The 2021 AFL season kicked off this week and it felt….well….almost normal!

After a season spent playing in bubbles – for most teams that meant playing a long way away from home – with little to no crowds in attendance, it was refreshing to see real, live bodies in the stands for a football match.

Here at Vendetta Sports Media we’ll be covering the entire AFL season for you. In case you missed it, all our team previews, and this writers ladder predictions, are located here.

As is traditional the season kicked off with Richmond taking on Carlton, but as entertaining as that match was, it’s not our Match of the Week. That honour falls to the epic, topsy-turvy clash between the Bombers of Essendon and the Hawthorn Hawks.

Match of the Week: Essendon vs Hawthorn

With neither team likely to trouble the top eight this season, both Hawthorn and Essendon were simply hoping to get their campaigns started on a positive note. After an even opening term, nobody expected the fireworks that were to follow.

The Bombers took flight in the second quarter. In a devastating 21 minute burst, Essendon piled on seven unanswered goals, stretching their lead out to an even 40 points, before a crude hit from first gamer Nik Cox (for which he was reported) allowed Hawk Oliver Hanrahan to stem the flow from the resulting free kick.

The Bombers variety of midfield options – Dylan Shiel, Andrew McGrath and Zach Merrett were all at the forefront – simply overwhelmed the Hawks who were too reliant on Jaeger O’Meara and the brilliant Tom Mitchell.

Facing a 39 point deficit at the half time break, the Hawks were reeling, a thumping was on the cards and the jokes were flowing:

It may never be exactly known what master coach Alistair Clarkson said to his Hawks at halftime – he said he implored his players to ‘get their hands on the footy’ though surely he must have given them more than that – but it must have been pretty damn inspirational, as Hawthorn came out with fire in their eyes in the third quarter.

The Hawks runners found themselves in acres of space in the middle of Marvel Stadium, as the Bombers appeared to be resting on their laurels. Hawthorn completely turned the tables, with a seven goal run of their own, including five in the opening 14 minutes of the quarter.

Mitchell was prolific, picking up 17 of his game high 39 disposals in the third term, in the process driving the ball forward where the Hawks brigade of small forwards wreaked havoc. Dylan Moore kicked thee goals in the quarter, with Tyler Brockman and Harry Morrison also hitting the scoreboard.

Remarkably, the two teams went into the final break with the Bombers leading by a mere one point.

The final term was a slog as a mixture of fatigue and the gravity of the situation started to set in. Neither side was able to kick truly until Hawks skipper Ben McEvoy marked strongly and converted. His ruck counterpart Sam Draper quickly answered for the Bombers, setting up a grandstand finish.

With a little over two minutes remaining in the contest, with the Hawks leading by a point, Hawthorn defender Blake Hardwick was whistled for a throw, allowing Devon Smith to slot home a clutch free kick from 40 metres out on an acute angle.

From the restart, the Bombers forced the ball forward before the Hawks won it back. From their half back line, Hawthorn broke quickly, a long Liam Shiels kick finding Tim O’Brien, who held his nerve, kicking the games final goal with around 90 seconds remaining.

Certainly, a game of two halves, with areas of both concern and delight for both coaches. For Essendon coach Ben Rutten, his debut as a senior AFL coach will be one he’ll never forget.

Essendon 13 goals, 13 behinds (91) lost to Hawthorn 14 goals, 8 behinds (92)

Goals

Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Shiel 2, Smith 2, Draper, Hooker, McGrath, Parish, Snelling, Wright

Hawthorn: Moore 3, Brockman 2, Morrison 2, O’Brien 2, Breust, Ceglar, Hanrahan, McEvoy, Phillips

Best

Essendon: McGrath, Merrett, Caldwell, Hind, Heppell

Hawthorn: Mitchell, O’Meara, O’Brien, Moore, Day, Phillips, Jiath

Onto the other games on round 1 of the AFL season.

Richmond 15 goals, 15 behinds (108) defeated Carlton 11 goals, 14 behinds (80)

Goals

Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Castagna 2, Rioli 2, Martin 2, Aarts 2, Lynch, Caddy, Bolton

Carlton: McDonald 2, McKay 2, Gibbons 2, Casboult, O’Brien, Dow, Silvagni, Plowman

Best

Richmond: Martin, Balta, Edwards, Prestia, Short, Riewoldt, Graham

Carlton: Cripps, Walsh, Saad, Newnes, Plowman, Setterfield

The Tigers opened their title defensive with a strong performance against a much improved Carlton outfit. Despite staying within touching distance for most of the contest, the Tigers superior class showed as they kicked away late on. As he always seems to be, Dustin Martin was the difference.

Collingwood: 7 goals, 11 behinds (53) lost to Western Bulldogs 10 goals, 9 behinds (69)

Goals

Collingwood: Mihocek 2, Elliott 2, Cox 2, Crisp

Western Bulldogs: Naughton 2, Vandemeer 2, Smith 2, Bruce, English, McNeil, Martin

Best

Collingwood: Moore, Pendlebury, Mihocek, Crisp, Maynard

Western Bulldogs: Smith, Bontompelli, Daniel, Macrae, Hunter, Martin

A lightning quick start saw the Bulldogs control this one from the opening bounce. They never really looked in trouble despite the relatively close score line. The usual suspects were fantastic for the Dogs, with Bailey Smith’s 35 possessions and two goals earning him best on grounds honours. Darcy Moore was imperious for the Pies, perhaps the only thing standing between the Dogs and a blowout victory.

Melbourne 11 goals, 14 behinds (80) defeated Fremantle 8 goals, 10 behinds (58)

Goals

Melbourne: McDonald 2, Petracca 2, Fritsch 2, Pickett, Langdon, Jordan, Harmes, Spargo

Fremantle: Taberner 3, Switkowski, Henry, Schultz, Brayshaw, Blakely

Best

Melbourne: May, Lever, Petracca, Oliver, McDonald, Langdon

Fremantle: Brayshaw, Serong, Cerra, Aish, Ryan

A frustrating game that saw some wonderful midfield movement that ultimately teased due to poor delivery/smothering defense (delete as to your preference). When the ball was delivered well, both teams were guilty of wasting relatively easy opportunities. Steven May was commanding for the Demons and Jake Lever looks back to his best.

Adelaide Crows 15 goals 13 behinds (103) defeated Geelong 13 goals, 13 behinds (91)

Goals

Adelaide: Walker 5, Rowe 2, Frampton 2, McHenry 2, Lynch, Murphy, McAdam, Schoenberg

Geelong: Hawkins 2, Parfitt 2, Smith 2, Stanley, Rohan, Menegola, Guthrie, Blicavs, Dahlhaus, Miers

Best

Adelaide: Walker, Laird, Rowe, McHenry, Scholl

Geelong: Dangerfield, Guthrie, Smith, Parfitt, Blicavs

Our first upset of the year the 2020 wooden spooners take down last season’s beaten grand finalists! Big forward Tex Walker turned back the clock to slot five goals past a shell-shocked Cats outfit. A three goal burst in the second quarter set up the match for Adelaide and though the proud Cats turned up the heat in the second half, the Crows were able to batten down the hatches and hold on for a morale boosting victory.

Brisbane Lions 14 goals, 10 behinds (94) lost to Sydney Swans 19 goals, 11 behinds (125)

Goals

Brisbane: Bailey 3, Daniher 2, McCarthy 2, Berry, Coleman, Lyons, McInerney, McCluggage

Sydney: Gulden 3, Heeney 3, McDonald 3, Mills 2, Parker 2, Reid 2, Wicks 2, Papley, Blakey

Best

Brisbane: Zorko, Bailey, Coleman, McCarthy

Sydney: Mills, Gulden, Hickey, Heeney, McCartin, Rampe, Rowbottom

Adelaide’s win was quickly followed by another upset as Sydney travel to the Gabba to take down the fancied Lions.

To be frank, the Lions just didn’t look up for this one. With a young and ascendant playing list and some high priced off-season additions, perhaps the young Lions thought they would win simply by showing up? This should knock any early season complacency out of them. Swans first gamer Errol Gulbis had a night to remember, scoring three goals and setting up three more. His sweet left foot integral to some scintillating, flowing Swans football.

North Melbourne 9 goals, 11 behinds (65) lost to Port Adelaide 17 goals, 15 behinds (117)

Goals

North Melbourne: Scott 2, Thomas 2, Goldstein, Powell, Walker, Mahony, Davies-Uniake

Port Adelaide: Fantasia 4, Boak 2, Dixon 2, Marshall 2, Butters 2, Amon, Bonner, Lycett, Motlop

Best

North Melbourne: Stephenson, Simpkin, Davies-Uniake, Thomas, Young, McKay

Port Adelaide: Boak, Fantasia, Wines, Gray, Aliir, Drew

As expected, premiership contender Port Adelaide had their way with the hapless Kangaroos on Sunday. A slow start from the Power saw them trail by two points at the first break, before overwhelming the Kangaroos with a 50 point to 8 second term. It was smooth sailing from there. Recruit Orazio Fantasia enjoyed a day out, kicking four goals in his Power debut.

GWS Giants 11 goals, 12 behinds (78) lost to St Kilda 13 goals 8 behinds (86)

Goals

GWS: Himmelberg 3, Greene, Green, Hill, Ward Taranto, Coniglio, Hopper, Keefe

St Kilda: Membrey 3, Higgins 2, Lonie 2, Ross 2, Billings, Battle, Hill, Butler

Best

GWS: Taranto, Perryman, Himmelberg, Hopper

St Kilda: Billings, Membrey, Ross, Clark, Gresham

In Sydney’s driving rain, the Giants and Saints played out an enthralling match. Whilst is wasn’t pretty – wet weather football rarely is – it was hard to peel yourself away from two very good teams giving it everything. The Saints 16 point third quarter lead was as far apart as these two combatants got, with every blade of grass fought for. Three straight Giants goals threatened to put the game away before a late Saints fightback, capped by Dan Butler’s last minute goal, saw the Saints take the points.

West Coast 12 goals, 11 points (83) defeated Gold Coast 8 goals, 10 behinds (58)

Goals

West Coast: Allen 4, Darling 2, Kennedy, 2, Cripps, Ryan, Vardy, Petruccelle

Gold Coast: King 3, Holman, Miller, Weller, Sexton, Swallow

Best

West Coast: Sheed, Allen, Hurn, Barrass, Kelly, Duggan

Gold Coast: Swallow, King, Miller, Markov, Bowes, Lukosius

In the ‘Coast’ battle, the east was game, but the west won the day. With the Suns looking like they could claim a big scalp, the veteran Eagles steadied, kicking the last five goals of the contest. Oscar Allen continued his ascension towards stardom with a fantastic four goal performance. The duel between young Suns full forward Ben King and Eagles fullback Tom Barrass was captivating. Worryingly for the Suns, young star Matt Rowell went down early with a knee injury.

#ClubMPts%ForAgtThis WeekProjectedNext
1Port Adel14180.0 %11765Won @ N.M.
117 – 65
3rd: 52 pts, 112 %Saturday
vs Ess
2WC Eagles14143.1 %8358Won vs G.C.
83 – 58
8th: 48 pts, 103 %Sunday
@ W.B.
3Melbourne14137.9 %8058Won vs Freo
80 – 58
7th: 48 pts, 104 %Saturday
@ St.K
4Sydney14133.0 %12594Won @ B.L.
125 – 94
5th: 48 pts, 104 %Saturday
vs Adel
5Richmond14131.3 %10580Won vs Carl
105 – 80
1st: 60+ pts, 124 %Sunday
@ Haw
6W Bulldogs14130.2 %6953Won @ Coll
69 – 53
2nd: 56 pts, 114 %Sunday
vs WCE
7Adelaide14113.2 %10391Won vs Geel
103 – 91
15th: 40 pts, 91 %Saturday
@ Syd
8St Kilda14110.3 %8678Won @ GWS
86 – 78
9th: 44+ pts, 100 %Saturday
vs Melb
9Hawthorn14101.1 %9291Won @ Ess
92 – 91
14th: 40+ pts, 95 %Sunday
vs Rich
10Essendon1098.9 %9192Lost vs Haw
91 – 92
16th: 36 pts, 93 %Saturday
@ P.A.
11GWS Giants1090.7 %7886Lost vs St.K
78 – 86
10th: 44 pts, 100 %Sunday
@ Freo
12Geelong1088.3 %91103Lost @ Adel
91 – 103
4th: 52 pts, 112 %Friday
vs B.L.
13Collingwood1076.8 %5369Lost vs W.B.
53 – 69
12th: 40 pts, 96 %Thursday
@ Carl
14Carlton1076.2 %80105Lost @ Rich
80 – 105
11th: 40 pts, 98 %Thursday
vs Coll
15Brisbane1075.2 %94125Lost vs Syd
94 – 125
6th: 48 pts, 104 %Friday
@ Geel
16Fremantle1072.5 %5880Lost @ Melb
58 – 80
13th: 40 pts, 95 %Sunday
vs GWS
17Gold Coast1069.9 %5883Lost @ WCE
58 – 83
17th: 28+ pts, 84 %Saturday
vs N.M.
18North Melb1055.6 %65117Lost vs P.A.
65 – 117
18th: 28 pts, 81 %Saturday
@ G.C.