AFL round 1: A blast from the past, and a glimpse of excitement to come

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By NATHAN JOHN,
sports editor

Protected zone crackdown raises more questions than it answers

Thursday night saw a crackdown on a rule first implemented in 2016 – the protected zone around the mark – with Richmond conceding five shots at goal from 50m penalties. In an unusual move, the AFL released a memo on Friday indicating two of the five penalties were incorrectly awarded, but Tigers coach Damien Hardwick raised no objections to the interpretation, pleading only for consistency. It doesn’t appear to be forthcoming after umpires were briefed again on Friday, but the AFL being accountable for incorrect rulings more often would be well received by clubs and fans alike.

Essendon emerging as a contender

Essendon left their run late in a 12 point win over Adelaide on Friday night, booting six of the last seven goals, but the building blocks were evident in the quarters leading up. After an off-season of recruiting that promised a rejuvenated midfield that would lift the Bombers into premiership contention, John Worsfold’s side hustled last year’s grand finalists. With their imposing skipper Taylor Walker and prolific flanker Tom Lynch missing, the Bombers forced the Crows into uncharacteristic errors in the air and proceeded to torch them at ground level. Recruit Adam Saad clamped down on Eddie Betts and released Andrew McGrath to play the midfield fulcrum, while a rotating cast around him, including recruit Devon Smith, kept the Bombers fresh as the fatigued Crows lost their shape. Essendon is beginning to look like a side equipped to frighten almost any other, and they may have found the midfield balance they need to compete in finals.

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Patrick Cripps’ early season form was realised with a great game for Carlton at the weekend. 

Confusing decisions see Dogs dispatched

A youthful Western Bulldogs team took the field against the GWS Giants but were thoroughly dispatched after a series of bewildering decisions in the coach’s box bit harder than any disparity in experience. After taking the lion’s share of minutes in the ruck throughout the JLT Series, Jackson Trengove spent the day in the forward line. Defender Easton Wood was only sporadically found in his customary post down back as Luke Beveridge persisted with his captain in a forward role despite injuries to Marcus Adams and Dale Morris leaving the Dogs undermanned in defence. Additionally, a risky diagonal kicking game left them susceptible in the air while the Giants amassed numbers and swept away from the fall of the ball in overlapping droves. Beveridge has consistently delivered on an early promise to play to the strengths of his players but strayed on this occasion.

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An injury to Patrick Ryder is a threat to Port Adelaide’s season. 

Bolton flicks the switch 

Brendon Bolton’s stint at Carlton has so far been characterised by highly structured, defensive football with the underpinning ideal of building a contender from the ground up, but Thursday night indicated the Blues could this year be one of the most free-flowing and entertaining teams in the competition. Carlton’s commitment to moving the ball at any cost saw the match turn as Richmond ramped up the pressure that defined their premiership, but the Blues remained in the hunt until the final quarter. Despite the loss, the return of midfielder Patrick Cripps and a career-best game from forward Charlie Curnow will leave Blues fan excited for the season ahead. Progress is rarely linear, and the Blues look to have regressed in their capacity to defend the ground, but it may represent a step back for two steps forward.

Power recruits light it up early

Port Adelaide’s trio of offseason signings wasted little time in winning over the Adelaide Oval crowd, with Jack Watts and Steven Motlop kicking the first two goals of their game on their way to five between them in a 50 point win over Fremantle. Former Brisbane captain Tom Rockliff also hit the scoreboard but collected just 12 disposals after moving to address the Power’s contested ball struggles against teams in premiership contention. An injury to the league’s premier ruckman in Paddy Ryder threatens to derail their momentum and questions linger over the composition of their back six, but Ken Hinkley’s side already looks more balanced and competitive than the Port side eliminated by West Coast back in September.