AFL Heroes & Villains Round 1: Kangaroo courage on full display

AFL suspends season in response to coronavirus (0:46)

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announces the suspension of the season following this weekends matches until May 31. (0:46)

Footy was back but not as we know it. With no crowds, (mostly) hands-off celebrations and plenty of social distancing, this was AFL in the COVID-19 era.

Then, late on Sunday, it was announced that Round 1 would be the final round of footy until at least the end of May.

But at least there was one weekend of action for footy-starved AFL fans, so here are the Heroes & Villains from Round 1.


COURAGEOUS KANGAS: This was a game North Melbourne had no right to win, yet somehow they did.

Rhyce Shaw's Roos were 31 points down early in the third quarter and were then reduced to one fit man on the bench after injuries to captain Jack Ziebell (knee), midfielder Paul Ahern (hamstring) and tall Josh Walker (concussion).

Yet somehow, North outscored the Saints by one goal in the final term to prevail in a thriller by two points in one of the gutsiest wins of recent memory.

"We had one rotation for the majority of the second half, but our players just grit their teeth," Shaw said post-game.

"A few guys put their hand up early in the third and got us going and that changed the game for us ... a couple of our kids really stood up.

"Tarryn Thomas, it's his second year, and he stood up so well in the second half. (Cam) Zurhaar, Josh Simpkin, Nick Larkey, these young kids, they really showed what it's all about."

It was a victory that can really set the tone for a season, and unfortunately for North, news of the league's shutdown was announced soon after they finished singing their song in the rooms.

ISAAC HEENEY: We all rightly rave about players like Dustin Martin, Robbie Gray and Jordan De Goey who can be equally damaging in the forward line as they are in the midfield, but Heeney is another who can do it all.

The Swans star booted a game-high four goals from his 16 disposals on Saturday afternoon as Sydney overran the Crows at Adelaide Oval.

Along with Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker, Heeney dragged his side back into the contest after Adelaide raced out to an early lead. His overhead marking, skill by foot and class around goal were all a feature in his best-on-ground performance.

Swans coach John Longmire was pleased with what his troops offered up in their season opener.

"We came across with a really good attitude," Longmire said. "Our effort was really good. And in the end, it we were able to hang on because of that."

ACCURATE GIANTS: A lot has changed since Grand Final day last year when the Giants managed a paltry three goals against a rampaging Richmond.

In their first meaningful hit-out since the 'granny', the Giants turned their three goal, seven behind effort into a 17 goal, three behind masterclass against the Cats.

Perhaps it's the lack of pressure from the crowd, an absence of boos, shortened quarters or something else, but the Giants barely missed on Saturday night, much to the frustration of Geelong coach Chris Scott and thousands of fans in southern Victoria and beyond.

Naturally, Toby Greene popped up for four goals and one behind while the unheralded Harry Perryman -- who had previously kicked just four goals in his 36-game career -- added four straight himself. Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron booted 3.0 and new skipper Stephen Coniglio 2.0.

It wasn't that Geelong were bad in their 32-point loss; sure, the Giants were a class above, but the five goal margin wasn't indicative of the contest of a whole. To illustrate how out of the box this performance was, it was the first time the Cats had conceded 100 points since Round 17, 2018.


CARLTON AND RICHMOND PLAYERS: The AFL was one of just a handful of leagues worldwide plowing on in the face of a global pandemic, and before the round started, it was made clear from the AFL that players, coaches and game day staff would be adhering to the strictest social distancing practices - complete with awkward interviews from a remote mic stand.

But on Thursday night, Carlton and Richmond players showed the public at home how not to interact on the footy field in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Hugs, high fives, handshakes and -- bizarrely -- licking of palms were rife, leaving the audience wondering if the players were living in the same world as everyone else.

Thankfully, by the time Friday night and then Saturday came around, the players had got the message.

The Pies opted not to link arms when singing the song after their win over the Western Bulldogs, drawing the praise of those at home and on social media, while a number of teams including the victorious Bombers did their best to refrain from high-fiving after goals, instead choosing to bump elbows or fists. Tex Walker even pulled out the hand washing celebration following a Crows goal.

For a league which you'd think was already skating on thin ice by playing at all, you wonder if the big bosses sent a directive to the clubs to take the 'social distancing' thing a little more seriously.

Unfortunately, by the end of the weekend, it was clear this was the only round to be played for some time.

BULLDOGS' "NIGHTMARE": A lot was expected of the Western Bulldogs coming into this season, so much so they were considered a genuine premiership prospect by many experts and fans.

They may still be a flag threat -- if the season resumes -- but they will have to turn things around after Friday night's dismal defeat to Collingwood, a performance coach Luke Beverage described as "a real nightmare."

From the outset, the Bulldogs were timid, second to the ball, sloppy and missing the manic ferocity which was their trademark in the second half of 2019.

Incredibly, they'd registered just two inside 50s by midway through the second term as they fell 48 points behind the barnstorming Magpies, with a lack of system and fight completely absent.

With Brodie Grundy doing his now-standard towelling up of Tim English and the Bulldogs' heralded midfield group completely smashed, it was surprising the end margin wasn't bigger than 52 points.

The Doggies left Marvel Stadium with their tails between their legs, with plenty to ponder.

SLOPPY SUNS, AGAIN: After a faultless preseason, surely this was a year the Suns would regain some of the respect they'd lost in recent campaigns, right?


Against Port Adelaide on Saturday night in what many expected to be a tough encounter, the Suns showed no real signs of improvement after finishing last in 2019.

There was the usual lack of cohesion, sloppy skills and minimal midfield impact against a Power side that was admittedly quite sharp.

The loss was Gold Coast's 19th in a row after last saluting in Round 4 last season.

Hopefully, we see a brighter future at the Suns when (if) they AFL returns this year.