After another long summer of hearing almost every side is bigger, stronger, faster, “flying” and ready to take the next step, the footy world finally got their opportunity to see the first of the combatants put their hard work into practice at Etihad Stadium last night.
The round-robin triple header kicked off with North Melbourne, Richmond and Hawthorn all fielding surprisingly strong outfits, leaving only a small handful of stars such as Wells, Roughead and Deledio watching on from the sidelines.
As is often the case in the pre season competition, we saw a combination of the expected and unexpected from the coaches, with many of the big names finding themselves in unfamiliar territory positionally.
Game 1 – Richmond v’s North Melbourne
North Melbourne 7.2.44 def Richmond 6.5.41
The first game kicked off with good intensity, and surprisingly clean skills for a pre season encounter. A closely fought first half saw Dustin Martin a class above early, and only took 5 minutes to provide us with the first talking point for the season when Reese Conca took out Leigh Adams in a collision about 80m off the ball.
We know how the tribunal like to stamp their authority early, so it should surprise no one that this incident will be closely examined.
The first half was closely contested with the Tigers holding a 2 point lead at the break, and they soon started to assert themselves after half time by controlling the contest between the arcs.
With Miller and Petrie providing strong targets at their respective ends the game was closely fought throughout, until Richmond finally looked home with a 9 point advantage late in the game.
However North through the quality of new captain Swallow and the experience of 2011 captain Brent Harvey fought it out to the end, kicking the last two goals to secure a narrow victory in an entertaining hit out.
Cotchin and Martin would both be happy with their first official run, providing good strength over the ball and generating much needed drive through the middle.
The hard working Jake King was doing plenty right up forward, both with and without the ball.
New recruit Ivan Maric provided just what he was recruited for – a fierce contest and more grunt at the stoppages – and Miller could have easily finished with a better return than his eventual 2 goals, 2 behinds.
For the Kanga’s Swallow lead from the front in his first official match as captain, well supported in the midfield by Ziebell and Harvey.
The North forward line looked promising with Petrie, Thomas and Tarrant all mixing well inside 50, with Aaron Edwards kicking 3 opportunistic goals.
North young guns Cunnington, Bastinac and Atley all showed promise, whilst for the Tigers Steven Morris showed that his hard-nosed style may land him a senior gig in the season proper as a small/medium defender.
Shaun Grigg was impressive providing a physical presence throughout, often forcing a neutral ball when it looked like the North midfielders were about to dish it out to their runners.
Game 2 – Hawthorn v’s North Melbourne
Hawthorn 126.96.36.199 def North Melbourne 4.4.28
After giving their fans plenty to be happy about during their first match, North Melbourne were owned in every part of the game during the first half of their second. On the flip side Hawthorn could not have asked for a better start to their 2012 campaign.
The dominance of the Hawks registered the first 38 points before Lindsay Thomas kicked truly to finally get North on the board, with Mitchell, Sewell and Lewis completely obliterating the North mids in the clearance count bringing it to 12-1 at one point.
The rate of possession was equally as lob sided, as Hawthorn found themselves leading the disposal count 50-16.
The second half was a much improved effort from North, but with the shortened format the result looked out of reach for the Kanga’s well before they switched on.
Sam Mitchell was clearly best on ground gathering 13 possessions in 40 minutes of play, looking as though he had time and space where others did not. Lewis and Sewell were also in good nick, with the latter providing the only supergoal of the evening.
Buddy Franklin played the whole game on the wing and showed that with a little more experience through the middle, he could very well become a regular up the field at some point in his career. His work rate for this game deserved praise, and whilst looking a little lost at times showed similarities in the role to the great Matthew Richardson at various stages as well.
For the Kanga’s Brent Harvey was best gathering 9 possessions, and VFL recruit Sam Gibson also showed his ability to find the ball with 9 of his own.
Jack Gunston read the flight of the ball well inside the forward 50, and without dominating looked to slot into the Hawthorn forward set up quite comfortably.
For North Cunnington looked the busiest of the youngsters, with Aaron Mullet providing some zip at various stages.
Brent Guerra was hard at the contest and was creative with ball in hand. Consistently finds a way to bring his team mates into the game with his vision and decision making.
Game 3 – Hawthorn v’s Richmond
Richmond 6.4.40 def Hawthorn 5.7.37
The third and final game saw a number of changes from both sides, Richmond in particular delving deep into their roster after a one hour break between games. Big guns Martin, Cotchin, Reiwoltd and Newman all sat this one out, with Vickery, Jackson, Tuck, and Foley amongst others taking up the slack.
Hawthorn also rested Hodge, Birchall and Guerra after impressive performances in their first match.
The Hawks started better than the rested Tigers and dominated the inside 50 count early, yet inaccuracy cost them the chance to wrap this contest up in the first half.
Richmond hung in there and found more rhythm as the game went on, and more importantly a harder edge around the contested ball.
A see-sawing second half saw the lead change regularly, which Richmond fighting back with 2 minutes to go courtesy of a Matthew White ground level goal to take the lead.
The last 2 minutes provided an entertaining finish, as the Tigers held on to leave each side with a win a piece for their nights work.
Sam Mitchell picked up where he left off gathering a further 14 possessions including some important clearance work, whilst Lance Franklin moved back to the more familiar surrounds of the forward 50, kicking 3.2 and providing a contest by drawing multiple defenders on more than one occasion.
For Richmond it was the Foley and Tuck show. Both were fantastic through the middle, Foley providing the run and Tuck leading the way with a number of clearances in heavy traffic.
Gunston built on his work from the earlier game, and looked more and more comfortable as the night went on. Hawks fans will no doubt be optimistic that a significant output from Gunston once the season proper begins is coming their way.
For the Tigers Brandon Ellis played well across half back and was given the responsibility of the kick outs on most occasions. Big men Tom Derickx and Todd Elton also showed enough to suggest they could become regular contributors down the track.
Jake King playing forward surprisingly found himself lined up on Cyril Rioli for large portions of this match. In what was an unfamiliar role for Rioli, King’s work rate and tenacity created opportunities for his team mates, whilst kicking 2.2 himself and keeping with Rioli when he ran further afield.