the track. 

With 102 days between now and the Bulldogs' season opener against Melbourne on March 17, there is a long way to go in terms of selection, but the Rising Star contender has ticked every box thus far.  

Ryley Sanders at Western Bulldogs training on November 27, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After being selected at pick No.15, father-son recruit Jordan Croft missed the start of the pre-season due to COVID-19, but the key forward has now banked some sessions and trained on Wednesday. 

West Australian wingman Aiden O'Driscoll is also training with the main group well ahead of schedule after the club initially feared he would miss a chunk of the pre-season due to stress fractures in his back. 

Sam Darcy remained in Australia during the off-season and spent plenty of the break training at the club, after enduring a frustrating first two seasons at the club and has made a strong start to his third pre-season.

The 2021 No.2 pick has played only seven AFL games due to a raft of injuries, including a stress fracture in his foot, a hole in his lung, a badly corked quad and a broken jaw.

Sam Darcy at Western Bulldogs training on November 27, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After being signed by the club on the opening day of the pre-season supplemental selection period on November 27, former Hawthorn half-back Lachie Bramble has transitioned into full training, joining recruits James Harmes and Nick Coffield, who moved to the club during the Trade Period. 

Veteran midfielder Tom Liberatore and All-Australian pair Tim English and Caleb Daniel all had lighter days to manage their workloads across the first block of the pre-season. 

The Western Bulldogs spent last pre-season training at Skinner Reserve in Braybrook and completing their weights and off-legs conditioning inside makeshift areas of VU Whitten Oval, but after more than 12 months of construction, the players now have the use of state-of-the-art facilities and a pristine playing surface.