It was supposed to be the
“rivalry round” even though many were mystified about the basis of
their historic pairing, but all that was forgotten when five of the
eight results were decided by just eight point or fewer. If you like
your footy tight and heart stopping, this round had it in spades.

It also provided further evidence that the 2005 season is not going to
be a premiership cakewalk with even the pre-season favourites of Port
Adelaide, St Kilda and Brisbane all showing enough vulnerability to
suggest this is going to be a roller coaster season to remember.

Melbourne is new glamour team, sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten –
along with the unlikely Kangaroos and West Coast Eagles – in what is
Melbourne’s best start to the season since 1994.

Another surpise was the way the unfancied Adelaide Crows chopped up
their old rivals Port Adelaide. Who would have thought that with
just three rounds gone, the defending premier Port would be sitting
just one place from the bottom – with only the unlucky Hawthorn below
them? And Essendon, just one spot above Port, can count itself
lucky it isn’t on the bottom after hanging on to win by just two from
the gallant Hawks, who refused to lie down until the final siren ended
a thriller.

If any further evidence was needed that the AFL is indeed a Melbourne
religion it was in the TV ratings. Twice as many Melburnians
tuned in to watch Nine’s Friday night Geelong vs Melbourne match as did
the station’s other major event – the Pope’s funeral. The Pope’s
farewell attracted up to 260,000, but the gathering at the MCG saw its
audience jump to 504,000 when the game kicked off.

So while there was a lot of criticism directed at the artificiality of
the “rivalry round” concept, the over-emphasis on past violence, and
Dermott Brereton’s silly stunt of burning an Essendon jumper, it’s AFL
House that has the last laugh with an aggregate round crowd of 346,177
– the second best ever.

Peter Fray

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