After an AFL pre-season of bold proclamations and lofty promises, some teams leave round one with their prospects emboldened while others search for answers.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.
Let Collingwood entertain you
It takes a brave coach to put entertainment high on the list of priorities for their team. Most AFL coaches spend their careers in a perpetual cycle of figuring out how to close the game down whenever attacking footy threatens to break out, governed by the win-loss column far more than the affection of neutral supporters.
Craig McRae says to hell with your conventional wisdom. He has been clear all off-season that he wants his team to be “fun to watch”; to enthral Pies fans and more casual observers alike.
The Collingwood players made good on McRae’s promise against Geelong, as they did almost every week in 2022. Say what you will about all those close games last year, the Magpies are a better side in 2023 and should be considered among the most serious of premiership contenders.
Among the best teams, the game has been trending towards a “forwards at all costs” attitude since Richmond first swept the field in 2017. But Collingwood’s version is laced with genuine beauty, the ball flowing through hands and around the ground as if controlled by a wizard’s wand.
Overhead handballs, deft taps and touches, creative angles run and provocative kicks hit. You’d have to be the absolute staunchest Collingwood-hater alive to watch them play and not marvel — and if you are, then you’re truly missing out.
This could come across as your standard round-one overreaction if not for the fact they’ve been doing it for more than 12 months now.
Last year’s finals series should have removed any doubts remaining about McRae’s entertainers, and Friday night’s showing should scare the daylights out of 17 other clubs.
Horne-Francis takes control of his own story
Jason Horne-Francis wants to be the best player in the AFL. We know this because he told us.
It was one of a million things he was criticised for in the latter stages of 2022 when he made clear his desire to leave North Melbourne and return home to Port Adelaide. A lot of pretty silly things have been said about 19-year-old Horne-Francis, but doubting his ability on the field tops the list.
In his Port Adelaide debut against Brisbane, Horne-Francis produced the sort of insatiable, dominant, second-coming-of-Dangerfield performance that was always only a matter of time.
His third quarter alone was worth the trade outlay. Horne-Francis took a tight game against one of the premiership favourites and bent it to his will, sending Adelaide Oval into raptures with a combination of power and skill.
He wasn’t alone, and the standard set by Horne-Francis after half-time was matched by Connor Rozee, Zac Butters and many more besides.
The importance of this game had been exaggerated but was still not lost on Port Adelaide, and watching them rise to the occasion after the long break was to reassess what they might be capable of.
With Todd Marshall lifting the burden off Charlie Dixon, Aliir Aliir looking much more like himself, and Junior Rioli providing an immediate spark of creativity, Port’s insertion into an already crowded field of front-runners does not seem improbable.
But as has been the case his whole career, the headlines belong to Horne-Francis. His once-derided ambitions may one day prove prophetic.
Big Dogs brought down to size
Could the first outing of the Very Tall Bulldogs be the last?
One of the great points of intrigue coming into this season was Luke Beveridge’s plan to load up his forward line with Aaron Naughton, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Sam Darcy and Rory Lobb, and first impressions were not great.
Individually, Naughton and Ugle-Hagan played to about their usual standards, Darcy looked expectedly raw and Lobb was completely anonymous. But it was the collective structure that will have concerned Beveridge most.
The worry coming in was a forward line of such lankitude would be unable to prevent Melbourne’s rapid counter-attack from half-back, and so it proved.
The Dees kicked goal after goal from their own defence, and largely negated the threat of the Very Tall Bulldogs by simply placing their own Very Tall Demon Max Gawn in the hole behind the play.
In the end, the decision may be taken out of Beveridge’s hands, as an injury to Liam Jones may well force Darcy back into defence.
But despite some good signs around the contest, the Bulldogs’ season will be defined by their ability to score efficiently from the plentiful opportunities they create without sacrificing their defensive solidity.
Around the grounds
A draw to start the season! How fun. There’s every chance that may be both Carlton and Richmond’s worst showing of the year , so two points each and on to round two might be a fair result.
Questions about how the Swans would react to that grand final defeat were answered pretty swiftly. Their young players are getting better, and their veterans remain more than solid. Another big year beckons.
After a sleepy start, the Giants and Crows played out a little off-Broadway classic, which was won rather inspirationally by GWS. Both teams looked to have raised their ceilings in 2023, but both also suffered some alarming dips.
It’s been a while since the smiles were this wide at North Melbourne. It was only one win against admittedly poor opposition, but with the mastercoach in charge and a growing list of future All Australians, hope abounds.
Hawthorn fans will have braced themselves for some tough weeks, but I don’t think they anticipated it getting quite so ugly this early. By the time Tippa hit the scoreboard in the last it was a Bombers bonanza — in other words, a Hawks’ worst nightmare.
St Kilda won the unwinnable game . This performance had Ross Lyon’s fingerprints absolutely all over it, and was an incredible proof of concept so early in his tenure. Fremantle? Sheesh.
In the clubhouse
Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.
The kids were unleashed up and down the league, setting the scene for a Rising Star race that could be closer than some have predicted.
Finn Callaghan was influential for the Giants, as was Matteas Phillipou for the Saints, but the week belongs to the Big Sheeze.
A lazy 34 disposals and 631 metres gained for Harry Sheezel in North’s win over West Coast, but the best news for Roos fans is we’ve only scratched the surface with this guy.
Sheezel’s natural ball-winning ability was on show from half-back, but wait until he starts venturing further forward and his incredible goal sense and creativity come to the fore.
In other news, there’s every chance we saw both the mark and the goal of the year in the opening round.
Harry Himmelberg had a picnic on Reilly O’Brien’s head…
And Chad Wingard put half the Bombers’ defence into a mixer…
If either of those are beaten this year, we’re in for a treat.