Round 1 – CAFL23

The 2023 Canterbury AFL Mens season got off to a flier on Saturday, with two very closely fought and evenly balanced games being played.

The Christchurch Bulldogs and Mid Canterbury Eagles got things off to a great start with a very close game right up to the final quarter, with both teams looking possible to take the win to start their season.  Each were missing key players, either through retirement, other commitments or injury, as well as each fielding many first gamers through a strong off season recruitment drive.

The Bulldogs came out firing and kicked the first 3 goals of the game, with their young guns and new players all combining perfectly to give the impression they would take care of the Eagles relatively easy.  However you don’t win two flags in a row, as the Eagles did in 2020-21, without being a strong competitive team, and they weren’t about to let the ‘Dogs have it their own way.

The next two quarters were very even, with only 2 goals being kicked between the two teams, just 12 points separating them at half time and only 10 points the difference at the last change.  This was in part due to the Bulldogs kicking 8 consecutive behinds, which in turn came from the pressure the Eagles were able to place on their opponents.

But with a slight wind at their back and their young but experienced players coming to the fore, the ‘Dogs kicked three goals to none in the last quarter to run out what might have appeared to be comfortable five goal winners.  However for those at the ground, they would agree completely that this result could have gone either way until at least half way through the last term.  And it shows that both the Bulldogs and Eagles will be very competitive in CAFL23, as both clubs have been over the recent years.

The second game of Round 1 saw a rematch of the 2022 Grand Final, between the Blues and University Cougars.  This match was bound to be close, with a little bit of extra spice added due to a key player’s movement between the two clubs in the off season.

Just like the ‘Dogs & Eagles, both of these teams were missing senior experienced players, and have also seen a number of their GF playing personnel head overseas for travel or work/lifestyle reasons. Nonetheless, the game proved to be the ripper it was being touted as.

The first term saw a few contentious umpiring decisions go the Cougars way near goal, and with plenty of competitive ball movement around the ground, they took a strong 4 goal lead into quarter time.  Everyone knew the Blues wouldn’t lie down easily, and this was the case throughout the following three quarters.

Across the second and third quarters the Blues slowly worked their way back into the contest, with their seasoned campaigners leading the way all over the park, but with the young Cougar cubs playing their first game certainly not being disgraced by matching it with their more experienced opponents.

The final term proved to be very close, with the result only being determined in the closing minutes.   A few strong marks and smart play around goal by the Blues gave them a couple of majors, which ultimately saw them run out winners by a slim 8 points.  The Cougars had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but despite a very gallant and courageous effort from all who had the maroon and gold jersey on, they couldn’t quite get the score on the board.

Overall, Round 1 of CAFL23 can be considered as having been very successful, with the competition for the top 3 spots on the ladder likely to be hard fought and not clear until the final rounds in late October. It could very well be the closest season of CAFL Mens footy yet.