THE NAB Cup gets under way tonight with the competition's most in-the-spotlight team hoping to put all the off-field dramas of the past week behind it.
Essendon takes on Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs in a triple header at Etihad Stadium and coach James Hird will be glad to be able to concentrate on tactics and interchange rather than ask questions about performance enhancing drugs and Stephen Dank.
The Bombers will go into tonight's games with a number of new men with star recruit Brendon Goddard hoping for a top performance following his move as a free agent from St Kilda last October.
Goddard will be joined by four of the Bombers' six 2012 draftees - Jason Ashby (No. 34), Dylan van Unen (No. 51), Martin Gleeson (No. 53) and Nick Kommer (No. 73).
Joe Daniher, the son of champion Essendon full-back Anthony, will have to wait to make his Bombers' debut, while captain and Brownlow Medallist Jobe Watson will also miss as he recovers from a minor knee injury.
The Bombers will come up against a Collingwood team showing a number of changes from last season but most will be familiar faces to Hird and Co.
The Magpies are set to unveil seasoned recruits Quinten Lynch, Clinton Young, Jordan Russell and Ben Hudson.
Ruckman Hudson has his 34th birthday at the end of this month and will play for his fourth AFL club will don his fourth set of AFL club, after stints at Adelaide, the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane Lions.
Lynch and Young crossed to the Pies from West Coast and Hawthorn respectively as free agents, while Russell was traded by Carlton.
Rookie Sam Dwyer, who has been playing under coach Gary Ayres at Port Melbourne in the VFL, is also in line for a debut.
Dale Thomas (ankle) and Luke Ball (knee) will not play as they continue their rehabilitations from injury.
Defender Dale Morris, who missed all last season with a leg injury, will be joined by five debutants as the Bulldogs begin their NAB Cup campaign.
The new boys include former Port Adelaide and Fremantle defender Nick Lower, ex-Magpie Tom Young, and state-league veteran Brett Goodes, the brother of Sydney Swans co-captain Adam.
Midfielder Jackson Macrae, the No.6 pick in last year's national draft, will also play his first game, along with rookie-listed key forward Jack Redpath, 22.
Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney has reportedly had his best pre-season in four years after seemingly putting his knee problems behind him.
Tom Liberatore returns for his first game after a club-imposed four-match ban for off-field issues.
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