How much can we learn from two rounds? In the case of the Saints and Dogs, plenty

We all know you need to be careful about rushing to judgement after one round of a new AFL season.

You can probably still argue the same after two rounds, too, but yet by then there actually are some results in which circumstances justify pumping up the tyres or ringing the alarm bells about particular teams more than other games.

And Saturday night at Marvel Stadium might have provided not just one but two such examples.

The Western Bulldogs had been comprehensive first-up losers against Melbourne, and St Kilda an impressive and perhaps mildly surprising winner over Fremantle given the ridiculous length of its injury list.

The Saints had no fewer than 15 players named on their casualty list in the lead-up to Saturday night, including their two leading goalkickers, Max King and Tim Membrey. Even a vaguely competitive loss against a team tipped by many as at least a top four chance and out to redeem itself would have been widely viewed as acceptable second time out.

Instead, Ross Lyon's team embarrassed the Bulldogs, holding them to their lowest score (in a full-length game) since Round 19, 2018, perhaps not that surprising when you consider the Saints also held the Dogs to just 37 inside 50 entries.

To say a team with the amount of individual talent the Dogs boast this year has underperformed thus far would be some sort of understatement. Conversely, it's fair enough already to at least ponder whether St Kilda might have been critically underestimated.

It was hard not to get enthusiastic about the Dogs' prospects pre-season given their depth of talent midfield (even allowing for the loss of Josh Dunkley) and the significant boost to stocks of height at either end via the pick up of Rory Lobb and Liam Jones, not to mention the excitement around boom youngsters Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Sam Darcy.

But with an aggregate of just 14 goals in two heavy defeats, the Bulldogs' 'Land of the Giants' tall forward set-up has to date been a monumental flop, whilst Jones' presence hasn't stemmed the scores against, either.

Just as disturbingly, many of those scores seem to happen in a rush with the Doggies seemingly dropping their bundle. It happened again on Saturday night, St Kilda slamming on eight unanswered goals after Melbourne kicked six in a row in Round 1.

The same has happened most infamously in the Dogs' two most recent finals, giving up six goals straight and 10 of 11 to Fremantle in last year's elimination final, and 12 goals straight and 16 out of 17 in that astonishing 2021 grand final collapse against Melbourne.

They're the sort of capitulations you'd expect of a raw, young team still cutting its teeth, not one now the second-oldest and fifth-most experienced list in the competition.

And there's plenty of evidence the Dogs' much-vaunted midfield group simply isn't working hard enough to support a back six regularly under siege.

Last year, there was a disconnect between the midfield and defence, evidenced in the Dogs' ranking of No.1 for fewest inside 50s conceded but just 13th for fewest goals per inside 50. Now things are even worse, though, the opposition entries flooding in and still being converted, Melbourne registering 30 scores from 60 entries in round one, St Kilda 22 from 57 on Saturday.

They're worrying numbers for coach Luke Beveridge. And even just two rounds in, the manner of the Dogs' two defeats as much as their bottom line of zero premiership points has made Thursday night's clash with Brisbane at Marvel Stadium just about a "must-win".

St Kilda, meanwhile, finds itself in a most unlikely 'bumper' Round 3 clash with Essendon, the only game of the round between two teams with two-from-two records.

It's been a phenomenal effort thus far from Lyon's team. And while there was much debate about whether Ross the Saints' Boss Mk II could adapt to changed list demographics and a game which seems to have turned the corner in terms of attacking football and higher scores, perversely, the injury crisis at Moorabbin has in one sense done him a favour.

That is, of course, given the absence of so big a chunk of St Kilda's talent base, to raise the premium on effort even higher than usual, and that's something in which Lyon's coaching specialises.

It's not just the scoreboard stinginess which has kept two opponents to an aggregate of just 12 goals which has typified the Saints so far in 2023. It's the disciplined approach to everything they've done, be it closing down opponents' space when without the ball, maintaining their positioning, or making sure the transition to attack when the turnover is forced is quick and seamless.

There's been plenty of players in St Kilda's 22 the first two games who are typically the sorts of players Lyon loves; committed, selfless, players for whom carrying out a role successfully is of more importance than their disposal count.

But perhaps there's a bit more inclination on Lyon's part to let the kids off the leash a little this time around, too, exciting draftee Mattaes Phillipou, Mitch Owens and Anthony Caminiti contributing eight goals between them and some genuine excitement.

The popular consensus about St Kilda in 2023 was that Lyon would have some significant list renovation ahead of him. That could still be the case, too. But perhaps already it's becoming clear there's more about the Saints worth the coach persevering with than many, perhaps even him, might have thought.

And yes, that's even after just two rounds.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.