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Seven talking points from Round 3 in the AFL

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Roar Guru
5th April, 2021
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4097 Reads

There’s been a super conspicuous absence for the first few weeks of the season, as the usual Monday morning fixture of ‘talking points’ disappeared.

But fortunately, it’s been revived, and I’ll be manning it from here on out (and yeah, that means I personally won’t be penning the power rankings column this year).

Let’s get into it.

The Lions head from agony to euphoria, punctuated by COVID
It’s almost as if someone just went, “Meh, why don’t we re-use last week’s script, but change it a smidgen,” because the same ingredients were there: a tiny margin with under 30 seconds to go, a Victorian opponent looking like they were going to win and Zac Bailey inside-50.

Except, this time, things went right for the Lions.

Twenty-one-year-old Bailey’s brilliant after-the-siren major saved the Queenslanders from the ignominy of a 0-3 start to the season and rewarded Bailey with an honour not seen by a Brisbane Lion since Ash McGrath’s famous winning goal in 2013’s Miracle on the Grass clash.

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To say the Lions needed the win is an understatement, given they have a third consecutive Victorian match against the Bulldogs next Saturday, and then what should be expected wins against the Bombers and Blues the following fortnight.

The Magpies, for their part, slump to 1-2, hold only a win over Carlton and face renewed questions about their ability to finish off games.

It’s not like they were particularly awful by any stretch – they led by 25 points in the second term and had plenty of contributors across the ground.

But as ever, and with the Magpies’ ravenous critics still out for blood after Eddie McGuire’s departure in February, the omnipresent pressure on coach Nathan Buckley simply won’t go away.

Fortuitously for the team, they face weak GWS and Essendon sides, which bookend a trip to Western Australia to face the Eagles, in the next three weeks.

At a minimum, I’d be expecting them to beat those two, pencilling them to be 3-2 by Round 5, which isn’t awful. And fortuitously for Buckley, there’s another coach under significantly heavier fire…

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Leon Cameron is an endangered species
Indulge me for a moment, as I put myself in the shoes of Leon Cameron: if you’re being optimistic, the Giants’ Round 1 defeat to the Saints could be explained away as a loss to a ridiculously determined team. Round 2’s loss to Freo could’ve been worse, save for Freo’s poor goalkicking.

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And Sunday’s loss to Melbourne was a game they weren’t ever favourites in.

The thing is, that optimistic outlook is crap.

The Giants stink at the minute, and with their next four games against Collingwood (toss-up, at best), the Swans (they’ll lose on current form), the Western Bulldogs (ditto) and the Crows (a scary prospect if Adelaide’s newfound form continues), there remains very, very little margin for error if Cameron wants his team to garner some respectability in 2021.

Cameron has been in charge of the Giants since I was 16 (for those playing along at home, I turned 23 a week and a half ago), and in that time they’ve made four finals series, three preliminary finals and a grand final.

Admittedly, it is not a bad record for the competition’s youngest club – and the competition’s seventh-longest serving coach.

But whatever allure was there, it has evaporated, much like the Giants’ formerly unmissable flair, and much like any such optimism that their 2020 finals miss was an abberation, not the norm.

If their first two losses were a mess, their third was only marginally better. And that leaves Cameron in an unenviable position.

It’s tough to blame the coach for the injuries that have afflicted his team – losing Stephen Coniglio, Phil Davis and Matt De Boer in one swoop is a particularly cursed affliction – but his team simply failed to dig deep when it mattered, allowing the Demons to kick nine goals to the Giants’ five after halftime to confirm the eventually comfortable win.

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To the Giants’ credit, it was an improved performance, but not even that made had much of an effect – not when Carlton and Essendon, two other previously winless teams, were able to score their first wins in much more emphatic fashion.

All this leaves GWS paired with the Kangaroos as the only teams yet to win. It’s a worrying marker, and one that leaves Cameron’s position in an awkward space.

Leon Cameron

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

I’m not here to definitively call for his sacking, nor suggest any outlandish coaching replacements (yup, we’ve all seen those Ross Lyon rumours), but there is utterly no doubt his position is in jeopardy.

A few more losses – which are inevitable – and Cameron will surely be on his way out the door.

Underestimate the Swans at your peril
In July 2020, the Tigers and Swans played a horrendous slog of a match up in a Queensland hub, where the combined score between them scarcely hit the 60 points mark.

In the aftermath of that clash – which Richmond won, by the way – Damien Hardwick lambasted the Swans as “folding back into defensive 50, bottling up the contest” in a “horrendous” and “farcical” game.

It was a harsh repudiation, but one with an element of truth: the Swans have been known as a dour, defensively minded side. They’d hit 100 points just six times in the past three seasons.

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It’s all the more reason that Hardwick won’t have seen Saturday coming.

He probably should have: the Swans’ first two rounds have been superb, showing a fast-paced, attacking game plan driven by youth. Beating Brisbane was a significant upset, but not an outlier.

The Crows were an easier beat in an entertaining game, but Richmond were always going to be a significant challenge.

It’s a challenge that the Swans comfortably surmounted. They were again led by their young brigade – Rising Star nominees Errol Gulden and Braeden Campbell were superb and young trio Sam Wicks, Logan McDonald and Chad Warner kicked seven majors between them.

Errol Gulden of the Swans celebrates after kicking a goal

Errol Gulden of the Swans (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Swans are striking a good balance, though – more experienced players like Isaac Heeney, Luke Parker, Tom Papley and Callum Mills playing well on the weekend.

I’m quite excited to see how the Swans progress throughout this year. Considering the fact they’ve already beaten the two of last year’s top four sides – both of those in away games – and they’ve got a pretty easy three weeks ahead of them, they’re set up to have more than a good start to the season.

I can see them 6-0 in a few weeks’ time, and that would set them up well to be finals smokies. Wouldn’t that be something.

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Ditto that for the Crows
So, yeah, the best game of last Friday was not *that* Good Friday clash. It was the other one.

In a rarity for this round, the good thing about the Crows’ Good Friday clash against the Suns is that it wasn’t a blowout. It was the antithesis of the ‘original’ Good Friday clash a few hours earlier: exciting, close, two young teams producing a cracking match.

I have to give credit to the Suns: they might have lost, but I think they’ll surprise a few teams this year.

Much like Sydney, the Crows are exceeding expectations, and in style. It’s ironic the only team they’ve lost to thus far is the Swans.

Adelaide’s superb start to the season – minus that Sydney defeat, where they still performed well – has seen the South Australians rocket to sit within the top eight, although unlike Sydney, I don’t have them as finals smokies just yet.

In saying that, the Crows have improved so rapidly that it’s not impossible to see them winning at least three of their next four clashes: North (away), Freo (home), Hawthorn (away) and GWS (home). That would have them headed into Round 8’s Showdown with at least a 5-2 record.

Optus Stadium hosts premiership contenders, only one shows up
An early draft of this piece – pre-emptively written on Saturday morning, before Saturday’s West Coast-Port clash – labelled that game as “game of the round”. Clearly, that did not necessarily end up being the truth.

The Eagles looked superb in a losing effort in last weekend’s clash against the Bulldogs, and despite a lot of people – including myself – tipping Port, an Eagles win on Saturday wasn’t unlikely, more so quite possible. But I just did not expect how strong that win was going to be.

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Nic Naitanui of the Eagles takes the ball

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Eagles comprehensively managed to disrupt Port’s ability to get their hands on the ball, gunning out to an unsurmountable lead by quarter time. The onslaught did not end there, and premiership contender Port were at no stage a chance at coming back to score third conservative win.

There are two elements to this clash, really.

There is the Eagles performance and there is Port’s capitulation. The latter is a concern, though not a five-alarm-fire at the moment.

It does raise the question, and I’m not subscribing to this fact, of whether Port were overtly confident having had ‘easy’ wins against the Bombers and North, and weren’t prepared for how strong the Eagles would be.

It isn’t the first time that the Power have dropped games like this – though to be fair (sorry, Power fans) they’re usually notorious for dropping clashes much easier than this.

The Eagles, however, flexed their premiership credentials with their performance. Pleasingly, they had contributors across the board, with Nic Naitanui superb in the ruck and their forward and backlines both performing strong.

Put simply, the Eagles made a mockery of anybody who harboured any doubts about them this year.

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As a Freo fan, the prospect of Round 7’s Western Derby terrifies me.

Injured and incompetent, Freo and the Saints languish
The Dockers and St Kilda have been dealt a shockingly unlucky card when it comes to injuries thus far this season, but that only goes a certain way towards explaining their horrific efforts against Carlton and Essendon respectively.

The Dockers have serious questions about them at the moment, after producing a horrendous performance that came just a week after a comfortable win over the Giants. They looked flustered, inept and completely unable to compete.

Of Fremantle’s ‘big three’ young midfielders, oft heralded as their future, and in the absence of Nat Fyfe, only Andy Brayshaw had a noticeably good game, with Adam Cerra and Caleb Serong among the plentiful Dockers having very disappointing outings.

Caleb Serong marks the ball

Caleb Serong (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Not even David Mundy – who was superb against the Giants – could hold his head high.

St Kilda, for their part, were almost as insipid. Their midfield – barring underrated skipper Jack Steele – was awful, with Bradley Hill remaining in as poor a form in recent memory (it’s no wonder there is pestering discussion about dropping the high-priced former Hawk and Docker).

Like Fremantle, the Saints were up against a side under pressure and, again replicating Freo, they capitulated as the valve of pressure was released.

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Prognosticating into the near future, Freo have the benefit of a relatively easy – in theory – fixture over the next couple of weeks, with home games against Hawthorn and the Kangaroos bookending a suddenly daunting trip to play the Crows.

It’s the Saints, though, who would be massively alarmed with their next few weeks: a trip to Adelaide to play Port comes after games against the Eagles and Richmond.

Not a pretty fixture in the slightest for the Sainters, but alarmingly risky for Freo if they don’t improve, and rapidly.

And just quickly, a rare shout out to the AFL
It’s impossible to understate just how well the Lions, Pies and the AFL handled Queensland’s sudden lockdown.

Queensland Premier Annstacia Palaszcuk’s decision to throw Brisbane into lockdown halted the Lions from travelling back home, but neither them nor the league had any hesitation in simply shifting the game. Well organised with minimal fuss – which is most certainly not something one can say about the AFL too often.

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (2-1): Here’s a stunning fact: Tex Walker has kicked more goals in three games this year – 17 – than he did in in his entire season last year. Hate him or love him, it’s phenomenal to see.

Brisbane Lions (1-2): An under-discussed benefit of the Lions switching the grounds for their Collingwood clashes is they now have their final four games of the home-and-away season at the Gabba. Could be a massive advantage in a close race for top eight – or top four – positioning.

Carlton Blues (1-2): Lachie Fogarty. Twenty-five disposals, seven tackles, three clearances, eight score involvements, 80 per cent disposal efficiency and a goal. For a player I literally did not even know changed clubs, he’s shaping up to – just quietly – be a very shrewd pickup for the Blues.

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Collingwood Magpies (1-2): Brodie Grundy. His name almost says it all, honestly: he was phenomenal in a losing effort. It’s just super frustrating he had such weak midfield support.

Essendon Bombers (1-2): It’d be foolish to finish this piece without a compliment to the Bombers, who were very strong on Saturday. The Swans, Lions and Pies in the next three weeks makes life a bit tricky, though.

Fremantle Dockers (1-2): The Taberner question is a vexing one. Booted two – in junk time – but showed a horrible lack of effort for much of the clash. But with limited forward prospects, the question remains: how long can the Dockers stick with him?

Geelong Cats (2-1): Playing with hypotheticals is a dangerous game, but without an umpiring howler going their way last week – and if the Hawks were a smidgen more polished – the Cats would be languishing at 0-3. Not sure what to make of them, to be honest – they’ll need to prove themselves a significant amount more.

Gold Coast Suns (1-2): A winless history at Adelaide Oval continues. The Suns remain the only team not to win at the ground and won’t get another chance until at least 2022 with no other games scheduled in South Australia this year. Fun bet: who will they beat first at the ground – the Crows or Port?

Hawthorn Hawks (1-2): Oh so close to stealing a win, but just couldn’t do it. I like the Hawks this year – I think they’re going to be a relatively good team.

Melbourne Demons (3-0): First time they’ve been 3-0 since 2005. The task of going 4-0 is significantly harder. They’re up against Geelong – who are of a significantly higher calibre than the Freo, the Saints and the Giants.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (0-3): Not a lot of optimism here. Uh, well… it’s genuinely hard to find any winners on the ground. Finding their best chance at scoring a win is even harder: maybe St Kilda in Round 11, or GWS in Tassie the week after?

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Port Adelaide Power (2-1): I also like to see how the club social media teams respond after tough losses. The Power’s sobering response of, “Not our night” only just beats out the Saints’ “Didn’t respond” for most obvious statements of the week.

Richmond Tigers (2-1): No, I don’t think that Richmond have been ‘found out’ or are ‘done’. They had a bad day at the office, something which they’ve endured before and that hasn’t stopped them. They remain the team to beat.

St Kilda Saints (1-2): Mentioned it before, but Jade Gresham’s injury is a serious concern. Among the Saints’ walking wounded ahead of a challenging three weeks: Gresham, Jarryd Geary, Ben Paton, Dan Hannerbery, Rowan Marshall.

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Sydney Swans (3-0): The Swans have monopolised the Rising Star nominations this year thus far and are a good chance at either Logan McDonald or Chad Warner poaching a third after this round. My bet would be on the latter.

West Coast Eagles (2-1): Suffering a hamstring injury on return from a hamstring injury is a crappy fate, and it sucked to see Luke Shuey – who was putting in a brilliant individual performance on Saturday evening – experience exactly that.

Coach Adam Simpson suggested they were going to “go back to the drawing board” to figure out a remedy, which they’ll move hell and high water to do, you’d presume.

Western Bulldogs (3-0): Friday’s clash went swimmingly even with a quiet performance from Marcus Bontempelli, who made barely a ripple. That can only be a good thing.