TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 15

 

  1. Teams very rarely go through a whole season without winning a game

Finally, the Crows have emerged victors. Matthew Nicks would currently be the most relieved man in the AFL. Adelaide led the game from start to finish against a Hawthorn side that is getting worse as the season drags on for them. Will they finally go to the draft with a vision of cleaning out the old and replacing it with the new? Clarkson has stubbornly resisted that and would be wise to change his ways if he has any aspirations of coaching at the club beyond 2021.

That said, if it were to come to an end, it would hardly be a failed tenure at the helm of a club that was struggling when he first took it over. One has to wonder whether the fire is still in the belly, or whether he needs a fresh start. Possibly neither.

For the Crows, it has been a dark season. Taylor Walker played a role in the win and might do enough in the remaining three games to retain his spot on the list. He is still a presence on the field, and his leadership is still required in my humble opinion. Adelaide, for the first time, might be daring to think about getting off the bottom of the ladder. With their weak percentage and two games adrift of the struggling Kangaroos, it seems improbable, but we’ve all heard of mathematical chances.

One definitely winnable game is against the Blues in Round 17 who seem to have forgotten where the goals are. If they catch GWS on an off-night in Round 17 with two days more rest in the tank, you just never know. It would then come down to Round 18 against the Tigers, and that’s probably where it all ends. But still, they can at least take a sigh of relief not to be the only side since 1964 that went through a season without a victory.

 

  1. The Eagles won the game, but the Queensland curse is still there

I know those who’ve read my weekly article know I’ve mentioned this more than once and are possibly beginning to think I don’t rate the West Coast Eagles or have some sort of obsession with their form line when playing in Queensland. In particular, I’m sure Eagles fans would probably feel this way. So, instead of just putting forward my opinion on this matter, I will let the numbers do the talking. Perhaps then you may start to think the anomaly between their Perth form and their Queensland form is as glaring as I keep saying it is. And perhaps with the announcement this week that the Grand Final will be played at the Gabba, the problem becomes cause for alarm.

West Coast has played seven games this year in Queensland. They’ve won just 3 against Adelaide, Sydney and now Essendon – three sides who will not feature in the finals this year. They have averaged just 57 points per game and have conceded an average of 66 against.

Now compare that to the eight games they’ve played in Perth. At Optus Stadium they’re undefeated. They average a score of 77 points per game while conceding an average of just 49 against. That makes them roughly a 6-goal better side when playing at home. That’s huge!

The Eagles take on the Bulldogs at Metricon, followed by St Kilda at the Gabba before ending the season with a likely win against a battling North Melbourne. Based on my thinking, they may stumble against one of the Bulldogs or Saints, or possibly even both, and this would eliminate their Top 4 prospects and probably their premiership aspirations. Or they could flick the switch and shake off this bout of inconsistency that seems to plague them in the tropics.

It’s in their hands and I’m expecting them to get serious now and try and jag a Top 4 spot. I haven’t said a lot about the Bombers for a reason. It’s been another nothing season from this proud club. They’ll be very disappointed, particularly after winning four out of their first five games this year. I guess one bright spot is the return of Joe Daniher, but there are still some who think he may not be at Essendon in 2021.

 

  1. Tigers are far from securing a Top 4 spot

The Dockers battled hard to stay in touch with the Tigers, but managing just the one goal to half time and just four for the game was always going to make the prospect of an unlikely victory very difficult. There’s so much to like about the Dockers. They’ve unearthed some young talent in Serong and Shulz while Brayshaw is having a breakout season. But, like many clubs in the bottom half of the ladder, they just don’t seem to have the firepower to kick enough winning scores. In fact, they’ve managed just six goals or less in six games this year and average just 48 points per game. That said, the Dockers do look as though they have a few reasons to be optimistic for their next few seasons, although achieving meaningful success will still require huge improvement.

Richmond supporters could possibly be getting excited right now. While I suggest that they haven’t locked in a Top 4 spot, what I have seen is a team that is winning games without being at their very best. I’m not sure if I subscribe to the “peaking too early” mindset, but they are certainly not at their peak, and if they arrive at the finals game with a healthy list, I can see they will find that extra gear and the sky is the limit.

The one issue for them in terms of their prospects of securing the double-chance rests with the Round 17 game against the Cats. They simply have to win that. And if they do, they would almost go into the last stanza of 2020 as flag favourites, and rightly so. There is still much to like about the Tigers, but at times this year they just haven’t had that same level of invincibility as they’ve enjoyed in their premiership years. The Cats v Tigers clash is going to be the game of the season.

 

  1. The Dees probably just blew their finals hopes

I watched the previous week’s game between Sydney and Port Adelaide with interest, and whilst Port had a comfortable win, I couldn’t help but feel impressed with the endeavour of the Swans. John Longmire definitely has the players playing for him. You can see that week in week out even in the games where they get soundly beaten. This is the one characteristic of the Swans I’ve always admired. Watching this game, however, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the Demons came into this game thinking it was all just going to happen. Their first quarter really set up the loss as they managed just two goals with a strong breeze and lead by just three points at the first break.

The Swans took full advantage and banged on five goals to one in the second quarter and the game was pretty much beyond reach from that point on. Justin McInerney for the Swans kicked his first two career goals and he seems to be another find as well as youngster Rowbottom who gets better each week.

For Melbourne, while Christian Petracca managed 21 disposals in a solid game, his influence was kept under control as is often the case when Melbourne come up short. Easy misses in front of goal by Melbourne throughout the contest also didn’t help. It’s a tired old cliché, but kicking for goal just never seems to get better. On a note of disappointment for former skipper and absolute club stalwart Nathan Jones, he left the ground with a quad injury, and it seems likely now he may have played his last AFL game. The Dees can still make the 8 with games remaining against Fremantle, GWS and Essendon. Two wins may not be enough, but 3 will guarantee it. My guess is they will just miss out, but the Dees have managed to surprise me a few times already this year.

 

  1. Carlton have forgotten where the goals are

Scoring in the last month for the Blues has all but dried up. In the first nine rounds, Carlton played with flair and averaged 67 points a game which ranked them fifth for scoring overall. The coaching staff were being praised for this exciting brand of offensive football, and things were really looking positive for the Blues. However, in the last month, they’ve averaged just 48 points per game and in the last two games they’ve managed four goalless quarters and surrendered leads in both games.

The Blues managed 42 forward 50 entries in the last three quarters of the game on Thursday night and managed to score just one goal and nine behinds. They still managed to hold a 15 point lead at the final break until the dam walls broke and the Giants piled on four unanswered goals in just ten minutes to eventually secure a hard-fought nine point win.

The jungle drums are getting louder for some Blues veterans in the twilight of their career. Kade Simpson and Eddie Betts both have question marks relating to their future. Kade Simpson was given the task of trying to keep Toby Greene quiet and that was always going to be difficult for a 36 year old playing against arguably one of the best players in the competition. Eddie is battling hard and still does some good things, but he has managed just three goals in his last seven outings. So it will be interesting to see what the future hold for these two. The Carlton forward line also seems far from settled. McGovern, it must be said, is proving to be a bust and while Harry McKay can sure mark a football, he doesn’t seem to be able to kick one straight with any consistency. Six set shots for just one goal told a horror story that could’ve changed the result.

The Giants also struggled to score for most of the night with just two goals and 11 behinds up to three quarter time. It took youngster Jake Riccardi to bang on two quick goals to get the Giants going and eventually fall across the line. Jeremy Cameron had a night he’d rather forget, but many good forwards have had nightmares after playing on Jacob Weitering who is definitely one shining light for the Blues this year. The Giants look set to make the 8 but still need to play a better brand of football than they did against the Blues in order to be certain of finals action.

 

  1. 2020 has had too many ugly games.

This year we’ve seen more scrappy affairs than we care to imagine. Is it because of the fact that training levels are down due to hub-life? Has COVID taken its tolls and affected skill-levels? Has shortening the quarters eliminated too much scoring? These and many other questions might not be able to provide a true picture of what’s really at play, but I think there’s something very wrong with our game and I have my own theories as to why it’s happening.

I think the rule changes have played a part, but I also think coaching styles have killed off scoring as well. Whenever you get the chance, if Fox Footy shows a game from the 90’s or early 2000’s, please have a look. What you will see, in general terms, is higher scoring and more rapid ball movement. What you won’t see much of is rolling malls and a series of stoppages. They tried to counter that with the 6-6-6 rule but that’s ineffective. It’s only there at centre bounces which take up a minute part of the game in real terms, especially now that scoring is so low.

Things started to change back in the late 90’s when flooding was introduced. In the infamous 2000 season where Essendon lost just the one game for the whole year, it was against the Bulldogs who played a defensive flooding style game that kept big numbers in defence to crowd the Bombers forward line and keep them to a reasonable score. It worked, and then other coaches adopted a more defensive style which still seems to be in play to this day.

The game has become how low you can keep the opposition scores to as opposed to how high your team can score. We’ve had so many games with a combined aggregate of under 100 points in 2020 that it’s now gotten silly. The coaches have to win games, and it appears that this is the preferred approach. That’s what they’re hired to do, but it would be nice if the emphasis could be shifted back to outscoring your opponents. I wonder if there’s a coach out there who can break the monotony of low-scoring games.

As for rule changes, we keep saying every year to stop changing the rules, so I’m not about to suggest we have yet another look at the rules in order to find ways to increase scoring and improve the spectacle. However, what is obvious is that the AFL have tinkered with it so much now that it has almost gone past the point where it can be fixed. I, personally, would just like to adopt the set of rules from about 20 years ago and wipe the slate clean, but that requires an admission from the AFL that they’ve got it wrong. And we know that won’t happen…

 

  1. We’re about to witness the smallest ever crowd at an AFL Grand Final

On October 24 on what will be an historic night, the AFL Grand Final will be played at the Gabba in front of just 30,000 people. So why on Earth did they get the nod ahead of Adelaide Oval and Optus Stadium with capacities of 50,000 and 60,000 respectively? Well, firstly, both the SA and WA governments could not guarantee a crowd of higher than 30,000 due to COVID rules, and the hard borders surrounding those states was also a factor. Despite both of those states having next to no cases, the last thing they want to do is let those pesky Victorians or interstate visitors come over and spread their germs about.

So it was a no-brainer in the end, and it seems quite obvious that there is a somewhat strained relationship between the AFL and the WA government. Being a Victorian, yes it’s sad that the MCG won’t be hosting the game, but I’m far from one of those parochial types who believes Melbourne is the world Mecca of sport and the home of everything. I’m happy to embrace the GF being played at the Gabba, although I may have felt a little aggrieved if my team were playing and I wished to attend the event live.

But being a Blues fan, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem even if this pandemic dragged on for another season or more (he says with sadness in his heart…).

 

  1. I definitely hope this is the first and last season of 16 minute quarters

I never understood why they shortened the games by a staggering 20% this year. If it has anything to do with COVID, I’d love to hear an explanation, but I doubt there could be one that would make a lot of sense. Australian Football has many anomalies compared to other sports. One of those is that it seems that the more tired players get as the game wears on, the more scoring happens. We hear about “junk-time goals” all the time. Well, this year, there isn’t any more junk-time in real terms, and I would imagine that scoring may well have dropped well below the 20% differential in the time clock. It would be an interesting study to undertake, but one which would take time, so here’s a condensed version.

I’ve analysed the scoring of the team who finished first in 2019, to the league leader in 2020, against the two bottom teams of 2019 and 2020. The results were interesting. This year, the league leader is averaging 69 points per game as opposed to just over 90 last year. That’s a differential of 23.3%. And conversely, the bottom team last year averaged 61 points per game and is averaging just 47 this year. That’s also a drop of around 23%. It’s not an exact science, but if that’s a common theme, it looks like another 3% of scoring has been lost over and above the 20% of time lost.

Neglible though it may be, it’s still a trend we don’t want to see continue. So I sincerely hope we revert back to 20 minute quarters in 2021. I would really love to see what proportion of scoring in 2019 occurred after 16 minutes of play had elapsed in each quarter. That would be interesting, especially if you’re a numbers nerd like me.

 

  1. Brisbane scored 1.5 in three quarters of football and still won?

And right on cue after penning my last point about low-scoring, we have the second game for this round in which a total number of 11 goals are scored. I used the analogy that many AFL games are becoming like watching a day’s play in a Test match where no wickets fall. I recognise that high scoring isn’t the only marker for a good game of football, but you can’t tell me that when Brisbane surged with 5 goals in the second quarter that the game and their style of play wasn’t way more attractive than the gritty low-scoring nature of the other quarters. I would even go so far as to say it was scintillating and had me thinking what a fitting Grand Finalist the Lions would make.

It’s a credit to Collingwood who fought their way back into the match, but in the last quarter where they dominated the play and had the majority of the inside-50’s, it was all to no avail as they could only manage two majors and fell short by just eight points despite numerous opportunities. For the Pies, big man Mason Cox might have just played himself into enough form to warrant a finals appearance provided the Pies don’t capitulate in the remaining games against the Suns and Port Adelaide. One win out of those two should do the trick for a finals berth. For the Lions Jarrod Berry was one of their best in what has been a great year on the back of a solid 2019. Lachie Neale took a while to get going but ended strongly with 27 possessions. My Brownlow radar possibly has him missing out on a vote but the umpires may disagree.

All in all, the Lions have three very winnable games all against sides out of contention for the 8, so a Top 2 position is all but assured. However, even these lowly teams may fancy their chances if they can keep the Lions to a score in the 40’s. I’m obviously harping on about low-scoring, but it is becoming a genuine bugbear for me. I really don’t think that this is how the game was meant to be played.

 

EARLY EDITION – Brisbane v Collingwood – The Big Questions

 

  1. The final 8 is still not settled.

It’s always great when, at this time of the year, the make-up of the final 8 is still up in the air. The teams currently occupying the Top 5 spots look very much entrenched in the chase for finals action, but there are five more teams with a realistic chance of occupying the last three positions. It’s now down to Collingwood, St Kilda, GWS, Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.

The Demons will be ruing their poor performance against the Swans and it may well be the reason they don’t get there. St Kilda are looking vulnerable with two out of their remaining three games being against Top 8 teams in West Coast and the Giants. They will possibly need to win one of those to remain in the 8, and their recent form has been shaky.

Had the Pies won their game against the Lions on Friday night, they could’ve even threatened for a Top 4 spot, but they’ll have to win at least one more game and settle for somewhere in the bottom half of the 8 for now. The Bulldogs can ill-afford to lose another game due to their percentage being an issue. They face the Eagles at Metricon next round, and it has to be said they’re a real chance if they can get their running game going and keep Nic Nat under control. If they can conjure up a win in that game, they’ll be going into their two remaining games as heavy favourites and could possibly see them displace the Saints, unless of course the Saints can get the better of the Giants in the final round. The stage for that game is set for one or both sides playing for a finals berth. It should be a cracker, but for now my money’s on the Giants, and maybe Saints to both play finals regardless of the result of that game. Should the Giants win, it will leave the Saints just ahead of the Dogs and the Dees both on percentage.

Melbourne and the Bulldogs could seriously throw a cat among the pigeons if they won all their remaining games, but I’m slightly leaning towards the eight looking like similar to how it is now.

Mongrel Punt Podcast Episode 24

 Grand Final venue – Tiger Trouble -Best/Worst recruits of the year – Weitering v Moore for AA – Lions v Pies recap

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