By Brook "Boris" Kilpatrick, special to AFANA from Australia
The 2018 AFL season kicked off on Thursday night with reigning premiers Richmond unfurling the premiership flag in front of a massive crowd of over 90,000 at the MCG. The Tigers had an early scare as their opponent Carlton kicked the first five goals of the match, before parity was restored and Richmond ran out comfortable 26-point winners.
Fellow grand finalist Adelaide looked like racking up a solid first up away win against Essendon as they led by 20 points at the final change, only to be ambushed by a rampant Bomber outfit that stole the four points with a scintillating last quarter burst. The win was full of merit for the new look Bombers who played most of the game without gun midfielder Zach Merrett who was concussed in the first quarter after a strong bump from Crow midfielder Richard Douglas.
In other games a new look Port Power dominated a disappointing Fremantle Dockers outfit, the Gold Coast Suns under new Coach Stuart Dew defeated North Melbourne in horrendous wet conditions in Cairns, a rejuvenated Hawthorn dominated a "punchless" Collingwood at the MCG, St. Kilda overcame a scare against an impressive young Brisbane Lions squad and Lance “Buddy” Franklin kicked eight goals in a sensational Sydney Swans win over the West Coast Eagles in the first AFL men’s game played at the brand new Optus Stadium in Perth.
The most impressive performance of round one has to go to the Greater Western Sydney Giants who powered to a massive 82 point win over the Western Bulldogs in Canberra, while the match of the round was an absolute cracker between Geelong and Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday, with the Gary Ablett led Cats scraping home by just three points after a Max Gawn miss in the last minute sunk the Demons chances.
How does all of that action shape the first AFANA AFL Power Poll for the season? It’s all about Olde Sydney Towne in week one!
1. Greater Western Sydney Giants
The Giants absolutely massacred the Western Bulldogs in Canberra, running out 82 point victors against the hapless 2016 Premiers. With Rory Lobb taking the lion’s share of rucking duties, the midfield brigade of Josh Kelly, Steven Coniglio, Dylan Shiel and Callan Ward ran amok feeding forwards Jeremy Cameron (6 goals), Toby Greene (4 goals) and Jonathon Patton (2 goals). It was a complete performance from Leon Cameron’s boys and one that sends a stark warning to the other 17 teams in the competition.
2. Sydney Swans
The Swans were keen to put last season’s dismal 0-6 start behind them as they traveled to Perth to take on the West Coast Eagles at brand new Optus Stadium. Sydney hit the scoreboard early and with the league’s premier forward Lance “Buddy” Franklin in top form (8 goals) the Swans led from wire to wire, eventually running out winners by 29 points. With Luke Parker looking to be back to his best and Isaac Heeney raising his game to another level, the Swans look primed to go deep into the finals in 2018.
3. Port Adelaide Power
The Power, minus midfield goal sneak Robbie Gray (suspension), had no problem in discarding the Fremantle Dockers in Adelaide on Saturday afternoon. New recruits Jack Watts, Stephen Motlop, Tom Rockliff and Dom Barry all played a part in the 50 point win played in warm, sunny conditions at picturesque Adelaide Oval. The only negative for Port in their impressive first up win was an apparent Achilles tendon injury to key ruckman Patrick Ryder.
4. Geelong Cats
The Cats met fellow finals aspirants Melbourne in a classic encounter at the MCG on Sunday afternoon. With Patrick Dangerfield missing due to a hamstring injury, it was left to 250 gamer Joel Selwood and the returning Gary Ablett Jr. to light up the MCG with some sublime running football. Late in the game it looked like the Demons were going to run Geelong down but the Cats held on in a thriller by just three points. Key defender Harry Taylor left the field with what looked like a serious foot injury that would have put a dampener on the Cats celebrations.
5. Richmond Tigers
The Tigers opened the season on Thursday night against Carlton by unfurling their premiership flag in front of a whopping crowd of over 90,000 at the MCG. The premiership “hangover” appeared to be in full effect as Carlton kicked the first five goals of the match in front of a stunned pro-Richmond crowd. Led by reigning Brownlow medalist Dustin Martin the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, eventually stamping their authority with a 26 point victory. Richmond can ill afford such a tardy start against fellow grand finalist Adelaide in round two.
6. Adelaide Crows
The Crows would have expected a tough battle against a much improved Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Friday night, and that is exactly what they got. With captain and power forward Taylor “Tex” Walker missing through injury, the Crows blooded rookies Tom Doedee, Darcy Fogarty and Lachlan Murphy. Adelaide looked the classier team for much of the night, taking a seemingly comfortable 20 point lead into the three quarter time break. Things unraveled for the Crows in the final quarter as the Bombers blitzed the Crows with frenetic ball movement, eventually running out 12 point winners. Adelaide will see this game as one that got away.
7. Melbourne Demons
The Demons did everything but win their sensational Sunday game against an equally committed Geelong Cats at the MCG. This game lived up to expectations and was clearly the game of the round. Melbourne looked the goods in general play and had a whopping 64 entries inside the 50 meter arc to Geelong’s 41, yet failed to capitalize on their ascendancy with poor finishing in front of goal. The Demon’s defense on the other hand was no match for the Cats when on the attack, a fact that will give Coach Simon Goodwin plenty to think about as the Demon’s prepare to take on Brisbane at the Gabba in round two.
8. Essendon Bombers
The Bombers gave their fans plenty to shout about with a barnstorming finish to run out 20 point winners over the Adelaide Crows at Etihad Stadium. The three-pronged attack of Joe Daniher, James Stewart and Cale Hooker gave the Crows defense conniptions as the desperate Bombers overcame the early loss of gun midfielder Zach Merrett. Essendon are one team to watch as big improvers in 2018.
9. Hawthorn Hawks
Tom Mitchell was unstoppable in racking up a record-breaking 54 possessions against a lackluster Collingwood on Saturday night at the MCG. Incredibly Mitchell had a 50 possession game during round nine in 2017 – also against Collingwood - begging the question as to why a hard tag wasn’t placed on the talented Hawk midfielder? Jaeger O’Meara was also impressive for Hawthorn while the stylish Luke Breust kicked four goals.
10. St Kilda Saints
The Saints didn’t have things all their own way against a plucky young Brisbane Lions outfit but were good enough to run out 25 point winners. Jack Steven was dynamic for the Saints, picking up 34 touches and using his speed to create plenty of chances up forward for the Saints. He added two goals of his own in a best on ground performance. Jack Billings was also in great touch for St. Kilda while the new look forward line, missing the retiring Nick Riewoldt, functioned efficiently with Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce kicking two goals each.
11. Gold Coast Suns
Horrendous conditions met the Gold Coast Suns and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Cazaly Stadium in Cairns. A tropical deluge just prior to game time left the surface more akin to a swim meet than a football game, but rookie Coach Stuart Dew’s men didn’t let it dampen their attack on the ball. Jack Bowes was excellent for the Suns while new recruit Aaron Young (Port Adelaide) and ex-Adelaide Crow Jarryd Lyons showed some good form for the Gold Coast.
12. West Coast Eagles
The Eagles christened their new home with a 29 point loss to the Sydney Swans on Sunday. West Coast had no answer to a barnstorming eight goal performance by Lance Franklin, despite bridging the gap to within five points at three quarter time. Missing key forward Josh Kennedy, it was a spirited performance from the Eagles despite going down. The stellar form of returning ruckman Nic Naitanui after 19 months out of the game would have pleased Coach Adam Simpson immensely.
13. Carlton Blues
A fast start from the Blues against reigning premier Richmond had the Carlton fans screaming with delight at the AFL season opener on Thursday night at the MCG. Young stars Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow set the game alight as the unfancied Blues jumped the Tigers with the first five goals of the match. Despite going down by 26 points there was plenty to like about the attacking style of Brendon Bolton’s Blues who look to have turned the corner towards once again being relevant.
14. Western Bulldogs
The Bulldogs endured a nightmare start to the season, not only getting thumped by the Giants but also losing midfielder Tom Liberatore to his second torn ACL. The 82 point loss will give Coach Luke Beveridge some sleepless nights as he tries to work out how to invigorate a team that stood as AFL premiers just two seasons ago. Jack Macrae was a standout for the Bulldogs but they simply had too many players down on form. A matchup against the Eagles at home in round two should give them a chance to bounce back.
15. Collingwood Magpies
The Magpies didn’t release any pressure on Coach Nathan Buckley as they went down to a sharper Hawthorn on Saturday night. Despite some good signs from Darcy Moore in his new role down back and Ben Reid in attack, the Collingwood forward line lacked punch with Mason Cox having a nightmare of a game. The classy Jamie Elliott will be a welcome return from injury, but he may still be two weeks away, while an in form Alex Fasolo would benefit the Pies greatly.
16. Brisbane Lions
The Lions gave their fans plenty to cheer about despite the 25 point loss to Saint Kilda. Recruit Charlie Cameron (Adelaide Crows) was dynamic in his Lions debut, while ex-Hawthorn champion Luke Hodge marshaled the backline with his trademark efficiency. Turnovers killed the Lions late in the game when the heat was on, but the club is starting to build some solid talent which augurs well for the future.
17. Fremantle Dockers
The Dockers were outclassed by a well drilled Port outfit that will be very tough to beat at home this season. While the Dockers look to be vastly improved on paper, their ball use into the forward line lacked execution, resulting in multiple turnovers that Port exploited on the rebound. Youngsters Andrew Brayshaw and Bailey Banfield performed well and give the Dockers some hope moving forward. Champion midfielder Nat Fyfe was relatively quiet but will be better for the run.
18. North Melbourne Kangaroos
The Kangaroos were outworked by the Gold Coast Suns in the wet at Cazaly Stadium. Losing contested possession, inside 50’s and the tackle count would not have pleased Coach Brad Scott. It could be a long season for the Roos and their loyal supporters.
Article last changed on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - 4:32 PM EDT