Well that didn’t go as expected.
From the moment the siren rang out over an otherwise quiet MCG on Thursday night, there was something different about this round of footy. Sure, it was always going to be unusual due to the COVID-19 enforced circumstances. No crowds, fake sounds and the removal of many standard behaviours (such as linking one’s arms to sing a team song after a hard-fought win) meant round two is one that’ll go down in the history books/
With premiership fancies Richmond and Collingwood screeching to a low-scoring draw, the Thursday night result opened up the top of the ladder for a few teams. Some staked their claims for a precious finals spot, while other teams bounced back from the ten week break atrociously, and paid a crushing price for their poor preparation. After just two rounds, there are teams under the pump; a shortened season only means sides can be booted out of top eight contention earlier. The pressure is well and truly on.
Collingwood 5.6 (36) drew with Richmond 5.6 (36)
There was a wide range of tips and predictions made before these two heavyweights clashed for their MCG blockbuster match-up. Only Shane Crawford was on the money when ruefully suggesting the teams were so similarly skilled that a draw could play out. But even Crawf wouldn’t have expected a deadlock so frustrating and low scoring.
After a fast start, Collingwood slipped into a patch of sloppiness. Richmond settled, and both teams were led ably by their defences. Jeremy Howe and Bachar Houli dictated terms, with only Tom Lynch being able to get any kind of reward on the scoreboard with three goals.
A controversial score review on a Jack Higgins mark and goal in the shade of three-quarter time is set to stir up a storm during the week, as the money and effort poured into the system had little impact on a poor decision. But it had no impact on a tepid last term where neither side could consistently crack through for a goal. The Magpies, against all odds, had one last shot at a winning score, but it was to no avail as the siren signalled the first draw between the two proud clubs since 1917. And it wasn’t pretty.
The Pies can take plenty of positives and negatives out of this match-up.
Firstly, their opening term, and parts of their second quarter, were superb. They ran hard, passed skilfully and pressured the reigning premiers into submission. Their goals came as a result of intensity and poise. Nathan Buckley and his diminished coaching staff would be rapt with the progress of Josh Daicos, who had an impressive game off half-back and in spurts through the midfield. Both Brown brothers also provided some speed that stood out in the eye-sore of the second half.
Darcy Cameron was good in parts. He can certainly take a mark, and didn’t look out of place against the league’s best defence. Below his knees he struggled, but for a black and white debut he provided some food for thought for when Mason Cox returns to full fitness.
Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams and Steele Sidebottom were in their usual strong form. Pendlebury started off wonderfully but tapered off with his disposal efficiency in the second half. In key moments during the final quarter his usual silky skills were a tad rusty, but the champion still racked up 31 touches.
The only concern for Collingwood would be their bottom players. In a second half where the side stopped running and lapsed into old poor habits, Josh Thomas, Jamie Elliott and Will Hoskin-Elliott were unsighted. Elliott is an exception, for his talent and X-factor demands a consistent place in the side. But with Jaidyn Stephenson and Travis Varcoe waiting in the wings to play a similar role up forward, the other two would need to give a better showing in future games if they are to retain their spot.
The Tigers had a shocking start to their return.
A side who usually pride themselves on a high level of intensity from the get-go, they fell behind quickly to their more determined black and white clad opponents. Dustin Martin was uncharacteristically quiet, only working his way into the game in spurts during the last quarter. Cotchin willed himself into contests, but alongside Martin and Dion Prestia, the midfield had their colours lowered, and turned the ball over when in possession.
Jack Riewoldt was blanketed by Darcy Moore, and his one shot at glory in the last minutes saw his 35-metre set shot fall short. It was unprecedented for Jack. The likes of Jason Castagna, Marlion Pickett and Daniel Rioli also struggled to touch the ball much, and couldn’t create the chances at goal required to get the four points.
In a more upbeat note, Tom Lynch picked up from where he left off in 2019 with three goals. His presence kept his side in the game, and gave Jordan Roughead a headache. Bachar Houli was superb off half-back. He showed his importance to a successful Richmond side, as his rebound and follow-up efforts kept his team in the match throughout most of the first half. Dylan Grimes didn’t touch the ball much, but did superbly in halting Jordan De Goey and Jamie Elliott. All in all, Richmond’s defence held firm and gave the 2019 premiers two extra points then they probably deserved.
And Jack Higgins returning to footy and kicking goals is always a pleasant sight for Richmond fans.
Verdict: Both sides were rusty, but showed signs that they will be leading forces in 2020.
Geelong 17.6 (108) defeated Hawthorn 7.5 (47)
For the first half of this match, the two sides seemed destined for another notorious close finish. A change of scenery down to Geelong had done nothing to disinterest the Hawks, who recovered from a slow start to stick their head in front during stages of the second term. Only a goal down at the main break, a calamity of a second half ruined Hawthorn’s confidence, and allowed Geelong to push up the ladder.
The Cats were impressive, and it was their bit-part players who stood up. Brandan Parfitt came back from the lay-off sporting a new hairstyle and a trimmer physique. His change reaped rewards – he combined with Quinton Narkle to dominate the midfield. Gryan Miers proved he was ready to take another step up as a small forward in 2020, while Rhys Stanley temporarily alleviated some of Geelong’s fears regarding the main ruck position with a commanding effort against Jonathon Ceglar.
Combined with Pat Dangerfield in his 250th game, the renaissance of Gary Ablett Jnr and the evergreen Joel Selwood, Geelong turned it on in the last two quarters to regain some form after a disappointing round one loss. Hawthorn, with Jaeger O’Meara a late out due to injury, faltered after half time. They looked slow, and were toothless in attack without Jon Patton clunking telling marks against the likes of Harry Taylor and Mark Blicavs.
Cats fans can breathe out a huge sigh of relief.
Their opening round loss to the Giants doesn’t look as bad now that they are on the board for season 2020. Their defence was superb – Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs look as good as they have ever been, and that’s saying something for the pair that took 2019 by storm. Joel Selwood hasn’t lost a beat, while younger players are steadily beginning to improve. Two goals from Rhys Stanley is a huge bonus, but it will take a month of consistent output before the AFL world confirms his prowess.
Pat Dangerfield’s kicking for goal has always been dubious, and some shocking set shot misses in his milestone game proved his one flaw. It mattered little in this match, but his wayward accuracy could come to haunt the Cats in clutch moments.
Geelong is now a team on the up. They have a favourable run to start off the season, with numerous more games to be held down at GMHBA Stadium. If they can continue to get improvement from their inexperienced members and Stanley, they may find themselves quickly rising into top four calculations.
For such a bright start, the second half did everything it could to wipe away Hawthorn’s previous efforts.
Round one was a solid victory over Brisbane. The Hawks looked rejuvenated with some new additions. Chad Wingard was injury-free and dynamic in the middle. Tom Mitchell’s return promised lots alongside O’Meara. Patton, combined with Mitchell Lewis, had the potential to reignite the days of Buddy and Roughead.
In different conditions, Hawthorn fought hard to get back into the game. Mature heads in Burgoyne and Stratton calmed their teammates and methodically picked through Geelong’s assured defence. At the main break, the Hawks had every chance at snatching another win.
But then all structures broke down. There was no speed in the midfield to match Narkle and Parfitt. Patton couldn’t take a mark. Sicily struggled to handle the high amount of forward 50 entries by the Cats. Alastair Clarkson scratched his head, out of answers for the first time in ages. The brown and gold buckled, and are now resigned to a week of scrutiny.
Verdict: Geelong proved they are once again one of the top sides, but still need consistent output from their lesser names. Hawthorn now head back to the drawing board, looking to find a spark that’ll reignite their side that is littered with potential.
Brisbane 12.9 (81) defeated Fremantle 10.9 (69)
It was a heart-stopping finish at the Gabba on Saturday afternoon. Eventually, Brisbane pulled free to avoid an embarrassing home loss against the plucky Dockers.
Ultimately faring better than their cross-town rivals when it came to acclimatising to Queensland, Fremantle stayed with last year’s finalists throughout the entire day. With their youthful side producing spurts of solid football, Fremantle ground the match down to the final minutes. From there, Brisbane’s firepower stood up. The star factor is the only thing Freo are missing if they are to take another step forward in their development. Luckily, Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters are enough of a handful, and their combined efforts in the second half nearly dragged the purple haze over the line.
The Lions come out of this win with mixed feelings.
One question I asked before the match was whether Lachie Neale and Charlie Cameron could recreate their 2019 form. The answer was an emphatic yes. If it weren’t for these two, the Lions would have gone down comfortably. Cameron was electric, lighting up the first half with four majors. For someone of his size, he is so hard to stop no matter how the ball enters the forward 50. Neale was Brisbane’s barometer, bustling out of packs with pace and making himself dangerous in front of centre. His two goals were impressive and very much required. Alongside Harris Andrews, who controlled the back half, Brisbane’s leading players did enough to get their team over the line.
Eric Hipwood was relatively quiet except for a goal in the opening minute of the third term. He still has the habit of fading out of games quickly. For someone who can take a match by the scruff of the neck, he needs to begin doing it more often if Brisbane are to improve as a side. Without him, Daniel McStay can’t be the only forward target. The Lions rely way too much on Cameron and Oscar McInerney in their attacking set up, but the pair continue to do enough when it matters.
It was a rusty re-start for the Lions, but a win gets them on the board. They will face sterner challenges, but for this week they can be satisfied, for they have given themselves a shot at returning to the top eight.
The Dockers have a fair bit to be proud about.
They fought incredibly hard in this match, and made a top four team from last season go up a gear in the final minutes to beat them. That is a sign of improvement from last year – Justin Longmuir is on the right track.
Nat Fyfe started slow, but warmed up to his dominant best. He willed himself into the contest, and hit the scoreboard to cash in his domineering efforts. Michael Walters suggested he may be heading for a more dynamic midfield role this season. He did it all in both the middle and down forward, where two late goals in quick succession nearly catapulted the Dockers to a win.
Matt Taberner presented lots, and did a serviceable job on Harris Andrews. His main issue was his kicking at goal – too often he misses gettable shots, and it doesn’t do his hard work justice. There’s a lot to like about him, but the key for him and his side is conversion.
James Aish started off solidly against his first club. At Collingwood he was used off half-back. In a team without Bradley Hill, Aish filled in on the wing and in the middle with aplomb. He was measured, assured and smart. Fremantle may have just picked up a bargain. With David Mundy in his twilight years, Aish could be the player who fills his role as a classy controlling presence in the middle. Now, they just need a forward line capable of converting their growing midfield.
Verdict: A big sigh of relief for Brisbane, but they still need their fringe players to lift. Fremantle should take heart out of their performance, and strive to snatch a maiden win for season 2020 in the coming weeks.
Carlton 7.11 (53) defeated by Melbourne 8.6 (54)
What an interesting match this was.
Melbourne dominated everything early, their fleet-footed band of smaller players running amuck at Marvel Stadium. Carlton had no way of getting into the game, and fell seven goals behind during the second term. Luckily, Melbourne couldn’t maintain the intensity, and nosedived horribly during the second half. If it wasn’t for skipper Max Gawn, they would have lost this match in the last five minutes. Carlton flicked a switch after half time, and played with pace and freedom.
But when the game was on the line, Carlton’s leaders failed to convert. Both Eddie Betts and Pat Cripps missed multiple shots that would have given the navy blue a win. Yet they wilted under the pressure of the fake crowd noise, and spoiled a golden opportunity to run over the top of the inconsistent Demons.
This is a game that should be split into two halves for the Blues.
Their first half was atrocious. They had no reasonable excuse for starting as poorly as they did, and were made to pay. Liam Jones was too often exposed against the pace and nous of Jayden Hunt, and couldn’t keep up with him. Cripps, for all of the talk surrounding him in the past ten weeks, was off. Marc Murphy tried his best to guide Carlton through, but even the elder statesman struggled to inspire his teammates.
But after half time they exploded. Cripps steadily increased his influence. Jack Martin did similar things to round one, yet also contributed up the ground. His dash through the middle and half-forward was so valuable, and allowed Betts to make hay in the pocket. Mitch McGovern was the catalyst – he was such a talent at the Crows, but has only given an indication of what he is capable of in spurts at Carlton. His second half was one such peak – now his challenge is to piece it together more often.
Once again it was good to see Sam Docherty back out on the park. He was rusty, like many of his teammates, but his class off half-back was still evident. It was a disappointing loss, and one that they may come to rue in the coming weeks.
If ever a side needed a ‘get out of jail free’ card, it was Simon Goodwin’s.
They played an aggressive brand of free-running football to set up what should have been a comfortable win, only to drop the ball and allow Carlton passage right back into the contest. They didn’t deserve the win, yet fell over the line. With this slice of luck, they need to capitalise in the next few rounds.
Hunt, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver all shone. The young trio took steps towards reclaiming their 2018 form. Petracca mixed his time in the middle and down forward, using his strong hands and muscular frame to trouble Carlton’s defenders. But his aerobic capacity in the middle was impressive, and signalled a new notch on his belt.
Luke Jackson needs time to develop his craft, yet Tom McDonald couldn’t take the responsibility for him. Alex Neal-Bullen looked more dangerous than he did throughout the entire 2019 season. But the key for Melbourne is consistency. They now have the defence to give them a shot in most games. But forward of centre is where the problem lies, for they only have one Gawn.
Verdict: A valuable win for Melbourne, who must take this lifeline with both hands if they are to avoid the spotlight. Carlton need a win to atone for this, for they are good enough to trouble most teams.
Gold Coast 14.6 (90) defeated West Coast 6.10 (46)
There were some upsets on the weekend, but none rivalled this.
Gold Coast, after a pathetic round one loss, blitzed through premiership fancy West Coast with ease. Controlling the match in the early stages, they dashed away from the Eagles in the second half through a young midfield brigade who outworked West Coast’s deadly centremen.
If you need an emphatic win, Gold Coast showed how to do it.
They won their first match for over a year in style, cruising past the 2018 premiers with ease. Their early draft picks shone – Rowell is already showing his worth in just his second match. Anderson is up there with him. Alex Sexton wasn’t required. It was a new-look side.
Touk Miller blanketed Tim Kelly. Every line on the field for the Suns held their own, and presented a strong resistance that is seldom seen from Gold Coast.
The key now is to not get carried away. This season is one where the Suns could get on a roll if they find the key to consistency. They will get plenty of home games, and the Queensland hub should only work in their favour. But now the question is whether their young stars can prove this isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an exciting week ahead for Gold Coast. Could the tables be about to turn?
Maybe they were lethargic, or lazy, or cocky. But the Eagles have come crashing down to earth, and face a sobering reality check if they are to recover and bounce back.
These types of losses always hurt. But in a shortened season, they bruise and haunt the losing team. West Coast were poor in many ways. Their highly fancied midfield refused to work hard, and lacked an ounce of class when they did rarely get their hands on the footy. Their potent forward line was out of sync. Nothing went right. It was what they deserved for putting up such a poor effort.
Oscar Allen was one minor shining light. He continues to develop, and is a necessity for the Eagles in a world where Kennedy continues to slow down. Other than that, the real disappointment lay with West Coast’s established premiership players, who should’ve done better than to rock up to Metricon Stadium with such a content mindset.
Verdict: What a win for the Suns, who are promising to finally come along in their development as a club. West Coast face a do-or-die week, for they must win if they are to regather their form.
Port Adelaide 17.8 (110) defeated Adelaide 5.5 (35)
Port Adelaide stamped their finals intentions on the competition by dismantling a Crows side who are crashing down to the foot of the ladder. With 2,000 fans braving a cold Adelaide night to cheer on their teams, the Power turned this into a one-sided contest early.
With an even team effort, Port Adelaide quickly got ahead of Adelaide, and then put the foot down to inflict some serious pain on the Crows. Ken Hinkley’s top eight goal now looks more realistic than ever, while Adelaide have a lot of development to do before they become a force again.
It was everything the Port fans wanted to see and more.
The experienced hands of Travis Boak, Charlie Dixon, Brad Ebert, Tom Rockliff and Justin Westhoff were all as industrious as usual. But it was the X-factor burst from Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma, Stevie Motlop, Todd Marshall and Connor Rozee that decisively won this match for the Power. Their audacious draft pick-ups last season are bearing rich fruit. Rozee could have easily won the best on ground medal despite only picking up 17 touches and a goal, for his impact was Cyril Rioli-esque in terms of sudden moments of genius. Butters is already looking a better player than 2019, while Duursma continues to go from strength to strength.
Todd Marshall is what the Power are crying out for to accompany Dixon down forward, and to support Lycett in the ruck. With Marshall coming along, the Power will feel no impact of the loss of Patty Ryder. For the first Showdown in a long time, Robbie Gray wasn’t required to control proceedings if the Power were to win. Not since the exciting prospect of the Burgoyne brothers has Port Adelaide possessed such dangerous young players, and it could be the start of a golden era for the Power.
On the other hand, the Crows are in real danger.
With Rory Sloane injured, Adelaide need someone to step up. Rory Atkins, Kyle Hartigan and a plethora of other players from the 2017 Grand Final were real let-downs. Ben Crocker barely got a chance up forward, yet kicked a goal to prove he can be a handy option in attack.
Taylor Walker still got booed despite crowd restrictions, and played poorly. No senior member stood up. Trading Sam Jacobs to GWS may have been a hasty decision. The Crows coaching staff will be looking to the Crouch brothers to lead a charge, while Darcy Fogarty is still the future of the club. But he may have to go through some tough times in the coming seasons if this performance was anything to go by.
Verdict: The Crows were an embarrassment, and are in real danger of a horror 2020 season. The Power are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and now have the talent and belief to shoot for a finals spot.
GWS 8.12 (60) defeated by North Melbourne 12.8 (80)
If Saturday night wasn’t crazy enough, the Kangaroos kicked off Sunday with an early stunning upset against the 2019 Grand Finalists.
With Ben Cunnington under close attention from Matt de Boer, it was Shaun Higgins and a bunch of tough young Roos who stood up to pressure the Giants into submission. GWS were well off the pace, and did well to fight for as long as they did. But it all proved too much in the final minutes, as North Melbourne proved they have some guts – this determination may see the successful Shinboner spirit return.
It was the exact opposite of round one.
Instead of out classing their opponents, the Giants struggled to fall into any rhythm. They were blanketed by North Melbourne’s plan of restricting them to a boring kick down the line contest. In brief spurts the home side managed to release Lachie Whitfield in space – in these instances, the Giants scored heavily and looked dangerous. But these moments were few and far between. In the end, it was a lack of effort that lost them this game.
Jeremy Cameron is a concern. He couldn’t shake Robbie Tarrant, and it was only Jeremy Finlayson who stood up. Toby Greene didn’t have his usual impact. Stephen Coniglio and Callan Ward relished the tough gameplay, but neither could match it with the Roos for long enough.
It’s no panic stations for the Giants, but it’s a worrying sign to see them so easily bumped off the ball. They have the talent – it’s the intensity they lack to win that maiden flag.
This match was vindication for Rhyce Shaw’s new game plan.
His young players in Cam Zurhaar, Tarryn Thomas and Jy Simpkin all shone. They all have a touch of X-factor, and are reliable performers who always go hard at the ball. Ben Brown was reasonably quiet, but it was a good sign to see the Roos find avenues to goal around him. It’s the sign of a maturing team.
Shaun Higgins played his best game in a long time, dictating proceedings in the middle and looking fit. His ball use was first class on a weekend characterised by sloppy efficiency. Josh Walker is a wonderful addition down back, while Todd Goldstein is still one of the best ruckmen in the league.
If they sneak another early win, these Roos could be pushing for a finals spot.
Verdict: A snag in the road for the Giants, who will recover but need to find their spark soon. North Melbourne will challenge every side, for they possess a manic intensity that no team can match.
Sydney 11.7 (73) defeated by Essendon 12.7 (79)
It was another nail-biting instalment of this underrated rivalry.
There was no post-climbing, but Sydney’s youthful brigade fought back late to nearly snatch it from Essendon. The Bombers looked the better team for most of the contest, until they rested on their laurels and nearly lost the unlosable. If it wasn’t for a terrific last quarter by the blooming Darcy Parish, the Swans may have been the unbeaten team instead of the red and black.
Plenty to like, but plenty to be frustrated about.
The Swans could easily be 2-0, for they had many chances to snatch a win. Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney were uncharacteristically quiet, leaving it to Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker to will their team back into the contest. Nick Blakey looked slow and a bit behind, meaning the Swans had no avenue to goal without Franklin. They need to lower their eyes inside forward 50, or else every team will pick off their high balls at will.
But they played an incredibly young team, and there can only be upside. Ollie Florent had a down day, and he can only accompany his teammates in lifting that extra gear needed to record a win. Their time may not be now, but John Longmire is building something at Sydney.
Unlike the Swans, Essendon got through the match with a courtesy of younger plays full of poise.
Zach Merrett was a stand-out in the middle, and was ably helped out by Dylan Shiel to give Kennedy and Parker hell. But Andrew McGrath and Darcy Parish injected real pace into the Bombers’ midfield, and were the catalyst of the majority of their goals. Parish’s last quarter goal was remarkable. It capped off a superb final term by the youngster, who is coming into his own as a handy midfielder who is dangerous up forward.
Adam Saad was one of the lone reasons the Bombers managed to hold off the Swans. His bounce off half-back all day was vital – his long booming left foot a weapon used to bypass Sydney’s defensive structures.
What would be of concern for the Bombers is the form of some older players. Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis barely touched the ball, and looked way too slow for the level. They may be underdone, but it’s worrying signs for Essendon if their veterans are starting to slow down already. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti also started off strong before drifting out of the game. He has the talent to become a powerhouse forward, but his inconsistency has let him down plenty of times throughout the years.
Verdict: Essendon got away with a scare, and need to continue building. Sydney are promising, but tacky around the edges.
St Kilda 14.4 (88) defeated the Western Bulldogs 7.7 (49)
Going into the final clash of the round, this match could’ve gone either way. Then, St Kilda proved themselves worthy, and the Bulldogs collapsed in a heap.
The Saints were brutal, and much better than their round one effort. Jack Billings was the star with three goals in a brilliant display. But he was ably supported by his new recruits in Dan Butler and Zak Jones. The Saints looked slick and played with pace. Tim Membrey is an important cog up forward, while Max King continues to come along. Rowan Marshall did his thing with Paddy Ryder in the ruck. Everything was rosy for those drive-in fans.
Dan Hannebery showed why he was recruited, controlling the match and giving a masterful display all around the ground. His skill and poise really stood out. Hunter Clark and Jack Steele continually evolve as handy players for the Saints.
Now off the mark, St Kilda have a big test against the Pies. It may be a difficult match, but they’ll go in full of confidence.
Luke Beveridge is now in the hot seat.
For all of their promise, the Bulldog bark held no bite. Aaron Naughton was covered up forward and Josh Bruce couldn’t shoulder the burden for him. Marcus Bontempelli tried his best, but his midfield were way too slow to keep up with the speedy Saints. No one could stop Bradley Hill. Alex Keath was frustrated by the lack of help he received against King and Membrey.
The Bulldogs are a bit of a rabble. They need to cobble together some belief and work to achieve that tenacity that got them into the finals last season. Without it, they are just another mundane side to be walked over.
Verdict: St Kilda may be the season’s big improvers. The Bulldogs, unless they change drastically, are only moving in one direction.