AFL hopes season start will shift focus - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

AFL hopes season start will shift focus

By Roger Vaughan 25/03/2007 07:49:33 PM Comments (0)

The AFL's traditional weekend of rest, normally a welcome respite before the start of the regular season, has this year been a black hole for the league.

The game's image continued to take a pounding over the issue of illicit drugs, with another allegation involving an unnamed, high-profile former player.

The standard "off" weekend between the pre-season cup final and round one of the premiership became the last thing the AFL needed.

It came after a week when West Coast suspended former Brownlow Medallist Ben Cousins indefinitely and his family admitted he had a substance abuse problem.

On Friday night, it was revealed fellow top Eagle Daniel Kerr and former team-mate Aaron Edwards, now with the Kangaroos, were caught on police recordings during a 2003 drugs surveillance operation.

It was reported another West Coast player, Chad Fletcher, was awaiting toxicology reports from an American hospital after his near-fatal holiday last October.

There was widespread speculation about what caused Fletcher's ill health, his manager insisting nothing other than alcohol was in his system at the time of the scare.

On Saturday, Eagles coach John Worsfold revealed up to eight former or current West Coast players had admitted taking illicit drugs.

He said most had left the club and no current player used drugs.

The Sunday Age carried a front-page report alleging a former top Melbourne-based player with a high media profile was under police investigation.

The report said there were "persistent rumours of his links with a drug dealer".

After spending last week strongly defending their illicit drugs policy, separate from the league's anti-doping code, AFL officials made no public comment this weekend.

The AFL will be grateful that from Monday at least some of the focus will shift to the game itself, especially given some of the potential highlights in round one.

The season opens Friday night when Melbourne host St Kilda at the MCG.

Melbourne ended the Saints' season at the same ground in their elimination final last season and St Kilda shocked everyone when they sacked coach Grant Thomas a few days later.

Former Sydney assistant coach Ross Lyon will make his senior coaching debut on Friday night as the new Saints boss.

The highlight of the round will be on Saturday night at Telstra Stadium where Sydney host the Eagles in a grand final rematch.

Swans coach Paul Roos has found the relative AFL isolation of his home city a blessing in the lead-up to the season.

"We're a little bit sheltered from the mainstream footy stuff ... we're probably a little bit fortunate, being in Sydney, we're a little bit able to lead our own lives," he said.

"It's probably not so anxious for us, but I think in a general sense every season, people really look forward to it.

"The off-season now, with so much media coverage, anything becomes newsworthy, regardless of whether it's a big thing or small thing."

Sunday's Telstra Dome match between the Western Bulldogs and Geelong looms as another top contest.

The `Dogs are a popular tip to carry on their outstanding form from last season, while the Cats conducted a thorough review of their operations after their 2006 disaster.

Controversial former Brisbane midfielder Jason Akermanis will make his Bulldogs debut if he can prove his fitness.

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