As Richmond dismantled Carlton in the first quarter of the opening round, the 2020 season appeared destined to take a familiar path.
The Tiger Kings of the MCG would be hard to stop again and the dream of emulating the legendary Tom Hafey's 1973-74 premiership heroes was alive.
But suddenly there are question marks after Richmond's underwhelming performances in the past two games, having drawn in a dour struggle with Collingwood and then being thrashed by Hawthorn on their favourite patch of turf.
After winning two of the past three premierships, the Tigers' form since the season's resumption has raised doubts about their motivation and hunger. While it is premature to make a definitive judgment after their first defeat in a year last week, the recent signs have not been good.
There are several factors to ponder for their army of fans. Richmond's pressure in their forward half and slick ball movement, trademarks in the club's incredible success in the past three seasons, have fallen away and the Tigers' capacity to score freely has dried up, having kicked a paltry 19 goals in their past 11 quarters.
Potent key forwards Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch are out of touch and smaller forwards Daniel Rioli and Jason Castagna are also struggling.
Inexperienced Richmond ruckman Ivan Soldo was thrashed at the stoppages and had no influence around the ground against Hawk Jonathon Ceglar. The Tigers' much-vaunted midfield without the dynamic Dustin Martin did not work hard enough, turning the ball over continually with uncharacteristic skill errors.
The Tigers had just nine tackles in the first half and it was the ease with which Hawthorn slipped through and created space to set up multiple scoring opportunities that would have concerned Damien Hardwick and his coaching staff.
The Hawks' forwards applied immense pressure on Richmond's back half and cracks were exposed. Bachar Houli's run and creativity were stymied and Sydney Stack's fumbles were costly.
The shorter quarters and longer breaks are also not benefitting the Tigers, given their renowned ability to wear down opposition teams and outscore them in time-on of quarters.
Hawthorn bounced back from a disastrous defeat at Geelong to thrash Richmond. Now the onus is on the Tigers to show they remain one of the contenders for the 2020 crown.
Clarko's words prove prophetic
At his post-game media conference after his team's win over Richmond, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson created a stir when he declared Geelong "weren't that good".
While Clarkson was making a point about how poor the Hawks were in the previous round, his comments proved prophetic as the Cats lost to the Blues at home two days later.
Carlton managed to limit the impact of Geelong's ageing stars including skipper Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor for most of the game before narrowly surviving the Cats' last-quarter onslaught for their first win this season.
In the dying seconds it was another veteran, Eddie Betts, who was the hero for Carlton with a game-saving tackle on Geelong defender Jack Henry. After a traumatic week in which he was racially vilified on social media, the dangerous small forward responded with a scintillating display.
For those who doubted the wisdom of the Blues and particularly coach David Teague of wooing Betts back to Ikon Park after six seasons in Adelaide, his performance was a powerful statement.
Hard to tip a winner in 2020
Three rounds in and the AFL's wish has been granted - the race for the flag is wide open.
With shorter quarters here to stay and uncertainty over the fixtures after the postponement of the Essendon-Melbourne game last weekend, the capricious nature of this season is set to continue.
The remarkable form reversals by Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs, followed swiftly by Carlton's stunning upset, underlined how difficult it has become to tip nine winners.
While unbeaten Port Adelaide sit on top of the ladder, Collingwood have firmed into premiership favouritism and look the most impressive team so far. Sandwiched between convincing wins over the Bulldogs and St Kilda, the Magpies were unlucky to draw with Richmond.
The Queensland teams are also looking good. The talent-laden Suns broke through for their first victory against Adelaide in 14 games last Sunday, while Brisbane have won their past two matches and play their next two at the Gabba.
But it is a different story for the West Australian teams based on the Gold Coast. Winless Fremantle is in 17th spot just above the hapless Crows on percentage, while the word out of the West Coast camp is that the Eagles are far from happy and can't wait to return home to Perth.
Readers' question of the week
Glenn Shirley, of Rose Bay, Tasmania, asks: Are players who are guilty of breaching COVID-19 protocols eligible to win the Brownlow Medal?
Glenn, they are eligible. To be ineligible to win the Brownlow Medal, a player has to be suspended as a result of an incident during a match in which votes are allocated.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas