WHETHER they're on the comeback trail from injury or illness, several players will be like new recruits when they run out again in 2022.

A number of stars were reduced to sitting in the grandstands last season and coaches, teammates and fans alike will be eager to watch them kicking the Sherrin around next year. 

With clubs returning to pre-season training over the past couple of weeks, AFL.com.au takes a look at the players who will be warmly welcomed back by your club.

Matt Crouch

You could just as easily put skilful defender Wayne Milera into this category, but the Crows will welcome back Crouch to a midfield they are still trying to find the right mix for. Rory Laird was incredible last season, while skipper Rory Sloane and emerging youngster Harry Schoenberg also have onball positions, but Crouch's ball-winning and inside nous should add a layer of depth Adelaide is craving after groin problems wiped out 2021 for the former Therabody AFL All-Australian. – Michael Whiting

Adelaide's Matt Crouch in action against Port Adelaide in the 2021 AAMI Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

Cam Rayner

The former No.1 draft pick was all set to provide Brisbane's midfield with extra pace and power last season before rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in a pre-season match against Gold Coast. Rayner is in fantastic shape already and inserting him into a midfield that contains Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons, Dayne Zorko and Hugh McCluggage adds an element that might help lift the Lions another level. Eric Hipwood (knee) and Noah Answerth (groin) will also be huge additions. – Michael Whiting

Brisbane's Cam Rayner limps off after a knee injury in the 2021 AAMI Community Series. Picture: AFL Photos

Sam Docherty

The Carlton co-captain recently faced a 12-week block of chemotherapy as he battled testicular cancer for a second time, but has reported to pre-season training and could resume full running soon. A much-loved figure within the club, the 28-year-old's inspiring return might prove the spark Carlton needs to push towards an elusive finals berth. Docherty also missed the last eight games of 2021 after undergoing ankle surgery, but remains a key cog in the Blues' back six with his cool head and drive out of defence. - Owen Leonard

Sam Docherty at Carlton training on December 6, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Darcy Moore

The star Pie's season ended in round 13 when he suffered a PCL injury in his right knee in the upset win over Melbourne. With Moore sidelined, the Magpies only managed two victories from their final nine games and conceded an average of 90 points per game. One of the best intercept defenders in the League, the 2020 Therabody AFL All-Australian will be a crucial cog for the rebuilding Pies as they embark on a new era under rookie coach Craig McRae. Expect a big year from the 25-year-old, who will qualify as a free agent at the end of 2022. - Ben Sutton

Darcy Moore is gang tackled during a Collingwood training session at the Holden Centre on December 6, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Michael Hurley 

Essendon's reinvigorated defence covered the loss of Hurley admirably — the two-time Therabody AFL All-Australian missed the entire season with a debilitating hip infection — but a reintroduction to the line-up in 2022 would be a welcome boost to the Dons' quest to improve on their eighth-place finish. It's worth noting, too, that Hurley trained as a forward last pre-season, so don't rule out the veteran tall forming a partnership with Peter Wright at the other end. - Owen Leonard

Michael Hurley at Essendon training in early May, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Nat Fyfe

The superstar skipper's 2021 season ended early after three shoulder dislocations and his bad luck continued during the off-season. Fyfe needed a shoulder reconstruction in July and then follow-up surgery in October after complications. The 30-year-old wasn’t able to run for at least four months, but he was a welcome sight at training last week after completing a light session. The race is on to make round one, but a fully fit dual Brownlow medallist will be a massive boost for the improving Dockers. - Chris Correia

Fremantle's Nat Fyfe at training on December 2, 2021. Picture: Fremantle FC

Tom Stewart

The star Cat only missed five games last year, but his absence during the last two rounds and finals series was telling. Stewart suffered a Lisfranc injury at training on the eve of the club's round 22 match against St Kilda and while the Cats were still able to win that match, they suffered a monster collapse in the minor premiership playoff against Melbourne in the final round before two heavy defeats in the finals. Despite the early end to his season, Stewart was selected in his third Therabody AFL All-Australian team and won his maiden best and fairest crown. The good news for Cats fans is he is already back to full fitness and training well as he heads into the 2022 season as arguably the best defender in the League. - Ben Sutton

Tom Stewart arrives back at Geelong training on December 6, 2021. Picture: geelongcats.com.au

Jarrod Witts

It quickly became evident Witts was the most valuable player on the Suns’ list after rupturing his ACL against Adelaide in round three. Gold Coast's ruck depth was already decimated by injury, leaving it short-handed in the key position and exposing its young midfield. Witts' return will not only add leadership – he's the co-captain – but a physical presence that was missing in 2021. Young lockdown defender Connor Budarick (ACL) is another crucial player back in the fold next season. – Michael Whiting

Gold Coast's Jarrod Witts clutches his knee against Adelaide in R3, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Braydon Preuss

After heading north from Melbourne 12 months ago, Preuss was supposed to be the Giants' No.1 ruckman, but a shoulder reconstruction followed by surgery to his pectoral muscle wiped out his entire year. While out-of-retirement Shane Mumford, along with Matt Flynn and Kieren Briggs filled the void, having the hulking Preuss available will add a different dimension to the GWS midfield with his sheer size and physicality around the contest. – Michael Whiting

GWS ruckman Braydon Preuss at a training session on August 18, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

James Sicily  

Sicily spent 2021 recovering from a knee reconstruction but incoming coach Sam Mitchell has already declared the commanding intercept defender “ready to go” for next season. The 26-year-old's best football is likely still ahead of him and as an obvious candidate for future captaincy, he is set for a leading part in Hawthorn's rebuild. Veteran Jack Gunston managed only one game last season and was twice forced into back surgery, so his forward-line craft shapes as another handy addition to the Hawks' 2022 campaign. - Owen Leonard

James Sicily during a Hawthorn training session on November 29, 2021. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

Adam Tomlinson

The key defender started the Demons' 2021 in brilliant fashion, losing the fewest one-on-one contest of any backman in the League before he ruptured the ACL in his left knee against North Melbourne in round seven. His understudy, Harrison Petty, deputised brilliantly in the Dees' premiership run but if you're wondering how the reigning champs are going to get better, the former Giant's return to support Steven May and Jake Lever is a big part of the answer. - Michael Rogers

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Ben Cunnington 

The contested beast proved he is still the main midfield act at North Melbourne despite turning 30 and playing only 15 games in 2021. He has recently battled a recurrence of testicular cancer, but the Kangaroos will be hoping to call on the stoppage specialist to support their promising onball brigade once more next season. Aidan Corr (toe infection) managed only two matches in his first campaign at the club, and the departure of Robbie Tarrant shapes his return to the back six as even more crucial. - Owen Leonard

Zak Butters

Although the uber-talented midfielder managed 12 games last season – including the final eight – having him available for a full season at 100 per cent will be a godsend for Port. Butters had ankle surgery early last season, which ultimately lead to 'drop foot' where he was unable to walk properly. The result was three months on the sidelines, and while he was still terrific on return, a full pre-season and uninterrupted run can only help return him to the fleet-footed, agile, skilful ball-user that turned so many heads in 2020. – Michael Whiting

Port Adelaide's Zak Butters celebrates a goal against GWS in R20, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Dustin Martin

Martin's 2021 games tally (16) was the lowest of his career after lacerating his kidney in a collision with Mitch Robinson. Richmond tumbled out of finals contention in Martin's absence, so regaining the Brownlow medallist and three-time Norm Smith medallist might be the barometer it needs to bounce back. Martin lost over 10kg while recovering from the injury which places some doubt over whether he can return with his trademark explosiveness, but his foot skills, intrinsic goal sense and wealth of experience could yet have opposition quaking in 2022. - Owen Leonard

Dustin Martin during a Richmond training session at Punt Road Oval on December 6, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Jade Gresham

One of the most exciting players on the Saints' list, Gresham suffered one of the worst injuries in football last season, rupturing his Achilles tendon against Essendon in round three. The 24-year-old's return will add spark to the half-forward line and possibly a midfield that is loaded with ball-winners like skipper Jack Steele and Brad Crouch. If Gresham stays forward, mixing him with the rapidly improving Max King, Tim Membrey and Jack Higgins is a tantalising prospect. – Michael Whiting

St Kilda's Jade Gresham in agony after rupturing his Achilles against Essendon in R3, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Paddy McCartin

The Swans enjoyed a good run with injury in 2021 with the popular Sam Naismith the most significant absentee and Sam Reid managing just 10 games. Naismith is unlikely to play in 2022 after having a third knee reconstruction during the year. Reid is also luckless on the injury front and tweaked his calf after playing the first six games of the season. Reid – who is about turn 30 - at the peak of his powers is valuable to the line-up and can play at either end of the ground. The interesting addition to the club, however, will be former No.1 draft pick and Tom McCartin's older brother, Paddy McCartin, who played in Sydney's VFL team during the year. The Swans will pick up Paddy, 25, during the pre-season supplemental period. He last played at AFL level in 2018 but was forced into premature retirement due to concussion concerns. It's a big IF, but could McCartin actually return to the AFL and deliver on his prodigious talent that tempted the Saints to pick him ahead of Christian Petracca in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft? While that would be the ultimate fairytale for the Swans, even one game at AFL level alongside his brother would be a brilliant story for the McCartins. - Cameron Noakes

Paddy McCartin during a Sydney training session at Lakeside Stadium on July 13, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Luke Shuey

It was a year to forget for the Eagles' skipper, who managed just seven games for the season amid a host of soft-tissue injuries. He strained his hamstring in the pre-season and returned in round three, only to suffer a significant hamstring tendon injury that required surgery. He recovered and put together a month of footy from round 15-18 before straining a calf. Shuey made it back for the final two games of the year, but his impact on the group was far below his usual exceptional standards. 2022 looms as the last hurrah for the ageing group that played in the 2015 and 2018 Grand Finals, so West Coast will want its skipper back to his dynamic best. - Michael Rogers

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Toby McLean

What was shaping as a fairytale 2021 for McLean soon became a horror show. The creative half-forward made an early ACL comeback against Geelong in round 14 and dusted off the cobwebs with 21 touches and a goal, but ruptured the ligament again only weeks later at training. The 25-year-old faces a significant portion of 2022 on the sidelines but could offer a late-season boost to the Dogs' flag chase. Key forward Josh Bruce is another recovering from a knee reconstruction and will be eyeing off a return in the back half of the year. - Owen Leonard

Western Bulldogs' Toby McLean is tackled by Geelong's Mark Blicavs in R14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos