For some AFL teams the pre-season NAB challenge may seem like a chore. It can be an unwelcome distraction ahead of a long season and an opportunity for key players to pick up injuries before a competitive game has even been played. For Geelong Cats boss Chris Scott, however, the challenge is a much needed chance to get his players motoring before their season begins properly. He has promised that the team’s stars will not be rested for the series.
This year’s NAB Challenge begins on 26th February, with Hawthorn meeting Collingwood. The Cats’ first appearance is on 1st March when they meet Gold Coast Suns in Townsville. Their second appearance is against Adelaide Crows 12 days later. Although there is no silverware riding on the challenge, and the two games played by each team are essentially exhibition matches, Scott knows that his team can gain significant amounts of confidence if they perform to the best of their ability. Last year the Cats recorded victories in both of their games. The first was against Collingwood and the second was against Melbourne.
The NAB challenge in 2014 was the first in decades not to culminate in a grand final and for no winner to be crowned. Despite the value of the tournament, the 10 years before 2014 only produced one winner who then went on to be crowned AFL Premier in the same season. That was Geelong in 2009. Perhaps that is an indication of how seriously teams have taken the challenge in the past, or perhaps it is a reflection of how long and arduous the season is. But any teams who show strongly this year will be worth checking out in the betfair odds.
Geelong enjoyed a strong regular season in 2014, winning their first five matches and finishing joint top of the ladder after 22 rounds. Unfortunately an inferior points ratio saw the Cats finish in third position and they went out of the play-offs with a whimper, going down 98-92 at home to North Melbourne in the semi-final. Having come so close before eventually running out of steam last season, the Cats will be desperate to make amends this time around.
The Cats’ regular season begins on Monday 6th April when they face a stern test away to Hawthorn – one of the sides that finished level on points with them last season before going on to defeat table-toppers Sydney in the Grand Final. In the four weeks following that examination they will face three more of last season’s play-off qualifiers. These will be Fremantle, North Melbourne and Richmond. After five weeks of the season we will have a pretty clear idea of whether or not Scott’s team has what it takes to challenge for honours again this year.
Confidence is Key
By taking the NAB Challenge seriously, Geelong are doing all that they can to ensure that they are ready for the test ahead. There are few easy games in the AFL, but the Cats could not have asked for a much trickier start to the season. Any punters hoping to make some money will have to think carefully. If Scott opted to use his squad for the NAB Challenge then he would risk coming into the Hawthorn game undercooked and ill-prepared to challenge the premiers. A strong Challenge followed by a winning start to the season could set the Cats up for a first Grand Final win since 2011. However, a slow start would see them dropping behind their rivals and playing catch-up for the rest of the season. It seems highly unlikely but the negative effects of a poor start to the season could even be enough to see the Cats miss out on the play-offs for the first time since 2006. In light of this, Scott’s stance on the NAB Challenge is completely understandable.