Highlights: Gold Coast v Essendon
The Suns and Bombers clash in round one
Gary Ablett (Gold Coast)
The son of God returned to AFL action without a pre-season game under his belt but immediately looked no worse for it than anyone else on the field against Essendon. Ablett's first quarter was majestic, his 12 disposals ensuring he was in the thick of the action. All but two were in the forward half, and although he was only involved in one goal he had a crack at two behinds (and forced another to be rushed) before ending the 61-point win with 34 disposals, nine clearances (three centre), seven tackles and seven inside 50s. If he's already in this kind of form, we can't wait to see how he performs against Fremantle – he hasn't faced them, and subsequently Nat Fyfe, since round two, 2014. That's a long time between drinks for a meeting between the competition's two best midfielders.
Brent Harvey (North Melbourne)
As the 410-gamer charges towards breaking the VFL/AFL games record, he gave everyone a reminder in the Roos' first round-one victory for seven years, a 10-point thriller over Adelaide, of why he is still of tremendous value to his team. Like Cyril Rioli, Harvey doesn't need to get the ball a mountain of times to hurt the opposition. After a quiet first half, the North Melbourne champion picked the perfect time to go on a rampage. With the Crows ahead by 19 points with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, Harvey produced a game-shifting three-goal burst in just six minutes. He first ran onto a pass over the top for a sitter, then kicked an absolute team-lifter from just inside 50 on the boundary before moments later running onto another to put his side just two points behind and with all the momentum as three-quarter time loomed.
Jake Stringer (Western Bulldogs)
The Dogs were so impressive in their 65-point win over Fremantle that it feels harsh to single out one player, especially a forward who, in a sense, feasted on the succesful job players further up the ground did before he saw the ball. Still, Stringer had a terrific afternoon at Etihad Stadium. The No.9 kicked five goals one and had a hand in five other scoring shots for his side. Stringer had two magnificent individual efforts, the first in the second quarter when he tried to take a mark over a defender but instead knocked it down before slamming it home on the half-volley. His left-foot snap in the third quarter, however, was even better. Stringer picked the ball up on the bounce, split two defenders, flattening Tendai Mzungu in the process, and finished the outstanding play with a goal. Still yet to turn 22, he's got an impressive bag of tricks that continues to grow.
Travis Cloke (Collingwood)
Granted the Magpies barely got the ball into their forward 50 in what was an utterly woeful first two quarters to open their 2016 season, but still. Cloke's failure to get near the ball for the first half of their 80-point loss to Sydney was perhaps the worst 60 minutes of his 234-game career, and at 29, questions about the forward's value to the team are bound to surface – especially if he has another poor game against Richmond next week. Cloke was going so badly – he wasn't on his own, mind you – that coach Nathan Buckley shifted him into the ruck just so that he could get an idea of what the footy looked like. He ended with seven disposals and one mark, and while emerging tall forward Darcy Moore hardly set the world on fire either, at least he presented more in contests and kicked a goal for Collingwood.
Matthew Pavlich (Fremantle)
Another full forward failing to leave much of a mark on his team's game was Pavlich, the former Dockers skipper, who had just six disposals and four marks as Fremantle lost by a whopping 65 points to the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon. Perhaps the only mark he left was on opponent Easton Wood's shoulder, with Pavlich reported for high contact. It's unlikely he'll be forced to miss a game for it, which is a fortunate result given most players – especially a 34-year-old veteran – should know better than to lead side-on with the hip. The No.29 was matched up against AFL debutant Marcus Adams for most of the afternoon but managed only a behind in the first quarter and a goal in the fourth.
Matt Crouch (Adelaide)
When we say players should know better than to lead with the hip, we mean it. Crouch recorded double-digit clearances for the first time in his short career but his performance in the narrow loss to the Kangaroos was marred by a bump on North forward Jarrad Waite. With the ball in dispute and Waite leaning down and bobbling it along, Crouch braced and caught his opponent around the shoulder and neck area with his hip. Given Crouch laid only two tackles for the game and chose to give away a free-kick with the score at 86-84 the Crows' way, he should probably take some lessons from his brother, Adelaide teammate Brad Crouch, who recorded eight on the night and avoided a report.
Who were your heroes and goats from round one? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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