Two weeks in and there’s no shortage of talking points from AFL 2019. Let’s get started.
Reigning Cats and Dogs – what can two weeks tell us about form?
Probably the only thing dumber than trying to judge how a team will perform across the length of the season based on two weeks of form would be to do it based on only one.
It’s early enough in the season that each result still has a big impact not just on how we see the clubs who played in that match, but the teams they’ve played in other weeks too.
Take West Coast for example. Their big win over GWS this week reminded us that they’re no slouches, which then feeds into the perception that Brisbane are a pretty impressive side this year given the Lions’ win Round 1 win over them, backed up by another victory this week.
The same goes for 2-0 Geelong whose week went about as well as it possibly could have. Not only did they slaughter Melbourne, but last week’s kill, Collingwood, made that scalp look all the more impressive with a win over the Tigers.
Chris Scott has given the Cats a bit of a shakeup and so far it feels like his superstars are more empowered to be superstars, and the players we’ve so often said needed to do more are doing exactly that.
Dangerfield was best-on-ground on Saturday night with 37 touches and two goals. He might already have six Brownlow votes, at worst he’s got five.
At the other end of the scale, second-gamer Charlie Constable played a central role and smashed out 31 disposals, five clearances and a goal – he’s been huge.
Probably the other club to significantly defy preseason expectations in a positive way so far is the Western Bulldogs, who kicked nine goals in the last quarter to snatch a win from Hawthorn on Sunday.
That is quite the unusual way to win a football game and you wouldn’t want to be relying on them pulling so very many rabbits out of the hat on a regular basis, but one can’t deny they’re playing at a level beyond what we expected so far in 2019.
Marcus Bontempelli is back in that tearing-games-apart-with-his-bare-hands kind of form, something that’s probably been helped by the return of Tom Liberatore, who has also been having a big impact.
Perhaps the most important development so far is that the Dogs’ forward line has finally found some structure. Last week it was Aaron Naughton with three goals who did the heavy lifting, this week Josh Schache with four.
I’ve been as sceptical as anyone about the decision to put Naughton up forward but you can’t deny they’re making a great pairing so far (and don’t forget Billy Gowers), which then has a major positive flow-on effect for the other goalkickers.
Dons, Roos unable to turn around terrible Round 1
Both Essendon and North Melbourne delivered unacceptably bad performances in Round 1 and so had their fans expecting a big response in the week that followed.
Eyebrows were been raised from both fanbases on Thursday and Friday night when coaches John Worsfold and Brad Scott both decided against making sweeping changes to their 22.
Essendon surprisingly omitted Jordan Ridley – probably one of the few Bombers players who arguably didn’t deserve to be dropped after Round 1 – in favour of Darcy Parish, while North brought in two players who’d been unavailable for Round 1 in Scott Thompson and Tom Campbell, making no other changes.
That tactic served only to increase expectation: if you’re backing in the same players who performed woefully the previous week, it’s only logical to expect they turn it around the next.
Essendon definitely didn’t. The Dons conceded the first four goals of the match against St Kilda and can only thank the Saints’ inaccuracy – which saw them score 2.7 in the first stanza – for the game not being over at quarter time.
The Bombers eventually mounted something of a charge late in the match and came within a kick or two of the lead, but it wasn’t enough and the Saints ran out winners by 11 points.
It wasn’t to the devastating margin of last week, but given the preseason expectations of where these two clubs would be at in 2019, it was if anything more galling.
Essendon’s abysmal performance was summed up by a few seconds of football that saw Kyle Langford and Matt Guelfi interchange themselves off the ground while the ball was still in play nearby, allowing St Kilda to run it off into undefended territory.
It felt like the Dons didn’t really want to be there, and who could blame them?
A second bad loss in a row suggests Round 1 was no mere aberration. Coach John Worsfold will be feeling the heat this week, as he rightly should.
Did North come any close to delivering on fan expectations? The ‘Roos ultimately fell short by a bigger margin than Essendon this week – 20 points – but probably came closer to getting a passmark.
Importantly, they started the match in excellent touch, suggesting that despite Scott’s conservative selection, the players had been sufficiently sharpened up by last week’s debacle.
In the end a late injury to Marley Williams probably cost them more than anything else did – he’d held Charlie Cameron almost completely out of the game for the first three quarters, but without him hobbled Cameron romped home to kick three in the final quarter.
A win should be the minimum expectation when a coach backs in the status quo despite a disgraceful performance the week prior – and North didn’t get that, so it is a fail.
But it’s a fail against a side that so far in 2019 we could say is a pretty good, and one that – unlike the Essendon disaster – wasn’t without it’s positives.
Suns shine, Freo flop
The Gold Coast Suns won’t get a huge number of chances to win games this year and to miss out by one point last week against St Kilda was a real blow.
It’s the kind of result that can send a team back into their shell and really the most impressive thing about Gold Coast’s win on Sunday is that there wasn’t any sign of that happening at all.
The Suns were by no means kicking arse and taking names, but they beat Freo at the contest, used the ball well enough, and outdid the Dockers in defensive pressure.
Despite having more of the ball they laid two more tackles than their opponents and kept a side that last week had moved the ball with pace to just one bounce for the match, while taking nine themselves.
Alex Sexton signed a new four-year deal with Gold Coast during the week after putting through four goals for the club in Round 1, and matched it with another four this week (albeit with five behinds).
He’s the sole leader of the Coleman Medal after two rounds. I repeat: Alex Sexton is the sole leader of the Coleman Medal.
The match would also have been extremely satisfying for former Docker Sam Collins who was delisted by the club at the end of season 2017 in a move that surprised more than a few.
Picked up by the Suns as one of their mature signings at the end of last year, Collins took a vital mark in defense late to cut off any chance the Dockers had of snatching a late win.
Sure, we’re in an AFL now where most things are handled pretty respectfully and there are rarely any hard feelings between players and their former club – but gee, it must still taste sweet.
The Suns are on the board in season 2019. A lot of other teams – some of them quite highly rated – can’t say the same just yet.
Riewoldt, Rance injuries risk derailing Richmond
If you weren’t looking too deply at the numbers you could take a quick squiz at Richmond’s 44-point loss to Collingwood on Thursday night and think to yoursefl “Gee, they really missed Alex Rance.”
Really though, Richmond probably could have had three Rances on Thursday and it wouldn’t have made a difference – their effort level was shockingly uncharacterisitc of a club that has made defensive pressure the hallmark of its game.
The Tigers had 145 less possessions than Collingwood, and enjoyed about 18 minutes less possession than their opponents – numbers which we might not see repeated again in 2019.
Despite this, they laid just 32 tackles to Collingwood’s 58 – a lack of effort that’s no so much disappointing as it is just plain baffling.
No moment summed this up better than when Mason Cox, surrounded by half a dozen Richmond players, had time to wheel around twice looking to give off a handball before booting a praiseworthy goal. The Tigers seemed afraid to tackle and made the 211cm American look like Eddie Betts.
The poor result was compounded by a wrist injury to Jack Riewoldt which is expected to see him miss the next month of football.
The Tigers made interesting choices at the selection table – going small not just by replace Alex Rance with a medium-sized defender, but also dropping Noah Balta for a smaller option also.
In arguably the most bewildering aspect of what was really quite a head-scratching performance by the club, Richmond allowed Riewoldt back onto the ground despite his injury, and he was largely ineffective thereafter.
Now the Tigers find themselves in the position of coming off one of their worst performances of the last two years without either of their bookends ahead of a month of footy that sees them play GWS (in Sydney), Port Adelaide (in Adelaide), Sydney (in Victoria, but at Marvel Stadium) and Melbourne (at the MCG).
It’s too early to say right now whether or not that Rance and Riewoldt injuries will derail their 2019 season, but in four weeks’ time it may not be.
Crows women and men get a week of winning
After swallowing bitter defeat in a Round 1 game they were widely expected to win, the Adelaide Crows badly needed a good week – and a good week they had.
The mens team travelled to Sydney on Friday night and for the second time in two years able to outshine the Swans on their home soil, comfortable winners by 26 points.
It wasn’t the most polished performance of the week by any margin and to be entirely fair, we don’t have a lot of reasons just yet to believe that beating Sydney is a genuine scalp in 2019.
Still, four points is four points, and sometimes all it takes is a win – even a not-especially-impressive win – to settle a team down and make things click.
The real cause of for celebration though, we can all agree, came on Sunday afternoon when the Crows’ AFLW side won their second premiership in three years.
Despite conceding the first goal of the game (off a 50-metre penalty), the Crows were never seriously challenged by Carlton and came away the winners by 45 points.
Two things in particular were remarkable and will stick in the memory for years to come.
The first was the performance of Erin Phillips whose 18 touches and two goals before she went down with an ACL injury in the third quarter were so influential as to win her a best-on-ground medal for the second time.
The second was the size, volume and presence of the Adelaide Oval crowd. 53,038 fans in attendance was not just a new AFL record but broke the previous record by more than 10,000.
Last time the Crows won the AFLW flag, their mens team came within one win of making it a double – can they go a step further in 2019? Who knows, but it’s a good omen.
Early days, but Dons have the most to lose from future trades
The AFL’s decision to allow clubs to swap future first-round draft picks has, if nothing else, added a fun new layer of intrigue to the home-and-away season.
This year no less than five clubs – nearly a third of the full 18 – sent away their 2019 first-round selection, although three of them did so while getting someone else’s back.
Most of the attention has focused so far and Carlton’s bold decision to swap their first selection in exchange for Adelaide’s corresponding selection this year, and the pick with which they took Liam Stocker in the 2018 draft.
Stocker – despite being described by many as a readymade AFL player – hasn’t debuted for the club yet and and the Blues are 0-2, but they aren’t the ones in the most trouble.
Sure, while Carlton haven’t gotten four points on the board just yet they’ve been competitive in both defeats, and against reasonably strong sides. They look like a side capable of deliver 5-6 wins this year which would mean they at least won’t be handing over pick 1.
Adelaide don’t have much need to be nervous as they’ll be getting a solid pick upgrade of some kind, and Brisbane and Collingwood are both doing well enough early to suggest they haven’t given up an early selection just yet.
Instead it’s 0-2 Essendon who have the most to lose – if the Dons fail to make finals, and that certainly looks a strong chance right now, they risk having given up two top-ten selections for Dylan Shiel.
Yes they got a second-round pick back and yes Shiel played quite well on the weekend, but that’d be a huge price to pay even for a generational talent, which Shiel is not.
Watch this space.
Collingwood’s midfield is just as mighty as advertised
We’ve mentioned briefly the huge disparity in numbers in Thursday night’s game already, but they deserve more attention still.
I know that analysing footy based on fantasy scores isn’t exactly the best way to draw conclusions, but what struck me first and foremost is that Collingwood had the top 17 fantasy scorers on ground – there were just five Collingwood players worse than the best-performed Richmond player.
The Pies had an extra 167 disposals, 107 of which were kicks and 57 of which were handballs. This didn’t necessarily come from ball winning dominance – they were up +2 in the clearances and +23 in contested possessions, yes, but where they really dominated was ball control, recording +96 marks and +154 uncontested possessions.
This is isn’t a surprise given the lack of defensive effort from Richmond that we’ve already talked about. Probably the biggest question mark over the Magpie midfield has been the quality of their ball use, but on Thursday night they recorded nine less turnovers than the Tigers despite having so many more chances to commit them.
The end result was 19 more inside 50s and in particular, eight more marks inside 50. Combine that with the dominant force that was Jordan De Goey on Thursday night and it was the recipe for a comfortable victory.
You know that a team is having plenty of the ball when players like Brodie Mihocek and Jordan Roughead are getting 20+ disposals in a match, and kudos have to be sent out to them for playing their roles well.
And a shout out also to Chris Mayne – I’ll admit that I thought his good year in 2018 might have been a one-season wonder, but with 33 disposals, eight score involvements and six intercepts this week he is looking more bargain than blunder.
Put Mills and Heeney in the middle, Horse!
Anticipating the big question to come out of Sydney’s 0-2 start to the season, AFL.com.au reporter Adam Curley had an article up explaining why Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney aren’t playing in the middle for Sydney almost before the players left the ground on Friday night.
The short version is that in the opinion of John Longmire, both are more needed elsewhere – Heeney up forward, Mills in defence – and also Heeney is battling a bit of a niggle in his ankle, perhaps making the decision a little easier.
Far be it from me to tell an AFL premiership coach that he’s doing it wrong, but, well… he’s doing it wrong.
Sure, the Swans need a dangerous player in the forward line, and yeah, they need a cool and classy customer down back – but the first priority for every team should be stocking the midfield with the best available talent. If you don’t then you’re playing with one arm tied behind your back.
Heeney could easily be swapped into the midfield for the out-of-form Luke Parker who has proven a more than adept goalkicker in the past. That move might well get better production out of both players.
You could even just put Tom Papley back into the forward line for Heeney. His move to the middle has been surprisingly impressive – eight clearances this week! – but a set-up where he’s a midfielder and Heeney’s a forward is head-scratching.
Mills is probably less of a priority to get into the middle than Heeney but as the future of the team, it should still be a priority to put him there.
I could back Horse in on this call if he was getting the desired results from it, but he’s not. The Swans have looked mediocre at best two weeks in a row.
Too early to say what this season will turn out to be for the Swans, but if it’s going to be a losing one, let’s at least give fans a glimpse of the future.
Dees vs Dons in disappointment derby
When the AFL fixtured Melbourne and Essendon for a Friday night meeting in Round 3, they probably dared to dream that these two clubs – both so long sleeping giants with massive untapped potential – would enter with 2-0 records to perhaps decide the title of early premiership favourite.
Well, that’s not happening. Instead both teams are coming in 0-2, at least one of them (barring a draw) will be 0-3, and whoever it is will be public enemy number one when it comes to media pressure.
You’ve probably already heard enough about Essendon in this column so far to have you covered for a lifetime – don’t worry, we’re done with them. Let’s talk about the Dees.
The most concerning aspect of Melbourne’s performance for me on Saturday night was that their superstar midfield quarter were all exceptionally prolific… and it made practically no difference.
After being below his best in Round 1, Max Gawn dominated the ruck, while between them Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney had 104 disposals, 56 contested possessions, 26 clearances, 18 tackles, and 1386 metres gained.
The Dees finished the night +15 in the clearances. Net result? An 80 point smashing. That’s deeply concerning.
These guys are hard workers who reliably hold up their end of the bargain week after week but if you can have a player dominate like Oliver did (44 disposals, 24 contested possession, 14 clearances) and still get smashed, you’re either a Gold Coast-style basket case or something else is very wrong.
The Dees aren’t blessed with great ball movers and those they do have just weren’t making their presence known on Friday night. It’s unfair to single any individual player out but Christian Petracca is probably the first who comes to mind when looking at those who need to have a bigger impact.
Come Friday night someone’s going to get that breakthrough win and maybe just an inch of breathing space. The Dees should and will be desperate to make sure it’s them.
Everyone gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (1-1) – Probably the biggest positive out of Adelaide’s win this week is that Brad Crouch continued his great form after missing all of season 2018. 26 touches, seven score involvements and a goal was a very encouraging performance.
Brisbane Lions (2-0) – We somehow managed to underrate the Lachie Neale acquisition for Brisbane – probably because it was offset by the Dayne Beams departure. 43 disposals, 16 contested possessions, eight clearances, eight score involvements. Early leader for recruit of the year.
Carlton Blues (0-2) – At the start of the season the idea of Charlie Curnow missing a few weeks would’ve spelled disaster for this side, but right now it doesn’t feel like something to be too worried – perhaps due as much to his relatively inconsequential form so far as anything. A sign of progress.
Collingwood Magpies (2-0) – The MRO has probably been a bit peeved in recent times that nearly every ban he lays down seems to get overturned at the tribunal, but he’s really served them one on a platter with Mason Cox. Expect ‘Pies to challenge and win this week.
Essendon Bombers (0-2) – Searching for a positive… searching for a positive… can’t seem to find it, sorry. Here’s hoping Orazio Fantasia doesn’t kick 0.4 too often.
Fremantle Dockers (1-1) – Really found the fastest way possible to undo everything positive that was said about them last week. Lucky not to lose by five goals – would have if the Suns were more accurate.
Geelong Cats (2-0) – How great was a) two-gamer Jordan Clark doing the smart team thing by handballing to Tom Hawkins and then b) Tom Hawkins doing the great bloke thing of handballing back to Clark to put it through? Best moment of the week (and a real indictment of Melbourne’s defense that they had time for the whole thing).
Gold Coast Suns (1-1) – The continued development of Jack Bowes would be one of the big positives to come out of this game. 27 touches, seven score involvements, seven inside 50s – a really impressive game from the third-year player.
GWS Giants (1-1) – If any other side in the league was missing players the calibre of Josh Kelly and Toby Greene will playing the reigning premiers at home, we’d be happy enough to overlook a loss – I don’t see why the Giants should be any different.
Hawthorn Hawks (1-1) – Didn’t have a huge impact in his first game for the club but great to see Tom Scully back in the AFL this week. Still had 311 metres gained from his 15 touches and will get better as each week goes by.
Melbourne Demons (0-2) – I was really glad to see Kade Kolodjashnij named this week, have long had a soft spot for him. Didn’t make much impact but he was clearly lacking match fitness and made it through the game. Reckon he could be a nifty pickup in time.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (0-2) – Aaron Hall 26 disposals and a goal, Jared Polec 23 and 2, Dom Tyson 21 and 1. Jasper Pittard’s unforgivable haircut aside, North’s trade recruits were handy contributors this week.
Port Adelaide Power (2-0) – Port fans might have been a little peeved that Zak Butters didn’t get the Rising Star nomination last week, overlooked for Bailey Smith who probably had a slightly better game, albeit in a huge loss. Xavier Duursma this week put up 23 touches and 408 metres gained, but might get edged out by Charlie Constable.
Richmond Tigers (1-1) – Here’s a hard question for you to answer – who was Richmond’s best player this week? It’s probably Shane Edwards I guess, but there weren’t many sticking their hand up for the title.
St Kilda Saints (2-0) – How much this week’s result says about Essendon and how much it says about St Kilda is really an unknown at this point. Feel like just about any side in the AFL might have knocked over the Dons this week. That said, Alan Richardson probably would’ve given his right foot to be 2-0 if you asked him a fortnight ago.
Sydney Swans (0-2) – The Swans are the ‘making finals from 0-2’ specialists – the last six times in a row they’ve started a season 0-2, they’ve still made the finals. Tempting to write them off but if anyone can grind it out from here, it’s them.
West Coast Eagles (1-1) – GWS’ ruck stocks aren’t exactly the strongest in the league to go up against (especially with Shane Mumford out), but hard all the same not to like Tom Hickey on Saturday night. 18 touches and a goal to go with 20 hitouts, very solid.
Western Bulldogs (2-0) – Already given shoutouts to a few Bulldogs players, but Matt Suckling would be the other one who really impressed me this week. 29 touches and a team-high 554 metres gained, great form from the 30-year-old.