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Star VFL Cats commit

Reigning best-and-fairest James Tsitas has committed to Geelong’s VFL program if he goes undrafted. (Geelong Cats Image/Arj Giese)

GEELONG has locked away its last two VFL best and fairest winners James Tsitas and Tom Atkins as the Cats continue to piece together its 2018 list.

VFL coach Shane O’Bree confirmed that Atkins, Tsitas and key forward Sam Dobson will be back in the blue-and-white hoops next season – provided they don’t find new homes in the upcoming AFL national or rookie drafts.

The Cats have released their initial pre-season training squad of 52 which contains ex-St Kilda listed and current South Barwon big man Jay Lever, who previously spent a couple of seasons at Kardinia Park before returning to the GFL.

Eight players from this year’s Geelong Falcons premiership side have been invited to train while 23 members from this year’s squad are also in the mix.

New faces include Northern Territory pair Raven Marika and Lochlan Dhurrkay, Western Jets’ Nick Stuhldreier and former Geelong Falcons Zach Zdybel (Colac) and Jackson McLachlan (St Josephs).

O’Bree hopes the addition of former North Ballarat captain Luke Kiel will fill the leadership void left by the retirement of co-captain Jake Edwards.

But he’s also keen to see Atkins, Tsitas and Dobson step up their leadership duties in 2018.

“We felt at times this year we lost games because we lost momentum swings and that was probably due to leadership because we weren’t that experienced out on the ground,” O’Bree told krockfootball.com.au

“So we’re hoping that Luke can come in and, not only know our systems, but lead at the same time.

“He can play multiple positions as well.

“I think we’ve got a bit more depth and experience in our squad next year. We’re after leaders so this pre-season we’ll be looking to see not just their footy ability, but how they lead as well at training to start off with and then in games when they come around.”

Atkins and Tsitas are the most likely players to attract interest from AFL clubs for their ability to win contested ball and also their pressure around the contest.

Dobson’s marking is a feature of his game and he won the Cats’ VFL goalkicking this year playing just 12 games.

O’Bree is hopeful one of that trio might have the attributes that appeal to an AFL club.

“They’ve invested a lot of time into our program and likewise we’ve invested a lot of time into them,” O’Bree said.

“The end dream for them is to be drafted and we’re still hoping that a couple of our guys might get drafted. Sometimes it’s just about opportunity.

“If not, they’re still in our program and want to keep improving and be the best footballers that they can be.”

Edwards, Jai Thompson, Simon Close and Jack Berry are among the confirmed departures from the Cats’ VFL program.

The Cats will officially begin pre-season training on November 20.

Twitter: @GreenBradley