Before round one is the best time for an optimistic football fan — the best-case scenario is still possible and there’s no concrete evidence to prove otherwise.
But with one week of AFL season 2022 now in the books, nine teams have lost — meaning half the competition is feeling disappointment. But it’s never quite that simple.
Aside from 100-plus point thumpings, games are almost never complete write-offs and there is always something teams can take away for next week and the remainder of the season.
So whether it’s a good quarter, a brilliant individual display, or an inspirational moment or two, there are reasons for fans of every AFL club to be optimistic.
The silence at Adelaide Oval after Heath Chapman’s “best spoil ever” for Fremantle spoke volumes — Crows fans were devastated their team had not got over the line, in more ways than one.
But there were reasons to be upbeat despite the loss, starting with debutant Josh Rachele and his five-goal haul. Then there was Ben Keays, whose 37 disposals, eight inside 50s and 12 score involvements showed how crucial he will be to Adelaide’s attacking hopes this year.
Finally, the comeback from 25 points down at half-time to establish a solid lead showed the Crows are capable of the damaging extended bursts of football that will be so important in 2022.
When your opening game is at home against one of last year’s preliminary finalists, getting a win is enough to be going on with.
It was a struggle for much of the night at the Gabba, but the Lions kicked away with a five-goal-to-one final quarter.
There was a familiarity to the win, with Zac Bailey, Marcus Adams, Lachie Neale and Joe Daniher playing big roles — even if Daniher’s handball on the siren will feature in countless blooper tapes.
The Lions also confirmed they had a solid forward / back-up ruckman in Darcy Fort, while everyone would be happy that Cam Rayner came through his comeback match unscathed.
I’m not sure Blues fans need any more reasons for optimism after their team’s win over Richmond, but just in case:
A win first-up for new coach Michael Voss — check. A solid defensive performance — check. Sam Docherty’s return from cancer with 25 disposals and a memorable goal — check.
The best reason for optimism, however, is the new midfield: with Patrick Cripps in top form, the dominant Matt Kennedy and recruits Adam Cerra and George Hewett popping up everywhere, leading to a 40-22 clearance win over Richmond.
The Blues also had a 64-40 advantage in inside 50s. If the midfield can keep producing like this — and Sam Walsh will return at some point — Voss and Blues fans will be smiling a lot in 2022.
The Magpies went into 2022 looking for a fresh start under coach Craig McRae, following the team’s 17th place finish in 2021.
Round one gave real hope, not just with the win over St Kilda but the Pies scoring more than 100 points — something they achieved only once last year.
Jordan De Goey played an important role, with 27 disposals, five clearances and 12 score involvements.
The headlines were for the son-of-a-gun in Nick Daicos, who looked like a jet with his 27 touches and seven intercepts. But Bulldogs recruit Patrick Lipinski (30 disposals, eight score involvements) also showed the Pies had picked up a bargain.
OK, so there wasn’t a lot to love about the Bombers’ performance against Geelong, and the result was the most lopsided of round one.
However, you have to factor in the absence of key players like Jake Stringer and Aaron Francis.
The big plus for the Bombers was mature-age recruit Nic Martin, who appeared game-ready with solid skills and movement. He racked up 27 touches and kicked five great goals.
Another positive was the way Essendon finished off the match. The Bombers were staring down a 100-point hiding at three quarter-time before kicking five goals to three in the final term.
When it looks like you’ve thrown a game away, getting over the line can be a huge fillip for a team.
When it happens on an away trip, and the win is sealed by a brilliant defensive effort, it’s even better. Well done, Heath Chapman — your goal-line fist saved four premiership points.
The Dockers’ familiar issues with goal kicking — 11.17 at Adelaide Oval — could have dominated the discussion. But the final quarter comeback courtesy of goals to Sam Switkowski, Rory Lobb and Lachie Schultz turned that around.
Ex-Sun Will Brodie and former Cats player Jordan Clark both had solid debuts in Dockers’ colours, and fans were left with a goal to savour in Michael Frederick’s cracking mid-air volley.
One game, one win, top of the ladder — if you’re a Geelong fan, that’s a pretty strong start to the season.
The Cats had 12 scoring shots to three in the first term, and they led by 60 points at half-time before coasting to victory.
The midfield did the damage, with a 51-27 smashing at the clearances, and 63 inside 50s — nine of them from a rampaging Patrick Dangerfield. New recruit Tyson Stengle added to the mix with four handy goals.
The other big plus is that Jeremy Cameron escaped serious damage to his ribs and lungs after his big collision with Essendon’s Jayden Laverde — he will be a big in when he returns.
You can say what you like about West Coast’s many missing players, but regardless of the margin, on Sunday night the Suns beat the Eagles in Perth for the first time ever, and they did it without key forward Ben King.
The reasons for optimism start with Gold Coast’s number 18, Matt Rowell, who was back to his beast-like best.
His disposal was erratic, but his ball-hawking ability, fierce tackling and eye for the play was stellar. And the one-two punch of Rowell and Touk Miller, plus Jarrad Witts in ruck made Gold Coast’s midfield dangerous.
In other good news, Izak Rankine kicked four, Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult showed enough to build on as a forward duo, and in Alex Davies the Suns have got yet another exciting young prospect.
The Giants may have lost the first ‘Battle of the Bridge’ of 2022, but there was plenty of good news for GWS in round one.
The home side served it up to the Swans and only faded in the final term. In the absence of the suspended Toby Greene up forward, Daniel Lloyd again displayed his kicking skills from outside 50.
Harry Himmelberg also proved a hard man to stop with his positioning and excellent marking — he kicked three important goals and looks set for a big year.
Other positives included Phil Davis doing a good job stopping Lance Franklin from running amok, and Stephen Coniglio’s solid start, after a season where he played only seven games for the Giants.
It’s no overstatement to say there’s a bit of pressure on Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell, after replacing one of the greatest coaches of all time in Alastair Clarkson.
On that basis alone, it was a positive to see a win in the first game of the new era. It was a young-looking Hawks side with a dozen players under the age of 24 lining up.
From this crew, Changkuoth Jiath again proved himself a game breaker with his dynamic run, Mitch Lewis kicked three, Finn Maginness and Jai Newcombe got on the scoreboard, Dylan Moore got plenty of the ball, and Josh Ward showed a bit before picking up an ankle knock.
Along with the promise of the new or newer players there were welcome signs from the old guard — with James Sicily returning strongly from injury, Jack Gunston a solid presence up top and Chad Wingard providing a quick two-goal burst to help ice the game.
If you are a Melbourne fan, chances are you haven’t come down from cloud nine after a certain grand final — but if you have, there was plenty of positives from their win over the Bulldogs.
It was almost a carbon copy of last September — a few big momentum swings ending with the Demons clearing away for a four-goal win.
Once again, it was the Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca show, with both combining for 70 disposals, 15 clearances, 15 inside 50s and 21 score involvements. Stopping one is tough, stopping two (for long) is almost impossible. Ben Brown also had a big game up forward.
The big plus for Melbourne fans is that on the evidence of the last eight quarters of football, if he stays healthy, Petracca is poised to deliver one of the great individual seasons — and make the Demons hard to stop from going back-to-back.
North may have lost to the Hawks, but they started strongly, with seven inside 50s in the first 10 minutes. They couldn’t make it count, but the work of players like Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin and Hugh Greenwood in the middle was a positive.
Defence was an issue, but the Kangaroos’ back six will look a lot better when Ben McKay returns from concussion.
The big plus was the debut of number-one pick Jason Horne-Francis. Amid all the hype, the young South Australian was fierce at the ball, laid tackles, took clearances, kicked a goal and had six score involvements in an impressive debut.
It was a tough night for Port Adelaide at the Gabba, and the news hasn’t got much better since, with confirmation that key defender Aliir Aliir will have syndesmosis surgery — he will miss a fair chunk of the season.
In better news, it looks like Trent McKenzie has not done his ACL, and Robbie Gray and Xavier Duursma are expected back reasonably quickly.
The game itself was very scrappy, but the Power came to Brisbane and controlled the match — or did a good job of disrupting their opposition — for much of the first three quarters.
The big plus was the form of Dan Houston, who gained a best-on-ground 679 metres, had 36 disposals, 10 inside 50s, and 10 score involvements. That’s something to build on for Port.
There wasn’t as much to like about Richmond than might have been expected in round one, as for once their opponents were the excitement machines.
For the Tigers fans, the best bits came early, with Dustin Martin up and about on his return after a lacerated kidney, and the yellow and black kicking four goals to one in the first quarter.
Shai Bolton (three goals) again showed why he is a class player, and when Noah Balta went forward, he took some big grabs and kicked a couple of goals.
Draftee Josh Gibcus also had a solid but not spectacular debut in the Richmond back six. It was more a case of green shoots than a return to the glory days, but it’s early and there are plenty of Tigers to come back.
Despite the loss to Collingwood there were positives — starting with St Kilda’s rebound early in the third term. Collingwood was dominating the inside 50s, and the Pies piled on three goals to go 35 points clear.
It could have led to a smashing, but the Saints hit back — four goals in 11 and a half minutes — to narrow the gap.
Most of the good signs came from mature-age rookie Jack Hayes.
The man who took apart the SANFL in 2021 was given his AFL opportunity, and he took it — he gave the Saints a real marking target and kicked three goals on debut.
Starting the season with a win over GWS is always a positive for the Swans, and having the second-highest score of the round is another decent result.
Luke Parker’s five goals were a stand-out, but there were other pluses: Paddy McCartin’s return, a strong game from Nick Blakey backing up his preseason, and the fact there were four multiple goal kickers contributing to Sydney’s 17 goal game.
Standing up to the Giants was important for the Swans, particularly after the devastating way last year ended with a finals loss to GWS in Canberra.
Of course, it was disappointing that Lance Franklin only got one goal closer to the magic 1,000. But being optimistic, it means he might do it in front of Swans fans at the SCG against Geelong!
Considering the way the list of absent players had built over the preseason for West Coast, the fact the Eagles led for long periods and were competitive for three quarters was a huge plus for the team and their fans.
Given the absence of Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy was even more valuable than normal, holding the ball up, kicking goals and frustrating the Suns’ defence.
Jamaine Jones had a huge game in the middle, while a number of the less high-profile players such as Patrick Naish and first-gamer Brady Hough went well.
Lastly, it may not have led to an Eagles win, but from the team — and fan — perspective, one of the highlights came late in the first term, when defender Tom Barrass kicked one from 50 to get his first career goal in his 100th game.
So the headline remains the same, but the rest of the story still has room for hope for the Bulldogs after their loss to the Demons at the MCG.
The Bulldogs showed they were capable of taking the game apart — they just need to do it for longer.
From four goals down to four goals up, they ran through the Demons defence, and the big plus came from spearhead Aaron Naughton. Last year he kicked 47 goals, but was held to no goals or one goal on 11 occasions, including the grand final.
This time round, Naughton took six marks, kicked four goals and had seven score involvements.
The Dogs have their focal point and will be dangerous to most teams — now they need more options up front to go the next step against Melbourne.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC