Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to the soft opening of season 2022’s Mongrel Preview. Bear with me as I dip my toe back in the preview waters after a long offseason that just seems to drag out longer and longer every year.

This year’s AAMI Community Series sees a number of stellar matchups including a Western Australian Derby, a South Australian Showdown and a Tasmanian Tribute Match between Richmond and Hawthorn in memory of the five schoolchildren from Hillcrest Primary School, who tragically lost their lives in Davenport late last year.

Well, don’t let me hold this show up any longer. Let’s see if my preview skills have managed to get any worse over the past six months.

 

Teams
Carlton vs Melbourne

Snapshot
Our first official AFL preseason game of 2022 comes to us live from Marvel Stadium where another busy trade period has the Blues ready to unveil yet another crop of poached players, as they take on the reigning premiers, Melbourne. The Demons come in fresh-faced off a demolition job of last year’s wooden spooners, North Melbourne, in their practice match last weekend.

All eyes on:
Leading the ship – Patrick Cripps will head the new-look Carlton leadership group, solo, for the first time as his former co-captain Sam Docherty recovers from his latest cancer diagnosis. With Sam Walsh and Jacob Weitering as his deputies, a change up at the head of the playing group spells a contemporary direction for Carlton under new coach Michael Voss in his maiden season at the helm.

Eyes on the prize – There are seldom ever more eyes cast on a team in their first competitive hitout than those on the reigning premiers. Will they hit the ground running and start their season with a bang of good form? Most teams treat their preseason encounters as nothing more than a last run-through and a bit of competitive game simulation for their players. Given their current average age bracket, the sky is the limit for this Demons outfit. Anything short of contending once again could be looked upon as a failure, especially given their talent and the form that talent is currently in.

New club, who dis? – Adam Cerra, George Hewett and Lewis Young will headline a list of inclusions to the Blues list this season. Cerra crossing over from Fremantle during the trade period will further bolster Carlton’s midfield. At only 22 years of age and having played some good, consistent football for the Dockers, the Blues will be banking on Cerra having his best footy still in front of him. George Hewett joined the Blues as a free agent, making the trek over from Sydney in the offseason. The midfield utility was used as a tagger for the Swans at times but also managed to win his own ball. It will be interesting to see what the Blues decide to do after recruiting actual midfielders to play in the middle, as opposed to the half back defenders they’ve recruited as mids in recent years. Speaking of defenders, Lewis Young was a mainstay in the backline for the Dogs before making is way to Carlton. Having also been used in the ruck at his former club, the options for Young are vast and leave coach Michael Voss with numerous options as he looks to re-establish the list in front of him.

You can only face those put in front of you – Without claiming the premiership in February, especially when your win was over the team who finished last in the season just gone, boy did I see a lot to like about Melbourne as they took on the Kangaroos last week. They were relentless without looking like labouring as Clayton Oliver led the Melbourne midfield in what was an outright shellacking. I’m sure there will be plenty for North to take out of the game, but I saw a lot that impressed me from Melbourne. The sort of effort that makes you wonder if they can go all the way again this season, or more to the point – who can stop them?

 

Teams
Western Bulldogs vs Brisbane

Snapshot
Last year’s fourth-placed finisher takes on last year’s fifth-placed finisher from Marvel Stadium in a rematch from last year’s Semi Final thriller that saw the Bulldogs eliminate the Lions from the finals in a one point cliffhanger. The Bulldogs come in off a narrow loss to the Bombers and the Lions off a very comfortable win over a slow Adelaide outfit.

All eyes on:
Run and tackle – It pays to watch an intraclub match with an open, conservative mind and not expect February’s heroics to guarantee substantial September action. In saying that though, I caught most of the Bulldogs intraclub match the other week and a few things stood out to me. The first being that players like Marcus Bontempelli, Adam Treloar and Bailey Dale are elite players for a reason. Even from limited game time, in a match that’s nothing more than a glorified training run, the class and dedication shown by players like these three stands above others and makes it easy to see how their level of professionalism equates to match-winning football for the Bulldogs. Even backed up a week or so later against the Bombers, these three players just jumped out of the blocks and performed the role their team required, and did so with aplomb. Another standout in short bursts was the run and carry of Ed Richards off half back. Coming back from a nasty ankle injury in season 2021, Richards could be a timely boost for Bevo as the Dogs look to avoid a hangover after succumbing to the Demons in last year’s Grand Final.

Make it Rayner – After losing number one pick Cam Rayner to a nasty ruptured ACL in a preseason match this time last year, it’ll be a different look Lions outfit to the one who fell agonisingly short of making a Preliminary Final last year. They’ll also be bolstered at some point by the welcomed inclusion of Eric Hopwood back into this side, who was another casualty of a nasty ACL injury later in season 2021. Question marks do, however, hang over captain Dayne Zorko who has had a procedure on his ankle recently and will look to prove his fitness in time for a Round 1 berth.

Macrae-zy signing – Leading the list of high profile players with contracts set to expire at the conclusion of this impending season is Bulldogs ball magnet Jack Macrae. He is accompanied by teammate Caleb Daniel as a pair of priority signings that the club simply must retain. Both find themselves in the leadership group this season and both are absolutely vital pieces in the puzzle Luke Beveridge looks to assemble to get his team back on top once again. The media circus that will follow this one will get more and more tiresome, especially as other players around them begin to re-sign.

 

Teams
Hawthorn vs Richmond

Snapshot:
After a drawn six-term, unofficial practice match with Collingwood, brought to us fresh from the ghetto of Morwell, the Hawks will travel down to Tasmania and host the Tigers in a tribute match to the tragic loss of young lives that occured in Davenport late last year. The Tigers come into this match having beaten Geelong at home in last week’s unofficial practice match.

All eyes on:
Sicilian slice – Wasn’t it good seeing James Sicily back on the field, pointing fingers, barking orders, leaving his opponent to chop out a teammate and getting under the skin of his opposition? I know he gave away an unnecessary 50 metre penalty, but love him or hate him (as an opposition supporter, I’m usually the latter), it’s great to see him back on the park and running the Hawthorn backline once again, after a lengthy layoff. In an era that screams for individual, unique characters and then proceeds to condemn them for their flamboyancy, players like Sicily are a breath of fresh air playing the villain for his team and backing up his actions with some onfield brilliance.

Dust off the boots – Richmond champion Dustin Martin made a successful return in his side’s unofficial practice match against the Cats. Is that really what we’re calling them? “Unofficial practice matches”? They are sanctioned by the AFL afterall… Oh well, I’ll run with it. Seeing their superstar midfielder line up in the centre for the first quarter must have been a moment of sheer exuberance for Tigers supporters. It’s been a nervous wait since suffering a serious kidney injury against the Lions last season, but Martin was able to win plenty of his own ball in the middle, spending a fair chunk of game time playing alongside quality opposition such as Patrick Dangerfield and at times Joel Selwood. There were a few errant kicks, but once he’s shaken the rust off, expect Dusty to be back to his brilliant best.

Hawthorn’s hell to come? – Is it going to be hard days for Sam Mitchell in his first few seasons at the helm? It will definitely prove his mettle as a coach if he’s able to make something of the team that’s currently in front of him. Put it down to the preseason yips, that’s what I did, but last year’s midfield mainstays in Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara were heavily tested and shown up by a young, rotating Collingwood midfield. I found myself seduced by the efforts of James Worpel at times, but it just seemed the harder he tried the more wayward his disposal wound up. No-one in their right mind is expecting the Hawks to contest the Grand Final this season, but on our current sample size it looks like there’ll be some tough days ahead for the mighty fighting Hawks.

 

Teams
Adelaide vs Port Adelaide

Snapshot:
What better way to kick off the pre-season’s festivities than with a South Australian Showdown live from Richmond Oval in Adelaide. The Crows were well overrun by a strong Brisbane outfit in their unofficial practice match, whilst the highly inaccurate Power went down to the Suns.

All eyes on:
Yip-yip woodchip- I won’t dwell on it because every team has their poor kicking days, and it was only a practice match, but wow! Three last quarter goals inflated the Power’s final tally against the Suns to 6.19. There was an abundance of good signs for Port Adelaide nonetheless; Zak Butters was strong and pacey as the young mid looks to get back into the game and rediscover his rhythm that we all enjoyed prior to last year’s injury. After looking as though he might soon be on the trading block, Sam Powell-Pepper has looked good in what I’ve seen of his intraclub efforts, as well as in this hitout. He showed smart aggression where it was required and a keen goal sense when inside 50, only to be taken out of the game at half time with a hamstring complaint. Robbie Gray also caught my eye in the way that only someone like Robbie Gray can. He looked to be involved in plenty but wayward, almost as if he sacrificed his own game to bring younger teammates in and share touch around. A bit like the gun kid that was usually the coach’s son in under-12’s, shooting off handballs and dinky kicks to try and make his teammates feel like they’re in the same game.

You reap what you Crow – That sounds tacky but I love it. Forgive me, but I’m stealing that one for later in the season. Hopefully this article will be dead and buried in the depths of your mind by then. Adelaide were soundly beaten in their hitout with the Lions, but they didn’t really load up on what little firepower they had available coming into the game. Honestly, they were outclassed in every facet of the match, but we’re talking about a team that lined up without names such as Sloane, Seedsman, Walker and Smith, against a Lions outfit that was fairly stacked and ready for their final run-throughs before this week’s official preseason games. There clearly wasn’t a lot of highlights in this one, even the most optimistic Crows fan will agree with me. The name that has been thrown around a lot of outlets after this hitout was Josh Rachele, and I’ll happily admit that I bought into the hype. The young forward impressed me with his nous around goals. He just seemed to be in the right places at all the right times and as cliché as that sounds, it really stood out to me. Although the ball didn’t spend a hell of a lot of time in his team’s forward line, Rachele did show that he can defend his space and apply pressure to the defenders, making them work to get the ball out of their defensive 50. If Tex Walker can replicate his early 2021 form upon his return, he will stand taller with a quality small forward at his feet.

 

Teams
Essendon vs St. Kilda

Snapshot:
The Bombers regained the lead late against the Bulldogs in their respective clash last week with plenty on show to excite their fans. The Saints couldn’t get it done against the Blues in what was Michael Voss’ first hitout at the helm of his new club. This game comes to us from Marvel Stadium.

All eyes on:
If you Snell what the Bombers are cooking – Ok, I’m stealing that one later in the season too. Because no doubt I’ll be singing the underrated praises of Will Snelling again at some point this season. From the scrap heap at Port Adelaide, to the Bombers list in the midseason draft, to becoming no doubt one of the first Bombers players picked each week. It wasn’t just his three goal haul in the last week’s practice hitout against the Dogs, but even in the club’s intraclub matches this preseason I have been immensely impressed by Snelling and the way he approaches his football. I’ve noticed him spending a lot of time midgame with the leadership group and relevant coaching personnel, regularly seen at the heels of senior coach Ben Rutten and relaying his message to younger players. Whilst all eyes are firmly on names like Parish, Merrett and Stringer, I suspect behind closed doors that the Bombers rate Snelling highly. This is further enforced by him coming third in their club Best and Fairest for season 2021.

Sleeper or sloper – I’ll preface by saying that the Saints went into their practice clash with the Blues very short. No Paddy Ryder, no Rowan Marshall and no Dougal Howard. With all due respect though, their opposition was without last year’s Coleman Medallist in Harry McKay and superstar midfielder Sam Walsh. We saw Brad Hill return to his role off halfback that had him copping plenty of flack last season, here’s hoping that Brett Ratten and his cohorts have found the key to unlock the attacking potential that we all know lies somewhere in Hill’s arsenal, otherwise we’re in for another season of him languishing in the half back line with a sporadic appearance on the wing from time to time.

With all this chatter in the news of the University of Melbourne receiving a $5m donation to clone the Tasmanian Tiger, I wonder if the Saints could match it and work on a Tim Membrey clone? Against the Blues he was up forward, he was down back and at times he seemed to be the only Saint with a reliable pair of hands. I’ll be interested to see if he spends time up the ground this season like his former mentor Nick Riewoldt was renowned for doing, or if it was an effort borne of necessity with their lack of height in this hitout.

The kids ARE alright- Apologies to American Pop-Punk band The Offspring, but in this instance I really think that the kids are alright, and whilst my lid is still firmly on, I see some cause for excitement from the Bombers faithful. There was a lot to like in their intraclub hitouts and even more to like in their unofficial knock against a quality opposition in the Bulldogs. With news filtering through that Jake Stringer is a hit-and-miss proposition for Round 1, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti not likely to be seen until later in the season, there will be a lot of eyes on Essendon’s forward structure and just who they can use to score goals. With their forward line being their weakest sector currently, there will be a lot of eyes on their stacked midfield and outside runners to help alleviate some of the pressure to score. We’ve seen successful teams of the last decade flourish with midfields that find the goals, it’s time for Essendon to take that step. If they rely too heavily on a shaky structure of Peter Wright, Harry Jones and Aaron Francis alone, we’ll see more of their struggles to score that plagued them at times last season. Time for players like Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith to influence the scoreboard more. Given the likelihood of rotations through Essendon’s forward line this season, the time is nigh for players to stand up and cement their spots. Kicking goals and presenting a competitive option are surefire ways to do just that.

 

Teams
Greater Western Sydney vs Collingwood

Snapshot:
Of all the unofficial practice matches that I watched, Sydney vs GWS seemed to me to be the most blasé, with players of both teams seeming to treat the game for exactly what it was – a competitive training drill. Collingwood and Hawthorn went a little harder, but with a lot more players used, including an abundance of VFL players brought into the game late.

All eyes on:
Glimpse – We got a decent eye in on new coach Craig McRae’s game plan and direction last week as the Magies gave us six periods of footy to gain a good glimpse at just what they’re building and what they have waiting in the wings. The highly touted father/son recruit Nick Daicos showed plenty of signs early and provided Magpies fans with some excitement at what’s to come. Jamie Elliott kicked five goals in his time on the field as both teams heavily rotated players in and out of the game. New recruit Patrick Lipinski caught my eye as the versatile big man played a strong hand after crossing over from the Bulldogs in last year’s trade period. Sharpshooter Brody Mihocek kicked three as did Mason Cox, with the Hulking American sporting his prescription sunglasses that had been received the AFL’s tick of approval the day prior.

The best offence is a good defence – Now I’ll put my hand up and say that I probably don’t catch as many full GWS games as a lot of other teams, therefore my observations this offseason may be a little square of the crease, but stick with me and see if I string it all together. One thing that I noticed in what I saw of their intraclub match, and in their scratch match against the Swans as well, was their willingness and determination as a team to defend. Their midfielders didn’t look for an instant to be one way runners and this transitioned through to their backline who looked like they wanted to win, and then clear the ball at all cost. Coniglio and Taranto on the ball as well as Tom Green, seldom looked to take a backwards step when going head to head with some quality opposition in Sydney colours.

New year/new role – After spending a considerable amount of the preseason training with the defenders, it was interesting to see Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury start and play out majority of the game in the Magpies backline. In what appears to be a similar role to that played by former Brisbane champion Luke Hodge, Pendlebury looks to have transitioned into a ‘Half-Back General’ role that is becoming more and more common in the game for former midfielders. We’ve seen players such as Phil Davis of GWS and Dyson Heppell of Essendon play similar roles in recent years where they captain their side from half-back. Given the Magpies have left themselves with little choice other than to develop younger players, it looks like they’ll be starting us off with a new-look midfield going forward this season.

 

Teams
Sydney vs North Melbourne

Snapshot:
I mentioned in the snapshot for the previous game that Sydney played GWS in a practice match with neither team looking to really get out of second gear. Some teams go hell-bent in their scratch matches, others focus more on their own side and how their players individual aspirations fare, rather than a result. The latter was definitely the case in this occasion. North Melbourne took on the reigning premiers and whilst the gap in talent and progression between the premiers and the wooden spooners of last season shone through, a number of younger players and efforts shone through just as vibrantly for the Roos.

All eyes on:
Pap on the pine – While this is probably more a case of ‘no eyes on’, Sydney will be sweating on the fitness and availability of goalsneak Tom Papley for Round One. The word around town currently is that he’s touch-and-go, however looking more and more likely to miss at least the first round of the home and away season, possibly longer with the club confirming that he has a hamstring strain. He joins Callum Mills who is also under severe doubt for the club’s first round clash against the Giants, with an Achilles injury that has given the Sydney co-captain grief since last season.

Let’s get this out of the way – The name on everyone’s lips coming into this season is Jason Horne-Francis. There was a lot of speculation around the kid late last season and whether or not he would find his way to North with Pick 1 in the national draft. He impressed the world with his tremendous game standards last year in numerous competitions, leaving little doubt in the minds of most that he was destined to be our 2021 number one draft pick. You’ll hear plenty about him throughout this season and I won’t dwell on him too much, especially given that I prefer to highlight my observations that steer widely from those present in the mainstream, however it’s hard to avoid sometimes when a name itself becomes a beacon. All that aside, Horne-Francis showed on a number of occasions throughout the course of the game just exactly why he was chosen at number one and why he’s the sort of recruit that the Kangaroos can and hopefully, in the eyes of their supporters, will build their future competitive team around. Keeping in mind that he’s a kid that’s as green to senior football as the MCG turf, coming up against the reigning premiers and some of the best midfielders in the competition, he will have definitely taken something out of the game. The scoreline may not have boosted his confidence, but re-watching the tapes of how he played going head-to-head at times with the likes of Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Christian Petracca will definitely give the kid a benchmark to work on going forward.

Backline revamp – I don’t know if it was just the way the media portrayed it, or perhaps the way I read into it, but it seemed that Jordan Dawson’s departure to Adelaide was done with little fanfare. I can tell you now as a non-supporter I was gutted for the Swans by that news, and I felt that perhaps his importance may have been overshadowed or slightly undersold. The rebounding defender turned wingman had become somewhat of a revelation for the Swans and in my opinion was one of their most reliable attacking players week in/week out. There’s no doubt that if you comb through each team’s list of players and picked the best half a dozen young players off each, Sydney’s would be up there with some of the best currently in the AFL. While a lot of eyes are cast over their ageing stars such as Franklin, Kennedy, Rampe and Parker, it’s easy to forget just how many talented young and middle-aged players the Swans have on their list. It’s also easy to forget just how quickly they jumped back into close-to-top-four contention after a few seasons languishing in the lower echelons of the ladder.

 

Teams
Fremantle vs West Coast

Snapshot:
A Western Australian Derby in the practice games, a Western Australian Derby in the preseason series and a Western Australian Derby in Round Three. If Fremantle and West Coast don’t already hate each other like brother and sister, they sure as hell will within the next six weeks. Fremantle took home the choccies last weekend in the officially unofficial practice match as the already depleted Eagles continued to drop like flies.

All eyes on:
Jack Darling is either suffering a workplace incident or doesn’t want to comply with the mandatory vaccination forced upon him to play AFL – There we go, I got that out of the way. No doubt I’d be crucified if I didn’t mention it, and likely just as crucified if I dwelled on it. It’s said, now let’s move on to something else Eagles related. Actually, stop the bowler for a second, I have a question for supporters of both clubs. Is it mandatory to kick a black cat and drop a mirror whilst walking under a ladder in the preseason if you’re a Western Australian team? Serious question. Because, What. The. Hell. Is going on up there? I honestly cannot remember a season in recent years that didn’t start with either Fremantle or West Coast suffering injury after injury after injury that either robs them of their season, or really hampers their start to the year. I’m not even taking the P-I-Scott Selwood out of either team, I’m genuinely bewildered by how many injuries these two teams suffer on the eve of the season almost every year. Talk about bad luck.

We all know Jack Darling won’t be playing, Dom Sheed and Campbell Chesser sit out after suffering ankle injuries against the Dockers last weekend, Harry Edwards and Liam Ryan have been out of the side in Covid isolation, Elliot Yeo injured his calf against the Dockers, Jamie Cripps has a torn Pectoral, Tom Cole has an ankle concern, Oscar Allen with a foot complaint, captain Luke Shuey is out with a hamstring injury, and Greg Clarke is out with a shoulder injury. Let’s also not forget that Brad Sheppard retired due to concussion complications before the season even started. I’m not going as far to say that the Eagles are now destined for the bottom four, but I am happy to say that anything they do achieve will be against the odds with the amount of players they currently have out.

The game of Fyfe – It’s become an age old question – Where is Fyfe’s best position? Ok, that’s an exaggeration, it’s probably only a question that’s really hit the forefront in the past couple of seasons when we’ve seen Fyfe played away from his once locked position in the midfield. It’s become a common practice to see him moved around at half back, we’ve also seen him deployed in the forward line. In the words of the great Doc Neeson: “the question still remains”. Having lost Adam Cerra to Carlton in the trade period, it’s already a guarentee that the Fremantle midfield will have a new flavour to it this season. It’ll still start with Sean Darcy in the ruck (given that he is cleared from his thumb injury), we’ll still see the evergreen David Mundy on the ball, that’s a given. James Aish will likely continue his run on a wing and after his efforts against West Coast, Andrew Brayshaw should be a lock on the ball as should Will Brodie who also impressed me. Is there room on a wing for Liam Henry? The 20 year old was super impressive and took me by surprise in the club’s practice match.

 

Teams
Gold Coast vs Geelong

Snapshot:
Since the officially sanctioned, unofficial practice matches are a thing now, I’m going to continue to market and brand matches in any way I see fit this season. Therefore Mongrel faithful, for the final match of the AAMI Community Series I give you the Gary Ablett Cup. The Suns come into this one on the back of a win largely thanks to their accuracy and Port Adelaide’s inability to accurately convert shots on goal. The Cats on the other hand dropped their set to Richmond in a match that saw a lot of rotated players and a few change-ups around the ground.

All eyes on:
King sized void – It’s the scenario playing out in the heads of those passionate fans who take the time to ponder teams outside of their own – Where are Good Coast’s goals going to come from this season? With King laid up for the next 12 months thanks to an ACL injury, who are your thoughts for who will stand up in his absence and not just provide a reliable tall target up forward, but also find the goals? New recruits Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult have had their names thrown in the ring when I’ve asked. Chol impressed against Port Adelaide last week with three goals, whereas Casboult was barely a blip on the radar, let alone the stats sheet. Ruckman and captain Jarrod Witts will feature again this season after his lengthy layoff, and the Suns have recently bolstered their tall stocks with pick number 5 in the national draft used on the athletic Mac Andrew. Jack Lukosius and Josh Corbett are other options available, however to think that any of those names are a ready-made step in replacement for King is ambitious to say the least.
I’m not taking anything away from their small forwards either, the Suns have an abundance of players capable of scoring from the crafty/small forward position, but we’ve seen this club in the past struggle to cover the loss of players through injury. Much like my aforementioned predicament with Fremantle and West Coast, overcoming injuries is fast becomong an annual part of Gold Coast’s game plan requirements. Fans can revel in the fact that every current inside Scoop you read tells us that he’s already put pen to paper for a contract extension.

Too old – fact or fiction? – What’s the first thing you see/hear when someone speaks about Geelong? For me it’s definitely the age factor. Geelong’s list is too old, their best players are too old, they haven’t got enough youth in their depth. Sound familiar? We’ve heard it all and I don’t really plan on debating the topic one way or the other, I’m more here to marvel at just how well some of Geelong’s oldest players are still performing heading into the twilight year/s of their illustrious careers. Tom Hawkins for example turns 34 this year, he was runner up in the Coleman medal for most goals kicked last season. He won the award outright in 2020, finished fourth in 2019, and third in 2018. Not a bad annual return for one of the league’s oldest forwards over the past few seasons. He piled on four goals against Richmond in their scratch match on the weekend and really put the Tigers new recruit in Robbie Tarrant to task. Next on the pension line is Joel Selwood who also celebrates his 34th birthday this year. No self respecting supporter of any club can doubt the toughness we’ve seen from Joel Selwood over the years. Even if he continues with his transition to more of a wingman/half forward role this season, no-one can question his resolve nor his desire to win games for the Cats. This ball could continue rolling and include another half a dozen of the Cats best 22 who are now into their 30’s. Obviously the majority of these names won’t be around in five years time, but right here and right now, they’re still performing as well as anyone else in their respective positions.

 

Well that’s it for this week folks. Thanks for tuning in again and I look forward to another season of previews for your perusal. It’s been a long and arduous offseason so go easy on me if you could. Although I’ve been training the house down in the offseason it will probably take me a few rounds to find my feet and do the team thing. Or something like that..