Australian Football League pre-season competition
The Australian Football League pre-season competition, which is known at present as the NAB Challenge, is a competition held before the beginning of the Australian Football League (AFL) premiership season. It is currently a three-round competition involving all 18 AFL clubs.
- 1 Current format
- 2 History
- 3 AFL pre-season cup winners
- 4 Recent attendances
- 5 Other pre-season competitions
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The 2014 NAB Challenge features 18 games played over 18 days; each team plays two games, and there is no Grand Final or overall winner.
Most games, including the final, are night matches. Normal games are typically played slightly short of full-length (quarters lasting 17½ or 18 minutes plus time-on instead of the normal 20), and with an extended interchange bench of six or eight players to offer less physically demanding conditions for the pre-season games. Lightning matches are played over two halves of 20 minutes plus time-on.
When the competition was played as a knock-out tournament, known as the 'NAB Cup', teams which had been eliminated from the pre-season competition played practice matches against each other. These practice matches were known as the 'NAB Challenge', and were often played outside the major capital cities.
Particularly in the 21st century, the pre-season competition has been used to trial rule changes before they are introduced into the premiership season.
The current pre-season competition has its origins in a post-season competition which began in 1956 as the VFL Night Premiership. The Night Series was originally contested by the eight teams that missed the VFL finals. After a hiatus, the Night Series returned in a completely new format, as a mid-season competition with some pre-season games, and able to be contested by teams from outside the VFL. Eventually, as this format fell out of favour, the entire competition was switched to the pre-season.
As such, even though there are three completely different eras of the Night Series/Pre-Season, all three formats are considered to be historically equivalent; that is, a team will usually speak of its night premierships and pre-season premierships collectively, despite the widely different formats under which they were won. In all three formats, the night or pre-season premiership is considered significantly less prestigious than the main competition premiership.
1956–1971: First Night Series (post-season)
The Night Premiership was first instituted in 1956, contested in September as a three round knock-out tournament amongst the eight VFL teams who did not make the final four. Games were played at the Lake Oval, Albert Park, then the home ground of South Melbourne, as it was the only ground equipped to host night games. Despite the fact that not all VFL teams participated, the first season's average crowd was 20,000 for the seven matches played, while a crowd of 33,120 watched the first night Grand Final.
As a once-off in 1957, teams which contested the VFL finals entered the Night Series after they were eliminated from the VFL premiership race. This was ultimately not successful, and the VFL elected to return to the original format in 1958.
The format was based upon a similar post-season competition which began in the SANFL in 1954.
1972–1976: No competition
In 1972, the VFL switched from a final four to a final-five playoff system. With only seven teams available to contest it, the Night Premiership ended.
1977–1987: Second Night Series
The Second Night Series, known more formally as the Australian Football Championships Night Series or AFC Night Series, was established in 1977 using a different format, with games played under floodlights at VFL Park. Games were televised midweek with some played in the pre-season and the rest played during the home-and-away season. The tournament was largely a knock-out format, but featured qualifying rounds, lucky losers, and first-round byes in various years (see below).
The competition was established in 1977 as a rival to the NFL Night Series, an equivalent competition established by the National Football League in 1976. The NFL's night series in 1976 had featured clubs from the VFL, SANFL, and WAFL, and had most matches played in Adelaide. After the success of the 1976 competition, particularly for television numbers, VFL withdrew its teams from the NFL night series to compete in the new competition based at VFL Park in Melbourne. The VFL effectively administered the competition, although it did so through a newly established company known as Australian Football Championships.
After fielding a state representative team from Tasmania in 1978, the AFC Night Series expanded interstate in 1979, when representative teams from all four minor states (Tasmania, New South Wales, A.C.T. and Queensland) and the WAFL clubs defected from the NFL Night Series and joined the AFC Night Series. The NFL Night Series was not revived in 1980, and the SANFL clubs joined the AFC Night Series. In 1980 and 1981, the competition was at its largest, as all VFL, WAFL, SANFL and minor states teams competed.
The size of the competition was reduced from 1982, and thereafter only the top two or three teams from the SANFL and WAFL were invited. However, the Victorian teams dominated, and only three non-VFL teams ever reached Night Series semi-finals (East Perth 1979, Claremont 1980, North Adelaide 1986); none made it through to the Grand Final.
In 1987, the combined pre-season/mid-season format reverted to only the VFL teams – including newcomers Brisbane and West Coast – taking part.
|1979||23||All 12||–||All 8||Tasmania, N.S.W., A.C.T.|
|1980||34||All 12||All 10||All 8||Tasmania, N.S.W., A.C.T., Queensland|
|1981||34||All 12||All 10||All 8||Tasmania, N.S.W., A.C.T., Queensland|
|1982||18||All 12||Glenelg, Norwood,||Claremont, South Fremantle,||–|
|1983||17||All 12||Glenelg, Norwood||Claremont, West Perth||Tasmania|
|1984||17||All 12||Sturt, West Adelaide||Claremont, South Fremantle||Queensland|
|1985||17||All 12||Norwood, Port Adelaide||East Fremantle, Swan Districts||Queensland|
|1986||14||All 12||Glenelg, North Adelaide||–||–|
1988–2013: Pre-season cup
In 1988, the competition moved entirely to the pre-season and winning teams subsequently became known as the "pre-season premiers".
In 1992, the competition introduced the Michael Tuck Medal for the best player in the grand final.
Between 1988 and 2010 (except for between 2000 and 2002), it was run as a knock-out tournament where winning teams move through to the next round and losing teams are eliminated. During 2000–2002, a round-robin format was trialled. The 16 teams were divided into groups of four and played their round-robin matches over three weeks. The winner of each group then progressed to the semi-final stage of the competition.
In 2011, with the addition of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants, the first round of the NAB Cup was changed to feature six pools of three teams each, playing round-robin matches under the lightning format. The winner of each of the six groups, and the two teams with the next-best records, advanced to an eight-team knock-out tournament of full-length games. In 2012, this was changed to having all teams playing four matches over three rounds – two lightning matches, then two full-length matches – and the teams with the best record over the four matches facing off in the Grand Final.
Since 2014, the competitive aspect of the preseason was abandoned altogether, and replaced with a series of discrete practice matches spanning a three-to-four week period prior to the home-and-away season. This format features no ranking or overall winner. It does retain some of the experimental features of the former competition, including the super goal. Since 2014, the series has been known as the NAB Challenge.
Evolution of the series
The VFL Final four entered the night competition when they were eliminated from the premiership – the only year this took place. South Melbourne knocked out Carlton (4th) and Essendon (2nd) on their way to back-to-back night premierships. Footscray eliminated Hawthorn (3rd) and Melbourne (VFL Premiers) before being defeated in the semi-final stage.
Footscray won their second straight night premiership.
North Melbourne won their second straight night premiership.
Hawthorn became the fourth team to win back-to-back night premierships.
Melbourne won the final night premiership of the era. The series was disbanded the following year due to the introduction of the final five in the premiership competition.
The NFL's 12-team Wills Cup competition was played under lights in Adelaide. A round-robin format involved four groups of three teams. The four group winners advanced to the knockout semi-final and final. Teams involved were: (VFL) Carlton, Footscray, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond; (SANFL) Glenelg, Norwood, Port Adelaide, Sturt; (WAFL) South Fremantle, Swan Districts, West Perth. Won by Hawthorn, the success of this series inspired the VFL to set up their own competition in 1977.
VFL Night Series relaunched. First two matches played under lights at Lake Oval while the construction of light towers at VFL Park was completed. St Kilda and North Melbourne advanced to the quarter finals as the highest-scoring first-round losers.
The 1977 winner, Hawthorn, received a first-round bye. Geelong advanced to the quarter finals with the lowest first-round losing margin (1 point). They eventually bowed out in the semi-final stage. Tasmania, featuring legendary full forward Peter Hudson, became the first non-VFL team to take part in the series.
The format changed with the initial Round of 12 being expanded into two qualifying rounds. Round 1 of qualifying featured the VFL teams that finished 6th–12th in the premiership in 1978; the WAFL teams finishing 4th–8th in 1978 and the two lowest-ranked state teams of 1978 (NSW and Tasmania).
Round 2 of qualifying involved the VFL's top five of 1978 plus the five VFL teams that progressed through round 1; the WAFL's top three of 1978 plus their two surviving qualifiers and the top-ranked state team of 1978 (ACT).
By the quarter finals, six VFL and two WAFL teams remained. This was cut to three VFL teams and one WAFL team at the semi-final stage. The final was won by Collingwood (VFL third seed) over Hawthorn (VFL first seed).
The inclusion of the 10 SANFL clubs caused a third round to be added to the preliminary stages. Round 1 of qualifying featured the VFL teams that finished 7th–12th in 1979; the SANFL teams that finished third–10th in 1979; the WAFL teams that finished third–eighth in 1979; plus a playoff between the four minor states (Queensland d. Tasmania / NSW d. ACT).
Round 2 of qualifying involved all six VFL teams that survived round 1; the two surviving SANFL teams; the two surviving WAFL teams, and the two remaining minor state teams (Queensland and NSW).
In round 3, the VFL's top six of 1979 joined their four surviving qualifiers from rounds 1 and 2; the SANFL's top two of 1979 joined their sole qualifier and the WAFL's top two joined their remaining qualifier.
As with the previous championships, six VFL and two WAFL teams progressed to the quarter finals. As before, three VFL teams and one WAFL team made it to the semi-final stage. The final was won by North Melbourne (VFL second seed) over Collingwood (VFL third seed).
The format was modified further this season. Round 1 of qualifying saw the VFL teams that finished seventh–12th in 1980 face off – the three winners advanced directly to the third round, the highest-placed loser (Footscray) moved to a second-round playoff against the remaining minor states team and the two lowest-ranked losing teams were eliminated.
All 10 SANFL teams competed, with the biggest winner (South Adelaide) advancing directly to the third round, the other winners moved to the second round and the losing teams were eliminated. Things were slightly less complicated for the eight WAFL teams – the four winners advanced to the second round, the losers were eliminated. The four minor state teams also played off with Tasmania and the ACT proceeding to the second round.
Round 2 featured matches between four SANFL teams, the winners joining South Adelaide in the next round. The four remaining WAFL teams played each other with the two winners and the highest-ranked loser (East Fremantle) advancing to the third round. The two remaining minor state teams clashed, with the winner (ACT) taking on Footscray for the right to advance.
Round 3 had the introduction of the VFL's top six from 1981 alongside the four surviving VFL teams. They eliminated the three remaining SANFL teams and the last three WAFL teams. This meant the finals were an all-VFL affair with Essendon (VFL seventh seed) eventually claiming the title from Carlton (VFL fourth seed).
The Night Series was streamlined with only the top three SANFL and WAFL teams joining the 12 VFL sides in the competition. The SANFL and WAFL top teams entered the main draw directly, whilst their second-and third-rd placed teams played qualifying matches for the remaining two spots. The minor state teams were moved to a separate competition named the Escort Shield.
The series became controversial when St Kilda and Sydney was scheduled in a league match on 20 June, and in a Night Series quarter final on 22 June. To remove the back-to-back scheduling, the Night Series match was moved forward to 8 June, and the Night Series quarter final originally scheduled for that day between Richmond and Swan Districts was moved back to 22 June. Swan Districts coach John Todd protested that the reschedule unduly disrupted his team's preparation for WAFL league matches, so he sent a team of colts and reserves players instead of his senior line-up. The young squad lost by a record margin of 186 points, and the AFC later banned Swan Districts from the Night Series competition for two years. (Swan Districts went on to win the 1982 WAFL premiership).
Further changes meant the SANFL and WAFL's top two teams entered the competition directly. Due to Swan Districts' ban, on the WAFL side of the draw Swan Districts (first) were replaced by West Perth (third).
A qualifying match was introduced giving the winner of the previous season's Escort Shield a chance to enter the main draw by defeating the VFL's last place team of the previous year. Tasmania (1982 Escort Shield winner) took on Footscray (1982 VFL 12th) but was unable to qualify, losing by 108 points at North Hobart Oval.
For the first time in this era, the format remained unchanged. Swan Districts (WAFL first) remained ineligible and were replaced by South Fremantle (WAFL third). Queensland (1983 Escort Shield winner) took on St Kilda (1983 VFL 12th) but fell short of the main draw by just 7 points.
The only fixture change had the Fitzroy v Sydney first-round match moved to 22 May after a flight delay resulted in the Swans arriving late for the original clash on 17 April.
Swan Districts' ban expired, meaning they could finally claim their spot in the competition. However, their return was short-lived, suffering a 91-point thrashing in their first-round encounter with Fitzroy. St Kilda (1984 VFL 12th) again survived a qualification match against Queensland (1984 Escort Shield winner), this time getting home by a far more comfortable margin of 60 points.
More changes were made, with the WAFL no longer taking part, leaving the SANFL's top-two teams as the only interstate sides involved in the competition. The qualifying match between the Escort Shield winner and the VFL's last-placed team was also scrapped.
Subsequently, the "lucky loser" spot returned, allowing the team with the lowest losing margin in the first round to advance to the quarter finals. However, at the end of the first round, Sydney and Collingwood both qualified with a lowest losing margin of 26 points. A lucky loser playoff, held on 22 April, resulted in a Collingwood victory by 37 points and a trip to the next round.
North Adelaide became the last of only three interstate sides to make the semi-finals in this era; the Roosters finally bowing out to Hawthorn to the tune of 90 points.
The SANFL teams followed the lead of their WAFL counterparts the year before and ended all involvement with the series.
This marked the first time since 1977 the competition had been contested solely by VFL teams. Fledgling outfits the Brisbane Bears and West Coast Eagles made their VFL debuts, the Bears losing to Sydney in Round 1, while the Eagles sent shockwaves through the competition by reaching the semi-final stage. Fitzroy advanced to the quarter-finals as the lucky loser after an 11-point loss to Carlton.
Melbourne claimed the last of the mid-season night premierships with a stirring 4-point upset of Essendon on 28 April – the Dees' first silverware since their 1971 night triumph.
The start of the modern era, this was the first of the night premierships to be played entirely in the pre-season. The lucky loser spot was scrapped with both Grand Finalists from the 1987 competition granted a first round bye instead. Hawthorn went on to claim the first pre-season cup with a thrilling 3-point victory over Geelong.
The reigning Grand Finalists, Geelong and Hawthorn received a first round bye, the Cats progressing to their second Cup final in a row. This time, however, it was Melbourne denying them the title as the Demons claimed a 9-point victory – their second flag in three years.
The Demons and Cats received the first round bye, but it was West Coast who received the luckiest break. After losing to Essendon by 3 points, the Eagles received another chance in the first round when Brisbane withdrew from the competition due to financial problems and a player's strike. West Coast stepped in to play North Melbourne on 21 February but their luck ended there, going down to the Kangaroos by just 2 points.
Essendon vs Fitzroy (Feb.28) was the first VFL/AFL match to be decided using extra-time – the Bombers getting home by a goal in overtime then winning their next two matches to claim the title.
The addition of Adelaide to the AFL increased the participating teams to 15, meaning a first round bye was now only awarded to the reigning pre-season premier, and forcing the runner-up to enter the fray in the 1st round.
Collingwood and West Coast played the first pre-season cup match in Darwin on 9 February. Reigning premier Hawthorn received a first round bye, helping them on their way to back-to-back pre-season premierships; the Hawks overcame the surprise Grand Finalist Fitzroy by 65 points.
Problems with new turf at Waverley Park forced the relocation of three matches – Melbourne v Collingwood (Feb.17) was moved to Princes Park, whilst Essendon v Brisbane (Feb.27) and Footscray v Fitzroy (Feb.28) were moved to Kardinia Park.
Reigning premier Hawthorn received a first round bye but it was Essendon who clinched the trophy with a 23-point triumph over Richmond. A record night series/pre-season Grand Final crowd of 75,533 fans jammed into Waverley Park for the match.
Reigning premier Essendon received a first round bye and took full advantage, winning back-to-back titles with a 34-point defeat of Adelaide in the final.
The addition of Fremantle to the AFL raised the number of teams to 16, thus removing the need for a bye in the opening round. The Dockers made their debut at Fremantle Oval on 24 February but it was St Kilda claiming victory with a 35-point win over the new team.
Opening round matches were held in Adelaide, Melbourne, Darwin, Canberra and Brisbane, with St Kilda progressing to win their first pre-season final.
Prior to the start of the Cup competition, the first Lightning Premiership competition since 1953 was held at Waverley Park in early February to launch the AFL's centenary season. All games were played over two 17.5 minute halves and Essendon beat Brisbane in the final.
The Grand Final was held at the MCG to capitalise on Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne – the first title match to be played away from Lake Oval/Waverley Park. A near-record crowd of 74,786 watched Carlton romp home by 57 points against a disappointing Geelong.
Pre-Season football went international for the first time with Brisbane defeating Fremantle in Cape Town, South Africa (Feb.22) followed by a young Melbourne team upsetting Sydney in Wellington, New Zealand (Mar.1).
After criticism that the knock-out format limited the preparation of the losing teams, a round-robin format was introduced. The sixteen teams were split into groups of four, each playing three pool matches with the winner of each group advancing to the knockout semi-final stage. The public reaction to the change was mixed. With the pool games becoming glorified practice matches the atmosphere at some of these early games was noticeably flat compared to previous years.
In other developments Carlton and Collingwood played the earliest season-opener in VFL/AFL history – a one-off New Year's Eve match played 31 December 1999 at the MCG. A sparse crowd watched the Blues get home by 88 points in the "Millennium Challenge", with a young Brendan Fevola starring with 12 goals, the most ever in a pre-season/night series match. A second match was played in New Zealand following the initial foray overseas in 1998, the Western Bulldogs defeating Hawthorn by 47 points in Wellington. The 2000 Ansett Cup also featured the last matches played at Waverley Park prior to the launch of the new Docklands Stadium.
History was made as Port Adelaide took on Brisbane in the first VFL/AFL Grand Final played outside Victoria. It also marked the first Grand Final between two non-Victorian clubs in the League's history. In front of their home crowd at Football Park, the Power romped home by a record margin of 85 points.
The same two teams would play in the 2004 AFL Grand Final, with the Power also winning.
The competition reverted to a knockout format and the "super goal" was introduced. Any goal kicked from outside the 50 metre line (or from a 50-metre penalty awarded outside the line) was now worth 9 points. Additionally, rushed behinds were worth 3 points in a rule designed to deter backmen who used the goals as an "out" when under defensive pressure. Adelaide won the trophy against Collingwood at the Telstra Dome.
A new rule was introduced to determine the venue of the pre-season Grand Final. The team scoring the most goals in the first three rounds would host the title match. If two teams were tied after the semi-finals the number of super goals kicked would act as a tie-breaker.
This followed debate over Port Adelaide (2002 vs Richmond), Adelaide (2003 vs Collingwood) and West Coast (2005 vs Carlton) having to play the Grand Final at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne despite a superior record in that year's tournament to their opponent.
The new rule allowed the high-scoring Adelaide team to host the 2006 final at Football Park against Geelong. However, the Cats clinched the title on the road by 8 points.
A fourth international match took place with Adelaide defeating Collingwood by 81 points at a remodelled polo ground in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Following North Melbourne's decision not to relocate to the Gold Coast, the AFL altered the pre-season fixture; Essendon took North Melbourne's place at Carrara against Brisbane, meaning the Kangaroos had to play the Western Bulldogs in Darwin instead.
As the league expanded to eighteen teams, the first round of the tournament was adapted to a series of six round-robin tournaments, each featuring three teams playing half-length matches on a single night. The winner of each pool, and the two teams with the next-best records, then progressed to an eight-team knock-out tournament.
In a new format, each of the eighteen teams was pre-scheduled with four matches: two half-length matches played on one night in the first round (as per 2011), then two full-length matches on the next two weeks. After this, the teams with the best two records, based on those four matches, will play off in the Grand Final.
New rule trials
The pre-season competition has been a place where the AFL has trialled new rules. The NAB Cup has the intentions of being modern and promoting a fast-paced pre-season competition.
Most of the rules are included as a trial to determine their appropriateness for the regular season, with the obvious exception of the Supergoal. However, the shortness of the pre-season makes it difficult for the AFL to evaluate how coaches will tactically handle rule-changes it makes.
New rules introduced/trialled include:
- Nine points for a goal kicked from outside of the 50 metre arc, known as a Super Goal.
- Three points for a deliberate rushed behind.
- After a behind is scored, no requirement to wait for the goal umpires to wave their flags before kicking out .
- Extra players on the interchange bench, although this is intended mainly so that coaches can try extra players, and ensure that none are over-worked, during the pre-season.
- A larger centre circle.
- 4 field umpires
- Umpires coming in 10m from the boundary line to throw in the ball.
- Play on if the ball hits the goal post and bounces back into the field of play.
- Play on called for backward kicks, except when that kick takes place within the attacking team's forward 50m.
- Video replay umpire for goals. Ability for goal umpire decisions to be overruled by video umpire.
- All nine umpires able to pay free kicks (includes boundary and goal umpires) (Trialled only in Melbourne vs Hawthorn Round 1 NAB Cup 2007)
- Play on called for backward kicks, only in the defensive half of the field.
- Kick must travel 20m to be paid a mark.
- Eight players on the interchange bench, only 16 interchanges permitted each quarter.
- 2.5m x 6.5m "no-go" area around the centre bounce, where players are prohibited before and during the bounce until the umpire clears the area.
- Centre bounces only at the start of a quarter and after goals, ball is thrown up otherwise.
- A line going through middle of ground
- Kick must go 20 metres for a mark
- If the ball is hand-passed or kicked for a rushed behind the opposition receives a free kick (this rule was later introduced in the 2009 AFL season)
- Players can determine if there is an advantage in play
- 18 minute quarters
- A Super Goal is no longer awarded when a 50m penalty moves a set shot from outside 50m to inside 50m; instead, the player either chooses to take a nine-point shot from the 50m line, or a six-point shot from inside 50m.
See AFL for more
Naming rights sponsors
- Golden Fleece Night Premiership (1965–69)
- Radiant Night Premiership (1970)
- Heinz Night Premiership (1971)
- Amco-Herald Cup (1977–78)
- Escort Championships (1979–82)
- Sterling Cup (1983–84)
- Foster's Football Cup (1985–86)
- National Panasonic Cup (1987)
- Panasonic Cup (1988–89)
- Foster's Cup (1990–94)
- Ansett Australia Cup (1995–2001)
- Wizard Home Loans Cup (2002–05)
- NAB Cup (2006–present)
A "lightning premiership" (sponsored by Coca-Cola) was also held in 1996 (see below).
– The competition sponsor for 1979–1984 was actually the cigarette manufacturer W.D. & H.O. Wills – "Escort" and "Sterling" were brand names used by the company during this period.
– The 1995–2001 competitions were officially named the "Ansett Australia Cup" but are more commonly referred to as the "Ansett Cup".
– Similarly, the 2002–2005 competitions were officially named the "Wizard Home Loans Cup" but are usually referred to as the "Wizard Cup".
– National Australia Bank currently hold naming rights for the competition until 2010, renaming it the "NAB Cup".
AFL pre-season cup winners
- (Since 1990)
|1998||North Melbourne||St Kilda|
|2001||Port Adelaide||Brisbane Lions|
|2010||Western Bulldogs||St Kilda|
Pre-season/night and premiership "double"
The night/pre-season and premiership double has only been achieved seven times to date: twice in the second Night Series era (1977–1987) and five times in the Pre-Season era (1988–present).
- Essendon – Night: 1984; Pre-season: 1993, 2000
- Hawthorn – Night: 1986; Pre-season: 1988, 1991
- Geelong – Pre-season: 2009
The double could not be achieved during the first Night Series era (1956–1971) because only the teams who failed to reach the league finals competed in that era.
In 2007, any team achieving the pre-season/league premiership double would receive $1 million in bonus prize money from the competition sponsors, the National Australia Bank (see below). This offer was removed the following season.
The design of the trophy for the pre-season competition has varied greatly over the years.
When it was the Wizard Home Loans Cup it was affectionately known by fans as the "Wizard Wok" due to the shape of it being like a wok.
More recently it has taken the more traditional trophy shape.
As an incentive for clubs to produce competitive performances in the pre-season competition, a bonus A$1 million in prize money was on offer to any club which could win both the pre-season cup and premiership during the 2007 AFL season. This prize would have been separate from the A$220,000 and A$1.4 million prizes for the NAB Cup and premiership victors respectively, and was pledged by the league's two major sponsors Toyota and National Australia Bank. The distribution of the prize would have resulted in half being awarded to the winning club and half being divided among the club's players. Ultimately this offer did not eventuate as two separate clubs, Carlton and Geelong, won the 2007 NAB Cup and 2007 premiership respectively and the incentive was discontinued in future seasons.
- See List of Australian Football League night premiers for Grand Final crowds.
Although many clubs and coaches (especially the wealthier clubs) do not take the pre-season competition seriously and use the competition as a chance to test young and inexperienced players, the NAB Cup format has proven quite popular with spectators.
Other pre-season competitions
A lightning premiership was held for the only time in the modern era in 1996 – the centenary season of the AFL. It was a knock-out competition played from Friday, 9 February until Sunday, 11 February, with four shortened games each evening at Waverley Park, each consisting of two 17.5 minute halves.
The game trialled a number of highly experimental rules, including three points awarded both for deliberate rushed behinds and balls which hit the goalposts, and timekeepers not blowing the siren if scores were tied. However, the rule which altered play most significantly was the ball not being thrown in from the boundary line after travelling out of bounds, a free kick being awarded instead against the last team to touch the ball. Essendon won the title, defeating Brisbane by 17 points in the grand final.
Six previous VFL/AFL lightning premierships were held at midseason in:
- 1940 – won by St Kilda (the Saints' first VFL/AFL trophy)
- 1941 – won by Collingwood
- 1943 – won by Essendon
- 1951 – won by Collingwood
- 1952 – won by Melbourne
- 1953 – won by Richmond
The lightning premiership match format is very close to the format currently seen in the first round of the expanded eighteen-team pre-season.
Since 2003, the AFL has run a series of pre-season practice matches called the "Regional Challenge" or "NAB Challenge" for clubs that are eliminated from the main pre-season cup competition.
The AFL has several aims of the series. It provide eliminated teams with match practice before the main premiership season and brings the game to fans in remote areas and can gauge interest in new markets.
Venues are limited to those that are considered AFL standard. This requires surfaces that prevent injury to players, spectator facilities including grandstand seating and adequate lights for night matches. Many of the matches in this series are still played at current AFL and former AFL metropolitan venues, particularly since 2007 when the Victorian drought made many regional grounds in Victoria either unavailable or unsuitable for AFL matches.
Although the games are informal and there is no actual winner or prize, they have attracted a large amount of interest in regional areas and grown in popularity.
While attendances for these matches are sometimes published in the media and the AFL carries match reports on all matches, the AFL does not always publish attendance for these matches as the attendances are quite low by AFL standards. In 2005, the total Regional Challenge attendance was 117,552, up from 87,000 in 2004 and 76,000 in 2003.
|Year||Date||City||State/Territory||Teams / Score||Venue||Attendance|
|2009||14 March||Bunbury||Western Australia||Fremantle 20.6 (126) defeated Carlton 12.11 (83)||Hands Oval|
|2009||14 March||Melbourne||Victoria||Western Bulldogs 14.17 (101) defeated Melbourne 10.3 (63)||Casey Fields||2,500|
|2009||13 March||Bendigo||Victoria||North Melbourne 17.15 (117) defeated Essendon 15.10 (100)||Queen Elizabeth Oval||2,500|
|2009||7 March||Sydney||New South Wales||Sydney 16.12 (108) defeated Western Bulldogs 12.9 (81)||Bruce Purser Reserve||3,500|
|2009||7 March||Berri||South Australia||Adelaide 15.10 (100) defeated Hawthorn 5.3 (33)||Berri Oval||7,200|
|2009||6 March||Shepparton||Victoria||St. Kilda 16.13 (109) defeated Richmond 9.3 (57)||Deakin Reserve||7,000|
|2009||6 March||Cairns||Queensland||Melbourne 11.7 (73) defeated Brisbane 4.12 (36)||Cazaly Stadium||4,000|
|2009||28 February||Canberra||Australian Capital Territory||North Melbourne 23.11 (149) defeated Fremantle 8.4 (52)||Manuka Oval||1,661|
|2009||27 February||Alice Springs||Northern Territory||Adelaide 15.5 (95) defeated West Coast 12.13 (85)||Traeger Park|
|2008||29 February||Narrandera||New South Wales||Richmond 17.11 (113) defeated Sydney 13.10 (88)||Narrandera Sports Ground||8,296|
|2008||Alice Springs||Northern Territory||Traeger Park||6,000|
|2008||2 March||Bendigo||Victoria||Western Bulldogs 14.9 (93) defeated Melbourne 9.9 (63)1||Queen Elizabeth Oval||7,000|
|2008||Shepparton||Victoria||Collingwood 16.12 (108) defeated Hawthorn 13.12 (90)||Deakin Reserve|
|2008||Canberra||Australian Capital Territory||Manuka Oval||2,264|
|2008||29 February||Gold Coast||Queensland||Brisbane Lions 13.14 (92) defeated Geelong Cats 7.10 (52)||Carrara Stadium||4,134|
|2007||9 March||Narrandera||New South Wales||Sydney 19.9 (123) defeated Collingwood 10.7 (67)||Narrandera Sports Ground||10,979|
|2007||9 March||Alice Springs||Northern Territory||West Coast 12.12 (84) defeated Adelaide 11.11 (77)||Traeger Park||11,000|
|2007||3 March||Mount Gambier||South Australia||Adelaide 14.16 (100) defeated Melbourne 6.8 (44)||Blue Lake Sports Park||5,471|
|2007||Mildura||Victoria||Richmond defeated Collingwood||Quandong Park||10,733|
|2007||Canberra||Australian Capital Territory||Manuka Oval|
|2006||Gold Coast||Queensland||Carrara Stadium||6,277|
|2006||Gold Coast||Queensland||Carrara Stadium||10,117|
|2006||Bendigo||Victoria||Queen Elizabeth Oval||11,000|
|2006||Mildura||Victoria||Essendon defeated Richmond 2||Quandong Park||10,000|
|2006||Albury||New South Wales||Lavington Sports Ground||5,151|
|2005||Port Lincoln||South Australia||Adelaide 12.16 (88) defeated Geelong 13.8 (86)||Centenary Oval||7,662|
|2005||Joondalup||Western Australia||Fremantle 14.12 (96) defeated Hawthorn 4.8 (32)||The Arena||10,127|
|2005||5 March||Gold Coast||Queensland||Brisbane 11.11 (77) defeated Essendon 9.9 (63)||Carrara Stadium||16,591|
|2005||Alice Springs||Northern Territory||Richmond 7.9 (51) defeated Fremantle 7.7 (49)||Traeger Park||7,506|
|2005||Albury||New South Wales||Melbourne 14.9 (93) defeated St Kilda 12.11 (83)||Lavington Sports Ground||12,157|
|2005||Newcastle||New South Wales||Collingwood 16.9 (105) defeated Sydney 16.7 (103)||No.1 Sports Ground||3,256|
|2005||Bendigo||Victoria||Geelong 14.6 (90) defeated Essendon 12.7 (79)||Queen Elizabeth Oval||13,000|
|2005||Morwell||Victoria||Richmond 20.18 (138) defeated Essendon 10.6 (66)||10,127|
|2004||28 February||Morwell||Victoria||Kangaroos 11.13 (79) drew with Hawthorn 11.13 (79)||Morwell Football Ground||4,500 |
|2004||Alice Springs||Northern Territory||Port Adelaide 15.15 (105) defeated Collingwood 14.7 (91)||Traeger Park||10,000|
|2004||Shepparton||Victoria||Western Bulldogs 20.13 (133) defeated Carlton 17.15 (117)||Deakin Reserve||3,000|
|2004||Coorparoo||Queensland||Brisbane Lions 13.9 (87) defeated Richmond 11.12 (78)||5,000|
|2004||Kadina||South Australia||Adelaide 9.18 (72) defeated Port Adelaide 10.5 (65)||8,905|
|2004||Newcastle||New South Wales||Sydney 17.14 (116) defeated Essendon 9.10 (64)||No.1 Sports Ground||3,405|
|2004||Mandurah||Western Australia||Kangaroos 18.12 (120) defeated Fremantle 15.8 (98)||Rushton Park||8,283|
1 Match ended early due to a blackout
2 Match was played as a memorial to local teenagers that died in a Mildura road accident
Note: Only matches at non-AFL grounds are listed
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