It will be interesting to see if Round 4, which starts with the Swans versus the Bulldogs at the SCG, brings a sense of order to the 2020 COVID-19 season.
Upsets, near comebacks, draws, tight finishes, postponements and thrashings have all been part of a remarkable three weeks of the season so far and have made the tipster’s life a challenge, although some things have become clearer.
1. Port Adelaide, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Gold Coast have all improved from 2019.
2. Collingwood have started the season in good form with a strong defensive team.
3. Essendon are yet to convince, but have the runs on the board.
4. Last year’s grand finalists, Richmond and the Giants, haven’t hit top gear yet.
5. Brisbane will be thereabouts.
6. Hawthorn, Geelong, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and Eagles are still in the mix.
7. Melbourne and Carlton are building.
8. The two new coaches still have some way to go.
Although only one tight match decided by less than a double-digit margin was added to the six in the first two weeks, there is no doubt that the shorter quarters are resulting in less scoring with five of the eight matches won on the weekend by teams scoring total points in the 70s and six of the losers scoring only 30 goals between them (average of five).
The winning score in four of the last five encounters between Sydney and the Bulldogs has been in the mid-80-points range with both sides scoring two victories each. Overall, the Bulldogs have a four-game advantage over the Swans in the 161 times they have met since (then) Footscray first joined the league in 1925.
Both teams have a number of players unavailable for selection but there is one that stands out: Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.
In this year of fewer goals and no stand-out goal-scorers, a fit Franklin would make a huge difference. He is the highest current ranked player in the top 100 AFL goal-scorers but has not played a game this season.
The other eight current top 100 AFL sharp shooters have not set the world on fire, averaging only a total of 3.5 goals each in the three games to date, but at least the two best with five goals each – Jeremy Cameron and Luke Breust – are moving slowly up the rankings.
For the Swans, the current in-form champion Josh Kennedy will play his 236th game for the club and match the total of two legends at the club: Bob Skilton and Leo Barry.
Skilton, known famously as a triple Brownlow Medallist, won the club’s best and fairest nine times and was leading goal-kicker on three occasions, although he was only a 171-centimetre rover. A local from Port Melbourne, he came up through South Melbourne’s fourths and went on to captain the club for 11 years as well as captain-coach them for two years. Later on, he coached Melbourne for four years.
Barry became famous on the basis of one immortal moment late in the 2005 grand final when he took a strong fingertip mark to repel a desperate Eagles attack in the dying minutes of the game. Originally from Deniliquin, New South Wales, he earned the nickname ‘Leaping Leo’ and also captained the Swans, making the All Australian team twice.
While the historical achievements at the Bulldogs are much more modest, they still involve well known premiership players making significant movements up the club’s top 100 game-players list.
Mitch Wallis moves inside the top 70 by equalling the games tallies of Don McKenzie, formerly from Spotswood who went on to coach the Bulldogs for 44 games; rover Geoff Jennings, who captained the team for three years; Nathan Brown, who left the club in 2004 to pursue his career at Richmond; and Simon Garlick, who moved from Sydney to the Bulldogs in 1998 and is now Fremantle’s CEO.