Sun’s out guns out: fan reports from December training

December sunshine signals the first wave of training sessions by AFL clubs, and we all know what that means: fans with digital cameras taking beefcake shots of their favourite players with their shirts off. No, not just that! Dedicated fans write intricately detailed training reports of who’s fit, who’s struggling, who’s in a different role, and who’s hot. Vital fantasy info!

Note: some clubs have spent the early part of December on training camps, at which understandably there are few opportunities for fans to attend!

Adelaide has already had two sessions, one on the fourth and one on the eighth. In addition to light duties for Andrew McLeod and Brett Burton who are recovering from surgeries, of the senior players the most notable absentee has been Graham Johncock. Apparently he is running on his own, so it’s not necessarily an injury-related issue, but fantasy coaches will know that Stiffy has had problems with the club this year for off-field parts of his life. If the rumours are right, his smoking habit may be a large part of it, though he has allegedly had family issues has well and there was one suggestion it’s a weight thing. Whatever the reason, the fact that he’s still not turning out with the main group has to be a concern, even at this early stage.

The battle between Greg Gallman and Aaron Kite for the vacant backline spot continues. Both players are mentioned in reports, with Kite in particular getting praise for his run out of halfback in scratch matches. It may turn out that Gallman wins the battle for his superior defensive abilities but will turn out to be a lesser fantasy player than Kite – it depends on what the Crows hierarchy are looking at for that position, whether it’s a spoiler or a rebounder.

With a lot of these reports you have to take the attitudes on certain players with a grain of salt. For example, Trent Hentschel is being spoken about in very hopeful tones, yet James Sellar seems to have replaced Luke Jericho as the new fan whipping bag. Given the severe lack in the forward line that the Crows will have at the start of the season I think there will be some value in cheap Adelaide forwards like these two and Taylor Walker, but to my mind it’s hard to separate out the wishful thinking from the reality of hard selection decisions. In any case, it sounds like Nick Gill is going to be the main target in the Burton-less forward 50, so there may not be many stats to share around to second and third talls in that sort of structure. Adelaide usually goes hard in the pre-season comp so the NAB is going to sort this situation out, I feel.

The Eagles trained on the eighth, and as was pointed out in the comments to the round 1 projections post, West Coast is one of the hardest clubs to figure a round 1 side out of, given coach Worsfold’s penchant this year for picking his older premiership players over the kids who need a run for the future. The other problem with the Eagles is that they have a bunch of players who always seem to put their best work in in the pre-season, then once the weather turns a little colder, suddenly they don’t look so hot. Cases in point are Shannon Hurn and Mark Nicoski, with honourable mention to Beau Waters. Waters is in the recovery group at the moment, but Hurn and Nicoski have been starring with some murmurings of Nicoski being used as a Luke Hodge-style quarterback. Let me get this straight: I don’t care if Nico looks like Tom Brady crossed with Peyton Manning, I’m not getting sucked in again. It’s all very well to wear a brightly coloured cap or shirt which tells your teammates that you’re the designated kicker from half-back, but in real games of football, you’re under a lot more pressure than you are in scratch matches, and under pressure this year Nicoski was a worse quarterback than Rex Grossman. Don’t be fooled.

There were plenty of other snippets from this session. Mark Seaby may not have been all that impressive in the ruck in their scratch match, but it was instructive that it was him as the second ruck while Nick Naitanui was restricted to non-contact drills and running laps, along with Tom Swift. This may change in later training sessions, of course, but at the moment I would not be relying on Naitanui as a starter in round 1 next season. Mitchell Brown is by all reports looking ready to play, however, and as was pointed out in the last post, the Eagles’ backline is looking fairly unlikely to be settled with Waters still struggling, Adam Hunter and Darren Glass having major offseason surgery and a bunch of younger players like Brown, Matthew Spangher and Will Schofield raring to go. One interesting sidenote was that Brown may be used as a Hunter-style “swingman” both forward and back, which would increase his Dream Team attractiveness. Elsewhere, it sounds like Daniel Kerr‘s preseason is going to be less than full, which is a poor sign for the first half of his home & away form, while Chris Masten is looking bulkier which is either a sign that he is over his osteitis pubis or that he is a danger of it recurring due to increased bulk. The battle between Josh J. Kennedy and Ashley Hansen seems to be leaning Kennedy’s way with Hansen not looking fit… but then again, Hansen never looks fit and Woosha keeps picking him. Bah, such a frustrating team for fantasy this year!

Might as well get the WA teams out of the way while we’re there: the Fremantle training consisted of running laps, apparently. Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters couldn’t keep up, which is no great concern at this very early stage, albeit that Ballantyne has been playing WAFL. Stephen Hill had no problems with running, which shows off his strength… it’s the contact bits he might struggle with! The reports that Paul Hasleby was struggling and Des Headland was absent are a little more worrying.

The big winner out of early Essendon training seems to be Scott Gumbleton, with Tayte Pears a close second. Both of these kids look like fronting up at round 1, with the obvious caveats. If Gumbleton is in competition for a spot in round 1 against Jay Neagle, it sounds like he’s comfortably winning that battle. More good news for Bomber fans is that Alwyn Davey, who has been attracting some interest in the Fanplanner, has moved from the modified training group to the main group and has been involved in all the usual drills.

Over at Geelong the only training news is that Tom Hawkins is still not training after foot surgery. Reading the Geelong fan boards, the attitude by hardcore fans is rather fatalistic about his chances, perhaps not surprisingly seeing as they’ve had a poor offseason with licking their wounds from the grand final added to the shocking Matthew Egan news. Some are even looking to this year’s draftees for more hope. There’s plenty of time for the Tomahawk to recover, though, and it’s good to hear that he’s out of the moon boot at least.

Not much news from Demons training, with Russell Robertson still proppy but Brock McLean looking much better. Jack Watts did not train, but Sam Blease and James Strauss did – nothing to be concluded this early, of course.

Down at Port Adelaide, the supporters were most excited about Matthew Lobbe winning the October time trial, which may have been a reason that the Power hierarchy swerved past Tyrone Vickery with their #4 draft pick. I don’t know that there would be all that much value to Lobbe if one of Brendon Lade or Dean Brogan aren’t sidelined for long periods, and Lobbe may decay into Daniel Gilmore territory if not given enough encouragement.

As for the Power training session on the fifth, Lobbe did participate in some forward drills, and was one of about half a dozen younger Port players who have reportedly put on a lot of muscle mass and/or definition, the others being Marlon Motlop, Nathan Krakoeur, Jonathan Giles and Matthew Westhoff. I am always a bit sceptical of these sorts of reports as kids who have been at the club for a year or two and haven’t been getting regular senior footy should, by rights, be the fittest at this stage of the year because they haven’t suffered the rough and tumble of AFL games and they’ve had the time to bulk up in the gym that the seniors haven’t, with their tapering and modified programs. Nevertheless, there are a lot of cheap fantasy players amongst that lot so there’s a lot to keep an eye on in the pre-season. Also, while he didn’t rate much of a mention in the reports, it was very interesting that Hamish Hartlett trained with the main midfield group, something that not a lot of draftees are doing this early in the process.

Over at Punt Road, the saddest news of the preseason, and of 2008 as a whole, is that Graham Polak has no peripheral vision, can’t see below his knees and will never play again. What a tragedy that has been, I’m sure I speak for everyone who visits FanFooty that our thoughts go out to him and his loved ones in coping with such a debilitating incident.

His Tiger team mates are back into the thick of things with December training, so the wheels of football keep turning. The now-traditional cast of thousands were on the track fighting for the last list spot. Rumours were apparently sweeping the boundary that Richard Tambling has osteitis pubis, which would be a terrible break for the kid – and a poor result for those (like me) who were eying him as a possible mid-price back for 2009 – but other posts in the forum threads have dampened down this speculation. Bit of a worry though! Apart from a few light niggles the rest of the group sounds healthy. This is particularly good news for Mark Coughlan fans, who might be relieved to hear that Cogs has slimmed down a little this pre-season, which is probably a smart move to minimise the chance of reinjuring that knee due to excess weight coming to bear on his joints.

I’m always interested when a player is trialled out of their normal position in training, so it was fascinating to hear that Ben Reid is being used as a key defender at Collingwood training on Travis Cloke. The consensus from the fans is that this means he’s being groomed to take centre half back, which would obviously mean good things for his Super Coach numbers if not Dream Team. Another hidden beneficiary of this move might be Nick Maxwell, who stood at CHB or thereabouts for a lot of games this year. Perhaps the job he did in the semi-final win tagging Scott Thompson is a sign of a more regular midfield role. Predictably, Heath Shaw and Alan Didak looked fresh after their extended break. Collingwood claimed that the absence of Anthony Rocca was due to him doing weights, but come on, at some point he has to get out on the track! Mark me down as very distrustful of Rocca ever getting back to what Collingwood want him to be, which is the big rock in the square which they build their forward line structure around. I think they’re going to have to bite the bullet on that sooner rather than later and install Sean Rusling, John Anthony or someone else in that position permanently. Maybe that can wait until the next coach rolls in…

Finally, someone happened upon the Carlton training camp but wasn’t hugely informative beyond talking up Mitch Robinson. All we have to go on was a November session where Steven Browne was the standout.

Whew! That was a long blog entry. Which youngster gets you most excited! Tell me in the comments.

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