Less “teething issues” — and more young guns emerging against AFL-quality opposition.
The one-round 2021 AAMI Community Series commences on Thursday night, with all 18 clubs to play one match across the long weekend.
Here’s every game and start time, plus foxfooty.com.au analyses what we’d like to see from each club in this year’s pre-season competition.
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AFL AAMI COMMUNITY SERIES 2021 FIXTURE AND START TIMES (AEDT)
Thursday March 4
Carlton v Essendon at Marvel Stadium, 7.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 6.30pm)
Friday March 5
Collingwood v Richmond at Marvel Stadium, 7.25pm (live on Fox Footy from 7pm)
Saturday March 6
North Melbourne v Hawthorn at Arden Street Oval, 4.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 4pm)
Geelong v Essendon at GMHBA Stadium, 7.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 7pm)
Sunday March 7
GWS Giants v Sydney Swans at Giants Stadium, 1.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 1pm)
Adelaide Crows v Port Adelaide at Flinders University Stadium in Noarlunga, 4.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 4pm)
Fremantle v West Coast Eagles at Optus Stadium, 7.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 7pm)
Monday March 8
Western Bulldogs v Melbourne at Marvel Stadium, 3.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 3pm, followed by AFL 360 at 6pm)
Gold Coast Suns v Brisbane Lions at Metricon Stadium, 7.10pm (live on Fox Footy from 7pm)
Sarah Olle and Tom Morris are joined by Richmond’s Ellie McKenzie on the latest AFLWeekly podcast
A glimpse of Riley Thilthorpe at senior level
It may have been a practice match, but Riley Thilthorpe’s performance in a SANFL scratch match last week reinforced just how devastating a weapon the No. 2 pick can be. Four goals, a couple of behinds and a hand in several other scores underscored his capabilities. Even if he doesn’t make his debut in Round 1, the prospect of seeing Thilthorpe come up against AFL-level opponents is a salivating one for onlookers and should be for those within the four walls at the Crows. The 18-year-old represents the future of the club and its journey back up the ladder – seeing him in the seniors will be something most fans simply need to see for a glimmer of hope regarding the long road ahead.
The new forward duo performing against a stronger Suns defence
It was hard not to be taken — and excited, from a Lions perspective — by Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood’s first outing as Brisbane’s new forward duo against an AFL opposition side last weekend. Both left-footed key forwards booted four goals each to spearhead the Lions’ comfortable victory over the Suns at Metricon Stadium. However the Suns were somewhat depleted in their key-position stocks, with reigning best and fairest Sam Collins missing due to injury, allowing Daniher and Hipwood to exploit the likes of Caleb Graham and an undersized Charlie Ballard. The Suns are expecting Collins to return from injury for Monday’s AAMI Community Series game, which will make Daniher and Hipwood’s task of hitting the scoreboard much tougher.
Striking a balance between fast and slow ball movement
When you add gun speedsters like Adam Saad and Zac Williams to your list, it’s easy to think the Blues will play with much more dash and dare than previous years. But Carlton fans should also be just as keen to see their side play at a slower tempo as it looks to avoid conceding mass goals in a hurry — a flaw that played a huge role in why the Blues missed the 2020 finals series. Coach David Teague this week said the pain and experience of conceding large in-game run-ons, as well as some “little adjustments” over the off-season, will help his side gain more control of matches. Teague told SEN Breakfast his team had practised keeping the ball off the opposition during summer training — and Thursday night’s game against St Kilda might be a good time to put practice into play.
Another strong Brodie Grundy game — a fit Jordan De Goey
After a 2020 campaign that was below his loft standards, Grundy has been a standout in the Pies’ most recent hit-outs: A ‘City v Country’ intra-club game and the scratch match against Geelong. Grundy’s ruck work, second efforts and ability to push forward were a major highlight in the close loss to the Cats in a sign the dual All-Australian has regained his explosiveness around stoppages. Pies fans will be hoping he can have a third consecutive positive game against Richmond — a match that should see De Goey kickstart his 2021 campaign after an ankle roll a few weeks ago.
More positive signs from the forward brigade
Alec Waterman has done more than enough to secure a list spot, but there are still big question marks over how well the new-look Bombers forward line can function. It looms as arguably the biggest on-field factor in how Ben Rutten’s team will fare in 2021. To go with Waterman’s four goals last week Peter Wright kicked two along with Harrison Jones – the intriguing part now is to see if they can all back that haul up again in their AAMI Community Series match. Do that and all of a sudden there is a whole lot more optimism about the Dons’ 2021 prospects and their future up forward – something that would be more than welcome given the painful reminders Joe Daniher is delivering to those at Tullamarine about what could’ve been.
Clarity around Nat Fyfe’s forward-midfield balance
Where the dual Brownlow Medallist spends most of his time on the field in 2021 remains a point of fascination for footy pundits and Freo fans. Fyfe spent most of last week’s scratch match against West Coast in the engine room, indicating he could take on more of a midfield role this season compared to 2020. Fyfe told Sportsday this week it’s unlikely his game will change too much from recent years, but added: “I don’t think I’ll be stationed at full-forward for long.” But coach Justin Longmuir openly admits he thinks the Dockers “are a better team when he (Fyfe) is forward, when we’re getting the ball inside forward 50, but there’s no point having him forward when we’re not getting it there”. It’s a balance Fremantle needs to find — and one that will be tough to solve in one pre-season hit-out.
Good chemistry between Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins
It’s the most exciting new forward 50 partnership in the AFL featuring the two most recent Coleman Medallist. But as Hawkins said after the duo’s first outing together in Geelong’s scratch match win over Collingwood, there’ll be some “growing pains initially” and “teething issues”. Cameron played two quarters against Collingwood and hit the scoreboard early. However Hawkins said this week he “got in Jeremy’s way” during an early forward 50 entry. The two players know where the goals are, but there’s a stark difference between how they move and play, with Cameron a higher forward and Hawkins often the deeper option. It’ll take time, but if the two against Essendon this weekend can show signs their chemistry and leading patterns are on the rise, it’ll delight Cats fans.
GOLD COAST SUNS
A strong first quarter — and a cleaner Matthew Rowell
Yes it was only a scratch match, but there were some early warning signs against Brisbane last week when the Suns conceded the first seven goals of the game. Assistant coach Josh Francou post-game said the Suns were “a little bit off early … in terms of out intensity and in the scramble”. They get another shot at the Lions on Monday, with coach Stuart Dew no doubt wanting a sharper start. Rowell also will be keen to improve on his first 2021 outing. The Rising Star favourite looked a touch rusty — as is to be expected after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury — and gifted Joe Daniher an early goal due to an errant kick. He’ll get improve with the more match time he plays.
Time for a young ruck to step up
Matthew Flynn has been on the Giants’ list since 2016 and still doesn’t have a senior game to his name. But with Braydon Preuss injured and Shane Mumford set to take a back seat in 2021, Flynn has the perfect opportunity to stamp himself on the AFL at the start of this season. The 23-year-old was the Gians’ No. 1 ruck in last week’s scratch match against the Swans and showed promising signs, arguably breaking even with the experienced Tom Hickey. Flynn gets another crack against the Swans and Hickey this weekend.
More of a glimpse of Denver Grainger-Barras
It was a touch surprising that Grainger-Barras — Hawthorn’s first top 10 draft pick since 2006 — was given limited game time last week against the Bulldogs, ensuring academy selection Connor Downie was the young gun that received the most post-scratch match attention. Hawks fans will be hopeful they get to see more of the young gun intercept defender against North Melbourne on Saturday as Alastair Clarkson works out how his backline will look for Round 1. Early expectations on Grainger-Barras might have to be tempered somewhat, but surely he gets a better look at it this weekend.
Another healthy score
With Ben Brown and Sam Weideman out of action for the start of the season, it would’ve been mighty encouraging for Dees fans to see a total of 14.9 (93) against the benchmark team of the comp in Richmond last week. The scores came from some unlikely sources with Kade Chandler booting three goals and a predominantly half-forward Nathan Jones booting a couple. Continuing on with that impressive forward mix would be a huge confidence-booster ahead of Round 1 and could make the attacking line-up even more potent once Brown and Weideman return in 2021.
A more competitive outing while developing new game plan
It was hard to ignore the scoreboard at the end of North’s scratch match against St Kilda last week, which saw the Saints run out 91-point winners, 22.8 (140) to 6.13 (49). The Roos were said there were ample positive signs to come out of the game — such as some promising ball movement through the middle of the ground, as well as the performances of draftees Tom Powell and Charlie Lazzaro — but North fans will be wanting a more promising effort against Hawthorn in the team’s sole AAMI Community Series hit-out. Ben Cunnington (concussion) is unlikely to play but Luke Davies-Uniacke and Todd Goldstein (both soreness) are set to face the Hawks, while Jared Polec (hamstring) is also a chance. The addition of some more senior players should help the Roos put in a better performance on Saturday.
Some eye-catching plays from their young gun defenders
It’s a hard side to break into, but the Power might’ve unearthed two gems in their defence in Miles Bergman and Lachlan Jones. Bergman was drafted as a forward but has been converted into a half-back/wingman over summer — and the move is paying dividends, adding strength to his frame and building his fitness via ample interval running sessions. His two-way running was a feature in last week’s scratch match win over Adelaide, while the mature-looking Jones played with confidence and composure across half-back. Another strong outing from the duo against the Crows on Sunday could put both players in the Round 1 mix.
A few young guns to push for Round 1 selection
Many have questioned this off-season how Richmond improves and remains hungry in 2021. The answer is growth from their younger players that haven’t received much senior exposure so far. Will Martyn and Hugo Ralphsmith were unleashed in the senior scratch match against Melbourne last week, with Martyn’s composure around the ball a highlight. Towards the end of the game — and the start of the VFL scratch match — Thomson Dow, Patrick Naish and Callum Coleman-Jones all had eye-catching moments. And then there’s Riley Collier-Dawkins, who’s been the buzz young gun at Punt Road during the off-season. Collier-Dawkins didn’t play in either scratch match last week after being on the end of a heavy collision, but he should be available this week. Tigers fans would love to see a few of the aforementioned youngsters step up against Collingwood on Friday night.
Clarity on their defence and forward mix
In not naming Jake Carlisle for a second straight practice match, you’d suspect James Frawley will be getting the nod for a Round 1 berth over the 29-year-old. The performance of the backline group against Carlton will be another vital piece of the puzzle for Brett Ratten as he tries to set in stone a defensive unit. There’s likely to be a fair bit of musical chairs in the backline with Carlisle, Frawley and Jimmy Webster – hit-outs like these are likely priceless to the Saints coaching brigade in figuring out how to maximise their assets. At the other end of the ground, a second straight dominant performance from Mason Wood could make debate at the selection table even harder. You’d struggle to see how Max King could lose his spot given his enormous upside, but Josh Battle and Tim Membrey loom as the forward targets Wood must try to replace – that’s before even factoring in fellow new recruit Shaun McKernan. With all of the above players named, Friday night’s match against Carlton could well determine which of the fringe forwards manages to secure their spot for Round 1.
A better look at Logan McDonald
The Swans’ scratch match with the Giants was hardly a contest for the ages despite the even scoreline as rain and rustiness took its toll on the spectacle. Disappointingly, the conditions didn’t really allow No. 4 pick Logan McDonald to showcase his developing talent and potential. The hype around McDonald is immense and likely daunting, with the West Australian described as a “generational” forward in the build up to last year’s draft. With a clearer day’s weather predicted for this Saturday’s AAMI Community Series match against GWS, the Swans will be offered a better look at what McDonald can offer at this early stage of his career – something that could prove vital in influencing how much they opt to play him at senior level in 2021.
WEST COAST EAGLES
No more injuries
The Eagles will already be without Elliot Yeo, while Nic Naitanui, Tim Kelly and Josh Kennedy are racing to be fit for Round 1. Any further setbacks on the injury front could complicate their 2021 campaign, which is the last thing they need after the injury crisis that wreaked havoc on the club at the back-end of last year. The Eagles would never want to go 0-2 against Fremantle in scratch matches, but the priority should be on getting through relatively unscathed.
A strong outing from Josh Dunkley
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge raised some eyebrows on Wednesday, declaring Dunkley wasn’t at his best and faced pressure for his spot. A frank Dunkley later echoed his coach’s thoughts, conceding “I definitely don’t think I was at my best” in the scratch match against the Hawks. However it mustn’t be forgotten that Dunkley, at his best, is one of the league’s best contested ball winners, highlighted by his selection in the 40-man All-Australian squad in 2019 when he averaged 28 disposals, 14 contested possessions and five clearances per game. Dogs fans were thrilled to retain Dunkley during last year’s AFL exchange period — he sensationally requested a trade to Essendon that, ultimately, fell through — but they’d love to see him bounce back on Monday against Melbourne after a tough week in the headlines.