A place for the pre-season cup

The AFL has suggested that in 2014 the much maligned pre-season cup will be scrapped.

There is no doubt that the pre-season cup has its faults, but with some tweaking it still has merit as a viable competition. The proposal that could hopefully solve the lack of faith in the pre-season cup is to make it a competition for only the top six teams from the previous season.


But before one looks at any potential change the AFL should realise that in other football competitions around the world, there are far more opportunities for trophy-winning moments.

This is the state of play with other competitions:


NFL (National Football League – USA)    3 trophies                    32 teams

EPL (English Premier League)                      4 trophies                    20 teams

A-League soccer                                                2 trophies                    10 teams

NRL (including State of Origin)                    2 trophies                    16 teams



The NFL has an NFC and and AFC Championship trophy as well as the Superbowl trophy. The EPL has the FA Cup, League Cup, the Community Shield and the Championship title.

The A-League at present has just one trophy, but they are introducing a second competition next year. In the NRL, the State of Origin competition is a bigger event than the NRL grand final, so that State of Origin trophy was included in deliberations.

In contrast, the AFL is proposing to just have one trophy winner per year in a crowded 18 team competition. If it was a 12 team competition (as it was back in the 1980s) and you had one winner each year then the concept is easy to sell, but it is difficult to justify it in an 18 team competition. The central problem that no one addresses is that there are way too many teams in the competition now to have just one team winning a trophy each year. Sharing the joy of cup-winning moments should be a factor in the AFL’s deliberations over the fixture.

However, holding back the future viability of the AFL pre-season cup is the alarming drop-off in the prestige level of this trophy. It almost seems that in recent years it is more prestigious not to win it than to make an attempt to win it. Yet when Hawthorn and Essendon were sharing the pre-season/night trophies back in the late 1980s and 1990s it translated into being a prestigious title as they were the best teams of that era. Between them, Essendon and Hawthorn won nine of the 11 trophies on offer between 1984 and 1994. But now it seems that the less developed teams steel themselves to peak for this moment and to build some positive press for the home and away season. Brisbane, for example, won the title this year despite finishing 13th, 15th and 13th in the last three years of the home and away season.

This is why the future pre-season cup competition should only be between the top six clubs from the previous season.Teams that have achieved in the year before are rewarded with a second chance of winning some silverware and adding some prestige to their club. They are the best teams and should be rewarded for that good form. 

The suggested format (of a six team knock-out competition) satisfies the requirement of the AFL for a quick three week competition.  It also potentially gives an opportunity for instant revenge if the grand final combatants happen to meet in the pre-season playoff.

There are also other ways to add to the prestige of the pre-season competition if winning titles against the best teams in the competition is not incentive enough. Other inducements could be extra draft picks for the winning club, extra prize money for the players and club, and more money given to the winning club’s community development program.

The time has come for the AFL to ensure that the pre-season competition remains so as to spread the joy amongst more clubs and more supporters. The aim must be to increase the pride that supporters feel for their club and this new format enables this to occur. The AFL should learn from other sports as much as possible, as if they scrap the pre-season cup and thereby ignore the lessons from other sports it will become a serious error.


  1. Michael Viljoen says

    What rot!

    Who cares?

    Although I did like Ian Collins’ suggestion that the top 6 teams from the previous year should play each other in the first 5 rounds of the season. Then in the next 17 rounds, each team plays each other once.

    It’s simple and straight forward. It guarantees some big games and minimises the sense that the draw is rigged and contrived. It theoretically helps lower teams by allowing them to play more easier games.

    It’s predictable, which is the close cousin to fair, which the current draw is not.

  2. I’m with MJ. The Who Cares Cup is about practice matches to develop match hardness & sell memberships. The sensible way you’d think would be to play one group within the bottom half, and the other group within the top half of the previous year. That way the teams involved would have some idea of where they stand and the potential members wouldn’t be deflated by beltings.. Make it a round robin with a final if the sponsors want to donate a trophy and prize money. Otherwise, get real and dump the nonsense that has been the NAB Cup for years now. It’s only a curse anyway. Look where the winners have finished up the season they won it.

    The poor old Silvertails haven’t woken up to it yet though They’ve signed two coaching extensions now, on the strength of it. However, we can’t see Mick saving his career by getting this bunch of softcocks over the line.

  3. Kath Presdee says

    I’d be careful about pointing at the NRL in trying to retain the NAB Cup.

    The State of Origin transcends the club and goes to the State. It had its origins from when teams full of ex-Queenslanders would play for NSW in a NSW v Qld match because the NSW competition was richer and tougher. So it became a “State of Origin”. Its value is for the representative opportunities it gives a player and bragging rights for a state. It has a meaning because it’s usually the best rugby league played in the world; and Qld like to point to their superior record.

    There used to be preseason cups and midweek cups in rugby league too. But they too lost their meaning when the game became one for full-time professionals. Sure, sometimes the trophy has meaning. I have a place in my heart for the 1977 Amco Cup. It is the only trophy that my beloved Sharks have won in the first grade competition. It fills a spot on a shelf that would otherwise be empty.

    The NRL runs its preseason without having any points or prize money attached. I don’t see why the AFL can’t do the same.

  4. Hi Kath, Wrap and Michael,

    All in all – some good points from you.

    The pre-season cup I am suggesting though will only include the best teams. Lower rung teams are excluded, so it is a new concept that has never been tried before. The central weakness of eradicating a pre-season cup is that if it occurs it will mean that just one team each year can walk away as winners of silverware . In an 18 team competition this isn’t good enough for maintaining club support and membership. Rewards are needed for club support and coming 2nd to 18th isn’t really a reward in itself.

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