From The Notebook: Round 1, 2022

The first in-season Notebook of the year is here, with plenty to talk about.

Today it’ll be a focus on Carlton’s step forward, Collingwood’s high defence and Essendon’s disastrous day, before finishing with a handful of topics to keep an eye out for.

Stay tuned on Tuesday for the annual judgment of Round 1 trends and whether they’re here to stay, or merely a blip on the radar.

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Carlton’s improvements

After multiple mentions in the pre-season on here, let’s keep this brief so we don’t have Carlton fatigue by repeating the same point.

The last few weeks I’ve repeatedly said how the Blues’ defensive system is actually competent now, and that it’ll make a serious difference to their 202 prospects.

Nowhere was it on better display than the passage of play which led to Jack Martin’s go-ahead goal in the last quarter on Thursday night.

This was non-existent last year and as a consequence they struggled. On display from the outset in 2022 and improvement is evident immediately.

Simple game sometimes.

Still, it feels like their true test is how they cope against a midfield with serious spread, which makes Thursday night against the Bulldogs a fascinating encounter.

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For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here’s where to catch up:

Monday 21th: North’s Round 1 Review
Friday 18th: What To Watch For: Round 1
Tuesday 15th: 2022 Team Tiers
Monday 14th: North’s 2022 Checklist

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Collingwood’s high defence

“We want a chaos game.”

Those post-match words from Scott Pendlebury weren’t something you associated with Collingwood for a long time, but things have changed.

In pre-season there was an inkling of what was coming to Collingwood’s style, but against St Kilda it was turned up to a whole new level.

A feature is how high the Pies defend, obviously a drastic difference to previous years under Nathan Buckley. When it clicks, the key is in the chaos created and forced turnovers.

It’s an entirely new avenue to goal they weren’t getting last year when they were content to sit a little deeper and absorb, in turn moving the ball slower when they did gain possession.

There are pros and cons to each method, but for the neutral Craig McRae’s choice is entertainment plus. Friday night was like watching a game in 1.5x speed from start to finish. When Collingwood got it right it was exhilarating in one half of the field; when they got it wrong it was exhilarating in the other half, because this was a game played completely at their preferred speed.

It’s all part of the natural growing pains in adjusting to a style so different from the last decade. A fraction off and Collingwood leave players out the back easily:

When the Pies get it right, opponents won’t be able to clear it past halfway without a miracle.

Look at this frame for how players swarm after forcing a St Kilda clearing kick to ground. There’s no way past here:

There’s still plenty of improvement to come from Collingwood. But if anything is to be taken away from their season opener, it’s that regardless of result they’ll be really, really fun to watch.

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Essendon’s disastrous day

That was … unexpected. To say the least.

Everything which could go wrong did, but arguably the most glaring issue (I’m aware there were a few to pick from, etc) was how Geelong made Essendon look mind-numbingly slow, and broke their setups around contests and stoppages with minimum of fuss.

Now, Geelong are many things and have deservedly been in the upper echelon for a decade. Those ‘many things’ rarely consist of running a side to death, but it happened time and time again on Saturday afternoon.

Here’s Dahlhaus (!!) allowed to contest a one-on-one from a kick-in before strolling past a quartet of Bombers before setting up Dangerfield for a goal:

In this instance, Selwood wins possession from the centre clearance and somehow all four Bombers are simultaneously not close enough to pressure him, or in a position to close down on the next link in the chain – Dangerfield, who strolls away and continues a chain that ends in a scoring shot:

Another baffling setup happened minutes later. As the ball trickles out to Selwood, most Bombers are in no-man’s land, guarding neutral space and not damaging opponents.

Unsurprisingly, one simple handball over the top and Dahlhaus is off to kick another of Geelong’s first quarter goals:

This is without getting into Essendon’s ball use, which was so uncharacteristically timid it deserves a separate deep dive of its own.

It was a complete write off of a day. Everything from the Bombers was so far away from their strengths it’s tempting to write it off as one of those afternoons which every side has at least one of per season.

Because if that’s even close to the norm, it means Essendon are a bottom two or four side. And we know that’s not the case.

The immediate issue is having Brisbane and Melbourne on deck in the next fortnight. 0-3 is potentially a large hole to try and climb out of.

Topics to keep an eye on

I haven’t had enough of a read on these trends to definitively commit one way or another, but a couple of things I’ll be keeping a closer eye on over the next couple of weeks:

– Geelong’s increased handballing: It did appear to be an extra focus on Saturday, but difficult to be sure how much of that was a conscious plan, compared to simply taking what Essendon gave them
– GWS scoring 10.7 from 24 first half inside 50s compared to 3.7 from 24 second half inside 50s. Not that either extreme is a realistic option for an entire season, but it’ll be intriguing to see which direction they trend towards
– How Port Adelaide deal with what appears to be several significant injuries coming out of their loss to Brisbane, and whether it changes anything in style for the short-term

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