After two long weeks, the first round of the NAB Cup has finally finished and footy fans all over have been asking themselves one question: Do we really have to endure another three weeks of this?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful for the current matches we’ve been provided with but after a long summer looking forward to some football, the present competition just doesn’t cut it.
1. THE STARS DON’T PLAY
For many young players, the NAB Cup is an excellent opportunity to gain match experience and generally push for inclusion in the best 22.
However, for the experienced players, the competition merely provides a chance to stretch the muscles before the season proper begins.
Over the past fortnight Nick Dal Santo, Corey Enright, Scott Pendlebury, David Mundy and several other key players have been missing from their respective sides.
More stars have played for a single 40-minute game before being rested for the next match.
For the elite, these games are nothing more than a hit-out, more a chore than anything else.
It’s great the kids get a chance, but ultimately if it appears that the players themselves don’t care about the competition, the fans can hardly be expected to.
2. THE FORMAT
Two years ago the NAB Cup was played on a weekly elimination format over four weeks.
The last two years have seen radical change in its structure, with the competition split into six pools of three teams, each playing a round robin with the games lasting only two 20-minute halves.
2012 sees teams playing a further two full-length matches in order to determine the sides that will play off in the Grand Final.
It’s unnecessarily convoluted is what I’m trying to say.
With such low interest in the outcome of the pre-season matches, is there really a need for the format to be changed regularly?
All it does is create confusion, which in turn further damages the interest levels in the competition.
3. THE RULES
For an outsider looking in, the rules for a regular AFL match can be quite confusing.
For an fanatic watching the NAB Cup, the rules are bewildering at best.
The AFL has decided that the NAB Cup is a perfect opportunity to trial rules that most fans vehemently object to.
The major problem with these trials is that most alter the very fundamentals of the game we know and love and most seem very unlikely to ever be included in the real stuff.
With all these rules changing the basic fundamentals of the game, the end product becomes something scarcely recognisable as AFL.
The public want to see the game we’ve grown up watching; not a game which is played under different laws.
4. THE RESULTS ARE MEANINGLESS
Adding to the public’s general indifference is the fact that there is not much difference between winning the entire competition or being eliminated in the first round.
The pre-season – as it is – is an unreliable form line heading into the regular season.
Carlton won the pre-season competition in 2005, only to win another four games for the rest of the year; Collingwood lost their opening match in 2010 only to finish up Premiers.
As a result, the matches become irrelevant, providing little entertainment to the dedicated viewers watching from the stands and at home.
If the matches took more importance and had a greater effect on the entire year, more people would watch.
5. THE STANDARD
Let’s be honest, there is an obvious reason why a lot of the players in the NAB Cup don’t play during the regular season.
Most of them simply aren’t ready for the challenges AFL footy brings, and the quality of the matches deteriorate because of it.
To be fair, the game-time provided can be invaluable in preparing young players for the step up in competition, but the skills being displayed are of an inferior quality, as the most talented players are being rested in preparation for the regular season.
This makes the majority of the matches harder to enjoy, particularly when the fans are aware that the stars would be playing if the competition held any real significance.
6. THE WEEKS COULD BE BETTER SPENT
Wouldn’t the preseason be better spent if it weren’t one at all?
Instead of the NAB Cup couldn’t we just begin the Home and Away season five weeks earlier and allow everyone to participate in what they really want?
It may be tougher on the players, but the AFL has shown over the last few seasons that it is willing to provide bye rounds in order to create a recovery period for players; an extra week or two could be enough to allow fatigued players to recuperate.
When you also allow for more matches in a season you’re also allowing more teams to play each other twice in the year, and with expansion sides Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney expected to struggle in their first few years of development, playing these teams once or twice can be the difference between making finals and just missing out.
The fixtures, which annually is the cause of a lot of controversy and tension amongst fans, naturally becomes fairer for more clubs.