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January agenda: First order of business

The new year is upon us and a large number of teams have already returned to training ahead of season 2019.

Reporters from AFL Media take a look at the main focus each Club will be looking to address ahead of Round 1.

How serious is Chris Fagan about injecting pace into his backline?

With match practice just around the corner, the Lions will get to test a few alternate backline options. Coach Chris Fagan has made no secret of the fact he'd like to add some pace, but with Witherden, Rich, Hodge and Robertson regulars in 2018, he'll need to be creative. Zac Bailey played Round 23 there and Cedric Cox has been given sporadic game-time in the defensive 50. Just how committed the Lions are to using some leg speed should be revealed in the next month or two. - Michael Whiting

Rebuild the unity

After the disaster that was Adelaide's pre-season last year, undoubtedly the Crows would have worked hard to rebuild the cohesion that saw them reach the Grand Final in 2017. The unrest created by the Crows' pre-season camp last year lasted throughout the season, but Don Pyke's men still managed to claim 12 wins and only miss the finals by one game. With a more seamless summer over 2018/19, not to mention the benefit of a longer pre-season than they had last time after their Grand Final appearance, the Crows will be looking to begin this campaign on the right foot and as a cohesive unit again. - Callum Twomey

Time to unearth a rookie gem

With Sam Docherty's season-ending ACL leaving a second list spot available, it's time to find the next Kane Lambert or Michael Barlow. With the Blues believing they're well stocked to cover Docherty across half-back, the search is on for midfielders. Dual VFL Liston Trophy winner Michael Gibbons is a no-brainer, having joined Gippsland Power wingman Michael Cottrell at Carlton training in recent weeks. Other big-bodied state types such as Jay Lockhart, Jye Bolton or Mitch Grigg could provide a chop-out while youngsters Sam Walsh, Paddy Dow and Lochie O'Brien develop. - Mitch Cleary

Williamstown's Michael Gibbons is a no-brainer for the Blues as they look for rookie talent.

Avoid any more hamstring issues

The Pies had a scare before their Christmas break when Jamie Elliott had another hamstring issue that saw him removed from training as a 'precautionary measure'. He was away from the main group when the Pies returned to training on Wednesday, and the club will be keen to steer clear of the hamstring concerns they suffered throughout last year. Collingwood's horror run of injuries last year included hamstring problems for Elliott, Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey, Travis Varcoe and Adam Treloar, so they'll be keen to have some luck on that front to start 2019. - Callum Twomey

Get Joey right

All eyes will be on Bombers key forward Joe Daniher this month, with the club saying late last year that he would resume full training with the main group after their Christmas break. It's been a long recovery for Daniher with his osteitis pubis injury, which saw him not play after round seven (the club originally said he could miss only a month). Essendon managed to score without Daniher and find a way to goal in his absence, but he remains one of the Dons' true match-winners and John Worsfold's side needs him to fire if it is to push for a top-four spot. January looms as an important month to get him right. - Callum Twomey

Which talls fit where?

It's a good problem for Ross Lyon to have heading towards the JLT Community Series, with genuine competition for spots in key positions. Does under-18 All Australian centre half-back Brennan Cox return to defence and is he a better third tall option than Griffin Logue? Can Matt Taberner and Cam McCarthy both fit alongside spearhead Jesse Hogan, when fit, and Rory Lobb? If Aaron Sandilands leads the ruck, how long will Sean Darcy have to wait to take the reins, assuming both can't fit in the same side? Balancing the 22 before round one is vital and could take some working through. - Travis King

Can the Cats get Cockatoo talking again?

Back training earlier than the rest of his teammates in the new year, Nakia Cockatoo faces a critical month ahead. While he's only on around half of the running load as his senior teammates, time will tell whether the injury-plagued 22-year-old has done enough preparation to increase his output into February and March. While last year's injury setbacks were structural rather than part of his history of soft tissue woes, he still has plenty to prove if he is to earn a new contract beyond this year. - Mitch Cleary

Nakia Cockatoo has to prove he's worthy of a new contract.

Safe or bold? Who should captain the Suns in 2019?

The departures of Tom Lynch and Steven May not only left two gaping key position holes on Gold Coast's list, but also left it without a captain. When the club starts the process of deciding who will captain it for the coming season and beyond, it has a difficult call. David Swallow has just signed a five-year deal, loves the Suns and would be a worthy choice. Jarrod Witts falls into the same basket. Then there's the slightly bolder option of Touk Miller. At 22, some might view him as too young, but the reliable midfielder is combative and has his teammates' respect, and should be strongly considered. - Michael Whiting

Stock up on truckloads of cotton wool for Toby Greene

After his injury issues after an interrupted summer last year, the Giants must keep their most important player fit and healthy, so his ankle rehabilitation is priority No.1. He was rushed back for round one last season and it backfired, so if the star forward has to miss a couple of early games to ensure he's 100 per cent right, then so be it. A 50-goal season from Greene trumps trotting him out before he's ready. - Adam Curley

Oh captain, my captain

Jarryd Roughead was the obvious successor after the departure of Luke Hodge. But the Hawks now face a more difficult choice. The key question is whether the Hawks should look short- or long-term when appointing their next skipper. If it’s short-term, then Isaac Smith, Liam Shiels or Ben Stratton could bridge the gap for a couple of years, until someone such as Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara or Blake Hardwick develops more as a leader. This seems the most likely path, but the Hawks could surprise us all. One thing is for sure, they won’t be heading down the route of co-captains, with president Jeff Kennett not a fan of the concept. - Nat Edwards

Have the demons from the preliminary final been consigned to the past?

Melbourne’s 2018 season was full of positives. The club broke its 12-year finals drought, Jack Viney finally got back on the park and Max Gawn had a year to remember. But the manner in which their season ended, a 66-point loss to eventual premiers West Coast in a preliminary final, was tough to take. In fact, while the coaches have all re-watched that match, the players themselves, according to veteran Jordan Lewis, haven’t sat down as a group to review the game. The Dees' 2019 campaign kicks off with a pre-season camp in Maroochydore, and they will want to make sure they've addressed any leftover demons from that preliminary final, so they can leave that game in the past and focus firmly on the future. - Nat Edwards

Will the big preliminary final loss cause any demons for Melbourne? 

Figuring out Scott Thompson's successor

The key defender is still playing well but at 32, considering his replacement is important. There are multiple options, although injuries have plagued the contenders, and they will have an early chance with Thompson rubbed out for round one. The latest concern for Ed Vickers-Willis was a right knee issue, but he has shown promise. A left knee reconstruction wiped out Declan Watson's 2018, while a fractured tibia in Sam Durdin's right leg prematurely ended his campaign. That trio, along with Ben McKay, will need a big start to the year to earn the right as first replacement if and when Thompson or Robbie Tarrant miss games. Majak Daw is also there but football isn't the immediate priority for him, and North will support him fully in his recovery rather than worry about what he can produce on-field. - Dinny Navaratnam

Is the obvious choice for the next skipper the right one?

For a long time, the assumption has been Ollie Wines would be Travis Boak's successor as captain. The latter stepped down from the role last November but a replacement hasn't been named yet, with a call expected sometime around the JLT Community Series. The club wants to see who proves themselves as deserving of the position, with Tom Jonas and Robbie Gray among those in contention. This month will be important for the leaders to show their credentials. - Dinny Navaratnam

Forward pressure: How does Tom Lynch fit into the equation?

It's a good problem to have. In the last two years the Tigers have primarily played Jack Riewoldt as a sole tall, with Josh Caddy or a resting midfielder such as Dustin Martin at full-forward. Around them are a mosquito fleet of smalls. Richmond could revert to a more traditional forward line with both Lynch and Riewoldt, pushing one of Daniel Rioli or Jack Higgins into the midfield. A left-field option could see Riewoldt playing primarily on a flank/wing as a marking target, with Lynch at centre half-forward. This would leave Richmond's deep set-up of Caddy/Martin – who have kicked a combined 135 goals over the past two seasons – intact. - Sarah Black

Keeping the key players fit

The Saints have an opportunity to post early wins, with the club's first three games coming against teams that didn't make the finals last year. However, doing that will require a full list to pick from. Big-name recruit Dan Hannebery wants to avoid the soft-tissue injuries he has suffered in recent times, and he lightened his training load so his hamstring tightness late last year didn't become more severe Defender Dylan Roberton has been on a modified program throughout the pre-season after his heart scare, but is eyeing off a round-one berth. Dean Kent will provide aggression up forward if he returns well from right shoulder surgery, while marking power in attack will be boosted if Paddy McCartin and Josh Bruce get the clear runs they didn't have in 2018. - Dinny Navaratnam

Ensuring recruit Dan Hannebery is fit for a full season is key for the Saints.


Get the forwards on the same page

Superstar Lance Franklin and recruit Dan Menzel are both on the mend after groin surgery and off the training track, so with both set to be vital pieces of Sydney's forward line in 2019, the Swans must find a way to build their chemistry. Extra video sessions and analysis, walk throughs, and plenty of homework can help Franklin and Menzel make a seamless transition back onto the field when they return, and the quicker they can find their best mix inside 50 the better for the Swans. - Adam Curley

Miles in the legs

After celebrating the premiership, the Eagles' senior players were only back on deck for two weeks before going their separate ways again over the Christmas break, so ramping up pre-season training will be the No.1 priority over the next month. The majority of the list is in good health and should be primed for matches starting in March, but the likes of Josh Kennedy (shoulder), Elliot Yeo (toe), Tom Barrass (foot) and Jamie Cripps (foot) will need to be carefully managed. - Travis King

Settle on a forward structure that can deliver a winning score

In 2018, the Dogs produced only three players with more than 20 goals – first-year forward Billy Gowers and midfielders Marcus Bontempelli and Mitch Wallis. In the year ahead, top-two picks Tom Boyd and Josh Schache must make their permanent marks. While recruit Sam Lloyd will play, Josh Dunkley will roll through and Patrick Lipinski has showed glimpses of promise, the Bulldogs need to decide whether veteran Tory Dickson is in the best 22. With Luke Dahlhaus, Jack Redpath and Mitch Honeychurch gone, there will be an opening for spots – with mature-age draftee Ben Cavarra one potential player to fill a gap. - Mitch Cleary

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs