The AFL is like a game of cards; sometimes you draw a good hand, sometimes you don’t. Other times, no matter how hard you try to trade your cards for a better hand, the dynamics still aren’t right. However, given the opportunity, most would take the opportunity to play their hands if given the chance.

The AFL pre-season and the NAB Cup is crucial in setting the foundations for each and every club’s premiership campaign. Not only is it important to gauge the success of fitness and conditioning regimes employed by clubs, it also provides coaching staff with the perfect opportunity to try new structures and alter playing positions before the all-important opening bounce of the premiership season.

There is more to the NAB Cup then just toying with structures and evaluating fitness. The NAB Cup provides an invaluable endorsement for the AFL and clubs alike. Its existence creates an air excitement amongst football lovers, indicating that the start of the season is fast approaching. It showcases fans with a glimpse of what they have to look forward to in the upcoming season and in the years to come.

In fact, the NAB Cup should be accompanied by more exhibition matches to create more hype and excitement prior to that opening bounce of Round 1. It also provides clubs with the opportunity to showcase their new membership packages and to lure in new members. Many clubs benefit greatly during the NAB cup and through exhibition matches.

There’s not much that can excite fans more than seeing their team’s young talent running around on the field. If it doesn’t excite fans, it certainly has the capacity to fill them with hope, proving that the talent and courage displayed on-field by a new breed of clubmen may win them a premiership one day.

One thing the AFL has done right throughout the pre-season and NAB Cup is ensuring that entry prices are affordable for families. Perhaps it’s the AFL’s way of showing the public that it does believe in grassroots football and that it is important to get behind the talented youngsters that are newly involved with football at an elite level.

Critics of the NAB Cup fail to see the big picture. It provides a platform for clubs to try and improve on previous years and it provides clubs with the opportunity to give rookies a chance and some playing experience.

It is ignorant to even suggest that the NAB Cup “doesn’t mean anything”. Yes, the NAB Cup does not have anything to do with the standings of the premiership season, however, it as much a tactical minefield on par with any other premiership match.

AFL, particularly the NAB Cup, is very much like a game of cards. There are two options: play the hand you have, fielding the best 22 from the previous season and have a higher chance of pre-season glory, or play some of your hand but replace half of your cards with youngsters.

Playing your cards right can make all the difference come finals time and this is why the NAB Cup is particularly important to the game in this day and age. Despite this not being obvious from the outset, it without a doubt will have a profound effect on the final standings of the coming season.

Whichever clubs play a good hand in the NAB Cup will have a chance in pre-season glory, but the club that plays the right hand is more likely to boast premiership success.