TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 12

 

  1. The GWS list build has failed

They entered the competition in 2012 and were given every possible concession imaginable in order to fast-track the new club into the realm of being competitive enough to win a premiership. It all seemed to be going to the script when they fell short by a kick in a preliminary final in 2016. At that point many pundits thought this signified the beginning of a dynasty. However, despite making the 2019 Grand Final where they were completely blown away, it seems very difficult to see how the Giants can achieve ultimate success.

For most of this year they’ve seemed a shell of the side we’ve expected them to be. And when a player like Jeremy Cameron can be drawing a salary in excess of a million dollars and gather just 5 possessions in a game, maybe that’s indicative of the overall issues at Greater Western Sydney. They have a lot of stars but they’re not a star team.

Sydney came to play on Thursday night. Their defence, led by the gloved one in Dane Rampe was impenetrable, allowing just three goals for the whole night. Luke Parker marshalled the midfield and youngster Rowbottom also had plenty of the ball. I watched the game expecting the Giants to turn up the pressure and launch some sort of comeback but it never came. Interestingly in the head to head stakes between the two harbour city teams the Swans hold the ascendancy 12 to 7. Considering how strong the Giants have been for the last 5 years, I believe that’s a telling stat considering the Swans have now slipped out of the top bracket.

The concerning part is that other than Toby Greene who is on the sidelines with his troublesome hamstring, the injury list for GWS does not have any really big names on it, so it would seem despite those years of being granted high draft picks, their depth is in question. Perhaps keeping those players together and within the salary cap has also prevented them becoming a cohesive and stable unit. They now find themselves outside the Top 8, and the coach would be seeing the vultures circling, such were the expectations on the Giants this year.

 

  1. The Cats of Australia have raised their voice!

Geelong are on fire right now, and it seems to be coinciding with “Snappy” Tom Hawkins finding his career-best form at age 32. Both he and fellow veteran Eagles forward Josh Kennedy have eliminated talk of retirements at the end of season 2020. The Port Adelaide defence had no answer to Hawkins’ dominance and the Cats were on from the opening bounce till the final siren, despite coming off a four-day break, which just happened to be another 10-goal win against a Top 4 team.

Their midfield is functioning beautifully with Dangerfield, Menegola and Duncan getting plenty of the ball, but it seems the one that doesn’t come to mind straight away when discussing the Cats’ on-ballers is Cam Guthrie. He’s had an excellent year and this game was no exception. Many at GMHBA Stadium suggest he may be leading the Geelong best and fairest thus far.

Port were soundly beaten. The back six at Geelong gave very little ground. Charlie Dixon was completely shut out of the contest by Harry Taylor and only managed three possessions. Only one player in Travis Boak managed above 20 possessions , while seven managed less than 10. It’s possible the Richmond game took a bit out of them. It was a brutal contest.

The Power have an 8-day break before they take on the Hawks at Adelaide Oval. In the context of this season, this should see them refreshed enough to bounce back and get their season back on track after what was their worst performance of the year so far. The Cats take on the Crows in what should see another boost in percentage based on the season to date.

 

  1. The half-time spray is back

At half-time, Chris Fagan sensed his boys were not quite at their best and felt the need to deliver a good old-fashioned blast during the half-time break in the hope it would ignite his Lions boys and flick the switch. The game was in danger of being snatched away by a spirited Roos outfit. It was reminiscent of the coaches from the 80’s. It seems rare in this day and age for coaches to really let their players have it for fear of the modern millennial then retreating into their safe spaces after having their feelings crushed by a few choice words.

Did it work?

Well, it seemed the intensity did go up some after the break and at the final break they held a 12-point lead. However North Melbourne weren’t done with yet, and the final margin was only a one-point win to the Lions courtesy of an after the siren goal to Zuurhar, his second for the term. One of the stars for Brisbane was Jarryd Lyons, now at his third club. The mystery surrounding his departure from the Suns still lingers, but it certainly isn’t because of his football ability. He was superb, and with a lot of the focus from opposition teams on Neale, it often allows him freedom to gather possessions at will and hurt the opposition.

And for North, it’s beginning to make sense why Davies-Uniacke was a Top-10 draft pick. As he starts to get continuity with his football, I believe he’ll be one of the premier midfielders in the comp for years to come. Another big part of the reason why Brisbane found it hard to shake off the Kangaroos was the good ruckwork of Todd Goldstein against their own depleted ruck stocks. The Big O is doing OK, but they could really use Stefan Martin back in the team.

 

  1. Has anyone had more soft tissue injuries than Ben Reid?

If getting thumped by Melbourne wasn’t enough, perennial injury list member Ben Reid suffered yet another hamstring strain to add to his long history of injuries in a career that has spanned 14 seasons while only managing 151 games – roughly half of the possible games he could have played. At his best he’s been very good, but this latest setback really brings his playing future into question. A good comparison is the injury-prone Matthew Kreuzer who has been at Carlton for 13 seasons and has played in 189 games. People are of the belief the Blues ruckman may have even played his last game. It will be interesting to see where both players are in 2021.

Melbourne have definitely found their groove. Oliver is flying, Petracca is becoming the star we expected him to be, and now they’re hitting the scoreboard. It seems that finally their midfield has tidied up their forward entries, and the normally miserly Collingwood defence had no answers. The second quarter seven-goal blitz opened up the game and the Pies seemed flat-footed for most of the night. There’s every chance that next week’s game against the Bulldogs may ultimately decide 8th spot on the ladder. My money is on the Demons despite the promising return of spearhead Aaron Naughton. Should be a great game!

The Pies are in a hole. Injuries have crippled them, but as I’ve maintained for most of the year, they simply don’t score enough. They’ve scored less than 60 points eight out of their 12 games. It seems their avenues to goal have dried up. Mihocek went down and may not make it back for their next game, Reid will also be missing, and where is Jaidyn Stephenson at? If this problem isn’t remedied quickly, the finals will be beyond them, and the game coming up against North Melbourne becomes more difficult than first thought after their strong showing against Brisbane.

Their remaining five games are against North Melbourne, Carlton, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide. They’ll need to win three of those games to be sure of making finals. It’s touch and go.

 

  1. Blues fans will be on blood pressure medication by season’s end

Carlton fans have had years of disappointment, and for the first time in a while, despite being 12th on the ladder, there is some hope. That said, of the 11 games played by Carlton so far in 2020, six have been decided by single digits, and of those five were four points or less. Fortunately Carlton have been victorious in four of those, so at least the Blues have learnt how to win the tight ones. But nobody could have foreseen what happened at Optus Oval on Saturday night. The final twenty seconds saw not one, but three massive twists of fate that enabled the Blues to secure their fifth win for the year in controversial circumstances.

Here’s how it unfolded: A clearing kick out of defence by the Dockers towards the wing resulted in Taberner tapping the ball towards the boundary line that was deemed deliberate and the subsequent free kick was taken by Blues skipper Sam Docherty. Realising time was in short supply, he quickly played on and tried to launch the ball as deep inside 50 as possible in the hope the forwards would get an opportunity to score. As Sam launched the kick, young Andrew Brayshaw attempted to smother the kick, and in doing so, collided with Sam Docherty front on leaving him flat on his back, and the resultant kick went out of bounds on the full. That was game over, or so we thought.

The umpire decided to pay a relayed free kick downfield. Many believe this wasn’t a good decision as Brayshaw was merely attempting to smother and the act of doing so was not one of malice, but it could be successfully argued that front on contact still deserves a penalty. Whatever the case, the free kick was awarded, and some even more strange things occurred. Michael Gibbons was clearly the closest player to the ball, but the officiating umpire awarded the kick to Jack Newnes. Where he took the kick from also seemed a little closer than where the ball actually crossed the line. Two bits of good fortune for the Blues here being the extra distance gained, and although Michael Gibbons is a decent kick, the distance in the wet may have tested the small man and it’s known that Jack Newnes can kick long. With all that in mind, Newnes still had to contend with a photographer who was stationed right on the spot he was to take his kick from in what was a comical scene. Once the photographer reluctantly moved his equipment, Newnes quickly composed himself, took one look and in a matter of seconds launched a perfect kick from outside the boundary line 45m out right through the middle to give the Blues a four-pont win. Bear in mind that entire chain of events occurred with less than 20 seconds on the clock remaining.

Fremantle will feel cheated, but two of their opening quarter goals to Taberner and Lobb were very soft decisions, and in a game where both teams only managed five goals apiece, these gifted goals were very costly.

No doubt the Fremantle Football Club will probably issue a please explain to the AFL, and no doubt the AFL will back their umpiring department and nothing much will come of it. My only thought as I was watching this game with respect to umpires is that I felt there was a number of free kicks paid that should’ve been play on. When two players lock arms, there should never be a free kick awarded. And if an umpire thinks he sees a slight push out, perhaps he should let it go in favour of paying much more obvious ones. I say that because it’s more often than not in those instances that the replay does not go favourably for the umpire. In other words, make sure all the howlers get paid, and enough with the 50/50 guessing nonsense.

 

  1. Aaron Naughton might make a big difference to the Bulldogs

He’s been the forgotten man for most of the season due to injury, but the return of Aaron Naughton after six weeks on the sidelines started last week against the Lions with a modest return as one might expect, but this week he exploded with six goals in a dominant effort and may prove to be the best of the tall forward options at the club right now.

He took six marks and proved dangerous even when the ball hit the ground. One wonders where Josh Bruce fits into this line up. He has shown glimpses, but for the most part since joining the Dogs his form has been indifferent. One also has to wonder where the career of the number two overall draft pick in Josh Schache may be. He has been battling a groin complaint in recent weeks, but prior to that he has hardly cemented his place in the team despite coming over with a hefty price tag. I’m sure the club’s patience may be wearing thin for the soon to be 23 year old.

The Bulldogs take on the Dees next week in a season-defining clash. I imagine Steven May might not be as accommodating to Naughton as his Adelaide opponents were, but this would have done his confidence a lot of good and I expect him to be a handful for the remainder of the year.

Once again I am struggling to write about the Crows. It feels like groundhog day and, like so many sides when they’re not at their best, they continually go through extended periods where they allow unanswered goals and let the game get beyond them in a matter of minutes. It really does seem likely, with just five weeks to go, they will not win a game. There’s nothing there to indicate that it can be done. Hopefully for Matthew Nicks and co, I’m wrong.

 

  1. Hard to believe Max King is still eligible for the Rising Star

He hasn’t been nominated yet, but this shapes up as the week he should be. He managed three goals and took six marks while proving to be a real thorn in the side of the Essendon defence who really had no answers for this mobile 202cm giant. What I feel most of us have forgotten is that he missed all of last year and is only now starting to get some continuity into his game. His brother Ben, on the other hand, has managed 25 games for the Suns so it was this that confused me into thinking Max would’ve played more than just his 12 games to date. And it’s also due to the fact he looks like a seasoned player who’s been playing AFL for a few years already. He’s proving to be a valuable pick up, and if nominated for the Rising Star, having played all games this year, I’d say he’d be a very good chance of winning the award.

And speaking of tall forwards, the Bombers not having Joe Daniher up front continues to leave a gaping hole in a forward line that has managed just one win in six weeks against bottom-placed Adelaide with a tough run home. They also have Stringer, Fantasia, Hooker and Heppel on the sidelines, so it’s hard to see them winning four of their remaining six games as a minimum to break into the finals.

The Saints on the other hand will be pleased to have bounced back so well after a heavy loss to the Cats, and their run home consists of Brisbane, Melbourne, Hawthorn, West Coast and GWS. Finals are all but secured, but they’ll need to win three or four of those games to finish in the Top 4, and that won’t be easy.

 

  1. The Eagles are in cruise control

The game started with the Eagles keeping Hawthorn scoreless for the opening term and leading by 22 points at the first break. And for the rest of the game, they kept Hawthorn at arm’s length, seemingly clicking into top gear whenever the Hawks challenged.

Hawthorn battled hard and were far from terrible, but the Eagles were never threatened and always had the answers whenever the Hawks came at them. They’ve now won seven games in a row, and that’s been without Jeremy McGovern for four weeks who made an excellent return, rebounding the Hawks forward thrusts time and again as he has done his whole career. Kennedy was good again with three goals, Darling is in great touch, and Nic Naitanui continues to fire up the engine room with arguably the best midfield in the comp. They will take some beating this year, although if the Grand Final is played in Brisbane, will this be a problem for the Eagles?

For the Hawks, they managed six more inside 50’s than the Eagles, but their efficiency which has plagued them all year going forward was half that of their opponents. I believe the Hawks have some work to do in the off-season and possibly need to do some heavy list management. Some careers may draw to a close while others with some currency may be moved on. I’m sure Clarkson would not be comfortable languishing in 16th place with four wins from 11 games. He may not want to rebuild the list, but I’m sure he’s keen to change the direction the club is heading in.

 

  1. Two four day breaks in a row for the Suns is brutal!

Yes, it’s a difficult year for fixturing, but here’s the scenario the Gold Coast Suns find themselves in: They played a match on Thursday against Essendon then had to front up just four days later against a team who enjoyed an eight-day break. This Friday they take on the Blues who played on Saturday. Is it any wonder that the Suns could only manage one goal and two behinds after half time? And the way the game was shaping in the first half, with more energy in reserve, this result could have easily gone their way.

It will be interesting to see how many players they may need to “manage” before Friday night’s clash with the Blues. Jack Lukosius, who played his best game for the club with 26 disposals has already justified his high draft pick credentials.

For the Tigers, they did what they had to do without setting the world on fire. A very spirited Suns defence made it hard for them to score. The Tigers take on the Bombers in Darwin on Saturday night and should win. Their run home includes the Cats and the Eagles as well as Essendon, Fremantle and Adelaide. You’d expect at least three wins from that group, but three wins might not be enough to secure a Top 4 spot, so they’ll need to take one of the bigger scalps as well. Or maybe even both.

The Tigers are slightly off pace with the ladder leaders at the moment, so for them to be a genuine threat and to justify their current odds of $5.50, they’ll need to find another gear in my humble opinion.

 

  1. Has there ever been a better kick for goal after the siren to win a game?

In Round 7 when the hapless Blues went down to a perfect kick after the siren from Robbie Gray to hand the Power victory, we all marvelled at his precision. It seems fitting that the side that fell victim to that crushing blow would have a reversal of fortune in the manner that happened on Saturday night. Carlton supporters all over Australia would’ve been in a simultaneous state of euphoria at around 10:23pm Eastern standard time, but the entire football world, with perhaps the exception of Dockers fans, would’ve all been in awe of the single most perfect shot at goal after the siren, potentially of all time.

There was so much going against this kick landing the blow that it did. It was a wet ball and the game was played in slippery conditions. He was well outside the boundary line and 45 m out. He even had to contend with a cameraman whose equipment had to be moved before taking his shot. After dealing with the cameraman, he also didn’t mess about and took the kick relatively quickly in the end, perhaps wisely not giving himself too much time to think about it. He had ten players standing the mark waving their arms and was in hostile territory at the home of the Dockers in Perth.

But, for whatever reason, he hit it perfectly, and through it went.

Whatever happens for the remainder of the season for Jack Newnes, he’s had his moment. He’s done reasonably well without setting the world on fire since joining the Navy Blue, but he’s now won a special place in the hearts of all Blues fans. With any luck, this may spur his confidence onto becoming a solid fixture at Carlton. He’s one of those players that seems to cop the wrath of supporters. Every club has these “whipping boys”. It seems St Kilda fans weren’t too concerned about his departure, and even some Blues fans have questioned his signing, but whatever money he’s on was redeemed in that one kick… for now anyway.

But sincerely, I challenge anyone to find me a better and more brilliantly executed kick with that degree of difficulty to win a match in the history of the game. I know some may mention Malcolm Blight’s 70m bomb at Princes Park back in the 70’s, although while distance was an issue, there was no angle to speak of, and every time we hear about it, the distance seems to get longer and longer. Was it really 70m? We’ll never know.

I’ll back this one in as the G.O.A.T