ADELAIDE defender Daniel Talia faces an uphill battle to be ready for round one, still sidelined from post-season knee surgery last year.
The veteran underwent arthroscopic surgery – the fourth operation on his left knee for his career – in September and is still yet to run four months later.
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While the Crows initially predicted Talia to be ready for pre-season duties, the 29-year-old admits it's been a challenging start to his 12th summer at West Lakes.
"I haven't run since the last round so it's been very frustrating, and it was a bit worse than we thought at the end of last year," Talia told AFL.com.au.
"I'd actually been playing with a torn meniscus so I knew something wasn't right because I couldn't bend the leg and couldn't really move for the last 10 weeks.
"I'm starting to get there ... I'm starting to build-up my weights and running on the AlterG treadmill which takes body weight off when you run.
"The aim is to be out on deck jogging in the next few weeks."
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After nursing the injury through the second half of the season, Talia battled through swelling to play his 200th in the final match – something he admits may not have happened in previous years.
"I couldn't really train, I couldn't bend it or change direction … I'd have one run and my knee would blow up," he said.
"It was really about managing it and we're a pretty young group and in normal circumstances in a team that's top-four you probably just wouldn't play.
"But I think in the position we're in it's really important to be out there and teaching the young guys and developing them."
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Watching from the sidelines, Talia has been able to spend extra hours with young key defenders Josh Worrell, Fischer McAsey and Jordon Butts, while also imparting wisdom on mature-age Williamstown prospect Nick Murray as he vies for the club's vacant list spot.
"There's four guys I can put time into and teach them the craft of defending," he said.
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"It's really hard as a young bloke to come in and play on these big guys and forwards who have been around a long time.
"It's about getting better in the contest, positioning and these little things you're probably not used to coming out of under-18s.
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"He's (Murray) been training with us and they've got to decide whether they pick him up or not but having watched training he's a really exciting young key back and looks really good.
"He'll certainly be around the mix but from my perspective he looks like he can really play and has all the attributes of a key defender."
Talia was linked to interest from Essendon during last year's Trade Period but reiterated that his commitment to the Crows never wavered.
"I was never going to leave the Crows unless they tapped me on the shoulder and said we wanted to trade you and that never happened," he said.
"I'm fully committed, and I've still got another year on my contract and would love to be at the club long-term.
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"I've got this year to run and I'd love to be a one-club player, but you've got to playing well and the club's got to see you as part of the future as well … there's a long time for that to play out.
"I didn't have any chats with any clubs (last year)."
Talia will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2021, included in a Crows free agency group spearheaded by midfielder Matt Crouch.