Round 1 Review
What a weekend of football - enormous upsets, a couple of thrillers and confirmation we are in for a great season with fans back in the stands once again.
Slightly different format to the review this year. Let's get straight into it...
Watch for a few odd hot-takes after only a week of footy: a few Round 1 losers have already been condemned even though most were super competitive. Geelong and Brisbane failed against two bottom-four sides from last season - some suggested the short off-season for the finalists might have been a factor. Yeah, don't think so.
The man on the mark tweak might have a few little teething issues (one player manned the mark on his knees at one stage, not knowing if he was allowed to get to his feet), but it seems like it has had a dramatic effect on opening the game up. Feel like it might be masking issues with the protected area rule though - just seems like an impossible rule to umpire consistently.
Early days, but it looks like a lot of players were caught between coming forward and folding back to defend over the weekend. There could be a number of factors causing it - rule changes, changes in game style not quite nailed just yet, a lot of young players - but it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few weeks. All we know is that tackling and pressure was well down on previous years. Watch this space once we have a few more rounds worth of data to see if it's a general pattern or not.
Gee, the games feel super long. Particularly if scoring increases a little as a result of the rule changes. Is the half-time break too long? Are the quarters even starting on time? Are there a few time-on leaks which extend the game further unnecessarily? Should be interesting to monitor throughout the year - those 7:50pm starts on a Friday night in the middle of winter could make it hard to get to the end without nodding off on the couch.
A lot of talk about disappointing crowd numbers, even with the 50% restriction in Victoria. Has anyone looked at how difficult it is to actually get a ticket given the protocols and processes at the moment? One of footy's great strengths was being able to decide to grab a group of friends and wander into the game on a whim - those days are gone for now. The lack of walk-up tickets (for obvious reasons) might play a bigger role than people think, especially since those expressing their disappointment generaly hold a media pass so they've never had to worry...
Who Won The Round?
Has to be the Saints. A critical win given their tough next five weeks (including a three week stretch against the Eagles, Tigers and Power), conditions that probably didn't suit their game style all that much (just a single contested mark for the match), and full of quality given their injury list and the fact they trailed by a couple of goals mid way through the final term.
Can't underestimate how important those four points will be come the back-end of the season.
Who Lost The Round?
It's easy to head straight for Geelong and Brisbane. The Cats lost the "unloseable", the Lions lost a 33-goal shootout against a bunch of kids.
But surely it's Essendon - Hawthorn should theoretically be one of the weaker opponents they'll face through the year and they couldn't close out a 39-point half time lead.
They aren't the first team to give up a huge head start in a Round 1 match and they certainly won't be the last to blow it this year, but this was their chance to start the season off on the right foot and they couldn't get the job done. The last goal against them will be dissected within an inch of its life in the review, no doubt. Nowhere to hide for the players involved (thanks mainly to the behind goal vision).
Richmond 105 def Carlton 80
Expected score: 123 v 84
We knew it was going to be tough for the Blues to keep the scoreboard ticking over. To do it they had to find three goals between Oscar McDonald and Lachie Plowman, who between them had managed two goals in their previous 191 games.
McDonald might end up a permanent forward for the Blues, of course, but it just shows how hard they had to work for their scores. The unnecessary McKay play-on and miss close to goal was clearly the turning point - what happens if he goes back and slots it?
To the eye it looked like the 25-point margin was a little harsh on the Blues. Expected score suggests it wasn't enough. Definitely need a few more weeks before we get a sample size big enough to see who was really flattered in the end.
Ultimately it was the Tigers who were able to punish Carlton heavily on turnover - 15 scoring shots from winning the ball back between the arcs (and a whopping 75 Inside 50 entries) suggests that part of their game hasn't fallen away - they were number 1 in that area in 2020 for a reason.
It could well be the turnover/transition sides that flourish this season. Ominous signs for anyone looking to knock off the Tigers.
Western Bulldogs 69 def Collingwood 53
Expected score: 94 v 60
We predicted a Bulldogs 10-point win in this one. A classic case of being so wrong even though the margin suggests you were right.
The game played out mostly like we thought - a super brave Pies defence restricting the Bulldogs to only 69 points (inaccuracy also an issue) and then failing to find ways to score up the other end.
From the preview - "Can the Pies generate enough marks inside 50 to threaten?"
Well, no, they couldn't. Just 5 marks in their forward 50 for the night. Only the Suns and Crows had fewer F50 marks in 2020, yet in 2019 only the Bulldogs managed more than the Pies across a 22-game season.
So what's changed? In 2019 Jaidyn Stephenson managed 33 marks inside 50 and is no longer there. Will Hoskin-Elliot (25 marks inside 50 two years ago) may have changed roles slightly but he looks a shadow of the player from that season. The rest of the top six - Mihocek, Cox, De Goey and Thomas - are still there and in the senior side.
Stephenson and Hoskin-Elliot are replaceable players, so it's not like two superstars have drained them of their marking ability up forward. Is it the ball movement? Have teams worked out how to defend them? Unsure.
Is it time to go nuclear? Darcy Moore took 8 intercept marks down back and was perhaps the biggest reason they got so close, so there's no way he should move forward. Jeremy Howe might not enjoy playing forward as much, yet it might be time for a change of ends to give them something totally different.
For the Dogs, they would be pleased at their stoppage success against a pretty solid Pies midfield (3.1 from Centre Bounce, +6 in clearances overall). The Martin/English combination looks formidable even at this early stage, so if either of them can drift forward and hit the scoreboard regularly they could end up a nightmare for any opposition.
Melbourne 80 def Fremantle 58
Expected score: 100 v 70
Weird game to assess, this one. The Dees looked impressive early and had the game on their terms - low pressure (Freo managed only a 179 pressure factor), fast ball movement and a super-low stoppage count (only Gold Coast v West Coast had fewer on the weekend).
Fremantle had a hard time defending as well as getting the ball out of there, which was a massive problem. The Dees managed to win the ball back forward of centre 31 times, scored from more than half of those chances, and found 12 different players to take a mark inside 50.
When you add in the loss of Alex Pearce then Joel Hamling late, the Dockers had a game to regret. They just had to find a way to stop Melbourne's ball movement and slow the game down, something very tricky to do under the current rules. Freo still won the clearance count by 8 but just kept giving it back to Melbourne anyway. May and Lever had 11 intercept marks between them.
Can't get too excited about the win given Fremantle ended up with a few cheap goals that would've had the Melbourne coaches box going bonkers. And the Dockers midfield did have their chances at times.
Fewer stoppages across the competition might help the Demons over the course of this year and work against Fremantle overall, but we can't be sure of either side off just a single game. Jury out on both.
Adelaide 103 def Geelong 91
Expected score: 94 v 102
We often laugh at the overreaction to Round 1 results. But make no mistake, this is one of the biggest turn-ups in recent history.
If you're going to completely blindside an opponent many (including us) have tipped to win the flag, then Round 1 is a great time to do it. And they did.
The Crows had a lead from start to finish, so this wasn't a pinched game by any stretch. They did shoot the absolute lights out (interesting expected score) and a fast start early gave them the critical belief on their home deck against a team that looked like they just took the four points for granted.
Adelaide's 23-man playing group (feels weird saying that) averaged 66 matches between them. Geelong? 137. No fewer than FIFTEEN Crows players had played less than 50 games. Generally there are only two ways to win a game off that setup - the opposition just fails to show up properly, or you pinch a close one. This was definitely the former.
The preview touched on Adelaide's tendency to match up pretty well against the slower sides who weren't necessarily going to challenge them with super-quick ball movement. We just didn't expect them to be able to do it all day.
Geelong will be fine but you wonder how critical that loss might be at the other end of the year. Or whether this small sample size of low pressure, fast footy and longer quarters will end up suiting the old legs of the Cats. Time will tell.
Sydney 125 def Brisbane 94
Expected score: 99 v 74
Wow. Another upset in a game where neither side could really miss. Check out that expected score!
It has probably taken footy lovers a little too long to stop thinking of the Swans as the dour, stoppage-hungry, contested possession, low-scoring outfit they made their brand for so many successful years.
This is a different looking side with a totally different game plan, albeit under the same coach. They broke even at stoppage and smashed the Lions at midfield turnover - 10 goals to 4 proved the difference. They look well set up to take advantage of the new open ball movement with their kicking game and an honest youthful playing group willing to run and run and run.
The Lions kicked the first three and then fell in a hole. For the midfield they have it's surprising that they still have their challenges winning contested possession consistently, and on Saturday night they couldn't stop the uncontested chains of the Swans either.
Sets up a fascinating game between the Lions and Cats next Friday night.
Hawthorn 92 def Essendon 91
Expected score: 97 v 92
Oh dear. We picked the Bombers to be the best chance of an upset across the weekend (which was wrong in itself given some other results) but they couldn't hold onto a 39-point half time lead.
Essendon were +20 in contested possession and +14 Inside 50 for the first half. 16 scoring shots to 7 in two quarters. The third quarter should have been about building on that lead and keeping the pressure on.
After a pressure factor of 201 in the second quarter (roughly a finals-like figure), they then dropped to 173 and 168 in the final two quarters. Not enough to ensure your lead is protected by any stretch. It was Hawthorn who won the contested ball in the second half (+22 contested possession), gained the ascendency at stoppage (+5 clearance) and slammed on ten goals to three after half time.
A fair turnaround.
For the casual fan, the Hawthorn goalkickers list wasn't filled with any household names. Given the challenges Essendon have in defence it comes as no surprise, especially with Cale Hooker up the other end to try and fill holes in attack.
Credit to the Hawks for finding a way to get it done in a thriller after falling so far behind. The Bombers won't be the last team to give up a large half-time lead but it won't sting any less when someone else loses the four points the same way.
Port Adelaide 117 def North Melbourne 65
Expected score: 118 v 84
A soft first up matchup went pretty much to script for Port Adelaide, even though North showed signs they are ready for the journey under David Noble.
We got our first look at Port being able to do what they wanted - move the ball with precision and speed at every opportunity. It took them a little bit to get going defensively but they were strangely helped by North's first quarter. The Roos went +11 in contested possession and +9 inside 50 - Port got enough practice at moving the footy from defence to attack, and ultimately ended up with 9 coast to coast scoring shots for the day.
Two unevenly matched teams, so not a lot to take out of this game. The addition of Fantasia (our pick for the best club switch player of the season) just made complete sense for that forward line and it paid off immediately. Can't wait to see how that offence fares against a much more seasoned defence, which they might not face until Round 3 and 4 against the Eagles and Tigers.
From North Melbourne's perspective, it's going to be a great year watching Luke Davies-Uniacke play.
St Kilda 86 def GWS 78
Expected score: 81 v 94
A super win by the Saints in a game that could easily have fallen the other way - just look at that expected score and remember the crucial miss by Himmelberg in the fourth quarter. A goal from that shot (which hit the post) would have given the Giants a 16-point lead with about 20 minutes to play in wet conditions.
The most critical aspect of the whole game was the ability for the Saints to find three goals from their own defensive 50. Not sure if it says more about the Giants' ability to defend but on a slippery deck those three majors from St Kilda were absolutely pivotal, and well above the expected average for that kind of game.
Can't get a good read on either side until they play a few more and avoid the rain, but it looks like the Saints believe they can match it with anyone and the longer quarters might suit their ability to just keep running and hanging in there. Their defence still a query but we won't know how big of an issue it may be for another few weeks.
West Coast 83 def Gold Coast 58
Expected score: 102 v 69
From the Preview: "Anything less than a +5 midfield turnover tally in this one and they will be fighting an uphill battle"
The Suns went -11 for midfield turnovers in this one, which immediately put them on the back foot, particularly given the game was so open that it just became an exercise in seeing who could punish their opponent more when they won the ball back.
Rowell injured certainly didn't help, as he would have at least given them a weapon through the middle all day. The Suns actually hit the front 18 seconds into the final term, but then failed to score a goal after that moment. A fourth quarter tally of -13 contested possessions isn't ideal against a side who prefer the outside game a lot more.
For the Eagles, how formidable to those talls look? Kennedy, Darling and Allen will absolutely terrorise some defences this year. Up the other end they've got some gun intercept markers and great field kicks as well, so they look like being ultra competitive again. If they can find a way to change gears when things are a little more scrappy against better opponents they will be right up there in top four calculations.
Can't wait to see them against the better teams this year in a sterner test than what they faced on the weekend.
A big Round 2 Preview to drop Thursday (check back for updates over the weekend with any team selection changes or news that might affect the selections).
Also thrilled to have the team at Champion Bets picking up our Previews each week. While we steer clear of betting angles deliberately in our reviews and previews, we are proud to come at it from a different perspective than you'll see elsewhere.
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