New faces: Koby Stevens and Tom Young are getting to know their Bulldogs teammates. Photo: Supplied
LIKE a few of their AFL peers, the Western Bulldogs yesterday got back into the business of pre-season training - with one major difference. While the bulk of the competition won't play for another four months, the Dogs will be pulling on the boots for their first hit-out of a new campaign in just four days.
Post-season exhibition games in London, the last of which was played six years ago, have traditionally been a footnote to the season just completed, a final assignment before AFL players have a well-earned break.
But for the Bulldogs and Port Adelaide - their opponent on Saturday at the Oval - the holidays are over and, effectively, their first game of 2013 arrives with all concerned if not just a little short of peak fitness, a lot shorter for touch.
"It's unusual," Bulldogs football manager James Fantasia said yesterday.
"You're a little bit compromised because of the restrictions around players' annual leave, but we just thought it was a really good opportunity because we've got such a young group that we take them away, and rather than just play the game, turn it into a pre-season camp.
''For us, the bonding is as important as getting the conditioning into them.''
While conscious of the players' eight-week leave requirements, Fantasia said the club had maintained an "open door" policy for those who wanted to train in the lead-up to this week.
"It's been completely up to them, but most have bobbed up at some stage just to do a session here and there, and that's been really pleasing."
The two newest Doggies, former West Coast midfielder Koby Stevens and former Collingwood youngster Tom Young, were acquainting themselves with their new teammates and their new Whitten Oval home as the club officially regathered for the new season yesterday.
And there's every chance they'll both be pulling on a Bulldogs jumper in a match situation before they've even got their heads around all their new teammates' names, with the club's entire list heading for London tonight for a training camp leading up to the game on Saturday night (Melbourne time).
Port left on Sunday, heading to Milan for a similar purpose.
"This was their first day, and tomorrow they go away with the boys. I don't think you could get a better way of getting to know the group," Fantasia said.
The Dogs' other "newbie", father-son pick Lachie Hunter, will be staying home, with VCE exams to focus on. But the new players aren't the only Bulldogs for whom the London camp and game will be a swift introduction to the business of season 2013.
Newly-appointed high performance manager Graham Lowe, who has most recently looked after Scottish rugby and had a long association with New Zealand's All Blacks, will not only be taking charge of the senior list, but meeting them for the first time only upon their arrival in England.
Strength and rehabilitation co-ordinator Matt Hibbert has held the fort since the departure of Lowe's predecessor, Bill Davoren, for St Kilda.
The club has also acquired, on a full-time basis, American strength and conditioning coach Andy Barnett, whose background is in the NFL, and most recently, with New Zealand's Olympic squad.
The Bulldogs will rest most of their veterans, including Adam Cooney, who left yesterday for treatment at a German clinic for his troublesome knee, but who will join the group later in the week.
But the Bulldogs have close to a full book from which to choose, with big man Tom Campbell, who has had ankle surgery, one of only a few rehabilitation cases.
Saturday's game will be a valuable learning experience for the younger Bulldogs, stresses Fantasia. Even if, nine weeks after the last game for 2012 but essentially the first of 2013, no one's expecting the slickest skills in the world.