Of course, we could never get the footy fully back to normal, could we?
Thursday and Friday night upsets meant the AFL finally felt back in its usual swing. Everything was slowly getting better. Then the league was thrown back up in the air. With all matches except the Essendon and Melbourne clash being played, let’s take a look back at what we can.
Richmond 5.9 (39) defeated by Hawthorn 11.5 (71)
Despite missing Dustin Martin, Richmond were still expected to get the job done against the Hawks. But Alastair Clarkson’s men came to the MCG to play, and they pulled outa measured and unbreakable brand of smart footy that proved Clarkson’s ability to thwart even the greatest of modern sides.
Jaeger O’Meara is crucially important to the Hawthorn engine room
Last Friday night the brown and gold were trounced by a Geelong midfield complimented by a blend of young and old. Without ex-Sun O’Meara, Hawthorn’s centre brigade lacked pace and were cleaned up. Fast forward six days and O’Meara’s return sparked a turnaround in the midfield. Getting 16 disposals (and using them at 100% efficiency) in the first half was the catalyst to the Hawks fast start, which saw them slam on five goals to nothing in the first term. He finished with 23 touches and a goal to highlight just how dangerous he can be when slotting in beside ball magnet Tom Mitchell and the exciting James Worpel.
The inclusion of O’Meara also freed up Chad Wingard, who constantly thwarted Richmond across the half-forward line.
What can Richmond do to revive Riewoldt?
It was the second week in a row that the trusty Jack Riewoldt produced nothing.
Last week’s horror show could be written off as an aberration, but Thursday night’s meagre 11 disposals and two behinds now confirms he is out of form. With the Tigers slipping, the pressure put on Tom Lynch up forward is too much. With the likes of Shai Bolton, Daniel Rioli and Marlion Pickett also underperforming, Riewoldt needs to quickly find his feet if Richmond are to get back on track.
Verdict: Hawthorn are back and hunting for a finals spot, while Richmond have some work to do if they are to regain their footing in the top four.
Western Bulldogs 8.9 (57) defeated GWS 4.9 (33)
If Thursday night’s upset was seismic, this Friday boilover was just as impactful. GWS had to bounce back and prove their insipid effort against the Roos was a rare mistake. Instead, they stumbled further over their own feet and plummeted down the ladder. The Dogs rediscovered their fire, fighting hard for the win in a tense clash which featured ill blood and little niggles throughout the contest.
The return of Libba makes the Bulldogs’ midfield a lot better
After another lay-off, the AFL world got a taste of just how crucial Tom Liberatore is to the Bulldogs’ bash-and-crash style of footy. Libba had 18 touches and four clearances, yet his impact was not anywhere near statistical. There was a changed air around the ball whenever he charged in. With the no-frills Bulldog out-working GWS to win the contested possessions, his teammates lifted with him. Marcus Bontempelli overcame some physical targeting to kick the sealer via a miracle goal from the ground. Jack Macrae and Caleb Daniel both returned to their dynamic best, while Bailey Smith’s is continuing to thrive in his new role as a midfielder.
To sum up Libba’s fine night, his calm set shot after the three-quarter time siren when melees were breaking out around him says wonders about his ability. With Libba back in, there are echoes of the Bulldogs’ 2016 attack on the footy.
Once again, the Giants mistake attack the man for attacking the footy
This isn’t the first time Leon Cameron has tried to instil an edge of aggression on his players. He has all the talent in the world at his disposal, yet he can’t quite seem to encourage his side to consistently attack the ball.
GWS clearly don’t like the Bulldogs, and they came out trying to hurt their opponents. It began with the weird decision to throw Nick Haynes up to do the coin toss with Bontempelli in an attempt to throw off the Bulldogs captain after an incident late last year. Then, the Giants almost forgot the game was underway, for they only had eyes on the Bont. This haphazard approach only gave away free kicks and goals. When it came to the actual footy, they turned a blind eye.
Verdict: The Dogs had to work hard for this, but now they know what it takes to win a tough game of footy. GWS need to quickly change their mindset to just winning the ball, for their futile attempts at aggression could backfire spectacularly against the Magpies.
North Melbourne 8.12 (60) defeated by Sydney 10.11 (71)
The Kangaroos, following a stunning upset against the Giants, were meant to consolidate with a third successive strong win. But for all of their effort in last week’s impressive win, they dropped the bundle on Saturday. Sydney were furious after giving up four points to Essendon the previous Sunday, and made sure they were leaving Marvel Stadium with a victory this time.
Sydney’s cobbled together forward line did the job terrifically
Without Buddy Franklin and Sam Reid, the Swans have no reliable tall forward option to use. Last week, Nick Blakey and Tom McCartin were out played by Essendon’s big defenders. This week, they were barely required – a wave of dangerous mid-sized forwards did all the damage.
Isaac Heeney was a constant threat both up forward and in the guts with his 18 disposal and one goal game. He was everywhere, and was constantly setting up the likes of Tom Papley and Will Hayward. The Sydney pair gave North Melbourne defenders plenty of headaches.
Sydney found the key to posting a winning score, and it was through their midfield. Their spread of goalkickers was far and wide, with veteran on-ballers Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy leading their young troops with majors from the midfield. If they continue to play with such zip and pace, they will have the weapons available to score heavily.
No Cunnington throws out North Melbourne’s midfield balance
Last week GWS tagger Matt de Boer went to Cunnington in an effort to stem his brutal contested ball work. The Giant succeeded, but Shaun Higgins stepped up instead. Without Cunnington, Sydney blanketed the dynamic influence of Higgins and were able to out-work North Melbourne’s other midfielders.
Although Jy Simpkin is having a breakout year, he can’t be expected to shoulder the entire midfield when Higgins is struggling. Jed Anderson was relatively quiet, while Todd Goldstein fought hard but made some poor decisions early on in the match. The Roos need Cunnington demanding attention in the midfield, or else they will be dominated by more experienced centremen in the coming rounds.
Verdict: Sydney are flying under the radar perfectly, while North Melbourne received a harsh reality check.
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Collingwood 12.9 (81) defeated St Kilda 5.7 (37)
The Pies came out in sparkling touch to dismiss any notion they were as rusty as the Tigers, Eagles and Giants. A late six goal burst before half time followed a five goal first quarter to establish a rampant buffer that they were never going to relinquish. St Kilda fought hard in patches, but were given a lesson in how leading teams need to consistently play.
The return of Stephenson changes Collingwood’s forward line drastically
In the second half of last week’s draw, the Magpies looked stagnant and were never a realistic shot of kicking a goal. It was obvious Nathan Buckley had thought about this issue – in the first quarter alone the Collingwood forward line was bursting with pace and dripping with talent. Jaidyn Stephenson’s inclusion played a big part in this revamp – he booted the Pies’ first two goals through searching leads and an eye-catching ability to create a chance out of nothing.
His presence also freed up Jamie Elliott from heavy attention, meaning he could get off the leash to snag an early brace of goals. Brody Mihocek was another to benefit, as the forward line looked a lot more open and free flowing with Stephenson constantly creating space. With the black and white back line currently in red hot form, the forward group is the key to their success in 2020. And Stephenson may just be the last piece of the puzzle.
Dan Butler’s shining performance brushes over the midfield’s cracks
Richmond would be crying out for Butler right now. With their own small forwards failing to get near the footy, the new Saint put in another wonderful game on Saturday. Two goals and a flurry of creative touches meant he was constantly involved in any St Kilda forays forward, no matter how rare they were.
But despite this positive, the Saints midfield went from hero to zero very quickly. Jack Billings’ couldn’t get close to recreating his game-winning round two heights; Seb Ross, Jack Steele and Zak Jones were also callously shut down by the experienced hands of Pendlebury, Sidebottom and Adams. To add salt to the wound, St Kilda’s twin rucks in Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall failed to reel in Brodie Grundy – the Magpie big man ended up winning the hit-out battle against both of them after a slow start.
Verdict: Collingwood separate themselves as one of the two best sides in the competition at the moment. St Kilda are tracking well, but they can’t get too far ahead of themselves yet.
Brisbane 10.14 (74) defeated West Coast 6.8 (44)
The Lions proved their ability on Saturday night with a tough and ugly win over flag fancy West Coast. Losing skipper Dayne Zorko before the bounce didn’t help, but they managed to put in a consistent performance to shoot into the top eight. The Eagles are in a spot of bother – stuck in Queensland and horribly out of touch, they face real strife if they don’t rediscover their brilliant best form.
The Berry brothers are crucial to Brisbane’s future
Tom Berry had already made his mark on the AFL in just his first game with a courageous mark in the dying stages of his side’s triumph over Fremantle last week. His attack on the footy shone through again in his second match, as he seemed to pop up in key moments to beat hardened West Coast bodies to the ball.
His older brother Jarrod Berry became a handful in the middle, winning the ball and setting up many forward thrusts during the home side’s third quarter blitz. With Lachie Neale (32 touches and two goals) continuing his hot start to 2020, Berry managed to slot three crucial majors to guide Brisbane home.
Nic Nat is only just warming up
Other than Andrew Gaff, West Coast’s midfield is underperforming. Dom Sheed can’t get his hands on the ball, while new skipper Luke Shuey isn’t living up to his usual standards. Luckily, Nic Naitanui put in a wonderful performance in the ruck on Saturday night.
Throughout most of the encounter he was the sole force keeping the Eagles in the contest. He was best on ground at the main break and continued to try his best when the Lions pulled away. Adam Simpson has a lot to worry about during the week, but Nic Nat isn’t one. Fingers crossed he stays fit, for he is a sight to behold when in full flight.
Verdict: Brisbane are steadily improving week-by-week. West Coast need a boost soon before their season falls away.
Geelong 11.11 (77) defeated by Carlton 12.7 (79)
This was a tale of two halves.
Carlton, playing down at the imposing GHMBA Stadium fortress, got off to a flyer. Patrick Cripps was electric in the middle. Eddie Betts couldn’t be stopped. Mitch McGovern and Levi Casboult finally became aerial threats. The Cats had no way of stemming the flow, and were in dire straits heading into the final term.
But the seasoned Geelong crew managed to pull their side back into it. If it wasn’t for some strange decisions by certain Cats then they may have stolen victory. But it wasn’t to be, as Eddie Betts secured the important victory with a desperate final minute tackle.
Was Alastair Clarkson right last week?
Despite getting smacked by Geelong in last Friday night’s game, the Hawthorn coach believed that the Cats weren’t that good. With only one win after three games, the master coach may have been spot on.
Rhys Stanley’s round two performance looked a lifetime ago due to a sloppy effort on Saturday night. Without Brandon Parfitt, the younger Geelong midfielders did nothing to help the experienced hands. Tom Hawkins and Esava Ratugolea were once again quiet, with the latter double-fisting a straight shot on goal by Hawkins that may well have sailed through. Gryan Miers was busy up forward but made some wrong decisions with the game on the line. If their win over Hawthorn was free flowing, their round three performance was shaky and tentative.
Carlton’s recruits hold the key to their season
When Carlton snared Mitch McGovern and Eddie Betts from Adelaide while grabbing Jack Martin from up north, the AFL world was unsure as to how it would all come together. It took until Saturday night for the trio to show their potential.
Betts was on fire from the first bounce, and belied his age to constantly threaten Geelong’s seasoned small defenders. McGovern began to clunk big marks and show he has the ability to rediscover his valuable touch. Martin has already proven to be one of the Blues best – he is the link man between midfield and half-forward, and has an impressive ability to create whenever he has the Sherrin in his hands.
Verdict: Geelong need to prove they aren’t flat-track bullies, but Carlton have a new lease of life… just.
Gold Coast 12.10 (82) defeated Adelaide 4.5 (29)
If Gold Coast fans thought it couldn’t get any better after downing the Eagles last week, they were in for a pleasant surprise. The Suns were no one-hit wonders, and promptly went on to smack Adelaide and demote them to wooden spoon favouritism. Not since Gary Ablett Jnr’s arrival on the Gold Coast has a player demanded so much attention, but now young Matt Rowell is the talk of the town after backing up his player of the match effort last week with another influential effort.
Gold Coast’s youngsters may just be the real deal
In the coming weeks the name Matt Rowell will be bandied about on every AFL related show, and fair enough. It’s a struggle to name another first year player who has come in and performed so well right from the get-go. But it’s not just Rowell who has breathed life into the failing Suns.
Noah Anderson has been quietly excelling. For large parts of Sunday’s game he matched up on star Crow Rory Sloane – the youngster held his own, and in some plays managed to beat Adelaide’s skipper in the contest. Jack Bowes impressed with his 20 touches, while Ben King is starting to become a handful up forward. Under the guidance of veteran Sam Day, King was the best tall forward on the ground with his three majors. Also deserving of a mention are Wil Powell and Connor Budarick; the entire improvement of this young group is what makes Gold Coast an exciting and intimidating prospect.
Adelaide have a long, long season ahead
The 2020 season may be shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it won’t drag out for the Crows. They are the only winless team in the league, and are confined to a horror year.
The issue is stemming from their leaders. Many players have vacated the Crows over the past few seasons, but Rory Sloane still remains. He could only gather 15 touches, the Crouch brothers just passed 20 possessions each. Taylor Walker is a shadow of his former self. Tom Doedee is being left without help in the back line. You can point fingers all you want at the younger players who don’t look up to the standard of AFL, but the main reason why that is happening is because they are receiving no help or guidance from experienced players who should be better. Until they start to pull their share, Adelaide will be stuck in the mud.
Verdict: The Suns are hot, and could be building a case for a debut finals series. Adelaide, after three rounds, are already in rebuild mode.
Fremantle 6.5 (41) defeated by Port Adelaide 10.10 (70)
In what started as a high-scoring encounter, Port Adelaide scrapped their way to a third straight impressive win. Unlike the first two victories, the Power didn’t have it all their way, but they proved too strong in the decisive moments. Fremantle were again left relying on Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters; they didn’t have enough depth to challenge Port Adelaide deep into the second half.
Fyfe and Walters – you need four of them
Nothing proves the God-like status of Fyfe then a few minutes in the last quarter. After working hard all night against a seasoned Port Adelaide midfield, Freo coach Justin Longmuir flung Fyfe forward in an attempt to generate some score on the board. The issue was that the ball barely came down there. When it did, Fyfe flew to bring in two towering marks – the skipper was so exhausted by his Herculean efforts that he could only convert one of the set shots.
Michael Walters faced a similar prospect – he wasn’t as clean as usual, but he still couldn’t stop getting the footy. When either he or Fyfe won the ball and sent it forward, there was no target to go to. James Aish once again lent a helping hand, but they need more from Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw. Jesse Hogan looks the best option for a tall forward target, but needs time to adjust to footy.
Port Adelaide’s depth is the best in the competition
The Power have relied on their emerging crop of young talent to comfortably win the first two rounds. But a blend of youth and experience banded together on Sunday night to pull away from the Dockers.
Charlie Dixon is in ominous form up forward – he is marking everything, and he’s making a great combination with Justin Westhoff and Todd Marshall. Ollie Wines came back in for his first game of the season, and dominated in the guts with Travis Boak and Tom Rockliff.
Although Xavier Duursma looks to have fallen to a serious hamstring injury, the Power still have Connor Rozee, Sam Powell-Pepper and Robbie Gray to pick up the slack. If Gray can get away with having a quiet start to the season, then Port Adelaide are a side to be feared.
Verdict: Fremantle are yearning for some development from their young midfielders. Port Adelaide are becoming more of a flag chance the longer they remain undefeated.