NORTH Melbourne midfield coach Darren Crocker has lauded the changes made to this year’s NAB Challenge on the eve of the Kangaroos’ first-round match against Carlton at the Eureka Stadium on Saturday.
Crocker believes the Kangaroos are well-suited to adapt to the challenging parameters that Geelong and Collingwood faced in the opening match of the series at Simonds Stadium last night.
The new format features 18 games of football across 18 consecutive days, will be without a grand final to crown the pre-season premier and will not include the Michael Tuck Medal – which has traditionally been awarded to the best player in the grand final since 1992.
The introduction of an interchange cap limit will be the main focus point of the NAB Challenge, but other alterations include an extended squad of 26 for each team – with eight players on the bench and the ability to reset the subs after each half.
“There’s not as many changes to this system in regards to how it sits with the real season, which can only be a good thing,” Crocker said.
“It’s a far closer format to what we’re going to encounter during this home and away season and most clubs want to be able to practice what they will be doing in the proper season.
“The sub rule will give us a good opportunity to manage our list and our players and it will put a little bit of added pressure on the players and gives our young guys a tremendous scope for what senior footy is really like against quality opposition.”
Crocker, who played 165 games for North Melbourne between 1985 and 1998, was lucky enough to play in a pre-season grand final with the Kangaroos in the mid 90s and is interested to see what the implementation of the 120 interchange rotation cap rule will yield for teams in 2014.
“They (the AFL) don’t want to have too many ball-ups and congestion around the ground, but I’m not too sure whether the cap will lead to the game breaking further open in the later stages or actually allow more players to get to contests,” he said.
Crocker labelled Luke McDonald, Joel Tippett, Ben Jacobs, Brad McKenzie, Daniel Currie, Mitch Wilkins and Mason Wood as the younger players who had prospered most this pre-season.
He says the club is excited about strengthening its ties with Ballarat.
“We’ve played a NAB Challenge in Ballarat for the past few years and always had good support from the community,” Crocker said.
“We see it as an important part of our player development.”