Round 3 wash-up: Are Port and Essendon the real deal?

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Michael Barlow of the Dockers in action during the AFL Round 13 match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Essendon Bombers. (Photo: Will Russell/AFL Media)

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Round 3 saw Essendon and Port Adelaide record character-building victories, whilst Carlton are one of just four teams not to open their winning account this year.

It’s the week after AFL Round 3 action and here I sit, looking at a ladder that has Essendon and Port Adelaide sitting at the summit. Not many would have picked that this early in the season, but we must look more closely at why these sides are sitting where they are.

Has it been luck, a favourable draw, under performing opposition or the fact that these two teams are actually the real deal despite nobody backing them in 2013?

On the other side of the coin, Carlton’s hopes have been battered by an inept beginning to the season and they will be looking to recover quickly in order to restore sanity under Mick Malthouse.

Positives

The early-season form of Essendon and Port Adelaide

The Bombers have shrugged off all the allegations plastered on them by the media to assert their authority on the competition after just three matches.

A surprising 35-point win over Adelaide away in Round 1 preceded a 148-point annihilation of a pitiful Melbourne side before they showed an enormous amount of character which saw them overcome a six-goal deficit to overrun the more-fancied Fremantle in Perth, kicking nine goals to two in the second-half to win by four points.

Sure, it may have been a different story if Chris Mayne had not capitulated in front of goal at the death, but the fact is the Bombers got up against the odds to record one of its most stirring wins in recent history.

Halfway through the second quarter it appeared as though the Dons would struggle to kick a goal, let alone win the game, and credit must go to coach James Hird for handling the off-field situation in the manner he has and shifting focus on his players who were full of spirit and passion to make it three from three to kickstart 2013 in fine fashion.

It seems as though the Dons are made of much sterner stuff that many outsiders gave them credit for!

Another team not tipped to trouble the scorers on too many occasions this season are Port Power, but they have handled everything thrown at them, culminating in a hard-fought South Australian derby win over Adelaide on Sunday.

Many thought the Power would only improve slightly on their mediocre output of 2012 but they have already exceeded expectations by knocking off the Crows who have been tipped as certain finalists and even top-four contenders.

Big wins over Melbourne and GWS may not seem much but the 79- and 56-point respective margins show that Port aren’t around to make up the numbers this year.

Justin Westhoff is in career-best form – by a long, long way – and there are plenty of other Power players in brilliant nick including skipper Travis Boak, Hamish Hartlett, Kane Cornes, Chad Wingard and first-year star-in-the-making Ollie Wines.

Ken Hinkley is showing the football community that he is indeed an extremely capable coach and with the Suns this week, West Coast at home in Round 5, North Melbourne in Round 6 and Richmond at home in Round 7, it could be a dream beginning for the black and teal.

Sydney’s midfield could be the best in the competition.

The scary thing is, the 2013 Premiers seem to be getting better and better. They got the job done against Gold Coast and GWS in Rounds 1 and 2 but turned it on in the second half, kicking 15 goals to North’s six to eventually win by 39 points.

The victory was made possible by the brilliance of the Swans midfield, led by co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, who has started 2013 in absolute career-best form.

Alongside him in the Sydney engine room is Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, McVeigh’s co-skipper Kieren Jack, Ryan O’Keefe and Dan Hannebery which is a quality group and could quite possibly be the best onball brigade getting around at the moment.

For some reason, North were backed by many to beat the Swans on Saturday but it would pay to not underestimate the reigning Premiers, especially with their midfielders in such a rich vein of form.

Hawthorn’s hammering of Collingwood. For the second week in a row I will touch on Hawthorn’s form. Wow! What a win over the Pies.

I bet at half-time the Hawks players had no notion that they would be triumphing by 55 points after trailing comfortably midway through the second term.

Captain Luke Hodge was outstanding, Sam Mitchell again prolific, whilst Lance Franklin, Grant Birchall, Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne all played a significant part in the win which clearly sent another message to the rest of the league after last week’s cruise over West Coast.

It looks as though Alastair Clarkson and his charges are seeking revenge for last year’s Grand Final loss. This week they head back to their happy hunting ground in Launceston. Look out Fremantle!

Negatives

Can Carlton shake off their losers tag? 0-3 is a disastrous beginning for the Blues under new coach Mick Malthouse. Their performances have been ok thus far but close enough is simply not good enough in the AFL and pressure must be mounting on Malthouse and co.

It doesn’t get any easier after losses to Richmond, Collingwood and Geelong (all under three goals mind you), but they travel to West Coast this weekend before a crucial MCG clash with Adelaide in Round 5.

After that it gets a bit easier with games against Melbourne, St Kilda, Port Adelaide at home (not so easy now) and the Giants in Round 10 which could resurrect things, but a win is required as soon as possible to change the morale of the Carlton players and fans before it gets too late.

Western Bulldogs back to their poor ways. The Dogs were extremely average against the Tigers on Sunday. Round 1 they came out and hammered Brisbane before dropping off early against Freo last week and then putting in a decent final three quarters.

In Round 3 they were devoid of effort, skill, willingness to compete and accountability. The Dogs allowed the Richmond midfield to do as they pleased at Etihad Stadium and it if wasn’t for inaccurate kicking, could have found themselves seven goals down at quarter-time and even more at the main break.

Injuries to Shaun Higgins, Easton Wood and Tory Dickson certainly does not help but youngster Jake Stringer kicked five for Williamstown and could debut in Adelaide this week, which is a positive.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have to show a bit more against the Crows in Round 4 to give their supporters hope after a truly dismal effort against the Tigers, whom they usually see off without any fuss at Etihad.

AFL enthusiast. Richmond supporter. Annual September holiday-maker.

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