Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. We’re set for another bye-induced, shortened round this week with Geelong, Gold Coast, GWS, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Port Adelaide sitting out of round 12.

Before we go full-scale assault on the upcoming week of football, let’s briefly take a gander at the highs and lows of this weekend’s football just gone.

Friday night kicked off Round 12 with a highly anticipated clash of the top-placed Melbourne and the third-placed Brisbane. It was all the Lions early as they got out to a 20 point lead before halftime and really began to flex their muscles. But managing only three goals in the second half to Melbourne’s nine was only half the tale of the tape. The Lions looked tired and unresponsive whilst the Demons found another gear to finish the game winning by 22 points.

Highs – Christian Petracca was a man possessed, breaking tackles and winning the ball – he and Max Gawn looked unstoppable at times. Kossie Pickett’s 3.3 was a highlight, further proving to us that he’s one of the most exciting younger small forwards in the game.

Lows – It’s an endless cycle for Dayne Zorko – eat, sleep, brain fade, repeat. He just does things that paint a picture of him being undisciplined and a poor captain, then he’ll play a few ripping games and look like he’s turned the page, before losing restraint and slipping back into his lack of self control. There were a few efforts later in the game that Joe Daniher would like his chance to revise. Lack of pressure and zero second effort looked very feeble.

St. Kilda’s kicking woes continued as Jack Higgins showed plenty of heart and attack for the ball, but ultimately cost them a win late with his inaccuracy, going down by nine points to Sydney. The Swans kicked away early and built a lead but the Saints clawed their way back in and kept it a tight game until the fourth quarter where Sydney were too composed in the end.

Highs – Jack Steele and Brad Crouch are giving the Saints some signs of life in a depleted midfield. The Swans have an enviable plethora of scoring options, never relying on just Buddy or Isaac Heeney each week. Youngsters Luke McDonald and Will Hayward combining for five goals.

Lows – Jarryn Geary leaving the ground with a dislocated shoulder. I feel for this bloke, he is one of the unluckiest players out there.

Adelaide just didn’t have the answers for Jamie Elliot as he ran wild in Collingwood’s forward line upon return, kicking six goals – four in the first quarter alone. To their credit, the Crows’ midfielders in Rory Laird, Paul Seedsman and Ben Keays got them back into the game by relentlessly applying pressure and winning the ball. The Magpies held on to win their third game of the season by five points.

Highs – Elliot’s six goals in return clearly highlighted what importance he is to this team when he’s on song. In just his sixth game, young Collingwood mid, Caleb Poulter showed plenty to suggest he’ll be a solid contributor in this team for years to come.

Lows – Tex Walker had his chances, uncharacteristically kicking 2.6 when the game was there to be won. Mihocek and Cameron both being held goalless was masked by Elliot’s goalkicking frenzy. If not for Elliot this game would’ve been ugly for the Pies.

Dreamtime in Perth was one of the many highlights of the round purely for the spectacle that this match is each year. Hats off to the Western Australian footy fans who turned out in droves to make this a sellout event. The game was played predominantly on Richmond’s terms and even despite a last term purple patch where the Bombers turned it on and hit the lead by two points, it was short lived as the inevitable Richmond onslaught piled on late and kicked the last seven goals of the game in the final 15 minutes to storm home 39 point winners.

Highs – Mabior Chol started like a house on fire as the number one ruck selection in the absence of Toby Nankervis. Dusty did Dusty things, sparking late when he was needed and Jack Graham was solid on the ball and in front of goals. Darcy Parish was judged best afield for his club record-breaking 44 disposal game, awarded the Yiooken Award.

Lows – For all their effort clawing back into the game and finding the lead late, conceding the last 7 goals so promptly swelled the final margin and undid any signs of solid work that Essendon had put into the game. A champion team like Richmond should’ve had this one sewn up much sooner than they did.

Carlton and West Coast fought a close battle for three quarters until the Eagles proved too good. Winning the game by 22 points. Sheed, Redden and Gaff did their usual business in the midfield for the Eagles with Sam Walsh playing a lone hand for the Blues at times. Shannon Hurn was rock solid in defence.

Highs – Liam Ryan was a deadly force up forward for West Coast. When the game was on the line and Carlton were pressing, him and Jamaine Jones kicked the necessary goals to keep the Eagles in it. Also, Flyin’ Ryan’s speccie in the third quarter was superb.

Lows – Carlton. Just in general, where do you start? They went in to this match as favourites against an injury ravaged West Coast with their backs on the ropes, that had won once away from home this season, and they blew it. Both teams suffered injury woes, Harry McKay, Nick Newman and Brad Sheppard all suffering concussions during the game.

Fremantle went goal for goal with the Bulldogs in the first quarter before they found themselves being pushed further and further out of the match. They would get back within a kick in the third but the Bulldogs proved too strong and too classy, winning by 28 points.

Highs – Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae did their usual damage for the Bulldogs, on the ball and in the forward line. First-year forward Josh Treacy looked solid for the Dockers, kicking 3.1 in the absence of Matt Taberner. Mundy continues to wind back the clock.

Lows – Aaron Naughton dominated the game in every facet you’d expect of a tall forward, except for his goal kicking. Finishing the game with 1.5. Fremantle must have kicked a black cat, tripped and smashed a mirror whilst walking under a ladder at half time. Losing champion Nat Fyfe to a shoulder injury, defender Brennan Cox and ruckman Sean Darcy both to hamstrings in a cursed two-minute patch that derailed their game.

Now with that all said and done, let’s jump straight into round 13.

Teams

Port Adelaide vs Geelong

Snapshot
Fifth placed Port Adelaide are set to host third placed Geelong at Adelaide Oval. The Power have lost two of their last five games (albeit to fellow top-four aspirants Brisbane and Western Bulldogs) by an average margin of just under six goals. The Cat’s last loss came over a month ago in a last minute nail-biting finish to the Swans. Geelong are set to host a number of returns over the coming weeks pre and post-bye. With names such as Dangerfield, Duncan, Guthrie, Blicavs, Miers and Clark all being floated as potential returns in that period.

So what does it all mean?
This is the battle for third place – with Geelong, Brisbane, Port and Sydney all sitting on eight wins for the season, (Brisbane and Sydney having played the extra game) the winner of this match is almost a certainty to finish the round in third place. That certainty guaranteed if Geelong are victorious.

All eyes on:
Change in fortunes – The final siren has sounded at Metricon Stadium to conclude the round 12 clash of 2020. Tom Hawkins has just kicked 6.2 in a herculean forward display and Gary Rohan has kicked three straight to make it a ten goal victory. The final scorecard read Geelong – 14.7.91 to Port Adelaide – 4.7.31
Patty Dangerfield, Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie carved up in the midfield whilst Harry Taylor had Charlie Dixon in his pocket for all four shortened quarters, keeping Port’s big man to only three disposals and not a single shot on goal. Half of Port Adelaide’s goals came directly from 50 metre penalties and the media branded the Cats as clear premiership favourites. Fast forward seven weeks and the Cats would face the Power again, this time at Adelaide Oval in week one of the finals. The first half of the game would fluctuate in either teams favour until Port turned up the pressure after the half time break, kicking true and wrestling the game away from Geelong. The Cats would go on to dismantle Collingwood the following week, then Brisbane the week after to qualify for the Grand Final. The Power had the following week off and then bowing out of the finals race at the hands of eventual premiers; Richmond. This year the two teams are in similar form and heading down a similar season trajectory. Geelong continue to tick boxes and win games, Port have lost recent games to teams above them on the ladder but managed to show enough cohesion to keep themselves well and truly in the race for the top four. This game could prove to be a massive factor in shaping the top four come the end of the bye rounds.

 

Teams

Sydney vs Hawthorn

Snapshot
The past eight times that these teams have faced each other, dating back to 2015, the game has been won by an average margin of only nine points. With the ledger in that same period sitting at 4-4, it goes to show just how evenly matched these teams usually are. There have often been comparisons made between the team for various reasons – playing each other in finals, playing each other in Grand Finals, superstar forward Lance Franklin leaving Hawthorn for Sydney and many more. With Hawthorn entering their first major rebuild phase in almost two decades, it’s unlikely this contest will live up to the close hype that their previous contests have shown us.

So what does it all mean?
Hawthorn haven’t won a game in… going on six weeks, their last taste of victory was their dying minute thriller over Adelaide in round six. Although dropping four of their last eight games, Sydney currently occupies sixth position on the ladder and are one of four teams vying for a spot in the top four. This game is a simply must win for them if they don’t wish to be pushed further down into the lower rungs of the top eight in the coming weeks.

All eyes on:
Should I stay or should I go? – The talk of the town this week was the bombshell announcement by the media that Tom Mitchell is open to being traded away from Hawthorn at season’s end. Whilst still contracted until the end of 2023, it’s believed amongst list managers that Hawthorn will be open to trading out an experienced senior player to aid them in their goal of hitting the draft and recruiting talented youth. Whilst it’s understood that Mitchell is happy to see his career out as a Hawthorn player, there’s still the willingness there to explore other options if the club so desires it. Different clubs have been thrown up for possible destinations that he would entertain for different reasons and connections; Richmond and Carlton were the two early front runners, but nonetheless, could contract talks and discussion of his future hamper his season? Many a player in the past has had parts of their season derailed by media rumour and speculation of their futures. Mitchell is closing back in on his 2018 form that saw him win the Brownlow Medal, before suffering a nasty leg break in 2019.

On song/Swan song- Sydney’s forward line is gelling together just nicely. The mix of old heads like Franklin with established goalkickers such as Heeney and Papley, then throw in a dash of youth with McDonald, Wicks and Hayward, you have the bones of what will be a strong, potent forward line. Obviously, Franklin is nearing the end of his illustrious career, but when you have experienced mids like Luke Parker still finding the goals regularly, and younger cadets like McInerney, Rowbottom and Warner all proving more than capable of kicking a goal, all of a sudden the Swans are a consistent and threatening side when it comes to scoring. Over the past month of football almost 60% of the Swans’ goals have been kicked by Franklin, Papley and Heeney alone. Sydney have kicked 51 goals in that period and 30 of those have been scored by the above-mentioned trio. Only one loss occurred in that month of football and that was the two-point thriller against the Dockers in round 10.

 

Teams

Fremantle vs Gold Coast

Snapshot
Fremantle were coasting along at a decent pace earlier in the season, looking to hold a spot inside the eight and work their way back into playing finals footy. But thanks largely to injury, they’ve slumped to five losses from their past six games with their only win in that time being a two point shock that they stole away from Sydney late in the game. The Suns have suffered through a similar dilemma in the injury department this season, the team being borderline incapacitated at times due to the length of their injury list and only managing four wins thus far as a result.

So what does it all mean?
In terms of ladder position, this one goes through to the keeper. The Suns are sitting 13th on four wins and the Dockers are sitting 11th on five wins. It would take a drastic change in fortune and a borderline miracle for either of these teams to play finals football at the end of the year given their current standings.

All eyes on:
Time to get Rowell’ed up – It was in the earliest part of the season, the first quarter in the Suns’ round one clash against West Coast when Matt Rowell left the ground clutching his knee – which was eventually revealed to be a nasty PCL injury. After taking the AFL world by storm and earning three consecutive best on ground performances in his first three games, Rowell would devastatingly miss the majority of his debut year in 2020 with a serious shoulder injury that required surgery sidelining him. Gold Coast’s hottest young star has now been robbed of the best part of his first two seasons in the AFL season. With his return imminent in the next few weeks, he could prove to be the difference, adding a major boost to the Suns’ talented, but depleted midfield. I’m sure senior coach Stewart Dew and the rest of the Gold Coast coaching department will take a cautious approach with their returning star, but his inclusion would be a massive focal point for a club that’s struggling to string consecutive wins together.

Rabbit foot investments – Surely it’s about time Fremantle invested in a steady supply of four-leaf clovers and lucky horseshoes? Did they build their trophy cabinet on top of a cursed, sacred burial ground? It’s difficult to fathom just how hard this team has been hit by injuries in not just this season, but for most seasons in near memory. I’d love to see a stat comparing the age and experience of each team’s annual injury lists, just to see how high up that ladder Fremantle would perch. It couldn’t be far from the top, surely. Before the season even officially started they had 16 players named on their injury list. Then last week alone in a two minute period during their game against the Bulldogs they lost skipper and dual Brownlow Medalist Nat Fyfe, ruckman Sean Darcy and defender Brennan Cox. It’s games like this week that Justin Longmuir will look to hopefully chalk up as a win as he awaits the return of so many players from short term and long term injury. Each week that passes makes it look more unlikely, but Fremantle needs as many wins now as they can muster if they hope to mount a late push to crack the eight and play finals football.

 

Teams

St. Kilda vs Adelaide

Snapshot
Another bottom eight clash will have the Saints at 12th taking on the Crows who now reside at 15th as both teams will fly to Cairns to play this one from Cazaly’s Stadium. Both teams have had a very subpar run with losses in recent weeks – St. Kilda’s only wins coming over lowly North Melbourne and Gold Coast with Adelaide in a similar situation with their only recent win being a massive victory over then-undefeated Melbourne. I say massive win in stature, not in margin as they won by a solitary point – no mean feat by any measure. As poor as they’ve looked at times this season, it would be naive to not acknowledge the depth of the Saints’ current injury woes. They’re another team that are currently struggling to field a completely fit side with their injury list continuing to swell each week.

So what does it all mean?
There’s very little riding on this game other than two teams desperate for wins to regain some sort of composure. It’s almost a certainty now that neither of these teams will feature in the finals, so a win to either of these clubs will be a breath of relief more than anything. Especially to Brett Ratten and St. Kilda who were tipped by some to build on their finals appearance of last season and remain a challenger with their aggressive recruiting done over the past few offseasons.

All eyes on:
Slippery Sloane – It’s been a tough slog for the Crows’ captain and proclaimed ‘Spiritual Leader’ Rory Sloane over the past few seasons. He has struggled at times with niggling injuries and abnormal ailments that have caused him to miss patches of football. Last season he missed weeks with a fractured hand, then earlier this season he experienced blurred vision at training which lead to him requiring surgery on a detached retina, subsequently missing weeks of football. Since his return, whilst not playing terrible footy, in an average side this season I’d say that Rory Sloane is playing substantially below his best. Is age the factor? Is the 31-year-old starting to feel the effects of father time on a body that’s slowly starting to let him down? When asked about his playing future this season, he signalled that he felt he had “A couple after this and then in my head as many years as possible.”
Whilst still playing predominantly out of the midfield, perhaps his change of role this season and the rise of other players throughout the midfield (Ben Keays, Rory Laird, Paul Seedsman and Lachie Sholl) has lessened the captain’s required impact.

Short Membrey’s – How big of a loss to the Saints is Tim Membrey? When a trade couldn’t be brokered between Sydney and St. Kilda, the Saints ultimately landed Membrey for nothing as he left the Swans a delisted free agent. Selected by Sydney with pick 46 in the 2012 draft, Membrey just couldn’t crack his way into a premiership forward line that boasted the likes of champions Buddy Franklin and Adam Goodes. Upon recruitment by the Saints, he was earmarked by then-coach Alan Richardson as a potential forward target that would hone his craft alongside Nick Riewoldt, then develop into a midfield position once his endurance developed. Since crossing over to St. Kilda Membrey has been their leading goalkicker three times in 2016, 2017 and 2019 kicking 207 goals from his 122 games to date. He has the most goals of any Saints player this year on 18 with Jack Higgins narrowly trailing him on 17. In a season that’s seen St. Kilda succumb to massive losses and fail to kick competitive scores at times, Membrey’s pressure up forward and his leadership amongst the younger players has been invaluable to Brett Ratten and the Saints. He’s only gone goalless twice this season, having kicked at least a goal in ten of the twelve games he’s played so far. In a team that’s struggled to kick goals through lack of form and lack of accuracy, and with Max King playing with a spinal issue, it’s a huge loss for the Saints with Membrey leaving their Sydney hub to return home to his wife for the birth of their first child.

 

Teams

North Melbourne vs GWS

Snapshot
North played gallantly against the Saints a fortnight ago before failing to capitalise as their opponents kicked away. Coming in off the bye may have given some of the Kangaroos players the week’s break they required to refresh and recharge. They’ll host the tenth-placed Giants down in freezing Hobart at Blundstone Arena as the Giants too come in off the bye, having suffered a hefty loss at the hands of the Lions the week before.

So what does it all mean?
The Giants will still have high hopes of turning their season around and competing for a place in the finals. They currently reside in tenth, but the 2019 Grand Finalists will be aiming to make their way back into contention after finishing outside the eight and missing the finals in 2020. The Kangaroos will just be hoping for a win in their home away from home to put some confidence into their younger brigade that they’re hinging their future development as a club on.

All eyes on:
Recruit returns – With the likelihood high of North Melbourne’s star recruit Jaidyn Stephenson returning this week, the Kangaroos will be relieved to finally get some experience back into their side. Stephenson missed a month of football after suffering a fractured wrist and will likely slot straight back into North’s midfield and forward line. Stephenson started the season in scintillating form. Although his team went on to lose by over 50 points to Port Adelaide, Stephenson was in everything in a best on field performance that saw him winning the ball out of the centre, finding space to have shots on goal up forward and playing high pressure football, amassing tackles and giving the Power midfielders a hard time. His form this season leading up to his wrist injury slightly tapered from his blistering start, however, he has managed to score multiple goals on five occasions from his eight games so far this season.

Leon Cameron – The more losses that occur for the Giants this season, the more unwanted eyes will be cast over coach Leon Cameron and attention drawn to his tenure. For a side that made the Grand Final with great fanfare in 2019 but were completely blown away by Richmond on the day, only to back it up by missing finals the following year, rightfully points fingers to a club on the downslope. But with the substantial talent that GWS have on their list, the questions over their head coach and his abilities in his position will continue to surmount. As an expansion club, the AFL gifted the Giants plenty of drafting opportunities, especially given how many stars have now departed this club. But the fact still remains that they have a very strong list on paper that struggles to reflect that strength onfield at times. There’s no doubt that Cameron will be feeling the external and internal pressures directed his way this season, especially after seeing Collingwood’s coach resign midseason just this week. It’s hard times being an AFL coach, it’s even harder times when your team’s not winning – but the hardest times come when you have a list that should be winning games, but isn’t.

 

Teams

Richmond vs West Coast

Snapshot
West Coast are back on the winner’s list thanks to a strong showing against Carlton, comfortably accounting for the Blues and winning their second game away from home this season. Richmond held off a late Essendon resurgence before flipping the switch and running rampant in the final 15 minutes to win yet another Dreamtime game.

So what does it all mean?
This is in no certain terms the match that determines seventh place on the ladder, which is currently occupied by West Coast. Richmond sit in eighth spot with both teams equal on seven wins with a close percentage. The winner will obviously take seventh place and find themselves one step closer to contending with the four teams above them that are currently sitting on eight wins.

All eyes on:
Close comparison- I always find it interesting when comparing teams at just how similar some teams are in terms of numbers and stats, yet can be so far away in progression and ladder position. West Coast are seventh on the ladder sitting on seven wins, five losses. Richmond are eighth on the ladder sitting on seven wins, five losses. The average age of West Coast’s list is 24.2 years of age, the average age of Richmond’s list 24.2 years of age. The average games played by West Coast players is 82, the average games played by Richmond players is 81. The average height and weight of West Coast’s list is 188cm and 86kgs. The average height and weight of Richmond’s list is also 188cm and 86kgs. I understand most of these figures are moot to the average punter – but in so many terms, especially on paper, these two teams rank extremely even. If you follow the AFL’s power ratings at all, even throughout their figures and rankings the Eagles and the Tigers lists rank almost dead even with West Coast’s list ranked fifth in the league and Richmond’s ranked fourth.

The travelling Tigers – It’s almost ironic that since Damien Hardwick complained about having to travel the 3.9 KMs from the MCG to Marvel Stadium after their round nine victory over the Giants, his Tigers haven’t returned to their hallowed MCG since. They would travel to the Gabba where they were overpowered by Brisbane. Then thanks to Covid they would have to play Adelaide in Sydney followed by Essendon in Perth, and now face West Coast in Perth this week after the AFL chopped and changed their arrangements to accommodate travel requirements and the Bye.

 

Teams

Melbourne vs Collingwood

Snapshot
Next to Anzac Day and Dreamtime, this is one of my favourite games of the year. It’s usually always a wet and cold affair, but it’s for a bloody great cause lead by an even greater man, but more on that later. The Demons are the epitome of up and about right now. They’ve only lost one game this season and are sitting a game clear on top of the ladder. After so many years of being belted and battered by Collingwood on the Queen’s Birthday fixture, they go in as heavy favourites this year. Collingwood on the other hand are in all sorts as a club. They’ve lost their president, their board is under fire with a current challenge on leadership launched, they’ve lost an assistant coach and now head coach Nathan Buckley has resigned effective immediately this week. It’s a real metamorphosis at Collingwood this year with plenty more changes to come.

So what does it all mean?
In terms of ladder position, this game means very little for Collingwood who sit 16th on three wins for the season. A win would see them possibly shuffle up a spot or two, however, they’d have challengers in Adelaide, Carlton and Gold Coast who all currently sit on four wins. For Melbourne, every game now is a must-win to keep the Bulldogs who sit below them but with a very strong percentage at bay.

All eyes on:
The Great Man – Neale Daniher. It wouldn’t be right to focus an exclamation point on this game at anyone else but Neale Daniher. Before I get heavy-hearted and launch into my praises for the man, I did write a lengthy piece on Neale Daniher, his football career and his post football dealings a little while ago. If you feel like a deep dive into the Mongrel Archives, it’s there and available to all who wish to read it. But back to this weekend.
Neale Daniher was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2013 and was told the maximum life expectancy after diagnosis is 2-5 years. Well it’s 2021 and Neale is still as inspirational and determined to help raise funds to find treatment and ultimately a cure for MND. When told it was time to start ticking off his bucket list, he refused to let MND and the death sentence it instils deter him. He has since dedicated his last 8 years of life to this cause and so far raised $48m in support for his charity. To see his health deteriorate more and more each year is heartbreaking. He is struggling to speak now as the disease he refers to as “the beast” has started to take over his speech ability. Do you think he lets it deter him? It’s a harsh and saddening reality that this will almost certainly be the last year we see Neale Daniher hosting the Big Freeze at the MCG where celebrities plunge into icy cold water to raise money for Fight MND – the charity that Neale has dedicated his life to. As his health continues to decline, it’s heartbreaking to accept that sooner rather than later we will no longer have the great man with us. But this tradition will carry on in his name and legacy. He has started a ball rolling that will continue to snowball and gain traction every year through the Queen’s Birthday fixture, the Big Freeze, the blue beanies that raise funds and more, hopefully for many years to come. Neale Daniher is legend personified.

Banger rang – With Nathan Buckley announcing his sudden resignation from Collingwood this week, assistant coach Robert Harvey was named as the interim coach until a new candidate is appointed. Harvey retired from St. Kilda as one of the greats of the game in 2008 and took up coaching jobs at Carlton and St. Kilda before accepting a role as midfield coach at Collingwood in 2011. Promptly promoted to senior assistant coach in 2013 and was named Assistant Coach of the Year. He has thrown his hat in the ring a number of times for senior coaching roles throughout the AFL in his assistant coaching tender, but has been overlooked every time. Could this short stint as Collingwood’s caretaker coach be the public audition that he needs to eventually secure a senior coaching position? It would be a crime for someone with a football mind as sharp as Harvey’s to never receive a chance at the helm.

That’s about it for me this week. If you’d like to support Neale Daniher’s fight to raise money for MND you can donate at fightmnd.org.au or purchase a blue beanie. Thanks again, Mongrel faithful.