As we enter the final weekend of the preseason, clubs start taking a different approach to preparing for Round 1.
Gone are the days when each pre-season match saw clubs focusing on three particular aims, looking at new players, getting injured players back on the park and working on the game plan. Each match now depends on how far the club is into the pre-season with each match representing something different, as a club and for individual players.
Clubs have long spoken out about their lack of enthusiasm for pre-season matches and the AFL has listened and adapted the competition to what the clubs want. The pre-season has become more about getting out into the community and areas which wouldn’t normally see live games than results and filling stadiums. It has become about clubs doing what they want to do individually than fighting for a pre-season premiership.
While a NAB Cup premiership win is something every club would like, it would be little more than a bonus in trying to be ready for Round 1 for most clubs. Sydney is one classic example of a club which has long ignored the pre-season competition to ensure the club and players are ready for Round 1
There’s no doubt that when Carlton and the Brisbane Lions players take to field to compete for the NAB Cup, they will be doing everything to win, but decisions on which players to sub and not play will be made looking forward to Round 1.
The final is likely to be the closest indication of any of the final round matches in regards to how sides will be in Round 1.
The Lions have said they will take this approach as they look to add some silverware to their cabinet. Besides injured players, including Matthew Leuenberger and Simon Black, they will play their strongest team.
As teams enter their final pre-season matches, it will be interesting what approach each teams take.
The first major shock to come in the final week of the pre-season is that four teams won’t play matches at all. Normally all clubs are given the same amount of pre-season games. Essendon, Adelaide, West Coast and Fremantle have been given the weekend off as they play in the first week of Round 1. Whether these clubs knew about this in advance is unknown, but it came as a surprise for supporters who were expecting to see their teams play.
You would think that the clubs would have known about this and prepared for other matches with this in mind. These clubs will now turn to the state competitions as the final steps for Round 1 are put in place.
Players on the edge of selection will be given an opportunity to press their cases. Big name players who have struggled with injuries over the pre-season will also use the matches to get some match fitness going into the season proper.
Whilst those four teams have the weekend off, the other teams are likely to take one of two approaches in the final match. Some teams will come out swinging; they will look at playing their best players and play as if it’s in the season proper. Teams which have struggled so far will and looking for a win will be among those teams. Others will take a totally different approach and let the youngsters take to the field and allow rookies to push for a Round 1 start.
This will also depend on where teams are playing. Veterans who have already played in some pre-season games will likely to be rested instead of travelling.
With 14 teams playing, you are likely to find that at least one team will play the final pre-season match the way they are generally played, a mixture of youth, game plan and getting injured players back on the field.
The one thing that is for sure is that each club looks at the pre-season differently and has different aims for what they want to achieve. But all teams have one goal, to be ready for Round 1.