Yes, yes, I know it’s Round 1. I’m not going to make any outlandish calls, but that Fremantle effort on Sunday was the most important game under Ross Lyon’s tenure.
Traded from the Swans in the offseason, Friday night was a showcase of Toby Nankervis’ skills and undoubted potential.
The 22-year-old ruckman’s tap work was serviceable, with 18 hit outs, while he worked hard around the ground with 21 possessions (14 contested) and five marks (three contested).
The most impressive aspect of his play was his field kicking. Not usually the strong suit of the big men, on two occasions Nankervis hit leading forwards with short, lace-out passes. Such poise, vision and accuracy by foot are skills not usually seen in ruckmen.
If he can maintain this form and continue his natural development, he will be one of the finds of the season.
It’s a space race
Defence in the AFL has evolved over the decades, with the man-on-man defence superseded by spatial or zone coverages.
The flood, frontal press and Alastair Clarkson’s cluster have been around for more than a decade but the last few seasons have seen the emergence of spatial zone defence when setting up through the midfield or even during transition.
Once set up, breaking through the zone can be done using short kicks, but this requires excellent footskills, and any mistakes will be ruthlessly punished as all the attacking players are free on the rebound. Teams have also become adept at limiting the switch, which forces the long kick down the line.
Anecdotally, scoring is ever reliant on fast counter-attacks from an opposition turnover. The other major avenue is goals from centre clearances or the use of handball to break free from stoppages.
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Umpiring has been excellent
The quality of officiating has been good thus far. The third man rule has been adopted seamlessly and there has been a slight change to head-high contact, where umpires have not awarded free kicks when players duck their heads.
The rushed behind rule has also been more strictly enforced. This will be a positive for the game as players are forced to keep play moving, rather than seeking the safety of the goal-line.
There was a contentious rushed behind decision against Callum Mills on Friday night. At full speed it would appear harsh, given Mills felt the perceived pressure of Liam Picken, but he had time to take possession and look for another option. Let’s hope the umpires have the courage to continue to pay these free kicks.
Incorrect disposal also appears to be more tightly policed. This is another positive, as incorrect disposal when being tackled has gone unchecked for many years. Free kicks paid for these indiscretions help keep the ball moving.
Lastly, the deliberate out-of-bounds rule has been mostly correct, with Luke Dahlhaus against Collingwood on Friday night one exception. Dahlhaus made a quick kick forward from the defensive 50 while being tackled. The ball headed to the boundary line before bouncing over, unfortunately he was penalised.
Overall though, credit should be given to the umpires for having a good feel for the game and using common sense – let’s hope this trend continues and that the Dahlhaus example is the exception rather than the rule.
Thursday night football is a winner
Thursday night football has been a great success for the AFL. Two blockbusters, involving Richmond playing Carlton and then Collingwood, drew 72,000 and almost 60,000 fans respectively.
With AFL on the Seven Network and Nine showing the NRL, it almost feels like the weekend starts early.