TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 16

 

  1. Perfect timing for a bruise-free game for the Power

I guess this is one of the biggest insults you can throw towards a club, particularly one with a rich culture of tough footballers throughout its history. However, three weeks out from a finals campaign, a cruisy win against a struggling team is exactly what Port Adelaide needed.

The game was never in doubt, and they put it to bed with a six goal thirrd quarter then pretty much put the cue in the rack in the last quarter and were victors by a solid 36 point margin. Other than a quad injury to Ryan Burton early on, the rest of the team got through seemingly unscathed. Travis Boak has rightful claims to another three votes in this game and may be one of the few players who can threaten Lachie Neale on Brownlow night. Ollie Wines was also unstoppable.

For the Roos, one gets the impression that the season can’t end soon enough. Rhys Shaw is at a loss to explain the low-level performances they keep serving up each week. They take on Freo next week, and based on the form of the Dockers, it’s likely North Melbourne will lose that game before taking on the Eagles in another likely shellacking in Round 18. That will leave them languishing in 17th place with just three wins for 2020.

Some felt that the Kangaroos may have been a finals contender coming into the season, but a run of injuries and poor form put an end to that. For Roos fans, if you’re looking for positives, you can get a little excited about Davies-Uniacke. Another solid 23 possessions, and he looks like a genuine player with tricks. All things going well, he may even be a future captain. There are, however, many others on that list who may well be feeling on shaky ground.

 

  1. Alastair Clarkson should’ve been a politician

There’s a side of Clarko we haven’t seen a lot of happening in season 2020: The “struggling coach” Clarko.

He’s clearly not happy with things, and after handing the Crows their first win for the season, Clarkson bemoaned his issues with list management in the press conference following that game to no doubt deflect on what was another sub-par performance by his men. This week he came out swinging against his old side-kick no less in Brett Ratten, questioning his keepings-off style tactics.

You have to hand it to him. It was a trick out of the politics playbook. He’s now become the master of deflection, which I guess is a good thing as their performances have been very ordinary at times. They weren’t terrible against the Saints, but still never really looked like causing an upset.

For St Kilda, it was a win, but their recent form seems shaky, and with two tough games remaining, finals aren’t assured. Next week they take on the Eagles and then face the Giants in the following week. If they lose both of those games, there’s a possibility they may miss out. And if they play as they have been over the last month, getting a win will be a tall order.

Seb Ross and Rowan Marshall were among St Kilda’s best. Ross is having a very consistent season and must be in contention to win the club’s best and fairest. After an incredible start to his first season as a Saint, Dan Butler’s scoring has dried up a little. After 9 games he’d booted 21 goals and was near the top of the Coleman award, but his last five weeks have netted just four goals for the small forward. He’d want to recapture some of that earlier form if the Saints can make it into the finals, but any way you look at it, it has been a terrific year and one that many Carlton supporters will look on with some dismay as he was all but going to the Blues until a late change of heart from Carlton.

 

  1. The Cats invoked the mercy rule at half time

We haven’t seen a single game with a 10-goal differential at half-time till now. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Round One for the next best lead when Richmond had a 46-point lead over the Blues in the season opener.

During the first quarter, the disparity between the Cats and the Bombers was on full display with Geelong enjoying a disposal efficiency in the mid-90’s while the Bombers were below 50%. The Cats were clinical and direct. They hit their targets and held their marks. Even kicking for goal was impressive up to half-time with 12.3 on the board. It could have been the first and possibly the only 100-plus point win for season 2020 if the Cats decided to go on with it after half time. But why would they? They already have the greatest percentage in the league, and with finals looming, the last thing they needed was to lose players to injury.

So, they took the foot off the pedal and sauntered to a comfortable 66-point win. Hawkins now leads by ten on the Coleman table and looks to have it all sewn up. And Menegola continued his great form. The Cats look ominous at this time, and I think I fancy them against the Tigers this week.

Essendon’s poor starts continue. The last time they won an opening term was against Sydney in Round Two. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact they arrived at the Gabba just 30 minutes before the bounce. I’m not sure what went wrong there, but I’m sure that wasn’t part of the plan. And the tone seemed to be set just minutes into the contest when McDonald-Tipungwuti tried to lay off a handball after marking just ten metres out from goal to his partner in crime in Mosquito, completely fluffing it and resulting in a behind from what should have been a certain goal. For the rest of the match it was a case of the team trying to work itself back into the game. They were better in the second half, but one also wonders whether the Cats were playing with the same vigour that they had early on.

The Bombers won’t play finals this year, and it will go down as a disappointing season for sure. Many expected Essendon to make a move up the ladder, but injuries and some poor form destroyed any chance of that. They’ll have to bring in some fresh faces, and I’ll be very surprised if we ever see John Worsfold coaching AFL again after this season.

 

  1. Fixturing killed the Eagles.

Prior to this game, the Western Bulldogs’ last outing was August 28. Meanwhile, the Eagles played the Bombers on September 1, just 5 days prior as opposed to the 9-day break for the Dogs. It made a huge difference.

The Eagles looked flat from the get-go and the Dogs seemed to have more energy late in the game. In the end it was only a 2-point victory, but that only came courtesy of some inaccurate kicking for goal on the part of the Bulldogs.

Marcus Bontompelli kicked the obligatory “captain’s goal” late in the game to give them the lead, and Darling had a chance from the 50m arc to snatch the game with a minute remaining but missed. The Doggies now have a real chance of making the Top 8 with winnable games against the Hawks and the improving Dockers. My money is with them for now, but this season may have a twist or two left.

As for the Eagles. They are now just three wins from eight outings in Queensland. I think that we can now label this the Queensland curse. Sure, there was a discrepancy in the rest days between games for the two sides, but the fact is they have a very poor record up North. It looks very much like that same poor record will be the reason they don’t finish in the Top 4. That depends on the Tigers’ fortunes against the Cats this week.

Jack Redden played one of his best games for 2020, but it appears he has sustained a thumb-injury which some say may sideline him for the remainder of the season. It’s also no coincidence that the Eagles fell short with Nic Nat being rested looking on from the stands.

 

  1. The Demons are the Jekyll and Hyde of 2020.

Melbourne’s best football is very good. Earlier this season they smashed Collingwood and beat the Saints in a close one. They got very close to Geelong and Brisbane, losing both of those games by under a goal. So they are capable of competing with the better sides. However, with the chance of playing finals, being beaten by Sydney Swans and Fremantle over the past fortnight has exposed a soft underbelly that sadly the Demons of old have been known for.

I’m sure their supporters may have thought those dark days were behind them, but it seems to make an appearance just when you think the Demons are ready to make a statement. It’s hard to pinpoint what is wrong. Their midfield get plenty of the ball. I guess when you make seven changes to any team, three due to injury, it’s always going to be an issue. Now the Dees are faced with having to win both their remaining games against the Giants and Bombers to have any chance of making the 8.

As for the Dockers, they’re probably as good as any side going around in the bottom half of the ladder. A few close calls this year that could’ve gone their way, and they would’ve been rightly competing for a Top 8 spot as well. It was great to see Michael Walters return to form with his clean skills in the wet conditions up in Cairns. He’s had a bit of an indifferent season, but he is a star. I look forward to see how the Dockers’ fortunes pan out in 2021. They do seem to playing a good brand of footy under Longmuir, and they’ve injected some youth into their team that suggest they may be building to something. I’m not sure why I have a soft spot for Freo, but there’s just something about them I like. Maybe I just like the colour purple?

 

  1. Do GWS need to consider a possible rebuild?

This is an interesting story when you think about it. The AFL saw an untapped market in the vast expanses of Sydney’s western suburbs, the heartland of Rugby League, and sunk hundreds of millions of dollars creating a team from scratch. They were given all the best draft picks and whilst their beginnings were humble, in just their fifth season, they were six points away from playing in their first Grand Final. They have been perennial finalists ever since, but they have only reached one Grand Final where they were severely humbled by a rampant Tiger outfit in 2019.

After 2016, many thought we were witnessing the beginning of a dynasty, but that hasn’t materialised. After playing off in last year’s Grand Final, the slide has been dramatic. They’re clinging to 8th spot, but with the wealth of talent on their list, this surely is well below expectations. Something seems very wrong with their star players.

Don’t get me wrong. Something seems to have finally clicked at Adelaide, and they’re definitely playing much better football. The Crouch brothers both being out there together has made a serious difference. The Crows seem to have unearthed a talent in Shane McAdam. Tyson Stengle is starting to play the football we thought he could. O’Brien was terrific against former team mate Jacobs. The monkey’s off the back and they’d be disappointed there aren’t a few more games remaining as it looks as though they would’ve gotten off the bottom if that were the case. It’s still an outside chance, but it would seem highly unlikely as it would require a victory over the Tigers in Round 18, and I doubt Hardwick’s men would allow that to happen.

I’m sure the Crows would be more than happy to forgo the number 1 draft pick as opposed to avoiding the club’s first wooden spoon. They certainly aren’t tanking.

But getting back to the Giants, after dominating against Freo just two games ago, I was of the belief they’d turned the corner and would run themselves into form for a finals campaign. Now there’s a chance they won’t make it with testing games against the Demons and the Saints. I wonder if the club is now regretting putting pen to paper on Cameron’s extension? The fact is that their list is no longer loaded with kids. There are players like Shaw, Mumford and Jacobs who are in the twilight of their careers. Callan Ward is 30. Nick Haynes is 28. Greene, Cameron and Coniglio will all turn 28 next year. It has to happen soon, and it looks like they’re heading the wrong way before we thought it would happen.

 

  1. Strange team that Carlton mob

The Blues seem to like giving opposition starts, or at the very least, they either start poorly or go missing later in games. On the one hand, you have to admire their resilience in coming back from a 39 point deficit to win the game, but you could also be forgiven for thinking how they could concede the first seven goals of the game only to kick eight out of the last nine and sneak home by five points. It was kind of obvious before half-time when the Blues finally woke from their slumber and kicked four unanswered goals of their own to bring it back to just 16 points that there was every chance they could pinch a win.

It took them until late in the final term, with just two minutes remaining, to finally grab the lead via an unlikely mark by fifth gamer Matthew Cotterell , who kicked truly to put Carlton six points ahead. A controversial decision late in the game to Lewis Taylor almost allowed the Swans to draw level, but luckily for the Blues, the kick went wide. I’ll talk about this in a bit more detail later.

Sam Walsh for the Blues was clearly best afield with 25 touches and a goal. After what appeared to be a bit of a sluggish start to the season resulting in premature calls by Kane Cornes suggesting Carlton should’ve opted for Connor Rozee instead, I imagine Blues fans would now suggest that comment hasn’t aged well. Walsh’s last six weeks have been superb.

For the Swans, after registering to a 39 point lead midway through the second term, the scoring just dried up. For the entire two and a half remaining quarters, they could only manage one goal and three behinds while the Blues piled on eight goals, five behinds. Carlton’s defence were impenetrable. Weitering continues to impress, and Docherty has had a great year, but real credit must go to Plowman. The job he did on Papley was superb, keeping him goalless. Papley has only scored two goals in the last six weeks, so he’s probably struggling for form right now.

On a positive note for the Swans, McCartin seems to have found a spot in defence, taking intercept marks with impunity. They’ll be disappointed they let this one slip after holding such a lead. The Blues have now won 5 games by under 10 points this year. They have to win their next two games against Adelaide and the Lions to have any chance of a finals appearance. Unlikely.

  1. The Lions lose Andrews then gain some Payne

When Harris Andrews was diagnosed with a serious hamstring injury, many in the football world would’ve seen the loss of the key defender as problematic to their prospects of winning the premiership. However, such is the depth of the Brisbane list that in comes Jack Payne in just his second AFL game, and by quarter time, the 20 year old had taken four intercept marks and looked as much the seasoned professional as a second-gamer could. It was an impressive display, and one that would please Chris Fagan who no doubt may have had a sleepless night or two wondering how much the loss of the brilliant Andrews would hurt. Hopefully Payne can keep that form into the finals as it appears Andrews may still be weeks off.

And for anyone punting on the Brownlow, Lachie Neale had a big one. He was awarded the Ashcroft Medal for the best on ground in the Q clash, and after a few solid but not outstanding weeks, this may be the game that makes his lead on the Brownlow unassailable.

For the Suns, they’d be disappointed in that effort. They were brushed aside early and were never in the contest. The class of the Lions was just too much. Ellis and Greenwood have been truly terrific additions to their list. They both had 25 possessions each and have been very consistent all year. Having lost a few tight ones, and seeing how well they were going early in the season, one wonders where they’d be sitting if Matthew Rowell didn’t suffer a season-ending injury. His start to the year for a debutante was unlike anything we’ve seen. I sincerely hope he hits the ground running for 2021, and I’m sure the Suns will climb the ladder a few pegs just on the strength of this kid. He’s just that good.

 

  1. Why do umpires keep rewarding the head-duckers?

They say if you can extract a free kick during a contest, no matter how you do it, if you are awarded the free, it’s clever play. My understanding, however, is whilst reckless high contact regardless of the circumstances is not on, if someone charges into a tackle with head lowered, and incidental contact is made, it’s play on, and if they don’t dispose of the ball correctly when tackled, it’s holding the ball.

Not so, apparently, when Lewis Taylor played for the free kick and was correctly tackled by Cripps, and with just a minute to go with the Blues just six points ahead, a senseless decision was made. Thankfully, the shot for goal was missed in what some may argue is a form of karma, but for the fan sitting at home, it’s things like this that could have a clear impact on the result of the game that just kill you. We have a few players who’ve mastered the art of lowering of the head, or the buckling of the knees at the right time to extract high contact from what would usually be a legitimate tackle. As I stated earlier, if the contact is reckless, I certainly have no problem with those tactics being rewarded against the tackler, but there’s nothing that pleases me more than seeing an umpire who is wise to these moves of playing for a free kick and calling play on. I just wish it would happen more often.

If you haven’t seen the Lewis Taylor incident, have a look at it. I’d be surprised if you didn’t agree that it is a prime example of one that shouldn’t be paid and that the tackler took due care not to make unnecessary contact.

 

  1. It’s time to get out the calculators and work out the possible scenarios for who will make the finals

Oh boy! The Giants and the Demons have messed everything right up. All of a sudden, even the Blues can sneak into the eight with wins over Adelaide and Brisbane. But for that to happen, The Giants need to lose at least one of their matches and so does Melbourne and the Bulldogs. I can’t see it happening.

If Melbourne win their next two games, they will find themselves in the 8, as long as St Kilda lose both of their games against the Eagles and the Giants, or if the Bulldogs lose to Hawthorn or Fremantle.

If the Doggies win both their games they’re definitely in. If they lose one they probably miss out as the Saints have a superior percentage. They’ll also need the Giants to lose one or both games as well. The Giants can get there if they win one game, but they’ll need to win both to be safe as their percentage is not strong. The game against Melbourne this week looms large. If the Saints lose both games, and that’s a possibility, they could find themselves out of the 8 depending on results from the Giants and Demons game as well as the Bulldogs matches. Confused? Don’t worry, so am I. But it was a lot of fun looking at all the different permutations and combinations available.

My maths teacher was right. I would need to know this shit one day!!!

 

 

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