What we do and don’t know about the AFL’s three unbeaten teams, Brisbane, Melbourne and Carlton
Posted On April 5, 2022
Three rounds in, we can start to put together some impressions of the 2022 AFL season, and in particular Brisbane, Melbourne and Carlton, the teams which are flying at 3-0.
While a strong start for two of those three teams is not surprising, the Blues have been successful so far beyond the expectations of all but the most one-eyed Carlton fans.
Obviously with 20 rounds still to go, there is a lot of time left for events to change, players to get injured or go out of form, and for other teams to work the leaders out.
Right now, however, there are some things we know and things we don’t yet know about these top three sides.
Let’s have a look.
What we know about Brisbane
From the opening round, we know that the Lions are capable of playing an average match and still mounting a final-quarter comeback to overcome opponents.
We also know that Brisbane can be ruthless with the football and put teams to the sword — just ask North Melbourne.
It is clear already that Lachie Neale is back in something approaching his best form, AKA Brownlow-medal-winning form, which makes the Lions much more dangerous going forward.
He was almost not needed in the demolition of the Kangaroos, but his display in round two against Essendon — 41 disposals, 12 clearances, nine inside 50s, nine score involvements and seven intercepts — was pivotal.
We also know that the big positional change of the early season, moving Dayne Zorko to half-back, is working very well.
The “Magician” may not be playing the contested-ball role for now, but his vision and presence off half-back guiding the play is helping the Lions’ ball movement.
And what we don’t …
The first question that will get answered this week is can big man Darcy Fort carry the Lions in the absence of Oscar McInerney.
The combination of both men has been part of Brisbane’s success in the first few rounds. The pair have averaged a combined 33 hit outs, 23 disposals, eight clearances, eight score involvements and four intercepts.
Against the Cats, they will meet Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs, who average a combined 30 touches, 25 hit outs, four clearances, 12 score involvements and nine intercepts. It’s not just about the tap work. If Fort struggles, the Lions may find themselves turned around by the Geelong midfield.
What about Joe Daniher? The Brisbane spearhead leads the way with nine goals in three games. But a couple of options taken, including the infamous handball on the siren in round one, suggest a possible issue with confidence. He doesn’t have to dominate, but he has to take his chances if Brisbane is to go deep.
The big thing we don’t know? Lions sides have looked impressive at various times in recent seasons but the acid test will again come with finals.
If Chris Fagan’s men can maintain their form and have another high finish, can they go the extra step in September?
What we know about Melbourne
They’re the champions, and they’re playing like it.
The Demons are doing what needs to be done — answering challenges even though they are not yet operating at 100 per cent or near it.
The belief and the knowledge they can win a flag is showing. Their winning streak is up to 10 games, dating back to round 19 last year.
They have the best player in the league in Christian Petracca, not to mention a close competitor in Clayton Oliver. Angus Brayshaw, meanwhile, served a timely reminder of his abilities on the weekend, and Sam Weideman booted four goals in Ben Brown’s absence.
But it may well be that the player whose role could ultimately help them go back to back is Luke Jackson.
His size, mobility and ability to impact the play and seize momentum for his side — seen particularly during his efforts against the Suns — may give the Demons an advantage over opponents.
When Max Gawn and Jackson are both flying, teams will struggle to stay with Melbourne.
And what we don’t …
So far the Demons have done what they have to, but what happens when they come up against a contender who comes at them for the full four quarters?
It seems pretty likely that they have the means to deal with that, but it will take several weeks to get a clearer view. Depending on who you see as legitimate contenders, that may be in round eight against St Kilda, or against Sydney, Brisbane and Geelong in the second half of the season.
What we know about Carlton
Aside from the Blues’ place on the ladder, the biggest change in the opening three rounds is the confidence of the team under new coach Michael Voss.
So far the Blues have been playing to an identifiable plan, and aside from a nervous final quarter against Hawthorn, they have proved able to maintain that plan.
It’s all starting with the midfield. Carlton have gone from 16th in the league in total clearances last season to fifth this year. The two big improvers have been Patrick Cripps and Matthew Kennedy.
A fit and firing Cripps leads the league in centre clearances with 15 for the season. And he is a much more dynamic version of himself in 2022. He has an average of more than seven inside 50s a game this year, and he already has six goals. His best return in any previous season is 13.
Given his opportunity, Kennedy has flourished, going from an average of 14 disposals a game last year to 31.
This is all without Sam Walsh in this equation. The Blues midfield roster looks capable of shaking most opponents.
The upshot of this is that Carlton have improved their scoring by 13 points a game, and their defence has improved by 10 points a game.
The return of Charlie Curnow in the forward line to partner Harry McKay has given Carlton a new edge in attack, not to mention the delivery from midfield.
That four-goal difference now takes them from mid-table mediocrity to an early favourite to make finals.
And what we don’t …
The take-a-deep-breath moment for Blues fans? This is three rounds into a new era.
Right now things are clicking and the Voss plan looks strong, but all three sides they have beaten have question marks over them.
The big question is how far can talent, belief and a plan take the Blues?
Will this style of play stand up against the likes of the Demons, the Lions and the Cats?
The other unknown is whether Cripps and Curnow, in particular, can stay healthy through the season. The loss of either of them for an extended period would change the game.