MICK Malthouse will return to his grassroots to coach Carlton in an AFL pre-season challenge match in Ballarat next year against North Melbourne.
The Blues will play North Melbourne at Eureka Stadium on Saturday, February 15.
While the venue bears no resemblance to Malthouse’s playing days, he knows the showgrounds site well, having played with North Ballarat in the Ballarat Football League.
St Kilda recruited Malthouse from the Roosters at the end of 1971, debuting with the Saints in his first season.
He is a member of the Ballarat Sports Hall of Fame and North Ballarat Football Club Hall of Fame.
The NAB Challenge match marks a return of AFL action to Ballarat after a two-year break and the continuation of North Melbourne’s association with Ballarat.
Eureka Stadium, which has a playing surface which meets AFL standards, was unavailable for a pre-season game this year owing to the million-dollar redevelopment of the clubrooms.
This will be the fourth time North Melbourne has played a pre-season game in Ballarat since it began having community camps in the city in 2008. The Kangaroos played Hawthorn in 2009, and the Western Bulldogs in 2011 and 2012.
The clash with the Bulldogs last year was Ballarat’s first fully fledged NAB Cup match and attracted 8000 spectators, with the previous fixtures’ NAB challenge games.
The twilight North Melbourne and Carlton encounter will be the first time the new start-of-the-art clubrooms, which are in the process of having the finishing touches put to them, have been used on an official match day.
A new match-day coaches’ box, along with timekeeping and umpire observing facilities, will also be completed in time for the game.
The NAB Challenge series replaces the former NAB Cup, which featured a round-robin series, knockout games and a final.
The new pre-season format has all 18 clubs playing two matches in the space of 18 days in the lead-up the opening home and away round.
The regular season starts on March 14 with Collingwood hosting Fremantle on Friday night at the MCG. Round one will again be split over two weekends.
The AFL will introduce a weighting system, with the teams separated into three groups of six according to last year’s ladder positions.
Under the system, Hawthorn play fellow top-six teams Fremantle, Geelong and Sydney twice.
They play middle-six team Collingwood twice and bottom-six team Gold Coast twice.
Hawthorn have their grand final rematch against Fremantle at the MCG in round three.
Adelaide Oval will replace AAMI Stadium as South Australia’s permanent AFL venue.
The AFL will have six Thursday night games and also experiment with Sunday night football.
Tasmania will host six matches — Hawthorn’s four home games in Launceston and North Melbourne hosting matches in Hobart.