Each week, Melbourne comedian, Gabriel Rossi sits back, breathes in the footy, and exhales with ten things he learnt after the round. Some are satirical, whilst others are a little more biting and to the point. Some you may like, some you may not, but he is here every damn week putting the work in.
1. Michael Voss will be teaching his Blues to walk the dog so they can learn to hold a lead
Apologies for beginning 2023 with a variation on an old gag, but the sense of dread and déjà vu for Blues fans in that last quarter must have been overwhelming as, yet again, the Blues played yet another horror final 90 seconds with the game ultimately finishing in a draw thanks to a Lynch goal that went through with just 17 seconds left on the clock. Whilst the Tigers were relentless with their pressure, the Blues squandered opportunities to ice the game and seem to still lack the composure that cost them a place in last year’s finals. I’m not sure Voss has the power to instil some kind of self-belief to prevent this scenario from repeating itself in the future fixtures of 2023, but on early form, it looks like Carlton are still burdened with the scars from years of mediocrity. They’ll need to shake that to make finals this year.
Richmond will also be ruing their lack of efficiency in this game. Despite dominating the inside 50 count by 66 to 45, they could only manage eight goals for the night and will be disappointed not to come away with the four points. There were periods in the game where the Tigers dominated play and clearly looked superior in ball movement, but once they entered their forward 50 it often resulted in errant shots at goal or a Blues defender thwarting their advances. Carlton’s one big positive was the fact that they didn’t concede a big score despite being inundated with forward entries, and this alone may see them contend for finals. All in all, I imagine both sides woke up Friday morning scratching their heads and wondering why they only managed a draw. Richmond will be looking at the statistics that would normally belong to a winning team while the Blues will lament not taking full points despite leading for 85 minutes of the game.
2. I’m starting to think Craig McRae is a genius
I hate to say this, but how good do Collingwood look? Now I know we’re only one game in, but they went way above expectations last year and, at this early stage, almost look as though they’ve taken another step forward. I made the point earlier that Richmond move the ball well, but it looks as though they have nothing on the Pies in that department. Collingwood has pace and it seems most of their players have an innate ability to still get the ball off when tackled. Their style of play in this game was frenetic and precise. So many disposals under extreme heat seemed to find their way to a black and white jumper who just knew what to do next. This tells me what an extremely well-drilled team they are and how synchronised their thinking is.
I take my hat off to the coach. They were a veritable rabble only two years ago, and not only is McRae getting the most out of his players, the additions of Mitchell and Hill already look like being a masterstroke. The footy they played on Friday was worthy of a Top 4 contender. A lot has to play out and many things could go wrong, but I’m backing them in from here, not just based on Friday night, but also 2022. Many thought those close wins and late surges last season had an element of luck, but another couple wins like this one and I think even the harshest critics will acknowledge that maybe they’re just a bloody good unit. A lot of people forget how ordinary the Cats looked in the first 8 weeks of 2022 before they flicked the switch and took out the premiership after winning 17 games in a row. The talk of them breaking their own record of 23 straight wins was silenced today in emphatic fashion.
There were many stages on Friday night when Geelong looked as though they were in control, but these Pies just keep on coming. A couple of injuries to the Cats didn’t help, and this may have contributed to their last-quarter fadeout. This could also be a case of Geelong being slow starters in seasons. In the last three seasons they’ve never been better than five wins from the first eight rounds. And they’ve finished with the double chance each time. While this loss will hurt, they will most likely still be up there come September, although there are still many players on the wrong side of 30 in the hoops, and there were times the young and fleet-footed Pies stars looked a lot quicker. Still, they always seem to find a way. Oh, and if anybody thinks Nick Daicos might have fallen victim to the second-year blues this year, you can put that to bed right now.
3. Debutante Sheezel for the Kangaroos can play!
You’ll have to go back almost 40 years to see more than the 34 possessions picked up by 18-year-old No 3 draft pick Harry Sheezel in his first outing in the AFL. He came out firing picking up three possessions in the opening minute and may have even gone so far as scoring three Brownlow votes. This young gun seems to have slotted in at Arden Street far better than last year’s prized recruit Horne-Francis, much to the relief of both fans and staff at the club. The game also resulted in a win for Clarkson in his first game as the coach of North Melbourne, although it was one the Roos almost let slip after leading by as much as 33 points early in the third term. The reality is that both sides only managed two wins last season, so it’s awfully hard to gauge any possible improvement until they play a few other teams. With that in mind, I’m sure Clarko will be happy to get that first one done. The Eagles will be disappointed with their first half performance.
Most expected the Eagles to climb a few spots on the ladder this year after what was a horror season where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Whilst we aren’t sure if the Kangaroos are a better side under their new coach yet, the early thinking is that West Coast, after suffering this loss, might still be destined for a bottom 4 placing. At a glance, their list looks better than that as it still boasts a few of the premiership players of 2018, though some are on their way out. Oscar Allen missed all of the 2022 season and made a solid return. No doubt his firepower up forward will help fill the gaping hole left by the retired Josh Kennedy. Next week the Eagles take on the Giants in Perth in a game that will tell us a little more as to whether or not they’ve improved. A loss there will signal a long year ahead with pressure mounting on Adam Simpson. The Kanagroos have a tough assignment against Freo on the road.
4. Brisbane’s second half puts a question mark over their finals credentials
Brisbane’s last few years have seen them come agonisingly close to playing in a grand final but falling well short with what is a rather poor record in September. Some said this could be the year they take the next step, although I feel we may see them slip a few spots. The concerning thing about this game was their capitulation after half-time. After leading at the main break by 12 points, the Power slammed on 13 goals to just 3 leaving their coach Chris Fagan scratching his head as to where the insipid performance came from. They’re going to need to find some answers pretty quickly as they take on a rampant Melbourne in Brisbane this coming Friday. An 0-2 start to the season is certainly on the cards, and whilst that’s far from season over, the jungle drums on Chris Fagan’s future may be silently heard in the distance. By the end of this match, the Power had amassed a whopping 405 possessions to just 264. Wayward kicking in the first half by the Power had something to do with the more accurate Lions leading at half-time.
Ken Hinkley comes into the 2023 season under intense pressure after the lacklustre year in 2022 where they missed finals after losing the first 5 games. It was beginning to look like a case of here we go again when the Lions jumped out to a three-goal lead just before halftime before Charlie Dixon slotted one right on the siren to trim it back. I’m sure every coach in the AFL would love to know what was said in the rooms at halftime, because when Port Adelaide came out after the break, they could do no wrong. Marshall booted four goals in a solid display, and the combination of him and Dixon might give them some aerial dominance near goal. Junior Rioli looks to be enjoying his new home booting three, but the real talk is the performance of the problem child from the Kangaroos, Jason Horne-Francis. It’s always frustrating for fans who see a player that was a high draft pick leave prematurely and dominate elsewhere, but the boy is a South Australian and very much looks at home picking up 25 possessions with a goal in a tidy display. North won’t be too sorry to see the back of him after Sheezel’s effort, but a few more games like that for Horne-Francis will see his critics silenced. A huge test awaits the Power against Collingwood at the MCG next Saturday.
5. The Gawn-Grundy combination is looking as ominous as expected
There’s already so much to like about Melbourne even before we talk about the ruck division. Petracca and Oliver are still destroying it in the midfield, and Pickett and Brown booting four goals each sets them both up for a good season. Sadly Pickett may miss a week or two after a head-high hit on Smith was referred to the MRO. Both Gawn and Grundy are clearly ruckmen who would be number one at any club in the AFL right now, and for Melbourne to have both in the one side is a privilege and a major threat to this year’s premiership. Melbourne’s last season was the one that got away on the back of some off-field dramas that seemed to destabilise the club and resulted in the Dees limping into the finals and playing mediocre football when it mattered most. This year could be a year of redemption, and with these two guns taking turns with ruck duties, it will go a long way to bringing them success. They’re both mobile and good in the air, and they both hit the scoreboard. They’ll prove to be a handful to most sides they play against this year.
The Bulldogs were competitive early, but when the Dees notched it up a gear they simply couldn’t go with them. I’m sure Melbourne will do that to many sides, but the 50-point margin will be a concern in terms of their finals aspirations. Things weren’t made any easier by wayward kicking for goal by Naughton and Ugle-Hagan finishing with 2.5 between them. Whatever the case, the Bulldogs were not in the same class as the Demons and many had them vying for a Top 4 spot. Based on what we saw on Saturday night, that might be a bit fanciful. Beveridge may want to reconsider having a quartet of talls up forward. Melbourne’s defence kept them quiet even without Steven May being available. A win against the Saints next week may settle the team, but a loss would be a veritable disaster. As for Melbourne, they are looking like being the team to beat this year, although early indications have the Pies lurking closely
6. Gold Coast Suns look set for another long season
After finishing last season with ten wins, many thought this would be the year the Suns would finally break through for a finals berth. They took on the Swans on their home deck with a substantial number of pundits giving them every chance for victory. Instead, what we saw was a regressive effort more akin to their days as a perennial bottom-four team. It was obvious early on they were not going to pose a threat to Sydney who had five goals on the board before the Suns got their first late in the first quarter. They eventually went on to win by a very comfortable 49 points with their only concern a potential suspension to Lance Franklin after he made high contact on Sam Collins. It was also an important win considering their poor showing in last year’s Grand Final. It looks as though the Swans mean business this year while their opponents looked as though they might be just making up the numbers yet again.
You have to feel for Stuart Dew. No doubt he’s come into this season with high hopes, and to see a loss like that in Round One that could set the tone for the year to come would’ve been hugely disappointing. Touk Miller battled hard as always, and it was pleasing to see Matt Rowell get 28 possessions after an indifferent 2022, but there were few other winners for them, and the scoring was left to the smaller forwards with Ben King only managing five touches for a single goal. In fairness, missing a year of football doesn’t help, but in order for the Suns to pose any sort of threat, they’ll need him to kick a few bags throughout the year. The Swans look well drilled as always and look likely to play finals again. Chad Warner hasn’t missed a beat and they had 12 goalkickers for their total of 16. The strength of Sydney has always been the even contribution from all their players. The Suns should take note.
7. Stephen Coniglio must’ve had a big preseason
We’ve always known that the Giants’ former captain was as good as any other midfielder in the competition, but in recent seasons through injury or even just poor form, he seemed well below his best. It looks like he’s finally got his body issues sorted and the result was a dominant 32 possession game gaining a colossal 810 metres. This went a long way towards reviving the slow start his team had which found them down by as much as 31 points in the second term. AFL scribes no doubt would’ve had pen poised ready to write off their season after what was looking like a loss at home to the Crows who most think won’t play finals in 2023. However, Coniglio had other ideas along with the champion Toby Greene who finished the game with four majors and could’ve easily had more missing a few late in the game. In stifling heat, the Giants did well to hang on finishing with just two players on the bench after injuries to Perryman, Whitfield and Kelly, not to mention numerous players cramping as the game wore on. Whitfield and Kelly both left the field with concussions and look set to miss next week’s clash against the Eagles in Perth, as does Perryman with a hamstring strain.
The Crows looked a class above their opponents up until half time leading at the main break by a sizeable 28-point margin. However, after halftime, they conceded 11 goals and scored just four of their own, finally going down by 16 points in the end. Prize recruit Izak Rankine could’ve had a day out but only managed 2.5 in the end and was rarely sighted after halftime. Young Josh Rachele was one of Adelaide’s best finishing with three goals from 18 touches. Taylor Walker had a day he’d rather forget with just tsevenouches and one goal. There’ll be pressure on him to improve moving forward. It was looking promising early on to be a good win on the road for the Crows setting up a season with hope, but by the end of the game, the fans watching at home will be feeling it may be another year of mediocre football and being closer to the wrong end of the ladder. The harsher critics will be wondering if Tex was given one year too many, but let’s just wait and see how he bounces back from this poor showing.
8. Sam Mitchell has his work cut out for him
It’s going to be hard to know how good or otherwise a coach Sam Mitchell is. He is coaching a very inexperienced team averaging just 68 games per player. That’s compared to 167 with the team he played with in the 2015 premiership year. Clearly, the Hawks are rebuilding and it will take some serious time to get them back to being a powerhouse in the AFL. One wonders if the cruel world of coaching will allow Mitchell to see this through as clubs tend to lose patience very quickly. They did show some very good signs early last year, but coming out in Round 1 and losing by 10 goals to a side that missed finals in 2022 is hardly the start they need. Based on Sunday’s performance, a trip to Sydney to face the Swans next week may be brutal. The Hawks finish Round 1 in last place on the ladder. Their Round Three clash against the Kangaroos becomes one of intrigue.
Brad Scott, on the other hand, comes away from this game enthused by the Bombers having 13 players kick a goal in an effort that was clinical in the manner they dismantled the young Hawks outfit. It wasn’t until Luke Breust kicked a goal early in the final term that a succession of 9 unanswered goals was finally broken. Darcy Parish knocked up an impressive 37 disposals in another consistent showing. Former Blue Will Setterfield may be a case of third-time lucky as he impressed with 25 possessions and a goal in what could arguably be considered one of the best games of his career. I imagine most footy fans would’ve enjoyed seeing the return of McDonald-Tipungwuti subbed into the match in the final term. There’s definitely some upside to the Bombers, and if they get over the Suns next week as we expect them to, they may start to believe in miracles. And Brad Scott could be hailed a genius if all goes well.
9. The Dockers are still struggling to kick a winning score
In recent times, the Fremantle Dockers have not been noted for being a high-scoring team. Last year they averaged 78 points per game which was the lowest of any teams in the finals. I’m fairly certain that the average dips below that when on the road. Against the Saints on Sunday, the Dockers went almost two quarters without scoring a goal after Lachie Schultz’s goal seven minutes into the 3rd term. At that stage, they lead by two goals and looked like they were starting to take control of the game. But after that, they only managed seven more behinds and continually entered their forward 50 in a shambolic way missing targets and allowing the Saints defenders plenty of opportunities to spoil or rebound. They pressed hard late in the game but just kept making mistakes at crucial times. The pressure from the Saints was good as you’d expect under returned coach Ross Lyon, but a side pushing for a Top 4 spot should’ve been able to hit the scoreboard more often with 12 more inside entries than their opponents.
The Saints on the other had will be pleased to have been able to kick the last five goals of the game and bank a win early. Many have suggested the Saints will have a tough season based on their perceived lack of A-Grade stars on their list, but maybe if anyone can get the best out of a group like this, it’s Lyon. When you think of teams that he has coached, they are always synonymous with defences that rarely concede big scores. Sunday was no exception. He’ll be pleased his backline only conceded 7 goals, but he’ll be more pleased that they withstood a late surge from a desperate Dockers to hold on for their 15-point win. It will be interesting to see how far Ross can take this team. If he happens to get them into the Top 8, that would be way above expectations. Winning this game is a great start, but Round 1 often throws out results that turn out to be fools’ gold in the long run. The next fortnight sees the Saints take on the Bulldogs and the Bombers. We’ll know a bit more about where they’re at after Round 3. As for Freo, their next two games, both in Perth, are against North Melbourne and West Coast. A loss in either of those games would be disastrous.
10. It only took one game into the season for rule changes to be discussed
At some point in every season, some moment or game will provide a trigger for the discussion or proposal for yet another change to the rules of our great game. Now we find ourselves merely one game in that happened to finish in a draw, and many pundits began talking about extra time in order to find a sole winner. Really? Is that what we want? I understand the NRL have adopted this idea, and whilst I understand the reasoning behind this, I don’t think it is necessary. Yes. It’s a hollow kind of feeling being involved in a draw for both players and fans, but are we worried about how people feel about something in order to change the rules, or do we make rule changes to improve the sport? I, for one, like draws in the home and away games. It makes for an interesting ladder as the season rolls on with the sides involved in a draw being outliers on the ladder due to their points being out of sync with the rest of the competition. Changing it to an extra time or golden point scenario would only really be necessary if draws happened frequently which they don’t. Most seasons have one or maybe two of them while it’s not unusual for there to be none at all. If they went for extra time, and scores were still tied, there could be a golden point scenario with a howling gale favouring one end. That would be a horror show. Also, in this day and age of sports scientists at each club having so much input into player management, with most players being pretty much spent after four quarters of torrid battle, I get the feeling those charged with trying to maintain a healthy list will see this as a huge danger in terms of the potential for injury from fatigue.
Tinkering with the rules has actually done some good, but for the most part, it hasn’t really improved the game significantly. This isn’t merely a traditionalist point of view. I happen to like draws. I didn’t like this one very much because I’m a Blues fan who saw us let another four points go begging, but these games are always exciting to watch. I think some of that excitement would be diminished if we knew level scores at the final siren meant that we would still ultimately get a winner. No, I think a draw is a legitimate result, and even though there’s that weird vibe that comes with it, I think awarding 2 points each to teams who battled it out for four quarters and couldn’t be separated on the scoreboard is fitting. Leave it alone. In fact, for just one year, can we just not talk about changing rules?