The JLT Community Series kicks off this Thursday night, as we count down the weeks until the season proper commences. Much like previous, recent preseason competitions, there are no prizes, nor any ladders clubs worry about. Each team plays three matches over the next four weeks, with all 18 teams playing in the final days of the series. There will be just 11 days between the end of the JLT Community Series and the season proper, and with AFLW running at the same time as well, footy has well and truly arrived.
The opening week of the series features six matches, spread across four days. Most AFL fans will be looking forward to two events in particular; the return of most of Essendon’s stars in the first match of the series, and Jarryd Roughead’s first match since recovering from his serious health issues. Essendon and Hawthorn headline the first two nights of the series, against Collingwood and Geelong respectively, in what is sure to be an intriguing set of matches over the first week of the series.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
29. Jack Bowes (Gold Coast)
Bowes was an academy selection for the Suns, and is guaranteed to play in the team’s opening JLT Community Series match on Sunday afternoon against Brisbane. The 19-year-old starred for Queensland in the U/18 Championships, as a balanced midfielder who was able to push forward, averaging 2.3 goals per game. However, his performance off half-back in Gold Coast’s intra-club match was excellent, adding another string to his bow. If he impresses again, he’d be a near certainty to make his AFL debut in Round 1. Fantasy coaches will also be keeping a close eye on him.
1. Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Another draftee from last year, there’s huge interest in seeing how the number one pick from 2016 goes in the preseason competition. McGrath averaged 32 disposals, five marks, seven clearances, five tackles and seven score involvements per game in the TAC Cup last season, however, his attributes will allow him to start his career playing out of defence. Essendon is expected to field a weaker team for the first match, meaning McGrath will have a greater opportunity to have an impact slightly higher up the ground.
24. David Swallow (Gold Coast)
Having missed all of 2016 and playing only six games in 2015, the AFL universe will be keen to see how David Swallow approaches Sunday’s game against the Lions. While the 24-year-old is only going to play half of the match, seeing him play through the midfield and moving around freely will be the key to Gold Coast’s fortunes this season. While Rodney Eade has suggested he may play out of defence a bit, expect an attacking midfield role to be his main position for 2017.
8. Nathan Hrovat (North Melbourne)
Hrovat has been nothing short of impressive in the preseason for North Melbourne, pushing forward from the midfield and on the wing. The 22-year-old played the final four matches , of the home-and-away for the Bulldogs last season, kicking three goals and averaging 19 disposals in about 80% game-time. With the huge changes at North Melbourne, and an expected drop off, there’s an opportunity for Hrovat to play as a full-time midfielder. It’ll start with a good showing against Sydney.
5. Jamie Elliott (Collingwood)
It has been confirmed that Elliott will take part in the first JLT Community Series match for Collingwood, which will be his first match since 2015. Clearly, the Magpies missed the 24-year-old last season, as he has been a reliable goal-kicker for the club since 2013, kicking 30+ goals in each year. Like Swallow, Elliott will likely be eased into the preseason, and mightn’t play more than a half, but seeing how he plays alongside Darcy Moore, who has developed out of sight since last playing with Elliott, is an exciting prospect to kick off the season.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Ultimately, this first week of the JLT Community Series is designed to ease players back into competitive football. It’s an exciting time for fans of clubs and fantasy coaches, as it gives a small insight as to how players may perform throughout the year, and the rivalry match-ups that have been put forward will only act to make games more competitive. It’s time to enjoy the return of the footy.