The good, the bad, the ugly: AFL’s big talking points for Opening Round

The AFL’s Opening Round may have been missing a stack of teams but it certainly wasn’t short of talking points.

And it all started with Brodie Grundy’s return to the No.1 ruck role against his former club, and a strong win for Sydney at the SCG.

While Grundy’s best-on-ground effort against his old mate Max Gawn was without a doubt one of the ‘good’ moments of the round (for Swans fans, at least), plenty of bad and ugly points raised their heads and had eyebrows raised.

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The Good

Blues Brothers live at the Gabba

To the hundreds of Carlton fans who turned up to the Gabba dressed as the Blues Brothers, bravo! What a sight it was to see them in their suits and ties (albeit those sort of fake, printed ones), and the classic fedora hats.

The late John Belushi — who starred in the 1980 cult classic movie with Dan Aykroyd — would have been proud. And to think, some media outlets called it a “dress-up fail” (FYI, that take can go in ‘the bad’).

Carlton’s No.1 international fan Robbie Williams was certainly a fan.

“I want one of those tops. I’m the global ambassador after all so I need one of those tops. Can I have one of those tops please, Vossy?” Williams said on his Instagram while watching highlights of the Blues’ win.

Carlton fans dress up as the Blues Brothers. Credit: Getty Images

Chris Fagan has the voice of reason

The hype around Carlton looks justified. They stamped their premiership credentials by recovering from 46 points down, after a 2023 preliminary final loss to the same opponent at the same venue, to win a season-opening thriller. But Brisbane coach Chris Fagan is wise enough to know that the race doesn’t finish in March.

The Lions were smashed by Port Adelaide — albeit at Adelaide Oval — in Round 1 last year, but were second on the ladder by Round 10 after winning eight of their next nine. His sober analysis is never emotional and always simple: “We don’t walk away from what happened tonight. We have a look at the things that we did well and the reasons why we lost, and try to put in a better performance next week. It wasn’t a terrible performance tonight, it was just a really bad one quarter, which is a little bit unlike us.”

Brodie Grundy’s huge return to the No.1 ruck role

It’s no secret Sydney coach John Longmire has had a fickle relationship with his rucks over the years, but with Brodie Grundy, he might just have a new favourite player. The high-profile recruit got the better of his old mate Max Gawn (the best in the business for many a year) — and was nothing short of sensational.

The sight of him charging down the corridor with Sydney’s young midfielders would have seemed a thing of beauty for Swans coaches and fans alike.

Matt Rowell doing what Matt Rowell does best

When Matt Rowell burst onto the scene with three best-on-ground performances in his first four career matches back in 2020, he seemed destined to quickly become one of the game’s greats. But his second season was ruined by injury and while he played every game in 2022 and 2023, he failed to replicate the lofty heights set in his first few games.

However, that all changed on Saturday when he amassed a staggering 20 (!) clearances — the most by any player in the past 25 years — as well as racking up 26 contested possessions in the best performance of his young career.

Rowell was brilliant against the Tigers. Credit: AAP

The bad

Note to Mason, Australians don’t do fake pantomime villains very well

While we’re on the subject of American movies, let’s talk about the big American from Collingwood, Mason Cox. It does feel like he craves the attention a little too much for mine. And when he ran through the Giants’ ruck drill in the middle of the oval in Saturday’s pre-game, fans, players and commentators had a right to call him out.

One popular expert has already called him “a clown”, while Giants player Brent Daniels labelled his antics “really bizarre”. Yeah, sure, some of the banter in the lead-up was amusing and the Giants played up to it, but big Mason needs to be reminded of the AFL’s pecking order.

Yes, he’s real tall, but his standing in the game is not exactly high. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but Mason should also note Australians don’t do the fake pantomime villain very well. He’ll have to explain himself to the AFL after the league officially issued the premiership player with a “please explain”.

Shattering news for much-loved champion

Well, not so much ‘the bad’, but certainly ‘the sad’. When Carlton announced that Sam Docherty had done an ACL and would miss the season, everyone in the AFL world felt shattered for the veteran champion.

It’s just so disappointing to see the universally loved Docherty — who at age 30 has now had three ACL injuries and battled testicular cancer twice — miss another year. All the best, Sam.

Get the SCG boundary umpires on the spinach

Now this has been going on for years and someone needs to call it out. The boundary umpires at the SCG need to give that ball more oomph when they throw it in. It was the same again on Thursday night with one throw-in called back it was just so, so feeble. It’s a weird one and a little ironic, given some Swans fans still make a collective “oomph” noise when the umpire throws it in.

So, to the fans who still do that, please stop. It’s cringe. And to the boundary umpires in Sydney, get on the spinach, get in the gym, get some muscle on, and start giving that ball a good old heave-ho.

The ugly

Demons’ glaring issue rears its ugly head

Melbourne’s maligned forward line returned to a harsh spotlight against the Swans. Admittedly, it wasn’t a great night for key forwards and they were without injured pair Harrison Petty and Jake Melksham, and the suspended Kysaiah Pickett, but it still looked a little dysfunctional.

Bayley Fritsch, as always, did his best with four goals from six disposals. But where will the help come from? Josh Schache stepped up with Tom McDonald out injured but the former hasn’t been the answer when called upon and the latter would need to turn back the clock significantly to solve the Dees’ woes.

Richmond’s nightmare first half

Yes, they saved some face with a mini fightback in the second half, but the Tigers’ start to the season can only be described as woeful. Richmond actually kicked the first goal of the match inside two minutes, but were completely overwhelmed in the next hour to effectively throw away the match.

The Suns incredibly had the next 19 scoring shots — yes, you read that correctly — to kick 11 goals and set up the victory. Adem Yze will take some solace from the second half and the fact they were without Dustin Martin, Tom Lynch and Toby Nankervis, but it’s already looking like a long season for the recent heavyweights.

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