After a compelling opening weekend, round 2 of the AFL is shaping as one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Here are five reasons to watch the footy this weekend.
1. Cat fight in Geelong
The two most disappointing sides from round one face off with the Cats and Lions to do battle on Friday night in Geelong.
Both sides played each other in a preliminary final last year but lost to team’s that finished in the bottom four last week.
The Cats were stunned by last year’s wooden spooners in the Crows, going down by 12 points at Adelaide Oval.
It seemed like it took them a half to wake up and it was too late once they finally got their game going. They will be without Patrick Dangerfield who has been suspended for three matches for a bump on Jake Kelly.
The Lions were well beaten by a young Swans side that managed 19 goals away from home in Brisbane.
Unlike the Cats, the Lions started on fire kicking three goals in the first five minutes before Sydney started to dominate.
The biggest worry for the Lions was their lack of defensive pressure which allowed the Swans to rack up an incredible 23 marks inside 50.
Both teams had the slight excuse of having a shorter pre-season after playing deep into the finals, however that didn’t seem to bother the Tigers and Power.
It’s only round two but it feels like there’s plenty on the line with one of these sides to start 0-2.
2. Bird bash in Sydney
While there are plenty of critics coming for the the Cats and Lions, there is a newfound sense of optimism around the two sides that beat them.
The Swans and Crows meet each other at the SCG off the back of huge round one upsets.
The Swans looked far better in attack than they did in 2020, kicking 19 goals – including 9 in the third quarter – for the match, the most of any team in round one.
To put that into context, the Swans only managed to kick more than 9 goals five times in 17 games during 2020. Their highest score of the season was only 74 points, all the way back in round one.
The most promising thing for Swans fans was that it was the young brigade that got the job done with Erroll Gulden, Logan McDonald, Callum Mills, Isaac Heeney and Sam Wicks leading the way.
The Crows showed they can play an exciting brand of football, kicking 11 first half goals in a stunning display.
They also displayed plenty of character as they held off a challenge from the Cats late in the game.
Their defensive pressure was incredible early on with the Cats unable to control the footy like they usually do.
The other pleasing aspect was the return to form of 30-year-old Taylor Walker who kicked 5 goals in a best on ground display.
While it’s still so early in the season, the winner of this clash could be dreaming of finals.
3. The return of Buddy Franklin
This could have been added onto the Swans game, but the champion forward deserves his own headline.
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin spent the entire 2020 season on the sidelines and the competition was much poorer for it.
Many thought the 34-year-old may have played his last game after several injuries, but after playing a half in the reserves, the 300-game superstar is set to return to the SCG on Saturday afternoon.
Franklin is just 56 goals away from becoming the sixth man to kick 1000 AFL goals and hopefully his body holds together long enough to allow it.
He has been the most exciting player in the competition over the past 20 years and hopefully there are more highlights at the SCG on Saturday.
4. Old rivals at the G
Another two teams coming off a round one loss meet at the MCG on Thursday night.
The Blues and Magpies are two of the biggest clubs in the competition and with the crowd capacity now lifted to 75 per cent in Victoria, there should be plenty of atmosphere for this one.
The Blues were competitive against the Tigers in round one but couldn’t go with the reigning premiers when the game was on the line.
Sam Walsh and Patrick Cripps were good in the midfield while Jacob Weitering and Adam Saad were outstanding down back.
They did well to stay in the contest considering they lost the inside 50 count 75-41 so if they can square that ledger, they should be more than competitive.
While the Blues impressed in defeat, the Magpies were one of the most disappointing losers of the weekend.
The biggest worry for them was the midfield where they were smacked by the Bulldogs, losing the disposal count 316-465 and inside 50s 41-60.
Darcy Moore was their standout in the backline, taking 8 intercept marks and repelling many Bulldogs attacks.
This is a huge clash for two massive Victorian clubs that would hate to start the season 0-2.
5. The improved ball movement
The AFL introduced a couple of new rules that made an immediate difference to the speed of the game.
A complaint of AFL in recent years has been the amount of congestion on the field and the league has clearly tried to improve that.
The new rule where the man on the mark can’t move has opened up the ground and made it easier for teams to move the footy.
It meant that players were more willing to change the angles with the ball and not just kick it down the line as often as they used to.
The other rule which hasn’t received as much attention is the mark on kick-ins moving back another 5 metres which saw teams more willing to kick long up the middle.
Round one saw that change have an immediate impact with 33 per cent of kick ins resulting in inside 50s, compared to the five-year average of 19 per cent.
The other stat that showed the changes work was that stoppages at 49 per game, down from the five-year average of 63.
It is only a very small sample size, but the signs are promising that AFL is returning to more free flowing football.
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