It’s only February, each club has only played two ‘half-matches’ in the three-way round robin format, and some sides have taken it more seriously than others. But there is always something to be learned from a round of football.
Here are the ten things I took from Round One of the NAB Cup:
1. Lance Franklin will become the undisputed number one player in the competition
In 2011 Buddy had his most rounded year yet, finishing with career-high possessions and tackles thanks to more time running through the middle, but still able to finish only behind his amazing 2008 season for goals and goal assists.
From what I saw in week one of the NAB Cup, last season will be a mere platform to build on as he further enhances his standing in the game. Clarkson has realised that Franklin’s aerobic capacity and athleticism is wasted being trapped inside forward fifty, and he’ll be allowed to roam far and wide ‘Richo-style’ to wreak havoc in the midfield before pushing forward to kick four to five goals a game.
He polled 20 votes in last year’s Brownlow, and he’ll advance on that this year. At $41 on Betstar to win it, he’s well worth an outlay.
2. Dustin Martin can win the Brownlow Medal
It is interesting to compare Martin’s 2011, his second season, with Chris Judd’s second year in 2003. Martin had 68 more possessions and kicked four more goals from one fewer game, yet they both polled 12 Brownlow votes. History shows that Judd went on to tear the AFL apart in his third year to poll 30 votes, winning by seven; stamping his authority on the competition.
After his dazzling display against North Melbourne in the opening game of week one, and with the umpires more familiar with him, I believe Martin can do the same as an all-important goal-kicking on-baller.
You can find $67 about him winning at Betstar, and I suggest he will be much shorter by seasons end. Jump on now!
3. It’s midnight for the Western Bulldogs
The Dogs started the slippery slide down the ladder last year, and based on their inept performances to just shrug off a GWS that not much is expected from, and then losing to a Collingwood side that was basically an under 21s, it is clear that their descent will continue.
Admittedly, there was no Clooney or Lake, but the Bulldogs still fielded a side that was vastly more experienced than the opposition they encountered, and they would have been expecting to win both games comfortably.
The fact they didn’t suggests that it will be a long time before the Dogs will be adding a second premiership cup to the threadbare cupboard at the Whitten Oval.
4. West Coast is the real deal
There is a sense among critics and the man on the street that the Eagles’ spike last year was an anomaly, and that this year they’ll plateau at best, but more than likely drop right out of the contention that a top four finish provides, a position that was reinforced to many when Mark LeCras went down with an ACL.
But West Coast’s superior 2011 was based on manic intensity, the best forward press in the league, big bodies, hard-working tall forwards and a ruck combination the envy of all. Each of these facets were on display in dominant performances against Essendon and Fremantle in week one, and will be again in season 2012.
5. Adelaide Crows can surge up the ladder
Brenton Sanderson’s outfit were the highlight of week two of the NAB Cup, the only team to win both of their games, and playing an eye-catching brand of football to do it. The Crows made it clear that they will be one of the longest kicking teams in the AFL this year, and a torpedo from full back will not be uncommon as they attempted to get over the opposition press.
With key forwards Tippett and Walker looking on their game, the philosophy is a good one, and with Rory Sloane stepping up, and Bernie Vince and other midfielders showing a new lease of life after a coaching change, Adelaide are a team to keep an eye on this year.
6. GWS may be more competitive than first thought
With a recruiting strategy designed for long term success rather than to be immediately competitive, Greater Western Sydney is expected by many to be on the receiving end of several drubbings well north of 100 points in their first season.
But in their first two outings, their experienced players performed well (with the exception of Tom Scully) and their youngsters played with verve and conviction, looking big enough and good enough to provide more than nuisance value over the coming months.
They still won’t be favoured to win many games, but Sheedy’s men may not be the embarrassment we all feared.
7. Ditto Port
The Power was a basket case last season, both on and off the field. The players were spiritless, the performances abject, and supporters stayed away at a greater rate than good, honest people do from the Australian Labour Party.
But Matthew Primus may have turned things around over summer, refining the game-plan, and clearly demanding more from his players.
They surged out of the blocks against Carlton, and no less an authority than Blues coach Brett Ratten suggested they should have been seven goals up at half time – after only 17-and-a-half minutes of play! When you don’t have skill, you must have intensity, and this is what Port displayed with their pressure acts and ability to close down space.
A win in game one, and a one point loss to Adelaide in game was a solid, and very much unexpected, start to the season for the men from Alberton.
8. Mature age rookies always play well in the NAB Cup
Every year we see players aged in their twenties who have been picked up and given a chance on the rookie list, and every year, almost without exception, we see them perform to a high standard in the pre-season competition. Each one seems to excel due to a high work-rate, perhaps borne of a desperation that comes from a dream they thought had passed them by, and round one this year proved to be no exception.
Almost every club had at least one mature-age recruit to catch the eye, and will have fantasy coaches throughout the land watching them closely before the season proper begins. Steven Morris, Sam Gibson, Jonathon Giles, Cory Dell’Olio, Ahmed Saad, Orren Stephenson, Aaron Hall, James Magner, and Tim McIntyre had the most impact in my opinion.
9. The video replays for contentious scoring decisions needs refinement
The AFL has spent the better part of a decade trying to speed up the game (something that it looked to put in reverse last year with the sub rule), and the ability to kick-in straight away from a behind was a key decision in this way of thinking. For a sport that is rightly applauded for its continuity of play, the wait for video replays seemed eternal, and the process messy.
Brisbane coach Michael Voss summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘It didn’t feel right. There is something clunky about it’.
While video referral is less of an intrusion to a cricket audience who is used to breaks in play for the change of overs, a football audience that demands constant action will be far less patient. It needs to be sharpened up considerably before being introduced to official matches.
10. The introduction of Foxtel’s Footy channel is a winner
We were promised wall-to-wall coverage of AFL, and we’ll be getting it. The ability to have access to every game live is a must for fans in the age of social media, and we won’t be disappointed.
But just as important as the coverage of games, which we can take for granted as being of a high quality, are the AFL-specific programs in between rounds, and this is where those who feast on footy are well catered for.
AFL360 came from nowhere last year to become the best AFL show on the box, and for those that lamented ‘too much AFL360 is still not enough’, they will be sated with four one-hourly shows a week rather than just the one. On the Couch, AFL Insider, League Teams and After the Bounce are already up and running as well, complementing the rest of the channel perfectly.
You love AFL and don’t have Foxtel? It’s time to reach for oxymoron in the dictionary.