The prestige of pre-season competition in Australian rules football has declined significantly since the heady days of the 1980s and ’90s night premierships. Clubs put much less stock in results than they used to, instead treating the February fixtures as an opportunity to experiment with ‘structures’ and blood their new recruits.
Yet the AFL pre-season still holds plenty of value for die-hard fans and keen punters. Whether you are looking for that unique SuperCoach pick or scoping out a potential bolter in the AFL Premiership race, a bit of research and observation during the summer warm-up schedule can pay huge dividends down the track. The highly variable nature of pre-season footy also offers huge opportunities for those who aren’t afraid to back an underdog.
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How to bet on pre-season AFL games
The first order of business when having a flutter on the footy is to find a first-rate bookie. Each of the licensed online bookmakers above has won our approval by offering competitive odds, excellent market range and outstanding customer service 24/7.
Next, we recommend spreading your bankroll across as many of these trusted betting sites as you can. This is always a good policy, as it means you can get the the best price available. It is even more beneficial in unpredictable markets such as those in the AFL pre-season, which tend to have looser margins and greater price dispersion than in the regular season.
Once you have signed up to your favourite bookies and added some money to your accounts, all you have to do is find your markets and place your bets. Popular AFL betting options for pre-season games include:
- Head-to-head bets
- Line bets
- Margin bets
- Half-time/full-time doubles
- Handicap bets
- Quarter and half bets
- Goal and score bets
- First goalscorer bets
What to look for in AFL pre-season betting
Wonky match odds – The beauty of these early match-ups is that the handicappers have very little form to go on. Thus, you often see a significant disparity in match odds from bookie to bookie, especially in the first round of fixtures. If a team is paying -166.67 head-to-head odds at the TAB, for instance, there is every chance you will find them listed as -117.65 at Sportsbet.
Potential upsets – These days, AFL clubs treat the pre-season like a series of dolled-up scratch matches. As such, it is rare to see a team’s best 22 on the park for any significant stretch of time in the opening week or two. This is especially true of teams that fancy a tilt at the flag, which means it is often worth chucking a cheeky few dollars on the outsider.
How’s the form? – The biggest reason to keep an eye on pre-season is to get a feel for how the comp is shaping up. How are the premiership favourites tracking? Do last year’s champions look ready to mount a strong defence? Will this or that team improve with a few key players back from injury? This is how you get your sighters for the AFL outright betting and discover those diamonds in the rough before the bookies and the rest of world catch wind.
Breakout players – For AFL SuperCoach and Dreamteam nerds, pre-season scouting is what it’s all about. This is also the case for sharp-eyed punters who want the early mail on key footy futures markets like the Brownlow, the Coleman Medal and the AFL Rising Star. You might just see something that convinces you to back a rookie or a roughy well before his price drops through the floor.
History of Australian rules pre-season competitions
The pre-season tournament can trace its lineage as far back as the VFL Night Series – a post-season knockout competition featuring the teams that failed to qualify for finals. That ran from 1956 until 1971, after which it was replaced by the interstate Australian Football Championships (1977-1987). Many statisticians and record-keepers consider those comps as early editions of the official AFL pre-season tourney, which commenced in 1988.
- Until 2013, the AFL pre-season was a fully competitive knockout tournament in which teams played off for a premier’s cup. Essendon and Hawthorn share the record for most titles, with four each. Since 2007, nine-point ‘super goals’ have been awarded for majors struck from outside the 50-metre arc.
- 1988 – Hawthorn 10.10 (70) defeated Geelong 9.13 (67)
- 1989 – Melbourne 10.16 (76) defeated Geelong 9.13 (67)
- 1990 – Essendon 17.10 (112) defeated North Melbourne 10.16 (76)
- 1991 – Hawthorn 14.19 (103) defeated North Melbourne 7.12 (54)
- 1992 – Hawthorn 19.14 (128) defeated Fitzroy 8.15 (63)
- 1993 – Essendon 14.18 (102) defeated Richmond 11.13 (79)
- 1994 – Essendon 15.12 (102) defeated Adelaide 9.14 (68)
- 1995 – North Melbourne 14.9 (93) defeated Adelaide 8.15 (63)
- 1996 – St Kilda 20.10 (130) defeated Carlton 10.12 (72)
- 1997 – Carlton 14.13 (97) defeated Geelong 5.10 (40)
- 1998 – North Melbourne 14.13 (97) defeated St Kilda 12.11 (83)
- 1999 – Hawthorn 12.11 (83) defeated Port Adelaide 5.6 (36)
- 2000 – Essendon 16.21 (117) defeated North Melbourne 11.10 (76)
- 2001 – Port Adelaide 17.9 (111) defeated Brisbane Lions 3.8 (26)
- 2002 – Port Adelaide 10.11 (71) defeated Richmond 9.8 (62)
- 2003 – Adelaide 2.13.8 (104) defeated Collingwood 1.9.10 (73)
- 2004 – St Kilda 1.14.5 (98) defeated Geelong 1.10.7 (76)
- 2005 – Carlton 1.14.18 (111) defeated West Coast 1.11.9 (84)
- 2006 – Geelong 3.10.5 (92) defeated Adelaide 1.10.15 (84)
- 2007 – Carlton 2.12.7 (97) defeated Brisbane Lions 0.10.12 (72)
- 2008 – St Kilda 2.7.9 (69) defeated Adelaide 0.9.10 (64)
- 2009 – Geelong 0.18.19 (127) defeated Collingwood 1.6.6 (51)
- 2010 – Western Bulldogs 2.13.8 (104) defeated St Kilda 0.9.10 (64)
- 2011 – Collingwood 1.15.9 (108) defeated Essendon 0.13.8 (86)
- 2012 – Adelaide 2.10.17 (95) defeated West Coast 2.5.13 (61)
- 2013 – Brisbane Lions 0.16.13 (109) defeated Carlton 2.7.9 (69)
- Most titles – four (Essendon and Hawthorn)
Most consecutive titles – two (Essendon, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide)
Most Grand Final appearances – six (Adelaide and Geelong)
Largest Grand Final attendance – 75,533 (Waverley Park, 1993)
- Naming rights for the pre-season tourney have changed hands many times over the years. The longest streak belongs to National Australia Bank, which had its name on the cup for 10 consecutive years from 2006 until giving way to JTL in 2017.
- Panasonic Cup (1988-1989)
- Foster’s Cup (1990-1994)
- Ansett Australia Cup (1995-2001)
- Wizard Home Loans Cup (2002-2005)
- NAB Cup (2006-2013)
- NAB Challenge (2013-2016)
- JLT Community Series (2017-)
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