AFL Spherical-Up — Dockers face an imminent drawback, Saints surprise and awe, and tribunal set to take on a significant gray space

Round two of the 2024 AFL season confirmed more surprise contenders, guaranteed another high-profile night at the tribunal, and left one key side looking at a defensive rebuild.

Here are the biggest talking points from every game of round two.

1. Slick Saints a sight to behold

A little under 12 months ago, St Kilda played Collingwood in 2023’s Gather Round at Adelaide Oval, put up a brave fight but went down swinging. The Saints were defensively excellent that night but lacked the firepower to put the Pies away, coming out of the game more respected but not yet feared by the wider competition.

This win on Thursday night should have put a shock right through the AFL. The Saints of 2024 are a proper, serious threat to the established order — and if you want to beat them, you first have to keep up with them.

A group of St Kilda AFL players huddle around a teammate who has kicked a vital goal.

The Saints celebrate Jack Higgins’ match-sealing goal.(Getty Images: Darrian Traynor)

The Saints now boast a band of runners and outside players that can rival the likes of GWS as the best in the comp.

Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Brad Hill, young Darcy Wilson and Mitch Owens, among others, are incredible runners and at the MCG Collingwood couldn’t keep up with them. You can add Mason Wood and Liam Henry to that equation, though both now face extended absences through injury.

Add that outside threat to a clearance game led by Rowan Marshall and Jack Steele, a forward line led by Max King and a typically secure Ross Lyon defence and you’re looking at a hell of a team.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (Saints)

2. Jack Higgins (Saints)

1. Marcus Winghager (Saints)

2. Stewart a sensation on his special night

It feels like Tom Stewart has played a hell of a lot more than just 150 games for Geelong. Perhaps it’s the five All Australian jackets that give that impression.

But of those 150, he wouldn’t have played many better than Friday night. Stewart was absolutely imperious in defence for Geelong, steering the Cats as they completely shut down one of the league’s most attacking teams in Adelaide.

Stewart equalled the record for most intercept marks in a game with 10, but he was just as commanding when the ball hit the deck. He had seven score involvements going the other way too, and basically controlled the entire game.

The only negative in Stewart’s game? He dropped the mark of the year.

The Cats are back in business in 2024, and Stewart will naturally be a big part of their hopes this year. He couldn’t have started the season much better.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Tom Stewart (Cats)

2. Gryan Miers (Cats)

1. Mark Blicavs (Cats)

3. Action Jackson sets up selection headache for Dockers

Are Justin Longmuir and Fremantle trying to take Collingwood’s old mantle as the comeback kings of the AFL?

For the second week running Freo started poorly and trailed by a decent margin — in this case 33 points — before overwhelming their opposition and winning comfortably.

The inspiration for the comeback was Luke Jackson, who was nigh unstoppable for two and a half quarters. His timing, rucking, clearance work and two well-timed goals were crucial.     

Sean Darcy is listed as at least three weeks away for the Dockers.

The query is what happens when he returns. The initial plan would clearly be for Darcy to come back in the ruck — but what if Jackson is the better option to drive the Dockers midfield? A nice conundrum to have for Freo.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Luke Jackson (Dockers)

2. Caleb Serong (Dockers)

1. Tom Powell (Kangaroos)

4. Demons set for defensive remodelling after key injuries

It was close to a perfect afternoon for Melbourne as they took Hawthorn apart at the MCG, but a couple of critical injuries are set to pose some serious questions of the Demons.

Steven May and Jake Lever, probably the best defensive duo in the AFL, both failed to finish the game due to injury. May was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs, while Lever pulled up with a knee injury that is yet to be determined.

A Melbourne AFL player lies hurt on the ground as two medical staff watch him closely.

Steven May was seriously injured against Hawthorn.(Getty Images: Darrian Traynor)

Losing key players is never a good thing, but when they come in one concentrated area on the field it’s a different challenge altogether. May will definitely miss weeks, though Lever’s diagnosis is still up in the air.

One way or another, that partnership is about to be broken for a period of time. It will be fascinating to see how the Dees adjust.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Christian Petracca (Demons)

2. Bayley Fritsch (Demons)

1. Kysaiah Pickett (Demons)

5. A big ban likely for a big Bomber

The Peter Wright tribunal case will be a significant one for how the MRO views incidents that previously might have come under the banner of “football acts”.

Wright’s initial intention was clearly to contest the ball, even with Harry Cunningham steaming towards him. In fact it probably wasn’t until the very last second that the prospect of taking man, not ball entered his head.

Swans players wrestle with Bombers opponent Peter Wright during an AFL match at the SCG.

Peter Wright was public enemy number one in Sydney after his collision with Harry Cunningham.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Matt King)

But times have changed. And Wright’s action — bracing for contact, directing a shoulder and wiping out an opponent — is unlikely to be left unpunished. It may seem harsh on players, but that is the price that needs to be paid to minimise concussion as much as is possible in our sport.

The Sam Powell-Pepper and Jimmy Webster hits were pretty straightforward. This one exists in a grey area that the tribunal will have to make sense of on Tuesday.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Isaac Heeney (Swans)

2. Tom Papley (Swans)

1. Chad Warner (Swans)

6. New season, same Suns on the road?

Gold Coast were one of the big stories of the first two weeks of the season, with wins over Richmond and Adelaide impressing enough to have many believing a finals charge is on.

But the Suns being hard to beat at home is not a new phenomenon. Though their form has varied year to year, when the Suns have been decent it has always been based on home form.

Cody Weightman of the Western Bulldogs takes a speccy mark ahead of a teammate and a Gold Coast Suns player.

Cody Weightman takes a hanger against the Suns.(Getty Images: Daniel Pockett)

So Damien Hardwick’s challenge was to take Gold Coast on the road and perform. The first evidence of 2024 was not encouraging, the Suns well beaten by the Bulldogs in Ballarat.

Gold Coast have the bye next week, but their next three games away from Carrara are ominous — GWS in Mr Barker for Gather Round, Sydney at the SCG and Brisbane at the Gabba.

If the Suns are to break through for a spot in the eight, they need to learn to win away. This was a missed opportunity, with tougher tests still to come.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs)

2. Cody Weightman (Bulldogs)

1. Adam Treloar (Bulldogs)

7. Marks inside the arc highlight Tigers’ defensive woes 

Richmond has started the 2024 season 0-3, and while that’s presumably not what coach Adem Yze would have hoped for, there are positive signs for the Tigers.

Against Port Adelaide at the MCG, Richmond showed in bursts that they can cause sides problems when they move the ball fast and in a dare-we-say-it, old school Richmond way.

But while the chaos footy worked at one end, the defensive side of things was a familiar and unhappy story. The Tigers allowed 17 marks inside 50 to Power forwards — for the first three rounds they are conceding 16 marks inside the arc on average.

An AFL player raises his hand for a high-five from a teammate after kicking a goal.

Todd Marshall had a day out against the Tigers’ defence, taking seven marks inside 50 and kicking four goals for the Power.(Getty Images: Darrian Traynor)

Last week it was Carlton’s Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay making hay. The week before it was Ben King and Malcolm Rosas for the Suns.

This week, Todd Marshall took seven marks inside 50, and kicked four goals. If the Tigers can’t stop marks inside the arc, it’s going to be a long season.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Zak Butters (Power)

2. Willem Drew (Power)

1. Liam Baker (Tigers)

8. Attacking options make Giants hard to fell

It’s hard to draw too many conclusions about GWS after a straightforward stroll against last year’s wooden-spooners, West Coast.

A GWS AFL player is shown with legs extended after a big kick for goal.

Brent Daniels was one of five Giants players to kick multiple goals in his team’s first-ever win over the Eagles in Perth.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Daniel Carson)

But as the Giants start the year 3-0 for the first time in their history, and win in Perth for only the second time ever, it’s hard not to look at the whole “Orange Tsunami, mark II” they’ve got going and not focus on the attacking options at their disposal.

On a day when Toby Greene kicked one goal, and Callum Brown didn’t have a single major, it was good to see that number one pick Aaron Cadman led the way with three, and a handful of smalls and talls had multiple scores.

When the Giants are so capable of turning defence into attack — scoring 53 points from turnovers just up to three quarter-time — it’s no surprise that the spread of scorers is wide.

And that just makes them all the harder to stop.  

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Tom Green (Giants)

2. Kieran Briggs (Giants)

1. Sam Taylor (Giants)

ABC player of the year top 10

1. Tom Green (Giants) – 8

=2. Matt Rowell (Suns) – 6

=2. Christian Petracca (Demons) – 6

=2. Isaac Heeney (Swans) – 6

=5. Caleb Serong (Dockers) – 5

=5. Jesse Hogan (Giants) – 5

=7. Connor Rozee (Power) – 3 

=7. Archie Perkins (Bombers) – 3

=7. Patrick Dangerfield (Cats) – 3

=7. Chad Warner (Swans) – 3

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