Round One Reflections

by Nick Sculley

It’s been a long wait but the AFL has returned with a bang over the past two weeks. Hawthorn v Collingwood, North Melbourne v Essendon & Fremantle v Geelong have all staked their claims for match of the season status, whilst Scott Thompson continued his love affair with playing the Gold Coast Suns. On the flip side, all the hype surrounding the Tigers pre season form amounted to very little against Carlton on Thursday night whilst the Demons, to quote Garry Lyon, had their pants pulled down by Brisbane. With another Thursday night match in round two we don’t have to wait very long for another dose for AFL football; however some teams will be hoping next week never comes.

Josh Kennedy announces himself on the big stage
A win against the new boys is hardly the big stage, however for the Sydney Swans in recent years it has been rare for all eyes to be on them. The ex-Hawk Kennedy had an outstanding season in 2011 without receiving too much credit from the wider football community. Last Saturday night he amassed 27 possessions, two goals and 137 Supercoach points in a best-on-ground performance. Kennedy is in the same mold as many of Sydney’s recent champion midfielders including Brett Kirk and Paul Kelly, and looks a ready-made replacement for Jude Bolton in the engine room as his career draws to a close.

Richmond’s roar far more threatening than bite in Round One
A big win at Simmond’s Stadium and a close win against the flag-favorite Hawks in a round robin clash were the highlights of the Tigers pre-season. All the money leading into their clash with the Blues was for Richmond, and the football media had been caught-up in the hype. Kevin Bartlett, Daniel Harford, Jake Niall and David Schwarz, among others, had all tipped Richmond with reasonable confidence, but when it was all said and done past issues within the side still exist. Don’t get me wrong the Tigers put-up a good fight for the first three and a half quarters, however they severely ran out of puff and were guilty of not taking a few important chances. Their backline continues to lack size and experience, without the suspended Jake King Richmond’s forward pressure was below-par and Brett Deledio looked like a fish out of water at times as he had difficulties choosing when to get forward throughout the match. Carlton, on the other hand, will be happy with their performance and look set to regain a number of senior players for Thursday’s clash with the Brisbane Lions.

Hawthorn’s list is scary.
All the talk leading into the marquee match-up of round one related to the fact that Collingwood’s starting side were significantly weakened and the Hawks looked to be good things. This point was accepted as fact, with Collingwood missing the likes of Tarrant, Didak, Maxwell, Brown and Johnson. But delve a bit deeper and it could easily be argued that the players missing for Hawthorn were of far greater significance. Roughead, Hodge, Shiels, Puopolo, Bailey, Gilham and Shiels were all missing from a round one side that comfortably accounted for last year’s beaten grand finalists. Be very afraid of the Hawks in 2012.
Special mentions go to Scott Pendlebury, Sam Mitchell and Buddy Franklin for producing exceptional individual games on Friday night.

Melbourne’s forward line are capable of producing mark of the week every time they hit the field, but where are the crummers??
Mitch Clark, Jack Watts, Jeremy Howe, Stefan Martin, Ricky Petterd, Lynden Dunn; sounds like a reasonably imposing forward line right? Add to that Tom McDonald, named best-on-ground in the VFL on Saturday, and Colin Sylvia and the Dees look capable of kicking a winning score week-in week-out in theory. But when the ball hits the deck who will be there to snap-up the crums? On Saturday Melbourne continually bombed the ball long to packs and inevitably, when the ball was brought to ground, the Brisbane defenders mopped up and cleared the ball out of defence. It’s obvious to me that Melbourne and Mark Neeld have, not surprisingly, adopted the Collingwood approach of shifting the ball methodically around the boundary before entering their attacking 50. But Clark and Watts are not Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes, atleast not yet. And, more importantly, players of the ilk of Krakeour, Sidebottom, Blair and even Swan are missing from Melbourne’s list. Something has to change, and unless Aaron Davey can revert back from the defensive style of game he has played for the past few seasons, Demons fans could be waiting yet another year for their side to fulfill their promise.

The Gold Coast Suns need to hire a sniper to take-out Scott Thompson before their next encounter.
After picking up 51 disposals against the Suns last season, the Gold Coast could be forgiven for enlisting a three man tag-team to lock down on Scott Thompson when they met in round one on Saturday. And yet when it was all said and done the ex-Demon had amassed a lazy 39 touches in a head-to-head duel with Gary Ablett, who for his part gathered 42 possessions of his own. The Crows never really hit top gear, nor were they required to, yet the form of Walker and Tippett up forward will have new coach Brenton Sanderson licking his lips in anticipation. The pair combined for nine goals and, although their accuracy was worrying at times, look set to forge a dynamic partnership in 2012.

No premiership hangover for Geelong but hoodoo out west continues
Even in 2011, when Geelong took all before them and took out the premiership, the Cats struggled to find their feet out west. A hard-fought early season victory over the Dockers followed by a loss at the hands of the Eagles in the second half of the season only aides to emphasize that point. On Saturday night, in an epic encounter, the Dockers prevailed by four points. What we have learned in round one is that Ross Lyon will have immediate results at the helm of a new side, Geelong have lost none of their hunger for the contest, and Hayden Ballantyne has rocketed to the top of many AFL fan’s love-to-hate list. He is, undeniably, an emerging young star in the game but it’s his ability to get under the oppositions skin that has the football world talking. On a Saturday night which featured two classic encounters this clash won on points.

Wanted: A new whipping boy for Essendon supporters
Brent Stanton was the star performer in the AFL in round one. Not only did Stanton amass the highest Supercoach total of round one (180), he also gathered 35 disposals and slotted two crucial goals. The Dons secured an important win, albeit aided by a Hamish McIntosh missed shot after the siren, and they will enter round two against Port Adelaide full of confidence. North Melbourne started brilliantly, dropped off in the middle and finished off like a runaway freight train. Unfortunately in this day and age that just doesn’t cut it. Just as an aside; is there any player in the competition that competes in the air better than North’s Drew Petrie? He is an absolute gem and hopefully has an injury-free season.

So which Josh Kennedy is better?
Who cares! They’re both absolute gems and the West Coast’s incarnation rekindled his love affair with playing the Western Bulldogs yesterday. After booting ten against the Dogs at Subi in 2011 Kennedy wasted little time stamping his mark on yesterday’s clash, booting his first of seven majors in the first minute. His seven goal haul is even more impressive due to the fact that it came after not having a solid hit out in the pre-season competition. For Bulldogs fans there would have been smiles from ear-to-ear watching the debut of Clay Smith. The Gippsland Power-product booted four goals in his first three quarters of league footy before being subbed off with cramp. Luke Dahlhaus’ star looks set to rise yet again in 2012 after a great first-up performance yesterday, although it’s surely concerning that two of their best players have been in the system for less than two years.

St.Kilda’s flaws revealed in powerful fashion
Ask any St.Kilda supporter what the main weaknesses of their side is and they will tell you pace, lack of contested ball winners and an undersized and, currently, under-strength defensive half. So what are Port Adelaide’s strengths? A number of tall, marking forward options (Butcher, Schulz, Stewart), some of the most competitive inside midfielders in the league (Cornes, Thomas, Cassisi) and some exciting youth with pace (Hartlett, Boak, Wingard). Don’t get me wrong, the Saints should be winning games like yesterdays convincingly if they want to play finals footy once again in 2012, but yesterday displayed that there is still a helluva lot of work to do for Scott Watters and his team. Port Adelaide couldn’t have wished for a better start to their season, and look set to at least become a more competitive side in 2012.

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