WHO IS a chance to play in week one of finals?
In this week's In the Mix, brought to you by the Toyota WorkHorse Range, we find the players who are giving their selectors plenty of food for thought.
Who's going out, who's sore, who is under the pump? Our reporters attempt to pick all the ins. Check it out.
Get them in: The NEAFL team had its feet up at the weekend with a bye for the first round of its finals. Ben Keays, Lewy Taylor and Ryan Bastinac were all terrific in the Lions' final-round win over Sydney the week before.
Under the pump: By virtue of the fact he was the last man in, gifted utility Cedric Cox will be the man under the most heat, despite showing glimpses of his talent against the Tigers in round 23.
Medical room: Small forward Allen Christensen has been declared fit by coach Chris Fagan after overcoming a hamstring injury that kept him out of the final round.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: No need for sweeping changes, but Christensen was an integral member of the nine-game winning streak before his setback and should return at the expense of the unlucky Cox. – Michael Whiting
Chris Fagan says Allen Christensen is right to go against Richmond on Saturday night. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: The Pies are set to regain brilliant trio Jordan De Goey, Steele Sidebottom and Jaidyn Stephenson, and could also bring back defender James Aish for the qualifying final against Geelong at the MCG on Friday night.
Under the pump: Backman Jack Madgen gives his all but it mightn't be enough on this occasion. Could keep his spot if Darcy Moore is ruled out.
Medical room: Moore (hamstring), De Goey (hamstring), Sidebottom (ruptured testicle), Matt Scharenberg (concussion) and Aish (shoulder) need to get through training to be passed fit.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: De Goey, Sidebottom and Stephenson appear certain inclusions, possibly at the expense of Madgen, veteran Travis Varcoe and unlucky hard nut Rupert Wills. Aish would probably be more likely to get the nod had there not already been others returning after lay-offs. - Ben Collins
Jaidyn Stephenson appears certain to return after his betting suspension. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: Cale Hooker, Orazio Fantasia, Dyson Heppell and Jake Stringer all sat out the Bombers' round 23 loss to Collingwood but trained on Monday and are set to face the Eagles on Thursday night despite recent injury niggles. Half-back Jordan Ridley could also come in for Martin Gleeson, who will miss with a calf injury.
Under the pump: It seems the most likely players to make way for the big-name inclusions are going to be Josh Begley, Brayden Ham, Tom Jok and Michael Hartley. If it goes that way, none will necessarily be out of the side based on their form but because the other senior options have to come back.
Medical room: Michael Hurley is the big watch here. He trained on Monday and tested out that shoulder injury, and the odds are on him playing, but playing sore. Martin Gleeson sat out training early in the week and watched from the sidelines.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: The four returnees come in for Begley, Ham, Jok and Hartley, while Ridley seems in a good position to get back in for Gleeson. Or, they throw Andrew McGrath into the backline and consider keeping Ham in the wing rotation. Five changes in total, with Hurley to play, but play sore. - Callum Twomey
Will the Bombers take the punt on Hurley? Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: Sam Menegola (27 disposals, nine tackles) and Charlie Constable (35 disposals) issued a timely reminder in the VFL – six days before Friday night's blockbuster. Round 23 emergencies James Parsons and Scott Selwood remain around the mark.
Under the pump: Key defender Lachie Henderson, who played VFL during the bye, is the most likely to fall out after Chris Scott suggested he couldn't play all his talls against the Pies' forward line. Zach Tuohy's experiment as a forward might be short-lived with Tom Atkins' return, leaving the Irishman's spot under question with berths in the back half hard to come by. If he squeezes into defence, Jed Bews or Jack Henry would come under fire. In attack, Gary Rohan (six disposals) was quiet in the final match but it's hard to see him being dropped, while Cam Guthrie would be the most vulnerable midfielder.
Medical room: Forward Atkins (hand) and mid-sized defender Jake Kolodjashnij (hip) both trained strongly on Tuesday after missing round 23 through injury.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: Kolodjashnij and Atkins for Henderson and Tuohy. – Mitch Cleary
Zach Tuohy's spot in the Cats line-up could be under threat. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: Gun defender Nick Haynes (larynx) should be ready to return against the Dogs, along with Toby Greene (calf) and Jacob Hopper (hamstring). All three are massive and automatic inclusions for the elimination final. Veteran Brett Deledio (calf) is an outside chance as well.
Under the pump: With at least three guns back, players like Lachie Keeffe, Bobby Hill and Isaac Cumming will be nervous ahead of team selection on Thursday.
Medical room: Stephen Coniglio (knee) did some straight-line running on Tuesday and could be on track for a return in the third week of the finals if his team can progress.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: Greene, Haynes and Hopper in for Keeffe, Hill and Cumming. – Adam Curley
Giants superstar Toby Greene would be a massive inclusion for the elimination final. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: Ruckman Toby Nankervis was the hero in the VFL, kicking the winning goal to go with 33 hitouts and 22 touches from around 70 per cent game time. Callum Coleman-Jones and Mabior Chol both performed well but inexperience could count against them. Marlion Pickett (22 disposals, two goals) was also named in the best.
Under the pump: Versatile utility Noah Balta didn't have much of an impact against the Lions in round 23, but was impacted by a cork. He's expected to be available for selection.
Medical room: Despite reports of Achilles soreness, Dion Prestia trained strongly in a light session on Monday. Sydney Stack has returned to running on the weight-bearing Alter G treadmill after ankle surgery, but as a first-year player will be treated with caution.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: Coach Damien Hardwick has said Nankervis just needs to get through training this week, with Balta the likely one to make way considering Ivan Soldo's strong form. Debuting in a final may be a bridge too far for Pickett. – Sarah Black
Toby Nankervis is all but certain to come in after his match-winning display in the VFL. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: Changes are afoot after the round 23 loss to Hawthorn, none bigger than Nic Naitanui's return from a two-month syndesmosis injury. Experienced backman Will Schofield, small forward Jarrod Cameron and versatile Brendon Ah Chee are also in the mix.
Under the pump: Naitanui's return will squeeze out a tall, most likely Jake Waterman or Oscar Allen, either of whom would be stiff to miss the Bombers clash. Jack Petruccelle and Liam Duggan are no certainties to hold their spots.
Medical room: Skipper Shannon Hurn looks 50-50 to take his spot after "hamstring awareness" restricted him against the Hawks. Appeared unconcerned completing warm-up at training on Monday night but it could be a gameday decision.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: Naitanui, Schofield and Cameron could come in for Waterman, Petruccelle and Duggan. – Travis King
All eyes will be on Nic Nat after his two-month lay-off. Picture: AFL Photos
Get them in: With a relatively thin injury list, there are plenty of Bulldogs putting their hand up for selection. Defender Lachie Young's excellent form continued in Footscray's 13-point loss to Williamstown, named his side's best for his 17 disposals, six marks and five tackles. Jackson Trengove did his chances of a recall no harm with 21 disposals and a goal, playing in defence and then pinch-hitting in the ruck. Backman Bailey Williams (23 disposals) and forgotten forward Billy Gowers (two goals) also had solid games.
Under the pump: Rhylee West looks the part at AFL level but he will be the first to make way if Tory Dickson is fit. Lewis Young hasn't done much wrong either but might lose his spot to Trengove depending on match-ups of the Giants' tall forwards.
Medical room: Dickson missed round 23 with a minor hamstring injury, but is expected to be right to return after a fortnight's rest. Tom Liberatore is progressing from his latest knee setback as expected, but might be running out of time.
Toyota WorkHorse Verdict: Dickson will come in for West if the experienced forward's hamstring is ready to go. Trengove is also a chance to return for Young if Luke Beveridge prefers a little extra experience and versatility. – Josh Schonafinger
Youngster Rhylee West could be the unlucky one to make way for the first final. Picture: AFL Photos