Round Three of the AFL season looks set to thrill as the undefeated face off and the beaten search for the answers to get their seasons off and running.
Heading into another big week, here are the five stories to look out for during the round.
Can the Bulldogs deliver under pressure?
The Western Bulldogs face the daunting prospect of falling to 0-3 on Thursday night when they face the Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium. The Bulldogs were beaten in Round 1 by the reigning premiers by 26 points and were outplayed again by an improved Carlton lineup by 12 points in Round 2.
The Swans will fancy their chances against the Bulldogs as they enter the contest unbeaten in 2022, defeating GWS and Geelong.
The Bulldogs won’t want to look to history for any indicator if they lose on Thursday night, as only two teams in the last 10 years have made the Top eight after losing their first three games. Making it a difficult ask for the Bulldogs, however, given their midfield depth anything can be possible.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge mentioned post-game that “whether that (the) analytics or commentators look at history and says that teams who start the year like this don’t necessarily do it at the end (of the season), I’m not a great believer in that”. Proving that Beveridge remains confident of finals aspirations despite the poor start.
Port Adelaide needs to respond in Showdown
Following a shock belting from the Hawks, Port Adelaide must simply turn things around in Showdown 51 against The Crows on Friday night. They face a similar situation to the Bulldogs in that a loss puts them to 0-3 to start the season.
The Power went into the season as potential premiership fancies and after the shock loss to Hawthorn, most experts have rubbed out the Power entirely from the Premiership and finals calculations already after two rounds. Port Adelaide sits bottom of the ladder after two rounds with zero wins two losses and a percentage of 62.5.
Despite losing by 64 points, some positives came from Port Adelaide’s performance. They won the clearance battle by 24, were +9 in contested possessions, +74 in disposals, and laid 19 more tackles than their opposition.
But it was at either end of the ground where Port Adelaide just broke down. Hawthorn was extremely efficient going forward, they goaled from 41 percent of their inside 50s whereas Port Adelaide scored majors from 12 percent of entries. For comparison, the league average in 2021 was 22 percent.
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Geelong will test where Collingwood is really at
Collingwood has had a dream start in 2022 under new coach Craig McRae, beginning the season at 2-0 with wins against St. Kilda and Adelaide. With little success in 2021, the Magpies didn’t have many external expectations going into this season but surprisingly sit second on the ladder after two rounds.
They match up against Geelong who is currently seventh on the ladder with a 1-1 record, following a comprehensive win against Essendon and a loss to the Swans.
Geelong will prove as the first real test for the Pies given that they have been up the top end for the best part of the last 15 years. Geelong will enter the game as favourites, but the increasing confidence of the young Magpies line-up may bring upon a potential upset.
Collingwood is looking to get off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2011, a year in which they played off in the Grand Final.
Carlton vs Hawthorn, the unexpected early blockbuster
At the start of the season, not many would have people would have said that Carlton and Hawthorn would be an anticipated matchup. This has since been proved wrong with the winner of the content to begin the season 3-0 when they meet on Sunday.
Carlton’s midfield had burst onto the season as one of the competition’s best with the additions of Adam Cerra (from Fremantle) and George Hewett (from Sydney). Patrick Cripps is back playing at his best after two below-average seasons, Matt Kennedy is also having a fantastic start to his year, and Sam Walsh, who finished fourth in the 2021 Brownlow Medal, returned to the side with a casual 34 disposals against the Western Bulldogs. It’s an elite engine room for the Blues
On the other hand, Hawthorn has been extremely impressive in early life under Sam Mitchell, in particular with the emergence of Mitchell Lewis in the forward line. Lewis has eight goals from the opening fortnight of football and is well supported by a fit-again Jack Gunston slotting six and Chad Wingard with four, forming a potent front half for the Hawks.
The winner of this matchup will have huge bearings come the end of the season. Since 2015, 88 percent of teams that have started 3-0 play finals that season, it’s a significant indicator of success that season and one that certainly both teams will want to win
How much will Zach Merrett’s loss impact the Bombers?
The Bombers have already had a shaky start to season 2022, but it has now gotten a whole lot tougher, with last year’s best and fairest winner Zach Merrett out for up to 2 months with a syndesmosis injury.
Merrett injured his ankle in a tackle late into the fourth quarter against Brisbane last Saturday, he hobbled to the bench and was sent for scans the following morning.
The dual All-Australian has missed just 10 matches since debuting for the club in 2014 playing 167 games for the red and black.
Essendon is already without Kyle Langford for another 8 weeks following a severe hamstring strain and there is also speculation as to whether Dylan Shiel will be available to face the Demons this week following a side strain.
The Bombers will regain Round One’s rising star nominee, Nick Martin, as he returns from the AFL’S Health and Safety Protocols but will need to find another option to replace their star in the engine room to kick-start their 2022 season.
Much like the injury to Dylan Shiel early last season paved the way for Darcy Parish to have a breakout season, Essendon will be hoping the likes of Jye Caldwell and Andrew McGrath can take the same opportunity and fill the void of one of their prime movers.
Essendon currently sits second last on the ladder with two losses and 62.6 percent.
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