THE NEAFL was supposed to have been a vastly inferior competition to the VFL.
One round might be an impossibly small sample size to make a true judgment on that belief, but it took just one day of football to show that any Victorian team which underestimates one from Queensland at least will be made to pay the ultimate price.
First the Brisbane Lions extended their winning streak to 21 with a 66-point belting of Essendon at Moreton Bay, then Aspley made a statement to the competition by kicking 10 goals in the first quarter to belt Port Melbourne by 53 points at Graham Rd Reserve.
ALL THE BEST The VFL players of round one
But it was Southport who faced the biggest test in travelling to Melbourne to take on Carlton at IKON Park and the Sharks delivered a message of their own, coming from 31 points down 25 minutes into the third quarter to win a one-point heartstopper.
In Queensland, the Hornets ambushed the Borough with an opening salvo of five goals in 11 minutes and eight of the first nine to have the match won before it really started.
They led by 48 points at quarter-time and held Port at arm’s length for the rest of the day in a big victory headed by dual NEAFL leading goalkicker Matt Hammelman’s 4.4, while former AFL Kangaroo and Lion Ryan Bastinac was irrepressible with 35 disposals, five tackles and three goals.
Veteran champion Matthew Payne made the step up with aplomb, clocking up 27 touches and two goals, while Connor Stackelberg also snared three.
The biggest positive for Port Melbourne came from Anthony Anastasio, who returned from two years out to kick three goals, while Harvey Hooper (24) and skipper Tom O’Sullivan (23) also shone.
Southport kicked the first goal at IKON Park before Carlton took control for three quarters, thanks to a best-afield display from Liam Stocker at half-back.
Stocker had 31 disposals, 13 marks and a goal in a dominant display that was ably supported by debutant Stefan Radovanovic as the Blues looked to have all the answers in their first game as a standalone reserves team in 19 years.
Dominant ruckman Fraser Thurlow (49 hitouts, two goals), Brayden Crossley and co-captain Andrew Boston (27) kept the Sharks within striking distance and their Western Bulldogs recruits showed why they were chased so hard.
Billy Gowers kicked six goals and handed two more to Connor Nutting (three), while Lukas Webb worked his way into the game after a slow start and ended up the hero, coolly slotting home the winner from a free kick for a high tackle 15 metres out in the final minute.
The Brisbane Lions kicked seven goals to one in the opening quarter and led by 69 points at half-time to put paid to Essendon’s chances, with Rhys Mathieson having 31 touches and Connor Ballenden 29 and 15 marks.
Mason Cox was held to 10 disposals and two goals, but Collingwood held on for a seven-point upset of Werribee at Avalon Airport Oval.
Jay Rantall and Tyler Brown were outstanding for the Magpies, while Matt Hanson and Liston Medallist Tom Gribble led the way for the Tigers.
Sydney outclassed Greater Western Sydney by 26 points in the Sydney Derby at Tramway Oval, with Hayden McLean and Harry Morrison kicking three each and Colin O’Riordan, Lewis Taylor and Ryan Clarke having 30-plus disposals each, while Jesse Hogan (three goals) warmed Giants’ hearts.
The only NEAFL team to falter against VFL opposition was the injury-riddled Gold Coast, which went down to Footscray by 67 points at VU Whitten Oval on the back of five goals from Josh Schache, while No.1 draft pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan kicked two.
Brayden Fiorini and Will Brodie were best for the Suns.
Friday April 16
RICHMOND 13.17 (95)
SANDRINGHAM 7.13 (55)
FRANKSTON 20.6 (126)
COBURG 14.12 (96)
Saturday April 17
ASPLEY 20.13 (133)
PORT MELBOURNE 12.8 (80)
SOUTHPORT 17.7 (109)
CARLTON 16.12 (108)
BRISBANE LIONS 15.14 (104)
ESSENDON 5.8 (38)
SYDNEY 15.6 (96)
GWS GIANTS 10.10 (70)
FOOTSCRAY 16.13 (109)
GOLD COAST 6.6 (42)
COLLINGWOOD 10.9 (69)
WERRIBEE 9.8 (62)