Given the chance to start their season with a bang, Essendon instead face-planted.
Plus the big worries for a big-name contender that are almost totally out of their control.
The big issues from Round 1 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!
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‘BRUISE-FREE’ BOMBERS SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED
Essendon great Matthew Lloyd led the criticism after his former club’s woeful Round 1 display against Geelong.
In a battle of two finalists, the Bombers were at least expected to challenge a Cats side missing arguably six of their best 22, yet looked done at quarter-time and never got close.
“I’d be embarrassed about (the showing) if I was a senior player at Essendon,” Lloyd said on Nine’s Sunday Footy Show.
“Geelong were outstanding, but the Bombers were really, really poor.
“I thought it was a bruise-free game of football. You don’t like saying that about any side, but that’s what the Bombers have to cop after yesterday.”
What particularly drew Lloyd’s ire was the stat accumulation for little effect.
Zach Merrett had 39 disposals but just seven of them were contested and he added only one clearance; Darcy Parish had 34 touches and one tackle; Andrew McGrath was involved in just one score from his 29 disposals.
“Contested possessions, they were smashed, clearances, they were smashed, yet they had more disposals,” Lloyd said.
“They got their game wrong yesterday. A lot of short, little passes where blokes were beefing up their disposals, but weren’t really effective at all.
“I hope Ben Rutten’s strong during the week because that’s just not good enough.
“They looked to play a ‘nice’ game of footy against a side that has been there all the time, in Geelong, and they just bullied them yesterday.”
Essendon coach Ben Rutten declared the result was out of character for his side.
“It wasn’t an indication of what we’ve been doing throughout the pre-season, how we’ve been training,” he said post-match.
“It’s something that we probably didn’t see coming. It’s certainly not what we stand for as a footy club.”
EARLY SIGN OF POTENTIAL PORT DECLINE – AND IT’S OUT OF THEIR HANDS
Port Adelaide were left licking their wounds after copping a series of brutal injury blows in their season-opening loss to Brisbane.
But it’s another factor – the margin – that was also telling.
It’s always unlucky when you cop multiple injuries to crucial players, especially impact injuries (as opposed to repeated soft tissue ones), and the losses of Zak Butters (head knock), Aliir Aliir, Connor Rozee (ankle), Xavier Duursma (collarbone) and Trent McKenzie (knee) will force them to dip into their depth.
In particular the losses of McKenzie and Aliir see their tall defensive stocks take two hammer blows.
Yet losing a close game was one other element of bad luck that the Power are going to have to deal with this season.
In the last two home and away seasons they have been shockingly good in close games, going a ridiculous 9-0 in games decided by 13 points or less.
We say ridiculous because no team can expect to be consistently good in close games, as we wrote this pre-season. Power fans suggested that they had trained for close games – as if other teams don’t? – but there is no team, in really any global sport, that consistently wins more close games than they lose.
That’s because close games are luck-based. One free kick going your way, one ball bouncing the right direction, whatever it may be.
So their 11-point loss to Brisbane is a sign that their close-game luck won’t continue. Last year they went 17-5, helped by a best-in-the-AFL 5-0 record in close games.
They could play just as well as the 2021 team and have a worse record, purely by losing a couple of close games. But those injuries may mean they don’t play as well as last year…
‘FRAUDULENT’ SAINTS LEAVE DOOR OPEN FOR CRITICS
Was 2020’s run to the finals just the exception rather than the norm for St Kilda?
Saints fans who held high hopes that 2021’s spluttering season was just an interval between finals appearances would be mightily concerned with Friday night’s loss to Collingwood.
Perhaps more than anything, it was the sense of deja vu that would’ve been infuriating for Saints fans watching on, with the rollercoaster ride that was the scoreworm on Friday night being so similar to how the 2021 season played out.
“I’m confused with St Kilda, and we’ve been down this path with this plan before,” North Melbourne dual premiership player David King told SEN’s Crunch Time on Saturday.
“For the first half, I didn’t think there was any great point of difference, any real dare.
“When their pressure is on, they’re a capable AFL team, but when their pressure drops fractionally, they get picked apart too easily.
“They have way too many players finish forward of a contest before the contest is won.
“We’ve talked about this for two or three years now, that’s a fraudulent model.
“You cannot finish forward of the contest… As soon as you allow the opposition to outnumber you at the contest, you’re in trouble.”
Saints great Nick Riewoldt questioned the side’s lack of intensity from the opening siren.
“The first 15 minutes of your season is probably a good time to deliver on that intensity,” he said on Fox Footy.
“Four tackles and a pressure rating of 160 – it’s nowhere near good enough.
“(They’re) flat-footed, (there’s) not enough intensity to get after Collingwood.
“They’re all past the play. If the opposition win it, you’re not in a position to apply pressure going the other way.”
CATS’ KIDS STAND UP AMID AGE DEBATE
Chris Scott is no stranger to hearing that the Geelong list is too old to challenge.
The Cats coach says it’s been the same criticism for the “last decade”. But on Saturday it was his kids who stood up against Essendon in their big Round 1 win.
23-year-old Brandan Parfitt was Geelong’s lead possession getter with 32 while Tom Atkins picked off nine intercepts in his 21 touches in just his 58th AFL game.
New recruit Tyson Stengle, 23, stepped up with four goals, and was supported by 19-year-old Max Holmes who finished with two.
“I heard (the age criticism) from the day I walked into the club,” Scott said after the 66-point win over Essendon.
“Most people mounting those arguments do it from a basis of logic. I’m likely to agree with a lot of points they make.
“You’re always trying to balance. The logical argument would be ‘Oh, they look old and slow’. It’s not our position to argue with that. We’ve just got to go about our business.
“We’re not prepared to give in to it and talk ourselves into the fact that we can’t be a very good team.”
Despite the efforts of four-goal hero Tom Hawkins and star Patrick Dangerfield, Scott used his post-match press conference to heap praise on a host of young players.
“Just the silver lining for having a couple of guys not quite ready to play for Round 1, we were going to play them anyway, but we got some younger guys in that I thought equipped themselves really well,” he said.
“I thought De Koning looked solid back there, Ratugolea was a threat, I thought Holmes was really good, Francis Evans looked dangerous. It was a good sign for us.
“We think our experience is a strength but obviously when those younger players come in and change you a little it, I think, all gets us up on our toes even more.”