MELBOURNE recruit Jack Billings is poised to reignite his career in 2024 after making an impressive start to his first pre-season at the Demons, while Bayley Fritsch has returned to the main group after battling different foot issues across 2023.
Billings moved from St Kilda on deadline day in exchange for a future third-round pick, following a frustrating final two seasons at Moorabbin, where the Victorian managed only 11 AFL appearances due to back surgery, a fractured fibula, a broken thumb and soft tissue issues.
The 28-year-old struggled for opportunities in the second half of 2023, with Ross Lyon opting for other options on a wing or across half-forward despite strong form for Sandringham in the VFL.
But after seeking and securing a fresh start during October's trade period, Billings has made an eye-catching start since reporting back for pre-season on November 27 and could inject the Demons with the polish they badly lacked forward of centre in September.
Melbourne exited the finals in straight sets for the second straight year in 2023 after wasting opportunities in both finals. The Demons amassed 32 more inside 50s than Collingwood in the qualifying final – the highest differential in a losing final – before losing to Carlton by two points in the semi-final, despite having eight more scoring shots.
There is a confidence that the former pick No.3 can help improve Melbourne's attack with his precise kicking inside 50, which was a feature during Monday's two-and-a-half-hour training session at Casey Fields.
Fritsch has reintegrated back into the main group and should be back to full training by the end of the week ahead of Melbourne's pre-season camp, following a year hampered by three separate issues with the same foot.
The 27-year-old missed the second half of last pre-season but made it back in time to play in round two, then fractured his foot in the round 16 loss to Greater Western Sydney in Alice Springs, reinjured it again in his return game against Sydney in the final round but played out the finals series before a period of rest and rehabilitation across the off-season.
Clayton Oliver completed straight line running and light skills for more than 90 minutes, but the four-time best and fairest winner won't return to full training until after the Christmas break following arthroscopic knee surgery amid a tumultuous off-season.
Harrison Petty will also be limited to a modified training block to end 2023 after the key defender-turned-forward sustained a Lisfranc injury in August, ruling the South Australian out of a finals campaign where his absence proved costly.
Angus Brayshaw completed a testing running session alongside Alex Neal-Bullen in Cranbourne and is expected to resume contact training in January following another consultation, after his 2023 campaign was ended due to a sickening concussion against Collingwood in the qualifying final.
After playing five games this year – three as the sub – former first-round pick Bailey Laurie is laying the foundations early for a big spike in 2024, standing out on the track across the first few weeks of the pre-season with his clean ball use and improved fitness base.
The 2020 pick No.22 averaged 23.1 disposals across 15 VFL appearances in 2023 to finish fifth in Casey's best and fairest, before playing the final two games of the AFL home and away season and the first final against the Magpies.
Trent Rivers and Judd McVee have also returned in great conditions following comprehensive off-season training blocks.
Noah Yze, the son of former Demon and new Richmond senior coach Adem, has spent the past week training with Melbourne ahead of his final season of underage football with the Oakleigh Chargers.
The 17-year-old worked closely with draftees Caleb Windsor and Koltyn Tholstrup on Monday and will spend the rest of the week with the Demons after completing Year 11 commitments at Caulfield Grammar.
Tom McDonald has started the pre-season training in defence and could compete with Adam Tomlinson for a spot in Melbourne's backline next year, after being limited to just 17 games across the past two seasons due to injury.
Ben Brown has completed most of the program so far as the veteran key forward looks to re-establish himself at AFL level next year after back and knee injuries since the 2021 premiership win.
After moving to Melbourne after missing out on the Richmond coaching job, Andrew McQualter has made a seamless transition to the Demons and been heavily involved in the pre-season program across his first month at the club. The former Richmond caretaker coach was the only addition to the Demons' coaching panel in the off-season.