AFL Tackle: Have Bombers finally found midfield dynamic duo?
After more than 80 days without footy, Round 2 had a bit of everything.
Starting with a draw and ending with a big Sunday night upset, premiership fancies were toppled, two Melbourne teams scored massive wins on the road, the match review system showed it hasn't become easier to understand in 2020 and a No.1 draft pick announced himself in his second game.
Here's what chief football writer Mark Robinson liked, and didn't like.
1. MATT ROWELL
He looks like Cameron Ling and plays like Michael Voss. Who does that in their second game of football against the best midfield in the competition? Rowell had time on Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly in the middle and beat them all head-to-head in possessions. He's as fit and focused as Lingy was - and wears the oversized white mouthguard - and is ferociously competitive like Vossy.
The numbers say it all - team-highs in SuperCoach points (171), disposals, contested possessions and tackles - but they don't tell the whole story. He is a "transformational'' player, to borrow a word from Cats coach Chris Scott, a player of incredible strength and willpower. His ability to take on tacklers and still be able to get rid of the ball by hand just might be his signature move.
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2. LETHAL WAS IMPRESSED
AFL great Leigh Matthews first saw Rowell in a scratch match when Brisbane played Gold Coast in the pre-season. "I remember thinking, he knows what he's doing, he's a good player,'' Matthews said.
Rowell's performance on Saturday night was the double down.
"He's just so powerful. At a young age, he looks physically, mentally, emotionally … he's a very mature. He is a player straight away, very impressive.''
Most players come into the system needing to work on fitness and bulk up the body, but not Rowell. "Sam Walsh is an interesting comparison. Last year he was a really good player but still looked like a 18-year-old,'' Matthews said. "Rowell looks and plays like a 25-year-old, he's a beauty. He's a man-child. He's teenager who doesn't look like one or play like one.''
3. ST KILDA'S MOSQUITO FLEET
If they get time and space, as they did on Sunday, St Kilda's bevy of midfielders - Jones, Gresham, Billings, Hill, Ross, Hannebery, Steele - will be difficult to counter. A better, tougher and more accountable midfield than what the Bulldogs offered will be a test. But there is substance about this group. Add Hunter Clark and Ben Long off a back flank, and add Dan Butler to the forward mix, and the Saints will back themselves on the spread. The query is team defence and that was a tick against the Dogs. Collingwood v Saints this week shapes a ripper.
4. NORTH MELBOURNE
Arguably the most complete victory since Rhyce Shaw took over as coach, notwithstanding the win over Richmond in Round 11 last year in his second game in charge. Same-day travel and against one of the premiership fancies, this team has seemingly bought into the Shinboner spirit which Shaw has underpinned his coaching.
That's not just about playing tough football. North matched GWS in contested ball and also beat the Giants on the spread in the second half. Twice North was challenged. In the third quarter the Giants appeared to have the ascendancy, and North responded with five consecutive goals. When the Giants surged again, Cameron Zurhaar, Jared Polec and Jack Ziebell kicked goals to kill the game.
5. PARISH AND MERRETT
Too often the Essendon midfield is accused of not standing up when it's counted. True, the Bombers have been run down twice in their first two rounds and have got away with the win. On Sunday, though, two Essendon mids made a statement in the final quarter. Darcy Parish had 13 of his overall 17 possessions and best-afield Zac Merrett had 12 of his overall 29. Bombers fan will not remember the last time two midfielders dominated in such fashion. Merrett is arguably Essendon most important player and Parish simply has to be more consistent with his output if Essendon is to play finals this year.
6. THE OTHER 'R' IS ROZEE
Connor Rozee is only 20 and has played 24 games, but he could be Port Adelaide's most influential player by the end of the season. He embarrassed Adelaide on Saturday night with his talent, spunk and attitude.
In the opening half, Rozee recorded 124 SuperCoach points on the back of 12 disposals, nine contested possessions, six clearances, six score involvements and a goal. He's another Dustin Martin type (without Dusty's body) because when he gets the ball, something positive happens. No short kicks sidewards or backwards, no stopping the game to assess.
This is kid is a go-getter in a time where we are worried about defensive footy devouring the game. He's tough and skilled, which is the perfect combination for a mid-forward.
7. BRANDAN PARFITT
Footy won't ever change and it's why the "bulls'' will remain extremely valuable. Parfitt is like Devon Smith and Ziebell in the midfield. They won't knock up 30 every week, but their overall balance between defence and attack is loved by coaches. Parfitt had 19 touches, 10 tackles and eight clearances for the Cats. What stood out, according to Jimmy Bartel on 3AW, was Parfitt's ability to take the hit and still be able to get rid of the ball. "I love him as a player,'' Bartel said.
8. MARC PITTONET
Max Gawn and Christian Petracca will likely get the votes in a strange old game at Marvel on Saturday. But Carlton's Marc Pittonet's efforts against Gawn after quarter-time might see him get coaches' votes.
Who won't get a vote but will get pats on the back was Melbourne's first-gamer Trent Rivers. He has dash and polish. He had 12 disposals at 83 per cent, and wanted to take on the game from half-back. His selection meant coach Simon Goodwin could swing Jayden Hunt forward, where he kicked three first-half goals. It was a win-win from the coach in what ultimately a lucky Demons victory.
9. NATHAN BUCKLEY
He was classy in his response to Heritier Lumumba's second-last recent offering on social media, although he and Collingwood might have to do more to own what Lumumba has accused them of. Maybe not own, but at least acknowledge there was a racist environment for a period when Lumumba was at the club. That's if it was true.
This is not going away quickly. What's surprising is the AFL has not spoken on this issue. The league was all-in with the players expressing themselves before the game on Thursday night, but have kept mum about Lumumba. Wonder if they hope it gets swept under the carpet.
1. WHERE TO FOR THE BULLDOGS?
They're in Adelaide territory, bumbling and stumbling with a mountain of questions. This wasn't supposed to happen. Bullied by Collingwood in Round 1, ran off their feet by the Saints in Round 2. They are brandless, the Bulldogs. On Sunday night they had opportunities early, didn't take them and after that never really was able to assert themselves with the ball.
So, what changes? Maybe forward Aaron Naughton needs to go to defence while team performance is mediocre. He's not getting enough ball in the forward 50m and if coach Luke Beveridge hasn't given up on Josh Schache, then Schache might get a game. Of course, there's more problems than Naughton's coldness.
2. WHO WAS WORSE, GWS OR THE EAGLES?
The Eagles have a small excuse - foreign territory, mentally adjusting, wet conditions - but small it is. They were out-hunted by a much younger team. Many observers argued the Eagles could make their hub a fortress, but now's there a serious rethink on that mindset. The Giants have no excuse whatsoever. They were close to full strength and got a lesson in hard-running after halftime by the Kangaroos. If Round 2 is a guide, this season is shaping to be unconventional. So, the answer is the Giants.
3. STILL, EVERYONE WILL BE LOOKING AT THE EAGLES
Hub living is not going away and over the next three weeks they play Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Richmond. It's massive. They could be 1-4 and in a shortened season that result would seriously jeopardise a top-four finish. The Eagles kicked one goal in the second half. Tim Kelly was shut down by Touk Miller, Greenwood matched Yeo and Darling
4. EASE THE RESTRICTIONS
It's wishy washy at the moment. You can tackle and pile-on players in play, but can't high-five after a goal. It's all over the shop. Players were hugging each other after goals at the weekend, but that's against the rules and the AFL doesn't impose any penalty. It makes it a fake rule. What's annoying coaches and players is they are allowed only one training session in which all players can join in. The other sessions must be done in groups of eight. It's time for the AFL to be agile in their thinking.
5. TWITCHY ABOUT MITCH
When will Mitch McGovern become the player Carlton wants him to be? He's an "almost player''. He was heavily criticised last year for being overpaid and underperforming and it was more of the same against Melbourne on Saturday.
He put himself in good positions but too often didn't finish. He kicked out of bounds on the full from 20m in the third quarter, which was a huge moment, and then in the final quarter dropped two marks - one 30m from goal late - which he'd be kicking himself for.
It's boring to say he must take his opportunities, but he simply has to. He took 60 marks (eight contested) and kicked 22 goals from 16 matches in 2019. Against the Demons, it was seven marks and a goal, although he did win a lot of his possessions between the arcs. Mind you, he wasn't alone with missed shots at goal. The skipper missed two from 40m in the third and fourth quarters.
6. WORST FEARS REALISED
A "lack of contest and bruise-free footy,'' said Crows coach Matty Nicks. "Embarrassing.'' That's as close as any coach will come to describing his players as soft. They were. They lost the disposal count by 104, contested possession count by 19 and clearance count by nine. More alarming was they were outscored by 51 points from a stoppage, their worst result in a match since Round 24, 2011.
That's not putting the acid on the one-paced midfield alone, that's putting the acid on everyone. Nicks could have also called them lazy. They were out-marked by 66, their worst result in a match since Round 3, 2012. Talk about being under the pump early.
7. WHAT WILL THE HAWKS DO WITH BIG BOY?
It wasn't the biggest issue against Geelong, as the midfield in totality was obliterated. But Ben McEvoy as a ruckman or a defender will be a topic of discussion. He was moved to defence in Rounds 22 and 23 last year and it worked, leaving Jon Ceglar in the ruck. If McEvoy stays back this weekend, he'll be asked to stand Richmond's Tom Lynch. That could also work. It really depends on how Ceglar is travelling in the ruck, which against the Cats was pretty good after quarter-time. It's a watch-this-space with McEvoy.
8. THAT'S RUBBISH, MELBOURNE
They might laugh about it, and they did sing a second rendition for their song for new skipper Max Gawn. But that's not the point, they forgot him in the first instance which was incredibly selfish. Did it happen to Luke Hodge, Joel Selwood, Trent Cotchin or Scott Pendlebury, or will it happen to other captain newbies in Marcus Bontempelli and Sam Docherty? No. Talk of inclusion, care and looking out for your teammate seems hollow when this happens.
9. LUCKY BOYS
Is the AFL fair dinkum about concussion and its potential impact or will it finally make a statement to try to outlaw dangerous tackles and actions? Hawk Shaun Burgoyne is fair, but he did the wrong thing and should've been suspended for his action on Patrick Dangerfield. How Burgoyne received a $1000 fine and teammate Liam Shiels the same penalty for his strike to the stomach of Joel Selwood is mystifying.
Originally published as The Tackle: Have Bombers finally found midfield dynamic duo?