Queenslanders in the AFL – Round 3

By Peter Blucher 

It was a picture that told 1000 words … all of them sad. Lying face down in the middle of Marrara Stadium in Darwin, Lachie Weller thumped the ground. Not once or twice but repeatedly.

Surging forward at full speed, ball in hand in the third quarter, Weller had gone to change direction 65m from goal and collapsed as his knee gave way beneath him.

He knew immediately it was serious – a torn ACL that would require a knee reconstruction and up to 12 months on the side-line.

It was a shocking end to an otherwise fantastic visit to Darwin for Weller and the Suns as they beat Hawthorn by 67 points and North by 62 points in Rounds 11-12. The two biggest wins of Weller’s career.

But after getting over the initial devastation Weller threw himself into his rehabilitation. He won huge praise from within the club for his total dedication and ticked off each little milestone well ahead of schedule.

On Sunday it was all worthwhile when Weller, in just his second comeback game, spearheaded a 19-point win over premiers Geelong at Heritage Bank Arena – one of the great wins in Suns history.

It was just their second win over a defending premier in 15 attempts, and their second win in 15 meetings with Geelong, who have beaten them by more than 50 points seven times and by 100-plus three times, including a club record 150 points in 2011.

It was a Geelong side which included 17 members of their 2022 grand final side, but such was the Suns’ almost manic intensity and pressure around the ball they were comprehensively beaten.

Looking even quicker than before his nine-month layoff, Weller had a team-high 29 possessions for a game-high 693 metres gained and used the ball expertly, with a 79.3% disposal efficiency.

He received three votes in the coach’s Player of the Year award behind teammates Matt Rowell (9), Jack Lukosius (9) and Jarrod Witts, but ABC Radio expert commentator Jeff White voted him best afield.

It was also a memorable afternoon for fellow Queenslander Alex Sexton, who played an important cameo role coming on as the substitute when the game was on the line in the final term.

Sexton had only three possessions but when he marked and kicked truly as the clock headed towards time-on it was 19 points to the home side. Game over.

The joy for Weller and Sexton meant that former teammate Jack Bowes, returning to his home ground of six years, had to be content with a strong individual performance in a loss. He had 13 possessions and a game-high eight tackles in his second outing for the Cats.

The Western Bulldogs’ Oskar Baker, a graduate of the Lions Academy, was the only other Queenslander to have a win in Round 3 when the Dogs prevailed by 13 points over the up-and-down Lions at Marvel Stadium.

In his third game for the Dogs after being delisted by Melbourne last October, Baker had 18 possessions and a goal to go with a game-high 611 metres gained.

Queenslander Harris Andrews was the standout player in a disappointing Lions outfit, earning 21 possessions and a career-best 16 marks for seven coach’s votes, behind only Dogs captain Marcus Bontempelli (10) and equal with Jamarra Ugle-Hagen.

Richmond’s Noah Cumberland, who kicked 19 goals in nine games in the back half of last season to be one of the finds of 2022, made his first appearance of 2023 in the Tigers’ loss to Collingwood.

Not selected in Rounds 1-2 as coach Damien Hardwick prioritised forward defensive pressure over his goal-kicking capabilities, he was the starting substitute and had a real impact after he replaced fellow Queensland Samson Ryan, not suited to the slippery conditions, at halftime.

Cumberland had seven effective disposals and a goal assist as the Tigers, held to one goal in the first half, made a game of it against the premiership favourites.

In other strong performances, Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon kicked three goals and was a strong target inside the forward 50m arc in the Showdown against the Adelaide Crows, and North Melbourne’s Bailey Scott had 18 possessions and a team-high 527 metres gained in his side’s first loss of the year to Hawthorn in Launceston.


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