Nail down Nicks' gameplan

With new coach Matthew Nicks taking charge of his first pre-season, the Crows will be continuing to adapt to the game style that he wants to implement. There's been a major emphasis on playing a high-pressure game that will force turnovers from the opposition and locking the ball in the forward half of the ground. There will also be a few changes with their defensive schemes that will be more evident once the Crows are in action during the Marsh Community Series. Getting former captain Taylor Walker up on a wing will be a slightly lower priority. - Lee Gaskin

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Who's next in the midfield queue?

The Lions were so settled in 2019 they barely needed to think about who'd play in the engine room. Ruckman Stefan Martin, captain Dayne Zorko, All Australian Lachie Neale and ever-reliable Jarryd Lyons did not miss a single game between them, while wingmen Mitch Robinson and Hugh McCluggage (one each) and Jarrod Berry (four) were also rarely absent. However, following the off-season departures of solid citizens Nick Robertson, Tom Cutler, Ben Keays and Lewy Taylor, Brisbane has to identify who the next cab off the rank is should one of its starters lose form or sustain an injury. Bulldozing recruit Cam Ellis-Yolmen? Rhys Mathieson? Draftee Deven Robertson? Or untried duo Ely Smith or Corey Lyons? This question should be answered during match simulations in the next month. - Michael Whiting


Get the key forwards fit

The club didn't get to see much of its exciting three-pronged tall forward line last year, with Charlie Curnow battling a knee injury throughout the campaign and Mitch McGovern struggling after a hampered pre-season. Similar issues linger heading into 2020. Curnow is dealing with another knee setback that will rule him out of the first few matches of the season, while Harry McKay has been sidelined over the summer due to ongoing groin issues. The trio of potent young forwards will likely be a focal point of coach David Teague's attacking new game plan, though first they need to re-find match fitness and get back onto the park on a consistent basis if they are to fire for the Blues this season. - Riley Beveridge

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Find a winning formula for round one

Collingwood has gone deep into September the past two seasons, but hitting the ground running in March is proving problematic. Nathan Buckley's side hasn't won in the opening round of a season since 2015 and is without a positive winning record after three rounds since the same year. Fixing the slow starts is likely to be explored through minor tweaks to pre-season preparations or personnel, rather than any major overhauls for a team with strong premiership credentials. A tough early fixture against the Western Bulldogs, reigning premier Richmond, bogey side Hawthorn and last season's bolter Brisbane makes the right lead-up all the more important. - Paul Bastin

The Magpies will be desperate to avoid another loss in the opening round. Picture: AFL Photos

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Get some players on the park

As Essendon resumed training last week, it was hard not to focus on which players were off the field compared to who was on it. The Bombers have been hit by injuries over the pre-season, and their rehabilitation group has been stacked. Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis, Zach Merrett, James Stewart, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, Mason Redman, Jayden Laverde, Will Snelling, Noah Gown and Lachie Johnson were away from the main group, while key pillars Joe Daniher and Cale Hooker were unsighted on the track. Essendon's main focus is getting more players on the park as quickly as possible, following the likes of Orazio Fantasia and Dylan Shiel in rejoining the main group after injuries limited them pre-Christmas. - Callum Twomey

Dyson Heppell, before shaving his head to raise money for bushfire victims, leads his team in a handball drill. Picture: Getty Images


Skills, skills and more skills

Justin Longmuir had barely taken his seat at his debut press conference when he addressed the need to improve the Dockers' skill level. After threatening for the top eight in the middle of 2019, the Dockers fell away badly and ended the season with the worst kicking efficiency in the competition. And having ranked in the bottom three for scoring for four consecutive years, Longmuir will be hoping new skills training has clicked in order to feed the dangerous key tall trio of Jesse Hogan, Rory Lobb and Matt Taberner. - Mitch Cleary

Dockers coach Justin Longmuir has some work to do before the season kicks off. Picture: Getty Images


Getting enough work into the senior stars

Joel Selwood (hamstring), Mitch Duncan (hip/shoulder), Tom Stewart (groin). They're not the three names you want to see away from the main group in mid-January but there's time to increase the workloads. The senior trio will start to work back into the main group in coming weeks in the hope of playing some game time during the Marsh Community Series. Jake Kolodjashnij looks set to miss the Cats' season opener after being booked in for hip surgery, while Jordan Clark (elbow) will need to be managed closely. - Mitch Cleary

Mitch Duncan and Joel Selwood are working their way back from injury. Picture: AFL Photos

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Work out how young is too young

There's a lot of buzz around Suns HQ during this pre-season and it's hard not to get excited about the crop of young talent they have. But coach Stuart Dew's biggest dilemma might be figuring out how many players aged 20 and under will be in his round one team. There's 2019 regulars Charlie Ballard, Wil Powell, Ben King and Jack Lukosius before even considering the draft crop of Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Sam Flanders and Jeremy Sharp, who will all fancy playing straight up. And that's not to mention possibly the most gifted of them all, Izak Rankine, who was sidelined by injury for most of his debut season. Gold Coast wants to expose its youth, but like it did with King last year in making him wait until round nine to debut, it'd be best served in staggering its young guys to be surrounded by plenty of experience. - Michael Whiting


Adding the perfect amount of Sauce

He's settled into life in Sydney with ease, now ruckman Sam Jacobs (pictured below) needs to keep building a connection with his new batch of midfielders as quickly as possible. The off-season recruit has a host of stars at his feet but that won't necessarily translate into onball dominance for the Giants if the group isn't in sync. The beginning of the year is the perfect time for the experienced big man, who is expected to lead the GWS ruck ahead of veteran Shane Mumford, to start having an influence on the group. - Adam Curley


Find the best fits in midfield

The club has been steadily building a promising midfield group, though the players comprising that engine room have arrived in staggered intervals. Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara joined ahead of the 2017 season, though the latter spent much of that campaign injured. James Worpel arrived ahead of the 2018 season, though as a first-year player didn't see much footy. Tom Scully came before the 2019 season, though was unable to play with the reigning Brownlow Medal winner in Mitchell who was injured. Meanwhile, Finn Maginness enters the club as a highly rated father-son prospect before the 2020 campaign. Finding a way of incorporating those players alongside Isaac Smith, Dan Howe, Liam Shiels and Ricky Henderson will be the challenge and the focus this month for the Hawks. - Riley Beveridge

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Finding stability in the back six

The biggest focus for Melbourne will be stabilising the backline and building on-field chemistry with Jake Lever (pictured below) and Steven May. Both players managed just eight games in 2019, but they only took to the field at the same time on four occasions. May has suffered a minor setback after getting a cyst on his leg removed, while Lever has had a (touch wood) full pre-season so far. Melbourne's depth in the key defender posts has been weakened following Sam Frost's departure, so an injury to Lever or May would leave the Demons vulnerable. - Jourdan Canil


Bed down the Shaw plan

It is Rhyce Shaw's first summer in charge of the Roos, which will have given the now permanent North Melbourne coach time to settle and work out his plan to attack 2020. The Roos will already have a fair idea of what he wants, having played under Shaw since round 11 last year. But with a new-look coaching panel and off-field set up – which included Jade Rawlings, Jared Rivers, Leigh Adams and Heath Scotland joining the coaching panel. The Roos finished last season strongly with three wins from their final four games and will be looking for a return to the finals for the first time since 2016. - Callum Twomey


Getting the big guns right for Marsh Community Series

Making sure the Power's big guns get through the month unscathed and are ready to roll when the pre-season games roll around will be front of mind. Charlie Dixon (pictured below), Hamish Hartlett, Ollie Wines, Tom Rockliff and Brad Ebert were all hampered by injury at various stages last year. They're all integral parts of the Power's best 22. Jack Watts will continue to be eased back in his return from a badly broken leg. Dixon, especially, as the side's focal point in attack, is crucial to the Power's chances this year. - Lee Gaskin

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Working out a defensive 'Plan B'

Champion defender Alex Rance's shock retirement just before the Christmas break would have thrown Richmond's 2020 plans into chaos. The Tigers won the flag without the star defender for all of last season, but the brains trust at the club would have been planning for a fully fit Rance to lead this year. Dylan Grimes is well equipped to fill the role, but it's the "what happens next?" if injury occurs to either the All Australian or David Astbury that's a bit of a worry. Ryan Garthwaite (nine games) has stepped in on occasion while Ben Miller is yet to debut. Could Noah Balta be a long-term key back option? - Sarah Black

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Getting the Marshall-Ryder combo right

Rowan Marshall was a revelation for the Saints last year, but with Paddy Ryder arriving from Port Adelaide, St Kilda will be putting a lot of work into getting the ruck-forward minutes between that duo right. Ryder averaged just less than a goal per game for Port Adelaide in 2019, while Marshall managed eight goals from 20 games. With Josh Bruce now at the Bulldogs, goals from the resting ruckman is no longer a bonus, but an absolute must-have for St Kilda. - Jourdan Canil


Get Buddy fit

January was supposed to be the month that superstar forward Lance Franklin (pictured below) stepped into full training mode, but knee surgery has put those plans on hold. The Swans must use the next few weeks to rebuild the goalkicker's body again, with an eye on getting him fit and healthy to return in the first month of the season. If he misses a couple of games then so be it. Sydney can't afford another season of soft-tissue setbacks for its No.1 man. - Adam Curley

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Make a call on crafty forward

The Eagles will continue to cast an eye over former GWS and Carlton forward Jarrod Pickett as uncertainty remains over the availability of Willie Rioli, who is currently provisionally suspended by ASADA. Rioli has returned to training while he waits for the outcome from ASADA. Pickett has been training with the Eagles in the hope of securing an AFL lifeline. Isaya McKenzie, who hails from SANFL club Central Districts, has also been put through his paces in the hope of being picked up. - Lee Gaskin

Former Blue Jarrod Pickett is hoping for a lifeline at the Eagles. Picture: AFL Photos


Finding the right forward mix

The Dogs added some key pieces to their squad over summer and while he's not the biggest name on the list, Josh Bruce (pictured below) is one of the most important. The mobile forward, along with young star Aaron Naughton and Josh Schache, gives the Bulldogs a versatile and exciting trio of goalkickers. Forward synergy between the three lefties will make them not only dangerous as a group, but individually, and can make the Dogs a top four side. - Adam Curley