In just four weeks the wait will be over. Keen followers of the AFL have spent the summer arguing about the usual offseason tripe.
Memberships, attendances, joining in the weekly code war, whether Richmond will make it, how low GWS will go, whether various players are training the house down, or whether Collingwood will get a free ride.
Newspapers carry stories of clubs and players that are ready to go at it like a bull in a china shop as they scramble to find news to appease the football loving public in the off season.
Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can finally get back to what we want to see – actual football.
So what I hear you say, it’s the preseason, it means nothing to anyone. I say to you, that you are sorely mistaken.
The preseason allows us to see players who wouldn’t necessarily get a game when premiership glory is on the line. It can be invaluable for any club in great need of a great start to the season. You can generate quite a bit of positive flow toward the club with a stirring performance.
This can be particularly useful when looking for members and sponsors. I imagine people who rarely get to see professional sport first hand in smaller cities across the country would be quite fond of the preseason.
Since 1988 the VFL/AFL have conducted a pre-season competition, which has been over the years mainly based on a knockout format.
In 2012 clubs are guaranteed four rounds of pre-season matches all over this fair country. This season takes us to the three way matches seen for the first time in last years NAB Cup, followed by a guaranteed two rounds of regular matches played all over the country.
Say what you like about the NAB Cup and its relevance to the real thing, there’s no doubt that for professional sport locations out in the middle of nowhere, these matches are a godsend.
In 2012 at least, it has the added bonus of sending out the big Victorian teams (Collingwood, Essendon and Carlton in particular) to places that get very few visits from them.
NAB Cup Round 1:
Hawthorn, Richmond and North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium)
GWS, Bulldogs and Collingwood (Blacktown)
WEst Coast, Fremantle and Essendon (Pattersons)
Geelong, St Kilda and Sydney (Etihad Stadium)
Gold Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne (Metricon)
Adelaide, Port and Carlton (Aami)
For those unfamiliar with the triangular format, the competition is basically three matches, one after the other with two short halves and a quick break between matches.
Clubs can completely change squads between matches if necessary. The matches also feature the nine point super goal for goals kicked from further than 50 metres out.
Predicting the NAB Cup winners can be fraught with danger. Some clubs take it seriously, some clubs dont. Some clubs go all out (Port make this promise annually) while others are quite blatant in their belief it’s a practice run (see Paul Roos every year ad nauseum), so I’ve elected to give predictions for the first round only.
Richmond will show up bright eyed and bushy tailed – and will be stomped by Hawthorn. Collingwood will make probably their only trip to Blacktown ever to face GWS. Why Sydney isn’t in this group is beyond me given the AFL have neatly combined all other home state groups.
Perth people will get to see the Bombers on a rare visit out west, where West Coast will comfortably account for all, and Fremantle’s hopes rest on one man – Aaron Sandilands – being fit.
Geelong will dominate its group at Etihad. The close ones will be at Metricon, although I expect Brisbane with Merett and Brown back to lay down the law over a still gathering Gold Coast and Melbourne.
Carlton will head to Adelaide where it should win both matches comfortably.
NAB Cup round two combines the NAB Cup with matches that used to form the NAB Challenge (for eliminated teams).
Previously it was losing sides that competed in matches outside of the major metro areas.
This year matches will be featured at Mandurah, Wangaratta, Alice Springs, as well as a rare AFL match at Bruce Purser Reserve for the Swans. Other matches will be played at traditional season venues at Etihad, Aurora and Metricon.
NAB Cup round three takes matches to Albury, Victor Harbor, and Ballarat as well as the usual AFL venues at Etihad, Simonds, Patersons and Aami.
The Carlton v Brisbane match is listed as TBC for some reason, although I’d suggest its likely to be in Victoria. That said, I’ve also heard that its going to Queensland, I guess time will tell.
Under the new TV deal ALL preseason cup matches are broadcast live on Fox, and will not be shown on FTA for the first time.
The Grand Final will be simulcast on the Seven Network. Note also that local matches which are usually shown in non victorian states on Free to Air do not get the same protection during the NAB Cup.
As a further note, Foxtels Footy Channel launches on February 17th with the triangular games between North, Hawthorn and Richmond. The 2012 AFL Premiership Season begins March 18th, 2012.