Five things we have learned from the second round of the NAB Cup.
1. Israel Folau can have an impact in 2012
He may not have had an influence for an entire half of football, didn’t reach double figure possessions, and was part of a side that lost by the best part of thirteen goals, but Israel Folau showed that he will not be completely out of place at AFL level.
His third quarter showed what he was capable of, using his superior leap to launch his athletic frame at the ball for three contested marks, hitting the scoreboard and setting up for others as well.
Fox Footy commentator Dermot Brereton was at pains to point out that if he was to create the perfect footballer from scratch, Izzie’s build would be his model, so he’s got a head start that Karmichael Hunt lacked.
Folau will be used forward and in the ruck, and his appetite for the contest and willingness to tackle hard will hold him in good stead as he gradually adjusts to the pace and 360 degree nature of Australian Rules football at the elite level.
2. This season is going to be a war of attrition
While this could just as easily reference the growing pre-season injury list at each club, it is also apt in regards to what the most common game style will be in 2012.
Almost every side will be employing the venerated ‘press’, and with greater force than we’ve seen before. The highest premium is being placed on pressuring the ball-carrier, forcing them backwards and deeper into your own attacking zone.
What we’re seeing is 30-plus players in a confined area, bashing and crashing into each other in a game of extreme intensity pinball, applying hard-hitting tackles as each player knows that the coaches are waiting to drop someone for shirking an issue or taking a backward step.
The Collingwood v Melbourne match on Saturday night was the best example of it this week, but it was also highly prevalent in the two Sunday games, and we saw signs of it in round one as well.
Players will be taking courage to a whole new level in 2012, and we will all cheer, cringe and curse like never before.
3, Geelong aren’t going anywhere
Despite only bringing seven players from last year’s premiership side to Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, the Cats were able to comfortably account for the Suns in a soft 49 point win. Ever since the 2007 premiership, the Cats have been steadfast in attempting to rebuild while at the top, rather than waiting to fall after a few years of success.
At the completion of their first flag of this era, they offloaded four ‘depth’ players to other clubs (Callan, Gardiner, King and Playfair), while adding to the list the likes of Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan, and the as yet untapped ruckman Dawson Simpson.
After last year’s glory, key premiership players Brad Ottens, Cameron Mooney, Darren Milburn and skipper Cameron Ling retired, but rather than finally stopping them in their tracks, it seems that the Cats merely view this as an opportunity to unleash the next batch off their production line.
Outside of Jimmy Bartel’s game high 26 possessions, the next best were Simon Hogan, Taylor Hunt, and Cameron Guthrie, who have a combined 44 AFL games between them.
Mitch Brown looked good patrolling the forward line with a match high seven marks, Stephen Motlop will play some exciting football this year and let’s not forget that premiership ‘veteran’ of 20 games, Trent West, who will continue to grow this year as the first choice ruckman.
I defy anyone to suggest that Joel Selwood will not be a premiership captain before his time is up, but it just may happen sooner than anyone expects.
4. Mark Neeld has injected some steel in the Melbourne Football Club
Neeld’s first statement as coach of the Demons was that he wanted to be ‘hard to play against’. He followed with the usual talk of hardness at the ball, uncompromising attack, not taking a backward step, etc. But then every new coach speaks from the same page of ‘contested footy’ and the like.
However, the words of the man who learned much of his craft under Mick Malthouse seemed to ring truer than most. There was little doubt that players under him can expect a fierce glare and stern words if they don’t commit at precisely the level he wants, and he won’t be afraid to send the unwilling back to the reserves.
The Dee’s were hard at the contest in their victory against the Pies, and were playing to a level that Collingwood weren’t prepared to match. While they were probably playing at an intensity closer to what they will in the season proper than the opposition, they showed that they will indeed be hard to play against this year.
5. Media overreaction is a fundamental truism
As soon as the news broke that the St Kilda v Essendon game scheduled at Wangaratta was cancelled due to the Bombers’ inability to land after catching two planes, the moral police went on the attack.
Twitter exploded with cries for heads to roll, demands of a federal enquiry, and it was only a matter of time before people wanted Essendon expelled from the league (that last one didn’t really happen, but it wouldn’t be the worst – let’s face it, if you don’t barrack for the Bombers, you hate them).
It is harder and harder for people to accept that sometimes, things just happen.
For some reason, every mistake needs to be torn down, ripped apart and over-analysed until we find out who was to blame, what were the reasons, and the punishment that will be surely delivered. Such is the frenzied appetite for answers over minor incidents, often a public execution would not seem enough.
Yes, we all feel for the people of Wangaratta. Yes, there is a smugness inherent in Essendon flying to a ground that is under three hours drive away. And yes, the Saints should always have been awarded the match points (and subsequently were).
But haven’t we all been guilty of getting caught out by the weather? For most of us, that would be many times.
So let’s just all relax a little, and spend more time focusing on what happens on the ground, rather than worrying about what doesn’t happen off it.