Melbourne v Western Bulldogs
Sometimes the best gauge of team spirit cannot be identified on a stat sheet or the scoreboard, but in a selfless act by a lower-profile player. Alex Neal-Bullen is a foot soldier who fits the bill. When Simon Goodwin’s coaching run the review this week, it’s likely Neal-Bullen’s effort to throw his body in front of a charging Tim English at a marking contest will be acclaimed. As Neal-Bullen sucked in the deep ones after copping his medicine, several teammates rushed over to pat him on the back to acknowledge his commitment. Rory Lobb may have only just started his career at the kennel but he owes the club plenty. The Dogs gave up pick 30 and a future second-round selection for a player who has only kicked more than 30 goals once in his nine-season career. Acquired to help out English in the ruck and support Aaron Naughton inside 50, he did neither in his debut in the red, white and blue, producing a stinker with six touches, two marks and no score. The delivery inside 50 was poor, but the Dogs can reasonably demand Lobb to set a better example to young pups Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy. There was some relief for the Bulldogs, with Liam Jones cleared of structural damage to his neck after an awkward collision with a teammate. He will be assessed before the Dogs play St Kilda on Saturday night. – Andrew Wu
Gold Coast v Sydney
After last year’s grand final shellacking, the Swans answered any questions about their appetite for season 2023 in style with a clinical victory away from home. The only bum note is the likely loss of Lance Franklin for at least a week after he collected Suns defender Sam Collins high, opening the door for Sam Reid. Chad Warner, Errol Gulden, Nick Blakey and Dylan Stephens all showed the rich emerging talent in this young side are capable of going to the next level. Really, though, the spotlight should be on the Suns, whose lack of physical presence and intensity was disturbing. Coach Stuart Dew can’t afford too many more performances like that. – Andrew Stafford
GWS Giants v Adelaide
Toby Greene said it was “hands down” the hardest game of footy in played in. The Giants captain booted four goals and was magnificent in leading his side to a come-from-behind win over the Crows in 32-degree heat. For GWS, it was a rousing start to the Adam Kingsley era but there were some injury worries to come out of the match. Harry Perryman (hamstring), Lachie Whitfield and Josh Kelly (both concussion) were forced from the field before the match was on the line, while Nick Haynes was restricted by cramps. Rookie Giant Jacob Wehr spent time on the bench being assessed for concussion after a heavy hit from Adelaide’s Shane McAdam that is sure to come under the scrutiny of the match review officer. The Crows’ prized recruit Izak Rankine sparked his new club early but failed to make the Giants pay with 2.5 from 18 disposals. The Giants travel to Perth seeking to go 2-0 against West Coast on Sunday, while the Crows host Richmond on Saturday. – AAP
Hawthorn v Essendon
Neither Hawthorn nor Essendon supporters were expecting much in 2023. But Bomber fans were entitled to leave the MCG satisfied after watching Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti return in style and Alwyn Davey junior make an impressive debut. Archie Perkins delivered on his promise while Zach Merrett played with the attitude of a leader, lifting his team with sacrificial acts in the second term when a heavy tag was stopping him getting the ball. By contrast, Hawthorn need to respond quickly after an uncompetitive performance that should worry their fans when they consider the prospect of playing Geelong, Collingwood or Melbourne. Melbourne play the Hawks twice which shapes as a massive bonus for the Demons, as do the Saints, Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and North Melbourne. Hawks coach Sam Mitchell says his team is much better than it showed in round one. The jury is still out. – Peter Ryan
St Kilda v Fremantle
The Saints have 14 on the injury list, including forwards Max King and Tim Membrey, and there were only seven senior players left to play in the reserves this past weekend, so coach Ross Lyon was up against it. Lyon isn’t expecting many of his injured players to be back next round, although midfielder Marcus Windhager (broken finger) may be a chance. The Saints forward line included a key defender with 12 career goals – Zaine Cordy – a guy who wasn’t on the list six weeks ago – Anthony Caminiti – and teenager Mattaes Phillipou, who looks a boy but played like a man. Mitch Owens worked hard and Mason Wood also pushed forward to kick two crucial late goals. The unheralded forwards challenged and pressured and will likely have a couple more weeks until more experienced reinforcements arrive. “We thought they persisted and halved some valuable things [contests] late in the game. They persisted,” Lyon said. – Roy Ward
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