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Barrett: The trouble with Max, what's up at Tullamarine?

No passion, no care, no hardness: Bombers 'spooked' Access All Areas is back with 'grave concerns' for Dons, questions for Crows, and a new 'Turtle'

THE GREAT players – and with two All Australian blazers we're prepared to put Max Gawn into that category – respond to the biggest challenges.

Which is why we can't wait for 7.25pm next Saturday night at GMHBA Stadium.

Gawn's past two premiership season matches have been dreadful, and for the first time since he surged to status as the game's best ruck, he is vulnerable. Clubs now know that a certain tactic can work against him. 

WATCH How big are the Demons' question marks?

There were many reasons West Coast won last year's premiership. The manner in which their big men Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy double-teamed and dismantled Gawn and his ruck partner in last year's All Australian team, Brodie Grundy, in the preliminary and Grand Finals respectively, was arguably the biggest.

Ken Hinkley ordered the same harassing tactics be applied to Gawn at the MCG on Saturday, again with telling effect. Power recruit Lycett must have briefed Hinkley and his ruck partner Paddy Ryder on how it went down in the preliminary final.

Every Port player was in on the plan, which rattled Gawn.  Even Steven Motlop was prepared to be overtly physical in certain moments involving the Demons big man.

Gawn's next assignment is Geelong's Rhys Stanley, a ruckman not known for his physicality but one who impressively contributed to his side's big win on Friday night against Collingwood when he outplayed Grundy at key moments.

 

Like Gawn, Grundy's past two matches haven't been good compared with his previous 20.

On Saturday night in the Cats' first home game of the season, one would think Chris Scott would do as Adam Simpson and Hinkley have done against Gawn in his past two games, and order Esava Ratugolea and others to play with his mind through physical intimidation. Joel Selwood won't need to be told. 

This is where Braydon Preuss might be unleashed. Gawn might need him. Bring it on.

FROM THE TWOS Who shone in your side's practice matches? 

The Dogs have found their next superstar

Wish Aaron Naughton was an ASX commodity. We'd be buying up every single share in him.

At 19 and with just 19 matches to his name, Naughton is already an AFL force, and on a path that is guaranteed to lead to superstardom.

ANALYSIS Naughton switch could be a Bevo masterstroke

In his 2018 debut season, he missed four games with an ankle injury yet incredibly finished fourth in the Bulldogs' best-and-fairest.

His numbers are one thing, and on Saturday night in the Bulldogs' solid win against Sydney his key stats were five marks inside 50m by halfway through the third quarter as well as three goals. 

But the key to this kid is his presence. He's good, he knows it, he's happy to let opponents know it, and he's got an old-fashioned footy brain which gets him to the right spots every single time. He had the maturity and smarts to take himself down back late against the Swans, and helped save the game with some key plays.

Recruited as a defender, Naughton might be the best Dogs' key forward since Chris Grant. 

An un-Thor-tunate situation

All the focus on Saturday night at Marvel Stadium was on the corporate suite given to Chris 'Thor' Hemsworth and his Hollywood mate Matt Damon.

 

But as of Sunday evening, all attention will be given to the green stuff. As in, the badly shifting and seemingly unsafe grass on the wing area.

UNDER REVIEW AFL to look at shifting Marvel Stadium turf

Bulldog Matt Suckling, who has a bad history of feet problems, dangerously slid when he planted his foot when preparing to kick, and yesterday Suns captain David Swallow also slipped because of the poor state of the grass.

With Alex Rance, Tom Doedee and Ed Vickers-Willis all sustaining season-ending knee injuries in round one in 'normal' incidents, the AFL cannot present substandard surfaces to players. 

The AFLPA needs to be very, very strong on this. It should refuse to play at the venue in the two games scheduled for round two, unless a guarantee can be provided that the Suckling and Swallow incidents won't be repeated.

WATCH Players go down as grass gives way

Something's wrong at Tullamarine

Some Essendon people bristle at the suggestion the Bombers failed to meet expectations last year.

They say the outside projections did not match the internal ones, and that a 12-win season after a 2-6 start was in the ball park of acceptability.

Wonder if they will agree with the outside view of what happened yesterday against GWS? That they turned it up?

In securing Devon Smith, Jake Stringer and Adam Saad in 2017 and then Dylan Shiel last year, the Bombers have compiled a list which shouldn't be getting beaten in the manner of yesterday.

One thing we have learnt not to do is make sweeping judgments on the events of the first round of any season. But something is very wrong. The team simply can't deal with any form of public expectation.

John Worsfold's first season as coach was an understandable write-off. But he's now into his fourth season and we still don't know what the Bombers under his watch actually stand for.

Dylan Shiel soaks up the magnitude of the defeat against his former side. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Watts on the up

Loved Jack Watts' actions, but more so his words, on the weekend.

"I'd cop more shit from people saying I'm no good at footy for 1000 years compared to what I've been through the last few months," he said after playing a key role in Port's big win against his old team Melbourne.

Watts stuffed up in the off-season. But he didn't break any laws, and there's not person in the world who hasn't done something they wouldn't have done with hindsight. 

Watts is going to finish his career with 200 AFL matches (currently 173), too. Sure, he's been a frustration to many people, but don't ever call him a footy bust.

Clarko's done it again

The evolution of James Sicily is near-complete. He is A-grade, without doubt.

And James Worpel is tracking that way, too. That duo, along with Jaeger O'Meara, led Hawthorn to an upset win against the Crows in round one.

 

With games against the Bulldogs, North Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton among their next five assignments, there's no reason the Hawks can't set up yet another finals mission.

And if the finals look likely, the broken-legged Tom Mitchell will play this year, too. Well, that's our prediction, anyway.

The kids are all right

Geelong did it, so too Port Adelaide. Play the kids, draw on their raw and wide-eyed enthusiasm, and win.

Tom Atkins, Gryan Miers, Jordan Clark and Charlie Constable for the Cats; Willem Drew, Xavier Duursma, Zak Butters and Connor Rozee for the Power.

Ultimately, the Cats and Port won because of their seasoned stars like Paddy Dangerfield and Travis Boak, but the injection of youth was crucial to the season-opening wins.

 
Paying the price

Every pre-season clubs tell us they won't play underdone stars in round one. 

And every single round one fixture has teams filled with underdone stars. 

Buddy Franklin wasn't right to play for the Swans against the Bulldogs. Jack Viney and Nathan Jones seemingly weren't ready for the Demons' game against Port Adelaide.

Richmond took the risk with Tom Lynch, and got away with it, quite possibly because it was Carlton as an opponent and not West Coast.

ANALYSIS 'Rusty' Lynch finds a way

Panic stations or reality check?

Collingwood, Melbourne, West Coast, Adelaide and Sydney all lost as favourites in round one.

Cause for panic? Or simply not adequately ready for round one? 

To us, it is the latter. But at least one of those five is going to be 0-2 after next weekend, with Sydney at home to Adelaide on Friday night. 

Hogan's 'hero'

Cam McCarthy wouldn't have been playing against North Melbourne yesterday if his mate Jesse Hogan hadn't gone on a bender last weekend. 

And there's some irony in that, given McCarthy's own occasional issues in his social life.

McCarthy has always been elite football talent, though – there was a period in 2014 when he was at the Giants that he loomed as talented as any GWS player.

Let's hope that his round one reprieve finally makes him realise that he doesn't have many chances left. 

His five goals against the Roos on Sunday were top shelf. The bonus for the Dockers is that Hogan will now have to earn a spot. Surely that will be via the WAFL.

WATCH McCarthy's five lights up Optus Stadium

The Roos' performance was nearly as disastrous as the Bombers'. They allowed the Dockers to look as attacking as Geelong of 1992 and Essendon of 2000. 

Missing Linc worth the wait

Lincoln McCarthy first played AFL in 2012. He played his 30th game on Saturday night, his first for his second club, the Brisbane Lions. 

Geelong always knew he was a talent, but in the way footy sometimes works, he and club simply needed to part at the end of last year.

ANALYSIS The Linc and Charlie Show proves an instant hit 

Four goals for the Lions against West Coast was a great contribution in a win for a team which privately thinks it could be finals bound.

Charlie Cameron's return was actually the biggest Lions' plus on the night. 

 
Maybe, finally, it's this year for the Giants

Unlike other clubs, the Giants didn't risk an underdone Josh Kelly, and it didn't matter. Stephen Coniglio and Tim Taranto, who we're tipping to be All Australian this year, dominated against the Bombers in his absence. 

Fittest team in the comp? Ouch

The only good thing for the Saints in their game against the Suns on Sunday was the final siren. When it sounded, they happened to be one point up.

St Kilda football operations boss Simon Lethlean said recently: "I don't think any club will know what they will get against Saints at Marvel. We're the fittest team in the comp, in our view and we will run teams off their legs." 

If that's the best the "fittest team in the comp" can do against the battling Suns, then it's going to be an even longer season than we already know it will be.

Twitter: @barrettdamian

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs