TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 11

 

1. The Demons really want to be taken seriously

I went into this game expecting it to be hard fought and tight, but I thought the firepower of the Bulldogs would prove too big a problem for Melbourne. Boy was I wrong. To put it simply, the Bulldogs were never in this game. From early on in the contest you could see that the Demons were not going to let the previous round’s disappointing loss to Adelaide become a regular occurrence. Let’s be honest here. Most of us expected that loss to usher in a slide in form which would resurrect the self-doubt that has been synonymous with the Melbourne Football Club for many years. Although they face another tough assignment against Brisbane next week, even if they were to lose that game, I’ve seen enough to know that the Dees are serious contenders in 2021.

I’d say the improvement has come with their organised defence with the twin towers down back working together as though they’ve played with each other in excess of 400 games! And of course, with Oliver and Petracca destroying sides out of the middle and with Tom McDonald back to his dangerous best up forward, all the ingredients are there to take them all the way. It now comes down to whether or not they can maintain the rage. The lack of success in recent years puts them in foreign territory.

As for the Bulldogs, it wasn’t their best night. The strange thing is they were on top in so many statistical areas, but the Demon’s efficiency was the key difference. The Dogs head to Perth next week to take on the Dockers in what will be a difficult assignment, particularly when you factor in the potential for a return to hub-life.

 

2. Collingwood play better against Top 8 teams

I know what you’re thinking. They had one goal to three-quarter time and generally can’t kick a winning score, but a quick analysis of their season so far suggests they aren’t anywhere near as far off as people might think. They’ve played six of the top 8 teams, which is a tough draw in itself to Round 11, and although they’ve lost all those games it’s only been by an average margin of 14 points. The three games they’ve lost to teams in the bottom half of the ladder have been by an average of 26 points interestingly enough. It doesn’t get a lot easier for them either with a further five of their remaining 11 games being against teams currently in the 8.

Based on their last couple of weeks, I’ve seen enough to know that the wins are coming, although they are clearly out of finals contention. However, a climb out of the bottom four is very possible, and with that may come another chance for the coach. It was very hard to gauge the Cats in this game. The final scoreline was made to look more threatening as there was a flurry of late goals for the Pies, so it’s hardly a major concern, although there was an opportunity to push for percentage which will come into calculations later in the year no doubt.

The Cats were wasteful in front of goal, but certainly not as bad as Collingwood who had 1.14 on the board early in the last quarter before finally adjusting the scope on their kicking boots and kicking five goals in the last quarter. Tom Hawkins was terrific again with 3 goals from 21 touches. He’s showing no signs of aging at 32 and looks certain to play on for some time yet. The Cats are one of the lucky teams who get to sit out this week with Victoria possibly still in lockdown. They then go to Adelaide to take on the Power who also have a rest in what will be a season-defining game for both clubs.

 

3. Brisbane – wow!

The season just keeps getting better and better for the Lions. Their 1-3 start to the year had many including myself questioning their credentials, but now all the pieces seem to have fallen into place and their seventh win in a row against a side trying to push into the Top 8 was as comprehensive as you’d like. They blew the game open early and never gave the Giants a sniff. In terms of possession, the numbers looked fairly even, although one telling stat was 15 marks inside 50 to just 4 in favour of the Lions, which was indicative of the 64 point win.

Mitch Robinson played one of his best games for the club since crossing from the Blues in what was one of many Malthouse-era blunders at that unfortunate club. I’m sure they could use a guy like him right now who is still as tough as nails and can amass 30-possessions with four goals from a midfield position. Brisbane take on Melbourne at home this Friday in what will be a massive game which I expect will live up to the hype.

The Giants get the week off next week, and not a moment too soon. Injuries have cruelled GWS this year. You don’t lose players like Toby Greene, Stephen Coniglio, Jesse Hogan, Phil Davis, Matt de Boer, Harry Perryman and Sam Taylor without ending up on the receiving end of a loss like this to a strong opponent. The sad thing is that none of those listed are likely to return until well after the bye round leaving their season hanging by a thread despite only being one game outside the Top 8. They should chalk up a win against the Kangaroos in Round 13, and perhaps then we may see a return of some of their big names.

 

4. Strangely, the Saints are still within reach of finals

St Kilda has been a strange side to follow this year. Their best is pretty good while their worst is incredibly woeful. Coming into this round I even had to think twice before I decided to tip them against the bottom-placed Kangaroos as I thought surely they’ll do enough to win this one. And they did, although it wasn’t convincing and also concerning yet again was their inaccuracy in front of goal. In the end it was a lacklustre 20-point win over a pretty lowly outfit, so despite their close proximity to a finals berth, there’s nothing so far to suggest the Saints of 2021 will make it. An interesting side-note was the form of former Kangaroo Mason Wood with three goals in a strong showing against his former club. It’s funny how often that seems to play out in that way.

The Kangaroos have improved some since the early part of the year, but there’s always lengthy periods of the games where they go into their shells and allow the opposition to accumulate an unassailable lead. On two occasions they trimmed the margin back to under 20 points but were never really a threat. Aaron Hall was their best in what has been a welcome return to form. It would be fair to say he has finally cemented his place in the side after what was an indifferent period since crossing from the Suns. Nobody denied his talent, but there were question marks over his desire. Perhaps he’s more comfortable with the new coach. Either way, it’s good to see him back playing good footy.

 

5. The Suns are pretty good to watch

On Saturday night, the Gold Coast Suns burst out of the blocks kicking the first four goals of the game and looked in a totally different class to the struggling Hawthorn outfit. They play an exciting brand of football and seemingly possess the skills that make them very watchable, which begs the question as to why they aren’t higher up the ladder. I guess that comes from getting the winning feeling more often. If they were to ever start stringing a few wins together and taking the odd scalp, I can see their position on the table rising to something resembling finals contention. Deep down they probably still don’t have that belief that gets you across the line in the close games. It may come soon, especially with future stars like Rankine and King up forward booting 8 goals between them. It’s pretty good to watch.

The last couple of years have seen a fall from grace for the once-mighty Hawks. They’ve definitely “bottomed out” as the saying goes. There’s a couple of shining lights and youngsters with promise on their list, but it’s a full-on rebuild that’s required to resurrect their fortunes. In four weeks time, a legend of the game in Shaun Burgoyne plays his 400th AFL game (barring injury of course). It will be the first time an indigenous player has achieved this rare feat and only the FIFTH player of all time. Hopefully, the team can find something extra for the occasion as I’m afraid his career may end in a whimper, although he’s definitely going to be remembered for playing in 4 premierships and being the superstar that he is.

 

6. The Bombers have crashed the party

Look out Essendon fans – it looks like your young guns are even better than we thought. A couple of weeks ago many were speaking of the Bombers’ bright future with young stars coming through like Cox, Jones and co. Well, on Saturday night, this supposedly up and coming team arrived a little earlier than expected upsetting a much more seasoned West Coast outfit at their home ground no less! This was actually the first time the Eagles have lost in Perth this year. Jake Stringer continues to be a real presence kicking three goals. The Bombers are a better side with a fit Stringer running around. It seems crazy that the Bombers are knocking on the door of the 8, but here they are. The challenge will be against the Tigers next week. If they can continue this form against last year’s Premiers, they’re every chance of another boilover, but I’m sure the Tigers will have plenty to say about that.

The Eagles, on the other hand, seem to have hit a road bump. Last week’s loss to an injury-ravaged Giants seemed out of character, but most of us expected them to return to winning form back home against a side that were in the bottom half of the ladder. Just before half time they had stretched their lead out to five goals before a couple of late goals gave the Bombers a sniff. And after half time, the Eagles managed just two goals and were soundly beaten in every facet of the game. Even Dom Sheed’s 43 possessions couldn’t help his team across the line. There was stunned silence in the crowd as Eagles’ discard Waterman iced the game in the final term.

Next week the Eagles must travel to the SCG to take on the struggling Blues. Their form whilst travelling this year will give the Blues some hope, although surely the Eagles will snap out of this slumber by then and get their season back on track?

 

7. The Tigers forward stocks run deep

Many Tigers fans were very disappointed with the news of Tom Lynch being out for an extended period after undergoing knee surgery this week. That disappointment didn’t last long as second gamer Callum Coleman-Jones bobbed up with four goals with veteran Jack Riewoldt finishing with five. I’m sure Damien Hardwick will be smiling quietly knowing that losing a topline player is no big deal. And a special mention to Jack who dragged his side over the line with a three-goal final quarter after the Crows pegged back the margin to just nine points. Next week the Tigers take on the Bombers in what will be a better game than we thought it would have been even just a few weeks ago.

The Crows started well but couldn’t maintain it. Credit to them for getting back into the game late, but the Tigers had that extra bit of panache needed to steady things down and take the heat out of the game. In the end, they ran away with it and will be relieved while the Crows can hold their heads up high knowing they’ll be troubling quite a few sides for the remainder of the year. Tex Walker continues his great season with four goals and is now just four goals behind the Coleman Medal leader, in Harry McKay. It’ll be an interesting race to see who takes that out with 5 players that have kicked 30 and above.

 

8. Isaac Heeney is a superstar

I am almost certain that if the Swans went into this game without Isaac Heeney, the result would’ve been very different. He was just too good and the Blues had no match-up for him. He took a staggering 14 marks and kicked three very crucial goals. Heeney plays like a tall but has all the attributes of a midfielder when the ball hits the deck. Adam Saad was given the task but was soundly beaten in the air. Heeney’s just turned 25 so he’s at the peak of his powers and even though I’m a Blues man, I was in awe watching him tear my team apart time and again. Sydney are looking to solidify their position on the ladder in the coming weeks. Next week they take on St Kilda, followed by the Hawks. The Swans then have the week off. If they can win those two games they’ll be 9-4. Nobody saw this coming and it’s a credit to the club that they can always seemingly turn things around so quickly.

In stark contrast, the Blues are now in their 19th year of a third and fourth rebuild, and while there are signs of improvement, it does seem as though they’ll be resigned to the lower half of the ladder yet again. Sam Walsh continues to impress and Cripps had his best game of the season in a welcome return to form, but once again they could only manage three good quarters of football before a predictable last quarter fadeout. Blues fans keep waiting for the boys to take a scalp. They had their chances and blew it against the Dogs, and were well in the game at ¾ time before the Swans opened up with the first three goals in the final term. Harry McKay also lost his radar and kicked three behinds to snuff out any little hope that was left in what is seemingly a pattern of failure plaguing the Blues for many years now. Next week they take on the Eagles who look very gettable right now. One can only wonder how they’ll manage to blow that one as well.

 

9. Fremantle have kicked more goals than behinds just once this year

When your opponents get off to a strong start kicking the first few goals of the game, the last thing you want to do is go into the quarter time break with seven behinds on the board trailing by 40 points. The tale of the year for the Dockers has been wayward kicking. They’ve been very good at times, but on only one occasion they have managed more goals than behinds. That was back in Round Seven against cross-town rivals in West Coast and, ironically, they were soundly beaten on the day. The rest of the time it has been poor kicking which has ultimately cost them in a couple of close games which would have made them contending for the 8. But bad kicking is bad footy as they say.

One to watch for the rest of this year is out of contract midfielder Adam Cerra. He was the spark along with Fyfe and Mundy that brought the Dockers back into the game before the Power wrestled control back in the final term. I’m sure Adam is on a few of the Victorian clubs’ wish list and he may be in for a huge payday if he decides to make a move.

Port played a solid game and Charlie Dixon seemed to be having fun out there kicking three goals. His season has been a bit below the standards I’m sure he sets for himself, but I’d say he’d be pleased with his game today. Ollie Wines keeps pressing for Brownlow honours with another close to best on ground performance. In fact, the whole team had solid contributions denoted by the fact that only the medical sub had less than ten possessions. The Power possessed the ball 140 more times than Freo. It was a comprehensive win and one I feel the club needed after some indifferent patches in recent weeks. And with their favourable draw, they seem certain to play finals.

 

10. What is Covid going to do to this season?

With the current outbreak resulting in a fourth lockdown in the state of Victoria, the competition has been turned on its head yet again. Already teams are remaining outside the state, and I’m sure for some it may unsettle them. I guess these are the times in which we live. I worry a little for the Bulldogs. Clearly, their week was less than favourable with their club being forced into isolation due to one of their staff being linked to a hot-spot, although Melbourne had a similar story and seemed to cope with it just fine. However, the Bulldogs now have to travel to Perth to play the Dockers and will no doubt be forced to isolate once they arrive. If they go out and lose next week, you can definitely attribute the result, in part at least, to the lockdown. And if that happens, that could derail their season.

Yes, perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic, but it’s got to be playing on all their minds. I imagine the sides in the best position right now have this week off. If the Victorian lockdown ends this Friday, that could put them back on deck by the following week relatively unscathed. Carlton are now remaining in Sydney where their home game against the Eagles has been shifted to the SCG next Sunday. I’m not sure if either team have been truly disadvantaged, although I’m sure the Blues would love to be playing in front of 25,000 Blues supporters at Marvel instead. Anyway, let’s see how this plays out.

We’re heading into winter, and flu season is upon us, so I don’t think the problem ends here.

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