Hype is always present early in the AFL season. For some it is good, for some it is bad. Forget the hype though, these are seven stories that aren’t getting the attention they rightfully deserve.
1. Teams are built, not drafted
Quick shout out to fellow Roarer Tiarne Swersky, who has been doing a draft-day revisit series. This has been a well-received series, but one of the missed takeaways is how many of the top-10 draftees failed to become game breaking or elite AFL players.
When Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast came into the league early in this decade they were expected to dominate and be the envy of all clubs because of the top draft picks that they possessed.
As Tiarne’s series has pointed out, there is no sure thing in the draft and Gold Coast are learning this the hard way.
An underwhelming start to the year has highlighted a number of deficiencies in the Gold Coast list build, with high draft picks not living up to the draft-day hype, while at GWS the list build is proving to be the right model.
Rather than rely on their top picks, GWS have been prepared to move on young players with high draft position to build an overall team through elements like free agency, trade period and rookie lists. For those that looked close enough at the two lists in pre-season there was one team who had what resembled a successful AFL list, the other looked like a recruiter’s dream.
The one with the AFL list is beating the recruiter’s list hands down at this early stage of 2015.
2. Teams are built, the Adelaide example
While Adelaide’s stunning start to the season has seen praise heaped on its star-studded midfield and forward captain, the defensive group deserve credit for back-to-back weeks keeping their opponents under 65 points.
Adelaide has assembled a workmanlike defence that sets play up ahead, showing how lists are built. Daniel Talia and Brodie Smith were both first-round selections, Kyle Cheney and Luke Brown were traded into the team, Matthew Jaensch and Kyle Hartigan were rookie listed selections.
Draft, trade, rookies; the way to build a team and the Adelaide back six is testament to how to go about it in the modern game.
3. The ultimate eye test
The Western Bulldogs versus Richmond match presented one of the truest examples of the eye test against numbers. Western Bulldogs literally lost every meaningful and un-meaningful statistic in this game.
Beaten in disposals, contested possession, disposal efficiency, free kicks, contested marks, marks inside 50, clearances, clangers and inside 50s; numbers said this should have been a Richmond romp. But that was not the case, as the Bulldogs used the art of pressure, tackling and making the most of opportunities to record a stunning and famous win.
As clubs continue to preach numbers and advanced metrics more, a club that simply wants to win the game more now has a decided edge, Western Bulldogs are proving that. Refreshing for the footy purists that passion still means more in our game than clinical professionalism.
4. Meandering post-games
The AFL and the broadcast partners of the game in their infinite wisdom have decided that what happens after the game is as important as what happens during. The key element of the post game has become the coaches’ post-game press conference.
Forget the Mick Malthouse versus Mark Stevens battle, these press conferences are becoming an insight into how little feel coaches seem to have for the game.
Over the weekend well-beaten coaches Malthouse, Ken Hinkley and Damian Hardwick battled to have the answers in what ended up being a winding road of nothingness. Questions were asked and answered, but either because of the inability of the journalists to ask questions that allowed the coaches to thrive or because of coaches’ reliance on numbers and post-game cut vision to explain a match, this theatre is quick becoming a waste of time and resources.
5. Botempelli’s defensive side
Marcus Bontempelli is quickly become the most talked about young talent in the league. His clean skills, attack on the contest and fantasy scoring is making him a household name and fan favourite of AFL fans nationwide. But the most noticeable element of Bontempelli’s game that stands out for a 19-year-old is his defensive presence and accountability.
As is usually the case, defence tends to take a back seat to offence, but what is exciting for the Western Bulldogs hierarchy is how Bontempelli sets a defensive standard. He shows an ability to shutdown play on the inside with his tackling, he can chase players down and in transition he shows awareness beyond his years in getting to the right defensive spots.
It is the defensive side that really makes Bontempelli the most exciting all-round player in a number of seasons.
6. Perth crowds
Under 35,000 for consecutive games to open the season at Subiaco Oval indicates that fans are ready for the new Perth stadium. Two years ago, before the new stadium was officially announced, West Coast and Fremantle were regularly drawing over 35,000 fans. Over the next three years, as fans await stadium completion, expect Subiaco Oval crowds to continue to fall.
As the AFL continues to talk about game-day experience, nothing quite says experience like an afternoon or evening at the now Domain Stadium. Not expecting either side to borrow the Port Adelaide tarps, but crowds are a concern in Perth.
7. Contested ball sneaks in
It was tight, but contested ball was the winner in five of the weekend’s nine games. The statistic may not be as crucial as claimed over the first week of the season and over Round 1, but if it is not contested ball, it is pressure that is proving the critical piece to early surprises in the AFL.