The NAB Cup – An accurate season preview?

For several years the value of the AFL’s annual pre-season competition is questioned from a number of shareholders in the game.

Every year there seems to be debate on the relevance of tournament given the interest factor from clubs, some sections of the media and a proportion of fans. The most public display of dissatisfaction was when St.Kilda claimed the 2004 title when their coach Grant Thomas looked disinterested at best.

Many argue these matches provides some guide to who may be on the podium when the Cup is presented on the final Saturday in September. Many have written about how pre-season results have translated into September success.

Six months is a long time in life let alone football. So rather than looking exclusively at the long-term effects of winning the NAB Cup, I have decided to investigate the short-term effects by seeing how the Premiers of the pre-season have fared in the opening 4 rounds of the premiership season since the competition moved from the midweek mid season timeslot in 1988.

 

PREMIERSHIP SEASON ROUND 1
RECORD: WON 16, LOST 8
AVERAGE MARGINS: WIN 33 pts, LOSS 26 pts
CURRENT STREAK: 1 WIN

Only twice since the Super Goal has been introduced in 2003 have the champions tasted defeat in the opening round. The 2005 Blues couldn’t overcome a steadier North Melbourne side, while the 2010 Bulldogs were out-gunned by eventual premier Collingwood in a shoot out.

There has been 6 times since 1988 where teams have opened their regular season with a win by more than 50 points, with Essendon’s 94-point demolition of Port Adelaide to christen Docklands in 2000 the greatest margin.

Only the 1991 Hawks (Adelaide’s debut game) and the 2010 Bulldogs had lost by in excess of 30 points. There have been 6 instances of teams winning by a single figure margin, the most recent of these being the 2009 Cats in a Grand Final rematch. This season will be the first time that a NAB Cup winner has opened their season outside of Victoria since 2003, with the Crows travelling to the Gold Coast.

 

PREMIERSHIP SEASON ROUND 2
RECORD: WON 12, LOST 11, DRAWN 1
AVERAGE MARGINS: WIN 52 pts, LOSS 27 pts
CURRENT STREAK: 4 WINS

The Drawn match in this sequence was the 1993 Essendon vs Carlton match, where Stephen Kernahan famously kicked his potential game-winning set shot out of bounds on the full after the siren.

In the past 8 seasons, only the 2007 Blues (who were pounded by Geelong) have failed to win, bucking a trend where between 1996-2003 there was only a solitary Round 2 winner amongst the pre-season cup winners (the 2000 Bombers).

Collingwood’s 87-point shellacking of North Melbourne last season was the highest Round 2 margin amongst pre-season cup winners since Hawthorn belted Richmond by 85 points in 1988.

Taking out Carlton’s heavy defeat by Geelong in 2007 (78 points), the average losing margin is reduced to just 20 points .This will be the first year that the winners will have played outside of Victoria since the move to pre-season, with the Crows hosting the Bulldogs on Easter Saturday Night.

 

PREMIERSHIP SEASON ROUND 3
RECORD: WON 16, LOST 8
AVERAGE MARGINS: WIN 37 pts, LOSS 30 pts
CURRENT STREAK: 3 WINS

There have been just 2 victories where the margin has been less than 3 goals for Round 3 victors (2007 Blues by 3 points against Essendon, 2010 Dogs by 16 against Hawthorn in a game where Jordan Lewis was flattened by Jarrod Harbrow).

Similarly only the 1994 Bombers (to St.Kilda) and the 1996 Saints (to Melbourne at Princes Park) have lost matches by below the same threshold.

Just 3 times has a team won by more than 10 goals amongst NAB Cup winners, Port Adelaide accounting for 2 of these including the most recent, an 83-point thrashing of St.Kilda at Docklands in 2002.

No team has lost by more than Geelong’s 52-point home defeat by Hawthorn in 2006, and only North Melbourne’s 48-point loss at the WACA in 1995 against defending premier West Coast was a defeat by more than 7 goals.

The Crows travel to Melbourne, where 7 of the last 8 NAB Cup winners have played their Round 3 match (the other was in Geelong), although 7 times in a span between 1995 and 2003 saw the NAB Cup winners travel to a non-Victorian venue (the 2003 Crows in Sydney, 3 matches all involving Port Adelaide in Adelaide, and 3 games in Perth).

 

PREMIERSHIP SEASON ROUND 4
RECORD: WON 14, LOST 8, DRAWN 1, BYE 1
AVERAGE MARGINS: WIN 47 pts, LOSS 26 pts
CURRENT STREAK: 1 WIN

The 1991 Hawks had a 4th round Bye, the only team in the 5 seasons where a Bye was necessary in the premiership season (1991-1994, 2011)  where the pre-season winners sat out a week.

The drawn match was in 2005, where Carlton benefited from Port Adelaide’s inaccuracy to snatch a share of the points. Only the 2009 Cats and the 2011 Magpies have won matches in Round 4 since the 2005 draw. Given the Crows host projected basement team GWS in the 4th round, it is worth noting that many struggling teams have suffered heavy defeats to NAB Cup Premiers in round 4.

Examples include the 1993 Bombers belting Sydney at the SCG by 93 points (the Swans’ 18th consecutive loss), the 1996 Saints who opened their account against Fitzroy by 85 points (the Lions’ 24th loss in 26 games) and the 2011 Magpies who smashed Richmond by 71 points (the 7th loss in 8 games for Richmond, the other being a draw).

Looking at individual win-loss ratios to open the season and their long-term implications, an NAB Cup premiership is certainly by no means a path to perfection.

That said no team has suffered the embarrassment of following up silverware with 4 losses to open the season. In the following table, any record where a team draws a match or has a bye in the opening 4 rounds is categorised under OTHER.


4 WINS, 0 LOSSES: Essendon 2000, St.Kilda 2004, Collingwood 2011
Only the 2000 Bombers would win the premiership.

3 WINS, 1 LOSS: Hawthorn 1988 (Lost Round 1), Melbourne 1989 (Rd 2), Essendon 1990 (Rd 3), North Melbourne 1998 (Rd 2), Port Adelaide 2001 (Rd 2), Adelaide 2003 (Rd 2)
Only the Hawks in 1988 would win the flag. All of these teams would play in finals, and apart from the 2001 Power they would either lose the Grand Final or be defeated by the eventual beaten Grand Finalist during the finals series.

2 WINS 2 LOSSES: Hawthorn 1992 (Won Rd 1&3), North Melbourne 1995 (Rd 1&2), Carlton 1997 (Rd 3&4), Hawthorn 1999 (Rd 1&3), Port Adelaide 2002 (Rd 3&4), Geelong 2006 (Rd 1&2), Carlton 2007 (Rd 1&3), St.Kilda 2008 (Rd 1&2), Bulldogs 2010 (Rd 2&3)
None of these teams have been premiers, but the 1995 Roos, 2002 Power, 2008 Saints and 2010 Dogs all lost Preliminary Finals. Of the others only the 1992 Hawks would feature in September.

1 WIN 3 LOSSES: Essendon 1994 (Won Rd 1), St.Kilda 1996 (Won Rd 4)
Both sides would miss the finals, but would play in finals in each of the next 2 seasons

OTHER: Hawthorn 1991 (2 Wins, 1 Loss, 1 Bye), Essendon 1993 (1 Win, 2 Losses, 1 Draw), Carlton 2005 (1 Win, 2 Losses, 1 Draw)
Both the 1991 Hawks and 1993 Bombers would win the flag, the 2005 Blues would finish last.

 

The best form to carry into any season is winning form, and based on history Adelaide would have a good chance of at least featuring as a pace setter and perhaps even be prominent when the September action commences.

It is up to the players and their coaching staff to ensure that if a finals position is gained, then starting the season on the positive side of the ledger is a must.

The appetiser of the pre-season is now over, it’s time for the main course!

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