The first round of AFL football is a time of hope — the pre-season competition is never a guaranteed predictor of premiership season form and everything seems possible when the first ball is bounced. When the dust finally settles after the first nine matches, supporters are filled with joy, mild trepidation, or in the case of some teams; Melbourne and the Bulldogs, an impending fear of another rough year.
Round two has the potential for redemption, to ease psychological wounds, as was the case for Collingwood, Richmond and North Melbourne. Or provide a reality check of progress against ladder leaders—Gold Coast, and late surge aside, Essendon. In the case of Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and the Bulldogs, increase the anxiety of approaching doom after lack lustre performances.
So, round three has begun. Fremantle were decimated by reigning Premiers Hawthorn, which given the competence the Dockers have subdued their opponents in the first two rounds, makes the Hawks victory all the more impressive. Round three is reckoning, a third loss in similar form to the first two means that your team is in trouble. Coming from 0-3 to launch an attempt at a successful finals campaign is all but impossible.
Six teams are in the unenviable position of facing a 0-3 start to the 2014 season and four of them were distinct possibilities to make the eight; Adelaide, Carlton, Brisbane were a chance to fill a spot in the 6-8 range, with Sydney were touted as a top four before the season’s start.
The Western Bulldogs finished 2013 strongly, winning four of their last six games. Unfortunately, that form hasn’t carried into 2014, with a crushing round one defeat against the resurgent West Coast in round one, and then a scrappy loss to a desperate North Melbourne in round two. The Bulldogs lack height, both in defence and up forward, and it will hurt them against Richmond. Expect Jack Riewoldt to return to form in this match, he’s managed 17 goals across his last four outings against the Dogs and will capitalise on the Bulldogs’ key position deficiencies. While this match should be far more entertaining than the previous week, the Tigers’ forward line has far too much height for the Dogs. A 0-3 start to the season is likely for the Bulldogs, but their fans will be satisfied if they show some bite with their bark and keep the margin closer than in the Eagles game.
Adelaide and Sydney are the only two of the six who have as much to lose as each other, neither having won a match. Sydney are notorious for slow starts to the year, both in match techniques and fitness, but never before have its starts been so wretched as to lose to GWS in the Battle of the Bridge. The much publicised acquisition of Lance Franklin has done little to benefit the Swans, and if reports are to be believed, he’s caused far more harm than good. At the very least, the loss of Shane Mumford to the Giants thanks to their new cap squeeze has been a painful price to pay. Sydney will continue to miss Adam Goodes’ leadership, and the champion player has been essential in the Swans’ last two victories over Adelaide.
The Crows have been again cruelled by injury in 2014. While every team has outs that they must cover — Adelaide’s consist of six first string players. Taylor Walker and Tom Lynch for potency up forward, captain Nathan van Berlo and Brad Crouch in the midfield and Ricky Henderson and Andy Otten’s flexibility to play forward and back. The Crows fumbled and capitulated their way to a shattering 54 point loss to Port Adelaide in the first Showdown at Adelaide Oval. If there is any pride at all in the tri-colours, expect Adelaide to bring its fiercest effort against Sydney for its first home game at the new stadium. The ground closest to Adelaide Oval in dimensions is Simmonds Stadium, and the Swans have a terrible record there, being clearly more comfortable with the added width of the SCG. Adelaide Oval is fast-paced, and the game will be too. Despite the Swans propensity for dour football, this should be a high scoring affair and one that could see Adelaide finally notch a win to kick off their 2014 season.
Brisbane have won the last five ‘QClashes’ against the Gold Coast. While the Suns look to have improved again this year, Brisbane has plenty to prove in order to notch its first win under new coach Justin Leppitsch and will have every opportunity to do so here. Expect this match to be close and exciting for the first three quarters before Brisbane runs over the top in the last. They will be propelled by the return of the brilliant Tom Rockliff against a Suns outfit that will find energy sapped from their legs after a gruelling game at Subiaco in round two.
Melbourne will face Greater Western Sydney in their bid to win their first match since Round 14 last season, but it is very difficult to see the boys in red and blue singing their song after this match. GWS have tremendous potency up forward, a stark comparison to the Dees’ injury crisis in the 50. Melbourne over possessed the football for very little result in its 93 point drubbing by the Eagles. By comparison, GWS comfortably beat Sydney in round one, and battled to a thriller with the Saints in round two. Based on form, the best Melbourne can hope for here is to keep the loss to under 40 points.
The final team hoping to notch up a win in round three is Carlton, who faces Essendon on Sunday night at the MCG. The last two matches between these teams have been thrilling, with the Dons winning both, but only by 6 and 5 points respectively. After Essendon’s heart-breaking loss against the Hawks in round two, the Blues had better make certain the game isn’t close in the last few minutes or they could be in trouble: Mark Thompson coached teams rarely make the same mistakes twice in a row. This is a fascinating match up, Carlton has not yet managed to play a solid four quarters of football this season. Against Port Adelaide they were scintillating in the first, but capitulated in the fourth quarter. Against Richmond, they were ordinary in the first half, particularly the second quarter, but surged in the end. Only inaccuracy kept the Blues from the win column that week, as they kicked 3.7 to the Tigers 2.2, to lose by 12 points. Essendon have lost Paddy Ryder to an ankle injury, though Jason Winderlich returns, while the Blues are bolstered by the return of Andrew Carrazzo and Andrew Walker. First gamer Jason Ashby seems a likely match up for Yarran with pace his greatest asset, but expect the Carlton livewire to have a huge influence on this match, and to be the one to push the Blues over the line for their first win for 2014.
Late Sunday night when the final siren has blown, the percentage is calculated and scores are tallied, fans will know whether their team has found redemption, or whether round four will be heralded by resignation that season 2014 finals are beyond their reach.