TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND NINE

 

  1. Look out everybody, Dusty’s back.

 

Whilst Richmond are by no means a one-man team, a firing Dustin Martin seems to hurt teams like no other player in the AFL can. The tone was set early when he goaled in the first quarter and he looked like he was more engaged than at any time so far in 2020.

Having met Dustin Martin a few times, I can tell you he’s a very unique individual who no doubt enjoys his footy but also struggles with the attention he receives, both good and bad. Perhaps this year with smaller crowds, not being in the Punt Rd bubble may suit him just fine, even if he has taken a while to get used to it. I expect him to finish the season strongly and possibly even make a late run for Brownlow honours – that is if he can catch Lachie Neale.

For the Dogs, they would’ve come into this game full of confidence, but as we’ve seen this year, the gap between their worst and best is still significant. Their first half of football is one they’ll want to forget very quickly. There were ten players in the Richmond line-up with under 30 games played. If anyone was thinking their success would not be sustainable, think again. They have depth, clever recruiting, and for a few more years at least, they have Dusty.

 

  1. The Demons revert back to their old ways.

 

Melbourne had been playing some decent football in the previous three weeks and almost knocked off the Lions in what would have seen them knocking on the door of the Top 8 after a slow start to the year. I was certainly seduced into thinking they had finally settled into the year and found some form which could match it against most teams, but this game was their worst for the year by far.

The concern for me is their mids who are terrific at finding the ball and getting first use from the superstar ruckman in Max Gawn, only to consistently miss targets with poor disposal thus creating many opportunities for their opponents to rebound and score, and that’s exactly what Port Adelaide did.

For the Power, their midfielders in Boak, Wines and Amon all managed 25 possessions each, but those possessions were mostly effective, which was the difference. Another young star in Mitch Georgiades has emerged to follow on from their other young guns in Rozee, Duursma and Butters. Port Adelaide Football Club seem to have found the secret formula to fast-track their high end picks up to the required standard better than any club in the AFL right now.

 

  1. The Blues need to toughen up

 

Fifteen minutes into the game, the Blues were on fire. It’s hard to understand how all it took was a little bit of resistance from the Hawks late in the first term to then watch them crumble for the remainder of the match. Blues fans would feel disillusioned by the capitulation of a ten- goal turnaround on what has been a promising season, but the writing was on the wall from the previous week in which another fast start against the Roos almost resulted in another loss in what was definitely a drop in standard after quarter time.

Patrick Cripps tried to resurrect the team’s fortunes with some attempted individual flair which spectacularly failed in the second term. Perhaps he felt the rest of the team just weren’t doing enough so he decided it was up to him. You can’t blame the guy as this has been the running theme for the past few seasons, however on this occasion, it only added to the Blues’ woes.

The Hawks were up against it coming into this game having lost their previous four matches. It looked like number five was on the cards until the switch was flicked and the game remained on Hawthorn’s terms for the next three quarters. It was a case of a seasoned and highly successful coach up against a newbie still finding his way, and the result was a lesson for Teague that he won’t want to relive. It was obvious once Hawthorn got on top that the Blues players simply did not know what to do, and unfortunately, it seemed to be the same story in the coach’s box.

 

  1. Essendon have not beaten a side in the Top 8 so far this year.

 

Brisbane made light work of Essendon on Friday night, albeit with a little assistance from the umpires in what was a baffling display of decision-making at times. The Lions are the real deal. They were clinical and relentless, showing no mercy to a team who to date only beaten teams who are languishing in the lower spots on the ladder while falling short of the teams who are vying for a finals berth, perhaps with the exception of Collingwood whose form is also questionable.

The Bombers have been competitive, but their first really big test against the Lions showed some major deficiencies, namely the ability to score. They’re currently averaging 58 points a game which is 14th in the league and every week it seems to get harder knowing where their goals are going to come from. This will have to improve if they are any chance of playing finals, but my feeling is that’s a bridge too far.

Brisbane, on the other hand, seem a very cohesive unit with players all over the park fulfilling their roles and doing their part for the team which is well drilled, well structured and extremely well-coached it would seem. Many thought Brisbane would have a Demons-style slide down the ladder following on from the strong showing in 2019, but that’s been well and truly put to bed now. I expect them to occupy a Top 4 spot as a minimum, and as long as they can find another gear after last year’s stage fright during the finals, they have every right to believe ultimate success is within reach.

 

  1. The Adelaide Crows wish they could turn back time and not go on that fateful players camp…

 

Has there ever been a clearer example of a club who failed on the biggest stage when they were fancied to win to have a bigger meltdown than the Crows? They obviously took that loss very hard and deemed their playing group mentally weak for what really was an insipid performance in the 2017 Grand Final. In a vain attempt to rectify that issue, the club sent the players on that well-discussed pre-season camp in which the group was put through what has been reported as some seriously confronting psychological exercises. The result was a number of disillusioned players and a collective bunch of fried brains, and the following two seasons saw them miss finals, an exodus of players, and currently the club has suffered a record 12 straight losses.

Most of us would love to know what took place at this camp and whether this is the reason behind the phenomenal fall from grace. I guess we’ll never really know, but what is obvious is that in just two years they’ve gone from a genuine contender to a laughingstock. The guy I feel for the most is Matthew Nicks.

As for the Roos, they were on a mission and needed the win after a disappointing six weeks. The football world is very pleased to see Majak Daw back out there. With eight games remaining and the Cats and the Lions coming up over the next three weeks, it’s hard to see them doing any more than troubling a few of the better teams. I’ve always found it hard to get a gauge on how good or otherwise the Kangaroos are, but their best isn’t bad. We just need to see it more often.

 

  1. The Saints are #1 for scoring so far in 2020.

 

In what has been a low scoring year due to the shortened game time, St Kilda are at the top of the list averaging just over 74 points per game. It’s not the same players scoring each week either. If it’s not Tim Membrey doing the damage up forward it’s Max King. Josh Battle will bob up for a couple most weeks, as will Dan Butler and mid-forward Jake Gresham. Now you can also add Nick Hind to the mix as well. That’s a major headache for any defensive unit to have to cope with. It’s the reason why I believe the Saints will feature in finals action, although they may pay a hefty penalty for dropping games against the struggling teams in North Melbourne and Fremantle, both of which were after having significant leads in the early part of the game. I’m sure Brett Ratten will be doing his due diligence to reduce the possibility of lapses like that in the remaining 8 home and away matches, but their best is rather ominous and they’ve taken a couple of decent scalps.

As for the Swans, they fight hard but look too undermanned to compete against the better teams. An over-reliance on Tom Papley to score was eventually going to catch up with them. He only managed one, and Ratten has shown a propensity to stifle the most damaging opposition players a number of times already this year. We’re all wondering if Buddy will play again this year, or whether he has any games left in him at all??

 

  1. West Coast v Geelong was the best game of the year to date.

 

I expected West Coast to easily account for Geelong. The Cats just had a five-day break after a game played in heavy conditions, and the Eagles looked like they’d found their mojo, so it seemed more than likely that the home team would’ve been too strong. Geelong had other ideas and led for most of the night in what was a brutal contest that showcased the toughness of both teams.

The Cats didn’t do a lot wrong, and were the better side for three quarters, but after throwing everything at them, the slender 8-point lead they enjoyed at three-quarter time did seem insufficient. To their credit, they fought hard to stay ahead. Following a dubious goal awarded to Simpson early in the last which had them restore their 8-point lead one was starting to think they maybe had the answers to the West Coast onslaught, but along came Josh Kennedy with some individual brilliance in the final term to give the Eagles a 9-point win.

Nic Naitanui was the spark. His 34 hit outs in a dominant ruck display were impressive, but what makes Nic such a damaging player is his ability to keep the ball moving forward at speed once it hits the ground after a ball-up. You don’t get stats for pushing the ball forward by hand when it’s in dispute, but if they did record this, I imagine he’d be the league leader and the reason why somebody who only managed to get ten possessions would still be considered the best player on the ground by many.

 

  1. GWS look a lot better with Zac Williams in the side.

 

If you don’t see enough Giants games, you may not realise who their better players actually are. Sure, most know about Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron, Coniglio and possibly Phil Davis, but many might not realise they have one of the best defenders in the competition in Nick Haynes, as well as one of, if not the best half-back in the business, in Zac Williams.

One of the issues GWS has faced all year has been indirect football resulting in a paltry average of just 33 inside 50s per game. Along comes Williams after returning from injury, and the impact was immediate. So many times he repelled a forward entry with a counter-attack , either with a run and carry play or a changing of the angle kick which would open up the corridor to launch another forward 50 entry. It’s certainly no coincidence that they managed 45 inside 50s for the game and were never really challenged by a Suns outfit that battled hard, but were a flatter version of their earlier season form.

We saw a bit of that with sides who’ve been perennial battlers of recent times this week. When you look at games across the weekend involving the Suns, Carlton and Melbourne, all three of which occupied the bottom three positions of the ladder in 2019, you see teams that, when challenged, find it hard to shake that losing culture. All three sides at times this year have shown they are capable of beating any team on any given day provided they turn up to play, yet this weekend saw all three look a class below their opposition.

They do say football, like most sports, is played mostly above the shoulders, and it does seem being down for a long time is a hard characteristic to eliminate from the psyche. Here’s hoping Gold Coast can finish the season strongly and believe in their talent, which they have in spades, but some days they might forget it’s there.

 

  1. Fear, not Pies; you may win the next three and be right back in it.

 

It does look grim right now for the Collingwood Football Club, but the next three games may bring them back into the fold with games against Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. If they were to lose even one of those, I would write them off for 2020, and if they continue to score below 60 each week, that is still a possibility. Out of nine games this year, Collingwood have only passed that mark on three occasions.

Whilst Mihocek is solid target, it seems right now they’re one tall goalkicking option short. Their smaller forwards in Elliott and Stephenson don’t seem to be troubling the scorers enough, which is interesting because they did get the ball inside 50 on nine more occasions than the Dockers but still only managed seven goals for the game. This inability to create scoreboard pressure has dogged the Magpies outfit for most of the season, and, like the Bombers, it may result in them falling short in their quest for a finals berth, although I suspect they’ll get things back on track over the next three weeks.

The Dockers really stood up. They have a lot of youth in their side, and once again, on the back of his Rising Star nomination from last week, young Caleb Serong was outstanding. Their pressure all day was indicative of their desire to win against all odds, especially when superstar Michael Walters was missing. Perhaps the mere presence of Nat Fyfe did the trick, but the thing that impressed me the most was the manner in which their defence was able to absorb the pressure. Luke Ryan continues to impress with his intercept marking and drive out of defence. Longmuir will be a happy man tonight, and I’m so glad they decided after quarter-time to actually try and score. At one point I thought I was watching a soccer game…

 

  1. Remember when they introduced the 6-6-6 rule in a BID to improve scoring prospects? How’d that work out?

 

I think I speak on behalf of every football fan when I say that the tweaking of the rules in the last two decades has done very little to improve any aspects of the game whatsoever.

I’m not against the concept of having players line up in their positions when the ball is being bounced in the centre, but the purpose of this rule was to increase the chance of a score coming directly out of the middle, and thus increase scoring overall. Looking at the scorelines from last year, and season 2020, even factoring in the shorter quarters, it has not done what it set out to do. And we’ve also had the ridiculous situation of a coach questioning the holding the ball rule during a press conference resulting in a change in the interpretation mid-season!

AFL football has a reputation for being a fast-flowing, high scoring and athletic spectacle. In some games, it now resembles rugby. I’m not sure how we got to this point, and I don’t really know if we can roll some of these rules back without muddying the waters further, but at the very least, it surely is time to leave the game alone. Even something that’s supposedly fool-proof such as the DRS is becoming a blight on the game. The more you strive for a perfect world, the more imperfect it ends up being. I don’t know if scrapping the DRS or the 6-6-6 rule is going to make things any better, but I can say with some certainty that their introduction has not improved the game in any way, either.

 

The Winners And Losers Of Round Nine