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Cameron's clinic, happy half-backs and frantic finalists: Five takeaways from AFL Round 2

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Roar Rookie
27th March, 2023
2

From Jeremy Cameron’s dominance to pressure mounting on the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle – here are five takeaways out of the second round of AFL action.

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I’ve not noticed much difference when it comes to having four umpires on the field instead of three. Originally it seemed like things were going to be a bit crowded with one extra umpire out there, but it’s working pretty well to this stage.

There are always going to be decisions that fans don’t agree with, but that is going to happen regardless. I feel it’s a positive early in the season that there have been fewer free kicks than at the same time last year.

In 2022, after two rounds, there had been 789 free kicks paid at an average of 43 per game. 12 months on, there have been 719 free kicks paid – an average of 39 per game. It’s not a huge discrepancy – but moving towards fewer free kicks is a definite improvement.

Jeremy Cameron, wow!

Herald Sun chief football writer Mark Robinson’s pre-season pick of Charlie Curnow in the top spot in his top 50 AFL players’ list was looking pretty spot on at half time of Carlton’s clash with Geelong.

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Curnow had kicked three first-half goals to give an otherwise wasteful Blues an eight-point lead, and he would end up with five for the night. Robinson would have been happy with his bold call.

Although, as the game wore on, it became clear that he might have had Jeremy Cameron five spots too high at number 6, behind Curnow and midfielders Christian Petracca, Marcus Bontempelli, Patrick Cripps and Clayton Oliver. All those players are outstanding, but none can influence a game to the degree Cameron can, and did on Thursday night, with 25 disposals, 11 score involvements and six goals.

He was everywhere – helping out in the backline, delivering the ball inside 50, and of course, kicking goals. He has such a smooth kicking style, too; he seems to finesse the ball home from outside 50. His pre-goalkicking routine where he pushes the edges of the ball in seems to work for him.

He’s also probably the best exponent of the snap-kick set shot; the ball just seems to be drawn like a magnet towards the middle of the goals.

Blake Acres of the Blues marks the ball against Jeremy Cameron of the Cats.

Blake Acres of the Blues marks the ball against Jeremy Cameron of the Cats. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Half-back dashers in vogue

A running half-back is one of the most sought-after roles for any club to fill. Teams who are in good form tend to have one, if not two, playing well.

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St. Kilda have Jack Sinclair, Essendon have returned Andrew McGrath there, Harry Sheezel is lighting it up at North Melbourne, and of course, Nick Daicos is on fire at Collingwood.

Daniel Rioli from Richmond has also developed into one of the better running half-backs in the game. The thing I like about his game is he doesn’t bounce the ball repeatedly when he’s running. He uses one bounce per 15 steps, the absolute maximum, which seems to help him make a better decision as he’s not looking down at the ground every few moments.

Adam Saad can be that player for Carlton – he’s got exceptional pace and a lethal left foot. He’s also, however, renowned for his excessive bouncing of the ball – if he tones that back to Rioli’s level, he could be even better.

Old coaches still have new tricks

I didn’t know how both Alastair Clarkson at North Melbourne and Ross Lyon back at St. Kilda were going to go in their return to senior coaching. Before the year started, I thought both clubs might have been better off finding a new young coach who’d been an assistant coach for a time – Adam Yze for example.

But you can’t underestimate both Clarkson’s and Lyon’s coaching pedigree, an whilst it’s still early days, you can see players from both teams are fully buying into their message.

St Kilda out-pressured the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night, a feature which has always been a cornerstone of Lyon-coached teams. They also took the game on with their ball movement, as indicated by the fact they had eight running bounces to the Bulldogs’ two.

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The forward pressure from Dan Butler, Jade Gresham and Jack Higgins resulted in 16 tackles inside 50, something the Saints only bettered once last season under Brett Ratten.

Clarkson has already got as many wins as North had for the whole of 2022. He has been able to bring a structure to the Roos, and it’s harnessing his players’ strengths. For example, it has allowed Nick Larkey to get better one-on-one opportunities inside 50, and he’s kicked 10 goals already in two games.

The North Melbourne midfield is now looking quite potent with the return of Ben Cunnington, Cameron Zurhaar lining up for centre bounces 10 times against the Dockers, and of course, the form of Luke Davies-Uniacke.

Suddenly Clarkson has a bit to work with.

Pressure builds on winless finalists

The Western Bulldogs struggled for consistency in 2022, and they have started off in a similar vein in 2023.

The Bulldogs struggled to get the ball inside 50 against St. Kilda, managing just 37 for the match; and on the rare occasion they did, they struggled to gain any reward for it, winning only one of their 16 forward 50 one-on-one contests.

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Their much talked about midfield suddenly doesn’t look as threatening. Speed is all-important in today’s game, and unfortunately the Bulldogs aren’t blessed with a lot of it. Bailey Smith is probably the one Bulldog with pace, but while he finished with a team-high 599 metres gained, he’d only manage two score involvements.

Up forward, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy are still very young, so it’s hard to expect them to deliver weekly. If it’s not Aaron Naughton then it’s unclear where their goals are going to come from. Perhaps it’s worth moving Josh Bruce up forward again to partner Naughton, resuming their effective partnership from 2021?

Fremantle had high raps coming into this season after making the second week of finals last year. However, 2023 has started poorly, losing to two teams they would have expected to beat.

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They have a strong midfield led by Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw, while their defence is tough to break down with captain Alex Pearce and 2020 All-Australian Luke Ryan.

But similar to the Bulldogs, it’s ahead of the ball where their system breaks down. Fremantle have the talent in attack – Michael Frederick, Sam Switkowski and Lachie Schultz are excellent small forwards, and even though he’s getting older, Michael Walters can still find the goals, as he showed after coming on as sub against North Melbourne.

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Fremantle need to trust their defence and give their forwards a chance – perhaps trying to emulate Collingwood’s acclaimed rapid ball movement is the way to go.

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