Only one round into the new season and already a few teams have copped some heat for some lacklustre performances over the weekend, and the onus will be on them to bounce back in Round 2.
In particular, the focus will be on Essendon who were the biggest disappointments of the opening round, losing to a GWS Giants side, which were missing several key players, by 72 points in Sydney last Sunday.
The Giants themselves will also be bracing for an angry West Coast Eagles side which will be unfurling their premiership flag pre-match, the reigning premiers having been given a rude awakening by the Lions in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Other matches will see Richmond and Collingwood face off for the first time since last year’s preliminary final, while the Swans and Crows will also be looking to put poor Round 1 performances behind them at the SCG on Friday night.
Here is your preview to Round 2.
Richmond versus Collingwood
The Tigers may have got their season off to a good start last week against Carlton, but that’s where their first of many challenges for 2019 may have begun.
The first was the season-ending knee injury suffered by fullback Alex Rance, which has left a large hole in their backline.
The second comes this Thursday night when they face the side that put an end to not just their premiership defence, but also their 15-month domination at the MCG, in Collingwood.
In one of the shocks of the 2018 season, the Pies jumped out of the blocks as Mason Cox produced easily the best performance of his fledgling AFL career, winning by 39 points to bring the Tigers’ premiership defence to a crashing halt.
Since then, they have lost their last two matches, including the subsequent grand final against the West Coast Eagles by five points, and last Friday night’s season opening match against the Geelong Cats by seven points.
Meantime, as mentioned before, Rance’s season-ending knee injury was the major lowlight in what was otherwise an impressive night for the Tigers, whose key recruit Tom Lynch kicked three goals, including the first of the season.
Another large crowd of upwards to 80,000 will be expected for this clash, which will provide a measure as to where both teams are at in 2019.
Despite the absence of Rance, I think the Tigers should continue to get the job done here.
Prediction: Richmond by 20 points.
Sydney Swans versus Adelaide Crows
Friday night brings together two first-up losers from Round 1, with both the Sydney Swans and Adelaide Crows both keen to get their seasons started rather belatedly.
A poor first half proved to be the Swans’ downfall as they lost to the Western Bulldogs by 17 points at Marvel Stadium, with Lance Franklin kicking just one goal in his pursuit of the 1,000-goal milestone (he is currently 82 off the mark).
It wasn’t without its highlights though, with Isaac Heeney pulling down an early contender for Mark of the Year and Nick Blakey, the son of assistant coach John Blakey, kicking a goal in his debut match.
But you can’t expect to win many matches when you play as poor a first half as the Swans did last Saturday night; that being said, they’ll want to get off to a good start against the Crows at home this Friday night.
Beset by injuries to key players, Don Pyke’s men dropped their season opener for the fifth time in the past seven years, going down to Hawthorn by 32 points at the Oval despite the best efforts of new co-captain Rory Sloane and Matt Crouch, who tallied 39 disposals.
Souring the defeat were serious injuries to defender Tom Doedee, whose knee injury has ruled him out for the season, and midfielder Richard Douglas, whose ankle gave way early in the final quarter.
The Crows will definitely cherish playing in the Harbour City, with this to be just their sixth appearance at the SCG since 2006.
And despite a horror injury toll, I think they can repeat last year’s ten-point win at the venue.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by eight points.
Essendon versus St Kilda
After a woeful first-up effort against the GWS Giants in Sydney, the spotlight will well and truly be on Essendon during the week.
Touted as potential improvers on the back of another strong off-season as far as recruiting is concerned, the Bombers were shown up as pretenders in their 72-point loss to the Giants, with club legends Tim Watson and Matthew Lloyd among those to savage the side’s diabolical performance.
Tim Watson on Zach Merrett's effort: "As bad as it can possibly be." pic.twitter.com/PSf5ryMmhR
— 7AFL (@7AFL) March 25, 2019
— Footy Classified (@FootyClassified) March 25, 2019
There is no doubt the players would have been left humiliated by the game review, and now the onus has been put on them by coach John Worsfold to hit back hard against St Kilda this Saturday night.
The Saints, meanwhile, escaped a potentially embarrassing defeat of their own last Sunday, coming from behind to defeat the Gold Coast Suns by just one point at Marvel Stadium.
It came as a major relief for coach Alan Richardson, who has yet to take his side to the finals since taking over from Scott Watters as coach at the start of the 2014 season.
They will be bracing themselves for a very angry Essendon side this Saturday night, and it will be the team that performed well in the second half of the season, not the one that didn’t turn up last Sunday, that they will face.
That being said, the Bombers should bounce back, but by how much will remain to be seen.
Prediction: Essendon by 18 points.
Port Adelaide versus Carlton
After an impressive first-up win over Melbourne on the road, Port Adelaide returns for their first home game of the season where they will face a Carlton side that should not prove to be a push-over in 2019.
The Power’s win, described by coach Ken Hinkley as the best he’s been involved in his time at the club, came thanks to five goals from Justin Westhoff and a productive performance by Jack Watts in his first match against his old club.
It will now be up to the players to back up that performance against the Blues, who after starting slowly against Richmond last Thursday night begun to work their way back into the contest in the middle two quarters, before falling by 33 points.
Number one draft pick Sam Walsh impressed on his debut, while 32 disposals from new co-captain Patrick Cripps has seen him become the new favourite for this year’s Brownlow Medal.
If there is another player who is primed to perform in Adelaide, it’s Mitch McGovern, who will return to the City of Churches for the first time since walking out on the Adelaide Crows at the end of last season.
But while his return to Adelaide will be against the Power and not against the Crows (in fact, the only meeting between the Blues and Crows this season will be at the MCG in Round 19), he can still expect to be booed loudly by the home fans, as he would’ve been in the many Showdowns he played for the Crows over the years.
The Blues’ record at the Adelaide Oval is also very poor, with an average losing margin of 82.67 points in three previous matches at the venue, including two losses to the Power by at least 90 points.
Despite a good showing last week, I cannot see Carlton improving upon that record anytime soon.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 30 points.
Geelong Cats versus Melbourne
The first of two Saturday night matches sees the Geelong Cats look to avenge last year’s elimination final loss when it welcomes Melbourne to GMHBA Stadium.
It was that defeat which pretty much summed up the Cats’ 2018 season – despite boasting a superstar roster led by Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett Jr and Joel Selwood, they could only finish eighth, and ultimately fell at the first hurdle in September.
Thanks to two goals from Tom Hawkins, including the 500th of his career, Chris Scott’s men came from behind to upset the highly-fancied Pies and make a winning start to a season which fans hope will deliver the ultimate success while the trio are still together at the club.
The elimination final loss aside, the Cats took the chocolates by narrow margins in both their contests against the Dees last year, including in Round 18 when Zac Tuohy kicked the match winner after the final siren, a result which retrospectively cost the Dees the double chance.
Speaking of the Dees, their season got off to a terrible start when it was kept scoreless in the final quarter of its 26-point defeat to Port Adelaide at the MCG.
Max Gawn endured a 100th game he would rather forget, while there were questions raised about the fitness of both co-captains Nathan Jones and Jack Viney, who both entered the season under injury clouds.
The trip to Geelong is the last thing they would want as they try to get their season back on track, as even at this early stage of the season, an early defeat could prove fatal as far as their finals chances are concerned.
At home, the Cats should show no mercy.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 22 points.
West Coast Eagles versus GWS Giants
After a rough start to the season getting thrashed by the Lions in Brisbane, the West Coast Eagles return home this Saturday night to unfurl their premiership flag in front of their fans.
And it’ll be the GWS Giants who will be forced to watch on as the Eagles look to mark the occasion with their first win for the season.
Without key players Jamie Cripps, Willie Rioli, Josh Kennedy, Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui, the premiers started well, scooting out to a 27-point lead at quarter-time, but would only kick two goals thereafter to crash to a 44-point defeat, their first loss to the Lions since mid-2012.
While Cripps and Kennedy are both expected to return, Gaff still has to serve the final match of an eight-match suspension incurred during last year’s second Western Derby, while Naitanui’s return date remains uncertain.
They will start favourites against a Giants side which, despite also missing key players of their own, made a mockery of Essendon at home last Sunday, cruising to a 72-point win to detract the doubters who believed their premiership window might be about to shut.
In the absence of co-captain Callan Ward and Josh Kelly, midfielders Stephen Coniglio and Tim Taranto had a day out, as did Jeremy Cameron, who kicked four majors.
The huge challenge will be backing it up with only a six-day turnaround as well as having to make the trip across the Nullarbor.
The Giants’ recent record in Perth has improved since the early years, winning two of their last three in the west including by eight points against the Eagles at Subiaco Oval in mid-2017.
Their record against reigning premiers in recent seasons also isn’t too bad, the last loss being against Hawthorn by seven points at the MCG in round eleven, 2014 (for good measure, this came a week after they’d lost their previous two matches by a grand total of 224 points, including losing to the Eagles by 111 points in Perth).
But at home, the Eagles should celebrate the occasion of unfurling their flag with a huge win.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 40 points.
North Melbourne versus Brisbane Lions
The first match on Sunday afternoon brings together two sides fresh off contrasting engagements against the two Western Australia clubs.
Without doubt, the Brisbane Lions were the most impressive team of the opening round, coming from 27 points down at quarter-time to thrash reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles at home by 44 points, at one stage kicking nine goals in a row to turn the match on its head.
It saw them finish a round inside the eight for the first time since the opening round of 2012 and gives their fans hope that they have reached the light at the end of the tunnel after nearly a decade of unrelenting disappointment under the Michael Voss and Justin Leppitsch eras.
But this will all mean nothing if they cannot back it up against North Melbourne, which is coming off a horror 82-point loss to Fremantle at Optus Stadium last weekend.
Brad Scott’s men had entered the season with so much hope that it could break back into the eight this year, but he may want to rethink his goals after a defeat which also saw Ed Vickers-Willis suffer a season-ending knee injury.
First-gamer Bailey Scott was a standout on what was without a dirty day for the club, taking out the first AFL Rising Star nomination for the year with 21 disposals and two goals.
While the Roos will be keen to hit back hard in their first home game for the season, the Lions should back up their momentous win over the Eagles with a win on the road.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 18 points.
Hawthorn versus Western Bulldogs
This is the only match of Round 2 in which two Round 1 winners go head to head.
Coincidentally, the teams they defeated (the Adelaide Crows and Sydney Swans, respectively) will have gone head-to-head in the only match to pit two winless teams against each other earlier in the round.
Both the Hawks and Bulldogs were impressive in their victories, with Alastair Clarkson’s side recording an impressive win on the road while the premiers of 2016 repeated the dose on the team whom they beat to win the flag that year, winning by 17 points at Marvel Stadium.
The Hawks’ win was made all the more impressive given they will be without Tom Mitchell for most (if not all) of the season; instead it was their defence, led by James Frawley, James Sicily and new captain Ben Stratton who combined to shut the Crows’ forwards out of the contest.
The Dogs, meantime, overcame a slow start to dominate the Sydney Swans, at one stage leading by 40 points in the third quarter before slowing down in the final quarter and settling for a 17-point win.
Premiership hero Marcus Bontempelli and Aaron Naughton were among the standouts, while Tom Liberatore also performed admirably in his first match for twelve months after suffering a knee injury in Round 1 last year.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams at the MCG since the 2016 semi-final, but first in a regular season match at the venue since the penultimate round of the 2011 season.
Although both teams were impressive in Round 1, I think the Hawks will get home.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 14 points.
Gold Coast Suns versus Fremantle
The final match of Round 2 sees the Gold Coast Suns return home to face Fremantle following their heartbreaking one-point loss to St Kilda at Marvel Stadium last Sunday.
Touted as wooden spoon favourites during the pre-season, the Suns displayed maturity beyond their years to push the Saints all the way, starting strongly before fading in the final quarter to go down by the narrowest of margins.
But it will remain to be seen whether it is indicative of the struggles they are expected to endure in 2019, or whether they could surprise many instead.
What is certain is that they will have their work cut out in facing a Fremantle side which appears to be rediscovering its mojo after three seasons out of the finals.
Ross Lyon’s side produced their best performance for nearly three years to thrash North Melbourne by 82 points, despite being without star recruit Jesse Hogan whose return to the field remains uncertain due to his anxiety issues.
Instead, it was forgotten forward Cam McCarthy who was best on ground with five majors, while captain Nat Fyfe racked up 32 disposals despite spending most of the final quarter on the bench.
And while it may only be one match, it could be a sign of things to come for the Dockers in 2019. That said, they should make it 2-0 to begin their campaign.
Prediction: Fremantle by 20 points.