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After the siren: Crunch time after one round? You'd better believe it

Ashley Browne  March 28, 2016 7:07 PM

The 10: round one's best moments There was a lot of thrilling action in the opening round of the season

• Nine things we learned from round one

COLLINGWOOD and Fremantle both opened the new AFL season with stinkers and the soul-searching and the introspection started pretty much straight away.

Excellent work at the trade table and a promising NAB Challenge made the Magpies the trendy finals – and even top-four – pick in various pre-season prognostications, but nobody foresaw an 80-point loss to a Sydney Swans outfit that entered the SCG clash with questions of its own.

The temptation is to put the SCG effort down to a bad Saturday night at the office as the Pies were out-hustled and smacked in every statistical category that mattered.

Did the drugs story play its part? Possibly. The change in venue? You would hope not. Losing Dane Swan as early as they did also was significant, but it was an alarming performance after such a solid build-up.

It is straight back to business for the Pies, and Friday night against Richmond will be massive. It's a crunch game already and it's only round two.

Fremantle's 65-point capitulation to the Western Bulldogs was even more alarming, if such a thing is possible. We wrote after Fremantle's exited last year's finals that the Dockers might have blown their best chance yet to win the premiership, and we are more convinced now.

Kicking just 5.8 on a picture-perfect day against a good but not great Western Bulldogs defence is a huge concern and it would seem the Dockers have gone yet another summer without adequately addressing their lack of scoring power, while surely losing the contested possession count by 43 is a figure that really stands out.

The Dockers are on our must-watch list. A home game against Gold Coast next week allows for a bounce back of sorts, but if they continue to struggle against the better teams and an assault on the top four becomes unlikely, you wonder whether Ross Lyon, now armed with the security of a five-year contract extension, strips back the team and starts embarking on a rebuild knowing that the present squad has already fired its best shot.

How the Dockers must hate to see homesick GWS forward Cam McCarthy living in their city but tantalisingly out of their reach.

Of course, let's not distract from the victors here. The Swans were tremendous and reminded us of how much better they are with Kieren Jack and Luke Parker in their midfield and Lance Franklin prowling where he chooses. How good was it to see the big No.23 fit, firing and in love with the game once more.

The Bulldogs continued right from where they left off last year. Noticeably stronger and with more flexibility, they look even better with the return of Tom Liberatore and the addition of the classy Matt Suckling, and are making those of us who tipped big things from them in 2016 already feel good about ourselves.

• Who fired for your club in this weekend's state leagues?

Seven-year itch

That massive sigh of relief you heard around 10pm Saturday night was from 25,000 or so North Melbourne supporters departing Etihad Stadium.

For the first time in Brad Scott's seven years as coach, the Kangas were first-round winners, and for a team looking to take the next step in 2016, which in the case of North is making the Grand Final, it was something of a breakthrough.

By making the last two preliminary finals, North Melbourne has demonstrated that an 0-1 start to the season is not catastrophic by any stretch, but the Kangas have played catch-up footy the last two seasons and have made the final four the hard way, by winning through from the elimination final and not having much left in the tank come the penultimate weekend.

Brent Harvey and Daniel Wells embrace after the final siren. Picture: AFL Media

 

In 2015 they were 5-6 and 12th on the ladder at the half-way mark of the season, while last year they turned for home at 7-4, but still only in seventh place, so you can understand the urgency at North to bank as many early wins as it can this time around.

The Kangas changed things up over the summer in a bid to rid themselves of the first-round blues. Football director Geoff Walsh told AFL.com.au it was a case of being well prepared for the start of the season,"but it's a very long season and in the past we have taken more of a long-term view.

"This year we played a couple of internal games as well as the three NAB Challenge games. About 40 players on the list played games and we were in good shape."

With the Brisbane Lions and Melbourne next on their schedule, North has the opportunity to make a flying start to the season and entrench itself for now in the top four.

Losers are grinners

Which supporters were wearing the wider grins on the train home from the MCG on Friday night? That would be the Carlton fans, surprised and thrilled that their side ran Richmond to within 10 points at the MCG on Thursday night in a thoroughly entertaining opening to the new season.

If not for a few too many turnovers, the Blues might have pinched the game and given the Brendon Bolton era a rousing beginning.

There was plenty to like about the Blues. Much has already been made about the composed debut of No.1 pick Jacob Weitering, but what also stood out was the brilliant performance of skipper Marc Murphy, who racked up 27 touches in his first meaningful hitout of the year.

Murphy moved as well as he has for years, and we sometimes forget that only a few years back he was one of the premier midfielders in the competition. For various reasons, perhaps including the captaincy, he has struggled of late, but the spark was back on Thursday night.

The next captain of Carlton was also pretty good. Patrick Cripps was the talk of the summer, the Blues were happy to talk him up and he backed it up with 27 touches, 16 of which were contested, as well as 10 clearances.

Carlton's forward pressure was impressive – almost manic at times – while the defensive structures stood up for the most part. There were glimpses of Hawthorn in how the Blues went about it and supporters are going to enjoy the rebuild of their club as it is overseen by Bolton, who is right up to speed with how the game is played in 2016. 

As for the Tigers, they were scratchy, but they have four points in their kit bag and they move on to the Magpies.

'D' is for depth

There was a bit to like about Melbourne's win on Saturday, particularly the barnstorming finish against a Greater Western Sydney side that until three-quarter time had been untidy in front of goal but otherwise looking good things to get the four points.

But there was even more to like downstairs in the rooms afterwards as the Demons belted out their song.

New Demons Tomas Bugg, Clayton Oliver and Ben Kennedy celebrate the win. Picture: AFL Media

Standing along the wall taking it all in were Christian Petracca, Angus Brayshaw, Lynden Dunn, Jack Grimes, Jack Trengove and Heritier Lumumba.

That's the No.2 and No.3 draft picks from 2014, a 2010 premiership player, a 10-year veteran and two former club captains.

Whether all six would make Melbourne's best 22 is debatable. Trengove has played just two games the last two seasons because of a major foot injury.

But it speaks to the depth the Demons are now establishing and it is another clear indication that the "decade from hell" is coming to an end.

Coach Paul Roos said afterwards that his side was far more interchangeable now than it had been in his time at the club. On Saturday he threw Jesse Hogan into the midfield, Nathan Jones off half-back and Jeff Garlett on to the wing.

He added what the handy bunch of players leaning against the wall in the rooms dressed in their civvies now indicates, that the Demons have real depth, with as many as 30 players to choose from, and that to get a game now it has to be on merit rather than potential and hope, which has been the story at Melbourne for far too long.

"We have more to work with and more to move around," he said.

The Demons will start warm favourites to beat Essendon at the MCG on Saturday. Take care of business there and they will have their first 2-0 to a season since 2005.

• Rising Star Oliver delivers on early promise

More observations

Hawthorn's three-peat of premierships have been won notwithstanding considerable hardship each season with injury, illness and other distractions. Should the Hawks win it again this year, the adversity element has already set in with skipper Luke Hodge (arm) set to join Liam Shiels, Brad Hill and of course, Jarryd Roughead on an extended injury list. With no reinforcements due back any time soon, and with West Coast and the Western Bulldogs next on their slate, a 0-3 start to the season would not surprise.

• Hawk skipper's arm blow
• How the fans saw the Cats-Hawks blockbuster

Melbourne's Clayton Oliver gets the nod here for the opening NAB AFL Rising Star nomination after a cracking debut for Melbourne that included 17 possessions (11 contested) and five clearances in the first half alone. But it was a great weekend all up for debutants, and Weitering, Darcy Parish (Essendon) and Tom Papley (Sydney Swans) also have strong claims.

Cue the calls to scrap the NAB Challenge altogether from some quarters after Gary Ablett's 34-disposal, seven-tackle performance for Gold Coast against Essendon. The superstar simply doesn't believe in playing any form of pre-season football and when he looks that sharp in his first game of the year, who can argue?

Underdone and a bit undermanned, the Brisbane Lions were never going to knock over the Eagles at Domain Stadium. But they kicked 15.12, which was a reasonable effort and they stuck at it. Their season effectively starts on Saturday against North at the Gabba.

We thought the same thing about the Saints, given their first home game is Saturday night when Nick Riewoldt celebrates his 300th game. But they were good for large parts against Port Adelaide on Sunday until the legs (and if you believe the coach, their nerve) started to wane. They might be better than we first thought.