Jacob Hopper, Tim Taranto shine for Richmond Tigers; Harry Sheezel exciting for North Melbourne Kangaroos
As part of the Tigers’ new-look midfield, the former Giants combined beautifully with an established bull in Dion Prestia who picked up where he left off last year by having a huge influence as he too gathered a stack of disposals.
The 2019 All-Australian was a constant threat and his work around the contest was excellent, but he also covered a lot of ground, popping up for a beautiful goal from the boundary line in the second stanza.
The additions of Taranto and Hopper to the engine room have given Richmond the luxury of moving former captain Trent Cotchin to the forward line, where he looked dangerous, setting up goals and snaring one himself after he beautifully crumbed the pack in the goal square in the second period.
Sheezel brings the excitement for North
Kangaroos fans had plenty to be excited about as well – namely highly touted top pick Harry Sheezel.
The No.3 overall selection at last year’s draft was outstanding up forward, finishing with three goals, and already looks a certain starter for round one after displaying the same class, poise and x-factor that he exhibited at underage level in 2022.
Sheezel was one of North’s best players in the opening term and started the match with a bang, tackling Taranto in the opening minute and pinging him for holding the ball, before nonchalantly converting the free kick from 35m out directly in front.
He added another clip to his highlight reel 15 minutes later when he cleverly tapped the loose ball from congestion to Jaidyn Stephenson who handballed it back to Sheezel before he snapped truly with a magnificent attempt under pressure from a sharp angle in the pocket.
His third major came in the third period when he crumbed the pack in the goal square and sent a hurried banana through the big sticks, capping off an industrious opening foray against senior AFL opposition.
Other Kangaroos who impressed were Luke Davies-Uniacke, who was their best on-baller as usual, and Cam Zurhaar in an unfamiliar role in the middle.
Zurhaar attended numerous centre bounces, and although he got caught holding the ball a few times, he made his presence felt and added grunt in the clinches.
The maligned Stephenson also looked dangerous at times, creating and setting up play as a midfielder/high half-forward, and applying some good forward pressure, and young key forward Charlie Comben provided a solid target for the Kangaroos, finishing with 2.2. New coach Alastair Clarkson will hope Comben can effectively combine with Nick Larkey in attack this year.
From purple to blue and white
Clarkson would’ve also been pleased with another new recruit, former Docker Griffin Logue, who had a good battle with star Richmond spearhead Jack Riewoldt.
In their first official hitout under Clarkson, North’s ability to run in numbers, especially from defence, was noticeable and they seemed to have a stronger defensive structure compared to previous years. They also weren’t shy in taking the game on through the corridor, with quick handballs leading to some impressive run-and-carry play.
For the Tigers, triple Norm Smith medallist Dustin Martin was busy, and showed glimpses of his vintage best with a couple of beautiful goals, co-captain Toby Nankervis was great in the ruck, Nick Vlastuin was rock solid in defence and rookie selection Seth Campbell looked spritely up forward, kicking a couple of goals from limited game time.
And without Tom Lynch, young tall Samson Ryan provided a presence up forward for the Tigers, kicking two goals and could’ve finished with four, but two of his set shots failed to score.
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