A complicated look at uncomplicated topics to ameliorate your day.
Essendon @ North Melbourne (Nth Melb – 12.5)
After a groundswell of support for North Melbourne and their chances this year over the pre-season, we are left with a sour taste in our mouth. I was one who was happily drinking the North Melbourne cool-aid and although I am not off the bandwagon, it was a big hit early in the season.
North had all of its key parts on the field and should have been ready to fire. The disparity in statistics (-160 disposals, -22 clearances and -20 I50) is alarming but it is not the immediate concern. Player performance and the numbers are not going to be consistent week to week so that can easily turn around. What was more alarming was the complete lack of respect North Melbourne seemed to show for a team that amassed 14 wins last season and mid season were top 3 contenders. Essendon were always likely to show it’s best early in the season and came ready to explode at Etihad Stadium. The Roos were not ready to accept the challenge that Watson, Chapman and Goddard presented from the very beginning.
There seemed to be no willingness from the coaches to quell Watson’s influence on the game in the first half. It seemed a mix of Ziebell and Cunnington responsible for Watson was the formula and it was evidently an egregious mistake for the Roos. Neither are pure defensive players and lacked the awareness to shut down Jobe at many different junctures in the game. The message from the bench, leaders and coaches box should have been unconditional to shut down one of the games elite players. He was the difference in the first half and ultimately the game.
There were stages where North were back within a kick or two and with a defensive mindset could have gone into the half at arms length ready to launch an assault in the second half. Instead, much of the same continued with Heppell joining the party and the dons stretching it’s legs to assert a comprehensive beat down of a paltry North Melbourne side.
The Roos appear to have players like Atley, McMillian, Wright, Gibson and Hansen who have some promise but no real substance to their games. They present with some style and captivate the hope of fans but leave a lot to be desired in the crunch moments. Wells was superbly curbed by Hocking who was also a factor in the coal face, Harvey is not on the right side of 30 and Petrie cannot be the match winner game in and game out. The Ziebell, Cunnington, Bastinac types appear ready to take over the leadership mantle but at this point, for what ever reason cannot seem to jump to the required level.
The Roos may bounce back in what shapes as a perfect spot next week against the Dogs. The Dogs come off a trip to Perth and face a North side with a point to prove. The game will hide away on the Sunday afternoon time slot and North will probably come out and kick 120+ points and warm the seats of its loyal fans again. We wont learn too much from the Roos next week in my opinion but after games against Port Adelaide (ES) and Sydney (SCG) we should get an indication of whether they will be a mediocre team with potential or a genuine top 6 team with a sneaky top 4 chance as many predicted before the season.
A quick word on the Bombers, they were very impressive. They controlled the game from the start and when their guns fire like they did, they should be almost unbeatable. The problem for the Dons is that the great teams wont allow that sort of a leash to Goddard, Watson and Heppell. Hurley solidifies the back 6 and Hibberd is an important cog back there bringing the ball out of the back half. Hooker is limited but plays to his strengths a lot of the time and Ryder can assume the ruck mantle for the first 6 weeks. Once again they dealt with the off field turmoil during the day and proved a point on the big stage.
Brisbane @ Hawthorn (Hawthron – 44.5)
This game went pretty much to script. The reigning premiers down at Aurora Stadium showed they are not ready for another premiership hangover. They won the game with class and experience.
The stats said this game should be close. Hawthorn were +2 in clearances and +3 I50. Not a huge discrepancy and showed the elite foot skills and efficiency in the forward half make a huge difference. Looking at the 3 quarter time score tells the story too (13.8 to 8.13). The Hawks kicked away in the final term and took away a comfortable first round win.
Bruest and Roughead finished with 5 goals each and Liam Shiels was prolific after a minor dip in his productivity last season. The Hawks wont want to be peaking in March or April so I do not expect stellar form in the coming weeks but they are good enough to win just about every game and will be favourite for every game.
Melbourne @ StKilda (Melbourne -12.5)
I am sure Mr. Demetriou was thrilled to have Paul Roos back to guide the Melbourne ship this season but it seems he brought back his UGLY football (probably unfair on Roos). Not a great game to watch and not one for the ages. 10 goals to 6 and we probably should have seen this coming.
StKilda are widely regarded as a legitimate wooden spoon candidate and managed 10 majors after Nick Reiwoldt carried his side over the line. That was expected but 6 goals from Melbourne was probably almost as obvious had we seen that Hogan, Clark, Jamar, Garland and Dawes were missing.
The Demons shouldn’t be worried about another Mark Neeld type season. Controlling the ball and therefore the game seems to be the modus operandi at the moment for this side. +60 disposals and +9 I50 usually gets you a win over a bottom 4 side like StKilda but the Dees just couldn’t convert. I wouldn’t be thrilled with a round 1 loss but the direction and future is far brighter than this time last year for the Demons. Looking at their disposal efficiency after round 1 and they sit second in amongst Essendon, Hawthorn and Geelong at 77.9%. If they maintain this and fix up a few other parts of their game the future is not too bleak. A few players pumped back into that forward line and this team could be a pest for most teams outside the top 8.
Nick Reiwoldt again solidified his champion status in the AFL. He was superb and continues to roll out elite performances. You just have to wonder where this side would be without him. The Saints are the easiest team to dislike this year but they could grab a few wins and reach 4 or 5 by the season’s end.
Western Bulldogs @ West Coast Eagles (West Coast – 31.5)
A big mover in pre-season ladder predictions, the West Coast Eagles showed they have the weapons to jump into the top 8 under Adam Simpson. A bumper pre-season foreshadowed this performance in round 1. There is hot competition for spots and the team is playing well under the new coaching regime.
The writing was on the wall by half time and the second half wasn’t worth watching for the Doggies’ fans. Class, hard running and multiple weapons inside the forward half was the highlight for the Eagles. Their midfield bats very deep and the 3 pronged ruck attack seems viable for now. They are a genuine top 6 prospect right now. Injuries hammered their season last year so that is the one caveat on them going deep into September as for most teams who don’t have supreme depth on their list.
The Bulldogs looked a bit overawed by the pressure and relentless attack by the Eagles. The midfield was soundly beaten and had little potency going forward. Higgins kicked a couple of nice goals and seems to be perfectly positioned back into the Shaun Higgins tease mode. Macrae showed his has all the talent and could develop into a good midfielder sooner than we might have thought. They are much more capable under the roof at the Dome.