AFL 2023: Jake Stringer, Mason Redman in training fight; Dustin Martin primed for big year up forward, Jacob Hopper


Things got personal at Bombers pre-season training on Friday as two competitive beasts needed to be separated by teammates. Plus all the important news from the track.

Pre-season training is ramping up as the 2023 AFL season quickly draws closer.

Here’s the latest from Essendon after the club completed a two-hour training session in the sun at Tullamarine on Friday morning.


As competitive beasts, Jake Stringer and Mason Redman only know one way.

There is not often much slack given to teammates during training and tensions boiled over between the pair during some partial match simulation on Friday.

The two had to be separated by teammates after getting in a little bit of push and shove following a contest.

A few choice words were exchanged before the pair split and moved on.


Recruit Sam Weideman has had a minor setback in his preparations for the coming season after tweaking a calf.

The former Melbourne key forward was on light duties at training on Friday, jogging some laps for a large portion of the session.

The Bombers are hopeful that Weideman can play a significant role in their attack as a second tall option alongside Peter Wright this year.

He is expected to be fit to return to main training after players enjoy a five-day long weekend starting on Australia Day.

James Stewart (foot), Nik Cox (ankle) and Anthony Munkara (managed) also remain on light duties.


Essendon still has one vacant list spot, after it moved father-son draftee Jayden Davey to its inactive list as he continues his recovery from an ACL injury.

Former Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Mitch Szybkowski and former Oakleigh Chargers ruckman Hudson O’Keefe have been training with the club this month in a bid to secure the final spot and were working hard on the track on Friday.

However, it does not look like a decision will be made on that final list spot anytime soon.

Reports out of Western Australia this week have said that 188cm East Fremantle utility Jack Cleaver is also set to also join training from January 30 after some late interest from Essendon.

The Bombers have until February 15 to sign a player through the Pre-Season Supplementary Selection Period.


Zac Merrett appears to be firming as Essendon’s next captain.

The midfielder has put together a strong summer and experienced track watchers have noted that he has been quite vocal.

Merrett, 27, was again doing a bit of pointing and instructing during drills on Friday, as well as leading from the front with his actions and workrate.

Dyson Heppell, 30, is yet to officially stand down as skipper but has said he would happily step aside if it was the best thing for the club.

Heppell has served as captain since 2017.

NO.1 IN NO.5

He was wearing a No.5 top, but Harley Reid is widely expected to be the No.1 draft pick this season.

The talented young star did not look out of place as he trained with the Bombers for the first time as part of the AFL Academy program.

Hailing from the Victorian country town of Tongala, Reid starred in his bottom-age season last year as a versatile player who could have a serious impact in any position he played.

He looks to have added a little more size and height over the off-season and big things are expected from him this year.

But unfortunately for the Bombers, he is unlikely to end up in a red and black unless disaster strikes and the Bombers bottom out on the ladder this year.

Reid will also train with the club from Monday to Wednesday next week.


Young Bombers key forward Harrison Jones is back in full training as was even doing some extra work as he prepares for what Essendon hopes will be a big year.

Jones trained with teammates for most of the main session on Friday, before doing some extra work on his one-on-one contests and leading patterns with the help of development coaches Michael Hurley and Travis Cloke on the secondary oval at Tullamarine.

The 21-year-old has battled foot and ankle issues over the past two season and managed just 10 games last season.

Jones had burst onto the scene in 2021, kicking 20 goals from his first 16 AFL matches.


Jay Clark

Richmond superstar Dustin Martin is ready to bounce back to his best after two injury-ravaged years, according to teammate Liam Baker.

The three-time Norm Smith Medalist is on the verge of completing a full pre-season and looks set to spend more time forward after another impressive showing in match simulation on Thursday.

New recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper were standouts in the middle in the 20-minute scratch match and look set to lead the engine room in 2023, allowing Martin to play closer to goal.

Martin looked in supreme physical condition and showcased his trademark power in congestion at Punt Rd after two years marred by a serious kidney injury and repeated hamstring problems.

Baker, who helped launch a new KFC sponsorship at the club on Thursday, said the Tigers underachieved last year, bombing out in the first final loss to Brisbane Lions after missing September altogether in 2021.

But he said Martin’s return to full fitness along with the arrivals of Taranto and Hopper was a huge boost as the 2020 premiers look to try to return to the top-four this season.

“Dustin is back, he is fit and he has got a full preseason in which is exciting for us,” Baker said.

“He was coming off the kidney (last year) but he is moving well and his time trial (results) coming back were good which is a good sign with Dustin.

“Out on the track he is big and strong, and pushing people around, and we can’t wait to see it come game time.”

Martin averaged the fifth-most centre bounce attendances per game for the Tigers last year but the moves to bring in Taranto and Hopper saw Martin spend more time forward on Thursday where he will likely join forces with Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch, who is on light duties with a foot issue.

Baker said the early signs from former GWS Giants’ teammates Taranto and Hopper were encouraging after trading away a swathe of top draft picks for the gun ball winners.

“Both of the boys out there are just winning contested ball, that is why they are in here,” Baker said.

“There was a bit of waxing going on (between themselves) at times I noticed, but they had the ball a lot of the time because they were in good position, and they are smart players, and best and fairest winners.”

Hard nut Baker was another stand-out on Wednesday on a back flank, alongside former skipper Trent Cotchin at times.

Dylan Grimes and Noah Balta led a defensive unit which will be tasked with tightening up in the new season after struggling at times to stop the opposition scoring in 2022.

Richmond coughed up the ninth-most points against last year, were ranked 13th for conceding a score per entry into the defensive 50m and 15th for points conceded from a stoppage.

Young defender Josh Gibcus is set to miss the first month of the season at least after undergoing surgery on his hamstring injury on Thursday.

Baker said he didn’t expect the Richmond game style to change too much this year as Richmond looks to play quickly and exert high pressure on the opposition in the forward half.

“It’s just doing what we are good at a lot better,” he said.

“We weren’t up to it last year clearly, but we feel like with a few new boys coming in and some younger boys getting a bit more mature we can go a step further.

“We are certainly putting in the work, as everyone else is though. Nothing is handed to you, so we will continue to do that and hopefully have a big six weeks to setup the games.”


Gun key forward Tom Lynch and hard nut midfielder Jack Graham ran laps of the Punt Rd boundary line as they attempt to overcome foot issues. Nick Vlastuin (ribs) and Marlion Pickett (thumb) were also on light duties, while Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin stepped out of some of the early drills as part of their regular training programs. Jayden Short was another who completed some light running off to the side away from the main group and appeared proppy at times. Ruckman Ivan Soldo was absent.


Maurice Rioli provided one of the highlights of the session laying a bone-jarring tackle on a young teammate which forced Rioli off the ground. He appeared to cop a knock to the shin but would have delighted coaching staff with his tackling intensity late in the session. He is set to play an important small forward role in 2023 although young defender Kaleb Smith kept him on a tight leash on Thursday.


Former Cat Quinton Narkle has trimmed down significantly in his bid to secure a list spot in the supplemental selection period. The livewire looked several kilograms lighter and showed silky skills at times in a defensive rebounding role. Narkle is up against Corowa-Rutherglen country footy star Kaelan Bradtke for the final spot. Bradtke has also impressed in a key forward role and is under serious consideration as Tiger chiefs weigh up whether they need another marking target. Richmond could also keep the list spot open for the mid-season draft. Ben Miller trained in a forward role on Thursday as part of a switch from defence.


Richmond look set to unleash another fast-paced game style this year with an emphasis on quick and direct ball movement. The Tigers briefly flirted with a slower and more controlled style of play last season, but ditched it for a return to the high pressure game after a slow start to the 2022 season. Richmond moved the ball quickly along the boundary mostly on Wednesday and practiced a switch from defence drill before the match simulation. Collingwood and Geelong set the pace with their offence and quick ball movement last year and Richmond seems set to try and match the two top-four challengers in this area.

Originally published as AFL pre-season 2023: Stay up to date with the latest news

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