The Big Call – A Draw In The Opening Round?

The Big Call – A Draw in the Opening Round?


Allow me to introduce myself, as it’s my first article with the world-leading, professional, revered, honourable Mongrel Punt (gotta guarantee that second article). I have a famous footy last name but unfortunately, I don’t have the genetics. I married into the Whinnen family, my wife being some relation to the great Mel Whinnen, and in the spirit of honesty, no, I do not correct people who assume I am of footballing royalty.

Along with my dear friend Anthony Smith, I host a radio program called Behind the Goals on 91.3 SportFM in Perth (if you’re reading this bit, it means HB has let me plug our major sponsor EES Shipping. These lads are dope and we’d have them as our major sponsor even if they didn’t pay us for the privilege). Our vibe is close to The Mongrel and over the years I have shamelessly passed off Mongrel stats and insights as my own. It felt only right to give back to The Mongrel this year.

You won’t hear me giving great insights or analysis on the show, there are far wiser and experienced footy brains than I am to do that. As the self-appointed comedic relief, I tend to look at footy through a lighter lens, into the wild, weird, wacky, and often totally wrong.

My contribution to this site will be no different.

If you like hot takes, different opinions, left field takes and Big Calls (that are always bang on), then read on and continue to read as I bring you unprogrammed insights you never knew you wanted nay, needed. 2024 is the year of the Whinnen #BigCall so strap yourselves in and enjoy the first of many to come.

Before I reveal exactly why I am calling a draw in Opening Round, let me first just say that I am not at all a fan of the concept of Opening Round. Look, I get it, I do. Does that mean I have to like it? Not in the slightest. Call me a purist, but I like my opening rounds to be called Round One and I like them to have every team playing.

The official AFL explanation is that grounds in NSW and QLD are available earlier than usual and it’s a chance to hold marque events during the season. Continuing with the name-calling, call me a sceptic, but a quick bit of sleuthing reveals Optus Stadium is available for a classic Western Derby – an opportunity to potentially unveil #1 Draft Pick Harley Reid – where both Western Australian teams are looking to bounce back after less than stellar seasons. Detective Whinnen also noticed the NRL starts the very same week as Opening Round with games between the Knights/Raiders and Storm/Panthers starting dangerously close to the Swans/Dees and Lions/Blues games.

A coincidence, I’m sure.

Righto, with my first rant of the season out of the way, let’s delve into the first #BigCall that is as sure a thing as Opening Round being designed to take viewership away from the NRL in QLD and NSW as a Collingwood fan’s belief that they’ll go back-to-back.

A wise man called Anthony Smith once told me recently, there’s an uncanny ability of first-time coaches to get a W in their first game. For the accuracy of my prediction, we are talking about a coach’s first game for their “new” team.

In 2019 Brett Ratten for St Kilda, David Teague for Carlton, and Rhyce Shaw for North Melbourne all recorded wins in their first game as coach, with only David Hale at Fremantle recording a loss against Port Adelaide.

We don’t count 2020 as a real season – sorry Richmond fans!

In 2021, Robert Harvey led the Pies to a loss in his first game, so obviously 2021 isn’t counted as a real season either – sorry Melbourne fans!

Round One, 2022 opened with Sam Mitchell’s Hawthorn tenure commencing with a win against North Melbourne. In a most unlikely outcome, and on the topic of North, in Round 18 2022, North Melbourne, with new coach Leigh Adams at the helm, defeated Richmond by four points in front of 22,000 fans at Docklands. A few months prior, Mark McVeigh’s Giants smashed the Eagles in his first game at the helm – sorry West Coast fans!

This brings us to last season, which, as an Eagles fan, is one I would sooner forget! Round One might also be a game Freo fans would sooner forget with former coach Ross Lyon getting bragging rights as the new (new?) coach of St Kilda. Ross the Boss fans may remember he also got the W in his first game for St Kilda in Round 1 2007.

Also in Round One, Brad Scott got his first win as Bomber’s coach, a tally he would add to 10 more times last season but unfortunately, he collected 12 losses, narrowly missing out on finals. The number of days without a finals win now sits around 7100 give or take a few depending on when this article is published – sorry Essendon fans!

Rounding out our list of coaches to get a W in their first game is Alistair Clarkson in his new role at North, beating the Eagles by five points in Round One last year.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, well a lot of these wins were against rubbish teams, or perhaps they were just lucky. You might even be thinking that the confidence interval of this statistic is unreliable owing to small sample size or incorrect methods of derivation. As someone who once got 51% in a statistics unit at uni, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter. That’s not how stats work.

The only thing that matters, and the only take-away you should get from this article is that my first Big Call isn’t a big call at all. It’s a sure thing.

“First-time” coach Damien Hardwick comes up against “first-time” coach Adam Yze (obviously we don’t count Round Seven, 2022) when Richmond takes on the Gold Coast Suns. Dimma Hardwick is back and he’s looking to pounce (you’re welcome) on a rising Suns team (you’re again most welcome).

One thing is abundantly clear and it’s this: the game will end in a draw.

The stats don’t lie.