Some pre-game psychological warfare from Ben Stratton!
The results from the second round of the AFL season must be taken seriously.
Many people are simply happy that the AFL season has re-commenced and further normality has returned to our lives.
A large portion of the AFL community have accepted the lower quality of game that was produced, and perhaps fought against any perceived overreaction based on what eventuated in the second round of the season.
People needn’t be so flippant towards the results.
Perhaps it is unfair that the second official AFL game being played in nine months carries so much weight, however in a season consisting of 17 games built on mental fortitude and momentum, so much has been lost for a number of clubs.
The easiest club to single out is West Coast, after the awful loss to a Gold Coast team that were able to bully the competition’s greatest exponent of disarming an opposition of their greatest weapon and grinding them into the ground.
For the Eagles, an early-season loss isn’t unusual.
In 2018 and 2019, they lost the opening game of each season to Sydney by 29 points, and Brisbane by 44 points respectively.
In 2017, they struggled to beat an uninspiring St Kilda at home in Round 2, after their early season demolition at the hands of Hawthorn in 2016, by 46 points.
West Coast isn’t a fast-starter, but rather a team who receives a wake-up call and subsequently kicks into gear by making the most of its opportunities as the season wears on.
Except in 2020, there is no opportunity to make-up heavy ground lost immediately.
The Eagles won’t be facing Gold Coast again, which would have been a percentage-boosting victory in any other season and even in Round 1.
West Coast can’t turn around and make up the enormous percentage lost against a lowly-rated team.
After the second round of the season, West Coast has been ruled out of winning the minor premiership.
It wouldn’t surprise to see the club turn around and play better footy, but making up lost ground with Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Richmond to come is uninspiring and concerning.
Then there’s the Western Bulldogs, having produced shambolic displays over the opening two rounds of the season.
Historically, this is a team that likes to fire up in the second half of the season and charge its way into finals.
And maybe, given the club has played Collingwood, a top-four contender, and St Kilda, a team pushing for finals, things can turn around with better match-ups later in the season.
Four of its first five games at Marvel Stadium, however, leaves the team potentially open to hub-related travel later in the season.
There’s also the very real, almost tangible ride of momentum that fuels 2020, a source of energy not unfamiliar to the Bulldogs.
Cute team selections and unusual tactics are almost Luke Beveridge’s modus operandi but in a season with fine margins for error, any top four assault pre-season predictors may have put forward are firmly out of the question at the moment.
The importance of momentum is why Brisbane’s narrow victory over Fremantle may tell us more about the team than initially thought of.
A relative pattern among some mid-to-lower tier teams in the second round was a complete halt in attacking ball movement and team running.
While some may be bullish on Fremantle, and rightfully so with the young talent at the club, good teams must win easily against teams that are depleted by injuries to key players.
Brisbane were simply overcome when momentum had shifted, and the midfield workrate as well as the strong defensive line were found wanting in key moments.
Already at a minor disadvantage with a tough run away from home to come later in the season, Brisbane enters two of its next three games against West Coast and Port Adelaide lacking in the required confidence to execute its gameplan for four quarters.
The upcoming round will see Port Adelaide needing to do what Brisbane couldn’t against the depleted Fremantle team.
Round 2 saw a Showdown domination that has left the Power with a stunning percentage, which is particularly important given the fact lower scores “for” will increase the volatility of percentages.
Having banked two dominating wins to commence the season, the importance of Port Adelaide’s victories stem from the professionalism displayed, rather than the results themselves.
Defeating the Suns, who were hapless in Round 1, and the Crows, who put together and ultimately disgraceful performance, doesn’t make Port Adelaide a world-beater.
But putting forward professional wins in a systematic, destructive manner turns this team from an enigma, to a contender.
A slow opening 15 minutes was followed by an annihilation, and that is vitally important for this group.
Emphasis can be placed on the dangerous ability of Carlton as displayed in two-and-a-half quarters against the Demons, or the start to the game which saw Christian Petracca look like a Brownlow Medalist in waiting.
St Kilda looked really good but perhaps playing Collingwood and Richmond will be a real showcase for what a positive mindset and hunger can do to the team.
And while Essendon has commenced the season undefeated, the fashion in which the team has snuck over the line against Fremantle and Sydney is cause for concern.
Perhaps a faux-win if you will, although banking points in the shorter season is all that matters at this stage.
The draw to commence season 2020 version two was uninspiring and a let-down, but there’s no doubt the two points each team received will have an impact at the business end of the season.
Round 2 will be a bigger note of importance for Hawthorn rather than Geelong.
From the Hawks’ perspective, it was a huge loss but one that came from poor preparation and horrible execution.
They were outplayed convincingly and the defensive set-up was entirely puzzling, going in way too tall and choosing James Frawley to peel off more than James Sicily.
But while the Bulldogs are facing a similar necessity to have running repairs and the negativity that they may encounter, Hawthorn’s approach comes with a strong sense the greatest coach of the modern era can fix things.
Hawthorn has played two teams that are likely to finish in the top four and Clarkson can make quick and minor adjustments to make his team relevant again.
The easy choice for pundits was to immediately criticise the Hawks and its list.
If ever a turning point could be applied one week into the season, it’s here and the Hawks can be much improved in three tough games to come.
However the biggest and more important result coming out of Round 2 was North Melbourne’s victory over GWS.
While disappointing, the loss for the Giants isn’t anything other than disappointing and a wake-up call to play their best players in their best positions.
But for North Melbourne, and coach Rhyce Shaw, this was a season-defining victory.
In post-game comments, Shaw stated that his club didn’t feel as though the result was an upset.
Beating GWS and adopting this mindset immediately elevates North Melbourne from years of mediocrity, to opening up an opportunity for much more.
Shaw got cute early and played Shaun Higgins across half-forward to protect him from a tag, but was smart enough to make the obvious move when the midfield cohesion was lacking.
The Kangaroos are operating in a similar sort of manner to Geelong, without the fanfare and star power attraction that captivates a larger audience.
If the win against St Kilda was lacklustre and left questions hanging in the air, the victory against GWS placed an exclamation mark on a positive response.
While a more efficient Giants team might win the game, the ineffectiveness and lack of quality finishing was a result of North Melbourne’s style of play and forcing star players to rush themselves.
A defensive group that thrives on accountability and can play to its strengths is backed up by a midfield group that is tough, runs both ways and has a ruckman that has enjoyed a stunning career resurgence.
For North Melbourne to take a step forward, Ben Brown needs to be a cherry on top, rather than the barometer.
It has taken years, but Brown is the focal point without the pressure of being the only option.
Cam Zurhaar is excellent, Tarryn Thomas is arguably the most skilled player on the team and Ziebell is perfect in attack.
Curtis Taylor is an absolute gem.
Of course, there are key areas and certainly some personnel that can be improved upon.
But finally, North Melbourne fans can sit back and look at their team, knowing they have an excellent coach, a strong and adaptable style of play, good young talent coming through and, most importantly, hope.
It might have been the first round in three months after a necessary layoff, but Round 2 taught us much more than we may give it credit for.
That’s the beauty of the shortened season.
There’s no time to waste.