After six months of Tiger fans celebrating their momentous 2017 premiership, the action was back again with the opening round of the 2018 season. The Tigers continued on their winning way after an early fright from the Blues, although the same couldn’t be said about fellow Grand Finallist, Adelaide, who were overrun by the Bombers.
Port Adelaide were comfortable winners over the Dockers, the Saints finished strongly against the Lions, the Suns got the job done in the slush at Cairns, while the Magpies were almost the most disappointing side of the round, going down to Hawthorn.
That title, though, had to lie with the Bulldogs who were insipidly bad as much as the Giants were impressively good. The Cats survived a missed set shot from Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn, while the Swans spoiled the opening party at the new Perth Stadium, claiming the four points against West Coast.
Here are some quick (and possibly irrational) thoughts from Round 1:
Nathan Buckley won’t see out the year
The Collingwood coach endured a season of scrutiny in 2017, but the Magpies board stuck by him come the end of the season, signing the former Magpie champ to a further two years. Despite the new contract, Collingwood entered 2018 as a team that had to show improvement after four years out of the finals.
There was mixed consensus as to whether they could contend for finals or remain as a middle rung side and they would have an early test against the Hawks, another side whose fortunes many were struggling to predict. The showing was a disappointing display from Collingwood and thrust their coach straight back into the spotlight. The Hawks ran away to a 34 point win as the Magpies brought with them the same problems from last year. They were poor with disposal, consistently took the wrong options and appear to show uncertainty over what their game plan actually is. If the opening game is any indication, Buckley can’t develop this squad into a finals bound team.
Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow could do the Brownlow/Coleman Double
Blues’ fans have had every reason to enter 2018 with optimism, and while they are unlikely to make finals, they will continue to head the right way as the new generation of Carlton players play more games together. For ten minutes against the reigning premiers, Carlton were irrepressible, and while the Tigers ultimately got themselves back into the contest, and were able to record a 26 point win, the Blues didn’t do a lot wrong on the evening.
Two of their stars on the evening were Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow. Both have been touted in past seasons as ready to explode and their first up performances for 2018 suggest a big year ahead. Cripps, returning from a broken leg, had 36 disposals, 23 of which were contested, 8 clearances and seven tackles to remind everyone the type of player that he could be. A runner-up in the Rising Star award three seasons ago, Cripps is the archetypal midfielder and will most definitely attract the attention of the umpires. Charlie Curnow booted five goals in a breakout performance, and with a greater emphasis on attack, there are certain to be more bags.
The 100-goal season may not be dead
Speaking of bags, there was much enjoyment to see some forwards racking up impressive goal tallies. None were better than Lance Franklin’s tally of 8 (6 of which were booted in the opening half), but Jeremy Cameron booted six in the Giants demolition of the Bulldogs earlier in the day, Matthew Wright kicked five along with teammate Charlie Curnow and a host of players finished with four.
Franklin, in particular, looked unstoppable and there would have been many of the former greats in the game who would have loved the approach of the Sydney coaching staff. Franklin was often isolate in the forward 50 or the last forward for the Swans, giving the big man plenty of space to work his craft. Jeremy Cameron kicked 70 goals a couple of years ago as a 21 year old, and with the Giants expected to win a majority of their games in 2018, there will be plenty of chances for Cameron to have shots on goal. The move of Rory Lobb into the ruck following the retirement of Shane Mumford may also prove a blessing in disguise for Cameron as he becomes a greater focal point alongside Jon Patton. With Joe Daniher, Ben Brown and Josh Kennedy all capable of kicking big tallies, the days of the 100 goal kicker may not yet be finished.
The Bulldogs are bottom-four material
The Bulldogs lacked any fight against the Giants and its hard to see how things will improve. Already coming into the season with a mounting injury list, a turbulent trade period and infighting off the field, the club played everything like an unstable basket case. The Bulldogs have been unable to match the intensity and ferocity that drove the club to the 2016 flag and they look thin at both ends of the ground.
First-gamer Aaron Naughton was thrown to the wolves in defence on Jeremy Cameron, while Luke Beveridge has swung Easton Wood forward in a bid to find goals. Tom Boyd is languishing in the VFL and the clubs injury list got worse over the weekend when they lost Tom Liberatore to a second knee reconstruction. The hunger of the ‘Dogs is running into short supply and Luke Beveridge has the toughest of tasks to get his club back on track.
Jack Watts will reach the potential of his No.1 selection at Port Adelaide
Since taking over the reins at Port Adelaide, Ken Hinkley has been credited with getting the most of many individuals in the playing squad, and his greatest accomplishment could be finally getting Jack Watts to be the player he promised to be over a decade ago at under-18 level. Playing predominantly as a permanent foil to Charlie Dixon, Watts booted 3.3 from 20 disposals and seven marks, and was involved in many other scoring chains.
Watts’ first up effort comes after a six-goal performance against the Crows in JLT2 and suggests that Hinkley may have unlocked the key to playing the former number one draft pick. Since making his debut at the Demons, Watts has struggled to live up to the tag at a club that was desperate to find their next savoiur. Watts was often played in a multitude of positions as the Demons tried to get the best out of him, but Hinkley has appeared to settle Watts with a clear positional plan.
Are Fremantle Actually Trying to Rebuild?
The Dockers went down to the Power by 50 points, which considering the opposition isn’t a completely disgraceful effort. But for all the talk coming from the coach about the need to regenerate an aging squad and bring in the next generation of players to engineer a tilt at the flag, there are mixed messages about what the Dockers are trying to achieve.
Six of the side that took on Port Adelaide were over 30 years of age with the selection of Michael Johnson ahead of Joel Hamling particularly baffling. Aaron Sandilands, Danyle Pearce, David Mundy, and Hayden Ballantyne all got the nod, leaving a number of youngsters to play in Peel Thunder’s practice match. Sean Darcy couldn’t be considered due to suspension, but Griffin Logue, Brady Grey and Ethan Hughes couldn’t get a look in and number five draft pick, Adam Cerra, has barely been seen this pre-season which may be concerning for Freo fans.
The Kangaroos went all-in with their rebuild, exiting a number of club legends over the past two seasons, and while they will feel some genuine pain this season, the value of getting games into their young players will pay dividends. The Dockers on the other hand are talking the rebuild talk, but aren’t walking the rebuild walk.