The third edition of the AFL New Zealand Premiership kicked off on Sunday at QBE Stadium in Auckland and it was the Western Crows and Central Giants who came out on top over their much fancied opponents.
In torrential rain, the Crows and the Northern Suns got the first game of the 2018 Premiership underway and it was the 2016 Premiers who put on a solid defensive effort to come away with a 44 point win.
In game 2, the Central Giants upset defending premiers, the Southern Saints with a convincing 42 point victory and claim their first win over their opponents since round 9, 2016.
Western Crows vs Northern Suns:
The Western Crows had a blank canvas to work with in 2018 after a disappointing season last year. With new coach Andrew Crighton and a new captain Jay Johnson appointed on the off season, this was the opportunity to try for something new. Whatever it was they changed, it worked!
In a game played in torrential rain for the majority for the match, the Crows stuck to their game plan and played smart footy for all four quarters.
Number 1 Draft pick, Jake Tucker lived up to the hype as he kicked the first two goals of the season to help the Crows put the Suns under pressure early on.
Young Suns forward Ari Cohen looked good in the opening term kicking a banana bending goal from a set boundary shot and making an impact up front.
17 year old Tucker was again ruthless in the second quarter, breaking the deadlock and extending the Crows lead to three goals at half time. New Zealand Senior Coach Rob Malone was in attendance and would have been impressed by the performance of a number of young chargers on day one of the Premiership.
The Suns increased their tempo in the second half with their tallest players, Mitch Ryan and Josh Allen working hard around the contests. Tim Stokes was providing some drive in the centre and his driving kicks on a wet day added to the suns attack.
Whilst Allen reduced the margin when he kicked his first goal of the season, this was counteracted by two quick goals from Crows new recruit, small forward Zac Maio who negated Allen’s efforts.
As always, New Zealand superstar Te Kopa-Tipene-Thomas delivered another outstanding game in the midfield and set up debutant Ryan White who slotted his first Premiership goal in the final term and gave the Crows their first win since 2016.
New Crows coach, Andrew Crighton was excited about what he saw from his team.
“Excelllent endeavour from our boys today, our defence gelled early on in the game and put in an phenomenal effort.”
“Our forward line is very exciting, they are young and fast and am excited what they will be able to produce in dry weather.”
Suns head coach Dave Abetz saw positives in defeat, “It was a tough game for us today but on the bright side, the team played with great intensity and it’s a long season ahead, so we will bounce back next week as I believe we have a very strong squad.”
Number 1 Draft Pick Jake Tucker had a debut to remember. Not only did he look comfortable playing in his first Premiership game against more experienced players, the 17 year old controlled the Crows midfield and also chipped in with three hard earned goals.
The support cast:
Josh Copeland and Shane Leat combined well in the backline as the Crows only conceded three goals for the game. The Auckland duo pounced on any mistakes that the Suns made in their half and provided great defensive pressure. Leat linked with midfielders Jake Tucker and Steph Tabaillou to release any pressure on the Crows defence.
Zac Maio made an impact in a short cameo appearance, kicking three goals in the second half to steer the crows home.
The consolation effort:
Playing in his third season, Pete Rodgers was named best for the Suns in a losing effort. Playing at fullback, Rodgers commitment to the contested ball was second to none. Couple this trait with his communication to his younger team mates and this will only set them up to improve throughout the season.
Big men Mitch Ryan and Josh Allen will have a bigger impact on a dry day and Ari Cohen looks like making an impact up forward if he remains around the goals.
Western Crows: Jake Tucker 3, Zach Maio 3, Jed Williams 1, Te Kopa Tipene-Thomas 1, Ryan White 1.
Northern Suns: Josh Allen 1, Ari Cohen 1, Tim Stokes 1.
Best on ground:
Western Crows: Steph Tabaillou
Northern Suns: Pete Rodgers
Southern Saints vs Central Giants:
Coming up against his old side for the first time, new Central Giants Captain Samuel McKenzie was keen to make an impression early on in the season and put the much credited Southern Saints backline under pressure.
With a new look line up, the Giants were the big winners in the 2017 AFL New Zealand National Draft. With key additions of Declan Crann (Auckland), Dean Smith (Canterbury) and Golden Boot favourite James McKenzie (Otago), the side now boasts strong players in key positions.
Canterbury stalwart James Bowden got the Giant’s off to the best start kicking the opening goal of the game. Bowden will be motivated to make an impact this season after a disappointing 2017.
Saints Captain Michael Boyce found himself in unfamiliar territory in the forward line with the defender awarded a 50 metre penalty at the start of the second quarter which gave him a rare shot on goal. With over 14 years’ experience in the game, Boyce calmly slotted it through the middle to record his first ever goal in the competition.
Declan Crann, James Dakin and Blake Nahu were dominating the midfield for the Giant’s. With speed to burn, the trio worked the ball from the contest and delivered quality football into the forward line.
The Giants continued their attack in the second half but wayward kicking hurt their final scoreline as they cruised to a 42 point victory.
The Saints only conceded an average of 35 points in 2017 and with the Giants doubling that score, they will look to heap the pressure on the competition with their attacking footy.
James McKenzie lived up to his title as favourite for the 2018 Golden Boot award by slotting 3 goals for the game.
Former New Zealand player Alex Fakatoumafi looked good up front for the Saints as he kicked the final goal of the game. The 30 year old has battled knee injuries over the past two seasons and will be a key figure up front for the Saints during the season.
“We spent a bit of time in the lead up to the competition working on what we want to get out of the season and I feel that we have a great team culture so early on that showed out on the field today. The Saints are a Premiership side and no doubt they will come back even stronger the next time we play them.” Central Giants captain Samuel McKenzie.
“We battled hard out there today but we also have a number of things that we have to work on which will set us up for the season.” Southern Saints Captain Michael Boyce.
Blake Nahu spent plenty of time in the off season preparing for the Premiership and it definitely showed in the opening game.
Nahu was a shining light for the Giant’s with multiple possessions in the midfield. His strength, speed and stamina highlighted his game play and set the benchmark as the number 1 player in the competition in 2018.
The support cast:
Chris Bailey and Tayne Lockwood provided a fast exit out from defence and New Zealand forward Brendan Clark chimed in with two goals for the game and was a dominant figure up front for the Giant’s.
The consolation effort:
Premiership debutant Daniel Howie starred for the Southern Saints in his first game. At 191cm tall, Howie rotated between the ruck and forward line and matched it with his much more experienced opponents which also included a third quarter goal.
Southern Saints: Alex Fakatoumafi 1, Daniel Howie 1, Michael Boyce 1, Ryan Marsland 1.
Central Giants: James McKenzie 3, Brendan Clark 2, Declan Crann 1, Blake Nahu 1, James Bowden 1.
Best on ground:
Central Giants: Blake Nahu
Southern Saints: Daniel Howie
Next week’s games will see both round 1 winners, the Giant’s taking on the Western Crows at QBE Stadium at 11.30am. 2017 champions, the Southern Saints will continue their rivalry with the Northern Suns as both sides look to get their first win at 1.45pm.
Southern Saints will welcome the return of dynamic New Zealand midfielder Misi Faimalo Jnr and key forward Josh Morgan Ranui as well as Canterbury roving back Sam Blackler.
Northern Suns regain the services of key backman Alex Awatere and New Zealand winger Jackson Clince but have a watch on onballer Tim Stokes with a Achilles injury.
Western Crows will have nuggety Otago onballer Christian Blackie play his first match of the season as they push for two in a row.
Central Giants will have a settled line up after a great start to the 2018 season.