From The Notebook, Round 1: Are these trends real?

One of the most enjoyable parts of Round 1 is looking at trends to figure out what will stick, and what’s a mirage.

From individuals, to teams, and indeed competition wide, there is plenty to take a look at from an intriguing opening weekend.

Note: At time of writing, Brisbane v Sydney hasn’t been watched. If there are any extra thoughts from that, they’ll come during the week on Twitter.


Ideally this season, the Notebook will come out every Monday evening. That was also the plan last year, before … everything happened. Fingers crossed it’s a smoother ride in 2021.

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Sam Walsh making the leap

It’s fun to watch a player take a step from highly rated to a genuine top tier contributor, and that’s what Walsh appears set to do.

The stats from Thursday night – 31 disposals (13 contested) and six clearances – are impressive enough on their own, but there was nothing empty about them. Another pre-season has added strength to his running ability, and it was on full show against Richmond.

This whole passage from Walsh is superb. From the centre bounce he holds Martin off to protect the space and win the clearance, before backing up with a second effort to provide an option as Cripps stumbles.

Walsh then breaks the Caddy tackle before dishing another handball and putting in a third effort to keep things moving forward. It’s a great recognition of all his talent on show at once.

It makes Carlton’s offensive game ever more threatening and well-rounded with a reduced reliance on Cripps through the engine room, even if the doubts on defensive setups remain.

Verdict: Real. 100 percent.

The increased speed of the game

The Age shared Champion Data stats showing teams turned a rebound 50 into an inside 50 nearly 30 percent of the time in Round 1, significantly up on the opening round in previous years.

(via The Age/Champion Data)Rebound 50 to Inside 50 %
Round 1, 202129.7%
Round 1, 201825.5%
Round 1, 201724.8%
Round 1, 201623.7%
Round 1, 201923.3%

Whether the rate is normally high in Round 1 before falling a little, only a select few will know. Nevertheless those numbers do match the eye test of feeling like most games were more open than usual, especially on Saturday night at Marvel Stadium with the ball pinging back and forth.

The wildcard in this is how the coaches respond. Usually the default reaction is finding a way to defend against new rules, which means we’ll likely see further tweaks over the coming weeks.

Already we’ve seen sporadic instances of players opting not to man the mark, instead sitting five metres back to make a better fist of defending against an inboard kick.

For the outfits which are capable of it, we may see an increase in kick-mark play in an attempt to control tempo further. Either way, it’s going to be a quickly evolving landscape.

Verdict: Wait for a few weeks. Coaches will attempt to tighten things up, and what we see after the first month will be a truer reflection of where everything is at.


A short list of topics which won’t be touched on this week:

– Coaching from the bench
– Collingwood’s forward line; it’s the same story from previous years
– Sydney’s youngsters being the greatest players ever (to be fair they probably will, but also, it’s been one game. Let them settle in first)
– Fremantle and Melbourne – their missing players, especially forward, mean they’re not the finished article just yet
– Balta being brilliant. There’ll be many more opportunities to talk about it for the next decade


Geelong’s extraordinarily loose defending

It can be a lottery deciding which pre-season trends are relevant, given its truncated nature and moving parts.

That being said, there were signs against Essendon that Geelong’s team defence was a step slow, too many instances like this where Darcy Parish was allowed to roll through a forward 50 throw in essentially unopposed:

It continued at Adelaide Oval. From a slow play, somehow Schoenberg finds plenty of space in the middle of half the Geelong team:

Again here, after play stops and the ball is returned to Sloane, he still has multiple easy options in space forward of the ball, which turns into an inside 50 and scoring shot:

This kind of thing happened from siren to siren, baffling in its consistency for a Geelong team so renowned for their defensive systems. Hopefully this doesn’t take away from how well Adelaide played, but for a team with premiership aspirations it was a strange afternoon.

Verdict: Weird, but leaning towards nothing to worry about long-term if it works as a wake-up call. Apologies for not sticking to the self-constructed ‘real or overreaction’ template.

Gold Coast’s uncontested marking

129 uncontested marks for the Suns in Perth. It’s a monstrous number, and surprising considering what we saw them bring from week to week in 2020.

Comparing statistics from last year to this year is fraught with danger, so stick with me for a moment here. If we use uncontested marks as a percentage of a team’s total disposals, Gold Coast only snuck over a 25 percent ratio once in 2020.

With 129 uncontested marks against 381 possessions on Sunday, the ratio was nearly 34 percent. It’s an imperfect science to be sure, but it illustrates how much more focused the Suns were on possession.

It allowed the ball to get into the hands of Gold Coast’s better users and importantly, control the tempo. If the rule changes continue to have the effect we saw across the opening weekend, it’s going to be a vital piece of their rise up the ladder.

Verdict: Real but situational – which opens up a whole range of possibilities. Obviously Gold Coast won’t be able to play this way in many games at Metricon Stadium, when the lights are on and conditions usually trend towards more of a wet weather contest.

But. We already know what the Suns are building in terms of a forward half, pressure game when necessary. Imagine being able to adjust from week to week depending on what the match and opposition calls for? That’d be impressive, and just a little bit scary for a lot of teams to face.

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