Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. Much to the pleasure of the punters, we’re back to a full round of football this week! With the bye rounds officially over it means I’m back to previewing all nine games again, yay..

We’d better get into this or else it’ll be couch time for more Thursday night football before we know it.

Before we go running headfirst into the games ahead of us this week, let’s have a quick sticky beak into the highs and lows that transpired over this weekend just gone.

The name ‘Geelong’ is almost synonymous with tight finishes. With zero research to gather further information, off the top of my head I can recall three of their games this season that have been decided in the dying seconds; Brisbane, Sydney and now the Bulldogs, with Gary Rohan ripping the hearts out of the Dogs players and supporters, marking the ball in the forward pocket just seconds before the siren sounded, with the Dogs leading by a point before his kick. Rohan becoming only the second player behind Barry Hall to kick a match-winner after the siren for two different teams.

Highs – That frenetic finish. If you were to somehow compile the 50 greatest ever finishes to an AFL match, I’m fairly confident that Geelong would feature in at least 20% of those games. Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins overtook Kevin Bartlett and Francis Bourke to record the most wins as teammates (194). Tom Stewart was at Dwayne Johnson levels of being the rock in defence for the Cats. Sam Menegola played possibly his best game of the season and Marcus Bontempelli continues to show why he’s one of the most revered players in the competition. Libba has also found a new level of football this season.

Lows – We didn’t quite get the shootout between the big forwards that I’d hoped for. Aaron Norton went goalless for the first time this season, admittedly he was taken off with an injury to his ribs just before half time. Tom Hawkins was well held and only managed a single major for the game, spending a bit of time benched with a neck complaint. Speaking of injuries, Cats superstar Mitch Duncan suffered a knee injury that could now derail the run to his first All Australian cap – incredibly. A couple of ill-disciplined actions by Cats captain Joel Selwood has seen him lucky to escape with a couple of fines from the Match Review. With one charge being labelled as ‘Misconduct’ and the other charge being labelled as ‘Rough Conduct’, Selwood bears the leniency of them subsequently being two first time offences, copping just a fine.

After a stalemate for much of the first quarter, Port Adelaide started kicking goals as Gold Coast could do little to stem the flow. Whilst ravaged by injuries, it’s becoming a dire trend that the Suns are just unable to buck. The Power running away in this game 50 point victors. Ollie Wines played an incredible game for Port out of the centre whilst teammates Karl Amon and Stevie Motlop also caught my eye.

Highs – Something, something guaranteed in life.. death, taxes and Touk Miller. At the Suns when all else fails, Touk Miller prevails. Aliir Aliir looks back to his best marking and rebounding from defence and up the opposite end, Connor Rozee backed up last round’s five-goal effort with another three goals.

Lows – Robbie Gray injuring his knee soured the win for Port. Lack of accountability and bruise-free footy are just a couple of issues plaguing the Suns. Too many younger, highly touted players gather the ball and think they can whack a stamp on it and just send it to someone else and make it their problem. I’m not going to continually harp in the Suns because they’ll be copping a pasting everywhere else.

Brisbane got the job done over North Melbourne down in Hobart with very little fanfare. The Kangaroos looked good in patches, wrestling the lead from the Lions in the second and third quarters. Ultimately Brisbane held on for long enough and had the composure to kick away late, scoring 3.5 to North’s 1.3 in the last quarter and taking the win by 23 points.

Highs – Jarryd Lyons continues to impress week after week. In a best on ground performance. He racked up possession after possession, he intercepted, he tackled, it was a very dominant display for someone that the Suns felt no longer warranted a spot on their list. Todd Goldstein had 53 hitouts in the ruck for North and Lachie Neale gathered 10 clearances.

Lows – This game in general isn’t one that will be archived as a thriller. It was slow with both teams running flat at times and riddled with skill errors. For what it’s worth I feel North put up a good fight at times against a quality opponent.

Other than kicking four straight goals in the third term Carlton could do very little to repel GWS, sauntering their way through the game. The Giants looked good with Toby Greene back to his controversial best and Matt de Boer reminding us just how good of a tagger he is in a generation where the negating mid is a dying role. The Giants lead from start to finish and ended up winning by six goals which is the Blues’ biggest loss of the season.

Highs – I’ll try to keep this brief because there were a lot of GWS players that deserve praise. Forgive me if I omit anyone, this is supposed to be a minuscule piece of the article. Jeremy Finlayson kicked a bag of five and was a constant headache for Carlton defenders. Tim Taranto is finding new ways to impress each week, this week his attacking game was as dominant and his defending with the star Giant laying 12 tackles. I’ll get to Toby Greene later. Matt Kennedy deserves a shoutout for playing a lone hand at times for the Blues with some assistance from Cripps.

Lows – I’ll start off by getting this off my chest. Forgive me Bulldogs fans, but I love Toby Greene. I’m the first to sing his praises in games like this when he kicks four goals and provides numerous opportunities up forward for his team. The guy is a sublime talent and an absolute pleasure to watch when he’s in full flight. However! I’ll gladly knock players such as Dayne Zorko for his continual lack of leadership whenever he has a brain lapse and does something very questionable on the field. So it’s only fair if I serve Greene his knock for doing silly things as well. It’s not often you find a player that reaches such a high level of duality in his character, yet Greene has become the Two-Face Harvey Dent of the AFL. (if you’ve never seen anything Batman, Google is your friend) One minute he is lauded as he sets sail a visually appealing, Blight-like torpedo from inside the centre square that nails a goal after the siren, then fast forward deeper into the game and he’s reported for striking a player off the ball and making unnecessary contact with an umpire, as well as tripping an opponent behind play. Love him or hate him, his talent is undeniable. But there’s playing the villain against your opponent, and then there’s becoming the villain to your own teammates when your actions subsequently cost them. With that being said, Carlton had a vast string of woes in this game. Sam Walsh was uncharacteristically tagged out of the game predominantly by Matt de Boer, Adam Saad failed to have an impact off half back where the ball spent a lot of its time and Patrick Cripps won a bit of the ball but struggled to dispose of it cleanly – 50% disposal efficiency from his 24 disposals. Out of Carlton’s 22 players on the day, 13 of them registered a single tackle or less – To quote Anthony Hudson; “THIRTEEN, THIRTEEEEEEN!”. It’s just not good enough for a football team at the highest level in the country. Anyway, enough here. I have other games to cover.

Essendon shared a plane with Hawthorn as they flew to Tasmania on Sunday morning, this game being relocated from Melbourne to Launceston. They were met with just shy of 15,000 strong, loud and passionate fans packing out UTAS with tickets for the game selling out within two hours. The Bombers started off strong, getting out to a 17 point lead before half way into the second quarter when Hawthorn began to mount a comeback and snatched the lead back. It was an arm wrestle throughout the third quarter and into the beginning of the fourth with the lead changing multiple times. In the end, Essendon managed to kick away and seal the 13 point win in only their second ever match in the Apple Isle – the last being against Fitzroy in 1992. I will say on the record though that as good a win as this was for Essendon, it was against a Hawthorn side that’s only won three games for the season. The talent looks there and Bombers fans should rightfully be up and about at the prospects laid out in front of them, but Melbourne and Geelong coming in the next fortnight may serve as a harsh reality check.

Highs – Only some of the dole-bludging locals were higher than the output of Jake Stringer on Sunday. The out of contract Bomber played one of the games of his career, certainly his best for the Dons as he was borderline untouchable in the centre contests and up forward.  He kicked four goals to go with his career high 29 disposals, 12 score involvements, seven tackles and six clearances. His selfishness on occasion cost his team a score or a forward press, but quite frankly when you’re playing that well, you have every damn right to be selfish. Even the determined tackling of someone like Jaeger O’Meara couldn’t stop Stringer as he played more midfield minutes in the absence of the injured Andy McGrath. I’ve been critical of Jarman Impey in the past, but the defensive role he held played a massive part in quelling Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for large parts of the game. I’ve also been a critic at times of Dyson Heppell and his new hybrid role down back that see’s him play a heavily modified version of a Brendan Goddard or Heath Shaw type of game. But he was strong at the contest and repelled multiple Hawthorn advances. Harry Jones looks a great player for the Dons’ future, taking five contested marks and kicking a couple of goals, at just 20 years he is finding his confidence early and will hopefully remain a mainstay in this developing side for years to come. Sam Frost was resolute in defence and held Cale Hooker goalless for the game. Nick Hind was electric for the Bombers, and young ruckman Sam Draper made a strong return from injury. At 30 Luke Breust is still a sharp shooter from anywhere inside the forward 50.

Lows – Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara gathered plenty of the football but when the game was there to be won, Mitchell was outplayed and a visually fired up O’Meara didn’t have his usual strong impact. Brandon Zerk-Thatcher was touted for a few seasons as “the next big thing” in the AFL defensive ranks, but I’m still yet to see it. He’s almost 20 games into his career and I’ve yet to see him comfortably beat an opponent for the majority of a game, or even stamp his authority in a strong play. At the going rate he’ll only ever be a depth player at best. Missing shots on goal was a telling factor for the Hawks, missing four in the second quarter and five in the fourth, both were during a period where the Hawks were fighting their way back in and gaining the lead. The Jayden Laverde switch down back has been a revelation for Ben Rutten this season, but he was exposed greatly in this one. Watch the tape, learn from it and put it behind you. He’ll be better for the run. Chad Wingard really struggled to keep up with Nick Hind who burnt him time and time again. An injury to Changkuoth Jiath was definitely a low, as he started the game as Hawthorn’s best player.

Left, right, left, right, let’s march on out of here and straight into this week’s games.

 

Teams

Brisbane vs Geelong

Snapshot
Another week rolls around with another top-four blockbuster. Thursday night football is back as Geelong flies to the Gabba to take on Brisbane. Both teams are in excellent touch with Brisbane’s only recent loss coming to top-seeded Melbourne. Geelong have been able to fend off all comers as of late and bunker in at second on the ladder. An after the siren goal to Gary Rohan gave the Cats a thrilling victory over the Dogs last week, the Lions did what was needed to beat North Melbourne in Tasmania.

So what does it all mean?
This round is turning into a massive shaper of the top four. The winner of this match will end the round seated at third on the ladder. The only way this won’t happen is if Brisbane beat Geelong and leapfrog into third, only for Port Adelaide to destroy Sydney and receive a big enough percentage booster to push both teams down, which isn’t as likely. If the Cats can get up in Brisbane, they’ll jump into outright second until the Bulldogs game is played. If the Bulldogs can’t get the job done against the Eagles they’ll likely relinquish their second place in the ladder.

All eyes on:
Who’s the man? – We all know Geelong’s depth runs pretty deep. When I say deep, I mean chasm deep. It’s been a consistency of theirs ever since the late 2000s. If they lost a star along the way, and that they did, they had ample cattle in the yards to cover for their losses. Over the years we’ve seen them cover their losses of the likes of Ablett, Selwood, Kelly, King, Bartel, Scarlett, Milburn, Ling, Dangerfield plus many more and still manage to win important games. Who’s going to be the man to step up and fill the clown-sized shoes of Mitch Duncan? With scans today confirming that Duncan has suffered a significant PCL injury when he landed awkwardly in a marking contest against the Bulldogs on Friday night. With it now being a high possibility that he could miss anywhere up to 10 weeks of football, Chris Scott will need to reshuffle his stock and find someone that has the ability to fill this void for the foreseeable future. He has no shortage of options in that department, we’ve seen Cam Guthrie rip teams apart before playing through the centre and on the ball. This season he has had monster games against Hawthorn, Richmond and St. Kilda. With Patty Dangerfield now two games clear into his return to footy this season, we’ve seen him play across the ground and in his forward role, there’s every chance if he’s got the fitness behind him that Scott could turn to his tried and true ball-winner to share some of the load and influence the game through the midfield more. Brandan Parfitt has caught my attention in a few of the games I’ve seen of his this year. His averages this season are up on his career averages almost across the board. There are also younger players that could rise up and grasp this chance. I’ll be awaiting this week’s team sheets intently.

It still hurts – How much are Brisbane still reeling after their controversial loss to the Cats down in Geelong in round two? After leading for all but the entire game, half way through the final quarter the Lions would kick four goals in a row to hit the front compliments of Joe Daniher’s first goal of the night. They would hold on until Isaac Smith kicked a goal at the 26-minute mark. Brisbane would have two more forward forays, the first resulting in a rushed behind, the second Mark Blicavs receives a handball, turns towards goals and is wrapped up in a tackle, he has an opportunity to dispose of the ball and he doesn’t. The ball spills towards the goals for the Lions and Isaac Smith promptly see’s it over for a rushed behind. Zac Bailey absolutely pleads his case with the umpire to no avail. With 26 seconds left on the clock, the Cats hold on in a thriller. Of course, the AFL would surprisingly admit fault and concede that the umpire made the incorrect call. Not that their admission would’ve helped the Lions faithful sleep any easier. Eric Hipwood kicked 4.3 in that game and was the most productive by far of Brisbane’s forwards. This week, the game will be played at the Gabba and Brisbane go into the game as favourites after turning their season around. They’re sitting in the top four along with the Cats, Bulldogs and Demons as the current in-form teams of the competition.

 

Teams

Richmond vs St. Kilda

Snapshot
The last time these two teams met was back in round five and the first 40 minutes of football was a very tight contest. It was goal-for-goal as Richmond held a slight lead which the Saints found every way to nullify and eventually wrestled the game back in their own favour. That was until the 18-minute mark of the second quarter when Jason Castagna kicked the first of the Tigers’ next 15 goals for the game – St. Kilda could only muster three for the remainder of the night, the Tigers winning by 86 points.

So what does it all mean?
Since that night St. Kilda have won four of their next 11 games, whilst Richmond would go on to win five of their next 11, seeing them sit at 13th and 8th respectively. The Tigers have GWS now breathing down their necks after their convincing win over Carlton. A loss to Richmond and a win to the Giants will see the Tigers sitting in…… The dreaded ninth position! Sitting only a game clear of three teams below them, plus underwhelmingly maintaining the second-worst percentage in the league, the Saints will be easily overtaken by any of the three teams below them currently sitting on four wins. (Carlton, Collingwood & Gold Coast).

All eyes on:
Big ins, but big enough? – St. Kilda are a chance to welcome back a vast array of players this week. With Zak Jones and Rowan Marshall both only needing to prove their fitness, plus Seb Ross and Tim Membrey both being set to return after missing a week to support their partners. Ross was granted a week off by the club to be with his partner after she had recently given birth to twins, whilst Membrey was also granted leave to be by his partner’s side during the birth of their first child. I won’t even waste my time delving into the utter bullshit that was said about the latter two and their time off. Small-minded mentality. The Saints will now be without Jarryn Geary for the remainder of the season as he’s set to have surgery on his injured shoulder. Hunter Clark is also expected to miss the next 6-8 weeks with his broken jaw sustained in his controversial collision with David McKay from Adelaide.

Perfect run – Richmond may have dropped matches to fellow contenders West Coast and Brisbane over the past month leaving them currently at 7-6 wins/losses, but the Tigers have a dream three-week run post-bye. With the Saints this week, followed by the Suns next week and finally Collingwood the week after, realistically? the Tigers should sit 10-6 – then the real challenge for them begins. They’ll then be faced with back-to-back clashes against Brisbane and Geelong, some true, top four challengers that will test the Tigers’ resolve. But fear not Richmond tragics, there’s still lowly North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Fremantle all to come in the dying stages of the season. Despite their form this season wavering from the lofty heights they’ve reached over the past four seasons, there’s no denying that the Tigers have a dream run home from here on out. It will take a collapse of epic proportions for them to miss finals from here.

 

Teams

North Melbourne vs Gold Coast

Snapshot
Positivity. I challenge myself to make this match preview contain nothing but positivity – challenge accepted. North Melbourne have shown glimpses in their past two games whilst playing against quality opposition. Despite leading throughout the game, they held on late to record a draw against a frenetic Giants that showed up late to the party, plus they managed to keep the margin against a strong Brisbane outfit to under four goals last weekend. The Suns have seen some signs of improvement in some of their younger players in a tough fortnight of football. Touk Miller proves week in week out that he is a star of the competition and I firmly believe if he was at a bigger club, he’d receive a lot greater recognition for his dedication.

So what does it all mean?
A win to North Melbourne will bring them one game closer to climbing off the bottom of the ladder. They’re a game and a half behind the next placed Hawks. A win to Gold Coast could see them jump from 16th to as high as 12th if fate goes their way with other results.

All eyes on:
Youth – This banner stands for both teams. Not just for the remainder of this season, but going forward over the next few years, one thing will be a prominent feature in both of these teams: youth. One of many keys required to unlock the success that both of these teams are building towards is youth. Kangaroos have a crop of good quality, younger players that have shown plenty of glimpses here and there so far in their careers. Cam Zurhaar, Jaidyn Stephenson, Tarryn Thomas, Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jack Mahoney, Lachie Young, Curtis Taylor, Bailey Scott, Nick Larkey, Ben McKay, Charlie Lazzaro and of course Will Phillips are all aged 23 or younger and have almost all featured heavily throughout this season for the Kangaroos. David Noble has shown a willingness thus far to give his younger players a run and not be tempted to relegate them to the VFL after every bad game. It’s a similar situation at Gold Coast, albeit through different circumstances. The Suns’ list is a lot further along than the Kangaroos’, however, they’ve had a season plagued by injury to key personnel. Even in the absence of so many key players, we’re still witnessing signs of emergence from players in that same age bracket that I eluded to earlier. Jack Bowes is putting together a fine season for himself under intense pressure, Jack Lukosius and Noah Anderson may be still finding their feet, but given some decent guidance by quality leaders, these two players could become anything. The skills and ability are there. You can’t neglect to mention Rowell and Rankine either. The bones are well and truly there for the Suns, it’s the leadership and grit that they lack to get the most out of their younger players.

 

Teams

Collingwood vs Fremantle

Snapshot
Both teams have lost three of their past five, with Fremantle finding wins over Sydney and Gold Coast whilst Collingwood ran away with it against Adelaide and outclassed ladder-leading Melbourne on the Queen’s Birthday in Nathan Buckley’s last match as coach.

So what does it all mean?
Collingwood won’t be featuring in finals football this season, so along with pride, there’s development at stake for a team that’s entering a totally new era as a club. Fremantle are still a chance to make the finals, so every win from here counts more so than usual, however, it’s looking more and more unlikely that they’ll achieve it.

All eyes on:
Clean and Crisp – When he lined up for Collingwood on the Queen’s Birthday, Jack Crisp went past Rohan Smith on the list of players to play the most consecutive games. Crisp is our current league leader on 154 games with second place being Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti on 108. Only six of Cripps’ games coming from Brisbane before being traded to Collingwood in 2015. It’s a huge testament for a player who’s earned his way into this Collingwood midfield playing a strong, competitive brand of football. In the absence of Taylor Adams to injury, and with more opportunity opening up due to Adam Treloar being shown the door, Crisp grabbed his opportunity with both hands and neither he, nor the Pies have ever looked back. We’ve seen this season that Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom are being trialled in different roles around the ground as the Magpies look to transition into the next phase of their football club. This has also opened doors for the likes of Cripps to cement his spot as Collingwood’s hardest working midfielder and earn the praises as their best player this season.

Serong song- I’ve made note at times throughout this season at how much Fremantle’s young midfield impresses me. The likes of Brayshaw, Cerra and Serong have really caught my eye at times, especially the versatility of the trio. Learning different aspects of their capabilities under Fremantle royalty Nat Fyfe and David Mundy has shown a steady progression in the skillset of these young men. One particular aspect that really wet my whistle over the past month was when I noticed how Caleb Serong has amped up his defensive game. Be it on his own accord or more than likely a coaching directive, I’ve noticed in games against Essendon, Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast that he’s adding a hybrid style of tagging/run with play to his game. Once upon a time Fremantle used to employ Ed Langdon as their go-to man, but that’s another story. I first noticed Serong niggling at Zach Merrett for the Bombers which had great effect. Merrett still had 22 disposals but was well down on his damaging best, taking zero marks for the game highlighting how hard Serong made him work for the ball. A month later I got a sniff of his work when the Dockers played the Bulldogs and he was tasked with the job of running with hard-nosed ball winner and genuine loose unit Tom Liberatore. ‘Libba’ was also posed a challenge by Serong, so much so that he was pushed forward to try and influence the game elsewhere (he kicked two goals for the record). Then just a fortnight ago I saw his defensive efforts on display against the Suns whilst playing directly on Matt Rowell and at times Touk Miller. I feel he had more effect on Rowell, as even the great taggers like Ling, Kirk and Crowley would struggle to stop Touk Miller in the form he’s in. It’s an awesome skillset to have as a player and if fate unravels the way most predict with teammate Adam Cerra reportedly seeking a trade back to Victoria, it’s the kind of additional skillset that sets Caleb Serong apart from your run-of-the-mill midfielder.

 

Teams

Essendon vs Melbourne

Snapshot
Yes, Bombers fans are up and about. I wouldn’t quite say the lid’s off just yet, but their fans are seeing a brand of football unfurling that they can hang their success-starved hopes on. They flew to Tasmania last week and played a fast and loose style of game, flirting with the idea of letting Hawthorn run away with it. That was before Jake Stringer stepped up and showed us just what he is capable of achieving as Hawthorn tried their best, but they couldn’t get near as the Bombers flew up. HOWEVER, they’re not facing Hawthorn this week, they’re facing Melbourne, and as good as Hawthorn have been for a very long time, they currently sit second-last on the ladder with only three wins for the season. Remember that. Now Melbourne? Their ladder position see’s them reside as far away on the other end of the spectrum from Hawthorn as possible – they’re number one baby. As much as I think any win to this young Bombers side is a good win, you can’t pin your hopes of rolling a flag favourite on the fact that you beat Hawthorn. I’m not trying to fart in your cornflakes Essendon faithful, I too believe that an up-and-about Bombers side is as good for the competition as seeing Richmond really hit their straps in 2017 was. But the fact of the matter is Melbourne will be reeling after their loss on the Queen’s Birthday to 16th placed Collingwood. Don’t expect them to afford you the luxury of letting Jake Stringer go all Shakira with his hips and wiggle his way out of every tackle attempt like he did last week. You have a hard challenge this week, give a good showing and it’ll be a good indicator of where you’re at against top teams. It is worth noting that Melbourne’s two losses this season have come against low placed teams (Adelaide and Collingwood).

So what does it all mean?
Mathematically the Bombers are still a chance of making the eight this season. It would however require West Coast and Richmond to drop quite a few games and given the Tigers’ cruise control run home from here, they’re unlikely to do so. Melbourne will be feeling the pinch here, they’re a game clear on top but Geelong are fast gaining on them. Any loss from here will see them come under threat from the Bulldogs with their far superior percentage and Geelong who are quietly picking off teams at will and finding good form at just the right time of the year.

All eyes on:
Notes from the GOAT- If there’s ever been a time that a player could benefit from borrowing Matt Rowell’s notebook and pen, it would be in young Essendon ruckman Sam Draper’s interest to do so this week. Like a hipster with Bitcoin, Essendon has heavily invested their rucking future in the development of Sam Draper. Whilst the kid with the soccer background fended off rival offers before he had even played a senior game, the Bombers knew they had a special talent on their hands. He returned from injury last week to face the Hawks which will prove to be his only practice before running face-first into the best ruckmen in the league – Max Gawn. The four-time all Australian has proved over the past few years that he is the premier ruckman in the competition and part of the beating heart feeding Melbourne’s midfielders. It’s not just in the middle that Gawn reigns supreme, his effort for a big man to get around the ground and provide a marking target, as well as sneak forward and kick goals is just part of what makes him the all-round damaging beast that he is. Whilst Sam Draper’s career is still in its infancy, he could do a lot worse than to take note of everything his opponent does and just how he goes about it this weekend because if he could forge a career out playing the game to the same ilk as that of Max Gawn, the Bombers would have their first A-Grade ruckman since Simon Madden.

Cool Whip – It is no state secret that Essendon fans love a whipping boy. Like a true battling tradesman, they love having an apprentice to blame all the shortcomings and unnecessary overtime on. Just ask Brent Stanton, David Zaharakis, Ricky Dyson, Leroy Jetta, Brent Prismal, Jackson Merrett (older brother of Zach) or Jake Melksham. In recent years Kyle Langford has found himself the one receiving the ire of the fans, but in my eyes he is piecing together a really solid season. Whilst Luke Darcy constantly diverts all attention to Nik Cox, Langford is slipping under the radar of many commentators and opponents for that matter. The Bombers went searching for a carbon copy, tall, big-bodied midfielder immediately to fill the void left by the retirement of Jobe Watson. They came up with Kyle Langford who was played in multiple positions in an ever-changing midfield that had a strong revolving door policy for its players and their positions. Last season we saw Langford’s best return for the club. With the admission of Dylan Shiel into the side in recent times, he was able to drift between the midfield and the forward line, using his height and strong hands to mark the ball and provide another avenue to goal. With Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett stealing the majority of the midfield spotlight this season, Langford has gone about his business minus the fanfare. But something tells me that that’s just the way he likes it. This season he’s found a further avenue to goal, kicking at least a goal in each of his last six games, including three against the Giants. At times we’ve seen him emerge from packs holding the ball, winning and dishing the ball out of the midfield or being part of a link-up chain running it out of defence. He’s performing well and underrated in the scheme of things, but I’ve got my eye on him.

 

Teams

Port Adelaide vs Sydney

Snapshot
Another contenders clash will see fifth-placed Port Adelaide take on sixth-placed Sydney from Adelaide Oval. Sydney have been travelling well but with a few blips on their radar over the past month, including losses to Hawthorn and Fremantle, some have started asking questions about just how deep into September they can bat. Port are another team in a similar position, however, they find themselves troubled by teams above them on the ladder, having lost to Brisbane, Geelong and Bulldogs so far this season.

So what does it all mean?
This is another match that will shape the top eight as we know it. If Port are to win they’ll jump above Brisbane and back into the top four at the expense of the Lions, who also sit on nine wins for the season with a superior percentage. Sydney’s percentage will keep them out of the top four even if they continue to win games.

All eyes on:
I like Aliir a lot – Wow, that’s a tongue twister if you say it fast enough. Anyways, just as the title suggests – I’m really liking Aliir Aliir this season. Like a Sunday DIY special, Port has well and truly nailed this one. After seven years at the Swans, Port Adelaide approached Aliir in the offseason about a potential move to the city of churches, with a goal of turning him into an elite defender and one-on-one machine. After showing a lot of improving signs throughout 2018 and 2019, even by his own admission, Aliir’s 2020 form left a little to be desired. He was dropped numerous times at Sydney and struggled to adapt to the roles he was instructed to play. Fast forward 12 months and he’s settled in at Port superbly and is in All Australian conversations early. He usually plays on the oppositions best tall forward target, yet he still finds a way to rebound the ball and often finds himself on the wing with the skill capabilities of setting up Port’s next play. Aliir is currently among Nick Hind and Tom Hickey as choices for the best recruits of the 2021 season. If Port are to show a stronger hand come finals this season, they’ll need Aliir at his defensive and pressuring best. He’s shown before he’s capable, let’s see it on the big stage.

JP-F’n-K – I’ve actually surprised myself that I haven’t done a feature on either of the Josh Kennedy’s this season to date. They are two of my favourite players currently in the AFL and it saddens me that both of their careers are tapering towards their ends respectively. With news earlier this month that Kennedy has signed on to go around for another season – his 15th playing in the AFL system, it seems likely that barring any injuries or unforeseen circumstances, he’ll reach the 300 game milestone sometime in 2022. Currently sitting on 271 career games, Kennedy has been a stalwart for the Swans after the shock of Hawthorn trading away the Father/Son draft selection with a last name on par with royalty at their club all those years ago. Since then Kennedy has gone on to be a three-time All Australian, three-time best and fairest, placed top-three in the Brownlow Medal on multiple occasions, captained the club in 2017 and was a vital member of the Swan’s 2012 premiership. After missing chunks of the 2020 season with an ongoing knee injury, Kennedy has enjoyed a consistent 2021, playing all 13 games so far and continuing to be a regular contributor in the Swans midfield, working alongside their array of younger talent that have been on display throughout the season.

 

Teams

Greater Western Sydney vs Hawthorn

Snapshot
The Giants are set to travel to the MCG for only the second time this season as they take on Hawthorn this Sunday afternoon. After losing to Brisbane and Richmond, then drawing to North Melbourne in the past few rounds, the Giants will look to make it two wins in a row after a decent showing against Carlton this week. Hawthorn beat Sydney in round 13 then went down swinging to the Bombers last week. The draw won’t get any easier for either of these teams as the Hawks prepare to host top-four hopefuls Port Adelaide next week, whilst the Giants are back at the MCG again to battle it out with current ladder leaders, Melbourne.

So what does it all mean?
The Giants are still in top eight contention. Their win against Carlton last week prevented Essendon from pinching ninth spot from them. Whilst their percentage remains a little lower than anyone inside the eight, they’ll be hoping for either West Coast, Sydney or Richmond to suffer through a massive, late-season form slump to give them an opening. That’s if they can continue to win games. Hawthorn are second last and won’t climb any higher whilst their current percentage measures so low.

All eyes on:
The Snowman – Last week against the Bombers I was impressed again and again at Sam Frost and his ability to take Cale Hooker to the cleaners. A player that’s been maligned at times throughout his career, Frost was able to get the job done and set up the rebound play regularly from deep in defence. Although his stat sheet doesn’t jump out and scream defensive master, it was definitely one of those games that stats and numbers just don’t paint the picture as accurately as witnessing it first-hand. After kicking 29 goals for the season so far, and only being held goalless twice in his thirteen games, Hooker just couldn’t get in the right position thanks to constant pressure in the marking contest, or having his run chopped off by Frost who read the incoming ball much better than his opponent. Frost, who started his career at the very club he’s lining up against this week, playing 21 games for the Giants before he was traded to Melbourne at the end of the 2014 season. He averaged 10 games in each of his five seasons at Melbourne but was traded to Hawthorn at the conclusion of the 2019 season. He’s played 29 games for Hawthorn already and at age 27 is entering the prime years of his career as the Hawks begin to usher in a new generation of players, looking for their next championship team.

Efficient, see? – Champion Data released their “Injury Ladder” this week. Now before you go off on a tangent and tell me just how unreliable champion data is because quite often their numbers don’t quite paint a true perception of reality, I do realise that I’m using the mob that completely unironically ranked Mason Cox as an elite player last year as a reference. But, on this occasion, their numbers represent a great indicator of the club’s that have been savagely dealt a rough hand by the injury dealers. In this case, the Giants are ranked third for the most games missed by injured players. Only to be beaten in the stakes by North Melbourne and also Fremantle by the narrowest of margins. Essentially, the Giants have had a hell of a time fielding a team this season, a lot worse than even I realised. Given the extent of their injury list this year, it surprises me to read that GWS are ranked second in the league for their efficiency inside 50. They may have trouble getting it in there at times, but once they get the ball inside their attacking 50, only the Bulldogs rank superior to them in this area. Given their ladder position and their start to the season, it comes as a surprise. With the exception of Essendon, every other team that ranks highly around them in forward 50 efficiency is either currently in the top four on the ladder, or in the instances of West Coast and Richmond, still inside the top eight. It’s a great indication of the likes of Toby Greene, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg’s work up forward for a team that hasn’t managed to regularly score heavily this season. Even with Josh Kelly averaging over a goal a game as a midfielder, the forward numbers are impressive for a team that’s been so devoid of players.

 

Teams

West Coast vs Western Bulldogs

Snapshot
After starting as outsiders, the Eagles have been backed in as outright favourites for this game. I’m not much of a punter these days, due to one too many failed multis in my time. Plus the opportunity to be an absolute grub and abuse a player online for his performance by harassing him on social media just began to grow too strong for me to pass up. (That was sarcasm for those wondering) Back to the game, the last time these two teams played was back in round two at Marvel Stadium when the Bulldogs came storming home in the last quarter, lead by a handful of overly enthusiastic players, the Dogs came from 14 points down to pinch this one from the Eagles by seven points. But what a rollercoaster season we’ve seen since then.

So what does it all mean?
With only their percentage holding them back, West Coast could mathematically jump straight back into the top four with a win in this one. Whilst highly unlikely given that mentioned gap In percentage, it’s indicative of two things: 1- How tight the race for the top four is becoming, especially given we still have nine weeks of home and away football left for the year, and: 2- Just how hard the Eagles have worked to change their fortunes this season after some highly publicised and scrutinized losses. The stakes are just as high for the Bulldogs who now sit equal on points with Geelong, meaning as soon as they drop a game their top two seating is at the mercy of the Cats and their current rich vein of form.

All eyes on
The early… Crow? – Usually, I don’t dedicate a piece like this to a player who’s only played two career games unless he’s done something utterly incredible on one end of scale, be it the positive or the negative end. Yet here I am, about to string together a few words about young Luke Edwards. Now for those reading who aren’t our usual eagle-eyed Eagles supporters, let me stray from the course for a minute to paint a little background picture of just who Luke Edwards is and how he belongs in the AFL. In 1994 the Adelaide Crows used their 21st draft selection on a bloke named Tyson Edwards. I’m not writing the bloke’s biography, so let’s skip ahead to the bits that matter. Tyson would go on to play 321 games for the Crows and go down as one of their greatest and most consistent players. Now if we fast forward to 2002, Edwards and his wife give birth to a son named Luke. Luke would grow to follow in his father’s footsteps, playing the same code of football until the year 2020 when as an 18-year-old he would nominate for the AFL draft. With the Crows having five picks inside the top 40, he was widely tipped to be on his merry way to Adelaide under the father-son drafting rule, to play at the same club where his father dominated for so many years. But in a cruel twist of fate, the Crows rejected the idea and Luke was left wondering what would become of him and his AFL dream. When all of a sudden, come pick 52 in the draft his name was called out by West Coast! The Eagles decided to throw a lifeline to the son of a gun, and if his first two games are anything to go off, the Crows will rue the day that they let Luke Edwards slip to another club. He made his debut this year in the Eagles stirring win over Carlton in round 12, gathering 15 disposals, four score involvements, a couple of tackles and a goal assist. A nice little debut in a much-needed win for the club. After the bye week he was rewarded by being named for a second game in West Coast’s heavyweight clash with the reigning premiers, Richmond. Well, if he was holding anything back in his first game, he unleashed it in his second. Racking up 27 disposals with a few score involvements and a goal assist. He looked good, his ball use was sublime and he carried little burden of expectation on his shoulders, yet still managed to fly out of the blocks and produce a tantalising game that will no doubt have West Coast fans licking their lips at the possibilities their young recruit has in front of him.

Yo, it’s Top Dawg – There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind just why Marcus Bontempelli is rivalling Clayton Oliver as this year’s Brownlow favourite. The Bulldogs skipper is stringing together yet another impressive season and not only that, but his team are looking equally as impressive as a competitive, attacking unit. They sit second on the ladder and are the highest-scoring team in the comp this season, this is reflected by their very generous percentage. It’s not just his inside midfield work that’s making ‘The Bont’ even more dangerous this season, it’s his ability to go forward and hit the scoreboard. Currently sitting on 18 goals for season, Bontempelli has kicked goals in 9 of his 13 games this season and been a multiple goal scorer in five of those games. His work in tandem at times this season with Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae, Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley has been massive in terms of winning the ball, retaining and pushing forward. Even with injuries to key personal, the captain’s incredibly strong form has barely wavered this season. Short of a couple of games early on in the year, he has not only produced numerous match-winning efforts, but he’s executed his dominance perfectly. It’s almost not a matter of ‘if’ he finishes his career as a Brownlow medallist, but ‘when’ he finishes his career as a Brownlow medallist.

 

Teams

Carlton vs Adelaide

Snapshot
Marvel Stadium is proud to announce their blockbuster production featuring the Teague Train and his tumultuous Blues squaring up against the fresh out of Adelaide, Demon-slaying Crows. In what is being billed as one of the best Sunday afternoon spectaculars since Elvis movie re-runs, big Tex Walker beats his chest as he faces the challenge laid in front of him by the younger alpha male of the forward pack, Harry McKay. With both men fighting for the crown of the Coleman Medal. With Carlton coming off a string of three losses and the Crows hyped after coming from obscurity to further embarrass the Saints, we are set for a middle of the table showdown of fizzling proportions.

So what does it all mean?
To be National Tiles’ Mr. Walker levels of frank, there isn’t a lot riding on this game, other than who sits where in the draft order at the end of the season. The Blues have just been incapable of winning the games that they should. Despite Adelaide’s strong start to the season and decent scalps here and there, they’re still a team that’s firmly in a rebuilding phase of their development. Carlton sit 14th and the Crows sit 12th. A win to Carlton could see them jump to 12th if St. Kilda don’t rain on their parade by winning a game.

All eyes on
Keays tag – Will Matthew Nicks be tempted to use his bargain bin midfielder in a negating role on Sam Walsh this weekend? You better believe he will be. With Ben Keays training directly under assistant coach Josh Carr who in his day was a prolific tagger for both Fremantle and Port Adelaide over his 207 game career, you can bet that Keays be sent out there with a target of stopping one of the best young midfielders in the comp. We saw last week what champion tagger Matt de Boer from GWS was able to do to Carlton’s aspirations by limiting Walsh’s influence on the ball and at the contests, forcing Patrick Cripps and other Carlton mids to play harder and win the ball themselves without Walsh to do the majority of the heavy lifting that he’s done this season.

Jacob Weitering- In a season where your team has failed to reach the highs that you were assured of preseason, especially given the rate in which the opposition can score against your defence, Jacob Weitering is putting together another fine season down back for the Blues after his best and fairest effort in the 202 season. Learning directly off their backline lieutenant Sam Docherty, Weitering has gone from a skinny kid taken at number one in the draft, trying to defend one on one as you lineup for a bottom side that’s one of the heaviest scored against in the league, to an intercept marking machine that has signed a long term contract and has been floated as a potential captain of the club in the future. Paired with Liam Jones, the two have patrolled Carlton’s backline well together this season and been the pillar down back that David Teague needs.

Well everyone, thank you for your continued support. I hope to see you back here next week for another exciting episode of The Mongrel Preview! Brought to you by yours truly, Jimmy Ayres via the best damn AFL media outlet in the land, The Mongrel Punt. Thanks again.

 

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