AFL: Our buys & sells heading into final NAB Challenge round

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Updated: March 19, 2015

Three of the four weeks of NAB Challenge pre-season competition have been completed with each team having two games under their belt. All 18 clubs will be in action for this week’s final lead-up games ahead of the AFL Premiership season opener between Carlton and Richmond at the MCG on Thursday, April 2. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the lead-up games with an eye to their impact on the main game starting next month.

 

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BUYING: Lions the real deal?

At this point of the pre-season, we’re looking for sides that have the majority of their players fit and injury-free along with discernible list improvement from the previous season combined with emerging young talent. The Brisbane Lions tick all of those boxes. They added three experienced players over the summer (Mitch Robinson, Dayne Beams and Allen Christensen. Draftees Liam Dawson and Jaden McGrath could make bold bids for early season debuts with big games against the Gold Coast Suns in their final hit-out this weekend and, besides Pearce Hanley (hip), the Lions have almost every first-choice player available. They have a tough start to the season (Collingwood, North Melbourne, Richmond, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide among their first seven) but look for them to improve on their seven wins of 2014.

 

BUYING: No excuses for Tigers

We should know better than to hitch our hopes to this perennially underachieving bandwagon, but there are no excuses for the Tigers in 2015. After 15 pre-season surgeries last year, just five Richmond players went under the knife at the end of 2014 and they have almost a full list from which to choose ahead of Saturday’s clash. Sam Lloyd, Tyrone Vickery and Ben Lennon have been particularly impressive in their two practise outings so far, while Kane Lambert’s form has him poised for elevation from the rookie list. After a 3-10 start to their 2014 campaign, which ended in finals footy after barnstorming finish to the season, the Tigers cannot afford another sluggish start. The Tiger army will be asking questions if their side isn’t 4-0 after games against Carlton, Brisbane, Melbourne and the Bulldogs.

 

Ryan Griffen (pictured) has a point to prove after ending his days with the Bulldogs in acrimonious circumstances

Ryan Griffen (pictured) has a point to prove after ending his days with the Bulldogs in acrimonious circumstances

BUYING: Giant strides ahead

After scoring just nine wins in their first three seasons in the competitions (six of which came last year), we’re expecting the Giants to start their steady climb up the ladder in 2015. The core of their original draftees are ticking into the 50 career game range while the club ahs been able to recruit two first class mature players – Bulldog Ryan Griffen and Joel Patfull from the Lions. The loss of Tom Boyd to Footscray and Jon Patton to another serious knee injury could have been telling but Cam McCarthy has booted six goals in the two NAB Challenge games played so far. Along with Jeremy Cameron, Devon Smith, Will Hoskin-Elliot and Adam Tomlinson, the Giants still have plenty of goal kicking options. We’re not expecting the Giants to play finals footy in 2015, but they should in the mix just outside the top eight by season’s end.

 

SELLING: Pies’ premiership pledge

There were probably a few members of the Collingwood coaching staff who grimaced when president Eddie McGuire declared that the Magpies should seize the moment and snatch an unlikely flag. An unlikely finals spot is a more realistic goal. The Magpies have struggled to keep their best XVIII on the park for years, and start 2015 behind the eight-ball with Brent Macaffer, Matt Scharenberg, Clinton Young, Paul Seedsman and, most crucially, Ben Reid all suffering restricted lead-ups. We’re convinced that Reid (and fellow big man Nathan Brown) simply don’t have bodies that will stand up to the rigours of AFL competition across a full season. But our biggest concern about Collingwood is the skill gap compared to the elite teams in the competition, along with the fact that they continue to butcher opportunities in front of goal. These are major issues for Nathan Buckley to manage.

 

Tom Liberatore (pictured) leaves the field after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the NAB Challenge game against Richmond

Tom Liberatore (pictured) leaves the field after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the NAB Challenge game against Richmond

SELLING: New faces, same problems for Bulldogs

It really is a circus at the Whitten Oval. The CEO Simon Garlick, coach Brendon McCarthy and captain Ryan Griffin are all gone while two key midfielders who could have helped mentor a new generation of on-ballers (Shaun Higgins and Adam Cooney) were traded away. Murphy’s law was then applied in their first pre-season hitout when their best player, Tom Liberatore, was cut down with a season-ending knee injury. That means youngsters like Marcus Bontempelli or Jack Macrae are going to face the opposition’s number one defensive midfielder. Ouch. Will Minson’s dominance in the ruck will count for little if the on-ballers can’t win and clear the ball. It will also mean few opportunities for the club’s top recruit, Tom Boyd, in the key forward post. Saturday night’s clash with Collingwood will be a crucial test for new coach Luke Beveridge and his charges heading into the season proper.

 

SELLING: Hurt continues for Bombers

Even though the long-running drugs supplement saga is almost at an end for the Bombers (God forbid the thought of on-going legal challenges), the club will start the 2015 premiership season well behind the rest of the competition. Players implicated in the AFL/ASADA case against the club have been sidelined from NAB Challenge games so those serving provisional bans are attempting to replicate match conditions on the training track. Meanwhile listed players not under investigation and the myriad replacements brought in to help cover the absences are desperately trying to learn the game plan should the worst-case scenario result. It’s no surprise that James Hird feels like he is coaching three different teams. So far the positives have been few and far between, and the Bombers face an extra tough start to their home and away campaign.

 

AFL futures – premiership market: Hawthorn $3.75, Sydney $4.75, Port Adelaide $5.5, Fremantle $8, North Melbourne $12, Geelong $15, Adelaide $26, Essendon $26, Gold Coast $26, Richmond $26, West Coast $26, Collingwood $31, Brisbane $34, Carlton $67, Greater Western Sydney $101, Western Bulldogs $251, Melbourne $501, St Kilda $501.

AFL futures – top eight market: Hawthorn $1.05, Sydney $1.07, Port Adelaide $1.20, Fremantle $1.22, North Melbourne $1.40, Geelong $1.45, Adelaide $1.90, Essendon $1.95, West Coast $1.95, Richmond $2.10, Gold Coast $2.25, Collingwood $3.00, Brisbane $3.25, Carlton $4.00, Greater Western Sydney $7.00, Western Bulldogs $11, Melbourne $12, St Kilda $14.

 

NAB Challenge fixture (week 4)

Thursday, March 19

St Kilda v Hawthorn (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, VIC, 7.10pm)

Friday, March 20

Melbourne v Essendon (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, VIC, 5.50pm)

Gold Coast Suns v Brisbane Lions (Metricon Stadium, Carrara, Qld, 7.40pm)

Saturday, March 21

Richmond v North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, VIC, 1.10pm)

Port Adelaide v Adelaide (AAMI Stadium, Adelaide, SA, 4.10pm)

Footscray v Collingwood (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Vic, 7.10pm)

Sunday, March 22

GWS Giants v Sydney (StarTrack Oval, Canberra, ACT, 1.10pm)

Carlton v Geelong (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Vic, 4.10pm)

West Coast Eagles v Fremantle (Domain Stadium, Perth, WA, 7.10pm)

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