MELBOURNE coach Mark Neeld believes that delaying the pre-season or rookie draft until the eve of the season would give clubs greater flexibility with their playing lists and ensure players returned from their off-season break in a fit state to train.
Neeld said that given the demands on players, those who turned up out of shape for the start of training in October were almost guaranteed to fall behind and fritter away a season.
He said allowing clubs to form ''train-on'' squads straight after the national draft in November, then select players after the NAB Cup, would have benefits for both parties. ''It's an idea we've had here at Melbourne, it's been thrown up, and we think it's one worth teasing out when we talk about where the game's headed,'' Neeld said. ''When you look at some of the overseas sports, many of them have the opportunity to either add people to their playing list or delete people from their playing list, right up until the beginning of a season and sometimes after the season has started.
''Our theory is, could we even combine the pre-season and rookie draft into one thing and not hold it until February or March, give players the chance to train at clubs and prove themselves, and clubs a chance to see how they stack up.
''It would give clubs the summer to work out where their list was at, and if you changed player contract dates to fit in with it, it would give clubs a lot more room to make decisions.
''If a player comes back in a condition where they can't fulfil their employment terms, currently their contract doesn't expire until next October. If that changed, coming back in bad shape is something that could have grave repercussions.''
■AFL umpires have won a seven per cent pay rise next season after brokering a new collective bargaining agreement with the AFL.
Umpires will then receive five, four, three and three per cent rises in the remaining four years of the deal.
Emma Quayle joined The Age as a cadet journalist in 1999 and has been covering football since 2001. She has won awards from the Australian Football Media Association and AFL Players Association for her feature writing, and specialised for many years in covering junior football and the AFL draft. Emma's two books - The Draft and Nine Lives (the story of former Essendon wingman Adam Ramanauskas' battle with cancer) - were published in 2008 and 2010.
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