See the latest news, pics and more from track watch. A shock Saint could cover Ben King’s absence, the goal-kicking Pie sent to half-back and which Roo looks a lock for a Round 1 debut?
Here’s your one-stop shop for all the news from the training track as we draw closer to the start of the AFL season.
Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days.
SAINTS TRACK WATCH
KING-LESS SAINTS WILL HELP IN LONG RUN
St Kilda defender Callum Wilkie has described the Saints’’ attack as “too Max King-focused” and “predictable” last season and says the key forward’s stint on the sidelines will force the club to develop other scoring options.
As King continues his recovery from a shoulder reconstruction, the Saints will be forced to find other forward avenues with the star tall expected to miss at least the early part of the home-and-away season.
Wilkie acknowledged the significant loss of King, who injured his shoulder at training in December, but said the Saints needed to learn to be less reliant on the 202cm goalkicker.
“It’s hard when you lose players like Max, he’s obviously an important player,” Wilkie said on Wednesday.
“But I am excited for the opportunity to actually learn to play and actually use the ball going forward without him.
“I feel like last year we were too Max-focused and we were pretty predictable to opposition teams, who knew we were just going to kick it to him.
“So it’s exciting for however many games he misses, whether it’s two, five or whatever, to learn to play without him. Whoever it is up there Cooper Sharman, Mitch Owens, Timmy (Membrey) and then hopefully by the time he gets back, we have learnt to play without him and we don’t just have to go to him all the time.
“He is a focal point of the offence but he is not everything.”
KING CONTINUES REHAB
As the Saints stepped up their pre-season preparations, King did his work indoors.
Wilkie said King continued to attack his rehabilitation.
“(He is) attacking rehab, you obviously don’t see them as much because they are apart from the main group, but from all reports from the other boys in rehab, he is taking ownership of that rehab group and driving that,” Wilkie said.
“He always thinks he is going to probably come back earlier than what he does, but that is like everyone in rehab, they try and push the physios and they’ll make a call on that.”
The Saints lost another forward prospect after young key forward Matthew Allison needed surgery on a stress fracture in his foot, which will require a 16-20 week recovery time.
Wilkie suggested the Saints’ running game, rather than certain key forward options, could help the club cover for the loss of King.
“Our running game, we obviously want to be strong in that component is going to suit I guess not having these key forwards, being a few of them down,” Wilkie said.
“I guess that goes hand in hand. We will be able to use the ball more, spread more.”
HALF-BACK SWITCH FOR YOUNG SAINT
Young Saint Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera could be showing off his speed and silky skills off the half-back line for St Kilda this season.
The 19-year-old has impressed teammates training across half-back over the pre-season and Wilkie predicted he could be “dangerous” in that position for the Saints.
“He has trained at half-back pretty much all pre-season, so it’s exciting. He was on the wing last year and he can provide that run and along with Sincs (Jack Sinclair),” Wilkie said.
“He can be really dangerous for us, he is such a good ball user, he is learning obviously a different position, a second-year player, but he is growing session by session.
“Using our communication, his defensive positioning but his offence is going to come, he is such a beautiful kick, he is a beautiful mover so it is exciting.”
Wanganeen-Milera played 17 games in his debut season for the Saints in 2022, showing his flair on the wing.
Midfielder Marcus Windhager and forward Mitch Owens are among the other young Saints to have caught the eye of Wilkie this summer.
“The young boys ‘Windy’ and Owens. Owens is now obviously going a bit more forward, he is damn hard to play on for the second year player,” Wilkie said.
“I don’t know what the limit is for him because he is so hard to play on already.
“He is going to be a strong option going forward in the first half of the year when we might have a few players down.
“And Windhager just keeps on building, he always works hard.”
Windhager played 18 games in his debut season last year, while Owens played seven.
SENDING OUT AN SOS
New St Kilda list manager Stephen Silvagni was spotted keeping a watchful eye on training at Moorabbin on Wednesday.
Silvagni chatted to Saints’ head of talent and acquisition Graeme Allan as he took in the session from the balcony outside the club’s upstairs offices.
The former Blues champion was announced as James Gallagher’s replacement as the Saints’ new list boss last Friday.
It marks a return to the Saints for Silvagni, who was an assistant at the club under his good mate Ross Lyon from 2007-2010.
Silvagni was formerly a list manager at Greater Western Sydney (2011-14) and then at Carlton (2015-2019).
New Saint Liam Stocker has inherited former captain Jarryn Geary’s old No. 14.
Stocker donned the new jumper for match play at Moorabbin, less than two weeks after he signed on with the club via the pre-season supplemental selection period.
The 23-year-old midfielder had been invited to train with the Saints in December after he was delisted by Carlton at the end of last season.
Geary retired last year after a 207-game career with the Saints.
NORTH MELBOURNE TRACK WATCH
WHY A VETERAN AND THE KID LOOK ROUND 1 LOCKS
They might be 13 years apart in age and miles apart in experience, but anyone watching former Hawk veteran Liam Shiels and the club’s first draft pick Harry Sheezel in recent weeks would be getting ready to slot them into their Round 1 SuperCoach calculations.
Track watchers are convinced both appear to be locks to take on West Coast in the Kangaroos’ Round 1 clash at Marvel Stadium on March 18.
Yes, there is still a lot of water to pass under the bridge before then, but Shiels and Sheezel have made big impressions – for different reasons – in their short time at the club.
Shiels, 31, was once in the conversation to become captain of Hawthorn, but after retiring from the Hawks postseason, the Kangaroos’ rookie listed player is relishing the second chance he has.
His on-track leadership and his cool and composed demeanour is what the Kangaroos – and coach Alastair Clarkson – knew he could bring to a young and impressionable group.
Sheezel, 18, is thriving on the challenges Clarkson and the coaching staff are throwing at him in his first pre-season. The No. 3 draft pick has already impressed with his silky skills and his swift ability to learn.
His field kicking will be a massive asset for the club as well as a mouth-watering proposition for forwards Nick Larkey and Cam Zurhaar.
If he stays fit across the next six weeks, Sheezel looks a lock to make his debut as early as the Round 1 clash with the Eagles.
BEN’S ALL THE TALK
North Melbourne’s most important key defender Ben McKay is finding his voice in terms of his on-field leadership, and it’s giving club insiders more confidence they can secure his prized signature before he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Insiders have noted how much McKay is expressing himself on the track this pre-season, which could be a by-product of working with three-time Hawks premiership player and former Kangaroo Josh Gibson.
Gibson, who has taken on a role as a specialist coach of defence at the Kangaroos under his old coach Alastair Clarkson, has been working hard to ensure the club’s backline is a lot more connected verbally on the field.
McKay impressed on the track again on Wednesday morning. He comes out of contract at the end of the season and has attracted the interest of a host of rival clubs.
But the Kangaroos are privately confident he sees his long-term future at the club, and is especially engaged this pre-season under the tutelage of Clarkson.
Who knows he might even get to finally stand his brother Harry in an AFL match on Good Friday after years of near-misses?
The wags are calling it NORTH-THORN, such is the impact former members of Hawthorn’s brown and gold are making at Arden Street.
Liam Shiels and Daniel Howe are doing it on the field and will push for early selection.
Howe had a relatively quiet session on Wednesday in terms of his training loads, but looks like being a handy acquisition, while Shiels will bring some added experience to the side.
The list of ex-Hawks includes Clarkson, general manager of football Todd Viney, ruck coach Damian Monkhorst, and assistant coaches Brett Ratten and Josh Gibson.
The one-time bitter rivals – and co-Tassie part-time tenants – will clash on April Fool’s Day in Round 3 at Hawthorn’s Launceston base for the next set of bragging rights.
Get the fundamentals right and you are halfway to winning the battle.
It’s a message straight out of Clarko’s playbook from the very start of his time at Hawthorn in late 2004, and he’s sticking to it in his first pre-season as coach at North.
There were some more intricate drills at the Wednesday morning training sessions, but a few of the simple ones might end up becoming the most important.
In one of them, he had all players using their opposite foot (remember those lethal Hawks’ left-footers!). In another, he had players awaiting the bounce of a loose ball to try and get them to have a better perception of reading the bounce.
Simple but important stuff that will likely hold the young Roos in good stead.
LEAN AND MEAN ROOS
Jack Ziebell might have handed over the captaincy to Jy Simpkin and Luke McDonald, but he’s not ready to give up his spot within the North Melbourne team.
Ziebell has dropped several kilos as he has worked to get himself in great shape heading into the 2023 season.
He turns 32 at the end of this month, but is eager to make a big impression this season.
Respected teammate Ben Cunnington looks leaner too and is keen to make up for lost time after overcoming his cancer battles to play two games late last season.
YES, HE WILL
The Kangaroos are confident one-time No. 3 draft pick Will Phillips has shaken off his illness issues and is ready to justify the club’s on-going faith in him with a big season this year.
Phillips, 20, played 16 games in his first season of 2021, but two nagging bouts of glandular fever meant he was unable to play a senior match last season.
He was in “a probable” team against the main side pre-Christmas, but he has impressed in recent weeks and looks ready to take his game to a new level.
PIES WEDNESDAY TRACK NOTES
Champion ballwinner Scott Pendlebury and goal kicker Will Hoskin-Elliott look set to move to half back roles this season.
The Magpies have made some adjustments to accommodate the arrival of speedster Bobby Hill and gun midfielder Tom Mitchell and more onball time for jet Nick Daicos.
It means Pendlebury will shift out of the engine room to help marshal the defence, while Hoskin-Elliott has gone from the forward line to the back half to provide some run out of defence.
Pendlebury, 35, was excellent with his classy disposal in match simulation on Wednesday after another superb year finishing second in the best and fairest in 2022.
Hoskin-Elliott, 29, will have to fight for a game as Jack Ginnivan, Beau McCreery and Hill are ahead of him.
DE GOEY ON FIRE
Jordan De Goey looks primed to become one of the top midfielders in the game this season if he can stay healthy.
The star goal kicker was brilliant in the Pies’ match simulation session on Wednesday, breaking through tackles and hitting targets up field with his laser disposal.
Interestingly, he played the bulk of the session from the midfield, rather than spending big chunks forward.
De Goey was under an injury cloud with a shoulder problem earlier in the pre-season, but he brushed aside any concerns laying several heavy tackles on Wednesday.
De Goey re-signed a blockbuster contract extension at Collingwood late last year in the face of strong interest from St Kilda.
He is a certainty to face the Cats in Round 1 barring any more injury setbacks after a tumultuous 2022 season dealing with the fallout of his Bali antics.
Early signs suggest Nick Daicos will relish a move into a full-time midfield role this season after sparkling in match simulation on Wednesday.
Daicos was one of the standouts in the competitive hit-out linking up through the middle of the ground.
He was brilliant off half-back in his first season in 2022 to win the Rising Star award but the club is expecting the father-son gem to take his game to a new level this year.
PIES MONDAY TRACK NOTES
Collingwood was back training at their home base on Monday after a training camp in Lorne last week.
Here are some observations from the session as pre-season continues to ramp up.
Gun defender Darcy Moore is still doing most of his training away from the main group but is slowly building his loads.
Moore took part in the warm up at training on Monday before spending the rest of the session completing some running and agility drills on the sidelines, where he looked to be moving well.
One of the leading contenders to take over the club’s captaincy, Moore remains hopeful of being ready for Round 1 after suffering a bone infection in December which set him back in his program.
Midfielder Jordan De Goey (shoulder) and veteran defender Jeremy Howe joined Moore on light duties for the second half of the session while teammates took part in some modified match simulation.
Finlay Macrae (back) also remains in the rehabilitation group, while tall utility Nathan Krueger is still sidelined after having shoulder surgery in early January.
Trent Bianco hurt his hand at the start of training on Monday but returned to the track after being briefly attended to by medical staff.
WHERE WILL DAICOS PLAY?
He was a revolution on debut last season and there is plenty of excitement about son-of-a-gun Nick Daicos again entering 2023.
The big question remains: Where will he line up?
Daicos was primarily training with the defenders on Monday, after playing mostly as a halfback across 25 games last season.
However, during some drills and modified match simulation he was also being used as the money kick going inside 50 and through the middle of the ground.
Daicos has added some further size to his frame over the off-season to add to his incredible skill set.
Expect to see him playing in a variety of roles across the ground this season — including some more midfield minutes.
Collingwood was a run-and-gun attacking side last season and based on their training over summer it is safe to assume that not much will change in 2023.
The Magpies displayed some fast and slick ball movement from end-to-end during drills and match simulation on Monday, kicking long, playing on at every opportunity and knocking the ball forward to gain territory when appropriate.
After playing in a host of close games last year, there was also some situational training.
“You’re five points down with 20 seconds to go,” yelled coach Craig McRae to one team who was about to take a kick out at one end of the field.
Veteran midfielder Steele Sidebottom said last week that the Magpies wanted to continue to be known as an “exciting fast footy team”.
New recruit Tom Mitchell is racking up plenty of the footy at training and is sure to add to Collingwood’s midfield brigade.
The former Hawk — who won the Brownlow Medal in 2018 — looks fit and ready for a big season at his new home.
Talking of fit, fellow onballer Taylor Adams is showing no signs of the groin injury which kept him out of the Magpies’ semi and preliminary finals last season and has a produced a big summer.
Collingwood ranked a lowly 17th for clearance differential last year, but if Mitchell and Adams can stay fit the club’s territory game will be much better off in 2023.
STILL KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Former Richmond and Gold Coast speedster Oleg Markov is continuing to train with Collingwood as he seeks to win the club’s final vacant list spot.
Markov has been working with the defensive group at the Magpies, following his delisting by the Suns at the end of last season.
The 26-year-old had played in a VFL premiership under Collingwood coach Craig McRae at the Tigers in 2019 and has 48 games of AFL experience to his name.
Former West Adelaide ruckman Oscar Steene also trained again on Monday as he vies for the same rookie spot.
Collingwood has until February 15 to make a call before the closure of the AFL’s Pre-Season Supplemental Selection Period.
They are a connected group down at Collingwood and there was no missing a birthday on Monday.
Arlo Draper had “Happy Birthday” sung to him by the entire playing group at the end of the training session to mark his 20th birthday.
The South Australian product, who was selected at pick 45 in the 2021 national draft, is yet to make his AFL debut.
Originally published as AFL Pre-season: The latest from St Kilda, North Melbourne and Collingwood training