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NAB Cup round two: Five things we learned

Oliver Wines collected 21 possessions against Melbourne on Sunday - ${keywords}
Oliver Wines collected 21 possessions against Melbourne on Sunday

1. The case for the Carlton defence
Carlton coach Mick Malthouse estimated he rotated 11 players through his back half against Fremantle on Saturday night and he is pleased with the flexibility his new side is developing.

But make no mistake, Malthouse has all but settled on his starting back six. It might be the NAB Cup, but the Blues are giving as much simultaneous playing time as they can to the group of six - Michael Jamison, Lachie Henderson, Zach Tuohy, Chris Yarran, Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler - ahead of the start of the home and away season.

We know the Blues have a crack midfield and a decent forward line. But with Jamison and Laidler absent for so much of last season, the Blues leaked goals, and fixing that was an early point of emphasis for the incoming coach. Malthouse built many of his successful teams from the backline first and has identified this as the way forward for the Blues.

When the heat was on against Freo on Saturday night, the aforementioned sextet kept Fremantle to just two first half goals. Granted, Matthew Pavlich was a key out for Freo, but the avenues to goal were pretty much clamped shut, and the Blues looked good moving the ball out of defence.

2. Looking good for 10 in a row

Everyone in footy knows Geelong will take a nine-match winning streak against Hawthorn into the season-opener between the two clubs. Four weeks out before they meet again, you would have to say the Cats look good things to make it No.10.

Geelong, missing Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Joel Corey, Josh Hunt, Trent West, Nathan Vardy, Tom Lonergan, Allen Christensen and Steve Johnson - and with Paul Chapman off with injury before quarter-time, should have had no business beating Adelaide by 63 points in the imperious manner in which they did.

Hawthorn also had a few out - Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne, Cyril Rioli, Brian Lake, Grant Birchall, Liam Shiels, Paul Puopolo and Xavier Ellis - yet lost to the Western Bulldogs by a point.

Geelong's absentees were mainly rested, whereas the missing Hawks seem to be nursing all sorts of ailments. Rioli, for example, spent most of last week in a moon boot. Hodge, Birchall, Burgoyne, Shiels and Ellis have yet to play this year.

Geelong's depth players also appear a bit more advanced at this time of the year than those of the Hawks and provided so much of the excitement against the Crows.

Now, those who place too much store in NAB Cup results are often made to be fools and it should be noted that last year's Grand Finalists are now a combined 0-6 in the pre-season, but what can be said with reasonable conviction is that the Cats would appear much further advanced with their preparation for Easter Monday at the MCG.

3. Hot Pies, cold Eagles

Carlton and Geelong were impressive winners over the weekend. Collingwood's 20-point win over West Coast at Patersons Stadium might have been even better.

Missing Dayne Beams, Luke Ball, Darren Jolly, Alex Fasolo, Alan Didak, Tyson Goldsack and Dale Thomas, just to name a few, the Pies were brutal, employing the sort of defensive pressure they were renowned for during the final years of the Malthouse era.

West Coast had a better squad at its disposal and was playing at home, but showed little appetite for the contest. Perhaps the Eagles were saving their best for future and likely more meaningful contests against the Pies.

The start of the season for West Coast is less than three weeks away. It opens its season with a derby clash against Freo and it is fair to say on the evidence presented on the weekend, both clubs have a mountain of work to do, with just one more NAB Cup game to get things right.

4. Vintage Wines

Tucked away in the back blocks of the South Australian river country, Port Adelaide and Melbourne both used Sunday's NAB Cup clash at Renmark to expose as many of their young players as they could.

Fair enough, too. They meet again in round one of home and away season, why expose big names and tip your hand from a tactics point of view.

But tucked away in the fine point of the match stats were these figures for Port Adelaide draftee Oliver Wines.

Kicks: 11
Handballs: 10
Contested possessions: 15
Clearances: 10

The game wasn't on TV, but his name appeared on Twitter throughout the afternoon as Wines made an early statement.

There was talk before last year's NAB AFL Draft that Wines would end up at Melbourne alongside his best mate Jack Viney. In the end, the Demons decided he and fellow hard-nut Jack Viney were cut from the same cloth and they selected the silky Jimmy Toumpas instead.
Port was delighted to have Wines fall into its lap and if you need a reason to go the MCG on 31 March, it might be just to watch Viney and Wines go at each other. It won't be for the faint-hearted.

5. Lions on the line

There hasn't been a whole lot going on the Gabba during the winter in recent years (not so summer, where the Queensland cricket teams are the defending champs in all three forms of the game) as the Lions set about a slow and patient rebuild under the watch of coach Michael Voss.

But the Lions are unbeaten in the pre-season and thanks to a quirk of the schedule, meet Collingwood at Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening in what amounts to a NAB Cup semi-final. The winner goes through to the Grand Final.

There is an argument to say that this match might be as big for the Lions as any they have played since the 2009 finals.

They laboured a bit to beat GWS, needing a late Sam Michael goal to get the biscuits, but they'll relish the opportunity to come to Melbourne for a real tester against Collingwood and you would imagine that Jonathan Brown will be unleashed for the first time this year.

The Lions have been rotating a few bodies through the key forward posts while Brown has been absent and Aaron Cornelius put up his hand on the weekend with five goals against the Giants.

Cornelius and Jordan Lisle have shown a bit for the Lions, so Voss has some options, firstly to give Brown some sort of relief during the year because we know he won't play 22 games and also because of the sad reality that in a year or three, he won't be there at all. senior writer Ashley Browne is on Twitter @afl_hashbrowne
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs