TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 13

 

1. Jeremy Cameron will be the recruit of the year

With the game in the balance early in the final term after the Power booted the first three goals to take a 9-point lead, one man, in particular, was going to be the main reason why the Cats would eventually prevail. His three goals in the final term clearly lifted his whole team as they turned a 9-point deficit into a 21-point lead in what seemed a matter of minutes.

It seems Jeremy Cameron is very comfortable at his new home and is back playing as well as ever. Were it not for missing several games early through injury, he’d most likely be leading in the Coleman race. He has 23 goals from his 7 games at an average higher than the current leader. The potency of the Cats forward line was the difference in the end. Tom Hawkins complemented Cameron’s five-goal haul with four of his own. Geelong have now slid into third position on the ladder and are seriously looking like an ominous premiership threat.

Port’s grip on a Top-4 spot has loosened somewhat after a rare loss in front of a home crowd. Next week Geelong take on the Bulldogs in what is shaping up to be the battle for a Top-2 position. Right now I’m leaning towards a Cats victory as I think the forward line will be too much for the Doggy defensive unit, but they will be fresh after their break. Massive game coming up!

 

2. Port Adelaide’s form against Top 8 teams is very poor

After playing 12 games, it’s inexplicable that a side who finished on top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season has played just five games against the teams currently positioned in the Top 8. And their record in those games is alarmingly poor. They’ve won just one of those games and their percentage in those five games is just 73.0.

They’ve won all their games against sides in the bottom half of the ladder, so that’s something that suggests they’re a cut above the teams outside the eight, but their performance against the better sides suggests very strongly that they’re more middle of the road than their current ladder position might suggest. Judging by the look on Ken Hinkley’s face during that last quarter, I think he knows it too. They’ll probably play finals easily enough though.

Of their remaining ten games, they face Sydney, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. The other seven are against teams in the bottom half of the ladder. I have said before that I’m struggling to understand how the Power were gifted such a soft draw this year. All that tells me is that they’ll be imposters come September unless they can find that extra gear. It’s strange to say that somebody so young can make such a difference, but they seem to have lost some of their spark in the absence of Zak Butters. Maybe that extra gear might coincide with his return. Time will tell.

 

3. The break has come just in time for a tiring Swans

Many of us have marvelled at the youngsters unearthed by the Sydney Swans so far this year. But many of us also wondered if the sizzling early season form could be maintained by such a youthful outfit. Right now, those same people may be thinking that this loss is an indication of just that as the Hawks came into this game with nothing resembling the kind of form required to beat the Swans on their home deck. We all saw the end result with a very comfortable 38-point victory to Hawthorn ending a five-game losing streak and maybe giving the coach enough impetus to want to remain at the club in 2022. I’m sure there are at least two clubs that are circling.

Forgotten man, John Ceglar made a welcome return to strengthen the Hawks ruck stocks. His 20 disposals and 35 hitouts against an in-form Hickey were a standout feature and went a long way to help set up victory. Tom Mitchell was his usual self getting plenty of possessions, but this week they seemed to hurt the opposition more than previous weeks. Hawthorn face the Bombers in the next round and all of a sudden this game is looking a bit more interesting than it may have a week ago.

The Swans, on the other hand, have that much-needed bye and a chance to regroup before a tough assignment on the road against the Power. They were not expecting to lose this game and blew a real chance at a Top 4 spot. Judging by what we saw this round, finals are far from guaranteed.

 

4. Not much to see in Perth on Saturday

Honestly, this game is a little hard to write about. I guess you could say the Dockers did as expected and took the points against a wayward kicking Gold Coast. For only the second time this year, the Dockers managed more goals than points, but only just, with 11.10. Meanwhile, the Suns managed just 6.13 with their spearhead Ben King well off target on a dirty day for the tall young forward. The Suns are a side that need to make the most of their opportunities in order to win games, but they rarely seem to do that.

It must be frustrating for the coach to see this happen on a weekly basis. Even with their captain Touk Miller leading the way with career-best form, it just seems there are too many players who front up each week and go missing for too long during games.

A promising aspect to the game for Fremantle was the ability to win without their captain Nat Fyfe. We also saw the emergence of Josh Treacy up forward filling in for the injured Taberner. The Dockers now have winnable games against Collingwood, Carlton and Hawthorn over their next three weeks. Two of those games will be on the road so it will be a tough assignment, but after the week’s rest and with the return of some key players in the not too distant future, I guess we can’t put a line through the Dockers for a finals spot, at least not for the time being.

 

5. You can still win games without scoring for the first quarter and a half

What a weird game between the Crows and the Saints. Midway through the second term, it was the Saints with 5.6 on the board while the Crows had not opened their account and, quite frankly, didn’t even look like it. Finally, a McAdam behind at the 16-minute mark broke the drought and it seemed to trigger the Crows back into action. Even so, it was still a commanding 30 point lead to the Saints at the main break which they extended early in the third term before conceding the final seven goals of the match with the hero, Tilthorpe kicking the goal over his head that gave the Crows the lead in the dying minutes. His three goals made the difference after being beaten for most of the game by Saints defender Dougal Howard. And boy did he enjoy it.

As for the Saints, conceding a six-goal lead while trying to stay in the finals race is something that no doubt will have them doing plenty of soul-searching during their week off. With their dreadful percentage, you can pretty much say their season is done. It’s a bit of a fall from grace after a 2020 season in which they made it into the second week of the finals, and it’s very hard to understand why their fluctuations in form, even within games, are so great. They certainly missed Tim Membrey who I daresay may have brought a different result to the match if he was available.

The Crows have a break followed by a winnable game against the struggling Blues. Making the finals might be a big ask, but their improvement on last year is pronounced. The Saints play the Tigers after a week off in what should be the final nail in the coffin.

 

6. Sometimes a draw is a fitting result when two sides both blew it

North Melbourne were all over the Giants for three quarters, and at the final break, with a lead of 28 points over their lacklustre opposition, one could be forgiven for thinking they were home. But as is often the case with struggling teams who have limited success, when the momentum changed, so too did the direction of the game.

With less than two minutes on the clock Daniel Lloyd kicked the goal that made the scores level and with seconds on the clock had a chance to put them in front but the shot went wide. The result was the first draw for the season and effectively two losers, which I believe was the fitting result.

North had the game in their keeping and the Giants should never have been in the position they were in when you consider the prospect of playing finals was on the line. It is forgivable when you consider the Giants have been ravaged with injury, and the Kangaroos fielded one of their better teams for the year. However, this will be a season of disappointment for Leon Cameron as I’m sure he had high hopes for 2021. There’s still a glimmer of hope if the Giants can secure a victory over the Blues next week. If they lose that game, that will be the end of their season.

The question for the Kangaroos is whether they can get off the bottom of the ladder or not. It seems possible. They are playing better footy at the moment, and getting the four points in this game would’ve been a big step towards that, so the draw will hurt. It was great to see Tarrant back.

 

7. Josh Kennedy keeps the Eagles season alive

When the ball was in the hands of the Eagles full forward with under a minute remaining, despite him being on a tight angle, we all knew he was going to kick it. Kennedy is one of the best exponents of the kick around the body from an acute-angled set shot. The Tigers looked home when they lead by 21 points midway through the final term, and a loss for the Eagles would’ve all of a sudden made their position in the eight extremely vulnerable. It will please the coach no end the manner in which they fought back to take the points. And it was fitting that Kennedy was the man to ice the game after a strong performance.

The Eagles can now take a much-needed break and hopefully get some players back before their final assault on contending for finals glory.

The Tigers are an interesting conundrum this year. Most of us still have them as premiership contenders despite occupying 8th spot with seven wins and six losses. We all think that they will finish the season strongly as they have done in previous years and will “peak at the right time” as the saying goes. As good as they can be, something about this year feels different. They no longer seem invincible. They’ve actually been blown away at times unlike the Tigers in the past few seasons. The one saving grace is their remaining nine games do not include a lot of Top 8 teams, so I expect them to win at least another six games which will most likely guarantee a finals berth. However, they’ll need to win more than that to reach Top Four.

Perhaps they can use their break to tinker with things and figure out where they’ve gone wrong at times this year. They’re still a tight unit, but I just wonder if the raw hunger is still there.

 

8. The bump is on the way out

Enough has already been said about the Mackay incident in the St Kilda v Adelaide clash in Cairns on Saturday night. Opinions are polarised as to whether such an incident should have been put before the tribunal in which Hunter Clark sustained a serious injury. Many believe any form of bumping which results in a player being seriously hurt is a blight on the game and therefore would warrant a penalty, while others are quick to point out that Mackay’s intent was purely for the ball which he won in the contest and that subsequent contact was accidental.

Whichever way you look at it, players now know that a full-on attack on the ball that could result in a similar outcome will put them at risk of suspension. That’s why I think the days of the bump are numbered. Purists of the game will say that it’s an integral part of football, and some may even be turned off supporting AFL if the bump is outlawed. However, it seems inevitable because it’s abundantly clear that the AFL are intent on reducing serious injury to players and are working towards eliminating this aspect of the game.

In the not too distant future, you’ll see a player in Mackay’s position actually stand back and let the player charging towards him take possession of the ball and then hopefully tackle him legally and win possession that way. I can’t see how the players can deal with this any other way, particularly if Mackay’s trip to the tribunal results in a suspension. The scary thing, of course, is that injury can occur even during a tackle, so where will this end? I think we will find out where it’s all heading after the tribunal hands down its verdict. Talk about a game-changer…

 

9. Come back Bucks! All is forgiven.

Firstly, can I take the time to say that I am a great admirer of Nathan Buckley, both as a player and a coach? Sure, the big one has eluded him, but he’s been awfully close a couple of times so you can safely say it was more due to bad luck than a lack of ability.

His career as a player was nothing short of amazing. I’m sure the Collingwood Football Club has become a better place for having him there. His decision to walk away mid-season seemed fair enough, although when was the last time a departing coach half-way through a season left winning his final two games? I’ll leave it up to others to scramble for the history books. I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for that.

Yes, no doubt Collingwood’s season has been a disappointment. There certainly seems to be a share of off-field dramas creating a destabilisation that translated into two wins from the first eleven games, but the last two weeks have demonstrated there is much love from the playing group for their departing coach. I can’t help but wonder if the call was made a bit prematurely. But if I could read Buckley’s mind I’d imagine he is a man of his word and he will depart on his terms. So kudos to Nathan on a great career, and best of luck in all future endeavours.

 

10. Melbourne’s premiership aspirations took a bit of a hit

A win against the Pies would’ve seen the Demons almost odds-on to be flag favourites. Based on their remaining draw, a Top Two spot would’ve been all but sealed, whereas now the Cats are threatening and the Bulldogs have still only lost two games. That’s why their week off is so important as they sit back, rejuvenate, and look on as the Cats clash with the Bulldogs.

After the break, the Demons take on the Bombers who are potentially dangerous. It will be a game they can ill-afford to lose and there are four remaining games against teams vying for a Top Four position. Their place atop the ladder is hanging by a thread.

We all know top sides will have flat spots throughout the season. I imagine the talk around the club would be how great it is to be heading into the bye with an 11-2 record. They’d be saying you would’ve taken that at the start of the year no doubt. The concerning thing for me was that their two losses have come against opponents well beneath them on the ladder. They were very flat on Monday, and I’m sure Simon Goodwin would want to get his players refocused by the time the Essendon game is upon us.

You’ll need at least 15 wins to finish in the Top Four, I feel. You’d think the Dees should have at least another four wins in them, but the last thing you need is a mid-season slump. Their next month will show us if they can maintain the rage. After their mid-season break, it’s the Bombers, Giants and then Port Adelaide on the road. A big four weeks ahead.

 

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