Sport AFL The simple lesson the AFL can learn from the NRL

The simple lesson the AFL can learn from the NRL

No one there ... because no one cares? Photo: Getty
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It is time. Time the AFL gave their pre-season ‘competition’ the boot.

It offers nothing, means nothing and does nothing – except dampen expectation for the new season ahead.

The NRL clearly lead the way when it comes to handling the pre-season: the up-tempo and quick Auckland Nines tournament, some low-key and untelevised ‘trial games’ with little fanfare and then bang – straight into the real stuff.

Yes, Cronulla and Brisbane went to England for the World Club Series, but they are the exception.

The NRL’s pre-season fixtures are over in 16 days and are treated as what they are: warm-up games.

In the deluded AFL world, the JLT Community Series runs for 24 days, in which every match is televised and analysed to the nth degree.

The AFL trumpet their pre-season program like it actually means something, yet have removed all trace of competition – starting in 2014 with the first NAB Challenge.

By giving the JLT Community Series so much air, the AFL actually hurt themselves.

Imagine the anticipation of seeing the suspended Essendon players return to battle at a near-full MCG in Round 1, instead of the paltry 16,521 people that turned out to see them play the Pies at Docklands last month.

Last season, what if Patrick Dangerfield’s first hit-out in a Geelong jumper was in a game that actually meant something, and not a scratch match against the Bombers at Deakin Reserve in Shepparton?

What about the bizarre sight of seeing Sam Mitchell wearing the blue and gold of West Coast at a packed Subiaco Oval – not at Geraldton in a glorified kick-about.

In giving the public these bizarre ‘sighters’ of the season’s most compelling stories, you greatly reduce the impact of seeing them when they actually matter.

Want to savour the Essendon 12’s return from suspension? Oh, well yeah, they kind of already came back a few weeks ago.

Round 1 will see banned Bomber Jobe Watson (left) and Dyson Heppell (right) ‘return’. Photo: Getty

To be honest, the AFL’s pre-season has always been a stinker.

Alternately dubbed the Golden Fleece Night Premiership, the National Panasonic Cup, the Ansett Cup, the Wizard Home Loans Cup, the NAB Cup, the NAB Challenge and, now, the JLT Community Series – it’s never captured the imagination.

(Jardine Lloyd Thompson – JLT – is “one of the world’s leading providers of insurance, reinsurance and employee benefits related advice, brokerage and associated services” if you were wondering.)

Somewhere between 10 seconds and 10 minutes of watching the AFL’s pre-season is all it takes to realise that what you’re watching is diet footy.

Sure, they’ve made every attempt to package it up and make it taste like real footy, but NutraSweet will never be sugar.

All this low-intensity men’s footy just lessens the impact of the AFLW, too, which has seen the women crack into contests as though their lives depended on it.

AFL clubs should just play a couple of trial games behind closed doors to do their fine-tuning, and let the women take centre stage during the summer.

AFLW crowds have dipped since the men joined in, but it was always going to be tough to maintain the hordes that showed up for the first ever games.

And don’t get me started on pre-season injuries – is there anything more galling than watching players go down in a match that means nothing?

In recent weeks, Essendon legend Tim Watson and Grant Thomas have both called for the JLT Community Series to be scrapped, the latter dubbing it “rubbish”.

The former St Kilda coach has always been known as a straight shooter.

He has hit the target flush there.

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