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Footy's back - but not on the mainland

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The first significant on-field step in the big Carlton rebuild takes place in Launceston on tonight when the new-look Blues square off against Hawthorn in the opening match of the NAB Challenge.

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New head coach Brendon Bolton – who made his name as a key figure in Alastair Clarkson’s multiple flag-winning panel at Hawthorn – will face his former side, taking charge of a team likely to include their three top-12 picks from last year’s national draft.

Most of the focus has been on No.1 selection Jacob Weitering, although much is also expected of Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow.

Veteran Kade Simpson will captain the Blues in the absence of regular skipper Marc Murphy, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

“We’ve been playing so many intraclub and match simulation drills at training that you get sick of playing against each other,” said Simpson.

“You want to put it in against real opposition and is there any better opposition than Hawthorn?”

After claiming the wooden spoon in 2015, the Blues instigated a significant rebuild.

Chris Yarran, Lachie Henderson, Tom Bell and Troy Menzel are among the former Blues who will be wearing different AFL colours in 2016, while the club has invested more heavily than ever before in the draft.

The Hawks have named 13 members of their 2015 premiership team in their 29-man squad for the match at Aurora Stadium.

One-time Demon Adem Yze will take over the coaching reins temporarily from Clarkson, while local hero Grant Birchall will assume the captaincy duties for Hawthorn.

The 27-match NAB Challenge is spread over four weeks, with each of the 18 clubs playing three matches.

Port Adelaide kick off their preseason campaign against Sydney in Blacktown on Saturday, while the Crows host West Coast at Unley Oval on Sunday afternoon.

-AAP

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