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Footy is back! NAB Challenge guide

If the AFL pre-season is your idea of torture, you can relax… footy is back!

And Ticketmaster has everything you need to know about the upcoming NAB Challenge competition.

How does it work?

Every AFL club will play three matches over four weeks. The first two matches for each club are played within the first three weeks and every club will play one match in the final week. The games are played all over Australia including in regional areas.

In order to allow for the final match to be as close to real match simulation as possible, the final week of games will be played at regular AFL venues and will feature state derbies in WA, SA, Queensland and ACT. The ten Victorian clubs will each play at Etihad Stadium with a double-header on Saturday March 21 that will see a match at 1.10pm followed by a game at 7.10pm.

What are the new rules?

Fans are very used to seeing rule changes and trials during the pre-season competition and this edition of the NAB Challenge is no different. As well as the now traditional 9 points for goals kicked outside 50m, the AFL is trialling many new rules.

For the first time, four field umpires will adjudicate matches in Round 1 and 2 of the NAB Challenge instead of the traditional three. The aforementioned umpires will operate with a tighter interpretation of the holding the ball rule as well as blocking during marking contests.

In Rounds 1 and 2 there will be no time on for the first 15 minutes except for goals and major delays such as injury/stretcher. The final five minutes of each quarter will have regular time on scenarios. If required due to weather, there will be longer breaks between quarters. In the final Round, quarters will have regular time on/time off scenarios.

There will be no extra time in the event of a draw.

The interchange cap will not apply for Rounds 1 and 2 but a cap of 120 is enforced for Round 3. In Rounds 1 and 2 teams will have six interchange players plus two substitutes. In the final Round there will still be two subs, but there will be only four players on the regular interchange bench.

The Talking Points

Will four field umpires be beneficial?

This is a question that has long divided football fans. Some believe the more umpires on the field the more likely it is that free kicks will be seen, but others argue each umpire may have a slightly different interpretation, which means there will be four opinions on the field rather than three. Which prediction is more accurate will be known following the first two Rounds of the NAB Challenge.

Given the likely heat, we think four umpires is a great idea to give the guys in white (or green or yellow or whatever) a break. We also think trialling this in the NAB Challenge rather than during the home and away season is a great idea – the pre-season is the ideal time to check out new ideas without having a major impact on the season proper.

Has there ever been a better time to be a club member?

Club membership is always a great idea. As well as supporting your team financially, it takes much of the stress out of attending events on the weekend. But being a club member in 2015 is even more beneficial following the AFL’s announcement that club members will receive free entry to NAB Challenge matches.

With so many great advantages to club membership, there is no excuse for fans not to join up. So sign on, get involved and waltz straight into NAB Challenge matches with your membership card.

What can we expect to see?

For many, the best thing about the pre-season competition is seeing new draftees and young players take to the field. Many teams have already named the squads for their first matches and there’s plenty of new faces.

Collingwood will field many players who are yet to play a senior match, including their top 2014 draft pick (No. 5 overall) Jordan de Goey and Nathan Freeman. Carlton has named recent draftees Blaine Boekhorst, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow and Clem Smith, while their opponent, the West Coast Eagles, will showcase Malcolm Karpany and Tom Lamb.

You can expect to see more big name recruits once the remainder of the squads are announced.

The NAB Challenge is also the first opportunity for people to see players who defected from one club to another in the pre-season.

The Hawks will unveil their newest acquisition, James Frawley, who controversially left Melbourne for Hawthorn at the end of last season. Collingwood will also debut some fresh faces with Levi Greenwood, Travis Varcoe and Jack Crisp all listed to play their first games for the Magpies.

Former Carlton player, Kane Lucas – now playing for the Eagles – has been named to take on his old club while the Blues will unveil Liam Jones, Jason Tutt, Kristian Jaksch and Matthew Dick.

Keep an eye out for more new faces once more squads are announced.

NAB Challenge Fixture

(Please note all times are local)

Thursday February 26

Hawthorn v Collingwood, Aurora Stadium, 7.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Friday February 27

West Coast v Carlton, Rushton Park (Mandurah), 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Saturday February 28

Brisbane Lions v St Kilda, Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex (Burpengary), 3.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Western Bulldogs v Richmond, Whitten Oval, 4.40pm – click here to purchase tickets

Sunday March 1

Adelaide Crows v North Melbourne, Centenary Oval (Port Lincoln), 4.10pm

Gold Coast Suns v Geelong, Tony Ireland Stadium (Townsville), 3.40pm

Thursday March 5

Fremantle v Melbourne, Fremantle Oval, 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Friday March 6

Sydney v Brisbane Lions, C.ex Coffs International Stadium, 7.10pm

Saturday March 7

GWS Giants v Gold Coast Suns, Blacktown ISP, 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Essendon v St Kilda, Morwell Recreation Reserve, 4.40pm

Sunday March 8

Port Adelaide v West Coast, Norwood Oval (Adelaide), 4.10pm

North Melbourne v Hawthorn, Deakin Reserve (Shepparton), 4.40pm

Thursday March 12

Geelong v Adelaide, Simonds Stadium, 7.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Friday March 13

GWS Giants v Essendon, Spotless Stadium, 7.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Saturday March 14

Western Bulldogs v Melbourne, Eureka Stadium (Ballarat), 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Richmond v Port Adelaide, Lavington Sports Ground (Albury), 4.40pm

Sunday March 15

Sydney v Fremantle, Drummoyne Oval (Sydney), 4.40pm

Collingwood v Carlton, Queen Elizabeth Oval (Bendigo), 4.40pm – click here to purchase tickets

Thursday March 19

St Kilda v Hawthorn, Etihad Stadium, 7.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Friday March 20

Melbourne v Essendon, Etihad Stadium, 5.50pm – click here to purchase tickets

Gold Coast Suns v Brisbane Lions, Metricon Stadium, 7.40pm – click here to purchase tickets

Saturday March 21

Richmond v North Melbourne, Etihad Stadium, 1.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Port Adelaide v Adelaide, AAMI Stadium, 3.40pm

Western Bulldogs v Collingwood, Etihad Stadium, 7.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Sunday March 22

GWS Giants v Sydney, Star Track Oval, 1.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

Carlton v Geelong, Etihad Stadium, 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

West Coast Eagles v Fremantle, Domain Stadium, 4.10pm – click here to purchase tickets

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