It was an eventful weekend of AFL last round, with the Sydney Swans unfurling their premiership flag, the Tigers continuing to impress and the spotlight once again on Melbourne after yet another blow-out loss.
Round three promises to be just as eventful, with two teams on the rise to start the round.
Fremantle vs Essendon
Friday, April 12
Last meeting: Essendon 17.11 (113) defeated Fremantle 14.5 (89) at Patersons Stadium, Round 13, 2012.
Last week: Fremantle flung the Western Bulldogs back down to the turf, while Essendon absolutely demolished Melbourne by 148 points at the ‘G.
This match has the potential to bring the best out of both teams after just two rounds.
Fremantle have started the season with a bang, with twin 28-point victories over the West Coast Eagles and Western Bulldogs.
Essendon have put the pre-season drugs controversy behind them to score a 35-point victory over Adelaide, and then, last week, the most talked-about 148-point humiliation of Melbourne at the MCG last week.
Ross Lyon has done a great job turning Fremantle from pretenders into contenders.
Last year the Dockers won five of the six matches they played in Melbourne, and last week that record just got better with the club recording its sixth from seven in the Victorian capital.
This week is their toughest assignment yet. They face a team that were virtually unchallenged last week, as they dominated almost every aspect of the game to thrash a confidence-sapped Melbourne side.
Additionally, Fremantle lost their only meeting last year by 24 points, so there is the extra motivation for the Dockers to win this Friday night.
Hayden Ballantyne returns from suspension this weekend for the Dockers, further boosting their line-up.
The way Essendon played last week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was just a training drill, practicing shots for goal, practicing tackles and practicing runs.
That was exactly how last week’s 148-point win over Melbourne was played out, as they were rarely challenged by a team that is plunging deeper into crisis as each day ticks by.
Stewart Crameri had one of his best games for the club last week, booting six straight majors as Essendon dominated from the get-go.
He will be hard to stop this weekend, but the Dockers will have their defence ready for him.
Key stat: Fremantle have had the slightly longer break, which could work in their favour. But never back Essendon when they are in the red-hottest of forms.
Tip: Essendon by 12 points.
North Melbourne vs Sydney Swans
Saturday, April 13
Last meeting: Sydney Swans 17.11 (113) defeated North Melbourne 10.17 (77) at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Round 4, 2012.
Last week: The Swans’ premiership defence continued on its merry run against the Gold Coast Suns, while the Roos were robbed against the Cats last week.
Eddie McGuire has slammed the Sydney Swans’ start to the season and he has probably every right to be angry about it.
The Swans, as expected, have started their season with two straight wins, albeit coming up against the AFL’s two baby clubs, the GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns.
They now have the chance to go 3-0 up to start their premiership defence, but the Kangaroos present as their first genuine challenge this season, despite the fact they are 0-2 for the season.
The Swans had the initial struggles trying to break out of their opponents in the first two rounds; at one stage, they trailed the GWS Giants in the second quarter, and last week they trailed the Suns at quarter-time.
But they have produced their best football when it mattered the most, and if they continue to play like they have in the second half of their matches so far they will be hard to stop.
The Kangaroos have not enjoyed playing Sydney in recent times, having not beaten the red-and-whites since 2007.
However they do have a game plan that can at times trouble Sydney, which was evident during the Swans’ reign under Paul Roos.
One example of this was when they came from 40 points down at three-quarter-time to record a stunning victory in Glenn Archer’s 250th AFL match.
In their last meeting, though, North Melbourne were comfortably beaten by 36 points against a Sydney side that was missing Adam Goodes.
The Roos could not take advantage of his absence to post a win, potentially costing them any chance they had of finishing the season higher than eighth on the ladder.
This will be only the Roos’ third match at their adopted home ground of Blundstone Arena, the scene of many of Ricky Ponting’s (a Roos supporter and a Tasmanian cricket icon) cricket glories in the years past.
Can the Roos cause an early season upset?
Key stat: Last year, the Swans played their first premiership match in Tasmania (against Hawthorn in Launceston) and came away with the win.
This will be the Swans’ first trip further south. Can they adopt to playing in new surroundings once again?
Tip: Sydney Swans by 10 points.
Melbourne vs West Coast Eagles
Saturday, April 13
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Last meeting: West Coast Eagles 25.16 (166) defeated Melbourne 9.4 (58) at Patersons Stadium, Round 2, 2012.
Last week: Melbourne were non-existent against Essendon, while West Coast crashed to a half-century loss to Hawthorn.
It’s desperate times for two sides who are still winless up to this point in the season.
For one of them it’s expected, while for another, they simply ran into good opposition and were suffocated out of each contest.
Melbourne’s 148-point hiding from Essendon has dominated the talk since Saturday, and the Demons have said that “there’s no easy way out of this.”
Mark Neeld also has the full support of the club, but it’s never easy after a heavy loss.
Last week’s performance was the club’s third loss by more than 100 points in the Neeld reign. This clearly vindicates the massive job Neeld has in front of him in trying to turn Melbourne’s fortunes around.
I had been following the Port Adelaide versus GWS match on radio until I found out about the growing margin in last week’s game. I decided to switch to the Essendon/Melbourne game just to see how much worse Melbourne could get.
And things don’t appear to be improving in the short term either.
For the third week running, the Dees will run out onto the MCG, but just how many fans will turn up will be the most interesting question.
Will their most loyal supporters come out in force, or will many of them simply turn their back on the club which has suffered since 2006?
As for the West Coast Eagles, they were simply disappointing in their second home game for the year, as they wilted under the pressure of Hawthorn, Buddy Franklin and Cyril Rioli.
They were unable to find a way past the Hawks’ merciless defence.
This week they should be able to given just how poor Melbourne were last week in coughing up more than 25 goals.
But the Eagles should not take Melbourne for granted, as they could become victims of the Dees’ redemption plans.
The Eagles need to only focus on their own game and not worry about the dismal state of their opposition if they are to get on the board for 2013.
Key stat: West Coast went 0-3 from matches played at the ‘G last year. That’s the only hope that Melbourne can fall back on if they are to bounce back this week.
Tip: West Coast by 50 points.
Greater Western Sydney vs St Kilda
Saturday, April 13
Last meeting: St Kilda 25.13 (163) defeated GWS Giants 5.5 (35) at Etihad Stadium, Round 22, 2012.
Last week: The Giants fell away in the final quarter to be badly beaten by Port Adelaide, while St Kilda fell victim to Richmond’s early season form.
Again, this is a match in which the desperation stakes will be high.
The Greater Western Sydney Giants were competitive early against Port Adelaide, just as they have been in most of their matches.
But they always have a tendency to fall away badly towards the end and lose matches by big margins, while St Kilda desperately need something to get going after twin losses to Gold Coast and Richmond by less than three goals.
This represents a good chance for the Giants to start what could potentially be a patch of good form, as they face a Saints outfit that is low on confidence at the moment.
For them, this game is followed by matches against Melbourne and the Gold Coast Suns.
If the Giants can win two out of these three, then it’ll set them up for a what could be a good one season, albeit not a successful one.
The Giants have shown how far they have come from its first year, taking it to the Sydney Swans in the first round before dominating Port Adelaide in the first quarter.
The Giants seem to use all their petrol in the early part of matches, and this is what costs them in the end.
Remember that many of the Giants squad are still either teenagers or under the age of 21, and if you fast-forward their careers four years from now, they will profit from the valuable experience they are getting in what is a demanding and physical sport.
St Kilda are low on confidence at the moment, and during last week’s loss to Richmond they showed signs they are on the decline.
I live by the theory that the most significant of early season losses can affect a team mentally for the rest of the season.
If the Saints drop this one, there’s no way back up.
They could become the first Victorian team to be beaten by both the Suns and the Giants, and the first to be beaten by both in one season.
However, Saints fans can live with the fact that they won their only previous meeting by 128 points last year, though that was at Etihad Stadium where the Saints are untouchable in most matches.
The Giants, though, have a pre-season victory against them just as recently as last month.
Key stat: This is a good chance for the Giants to kick the Saints while they’re down. But I would never tip GWS against a quality side even, if they are on the decline this season.
Tip: St Kilda by 25 points.
Gold Coast Suns vs Brisbane Lions
Saturday, April 13
Last meeting: Brisbane Lions 8.11 (59) defeated Gold Coast 5.18 (48) at Metricon Stadium, Round 17, 2012.
Last week: The Suns could not back up their victory over St Kilda, going down to the Sydney Swans, while the Lions suffered yet another loss, this time against Adelaide at the Gabba.
The fifth edition of the QClash presents a good chance for the Gold Coast Suns to register another victory over their northern neighbours, while for Brisbane they seriously need to win this one if they are to get something started this season.
The Gold Coast Suns took it right to the Sydney Swans last week, even leading at quarter-time by less than a kick. However Gary Ablett could not inspire the Suns as they were kept quiet for the rest of the match.
This followed their impressive first round victory over St Kilda which was their third consecutive win at home. If they beat the Lions this weekend they will make it four.
The Brisbane Lions finished on the wrong end of a topsy-turvy match against Adelaide last weekend, which proves that they still have a long way to go if they are to be considered contenders for finals this year.
Last week, though, was a massive improvement on the week before when they were walloped by 68 points by the wooden spoon favourites, the Western Bulldogs.
This week presents the best chance for the Lions to get on the board for 2013 before their season turns worse.
Key stat: Gold Coast’s only victory over the Brisbane Lions came at the Gabba. Can they make life uneasy for the Lions in this one?
Tip: Brisbane Lions by 20 points.
Geelong vs Carlton
Saturday, April 13
Last meeting: Geelong 14.13 (97) defeated Carlton 11.19 (85) at Etihad Stadium, Round 11, 2012.
Last week: Geelong produced another miracle act to beat North Melbourne, while Carlton remained winless after going down to Collingwood.
If it hadn’t been for the second half heroics of the Cats in the past fortnight, this match would be pitting two teams that would desperately be needing a win to kick-start their seasons right now.
Just when Geelong appear to have lost the match in the first half, they always have the right ingredients to produce miracle second halves.
They did it against Hawthorn in the first round (after being five goals down) and again against North Melbourne last week (after being 41 points down during the second quarter).
It goes to show that the Cats won’t throw in the towel, even when they are in impossible situations.
But against Carlton they will need to be turned on from the get-go if they are to produce a solid victory this time.
Mick Malthouse’s reign as Carlton coach hasn’t started the way many fans hoped it would, though they have faced quality opposition in Richmond and Collingwood.
This is just another test of how far the Blues have come since last year.
But conceivably the Blues could be 0-3 for the season if you take into account their recent poor record against the Cats, who they have not beaten since Round 5, 2010.
For the most part last week the Blues were efficient and performed well, only to fall away in the final quarter when all appeared won. Malthouse still has a huge job to do if the Blues are to return to the finals this year.
Defeat against Geelong could start triggering impatience among Blues fans, who are anticipating improvement from their team, especially Chris Judd, whose departure from the captaincy could bring the best out of him as he heads towards the final years of his career.
Key stat: Just as Geelong can find a way to win against Hawthorn, it seems they can too against Carlton. The Blues had their chances in their last meeting, but converted terribly.
Tip: Geelong by 10 points.
Richmond vs Western Bulldogs
Sunday, April 14
Last meeting: Richmond 22.18 (150) defeated Western Bulldogs 12.8 (80) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Round 20, 2012.
Last week: Richmond backed up its opening round victory with another one against St Kilda, while the Western Bulldogs were sent crashing back to the ground in a loss to Fremantle.
Improvers versus wooden spoon favourites. That’s the perfect title to this match.
Richmond are being touted for big things this year and their first two matches have vindicated that statement.
They have been very impressive in their victories over Carlton and St Kilda.
They are even being talked up for a finals berth this year, which would be their first since 2001.
But there are still 20 matches to play and still a lot of things could happen between now and then.
Jack Riewoldt was back to his best last week after going goal-less against Carlton, booting seven against St Kilda and his cousin Nick, as the Tigers forward line started to function.
But the Tigers just cannot simply rely on him for their goals this season.
The Tigers’ defence was also solid and they prevented St Kilda, Nick Riewoldt aside, from making any real impact in the match.
This week against the Western Bulldogs the Tigers will need to produce another team performance against a side that can be very unpredictable.
The Western Bulldogs’ first round victory over the Brisbane Lions all accounted for nothing when they were flung back down to the ground by another impressive team last week in the Fremantle Dockers.
It shows that they still have a long way to go if they are to break out of the bottom four this season, and that fans should not get carried away even after just one big win.
There will be more disappointment for the Bulldogs this season, as Brendan McCartney tries to get something going from his team of pups.
Matthew Boyd could be missing once again and the Bulldogs will desperately want him back as soon as possible.
Key stat: Last year’s victory for Richmond was their first over the Western Bulldogs since 2005. Can they do it again?
Tip: Richmond by 30 points.
Collingwood vs Hawthorn
Sunday, April 14
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Last meeting: Hawthorn 20.15 (135) defeated Collingwood 15.7 (97) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, first qualifying final, 2012.
Last week: Collingwood remained unbeaten, defeating Carlton, while Hawthorn got on the board courtesy of a half-century win over the West Coast Eagles in Perth.
This is the Victoria Azarenka versus Maria Sharapova of the AFL. Hawthorn playing the role of Azarenka and Collingwood the role of Sharapova.
Last year, Hawthorn dominated Collingwood in its three matches without the Magpies even giving them a challenge.
Collingwood have proven over the first fortnight of the competition that they can still be as tough as nails, despite being challenged in the first halves of their matches against North Melbourne and Carlton.
But when it comes to the second half, they are mentally and physically tougher, and last week it was their midfield that got them over the line against Carlton.
This week, though, presents a challenge in the face of Hawthorn, a team that dominated them three times last year including in the first round and in the qualifying final.
Hawthorn did very well to bounce back from its heartbreaking first round loss against Geelong to get on the board for the season in emphatic fashion, thrashing the West Coast Eagles in their own backyard by 50 points. Lance Franklin, Luke Breust and Cyril Rioli shared the load of goals.
However, this will be the third in a seven-match series where they play each of the other finalists from last year in the first seven rounds. After passing one test and failing another, the Hawks will be desperate to pass this one as they approach a visit trip to Launceston against Fremantle next week.
Key stat: Hawthorn were just one of four different teams to beat Collingwood last year.
Tip: Hawthorn by 25 points.
Port Adelaide vs Adelaide
Sunday, April 14
Last meeting: Adelaide 17.14 (116) defeated Port Adelaide 8.10 (58) at AAMI Stadium, Round 15, 2012.
Last week: Port Adelaide continued its’ impressive resurgence under Ken Hinkley, while Adelaide got on the board after beating the Brisbane Lions.
This could be one of the most anticipated early-season showdowns in recent history.
Port Adelaide are on a roll under their new coach Ken Hinkley, winning their first two matches very easily by an average margin of 70 points.
This has been a very impressive start for the 2004 premiers under their new mentor, while Adelaide are only getting started after its win over the Brisbane Lions, followed a week’s break and a 35-point loss to Essendon.
I did not expect Port Adelaide to start the season in the manner in which they have despite being drawn against relatively easy opposition in Melbourne and the GWS Giants in the first two rounds.
Their demolition of the Dees was expected in some way. I expected them to be challenged by the Giants, but the Power pulled away in the final quarter.
The fact that it was also their first home match since the passing of John McCarthy also played into their favour, and last week they played their hearts out to win for the footballer who tragically took his own life in Las Vegas late last year.
Adelaide may have only gotten their season started last week, but they need to continue to produce consistent performances week in, week out if they are to replicate last year’s season which saw them finish second on the ladder.
Until Round 17, Dean Bailey won’t be able to help which doesn’t help the Crows’ cause, but their players can still perform. That was proven when the team overcame some obstacles to knock off the Lions last weekend.
If Adelaide can produce another team performance this week, they can expect to once again take the honours in the annual showdown which they have dominated since early 2011.
Key stat: Is Adelaide the team that brings Port crashing back down to earth?
Tip: I think Port can continue their good form, and win by 12 points.