At present we are two weeks into the AFL's pre-season competition, known this year by the name JLT Community Series. This competition was known until this year as the NAB Challenge and involved clubs playing a series of practice matches, at various locations both at major stadiums, former AFL venues, and smaller regional ovals all around the country.
While these games can often be a great event, especially for people from regional locations that would not get to see the stars of the AFL in action up close, the teams performance on the day is not really of the utmost importance anymore to the clubs.
From a club perspective, many choose to manage ageing warriors into the season proper, while also wanting to see just how well the young precocious talent on their list handles the increased pressure of playing against AFL quality opponents.
In the present it seems whether your favourite team wins or loses in the JLT Series is not really a major concern.
It wasn't always this way however.
Looking back at the VFL/AFL pre-season competition, known by various sponsor names since it became played strictly during the pre-season in 1988 (won by Hawthorn) and not mid-year as the VFL's 1976-87 night series competition was, most clubs actually played to win. This was in order to get fans on board to stimulate membership sales as well as to give their regular season campaign a shot in the arm.
A number of clubs in fact did the double and recorded wins in both the pre-season and the regular season premierships, including Hawthorn in 1988 and 1991, Essendon in 1993 and 2000 and later, Geelong in 2009. For many years, it seemed winning the pre-season competition was a great guide to your club being successful in the real stuff later on, with 13 of the 17 competitions played from 1988 to 2004 resulting in the winner also making the finals in the regular AFL season.
However, Carlton's 2005 Wizard Cup win over West Coast saw the rare occurrence of a pre-season premier missing the finals. This had happened occasionally, but the Blues set a new low by finishing last in the regular season, though the Eagles did finish runner-up to Sydney in the 2005 Grand Final. The Blues won the competition again in 2007, but yet again finished well down the ladder in 15th place.
While the 2008-2012 period did see teams enjoying pre-season and regular season success with all winners making it at least into a preliminary final, the Brisbane Lions 2013 win over Carlton, and subsequent regular season finish of just 12th sounded the death knell for the NAB Cup as it was known that year.
Looking back, perhaps the competition reached its peak in 1993 when more than 75,000 fans packed into Waverley Park on a Saturday night in mid March to see Essendon play Richmond in the Foster's Cup grand final.
The Tigers supporters craved some type of silverware after failing to make the finals since 1982, while for Essendon, whose VSFL reserves side had won the 1992 premiership, it was another taste of things to come later in 1993 from a group that would be known as the Baby Bombers.
As it was, Essendon reigned supreme that evening with its 23-point win over the Tigers. Although Richmond failed that night, for many of the players involved just having the experience of playing a big game in front of such a large crowd would bode well for their future, and may just have been a helpful factor in the Tigers improvement to their 1995 finals campaign - the clubs' first in more than a decade.
These days, while it is great to see games played at the old Arden Street ground, Whitten Oval and Princes Park for nostalgia's sake, having an AFL pre-season competition that actually has some meaning and can be won, not just a glorified practice match circuit, would be an extra cherry on top of the AFL season.