AFL: Just one perfect record, and several resounding thuds

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Dayne Zorko  consols Lions big man Stefan Martin after the narrow loss to Port Adelaide. 

sports editor

Lion cubs frighten flag front runners

Port Adelaide maintained their perfect record to start the season with a five point win over Brisbane at Adelaide Oval, but the performance of the Lions following the late withdrawal of captain Dayne Beams with illness was most impressive. The absence of 2017 All Australian ruckman Paddy Ryder stung the Power as Stefan Martin (30 possessions, 49 hitouts and nine inside-50s) dominated around the ground against a handful of swingmen. Chris Fagan’s side were more composed with fewer scoring opportunities, but they were ultimately undone by a third-quarter lapse during which the hosts booted six of seven goals. Honourable losses aren’t fun, but Lions fans can take heart in a rebuilding side running an early premiership favourite so close on the road.

Listless Saints need to find an identity

A methodical approach to building a premiership contender bought time for Alan Richardson and his Saints, but with expectations heightened in 2018, an opening round win has been followed by two dismal losses and the pressure is beginning to mount. In a 49-point capitulation at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night, the Saints led the Crows for contested possessions and inside-50s but didn’t go close to matching the pressure applied by the 2017 runners-up. The Saints’ wastefulness in front of goal was eventually punished, as Don Pyke’s side found the rhythm in transition that spearheaded their run to the Grand Final. For a side lacking a game-breaker and a leader in the mould of retired captain Nick Riewoldt, the outlook is bleak. Richardson needs more from his forwards, but his entire side needs an identity to fall back on in that situation.

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Marcus Bontempelli celebrates a goal as the Bulldogs overrun Essendon.

Dire Dons cede points as Dogs find their bite

After consecutive thrashings to the GWS Giants and West Coast Eagles, the Bulldogs sustained the pressure and overlap run that has been a hallmark of their football under Luke Beveridge. The Dogs were allowed to thread the ball through the back half with ease, as a tall Essendon forward line applied pressure only through Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Additionally, the Dogs had a mismatch up forward as 193cm midfielder Marcus Bontempelli ran riot against a Dons defence missing the omitted Michael Hartley and All Australian Cale Hooker, who was once again deployed in the forward line. Coach John Worsfold’s issues don’t stop at endeavour and positioning – the midfield remains among the competition’s weakest and inconsistency has plagued the Bombers for years – but having signed a new contract, he needs to be more malleable with his best assets to get the most from a side capable of blistering football.

Rounded Swans performance reasserts premiership credentials

After a second round loss to Port Adelaide characterised by poor conversion of forward 50 entries, John Longmire’s side found a greater spread of scorers in their win over the GWS Giants on Saturday night. Callum Sinclair led with three majors, while Gary Rohan, Sam Reid, Tom Papley, Will Hayward and Lance Franklin all troubled the scorers on multiple occasions. Leon Cameron’s team had the better of the midfield contest with 14 more clearances but weren’t as effective on the outside, with Swans tagger George Hewett clamping down on wingman turned half-back-flanker Lachie Whitfield. The margin blew out to 33 points as midfielders Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy hit the board, and a late rally from the Giants was quashed by Franklin, who kicked two in the final six minutes after a subdued game. The Swans were the competition’s best side for most of 2017, and this weekend was a reminder of how gritty, flexible and dominant they can be.

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Slower, and now injured, Gary Ablett has so far not been the saviour Cats fans hope for. 

Holy Trinity may not be enough for Geelong

It wouldn’t be fair to write off Chris Scott’s side based on Sunday night’s 15-point loss to West Coast in Perth, with the Eagles slamming through six consecutive goals in the span of 10 minutes while key midfielders Gary Ablett, Nakia Cockatoo and Cameron Guthrie were all wrapped in cotton wool. But for a missed set shot from Max Gawn however, the Cats would be 0-3 with contenders Port Adelaide, Sydney and GWS all to come in the next month. The return of Ablett after a seven-year stint on the Gold Coast has drawn attention not for the romanticism but for the partnership with Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, however teams are finding ways to exploit the Little Master’s physical decline and getting on top in the midfield even when all three fire. With midfielder Mitch Duncan to return, the Cats may be better served with Ablett in a forward role, given speed in transition has been outlined as a necessary evolution if they are to contend.