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12 February 2014

NAB Challenge: The AFL's bastard child gets uglier

Happy days: The Saints celebrate their 1996 Ansett Cup win.

Are you ready for the festival of footy that is the NAB Challenge? Eighteen games in 18 days, a cavalcade of pre-season football chock full of low-intensity games, nine-pointers and a re-worked interchange cap. Where did it all go wrong?

The Golden Fleece Night Premiership (still unsure whether Jason got a kick), the National Panasonic Cup, the Ansett Cup, the Wizard Home Loans Cup and, most recently, the NAB Cup has always been the AFL's bastard child, a competition as ugly as sin that has failed to capture the imagination of the public.

It's been a constant disappointment to its parents, and they have resorted to tinkering with annoying rule changes and fixturing, roaming far and wide in recent years in an attempt to grow the game in locales like Alice Springs, Wagga Wagga and Wangaratta.

Sure, it's had its comedic value over the journey. Like the time the sprinklers came on at Waverley during a match between Hawthorn and Claremont. Or the TV awarded by Channel 7 commentators to Carlton's Robbert Klomp for his 'best on ground' display in a 1981 pre-season fixture in which he collected nine disposals.

For the past few seasons, the AFL adopted a three-team, school-carnival type format for the opening round, with shortened games of two halves and, ridiculously, one team that would have to sit out the middle fixture for an hour or so.

This year, it seems the AFL has finally thrown up its hands in defeat and decided to cut this insolent kid loose with the newly re-branded 'NAB Challenge': 18 games in 18 days, each team plays twice, no Grand Final, no Michael Tuck medal.

The League didn't even let poor Tucky know they had decided to axe the medal that bears him name.

I don't want to get involved, said Tuck when asked about the slight.

The infuriating rule changes are still there, this year clubs will get the chance to road test their plans for the forthcoming interchange cap. Brace yourself.

During the NAB Challenge, teams will be allowed to have six players on the bench with two substitutes, with a total cap of 130 rotations, not including those made during the breaks.

They are allowed to use the two subs in the first half then reset those subs at half-time, with new subs or the same players, clear?

The nine-pointers remain, while players who duck their heads or drop at the knees before being tackled will be deemed to have had prior opportunity to dispose the ball and penalised.

If all this sounds like confusing madness, it is.

But after dropping bucks during the Spring Carnival, being underwhelmed by an Ashes whitewash and bored witless by the limited overs matches which followed, buoyed by Big Stan's Australian Open win and bemused by the action from Sochi, I know exactly where I'll be come 7:10 Wednesday night.

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