LEIGH MATTHEWS: Two young AFL players worth up to $2 million a year & why we should call it the Northern Round

Leigh Matthews
The Nightly
7 Min Read
Leigh Matthews says there are two young AFL players worth up to $2 million a year.
Leigh Matthews says there are two young AFL players worth up to $2 million a year. Credit: The Nightly

The AFL’s new Opening Round concept kicked off season 2024 with four home games for the teams from the northern states, Sydney Swans, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns.

As a marketing exercise to grow support for the sport in the non-traditional football states it was a great success, all four games had almost maximum capacity crowds largely because the well-supported Melbourne, Carlton, Richmond and Collingwood drew the short straw to start the playing season interstate.

But as next week’s nine games of footy is the official Round One then maybe a better name to prevent confusion would be in order. How about the Northern Round or something of that ilk if, as we hope, this becomes an annual event to open the season.

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As promotional tools Adelaide has Gather Round and that should be locked in, Melbourne has marquee games at the MCG every second week so the northern states should have the Northern Round, now something innovative for Perth should be on the agenda.

There are obviously winners and losers in every initiative and the four big Melbourne teams that had to travel for Opening Round would have much preferred starting their season in Victoria, not so sure they will want to back up to travel again next year.

There is a huge advantage for the home state team in every game of football and apart from Carlton’s one-point win over the Lions, not surprisingly, the home team won the other three games.

The four games themselves were compelling viewing because Richmond and the Suns aside, the other six teams are in the very top bracket of top four contenders and the eight-point concept of getting 4 points and denying a rival 4 points was very much in play.

What we saw play out was a couple of football’s great realities.

One, the delicate psychology of team sport was on full display as the subconscious played a huge influence in the team’s performance.

The mental aspect of the game is in the planning and strategy, the physical is the execution on the ground, but it is the fluctuation in player emotions that creates, comparative to the opposition, an ever-changing subconscious team psyche that ultimately drives the ability to play well or perform badly.

Secondly nothing will ever change the fact that accurate or inaccurate conversion will win or lose so many games.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 07:  Max Gawn of the Demons competes for the ball against Hayden McLean of the Swans during the Opening Round AFL match between Sydney Swans and Melbourne Demons at SCG, on March 07, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images)
The Swans made sure Max Gawn had a tough night at the office. Credit: Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images

Sydney and Melbourne

Coaches are always looking for a theme that may bond their team through a common purpose.

In this game, the entire Sydney team seemed committed to blunting the key opposition weapon by attacking Melbourne’s captain and potentially dominant ruckman Max Gawn.

The Swans recruit from the Demons ruckman Brodie Grundy was matched up against his former teammate and he attacked Gawn by initiating contact at every opportunity and applying body pressure from the first bounce.

It was clear all the Swans players had a focus on Gawn, and he was targeted around the ground with a lot of little bumps, one meant nothing but a lot added up.

The Grundy role was helped by the conditions, it was also a sweaty, humid evening which made ball handling difficult, and it became a ground ball game. This played into the hands of Grundy who while competitive in the air is much better at ground level, he had an exceptional nine clearances to illustrate that point.

Obviously, Grundy had a point to prove against his old club, but the Swans team had a shared bond as they blunted the effectiveness of Melbourne’s best player and won the game by a few goals. On the night they won the team psyche battle.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 08: Charlie Curnow of the Blues celebrates kicking a goal during AFL Opening Round match between Brisbane Lions and Carlton Blues at The Gabba, on March 08, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Charlie Curnow helped the Blues steal back the match against the Lions. Credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Brisbane and Carlton

The last time these two teams played was in a Preliminary Final last year where Carlton kicked the first five goals of the game against Brisbane in Brisbane, before losing to the home team.

Most football pundits had Brisbane as clear favourites in this game as the home team was meeting a Carlton side missing quite a number of its first-choice players through injury.

The Brisbane team made a scintillating start to this game and established a 46-point lead early in the second quarter. Then the game changed. Two things seemed to happen in the emotional fluctuation space.

Perhaps Brisbane players subconsciously thought they would win the game from there and lost a little focus on the here and now.

Carlton did a good job to stabilise and dig in for the fight and by halftime they had worked their way back into the game with a gettable five-goal deficit.

Then as great goalkickers can, Charlie Curnow had an incredible 15-minute patch taking control of the match and kicking goals either side of halftime which provided a big emotional lift to his team. By halfway through the third quarter the scoreboard was even.

This is where taking your chances deserted the Lions, an inaccurate one goal, six behinds with a few sitters from close range to frustrate even more was a huge hit to the scoreboard and the Lions’ collective team psyche. Goals are always a huge upper and missed shots are a huge downer.

Once the contest was back even, the remainder of the game was a real arm wrestle and the critical factor in the game with only a couple of minutes to go was the Blues key forward Harry McKay taking a big contested forward 50 mark. Then with the weight of the world on his shoulders Harry composed himself and executed under pressure to kick the goal.

Accurate conversion wins games.

When we look at the big winners and big losers from this round, the Lions losing to Carlton at home is a real eight-point game and Carlton winning without a full-strength team at the Brisbane fortress is a huge win.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 09: Matt Rowell of the Suns in action during the 2024 AFL Opening Round match between the Gold Coast SUNS and the Richmond Tigers at People First Stadium on March 09, 2024 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Russell Freeman/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Matt Rowell shone for the Suns. Credit: Russell Freeman/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Gold Coast Suns and Richmond

Post-premiership eras are a very tough time for football clubs when players involved in the ultimate premiership success can sometimes stagnate and struggle to take responsibility for the team when some key players have moved on.

At Richmond, leaders such as Jack Riewoldt, Trent Cotchin, Alex Rance and a few other important premiership players have moved on and the current Richmond team seems to be in transition and has a shrinking number of top quality players.

The Suns dominated this game with new coach Damien Hardwick coaching his first game against his old team. There may be a honeymoon period for Gold Coast with the players enjoying the emotional stimulus of a new coach, but as good as the Suns were in the early part of the game, the Tigers were very poor.

Richmond dug in as the game went on and I would think their performance pride kicked in for a while, but these fightbacks can be fleeting and difficult to sustain.

Keeping it simple, winning teams need to win the contest for the ball, win the spread away from the clearances and score efficiently. Cold Coast did this very well.

Suns player Matt Rowell was magnificent with an extraordinary 20 clearances. No player had managed such a number for more than 20 years.

If the Suns best players continue to play well, they will trouble most team particularly at home.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 09: Magpies players look dejected after losing the AFL Opening Round match between Greater Western Sydney Giants and Collingwood Magpies at GIANTS Stadium, on March 09, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Poor goal kicking cost Collingwood dearly. Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Greater Western Sydney and Collingwood

The Giants were very impressive and converted their scoring opportunities brilliantly - 18 goals, 6 behinds from 53 forward 50 entries is superb forward efficiency.

Their big forwards Jesse Hogan and Callum Brown split the centre with every shot, nine goals without a blemish from this pair was remarkable sharp shooting.

Again, you can rarely win games of football, if you don’t kick accurately and convert your chances into goals.

The Pies were the opposite - 11 goals, 16 behinds was a terrible return and created a scoreboard margin not in keeping with the general evenness of the rest of the match.

I like the look of the Giants who still appear to have plenty of upside as a playing group and by the looks a competitive psyche that had them ready to take on the reigning premiers.

Two young players really took my eye, 23-year-old Tom Green from the Giants and 21-year-old Nick Daicos from Collingwood.

These two players are only at the start of their careers, but they are already match-winning weapons. A very dominant decade of football lies ahead for both of these young guns.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 09: Tom Green of the Giants kicks the ball during the 2024 AFL Opening Round match between the GWS GIANTS and the Collingwood Magpies at ENGIE Stadium on March 09, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Tom Green is just 23-years-old and already a match-winning weapon. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

With the next TV rights deal imminent and Total Player Payments reaching around $20 million in the next few years players of this elite level might well be pushing over $1.5m per season or even closer to the $2m mark.

And good luck to them, they deserve every dollar.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 09: Nick Daicos of the Magpies in action during the 2024 AFL Opening Round match between the GWS GIANTS and the Collingwood Magpies at ENGIE Stadium on March 09, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)
Nick Daicos could command an annual salary of $2 million in the near future. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/AFL Photos via Getty Images

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