Round 3 provided writers with plenty to dissect, with some clear winners, and losers, emerging from the nine matches
A young Pup, a Suns icon, and apprentices across the country were all big winners from the weekend, while an in-form Saint was sitting on both sides of the line after Saturday night.
While the ladder continues to take shape, this column isn't concerned solely with the table or scoreboard. It is here that we will delve into the weird, the wonderful and the often overlooked on both sides of the boundary line.
Here are the winners and losers from Round 3...
Winners: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Luke Beveridge
Despite unfolding on Thursday night, it is going to be mighty difficult to anoint a more deserving winner this weekend than Bulldog Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
The towering key forward was boxed into an impossible situation this week after becoming the latest Indigenous Australian to be subjected to racial abuse by a member of the crowd at an AFL match. Ugle-Hagan was disgustingly vilified by a St Kilda supporter last Saturday at Marvel Stadium, with the abhorrent event prompting the 20-year-old enough understandable angst to spend time away from the club.
However, upon his return, Ugle-Hagan stated he was warmly embraced by all at the Bulldogs, feeling appropriately supported amongst people he described as "family".
Against the Brisbane Lions, Ugle-Hagan booted a supremely efficient five-goals-straight from just nine possessions, celebrating his first of the evening by paying homage to St Kilda icon Nicky Winmar, gesturing to his skin colour as he turned to the crowd. It'll go down as an iconic and memorable moment in its own right. The rangy goalkicker had another cherished moment post-final-siren, as he marked the ball and kicked truly, sending the Doggies fans in attendance into roaring raptures, before conducting himself admirably during an emotional post-match interview.
Not to overshadow Ugle-Hagan's heroics, but the other red, white and blue winner on the night was Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.
How bad did things have to get at the Kennel for Beveridge to start fearing for his employment? While the Bulldogs' opening fortnight of the season wasn't pretty by any means, Beveridge's men claimed a sorely-needed maiden victory, toppling the uninspiring Lions.
In December of last year, following a short-lived finals campaign during which the Dogs faltered at the hands of Fremantle in an elimination final, the club announced an eyebrow-raising two-year contract extension for Beveridge, who helped deliver a drought-breaking premiership to the Kennel in 2016. The Bulldogs also made a Grand Final appearance in 2021 but were overwhelmingly overrun by a spirited Melbourne side looking to break a drought of its own.
Last weekend, the Western Bulldogs slumped to a loss against St Kilda, as Beveridge's side was questioned post-game for its lack of defensive effort. The Bulldogs were beaten in clearances and contested ball and weren't as physical as the Saints, as the Dogs' opponents toppled them in tackles and tackles inside-50.
Beveridge was criticised for his inability to motivate his playing group, in a sense blamed for his side's unwillingness to commit defensively.
They were noticeably more intense at the contest, applying consistent pressure on the Lions, who, ultimately, couldn't handle it. And while this win doesn't fix everything, it's a good start.
Loser: Damien Hardwick
Granted, he was dealt a shoddy hand, as four of his key contributors, Dustin Martin (general soreness), Jacob Hopper (knee), Jayden Short (calf) and Nathan Broad (suspension) were forced out of his side at team selection on Thursday evening. However, his choice to keep inexperienced ruck-forward Samson Ryan in his starting side was a ludicrous one, given the soggy conditions at the MCG.
Starting tactical substitute, Noah Cumberland, made a striking impact on the game when he was brought on in the second half, igniting a Richmond fightback after a lacklustre first half of proceedings. If Cumberland was allowed to play from the outset, maybe we're talking about a different outcome. Maybe not. Either way, the Ryan-Cumberland mess was just that; a mess.
Then there's the decision to not explicitly tag Nick Daicos.
Renowned contested beast Jack Graham lined up next to Daicos to begin the contest, however, he wouldn't stay with him the whole way through. Trent Cotchin also found himself alongside the father-son prodigy, but he, too, wasn't deployed as a permanent run-with option. Hardwick essentially let Daicos run free, and he damaged the Tigers to the tune of 33 possessions at 87 per cent disposal efficiency.
While Jordan De Goey will receive best-on-ground honours for this game at the end of the season, Daicos won't be too far behind, and Hardwick will shoulder most of the blame for that fact.
Winners: Apprentices everywhere
Alastair Clarkson threw the kitchen sink at his old side in the final quarter, coming to within three points after the Hawks built a buffer earlier, however, his Roos would fall 19 points short and the boys in brown and gold celebrated accordingly.
With Clarkson stalking the sidelines and Mitchell calling the shots from the box, any chance of an Antonio Conte/Thomas Tuchel-type confrontation on the sidelines was avoided.
But just as Mitchell showed his pearly whites after knocking off his long-term master, there are sure to be a few first-year apprentices whistling as they walk onto job sites around the nation on Monday morning.
Score one for the little guys.
Losers: Shakespearean scriptwriters
Master. Apprentice. Overthrows. Undermines. Reprisals. Denials. Arrivals.
Although Saturday afternoon's fixture between Hawthorn and North Melbourne; Mitchell and Clarkson was all so Shakespearean, the scriptwriters forgot to add the customary rapier cuts and poisoned chalices.
The potential for chaos and drama was at an all-time high after Clarkson opted to take a different flight south, choosing to minimise risk before battle. However, by the time the sun had set over the Tamar River on Saturday, there was very little dust to settle, with the former Hawks coach and his former pupil barely crossing paths.
The Hawks may have left with the Apple Isle with the win, but North didn't leave empty-handed, with those at Arden Street now knowing the full worth of gun midfielders Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke as they continue their build.
Despite the points won and the lessons learned, neutral viewers with a thirst for dramatics were left to go hungry.
We guess nobody can weave tragedy, elation, revenge and consequence as well as old Bill himself, but it won't stop us all from tuning in on July 13 to see if the rematch has a bit more spice to it.
Winner: Bragging rights
Sam Mitchell had his. The Crows got theirs. The Dockers earned theirs, as well. So too a string of other entities and individuals.
The AFL may have done away with Rivalry Round as an official fixturing initiative after 2009, however, last weekend's schedule could have fooled us, with almost every one of the nine fixtures on offer having plenty to play for.
Dunkley and the Dogs. The Hoddle Street Stoush. Clarkson and Mitchell. Carlton and their perennial banana peel. St Kilda and the weight of their history. The Showdown. The Ablett-Smith-Caddy-Constable-Horlin-Smith Cup. A qualifying final reversal. The desperation derby.
There was no denying the stakes were high. High enough to have many slinking into work on Monday with their heads hung low, while others will be standing and waiting for them at the water cooler; smug looks pasted across their dials.
This is why we love football, our beautiful zero-sum game.
And while the main course was delectable, some of the aperitifs on offer in Round 4 aren't too shabby either.
Loser: Powerless contested work
Walking off Adelaide Oval that afternoon with 12 second-half goals to their name, 34 more contested possessions than their opponents and a 54-point win to their name, Port had made a statement. The competition was on notice.
Spin the clock hands forward a fortnight and this statement has become idle, with the Power proving powerless at the contest, conceding an average of 126 points against the Pies and Crows and looking limp when the ball is there to be won.
Belted soundly in contested ball by Collingwood, slinking off the MCG having racked up just 98 to the Woods' 155, Port required another statement effort, this time in the Showdown.
However, as Adelaide skipped away in the final term to claim bragging rights in the City of Churches, the numbers showed Port was 22 behind in contested ball again.
With the ilk of Boak, Powell-Pepper, Houston, Duursma, Butters, Rozee, Horne-Francis and Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines at Hinkley's disposal, sitting at -79 in this particular column is unconscionable.
Something tells us that there are likely to be a few hard sessions at Alberton this week before their clash against Sydney.
Don't forget your mouthguards, fellas.
Winner: Mason Wood
With averages of 23.7 disposals, eight marks and four inside 50s, it shouldn't be read as hyperbole when we say that Mason Wood is currently in Brownlow-winning form.
Compare these means with his respective career figures of 13.7, 4.3 and 2.6, and the numbers show that Wood's start to 2023 has been white-hot.
For those that kept a close eye on St Kilda as they ambled to another season outside of the eight in 2022, the former Roo's work rate after the bye was quietly admired, with Wood averaging 19 touches and slotting nine goals across the final five weeks of year.
Yet, after finding another gear over summer, and glueing his own magnet to Ross Lyon's whiteboard, the 29-year-old produced his pièce de résistance against Essendon on Saturday, finishing with 27 disposals, 11 marks, nine intercept possessions, 592 metres gained and a goal to boot.
20+ disposals & 1+ goals in the same match in 2023
1x: 66 players
2x: 13 players
3x: MASON WOOD
— Swamp (@sirswampthing) April 2, 2023
The talk out of Moorabbin is that since Brett Ratten's sacking, Lyon has preached a simple message to his congregation, one that Wood has clearly heeded.
At 192 centimetres and around 80 kilograms, Wood has always looked like a footballer. But with his output finally beginning to meet his potential on a consistent basis, Wood now looks like a footballer.
Loser: Mason Wood
For all of this warmth, the plug was pulled from the bubble bath almost as quickly as the tub was filled after Wood jammed up his AC joint prior to Saturday night's final siren.
Even for the greats of the game, injuries have interrupted runs, harming consistency and opportunities to earn awards. And while Wood was still months of consistent performances away from contending for anything of note, his early pace out of the blocks was more than admirable.
Despite initial reports that the forward-cum-winger will be forced to spend the next 6-8 weeks on the sidelines, he remained relatively upbeat when interviewed in the rooms post-game.
"'Doc' wasn't super pumped about it, so it might be a bit of time on the sidelines."
— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 1, 2023
And with further reports on Monday claiming the man currently atop the Zero Hanger MVP leaderboard remains a chance to face the Suns on Saturday, Saints fans everywhere will be breathing a sigh of relief.
Still, having taken the better part of a decade to find his footing at AFL level, Wood's injury couldn't have come at a more frustrating time. But with the hard work of figuring out how to find, and maintain form, now behind him, the 96-gamer will have the confidence to hit the ground running whenever it is he returns.
Winner: The Suns' most loyal son
Of the 140 Suns that have tasted scraps of success and the sour taste of defeat far more than not, many have come and gone, either topping up their super as the sun sets on their careers or chasing fat contracts in more traditional markets.
Of this array of Suns, one has remained more loyal than any of his teammates, first arriving under wraps before battling fitness, form and everything else that comes with steering a fledgling franchise.
After seeing three of his coaches shown the door and spending three seasons as the club's captain, David Swallow celebrated his 200-game milestone on Sunday, with his pugnacious Suns beating the reigning premiers by unanimous decision.
While it may have only been the 56th victory in his understated career, it is unlikely that Swallow will have tasted any sweeter over his 13 seasons at Carrara.
— Gold Coast Suns (@GoldCoastSUNS) April 2, 2023
For the originals toiling for a start-up club, the task of creating history rather than living up to it is usually nigh-on impossible, with these motley crews of youngsters, veterans and bit players often cannon fodder across their first few seasons.
And as proven time and again, it isn't a job for everyone.
While Swallow is unlikely to ever be afforded the chance to celebrate on the last Saturday in September, his indelible legacy is one that deserves to be celebrated appropriately when all is eventually said and done.
For those that believe that loyalty is dead in this day and age of multi-million-dollar contracts and eye-watering free-agency shifts, remember David Swallow: the Suns' most loyal son.
Loser: Abstaining premiers
Not since 1976 has a reigning premier found itself in a 0-3 hole to start the season. And while Geelong will take solace in the fact that North Melbourne was able to make the grand final that year, their efforts across the opening three weeks have left plenty to be desired.
Are they still hungry? Who knows.
Are they suffering from a premiership hangover? Maybe.
Are we backing them to bounce back? You can bet your bottom dollar.
Still, if the Cats are to get back to winning ways, they will need to find a new way to hit the scoreboard, as their singular behind from stoppage against the Suns just wasn't up to snuff.
Footy fans, and Australians in general, love an underdog about as much as they love chopping down tall poppies. And while it is nice to see the ladder flipped on its head during the early stages of the season, reports of Geelong's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Whether you are a Cats fan, a diehard Hawk or merely an interested on-looker, Easter Monday's annual clash between these contemporary rivals has just entered must-watch territory.
Winner: Jack Lukosius' right boot
Although lauded as a beautiful user of the ball by foot, it has been no secret that Jack Lukosius has struggled when shooting at the big sticks.
Despite being drafted as a forward with the 2nd pick of the 2018 draft, Lukosius has found a home behind the ball with the Suns. However, after being thrust forward by Stewy Dew on Sunday, the golden-haired kid from the City of Churches wound back the clock with a stellar performance on the offensive side of the ball.
With five goals, including a 73-metre stunner from downtown, Lukosius silenced the steadily-growing group of pundits knocking his offensive output. Though still behind the eight-ball with 23.35 before the goal, the old-fashioned utility has drawn a line in the Sunshine Coast's golden sand.
Lukosius with an absolute monster! 😱
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) April 2, 2023