AFL Round One Performance Reviews – Part II



NORTH MELBOURNE: It was a case of last man standing at Etihad Stadium on Saturday Night, with North Melbourne outlasting the Adelaide Crows in probably the most entertaining game of the round. Kangaroos run and gun footy is back for 2016. When the Roos produce their trademark high octane brand football under the roof of Etihad Stadium there are few teams in the league that can keep up.

This North Melbourne side are a battle hardened, experienced team that have all the bases covered in 2016. But there is a sense of urgency surrounding the Kangaroos this year as they strive to take the next step and make a Grand Final, before the inevitable trap door opens.

One of the big advantages the Kangaroos have over every other side is their giant ruckman Todd Goldstein. He is the premier big man in the competition and his duel with Crows ruckman Sam Jacobs was one of the highlights of the Round 1 match. The only thing the North Melbourne ruckman is lacking is a good old fashioned nickname.

The return of the smooth moving Daniel Wells could be the extra weapon the Kangaroos need this year, with him missing so much footy over the last couple of years he is virtually like a new recruit this year. Wells is such a unique footballer he glides effortlessly over the grass and moves the ball by foot with deadly precision. The combination of Daniel Wells and Shaun Higgins will be a real barometer this year, if these two skillful players get enough of the ball it will result in match winning scores for the Kangaroos.

North Melbourne’s next game is against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, a game the professional Kangaroos outfit should win to keep their season rolling along.

ADELAIDE: This could be a game the Adelaide Crows come to rue at the end of the year. When the Crows add up their wins at the end of the year and see if it’s enough to take a spot in the top eight, they will be disappointed they can’t add the four points from this game to their season tally. The Crows did a lot right on Saturday night and probably played well enough to win the game but they just couldn’t hold their nerve in the last quarter and were overrun by an experienced professional North Melbourne outfit.

Any game that Eddie Betts plays in I am watching!! And although the little champ’s goal kicking radar was off against the Kangaroos, there was still some trademark Eddie Betts moments. Another exciting Crow small forward Wayne Milera played his first game in Round 1 and although he didn’t get much of the ball his talent was obvious.

With power house captain Tex Walker and fellow key forward Josh Jenkins combining for seven goals the Crows look to have a forward line that is capable of kicking match winning scores this year.

The thing that separates the Crows from the top echelon of sides is the lack of midfield class and depth which was on display in Round 1. Apart from veteran Scott Thompson no other Adelaide midfielder had more than 23 possessions.

A Saturday afternoon Round 2 showdown against Port Adelaide will be one of the must watch games of the weekend.

WESTERN BULLDOGS: Hard to know what to make of the extraordinary opening round performance of the Bulldogs. But one thing is for sure when the young Bulldogs running machine clicks into gear even one of the best defensive teams in the league, the Fremantle Dockers, are powerless to stop them. For a team and supporter base that has been starved of success it’s exciting times ahead. Building a list this strong and exciting takes hard work and a lot of luck, the Bulldogs can’t waste the opportunity this team represents and must turn this promising unit into a powerful premiership juggernaut.

Similar to the manner the Swans ambushed the Magpies the night before the Dogs stunned the Dockers in the first quarter kicking seven goals to nil. From there the Dogs were an irresistible force that the Dockers simply couldn’t stop.

The tidal wave of run off the Bulldogs’ half backline produced some extraordinary numbers for their running defenders with Jason Johannisen and ex Sydney Swan Shane Biggs both finishing with 35 possessions each and evergreen captain Robert Murphy Finishing with 31 touches. All three of players are damaging users of the ball so when they post these sort of numbers it spells doom for the opposition side. Shane Biggs might be a player the Sydney Swans rue letting go, while the Swans search for some quality ball users off half back young Biggs is setting up his Bulldogs teammates with his arrow like passes.

Another game in the perfect conditions of Etihad Stadium against a young St Kilda side is what the Dogs face in Round 2. I think the feeling towards the Saints this week will be Good Luck!!!

FREMANTLE: Bad performances like these leave the Dockers open to the inevitable questions surrounding an ageing team that has been up for several years. Has this mighty team reached its summit and are now descending the mountain? Or are we just jumping at shadows after Round 1? One thing is for certain the Dockers are a much better team than the one that did (or didn’t) turn up to Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Ross Lyon game plan is based around hard, tough, accountable football that makes it hard for the opposition to score. For a long time this was a successful way for the Dockers to win a lot of games but on the weekend the Bulldogs simply blew past their Dockers opponents to score at will and the last thing the Fremantle Dockers want is a shootout; it simply is not their game. With The AFL introducing new rules to encourage free flowing high scoring football were does that leave Ross Lyon and the Fremantle Dockers? Can they change their game style to compete under these conditions? I think the answer is ‘yes’ Lyon is a smart football operator and would have seen this coming and would have plans in place for this year that won’t change after one poor performance.

The Dockers still have a lot of talent on their list and their fans will still be confident they can bounce back and win enough games to put them in contention again this year, but they may not be as confident as they were are week ago. Fremantle superstar Nat Fyfe played his worst game in recent memory against the Bulldogs but will come out breathing fire this week against the Gold Coast Suns. It’s a battle of football royalty at Domain Stadium on Saturday night with the game’s two best players Gary Ablett and Nat Fyfe set to go head to head in an epic contest that will be enthralling to watch

PORT ADELAIDE: It took Port three quarters to shake a gallant St Kilda side. But the Power split the young Saints open in the last quarter to run away with a 33 point win in an entertaining game. The shadow of last year still lingers over Port and it’s hard to know if the 2014 Port that were a kick away from the Grand Final or the 2015 Port that didn’t even make the finals are going to turn up this year. But with the quality of talent at their disposal it’s hard to see Port Adelaide missing the finals again this year. In some ways they are the dark horse of the competition the unknown quantity that on their day could beat any team.

In Robbie Gray and Chad Wingard the Power have two of the most talented and exciting footballers in the country. Robbie Gray’s performances over the last couple of seasons have elevated him into the very top tier of midfielders, he could will sit in the top three players in the league at the moment behind only Gary Ablett and Nat Fyfe. Gray’s performance on the weekend was another goal kicking midfielder masterclass finishing the game with 26 disposals and four goals. His Partner in crime Wingard was just as damaging with 21 disposals and three goals. But it isn’t just the Wingard and Gray show for Port, as they have an embarrassing amount of riches when it comes to power running goal kicking midfielders. Which was evident on the weekend with their prime midfielders combing for 12 of the team’s 20 goals. Although quiet for a lot of the first three quarters new recruit Charlie Dixon played a big part in the Power’s last quarter blitz and if he can string multiple games together this year he will be a big weapon for Port Adelaide.

A showdown with cross town rivals the Adelaide Crows is next for the Power. A win this week against a good Crows side could go along way to banishing the shadow of 2015.

ST KILDA: A brave performance from the rebuilding St Kilda side in Round 1. The Saints played an attacking entertaining brand of football against the Power and in the end were overrun by a more talented and advanced football team. But Saints fans would have finished watching the game knowing that their club is on the right track. For portions of the game the Saints looked like they may cause an upset and beat the Power, such was the football they played at certain stages in the game. Just from these early signs from the St Kilda team it looks like they will be competitive in most games and if some of the better teams aren’t on their guard the young Saints may run over them and cause an upset or two this year.

Tom Hickey’s game in the ruck was enormous with a massive 56 hit outs. Hickey has all the tools to be one of the top ruckmen in the competition and is now entering the prime of his career. Jack Steven had another big game for the Saints with 36 disposals perhaps still underrated amongst football fans I think as the Saints get better as a team he will start to get the credit he deserves. Another young Saint that caught my eye on the weekend was Eli Templeton, although the young Tasmanian didn’t get much off the ball a couple of his decisions with ball in hand and laser like passes were eye catching.

Round 2 for the Saints entails a date with the Western Bulldogs in the confines of Etihad Stadium, a game that probably looks as hard as any in AFL football at the moment.

WEST COAST: In the end the Eagles just eased their way into the 2016 season with a 10 goal win over the Brisbane Lions. The Lions did their best to keep up with the high scoring Eagles, but in the end were blown away by the forward line power of the home team. If the AFL’s vision for the future of the game revolves around high scoring then the West Coast Eagles should be their poster boys. The boys from the West are going to kick some monster scores against the weaker teams this year.

If the Eagles midfield wins their fair share of the ball a forward line of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling Mark LeCras and Josh Hill will do the rest. But winning their share of the ball against the other top teams will be the biggest challenge for the Eagles this year. West Coast lack the Midfield depth and talent the other top four or five sides boast. A fact that was highlighted on Grand Final Day when the Eagles lost the disposal count by 115 and had 19 fewer inside 50 entries. The addition of Jack Redden to the team this year will give the West Coast midfield some more grunt and lighten the heavy burden carried by their champion midfielder Matt Priddis, who just blew out the preseason cobwebs with a lazy 43 possessions against the Lions. One weapon the Eagles midfield have that no other team does is Nic Naitanui this guy is scary and you get the feeling there is still another couple of levels for the ruckman’s game to reach. The sight of Naitanui having 22 disposals and more importantly kicking two goals will send shock waves around the league. The continual shoulder problems of Jeremy McGovern are a real concern for the Eagles, McGovern is one of the best marks in the league and provides West Coast with great flexibility.

A shot at redemption awaits the Eagles in Round 2, with a Grand Final replay against the mighty Hawthorn at the MCG. While a round two win against the Hawks won’t make up for last year’s Grand Final defeat it is a chance for some of the Eagles players to atone for poor games in last year’s decider.

BRISBANE: A tough way for the Lions to start the year, but the fact they managed to kick 100 points against last year’s runners up is an encouraging sign for coach Justin Leppitsch. Kicking goals was a real problem for the Lions last year and although they have a good group of talented key position players, these young boys are going to need a couple of seasons to develop. The recruitment of Josh Walker was a smart one; the Lions needed a work horse, a competitive soldier to shield the bodies of the young Lions forwards for a couple of seasons. While Walker has his limitations as a player he is a tireless worker who gets to a lot of contests, and the Brisbane forward line will function much better this year with him there. A fully fit Brisbane Lions team is a competitive unit but with a lot of young developing players on their list they lack the depth most other clubs have and injuries to a couple of key players means the Lions fall away quiet quickly.

There was plenty of positives to come out of the Lions round one match with first gamer Josh Schache kicking two goals, Lewis Taylor and Allen Christensen combining for six goals and Pearce Hanley and captain Tom Rockliff making it through the game without injury. Last season’s injuries to Hanley and Rockliff really rocked the Lions, and an injury free season for both is of vital importance to the young Brisbane side.

The Lions are back home at the Gabba in Round 2, but will be facing a formidable opponent in the North Melbourne Kangaroos. A competitive effort is a must in front of their home crowd.

GEELONG: The Cats faced the toughest test in football and passed. A Round 1 encounter against one of the greatest teams of all time is the stuff of nightmares for most teams. But the 2016 Geelong side is a different creature to any other in the AFL. The combination of Rhys Stanley and running machine Mark Blicavs in the middle of the ground sends confusion and panic through opposition teams, even the very best. Another tall weapon the Cats possess is Zac Smith with the ex Sun having a dream debut for his new club, kicking three goals two of which came from great forward line pressure from the 206cm ruckman. But let’s be honest this game will be remembered as the Patrick Dangerfield show. The former Adelaide Crow attacked the game like a man possessed; he was unstoppable with the only blemish on his game was a couple of easy missed shots on goal. Dangerfield played the game as if he had a point to prove to his new teammates. I think they were left sufficiently impressed. The Cats are a real unknown quantity and may catch the rest of the competition napping this year. How quickly teams can work out a plan against the unusual way the Cats team line up will be a big factor in how much they achieve this year.

The next team to be confronted with the Geelong puzzle is the GWS Giants. The Cats will see this as a winnable game a chance for a perfect start to the 2016 season.

HAWTHORN: Opposition clubs and supporters will be like circling sharks this year looking to see a weakness in this mighty team waiting for the blood in the water. A Hawks side with a few injuries at the start of the season is nothing new and just represents a new challenge to this legendary team. But how many times can this team go to the well before there is no water left.

If you had to pick three players to take out of the Hawthorn side to bring them back to the pack, Luke Hodge, Jarryd Roughead and Bradley Hill would be right up there. The first two in Hodge and Roughead are pretty obvious, they are two of the Hawks all time greatest players. But the loss of Hill can’t be underestimated, the combination of Hill and Isaac Smith on the wings is a big part of Hawthorn’s recent dominance; the running power and speed of these two players is hard for opposition teams to combat. With Hill out of the side, as was the case on the weekend, opposition teams can really clamp down on Smith without the worry of Hill getting off the leash, hence stopping a lot of the Hawks’ run. But it’s by no means panic stations for the Hawks, all it means is another couple of speed humps in the road to greatness.

A Grand Final rematch at the MCG in Round 2 should get the boys from Glenferrie excited.

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