1. The Tigers have hit their lowest point for some time

After the shock loss to the Suns, the question was asked regarding how hungry the Tigers are after winning three premierships in the last four years. It’s a reasonable question. My first thought was to look at their injury list, and while there are a few notables there, it’s well worth noting that the Suns are also missing a few key players, in particular, their skipper and number one ruckman in Jarrod Witts. So it might be difficult to hide behind that excuse.

At the end of the day, the Tigers are just sadly out of form. The last fortnight has seen them make countless uncharacteristic errors and their system seems very much out of sync. It seems opposition coaches have put in the necessary work to quell Martin’s influence, and skipper Trent Cotchin may just be showing the signs of decline at the age of 31. Their next three weeks will decide their finals aspirations with games against the Magpies, Lions and Cats.

Suns’ skipper Touk Miller would now have a few more admirers after this effort. It’s a rare glimpse for footy followers to see Gold Coast feature in a Thursday night clash in prime time, so there’d be many who would not have seen a lot of Miller this year. I’m sure now they know what an elite player he is and what incredible form he’s in. If there were one or two that could go somewhere near his level within that team they wouldn’t be languishing in the lower parts of the ladder.

Their next three weeks don’t get any easier with games against the Giants, Bulldogs and the Demons. However, so this win was more than needed and it’ll be hard to see the Suns add to that any time soon resigning them to a bottom four spot one would assume. Unless, of course, this win can give them the belief to match it with the better sides…

 

2. Patrick Dangerfield is getting back to his best

It’s been an interrupted season where Patty has missed a lot of football, and his form since returning in the Port Adelaide clash has been good without being great, but this game we saw him have his biggest influence in some time collecting, 37 disposals in a tie for best afield honours with Hawkins after his six-goal haul. I’m sure if Dangerfield can stay fit for the remainder of the year it will go a long way towards making the Cats a genuine contender.

The next three weeks will see them take on the Blues, Dockers and Tigers. All of those games are winnable even without the presence of Jeremy Cameron who may not take his place due to hamstring problems. However, with the race for a Top 4 spot being so tightly contested, even one loss may cost them the double-chance.

Essendon looked great early, but once Geelong woke from their early slumber, it was a very one-sided affair. It’s to be expected as there are many young players wearing the red and black these days, but I’m sure they’ll be disappointed as there is still that outside possibility of a finals berth on offer. Darcy Parish, once again, walked off the ground with a serious case of leather poisoning with another 40+ possession game, but it didn’t really have a major impact on the end result. Avenues to goal after half time for the Dons were virtually non-existent and they do still lack that one tall forward, although Harrison Jones may prove to be the answer in the coming years. The next two weeks see the Bombers take on the Crows and the Kangaroos. If they win those two they’ll still be in the mix, and if they do, the Round 19 clash against the Giants will be huge.

 

3. The cracks are beginning to appear in the Dees

There’s no denying that Melbourne have been the best side of the year to date, beating everybody they’ve played that currently sit in the eight. And we all knew at some point they’d have a lower level of form. What is a little concerning is the fact that they’ve been losing to sides outside the eight, and in their last two losses they’ve managed just 63 and 55 points.

In yesterday’s game, the lack of a potent forward was glaring, and no doubt supporters would be frustrated knowing that Ben Brown was recruited for just that reason and was not selected despite kicking five goals in the VFL last week. The club will argue that they’ve been winning without him there, but considering their last three rounds’ average score was 61 points, it may have been time to give Ben Brown a call-up. I guess those at the club know better, but now the Demons are in real danger of slipping out of the Top 2 with a game against the Power coming up next week. I will be very surprised if Brown is left out again.

The Giants needed a scalp. It’s amazing to see them coming off a loss to the lowly Hawks in Round 15 followed by knocking off ladder leaders a week later, but it’s kind of becoming that sort of season. The concern for Melbourne was how soundly they were beaten in clearances. Josh Kelly played one of his best games for the year. His form has been up and down just like his team, but he left nothing out there this week. Even with Melbourne’s midfielders racking up high numbers, the influence they had was below the likes of Kelly, Taranto, Ward and Green. Tom Green in particular is emerging as a star of the competition, and it’ll be interesting if another club will try to lure him away from the Western Sydney AFL wasteland in the manner so many clubs have done in raiding the GWS stocks. The Giants take on the Suns, the Swans and Bombers over the next three weeks. With their formline, it’s impossible to predict whether they’ll consolidate themselves in the Top 8 or hit a wall.

 

4. Brisbane seem to get the most out of recruits from rival clubs

A quick look at the Lions’ list will show you several players who’ve left their original club to go on to play the best football of their career. All of these players have definitely done that: Cameron, Robinson, Lyons and McCarthy. Add to the list Adams and Daniher who are playing top football, and you begin to see a club that has as good a system in place as any other club and is the reason why they have improved so much in a relatively short time. Much of the credit must go to coach Chris Fagan who is proving to be arguably the best coach in the system right now. And this was after a 1-3 start to the season.

Their next three weeks are against the Saints, Tigers and Hawks. My feeling is they’ll win all three and find themselves in a Top 2 position where they’ll remain until the finals. I’m not sure where they’re sitting right now as far as premiership favouritism goes, but they’d have to be right up there.

The Crows fought valiantly but just couldn’t go with the class of the Lions. Losing Taylor Walker during the game certainly didn’t help. They have no problem getting their hands on the football with the likes of Rory Laird and Ben Keays regularly racking up big numbers, but the speed of ball movement can be a problem as they managed just 45 inside 50’s to Brisbane’s 62 despite having a handful more possessions throughout the game.

All is not lost for the Crows, however, as we can see the progress made and the tenacity that coach Matthew Nicks has injected into the group. They’ll provide a bit of nuisance value for the rest of the year and may snatch a few good wins. Finishing with seven or eight wins would be a good result considering their result from 2020.

 

5. COVID probably handed Carlton a win

Taking nothing away from Carlton who showed grit to wrestle back control of the game in the final term and eventually run out winners, there’s no way you can deny that the game being moved to Melbourne due to the twitchy WA government’s decision to lock down for a single case has cost the Dockers a win and a place in the 8 right now.

Yes, it’s possible the Blues may have won on the road, but with the amount of travel and uncertainty faced by the group from Freo this week, you could see in the final term how it had caught up with them and they looked out on their feet. One can be fairly certain that a home game in front of a WA crowd would’ve been enough to get them across the line, but it wasn’t to be, and now they join a glut of teams in a hot battle for 8th position.

Inexplicably, Carlton is one of those teams, although it would still take a minor miracle for that to occur. They face the Cats next week in a must-win game but it’ll be hard to see them take the honours despite their upset win from last year. The following three weeks see the Blues face Collingwood, North Melbourne and St Kilda. In order to play finals, the Blues would need to win all three. The consistency required to do that has been sadly missing in recent times at the Carlton Football Club, so it’s hard to envisage.

Sam Walsh continued his stellar form with another great game that included the sealer and contender for goal of the year. And Blues fans are finally starting to see the emergence of Paddy Dow whose last fortnight has been impressive adding much-needed depth to the midfield.

 

6. Ollie Wines is in career-best form

Ollie has always been a very good player. There were even whispers a few seasons ago that suggested he was unhappy at the Power and clubs were circling. Somehow, the Port Adelaide Football Club kept the Victorian-born Wines on their list and it’s just as well, because he’s on fire racking up 43 possessions in a clear best afield performance on the back of a month in which he has averaged 36 possessions. He’s becoming the most important midfield player at Port despite the brilliance and consistency of Travis Boak.

If the Power can beat the Dees at home this coming Friday, they’ll be very hard to shake out of the Top 4 with what remains a relatively easy draw. A loss there will throw them right back into the pack of chasers.

The Hawks were a little disappointing given the occasion being Shaun Burgoyne’s 400th game. They were slow starters and conceded nine consecutive goals from late in the first quarter to early in the third before clicking into gear and playing better footy. But the damage was done. The Hawks have improved quite a bit since the first half of the season and they will see this game as a setback. They take on the Dockers in Tasmania next week and will fancy their chances against the hapless Dockers who will be growing very travel-weary by the time they hit the island. Tom Mitchell was prolific once again picking up 29 possessions. Is there any truth in the talk of clubs trying to secure his services?

 

7. The Eagles definitely hate playing at GMHBA stadium

A quick analysis of the West Coast losses at GMHBA for their last five visits at the home of the Geelong Cats will tell you that it is not a happy hunting ground for the WA powerhouse. They have lost all five games by an average margin of 73 points, boosted by their two losses this year by 97 points against Geelong, and 92 points to the Swans on Sunday. It has also resulted in their percentage falling below 100% as they sit precariously a game inside the 8 in seventh position with a three-week run that includes winnable games against the Kangaroos, Crows and Saints.

Assuming that they’ll be back in Perth next week after the city has re-opened, it means two of those games are at home. They could easily get their season back on track and win all three, although based on what they served up against the Swans, there’s every chance they won’t.

The Swans have to keep winning games to keep any chance of gaining a spot in the Top 4 alive. Their next two games against the Bulldogs and Giants will show us if they’re up to the task. Buddy now sits at 976 career goals booting another three today. If he were to kick three per game he’d reach the milestone by the end of the home and away season. At this stage he’s looking good and moving great. Fingers crossed he can stay healthy and sees out the season. The Swans will need him at his best in the coming month in order to secure a finals spot. They’re still not there yet.

 

8. Another Saints fadeout nearly cost them

At three-quarter time, leading by a comfortable 43 points, the Saints seemed like they were cruising to an easy victory. But as we’ve seen a few times this season, the gap between the Saints’ best form and worst is not only apparent across different games, but also within games as well. When Mason Cox kicked a late last quarter goal to bring the Pies to within two goals, there was still around 2:30 on the clock with the Magpies holding all the momentum. Fortunately for the Saints they got the next centre break and were able to retain possession for most of the remaining seconds to eventually run out 9 point winners.

They now find themselves just half a game outside the eight, and with their poor percentage, not only will they rue surrendering a good lead, but are in a position where they can’t afford to lose many more games, and that’s going to be a huge ask considering their next three games are against the Lions, Power and Eagles (in Perth).

For the second time this year, the other being against the Cats, Collingwood couldn’t put a score on the board for the first three quarters then run rampant in the final term to almost snatch the game. On both occasions the margin was within two goals. This will no doubt frustrate interim coach, Robert Harvey. The Pies now sit in 16th position and have their work cut out for them to climb the ladder with games against the Tigers, Blues and the Power to come.

Jack Steele for the Saints was unstoppable racking up 36 possessions in a best afield performance, one of the few Saints who played four quarters of good football. For the Pies, Taylor Adams showed once again how important he is to their prospects after missing several games before returning last week.

 

9. The Roos keep getting better despite losing against the Bulldogs

When the second-placed side takes on the bottom team, anything around the 5-goal margin mark would be a pass mark for a loss by the bottom-placed team. So a loss of 29 points, whilst disappointing for the Kangaroos, will be considered a far better return than their early season form. Their continued improvement as the year has worn on is on the back of quality players returning to the side such as Cunnington and Tarrant.

In the coming weeks, we should see Jared Polec and Jed Anderson also return with the result being the North Melbourne Football Club resembling somewhere near their best side taking the field. They will provide nuisance value for the rest of the season and are every chance not to finish last based on what we’re seeing at the moment.

The Bulldogs now find themselves atop the ladder and riding high. Another star is born with youngster, Cody Weightman booting four goals for the match, and Bontempelli continues to do his Brownlow chances no harm.

I’m looking forward to the Round 20 clash with Melbourne. The Demons got the better of the Bulldogs when they last played, but the tide seems to have turned and one gets the feeling that the result may be in favour of the Bulldogs now unless Melbourne can address their dip in form over their recent weeks. Doggies fans are getting pretty excited though, and I guess I would be too.

 

10. It’s about this time of year you’ll hear the term “mathematical chance” a lot

I get it. We all love speculating as to how the Top 8 will pan out. And this year, more than ever, it almost seems as though the last two places in the eight will be taken by default as sides both still in the eight and just outside are doing their best to lose games they’re expected to win at the wrong time and open the door up for others to slip in.

As it stands right now, there are seven teams with what would seem any sort of realistic chance of making finals going down as far as 13th placed Carlton. It’s even beginning to look likely that as few as 11 wins might do the trick, or even ten! I know it sounds nuts, but we are talking “mathematical” chances.

In terms of pure raw numbers, it’s even feasible less than ten could make it if results of games fell a certain way, but now we’re getting into the ridiculous and extreme scenarios. Those of you who are reading this need to brace themselves for the excessive use of the term “mathematical chance”. It’s going to become an unbearable cliché for the next two months. I’m a Blues fan, so I know my Blues are a distant chance to play finals on the back of winning twice in a row. In fact, I see us losing to the Cats next week followed by three games we could win following that.

So, if our win-loss ratio is at 9-10 at Round 20, we’d be awfully close to the 8th spot. But I also recognise that I’m a mathematical chance of being a multi-millionaire too. A certain scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber comes to mind for some reason.