IT'S BEEN a long hot summer – I guess technically it still is – but footy is back in the form of the NAB Challenge that kicks off on Wednesday evening in Geelong.

The ‘carnival of footy’ will see 18 games played over 18 days and for NAB AFL Fantasy tragics like us, it is time for some hardcore study ahead of a huge season.

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For the pre-season competition, each club lines up with 26 players; the interchange carries eight players with two wearing the substitute vest.

The beauty of the extended squad is the opportunity to see some new faces but remember, not all of these guys will be playing throughout the season proper.

We’ll be grabbing our notepad, loading up the laptop and tuning into each game over the next couple of weeks, looking at which players are putting their hand up as value picks.

When watching NAB Challenge games, we’ll be taking note of who is missing before making too many judgements on who is racking up the numbers, but we will be following the live Fantasy scores via our Match Centre.

Statistics including time on ground coupled with the role of each player in the team will help us piece together who will be the real deal for our Fantasy squads.

You shouldn’t be too concerned with the form of the premium Fantasy players over the next month, although it doesn’t hurt to see them post good scores to help back their selection.

Instead, focus your attention on the guys that you’re considering as under-priced players and cash cows.

Here’s a quick look at some players that you should keep an eye on over the next 18 days.


February 16: vs Port Adelaide at Richmond Oval (SA), 4:10pm CDT
February 24: vs Carlton at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

Hopefully we get a look at Matt Crouch [MID, $203,200] in the NAB Challenge. He is in the same mould as his brother Brad, in that he is a ball magnet. He averaged 37 disposals in the TAC Cup last season. Even if he can do half of that at AFL level, he’ll be a big cash cow. Keep an eye out for where Brodie Smith [DEF, $371,600] plays. If he gets a run through the midfield, he could be a big Fantasy improver this year.

Brisbane Lions

February 13: vs Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 23: vs Gold Coast at Townsville, 3:40pm EST

With a big turnover of players, we could see quite a few new faces at the Lions. We’re hoping Claye Beams [MID, $187,400] can get a NAB Challenge game or two under his belt before the season proper and it will interesting to see how first round draftee James Aish [MID, $246,600] fits into the line up. Dayne Zorko [FWD/MID, $400,100] dominated the recent intra-club match and a strong showing could see his stocks rise even more.


February 15: vs North Melbourne at North Ballarat, 4:40pm EDT
February 24: vs Adelaide at Eithad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

Dale Thomas [MID, $346,400] might be the most selected Blue at that tasty price. If we see enough to confirm his ankle is right and he’s looking likely to play round one, then he is a lock. Former Lion Sam Docherty [DEF, $272,200] looks built for Fantasy and will be keen to sew up a spot in Carlton’s best 22.

Not a point of difference for your Fantasy side, but Dale Thomas is too cheap to ignore. Picture: AFL Media


February 12: vs Geelong at Simonds Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 22: vs Richmond at Wangaratta, 4:40pm EDT

After just two games last year, Clinton Young [MID, $218,300] is priced nicely to generate some cash in our Fantasy midfield. He’ll most likely play off half-back and on the wing. Alex Fasolo [FWD, $208,400] will need to impress before cementing a spot in Collingwood’s best 22, and hence our Fantasy forward line. Look out for most of the Magpie draftees getting some game time during the NAB Challenge.


February 17: vs Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, 6:10pm EST
February 25: vs Port Adelaide at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

The injury to Tom Bellchambers may open up a position for rookie listed players Fraser Thurlow [RUC/FWD, $115,200] or Patrick Ambrose [FWD, $115,200]. Second year player Joe Daniher [FWD, $249,700] is still priced cheap enough to be considered as a cash cow.


February 18: vs West Coast at Joondalup, 4:10pm WST
February 26: vs Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

211cm Aaron Sandilands [RUC, $244,500] just needs to set our minds at ease by getting through the practice matches to become one of our Fantasy ruckman this season. New Dockers Colin Sylvia [FWD/MID, $443,600] and Scott Gumbleton [FWD, $280,400] have been training strongly and offer value this year.

If he finds form, Colin Sylvia could lift the Dockers and your Fantasy side. Picture: AFL Media


February 12: vs Collingwood at Simonds Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 28: vs Melbourne at Alice Springs, 5:40pm CST

Although he’s not been named to play in the opening game, Hamish McIntosh [RUC, $344,700] is back to full training and could be one of the bargain ruckmen of the year. Our insider at Geelong says that Josh Caddy [FWD/MID, $343,500] is training the house down and now he is available as a forward/midfielder, he could slot in as a mid-priced forward.

Gold Coast

February 17: vs Essendon at Metricon Stadium, 6:10pm EST
February 23: vs Brisbane Lions at Townsville, 3:40pm EST

All eyes will be on Jack Martin [MID, $268,300] in Gold Coast’s games. We have to pay a premium for him, but if his NEAFL numbers from last year are anything to go by, then he has to be considered. Draftee Kade Kolodjashnij [DEF, $252,000] will hopefully get a chance to show why he was the second highest averaging Fantasy player at the 2013 NAB Under-18 Championships. Watch for what David Swallow’s [DEF/MID, $377,000] role is likely to be this season. If he spends more time in the midfield, he could be a great selection as a Fantasy defender.

Greater Western Sydney

February 20: vs Sydney Swans at Canberra, 7:10pm EDT
March 1: vs St Kilda at Wagga Wagga, 4:40pm EDT

With a lot of their players awkwardly priced, it will take an astute Fantasy coach to pick the diamonds in the rough at Greater Western Sydney. Shane Mumford [RUC, $423,000] looks under-priced as the number one ruckman, spending the majority of his time playing on the ball. If Toby Greene [MID, $415,100] can find a midfield role, he has every opportunity to again produce the numbers he posted in his debut season.

Toby Greene was off his game last year but it's time to keep the faith. Picture: AFL Media


February 13: vs Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 21: vs North Melbourne at Aurora Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

After a year out of the game due to a pre-season knee injury last year, Matt Suckling [DEF, $314,400] will most likely be managed throughout the NAB Challenge. Expect him to prove his fitness and be round one starter for Hawthorn and our Fantasy teams. He’s too cheap to ignore. Draftee Dayle Garlett [FWD, $162,600] will get an opportunity and should be someone on your Fantasy watchlist. If he doesn’t play early, he could be a downgrade target later in the season.


February 14: vs Richmond at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 28: vs Geelong at Alice Springs, 5:40pm CST

It doesn’t look like value forwards Mitch Clark [FWD, $213,300] and Jesse Hogan [FWD, $265,600] will play the Demons’ first game, but look out for them if they get a chance during the NAB Challenge. Former Giant Dom Tyson (MID, $218,400] and Docker Viv Michie [MID, $193,900] are on the hunt for more opportunities and if they get them at Melbourne, their prices will certainly increase.

Dom Tyson is clearly close to his teammates and shapes as a Fantasy bolter. Picture: AFL Media

North Melbourne

Saturday, February 15, 2014: vs Carlton at North Ballarat, 4:40pm EDT
Friday, February 21, 2014: vs Hawthorn at Aurora Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

Father-son draftee Luke McDonald [DEF/MID, $243,900] is looming as a popular option this year as he should get a chance to play early. If Robin Nahas [FWD, $178,100] can impress and snatch a forward position, he is priced very nicely as a cash cow for your Fantasy side.

Port Adelaide

February 16, 2014: vs Adelaide at Richmond Oval (SA), 4:10pm CDT
February 25, 2014: vs Essendon at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

In their trial game on the weekend, Matthew Lobbe [RUC, $439,300] was one of the best dominating the hitouts and kicking three goals. He came home like a steam train in Fantasy last year and he is now becoming a popular premium ruck choice. Coming from the Lions, Jared Polec [MID, $135,500] will be putting his hand up for senior selection at his new club.


February 14, 2014: vs Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 22, 2014: vs Richmond at Wangaratta, 4:40pm EDT

As reported last month, Dustin Martin [FWD/MID, $526,000] has been training with the defenders. It will be interesting to see he spends some time at half-back during the NAB Challenge and how that affects his Fantasy scoring. Ben Lennon [FWD, $233,100] was taken at pick No. 12 at the NAB AFL Draft and he was a standout performer in the TAC Cup last year averaging 110 Fantasy points. One to watch.

Ben Lennon (r) takes in a few tips from a Fantasy master in Trent Cotchin. Picture: AFL Media

St Kilda

February 19, 2014: vs Western Bulldogs at Simonds Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 1, 2014: vs Greater Western Sydney at Wagga Wagga, 4:40pm EDT

It’s looking more and more likely that Tom Hickey [RUC, $282,700] will be the first choice ruckman for the Saints but hopefully Billy Longer [RUC, $194,400] can play alongside him to be a solid ruck bench option. Draftees Jack Billings [FWD/MID, $$257,400] and Luke Dunstan [MID, $216,800] have stood out on the track and they will both be fighting for an opportunity to break into the 22.

Sydney Swans

February 20, 2014: vs Greater Western Sydney at Canberra, 7:10pm EDT
February 27, 2014: vs West Coast at Blacktown, 7:10pm EDT

Lance Franklin [FWD, $426,500] needs to be on your NAB Challenge watchlist. Not only because he’s playing his first game for a new club, but because Buddy is underpriced after averaging over 20 points less last season than he had scored in the three years prior. A couple of cheap defenders in former Blue Jeremy Laidler [DEF, $135,500] and veteran Lewis Roberts-Thompson [DEF/FWD, $146,700] could end up as good Fantasy bench cover.

West Coast

February 18, 2014: vs Fremantle at Joondalup, 4:10pm WST
February 27, 2014: vs Sydney Swans at Blacktown 7:10pm EDT

Teammate Scott Selwood recently backed young Dom Sheed [MID, $235,800] for a spot in our Fantasy teams. The No. 10 pick from last year's draft averaged 28 disposals a game for Western Australia at the NAB Under-18 Championships; ranked No. 1 among all players. It looks like former Hawk Xavier Ellis [MID, $135,500] may find a place in West Coast’s back six. He will be a worthy midfield bench player if this comes to fruition.

Western Bulldogs

February 19, 2014: vs St Kilda at Simonds Stadium, 7:10pm EDT
February 26, 2014: vs Fremantle at Etihad Stadium, 7:10pm EDT

So far this pre-season, mature-aged recruit Matthew Fuller [DEF, $151,800] has found his way into quite a few  Fantasy sides. At the age of 23, he is a ready-made defender and he is in the mix to get early games for the Bulldogs. With few rookies available as dual position players, Mitch Honeychurch [FWD/MID, $135,500] will one to monitor.

The Traders will be providing commentary via Twitter (@AFLFantasy) and on Facebook throughout the NAB Challenge. Get involved in the conversation using the #NABChallenge and #AFLFantasy hashtags.

Mitch Honeychurch is a new Bulldog well worth watching through the NAB Challenge. Picture: AFL Media