What we learnt from the AFL pre-season
While JLT Community Series games had nothing riding on them, they did provide a genuine taster for the season ahead. So, what can we take out of the pre-season?
TOP PICK LOOKS THE GOODS
Sam Walsh did nothing wrong, quite a bit right and that was enough. Carlton fans are giddy with excitement that not only did they get the No.1 pick, they got the pick right. Well, right inasmuch as he looks a deserving No.1, and if other players turn out his equal or better that will mean they, too, are elite.
But it was slightly worrying how much is riding on a kid who in his first game had all of Princes Park cheering every handball or tap.
No.1 draft pick Sam Walsh inaction for the Blues in the pre-season.Credit:AAP
The Blues are understandably thrilled with Walsh but – and this is not meant to second-guess the decision – the first glimpses of No.3 pick Izak Rankine were thrilling for Gold Coast before he hurt his hamstring against the Swans.
RULES ON THE RUN(NER)
The new six-six-six rule looks like a winner. Games have been more open and the midfields clearly had more freedom to run and break from the centre. That, of course, meant the rucks and key onballers were more important.
Scoring from centre clearances this year will increase. It just has to. With no player or players coming off the back of the square the centre break will be crucial.
What this means is the gun players look far more damaging playing on the ball than forward this year. Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin, who have both spent time up forward, are prime examples of players you might expect to now spend more time on the ball – at least at centre bounces. The Cats have said Gary Ablett will be more forward than on-ball this year but it would not surprise if he plays out of the centre square a fair bit still.
Young Lion Cam Rayner looks a better version of everything we have seen from him so far and he will clearly benefit from the new rules. He is just so powerful, in a Dusty sort of way. He looks ready to go to another level.
The coaches hate the restrictions on the runners. Of course they do. Luke Beveridge is sure the AFL will bring them back even in a restricted fashion for the season because the players have started to complain.
Suffice to say the AFL's alternative – the natty, heavy and very expensive LED screens signalling messages to players – were about as well conceived as AFLX.
The double 50m penalty is ridiculously excessive. Some 50s are fairly marginal and so already too great a penalty for the crime; the idea you double up by not running back fast enough is over the top.
What the new rules look to have done is kill off the pseudo-ruck. It is doubtful Damien Hardwick would choose to use Shaun Grigg in the ruck again with the new rules allowing rucks to grab the ball out of the ruck without it being deemed prior opportunity, and the six-six-six rule opening space at centre bounces and making the ruck and onballers more damaging.
Shaun Grigg’s days in the ruck look to be over.Credit:AAP
These two rules have made rucks more effective and with that the risk of not having a specialist ruckman to compete is too great. Most teams are now looking to use two rucks and to have them be able to rotate forward – how very retro.
Max Gawn might win the Brownlow this year with these new rules, but the query is what the Demons do with their other talls. As impressive as Braydon Preuss was in a couple of early practice matches, the Demons' best set up still looks to be Gawn, Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman.
Likewise at Richmond – and this one has not been tested in the pre-season because we haven't seen Tom Lynch yet – but what do the Tigers do for second ruck? They are unlikely to use Lynch, who is coming off a PCL injury. So who do they use as their second ruck without becoming too top heavy forward of the ball?
BILLY THE KID
Jamie Elliott didn't play last year. He played the year before, but not the year before that and has now played in the JLT. His time out of the game has not changed the fact he is a star. He is ready for his “on” year and he will have a big impact for Collingwood. We have not yet seen the Magpies operate with all of Elliott, De Goey, Hoskin-Elliott and Stephenson, but it threatens to be damaging.
OH ME, OH MY, O'MEARA
Tom Mitchell will miss the year, or most of it anyway, but already Jaeger O'Meara looks likely to improve on his steady resurgence at Hawthorn. His first seasons at the Hawks were solid if not stunning. This year he looks like he is covering the ground better. He could be back to elite this year.
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