GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 19: Pearce Hanley of the Suns runs the ball during the 2017 JLT Community Series match at Broadbeach Sports Centre on February 19, 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The pre season competition has and always will be a chance for freshly drafted rookies to strut their stuff in front of coaches and onlookers in a bid to impress for round one. For the older, more experienced players on the list, it’s more about dusting off the cobwebs before the real footy begins. So what have we learned over the last month?

Young Guns

As if the GWS Giants weren’t already scary enough at times in 2016, Tim Taranto – No.2 pick in 2016 draft – averaged 17 touches in three JLT contests. Taranto, who looks to have the best of both words with a strong frame and the endurance to run with some of the best in the league, appears to have given Leon Cameron no choice but to select him in round one.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 26: Debutantge, Jy Simpkin of the Kangaroos in action during the AFL 2017 JLT Community Series match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Hawthorn Hawks at Arden Street Oval on February 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

North Melbourne lost over 1300 games of experience over the summer but 2016 No. 12 pick Jy Simpkin has shown North fans that there is a lot to look forward to. A classy goal in the third quarter against the Giants as well as a solid hit out against Hawthorn has meant he has put himself in the conversation for round one in Brad Scott’s side.

Golden Oldies

Newly crowned 2012 Brownlow Medallist Sam Mitchell has shown the AFL world he has no intention of slowing down as he looks to get West Coast over the hump in 2017. The Hawthorn great has had a stunning pre-season with games of 28 and 39 touches, enough to have Eagles fans salivating at the through of another deep September run.

Corey Enright’s retirement left a hole across half back at Geelong, that was until former Carlton hardman Zach Tuohy filled that void. The 27-year-old Irishman averaged 28 touches for the Cats in three JLT matches and looks to be slotting into the Cattery quite nicely.

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 17: Zach Tuohy of the Cats in action during the AFL 2017 JLT Community Series match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at the University of Tasmania Stadium on February 17, 2017 in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Pearce Hanley hasn’t travelled far in the off season, however, his impact on the Suns has been evident already. Across half back, Hanley has been in the top four disposal getters for each of the Suns’ JLT games and his experience will be much needed as the Suns hope to make their inaugural push into the top eight.

Crowd Sizes

The 2017 JLT Community Series went to more regional towns than ever before with a total of 165,420 attending the 27 matches played. Had the AFL been told they would average over 6000 spectators per game, I’m sure they would’ve taken it. Over 8,500 people saw Hawthorn pip Geelong at the post down in Tasmania, an area of the nation the AFL continues to grow the game with an eye on a team of the future while over 8000 people packed Queen Elizabeth Oval in Bendigo to catch a glimpse of local hero Joel Selwood strut his stuff in a highly entertaining game against Essendon on Sunday.

BENDIGO, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 12: A general view during the AFL 2017 JLT Community Series match between the Geelong Cats and the Essendon Bombers at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on March 12, 2017 in Bendigo, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

While some teams may have complained about the long bus trips to these regional cities, it’s very important for the AFL to continue to visit grassroots areas when possible and the month-long exhibition tournament is a perfect chance to showcase the game and ensure the growth of the game around the country.

Surprise Packets

When you kick 74 goals in your states premier competition, AFL clubs are bound to take notice. That was the case for Brett Eddy, who has given Ken Hinkley almost no choice but to select him in his round one side. Eddy, who was named in the SANFL team of the year last season, has slotted in nicely at Alberton, claiming the spot held formerly by Jay Schulz. The 27-year-old kicked five goals for the Power on the weekend against Hawthorn.

MOUNT GAMBIER, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 05: Brett Eddy (C) of the Power celebrates after kicking a goal during the 2017 JLT Community Series AFL match between the Port Adelaide Power and the Richmond Tigers at Malseed Park on March 5, 2017 in Mount Gambier, Australia. (Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

More often than not, when you trade pick 72 for a player, you don’t expect too much in return, however, Nathan Vardy is hoping to buck that trend. Despite the Eagles’ ruck depth, injuries have meant Vardy could be a key player for West Coast if his body can hold up. Through the JLT matches, Vardy has been Adam Simpson’s number one ruck option while also providing a tall target in their already potent forward line. Could he be the steal of the season?

Nathan Hrovat has all but solidified himself in North Melbourne’s best 22 following a solid JLT hit out. Hrovat has produced a pair of two-goal performances with his delivery from midfield standing out in the North Melbourne side. His ability to carry the ball through midfield certainly does his chances no harm either.

Will Carlton ever be good again?

The short answer to this question is yes, but can anyone see it happening in the next five years?

Honestly, probably not.

Never mind their winless pre-season (it is only pre-season after all), but it was in the manner which they lost that must sting for Carlton fans.

They simply weren’t competitive against Melbourne in game one and while there were signs of improvement against Fremantle – particularly the likes of Patrick Cripps and Jacob Weitering – their defence still let in over 100 points against the third-worst attack of 2016.

And let’s not even touch on their display against St. Kilda.

Off-field, Carlton’s membership figures are struggling to grow at the rate of the other clubs. Sure, a lot of it is based around their on-field performance, however, with the likes of Essendon and Richmond’s numbers growing through struggles of their own, have the Navy Blue army lost faith?