Just glorious at the MCG.
Team previews are done and that’s a good thing because it means the games have started again! Talking about footy when you have nothing but line-ups and theory is annoying, but once you have a week of results you can get cracking with overreactions.
So, without further ado, here they are.
Richmond versus Carlton
The Tigers must have thought it was September, because they looked off their game most of the night and rallied late to get a win that they simply couldn’t have done without.
Key absences and numerous passengers are a concern, and while Carlton fans might claim a ‘moral win’, the fact remains they lost a very winnable game and remain headed for another tough season. Patrick Cripps amd Jacob Weitering will make the pain worthwhile, but they need to find a solution for the problem that is Dale Thomas.
These two teams can make travel plans for September.
Melbourne versus GWS
The Demons started slowly and were inefficient in front of goal, but the Giants kicked away a chance to start the season in fine style.
Jesse Hogan sleepwalked his way through three quarters, his mind wandering towards the Perth beaches and wearing an Eagles jumper in 2017, but remembered he is arguably the league’s best key forward just in time to kick three last-quarter goals.
The Giants have been irrelevant for the entirety of their existence and nothing we saw on Saturday suggests that will change in 2016. With most of their list available and playing a mediocre opposition, a loss was a massive letdown.
Another two teams that will be in the bottom half of the ladder.
Gold Coast versus Essendon
Nat Fyfe is a great player, but Gary Ablett Jr is the king of the sport. No one has had the sustained success of Gazza in recent times, and despite a limited pre-season he returned with 34 possessions (14 contested), nine clearances and seven inside 50s. He is back, and the game is better for that return.
David Zaharakis’ fear of needles might be the best career move he has ever made, at he looked sensational in leading the Bombers. Poor jokes aside, there are no positives for Essendon. John Worsfold will pick up his cheque and say the right things, but every game they lose by less than ten goals is probably a good result.
Essendon might struggle to win a game in 2016, and that’s not a harsh call.
North Melbourne versus Adelaide
The Kangas are hard to get a read on – their only elite player is 59 years old and they have more frustrating, polarising figures than any other team in the league. They started slowly and looked horrible against a decent Crows team, but dominated after halftime and ran out winners in what may be a key game. The return of Daniel Wells was a welcome sight for Roos fans, but rumours he made it through the game unscathed are yet to be confirmed.
Adelaide will rue a missed opportunity; with a brutal draw they need to win these 50-50 games and will need to stop bombing the ball inside 50. This forward line is the equal of any in the completion but that means nothing if this middle-of-the-road midfield cannot be more effective. With matches against Port, Richmond, Sydney and Hawthorn in the next month, the Crows may be stoned by Round 6.
Sydney versus Collingwood
Lance Franklin is a walking headline and the Swans wouldn’t mind a bit if he keeps kicking goals.
Nathan Buckley is the master of diversion but even he was working overtime after the poor timing of the Collingwood illicit drug ‘story’ and the putrid on-field performance put forward by his team. A contract extension was puzzling enough, but based on Saturday night, there are warning signs everywhere for the Carringbush.
Travis Cloke may have played, but it is harder to play a half of football and not touch the ball than it would be for any person off the street to get a kick or handball. Travis, you earn more than the GDP of a small nation, so at least look interested.
Western Bulldogs versus Fremantle
Everyone wants to pat the Dogs on the head and ruffle their hair after what some see as an unexpectedly brilliant Round 1 performance. Well guess what – the Etihad advantage is arguably the strongest in Australian domestic sport, and the Dogs are a very good football team. Ruck aside, there is no weakness in this side and a top-two spot beckons. As for Jake Stringer, in a Big Four club he would be a megastar already – look for the kid to win the Coleman Medal this season.
Fremantle have always based their game on a solid defence, but the game has changed, and if you can’t score you are stuffed. Well, the Dockers do not have the forward potency to challenge the best teams unless Sunny Walters plays out of his skin, which he normally does. But he is a small forward, and they can’t expect Harley Bennell to suddenly become a conditioned, consistent AFL player, because he isn’t. He might kick a bag against Greater Western Sydney or Essendon, but that’s about it.
Ross Lyon needs to get his team kicking goals before the season runs away from them like many a Bulldog did on Sunday.
Port Adelaide versus St Kilda
The Power had the lowest disposal efficiency in Round 1 but they eventually wore down a gallant St Kilda team in one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Manning up was optional but the quality on display was enough to make Power fans confident that 2016 will be more like 2014 than 2015.
Charlie Dixon did what he normally does – float in and out of games and go long periods as a totally ineffective player – but if the Power pump the ball inside 50 as much as they did in this game he will get more than enough of an opportunity to make an impact.
The Saints had a staggering 428 possessions, including 256 uncontested, and were right in this game for three quarters, but that is something they did often in 2015 – this season they have to demand more of their development.
Tom Hickey was a beast, but having led at the first three changes, the Saints should be disappointed in being totally uncompetitive in the fourth quarter.
West Coast versus Brisbane
Matt Priddis is maligned by those with little clue as being inefficient and erroneous by foot, but he is an elite midfielder who made this game his own. 43 touches, 24 contested possessions and 12 clearances without ever looking like getting out of first gear… one cannot say enough about how good he, Josh Kennedy or Nic Naitanui were.
Many still claim Nic Nat is not the best ruckman in the league – it’s not even close, he is far and away the best there is, with solid citizen Stefan Martin resorting to being another rover rather than try to match the Fijian marvel.
Brisbane were bold, attacking and played with flair, and while that left them exposed on the counter, it gives their fans a view into a new game style which is sure to produce plenty of goals. Despite having a handful of players who looked lost, their attacking talent and top-end players will ensure the Lions are far from irrelevant, despite question marks around their coach.
Geelong versus Hawthorn
A candidate for match of the season in the first weekend, these are two teams who should feature at the pointy end. Patrick Dangerfield has chased the media spotlight and done everything but self-proclaim himself to be the reincarnate of Jesus Christ himself, but he backed it up on the field. An elite player at Adelaide, he may even take things to a new level now and allow Joel Selwood to duck his way through another season with intense scrutiny from the opposition.
The Cats appear to have rebuilt on the fly – even Lachie Henderson looked an AFL player in this side, which takes some doing.
Hawthorn already face a mounting injury toll and were outplayed for much of this game, including a surprisingly dominant last quarter from their opposition. Luke Hodge luckily missed the mark when dropping a knee in the vicinity of Jimmy Bartel’s head, but finished the game with a broken arm, while Cyril Rioli is still living off the fumes of last season’s grand final and went missing when his team needed more from him.
The champs are still the ones to beat, but there were signs that it will be tough to cover so many key outs. The league will be chasing them hard.