Clubs are fully aware that given the circumstances, it will be tough to predict results in 2020. There have been suggestions that shorter games will favour teams with pace, and that the uncertainty about what lies ahead could help mature teams. Others are tipping the most resilient and disciplined line-up will win.
The one thing all clubs agree on is that with the unexpected interruption to the season, prior form might be misleading.
Russell expects the reduced length of quarters to 16 minutes plus time-on will help players overall, but he admits it also presents another unknown for those charged with preparing players.
“Clearly you are going to be covering less ground so there is going to be less volume, but what we are a little bit unsure of is because it is less [distance] does the running intensity go up? Or will it be that all loads are 20 percent less than they have been in the past? Time will tell,” Russell said.
With just over three weeks to prepare the team Russell said the challenge for all sides will be to balance the load in the 10 or 11 training sessions available between Monday and the first game.
He said each player needed enough intensity to be ready to go at the restart, but there was a danger if an individual was worked too hard they could break down as their body adjusted to different movements.
“The past seven weeks are really important, what the players have done or haven’t done and the type of stresses that have been put through their body,” Russell said.
There are many people within the AFL expecting injury rates to be high as the season restarts after the break, but Russell said he had an open mind and was confident clubs would get it right in conditioning players.
“We should be able to get them into a pretty good position and be ready,” Russell said.
However he said the short lead in would make it hard for players to refine their game sense, which allowed them to avoid collisions in normal seasons. He indicated that could be an issue with many underestimating how skilful players were at understanding each other’s movement patterns.
“It is all happening in a split second and it is only because they train it for three, four or five months that they then take [the skill] into a game. Their awareness is amazing – for guys that hit so hard, the injury rate is pretty low,” Russell said.
Russell conceded the protocols restricting players’ freedom would pose a challenge for some but he said the overwhelming majority would be so relieved to have the game back they would have a very positive mindset when they returned to the club.
“I hope they turn up with an attitude of what’s possible this year,” Russell said.
“We had a good preparation. We know that doesn’t necessarily transfer into playing good footy but it gives you a really good opportunity to play good footy.”
The Blues expect Eddie Betts, Zac Fisher and Nic Newman to be available while Russell said the break had helped key forward Harry McKay overcome the groin issues that interrupted his pre-season.
“He has had a fantastic seven week block of training. He has done a full pre-season training load with no symptoms at all. I could not be more pleased with his preparation and he is feeling confident in his body,” Russell said.
He also said Curnow was now resting to ready himself for a conditioning period as he looks to overcome the knee problems that will see him miss 2020.
“His knee was telling us it just needs a period of rest and then after that period of rest we will start reconditioning,” Russell said.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.