By PETER CORNWALL
Jade Rawlings is loving it. Jacob Surjan, not so much, right now. Coaching has its highs and lows and Rawlings, after his first two games in charge at Norwood, for two wins, is thriving. Surjan, who took North Adelaide to the grand final last season in his first year in charge, suddenly has a challenge, the Roosters surprisingly kicking off with two losses.
Rawlings is passionate about his footy. He has quickly embraced the SANFL, getting an idea of just how fervent people here are about this league. He already feels the love for his new club, its traditions and its rivalries. And he has loved the way his players have embraced the challenge of bouncing back from missing the finals last year, beating strong rivals Port Adelaide and Sturt.
Rawlings, who has had a long, distinguished AFL playing and coaching career, is right at home at Norwood and in the SANFL. “I love it. I really love the competition,” he said after the Legs had shrugged off the Blues by 21 points. “When I moved to South Australia it really hit me how passionate the people are about their footy, how tribal it is, seeing the crowd we had at home last week (against Port) and the Sturt crowd here today, it’s great for the competition … I’m right amongst it, the passion for it … I love it.”
Rawlings’ enthusiasm is catching and the Legs are up and about but one thing that has struck him already, is just how even and tight the competition is shaping. An indication of that is the fact the Roosters head into Round 3 winless in ninth place on the ladder. No-one expects them to finish there and Rawlings will be prepared for Surjan’s men to storm onto The Parade all guns blazing. He’s bound to get even more of an idea how competitive this comp is.
So near, yet so far. For highly-respected West Adelaide mentor Brad Gotch it’s been just a few kicks over two weeks. An 11-point loss against Glenelg at the Bay, followed by defeat at the hands of the Crows by just six points. That after scores have been locked away in time-on of the final quarter.
After Sturt went down fighting by 21 points against Norwood at Unley, Blues boss Martin Mattner lamented his inexperienced group had fallen short for a second successive loss.
“We are close. We are around the mark,” Mattner said. “We are just not good enough for long enough at the moment. We just lack a bit of that ability with the young kids to concentrate for a full game and that’s what I’m still trying to instil in them.”
So which coach – and team – will break through today? Which will be able to put in a consistent, four-quarter performance? It’s all on the line at Unley and there are a couple of stars to watch out for, ones Mattner and Gotch will know need to be subdued.
Former Hawk Kieran Lovell has made a sizzling start with the Bloods and his 39 touches against Adelaide were 12 more than any other player on the field. And Sturt skipper James Battersby hauled the Blues back into the game against Norwood. He also finished with a game-high for disposals, with 25, while winning eight clearances.
The Bays’ birthday bash for their centenary league season picked up momentum with an explosive second-half demolition job on the Eagles.
They had only won one of their previous eight games at home against the Eagles so to beat the reigning premiers by 29 points was something to celebrate in a celebration year. Superstar midfield duo Luke Partington and Matthew Snook may be very different types of players but how well do they work together?
Magarey Medallist Partington used his silky skills to make the most of his 32 disposals against the Eags, while Medal runner-up Snook was in and under for 10 clearances and 12 tackles do go with his 24 touches. And former Blood Brett Turner has improved the midfield mix, his 26 touches and 10 clearances also critical.
But new coach Brett Hand will not be getting carried away and he knows it won’t be easy against the Doggies on the vast expanses at Elizabeth. Under new coach Paul Thomas, Central wants to make the Ponderosa its fortress again and it kicked off the year with a great win there against North. There’s still work to be done, of course, but his men showed spirit against Port at Alberton to lead at half-time before falling away.
Kyle Presbury has made a stunning start to the year and he picked up 36 touches but Thomas will be like Mattner, who was an assistant coach with him at the AFL Crows. He will be looking for the Dogs’ better footy to last longer.
There’s no doubt South has been building under coach Jarrad Wright. The Panthers look to be stepping up again after last year’s preliminary final appearance.
Like Wright, they’re getting the job done with a minimum of fuss. A crushing win against the Crows was a good way to start but it was South’s win against North at Prospect that made a statement. Beating last year’s grand finalist after trailing by two goals at the long break shows the fighting spirit and determination among the ranks and Wright admitted it was a “significant step forward for our team”, outstanding Joseph Haines and Matthew Broadbent leading from the back.
Sam Hayes is hitting the heights in SANFL ranks showing he has a big future at the top level and Central couldn’t stop him as Port Adelaide stormed from behind to show it means business. Hayes impressed in the season opener against Norwood, looking stronger and with improved marking and general play around the ground, but when Port trailed the Dogs by 26 points at half-time he stepped it up again, finishing with 16 disposals, seven marks, 33 hit-outs and six clearances.
If anyone was thinking Matt Lokan’s men might not be around the mark after their first-round loss, 6.8 to 0.1 in the second half against the Doggies made a statement too. And hasn’t it set up a mouth-watering clash at Noarlunga?
Michael Godden returned to his old stomping ground when the former Bloods player enjoyed a thrilling six-point Crows win at Richmond on Saturday. Would it be too much to hope for to claim another win when he returns to his coaching home of almost a decade at Woodville Oval?
The Eagles’ most recent premiership coaches will battle it out when Godden’s Crows tackle Jade Sheedy’s reigning champs. Adelaide snatched a ripper win against Westies when livewire James Mathews snapped a sensational goal at the 22-minute-mark of the final term to break a tense deadlock. Jackson Hately continued his impressive start to the season, while Chris Hall made an impressive start with the Crows with 22 touches. It will be a tough task for him tackling his old mates at his old ground but, like Godden, he’ll be desperate for a win.
Sheedy will be looking for a lift after the Eagles fell away in the second half against Glenelg. It’s hard to see with the talent in his line-up that won’t happen. Either way, there will be more highs and lows for the men in the coaching box again this week.