WESTERN Bulldogs young gun Sam Darcy is laying the foundations across the summer to put a frustrating start to his AFL career behind him in 2024, but key defender Alex Keath is dealing with a knee injury that has stalled his fifth pre-season at the kennel.
While Ryley Sanders has made a seamless transition to life in the AFL since being selected with pick No.6 in November's AFL Draft, Darcy is the other recent top-10 pick who is mounting a case for a spot in Luke Beveridge's round one side after completing the full pre-season program to date following an injury-interrupted two years.
The 20-year-old versatile tall has managed only seven senior appearances due to a nightmare injury run that started with a stress fracture in his foot, and has since included a hole in his lung, a fractured jaw and a significant corked quad.
Darcy starred in attack during more than 60 minutes of match simulation at the Whitten Oval on Friday morning, registering half a dozen scoring shots and plucking a handful of marks inside 50, including a clever juggling grab on the lead.
Keath, who turns 32 on Saturday, didn't train on Friday and isn't expected to return to the main group until the Bulldogs return from a pre-season training camp in Mooloolaba early February, after reporting knee soreness earlier this month.
Tim English was the other notable absentee from the club's most comprehensive match simulation session of the pre-season so far, with the star ruckman completing a running session alongside Riley Garcia (shoulder) while he deals with a medical condition.
The 2023 All-Australian hasn't completed much contact training across the pre-season due to the illness but the club expects the West Australian to transition back into full training during the camp on the Sunshine Coast.
Rory Lobb has played predominantly in the ruck during English's absence, facing off against draftees Lachlan Smith and Jordan Croft on Friday, following the departure of Jordon Sweet to Port Adelaide during last October’s trade period.
Star key forward Aaron Naughton played in the midfield across the four quarter match simulation block, pushing forward after starting in the centre square.
The 24-year-old was drafted out of Peel Thunder as a key defender in 2017 but has made his name at the other end of the ground, signing an eight-year extension last October, showing his versatility again on Friday in a move to watch between now and round one.
Captain Marcus Bontempelli was used in attack after transitioning back into full training when the main group reported back for pre-season last week, following ankle surgery in November.
Rookie signing Lachlan Bramble is nearing a return to full fitness after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction during the off-season before being signed on the opening day of the pre-season supplemental selection period (SSP) at the end of November.
The Bulldogs can open up another spot on the rookie list between now and the SSP deadline on February 19 after Bailey Smith ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament before the Christmas break.
With a midfield spot open following that heartbreaking injury last month, off-season acquisition James Harmes has shown his value across December and January and made an impact during Friday's extensive match simulation block.
Sanders banked another eye-catching session to add to an impressive maiden pre-season in the AFL, with the Tasmanian looking on track to make his debut against Melbourne on the first Sunday of the season.
Adam Treloar didn't train due to illness but is expected to be back on the track next week.
The Dogs host Hawthorn in a scratch match at VU Whitten Oval on February 23 before facing Sam Mitchell's side at University of Tasmania Stadium eight days later on March 2.