Lance Franklin celebrates a goal. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THE press as we know it is dead.
While these are words to send a chill through a newspaper editor's bones, they are in fact cause for excitement not alarm. After several years of defence being king, the pendulum has peaked and is swinging back to attack.
Cyril Rioli gets a kick away despite pressure from Collingwood players. Photo: Pat Scala
Some coaches believe the press per se died last year, but that is not entirely true for teams such as West Coast and on the brief evidence so far, Fremantle, still plays a variety of the press when on the long, narrow Subiaco Oval.
But the press as we know it, as Collingwood played it perhaps most brutally in the 2010 preliminary final win over Geelong, is a changing beast. It has been pressed.
In round one, 11 of the 18 teams scored more than 100 points. The average score was two goals higher than last year and the highest average score for the first round in 10 years.
Nathan Buckley observed after Friday night's shootout with Hawthorn that not only had Collingwood - the team to concede the fewest points last year - had 20 goals kicked against it, but the opposition had managed 37 shots at goal despite the defensive measures.
''We conceded 5.2 from the opposition kick-ins and we kicked three ourselves. So the precision of ball use from both sides at times was very good,'' he said.
''I think that where the game is going, we are going to see some high scores at times because defence has been dominant and there are offensive strategies that are being implemented to get around it. We got through Hawthorn's defence and they got through ours.''
Statisticians don't measure ball speed, but anecdotally, players have expressed the view that the game was faster this round than previously. One figure the statisticians do keep is the end-to-end ball movement in an unbroken chain and that was slightly up this year on last.
One analyst said clubs had taken the cue from last year's grand final and had been more prepared to switch ball movement and be bolder by sliding into the corridor more often. ''Ross Lyon is traditionally a down-the-[boundary]-line coach and they went corridor. Bucks is playing corridor more and changing direction more,'' the analyst said.
''Sides understand if everyone goes down the line like Collingwood, then you won't win the game because you won't score enough, so they are biting off more time in the corridor.
''Collingwood has been a side that when centre-forward they would kick at the point post because it reduces your ability to be scored against and means you can create a stoppage, press your numbers up and trap the ball.
''They have not kicked to the fat side [the side with fewer players] because of the danger of rebound. But now they are bringing the ball to the fat side more, but what they are doing now is using their off-side winger [the wing on the fat side of the ground] and one of the flankers to push up on the fat side of the ground but to play no part in the offensive play. They are just there as support defensively on the fat side if they lose control of the ball. It is a variation on the press.
''So you are saying, OK, we are prepared to centre the ball and be more attacking, but we are going to use these defenders to give us coverage if we lose the ball. It's two defenders running forward with no intention of being involved in the offensive play.''
Former Bulldog champion Chris Grant, now on the ABC, observed the clear change in the game and warned that those who had not wised up to the change over summer were doomed.
''If you weren't smart enough to go with the trend and you put most of your emphasis on making the ground small [condensing the ground by playing a press], well, you are going to get 25 goals a game kicked against you because it has actually gone past that,'' Grant said.
''Teams are not able to press now because they are getting confused with how good the strategy is of getting the ball through.''
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNT FROM ROUND ONE
1. Ignore indigenous players at your peril. If some recruiters were indeed sceptical of recruiting Aboriginal players, then Cyril Rioli, Lance Franklin and Chris Yarran offered the case for the defence. There may be no player who instils greater fear in an opponent than Rioli. Watching him one out in the forward line is one of the most exciting - or terrifying depending on your perspective - things in football.
2. Josh Kennedy really likes playing the Western Bulldogs and he really, really likes playing on Lukas Markovic. He booted 10 against the Dogs last year (many on Markovic) and seven against them on Sunday, all on Markovic. The poor full-back is presumed to be crouched somewhere in the foetal position rocking and gently weeping while muttering quietly: "No ... Kennedy ... damn ... Tom Williams."
3. Sam Mitchell might be the best "inside" or clearance player since Greg Williams.
4. The Bulldogs have found a genuine player in Clay Smith and Docker Nat Fyfe is no longer a rising star. He is a star.
5. Fremantle looks like it might be a seriously good side. It does have to play away yet, which will be the test, but beating the Cats is a very good effort wherever you are.