Essendon and their Curiously Scheduled, Possibly Generous and Definitely Soft NAB Challenge Games

There are a few undeniable truths associated with the Essendon and ASADA substance saga, now entering its third year.

One is that the AFL really, really wishes it had never happened. Same I would assume Essendon, the AFLPA, the affected Essendon players, Stephen Dank, Dean Robinson, Ian Robson, James Hird, Paul Little and many others.

Another is that apart from highlighting the brilliant investigative work of the aptly named Baker and McKenzie at The Age, journalism on the whole has looked shabby at times and departing from its expected independence.

Finally, surprise surprise, the lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank.

However, as much as the AFL has the serious poops with Essendon, the soon to commence NAB challenge may give some evidence of how they feel about the Dons. Or how they are worreid about the overall impact on the season.

It seems that Essendon has been thrown a rare bone by the AFL in relation to the draw.

It’s fair to say that Essendon have the easiest run in the coming Challenge rounds. Essendon face the Saints, Melbourne and GWS over the next few weeks. We should need no reminding that these are the three worst performing teams from the 2014 season, with a collective 14 wins from their 66 games, compared to Essendon’s seventh placed finish, finals and a 12, nine and one record.

Setting aside the practice match nature of these games and the admission finally that the clubs don’t really take them seriously, these games are still important. Clubs need to trial game plans, get new draft picks and trades out in front of people and generate interest and importantly, membership. It is a chance for the AFL to build momentum for the season, even more so as it coincides with the ICC World Cup and the completion of the successful Asian Cup.

Why has the AFL gifted the Dons this NAB schedule? Is it because they realised they would have a hard time filling a full strength team and so didn’t want to embarrass them? This isn’t to insult the three teams they are playing. But it is a strange coincide that one team, any team, drew all three opponents isn’t it?

Surely, if Essendon lost – or was to lose – players around this time it was because they breached the AFL’s rules. So why give them a leave pass? You can’t tell me this was a random selection of games for Essendon.

I accept that the AFL want all teams to be doing well leading into the season, and there’s little to gain by any team being on the back foot come round one, even Essendon (one alternative school of thought could be the conspiracy theory that it gives the three worst performing teams from last year a whipping boy match to restore their confidence).

Apart from playing Essendon, Melbourne has to face Fremantle away, St Kilda has to play Hawthorn and the Giants play the Swans. So nothing easy there. Elsewhere, all states will have local derbies, which you’d assume would be hotly contested despite the Challenge format and there are other highlights like Hawthorn and North, Carlton and Collingwood and Port playing the Eagles at Norwood.

So, why does Essendon get a (seemingly) soft run? Either they do poorly and can blame the make-up nature of the side they had to field or they do OK and we have high hopes for them for the year. Are the Dons actually in a win-win situation, so rarely found over the last two years?

The AFL I imagine anticipated the Essendon issue of player (un)availability in planning the NAB challenge and probably didn’t want to kick them while they were down. However, it is a cushy run for the Dons, who I’d argue don’t deserve too much sympathy from anyone, let alone the AFL.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. G’day Sean,

    As a St Kilda fan, NAB Challenge is important for my club, I think, as we are on rebuilding. I didn’t realise that we will face Hawthorn at the pre-season match. Our boys need to gain confidence (even if it would be hard to do from any other club), but pushing the limit could be needed (like when we play against the Hawks).

    I have no idea how Essendon think about the pre-season matches, but AFL may only think how to attract NAB Challenge Cup to the public? Would you like to see any blockbuster at the NAB Challenge, like playing Carlton?

    Just my thought, AFL might want to hold the game between Essendon and St Kilda in Morwell where the pre-season match was cancelled three years ago due to the wild weather.



  2. There has been suspicions that a Dons ‘Illuminati’ (i.e. supporters of influence) have been pulling strings at the AFL for a long time.

    It’s worth noting EFC do have form in doing whatever it takes (e.g. systematic salary cap rorting between 1991-96 to the tune of over 500K – granted its small bickies by todays standards and AFL approved Visy rorts).

    But back on topic, the AFL always back off when push comes to shove because its contractually bound to ensure 18 clubs can provide X content to broadcasters. As soon as I saw their NAB Challenge draw I thought it was pretty clear what was going on.

  3. A bit harsh Sean!

    I recall GWS were in pretty good form in the first month of the 2014 season. Good enough to roll the Swans anyway and with all that Paleo energy coursing through their sugar-free veins, who knows what the Dees will bring?

  4. Simple answer. They are a protected species.

  5. A sign of things to come – getting to know their fellow Cellar Dwellers?

  6. Dear Mr Curtain,
    Your quaint suggestions for a fair sporting competition are getting in the way of our thriving business model.
    Please desist.

  7. I’m surprised anyone even looks at the draw for this. It’s the ultimate “who cares?” other than perhaps showcasing some youngsters and raising some hope (and memberships) for the battlers. Surely any team who prefer their practice matches to be against strong opposition.

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