Fantasy guns like Gary Ablett jnr reminded us why they’re at premium price as NAB Cup round 1 concluded.
On Friday night, we started with a comfortable win to Carlton set up by their midfield, as many wins will be this season. As many teams are doing early this year, both sides put a lot of players behind the ball at various times during the match, and both sides put a lot of numbers through the corridor, which allowed a lot of room for half-back flankers to dominate rebound possession. One of these flankers was Nick Stevens, following the trend of Nick Dal Santo and Paul Hasleby (and, as we’ll see later, Simon Goodwin) of gun midfielders starting their preseason with a stint on defensive 50. I have to think it’s just a temporary thing with all of these players, just to give them a relatively soft entry into the 2009 season. Stevens’ role allowed Ed Lower to play his customary forward tag role, while Chris Judd had Brady Rawlings hanging off him during his scintillating first quarter, which left Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs free, with Gibbs in particular enjoying the space. His nominal opponent was Daniel Wells to start with, though he claimed on radio after the game that there weren’t any hard roles – with the result being that Gibbs made Wells look like a second-rate player as he set up Carlton’s win. I don’t think Gibbs is going to be given nearly that amount of latitude during every game in the regular season, but there’s no question that with four top 3 draft picks in that midfield, you can’t put stoppers on them all and Gibbs may well be the odd man out in a majority of opposition set ups. I’d be more confident of him in Super Coach than AFL Dream Team, personally, though his last two months of 2008 were excellent in both competitions.
Of the rookies, we saw little of Chris Yarran before his ankle injury, while Mitch Robinson and Jack Ziebell both underlined their claims for round 1 spots in both their AFL 22s and your fantasy 30. I found it interesting that Ziebell was used at full forward in the last quarter and did pretty well, with David Hale not getting a huge amount of kicks during the rest of the game. We’ll get full warning on whether Robinson plays on the Thursday, but no assurances if Ziebell is named on the extended interchange bench for the Sunday game in round 1. Meanwhile, the fact that Liam Anthony started with the orange subs vest on wasn’t a great sign for his prospects.
Elsewhere, Chris Johnson had an excellent game putting the clamps on Corey Jones, which is good and bad. His spot in the Blues 22 is far more settled now but 40 DT points including a goal is not much fantasy return for the night, especially with no Heath Scotland or Andrew Carrazzo in the team. Johnson’s role may help those two more than it does his own fantasy prospects. Down the other end, Ryan Houlihan has suddenly become a hot fantasy commodity as one of the rare discounted players – the most accurate summation coming during the television call when it was noted that he would be a very handy player in a good side, as Carlton look like being this year.
On the Kangaroos side, Lachie Hansen looked lost at centre half forward but did much better when switched with Drew Petrie at centre half back. This was a perfect illustration of why they say CHF is the hardest position on the ground to play, and CHB is the easiest: Petrie is a far better player than Hansen, and the team would probably be much better served by the superior player taking the tougher responsibility. It could be argued that you don’t necessarily need a dominant CHF in the modern game, but Hansen couldn’t even lead up on the wings and get cheap ball so it would be hard to justify his spot once Aaron Edwards returns.
In the Launceston game, there was plenty to get excited about for both sides. Jack Grimes got better as the game wore on, as evidenced by his DT to SC ratio, which was 23:9 in the first half with a fair few turnovers and 34:53 in the second half as he almost won the game in the last minute with a crucial smother on Sam Mitchell. With Ricky Petterd having little effect on the game after being crunched by Campbell Brown in a marking contest early in the game, the question has to be asked: is he the sort of player who throws his body into too many dangerous contests even though his frame can’t take it, a la Matt Maguire? Grimes finished the game looking a far more solid prospect than Petterd, though with coach Dean Bailey you never know what he is thinking. Also in the Demons backline, James Frawley backed up his track form with an excellent job on Mark Williams – for the first three quarters, at least. Importantly, he was able to mix his defensive duties, including keeping Williams statless in the first quarter, with a fair bit of rebound work, to the tune of 76/81 from 18 possessions. This is a huge departure from his previous two years, where he could barely managed low 40s in DT despite playing around 100 minutes per game. His NAB Challenge scores are going to be interesting to watch.
On the Hawks side, Travis Tuck booked himself in for round 1, no question. Of the other contenders, rookies Cameron Stokes and Garry Moss caught the eye far more than Ben McGlynn, Jarryd Morton, Josh P. Kennedy or Brendan Whitecross, while 2008 draftee Liam Shiels had a good first half after being talked up by the coach during the week as being in the mix for round 1. Allowances can be made for TOG, especially with McGlynn. With the Hawks able to promote up to two rookies from round 1 due to having no veterans, Stokes is certainly a strong contender for one of those vacant midfielder spots for round 1, while Moss would be less likely. I daresay the older hopefuls will get more of a run next week against Carlton, though, so don’t start rejigging your team just yet.
The other fantasy-relevant events for Hawk players in that game took place in either goalsquare. Mitch Thorp looked a little out of place at full back, to be honest, giving up 11 marks to Brad Miller. He confirmed in my mind that he’s firming as a strong fantasy forward bench candidate for Super Coach only, with SC scores of 40s and low 50s being the best that can be hoped for while he fills in for Trent Croad. Then again, with Scott Gumbleton and Jarrad Grant bobbing up last week, he may get squeezed out of a lot of Super Coach teams due to the competition in that area.
Up forward, it was a new Jarryd Roughead we saw, one with real AFL-level kicking boots on this time. As a Hawks fan who has followed his sometimes-wayward career in front of the big sticks, I found myself yelling at the TV screen: “Don’t use up all your luck this early, Roughie!” With Lance Franklin recovering from offseason surgery and late to return to full training, Roughead could be a sneaky pick to start the season well, particularly in the opening game against Geelong. If he can kick nearly that well during the home & away stuff, we could see two players kick the ton from the same team!
As for the Saturday night game, it was the Gary Show, wasn’t it? He’s a man on a mission… a mission from God. The forums are abuzz with fantasy coaches desperately trying to scrounge enough money to fit GAJ into their midfield. I am more confident of him delivering on the faith in Super Coach, though I suspect he will miss the odd game or three due to the heavy attention he is going to cop from taggers and enforcers, not to mention the normal wear and tear from putting his little baldy head under that many packs.
The old ABC firm of Ablett, Jimmy Bartel and Joel Corey was in full operation, this time joined by Mathew Stokes. I don’t think it’s a concern that Bartel could only manage 86 DT points from 30 possessions, as he wasn’t needed under as many packs racking up the tackles as usual. Ryan Gamble did everything asked of him playing out of the goalsquare, though he is going to struggle to get consistent games in that Cats forward line when Cameron Mooney and Steve Johnson return, with Tom Lonergan showing that he kicks goals from the 1m line as well as anyone in the comp.
Simon Hogan drew praise from his coach after the game, though Mark Thompson’s comments about “weâ€™re going to try to give him opportunities and find ways to get him a game” smack to me of a club that is annoyed that it had to watch Brent Prismall walk away last year and is struggling to prevent Hogan from becoming another one that got away. It was notable that Hogan’s numbers were roughly equivalent to those of James Kelly for most of the game, before Hogan racked it up in fourth quarter junk time. I maintain, as per my round 1 team projection posts, that the Geelong hierarchy should have Kelly in the gun if they are serious about investing a spot in the 22 in Hogan for the sake of the future. Dan McKenna was the other good news story in terms of Cat youth, doing nothing wrong as third tall defender and proving that he could be used in case of disaster.
On the Crows side, the best fantasy sign for me was Scott Stevens being used as the swingman to go from backline to forward line, instead of usual suspect Nathan Bock. This improves Bock’s stocks as a premium back considerably, in my opinion, as it shows that Neil Craig is willing to leave Bock in defence, even when the attack is looking weaker than a BigFooty troll. And yes, the attack did look terrible, with Taylor Walker limping off early, Nick Gill doing nothing and Trent Hentschel not much better. I suppose it’s uncharitable to be too critical considering the lack of delivery, but one goal from Hentschel and one extremely junkish supergoal from Gill was not a good return. The best that can be said for Brent Reilly is that he got through the game without incident, while Ivan Maric did well against Geelong’s second-string rucks and Andy Otten was the best of a poor lot of Crow youngsters. Can we finally drop the hype over Aaron Kite, Jared Petrenko and Myke Cook? Thank you.
Last and most definitely least, we have the game at Manuka, where Paul Roos showed us once again that he has zero respect for the NAB Cup. This game was garbage time almost from the first bounce, to be brutally honest, so not a lot can be taken from it. I’ll try to squeeze some meaning.
Rhyce Shaw bolted out of the blocks with an excellent first half. Like most Swans players I am only looking at him for Super Coach, though in Rhyce’s case he carries extra baggage of having a terribly poor disposal efficiency in his time at the Magpies. Only one of his 16 possessions in this game was not efficient with just the single clanger on his stat sheet, giving me hope that the Swans game style might benefit his SC game. Perhaps the fact that he’s running through the corridor – more than he did under the wing-hugging Collingwood gameplan – means he can’t kick it out of bounds on the full so much?
Nathan Krakouer, who told the press last week that he was competing with half a dozen blokes for one spot, was given his chance to impress as a halfback rebounder, and he did pretty well. Of note was the fact that 13 of his 14 possessions were by foot, though he only managed a single mark, suggesting a game style that is more suited to Super Coach than AFL Dream Team. One of his main rivals, Marlon Motlop, did enough with his 12 disposals to leave the situation murky.
Warren Tredrea had a purple patch playing on kids, which I’m not buying. Chad Cornes spent a lot of time up forward, which I’m not worried about. Wade Thompson looked very impressive for his three goals, and looks to be just the sort of player Choco Williams loves, though one wonders how many David Rodan types you can have in one side. Jason Davenport had a lot of the pill in the last quarter but there was so little pressure that it’s hard to get any sort of fantasy read out of it. Jesse White was used both forward and back, with not much effect – poor old Roosy, he’s struggling to find viable options at either end with injuries and retirements slashing his list. Ed Barlow showed enough to suggest he’s probably going to play in round 1, though there’s no guarantees after that.
Four big games, with a lot of fantasy talent on show. Who caught your beady little eyes? Who disappointed you? Tell me in the comments… or don’t, if you’re worried about giving up your precious smokies!