NAB Cup week 1

Friday, Etihad Stadium, from 6.45 pm

Western Bulldogs

Jackson Macrae's last competitive hit-out was as the match-winner with a behind for the Oakleigh Chargers in their TAC Cup grand final win last year.

On Friday night, the youngster, who so often has been compared to a young Scott Pendlebury, will make his debut for the Bulldogs and is expecting to swing through a variety of roles. "Throughout my junior footy … I played the midfield and half-forward role and [the] Bulldogs are really trying to play me in a wing role and have the versatility to also play as a half-back,'' Macrae said.

He is likely to be joined in the back half by mature-age VFL star Brett Goodes. Bulldogs development coach Peter German is expecting he will have to do without Goodes at Williamstown this season. Jack Redpath will also make his debut, along with Nick Lower (ex-Fremantle) and Tom Young (ex-Collingwood). German also said a fit and firing Adam Cooney, who has had a stellar pre-season, may also help turn around the club's on-field fortunes.

Watch out for: Dale Morris - the reliable defender will play his first AFL match since round 21, 2011, after a further injury setback.

Essendon

Dylan Van Unen is expected to be another ex-Frankston player who slots straight into the senior team pretty quickly.

The 22-year-old is a strong-willed defender, who had played just 10 matches in three seasons at Box Hill, before crossing to Frankston last season in his meteoric rise under coach Simon Goosey.

Goosey, who has played an unheralded role in the Bombers' recent recruiting with the likes of Michael Hibberd and Mark Baguley, maintains that the Bombers were the only club ever genuinely interested in all three ex-Dolphins - and all have the potential to be quick fixes.

''I suppose you can go back to Michael Hibberd. I promoted Michael to five clubs and had meetings with them to try and get him drafted. Essendon were the ones that I suppose had that trust,'' Goosey said.

''They liked the look of him [Van Unen] during the year. It wasn't as though I hid him, he was there for everyone to see.''

Others joining Van Unen for their debuts on Friday night include Jason Ashby, Nick Kommer, Martin Gleeson, Hal Hunter and Lachlan Dalgleish.

Watch out for: Brendon Goddard - The former Saint is expected to slot straight into the midfield for Friday night's clash to add more grunt.

Collingwood

The Pies will field several mature-age recruits on Friday night, including former Hawk Clinton Young, former Eagle Quinten Lynch and former Blue Jordan Russell.

But it is perhaps the lesser names who were plucked from the VFL - Kyle Martin and Sam Dwyer - who will be thrust into the action in their debuts for the Pies.

For Martin, a two-time premiership player at Noble Park, a move to Frankston last season was the best career choice he's made.

"It was just purely to try and get the best out of my footy,'' Martin said. "It just shows that the VFL is not just another competition, it's another chance to get to the next level.''

Dwyer, 26, knows he doesn't have time to waste on the Pies' list. The Port Melbourne premiership player last season played a VFL grand final while still recovering from a fractured leg. At the time, he was unaware he was going to become a Pie, but his efforts were admirable.

" I think I'll play forward and midfield, a bit of both. They haven't really given much away, but from what I can take, they're the couple of roles I might play,'' Dwyer said.

Watch out for: Brent Macaffer - Pies football manager Geoff Walsh said Macaffer, who suffered a serious knee injury last season, was returning to top form after a ''diligent'' pre-season. He was prominent in the recent intra-club hit-out.

Saturday, Patersons Stadium, from 7.40 pm

West Coast

The return of Mark LeCras from last year's knee injury could throw a spanner in the works, given the success of the forward line without him last season.

Ex-Bulldog Josh Hill filled LeCras' role to perfection last season with 36 goals. If you add mature-age rookie Callum Sinclair to the attacking mix, the Eagles may cause some early headaches for opposition defences.

Forwards coach Justin Longmuir said Hill was still in the Eagles' best 22 despite LeCras' return.

Sinclair and Scott Lycett have been identified as key players to fill the void left by Quinten Lynch, who went to Collingwood over the summer.

Sinclair, who played with Port Melbourne before going to Subiaco, is a roaming ruckman who can play as a goalkicking forward, while Lycett has reportedly had a top pre-season and is geared to provide some back-up on the forward line. Jack Darling has reportedly had a super pre-season; he and Josh Kennedy will provide the main focal points.

The Eagles will have to wait as long as the early rounds of the season proper for Nic Naitanui to begin his 2013 campaign.

Watch out for: Scott Lycett - into his third season at the Eagles, Lycett is expected to add forward power on a more consistent basis.

Geelong

While Josh Caddy and Jared Rivers will grab plenty of attention in their debuts for Geelong during the series, the return of Nathan Vardy, Josh Cowan and Travis Varcoe from long-term injuries will provide extra strength for the Cats heading into the season.

Varcoe made a comeback before last year's finals from a foot fracture but has finally returned to full fitness. Vardy, who has struggled with hip complaints, and Cowan, who had an Achilles injury, have also returned.

''We effectively brought in seven to eight players from the squad that were available last year … that's a big percentage of the team that wasn't available to us last year. Although these guys aren't all certainties to be in our best 22, they're pretty close,'' coach Chris Scott said.

Tasmanian draftee Jackson Thurlow is expected to make his debut in the NAB Cup. George Burbury and Jed Bews, however, have both suffered stress reactions in their feet and are likely to miss the next two months.

Watch out for: Jackson Sheringham. The mature-age midfielder is primed to take his midfield role to a new level this season after being on the fringe in his debut year.

Fremantle

With Matthew Pavlich sidelined for week one, the veteran skipper predicts a draftee will take his place on the forward line on Saturday night.

It is likely one of Jack Hannath, Tanner Smith, Alex Howson and Matt Taberner will be trialled throughout the NAB Cup.

''There might be a young guy who has been drafted recently pop up and play that [key forward] position,'' Pavlich said in a press conference this week.

''I think our small forwards have been training the house down, really.

''Hayden [Ballantyne], 'Son-son' [Michael Walters] and Josh Mellington have all been training quite well, so I assume they may get an opportunity come this Saturday night.''

Pavlich, who had a back operation late last year, said he was nearing full fitness.

There is optimism surrounding midfielder Cam Sutcliffe, who starred in an intra-club match last week.

The 20-year-old South Australian, who has exceptional endurance, could press for a regular spot in the midfield alongside Michael Barlow, Nat Fyfe, Stephen Hill and David Mundy.

Watch out for: Jayden Pitt - The club's first selection in the 2010 draft has added 10 kilograms to his slender frame over summer and will be looking to impress after only two games last season.

Sunday, Aami Stadium, from 4.40 pm

St Kilda

It appears likely that Saints veterans Nick Riewoldt, Stephen Milne, Lenny Hayes and Adam Schneider will all be on limited game-time during the NAB Cup as the club looks to nurse its stars through to round one.

Coach Scott Watters said the ageing stars didn't need to play too many games in the lead-up to the season-proper. ''It's a pretty normal sort of preparation,'' Watters said. ''Lenny Hayes doesn't need to be playing five or six games leading into round one, and nor does Nick. So it's just a modified preparation for them. They'll join in the NAB Cup at an appropriate phase and they'll be ready to go for round one.''

Ruckman Ben McEvoy is another the club will monitor through the pre-season competition.

Youngsters Josh Saunders and Nathan Wright could be exposed in the NAB Cup early, along with Jack Newnes, Beau Maister (formerly Wilkes) and David Armitage, who have had a solid start to the year.

Milne, Terry Milera and Ahmed Saad provided the excitement up forward in a recent intra-club match.

Watch out for: Tom Hickey - the former Gold Coast ruckman has already proved to be a valuable cog in the Saints ruck division and will add some versatility to the mix this season.

Port Adelaide

Jasper Pittard says Port has focused on its defensive structures over the pre-season, and this will be evident during the series. He said the Power would be much tougher to score against. ''That [defence] has been a massive focus from [coach] Kenny [Hinkley] coming in,'' Pittard told the Power club website. ''He always preaches that a good defensive team will win lots of games of footy. The better your defence the more offensive opportunities you'll have.''

The Power's new game plan will be one of the talking points during the NAB Cup, with Hinkley set to stamp his authority on the young group.

Pittard was one of the best in a recent intra-club match and the defender is primed after a horror injury run last year. Angus Monfries has had a top start at the Power since crossing from Essendon, while Hamish Hartlett, Brad Ebert and Jay Schulz have also reportedly had impressive pre-seasons. Sandover medallist Kane Mitchell, Mason Shaw, Jake Neade and Jack Hombsch are also likely to excite in the NAB Cup.

Watch out for: Ollie Wines - the Power's top draft pick and inside midfielder made a lasting impression in an intra-club match and appears headed for not only a NAB Cup debut but a round-one debut.

Adelaide

The reigning NAB Cup champion has seemingly gotten over the Kurt Tippett saga and is instead focusing on the player who will fill the hole.

That experiment will begin over the next month when Josh Jenkins teams up with Taylor Walker in the forward line.

Jenkins, who was on the fringe of selection during last year's finals series, now appears to be one of the most wanted men at the Crows, given his strong basketball background.

Jenkins knows this year could be his biggest opportunity to break through the ranks.

''I'm lucky that I've got some athletic traits that not many guys my size have, and I want to take advantage of those,'' Jenkins told the Crows' website last month.

''I've been able to score PBs in pretty much all my running, so hopefully that will stand me in good stead and help get me through the whole year instead of only two-thirds, which was what happened last year.''

The other candidate may well be Shaun McKernan, but he could also be used in a roaming ruck role with Sam Jacobs.

Watch out for: Brad Crouch - the clubs' prized mini-draft selection in 2011 is now eligible to play. The on-baller collected 31 disposals in a SANFL final last season for a glimpse of what to expect.

Next week - North Melbourne v Melbourne v Richmond at Etihad Stadium, Gold Coast v Hawthorn v Brisbane Lions at Metricon Stadium and GWS v Carlton v Sydney at Blacktown ISP.

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