NEW Carlton coach Brendon Bolton has been thrown in the deep end, with the Blues to take on his former club Hawthorn in the opening NAB Challenge match in Launceston on February 18 next year.
The Tasmanian spent five years as an assistant with the Hawks, including five weeks (for five wins) filling in for head coach Alastair Clarkson in mid-2014 while he was being treated for the potentially-debilitating Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
The match will be the first of 27 games to be played over four weekends, many of them at regional venues across the country.
The grounds include Joondalup (WA), Mandurah (WA), Shepparton (Vic), Blacktown (NSW), Wagga Wagga (NSW) and Burpengary (Qld).
New Adelaide coach Don Pyke will come up his former club West Coast in round one, while the first game for new Bombers mentor John Worsfold will be against Carlton on February 28.