1. The Demons only play well against the top teams
You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Melbourne were on the slide a week ago when they dropped that game against the Giants on the back of a pretty ordinary 5 rounds in which they lost twice more to the lowly Magpies and Adelaide Crows. It looked as though the 9-0 start to the season might’ve been fool’s gold, but if you take the time to actually look at who Melbourne have beaten this year, it tells a story that puts them in good stead come September. They are undefeated against every team in the 8 with the exception of West Coast who they will play for the first time in Round 21. In the context of this season, that’s very significant.
On Thursday night, Petracca and Oliver dominated the midfield in a good battle with Wines for top honours. Petracca’s three-goal haul will probably give him the edge in the best on ground stakes as he still remains well in contention for the Brownlow. The next fortnight for Melbourne should see them consolidate their place in the Top 4 with games against the Hawks and the Suns. Port Adelaide, in contrast, have a shocking record against the teams up high on the ladder. They‘ve won just twice against sides currently sitting in the 8 beating the Swans and Dockers. Luckily they have just one remaining game against a Top 8 team from their remaining 6, so a finals place looks very much a likelihood, but it’s hard to see them doing more than make up the numbers unless they can manufacture a reversal of form in the big games.
2. The Bombers are still in the hunt for September action
Essendon’s big win against the struggling Crows, along with a few results falling their way, has all of a sudden made the dream of September action a possibility. They sit a game outside the 8 but with a superior percentage to Fremantle who are a game ahead. If they can beat the improving Kangaroos next week while Fremantle take on the Cats at home in what will be a difficult game, the Bombers could be in the eight as early as next week! Their remaining draw does include Sydney and the Bulldogs, but the other three are winnable, and the way it’s looking right now, 11 wins and a healthy percentage may be enough to squeeze in.
Archie Perkins’ three-goal effort and 18 possessions may earn him the rising star nomination in what has been a good year for the new crop of kids at Essendon. It was a horrible night for the Crows managing their lowest score since joining the AFL.
It appears a huge hole has been left by the absence of Taylor Walker who may return next round against the Eagles at home. They may very well win that game if Walker is fit as the Eagles aren’t exactly flying right now. The Crows showed great signs early in the year and will want to finish strongly so as not to undo all the good work of the early season. Special mention to Tom Doedee’s courage in the early part of the game showing no regard for his own personal safety in a contest resulting in concussion. Whilst it will be a shame to have him rested next week due to the new protocols, we all love that one player in our team who never takes his eyes off the ball.
3. Sean Darcy is a serious footballer
At just 23 years of age having only recently notched up 50 games, Sean Darcy is fast becoming one of the best ruckmen in the game today. On Saturday against the Hawks, he gathered 25 disposals in a dominant display and took 9 marks. When you consider a lot of big men take a few years to mature into their roles, you can see this young Docker is ahead of schedule and looks set for a 200-game plus career for Fremantle. The Dockers were wise to lock this big man away till 2024 as no doubt many clubs would’ve been circling to try and lure the Victorian home. It’s great to see they recognised his worth and how important he is fast becoming.
As far as Fremantle’s finals hopes go, a lot will come down to next week’s game against the Cats. It’ll be played in Perth and they simply must win to keep ahead of the pack snapping at their heels. It won’t get any easier after that I’m afraid, with upcoming matches against the Swans, Lions and Eagles as well. If they end up making finals, they sure would’ve earned it.
Hawthorn are looking a bit shell-shocked since the announcement of the Clarkson succession plan. They were playing some decent footy prior to that but now seem to have had the wind knocked out of their sails. I don’t know if there’s a correlation or not, but they’ve shown at times to be competitive, however, in this game they were little more than witches’ hats. Even Tom Mitchell’s 39 disposals did nothing to bring them into the contest.
A player who I believe is well below his best for the Hawks is Jaeger O’Meara. His last two weeks have seen him well down with just 17 and 14 possessions. His numbers prior to that weren’t terrible, but he hasn’t really had the impact at his second club that they would’ve hoped for, albeit due in part to injury. The Hawks have a couple of tough weeks ahead and will need to lift or face some potentially huge losses in the run home.
4. Zach Tuohy loves playing against his old side.
Former Blue Zach Tuohy always rises to the occasion against the club that were too willing to let him go all those years ago. Tuohy can definitely say he’s had the last laugh. He’s played his best football with the Cats and may still win a premiership before his career is over. The Cats now sit third and will be striving for a Top 4 finish to give themselves any chance of the big prize. Their draw isn’t too harsh culminating in a big Round 23 clash against Melbourne. This week against the Dockers looms as a danger, but if they get through that with a win I would think it’ll be hard to see them slip to the bottom half of the 8. Tom Stewart was also once again in stellar form.
The Blues did everything they could to lose on Saturday against the Cats. Kicking 11 straight behinds through the best part of three quarters certainly didn’t help, but even their field kicking was laughable at times. This is why Carlton are not a finals team. Were it not for the superb game by Jacob Weitering who kept Hawkins goalless for the first time this year, the ugly result could’ve been even uglier. You can put a line through the Blues for the year, unless they can miraculously string together three wins in a row against Collingwood, North Melbourne and St Kilda, however, stringing wins together has never been their strength for what seems an eternity. A couple of late outs are perhaps the only excuse, but they were never in the same class as the Cats. Walsh continues to excel, while Cripps still seems below his best.
5. Don’t forget about the Sainters just yet.
If it comes down to percentage, the Saints are in real strife with just 86.9% after a few heavy losses earlier in the year. This game against the Lions was expected to be a comfortable win for the home team, but it was obvious early in the match that the Saints weren’t following the script and had other ideas. Leading by 13 points at the final break, onlookers might’ve expected the Lions to come home strong, but it was the Saints who booted five of the last 6 goals of the match to run away by 32 points in a comfortable win.
Max King had a purple patch in the second quarter booting 3 goals in seven minutes, while Jack Steele and Zak Jones hurt the Lions in the engine room. This was the third win in a row for the Saints in what is the strongest sign they may have found some consistency at last. The next fortnight will be their ultimate test with games against Port Adelaide and West Coast. If they win those two they’ll most likely be in the eight and rightly so.
You could say the Lions had an off-night, although the pressure of the Saints was relentless and something that resembled their 2020 efforts. Try as they might, they just couldn’t get the game on their terms and that’s a testament to the more committed Saints and the coaching. Losing Hipwood early with a knee certainly didn’t help their cause while Zorko tried hard to keep his team in the game. In the end, kicking 1.7 in the final term snuffed out any real hope of victory. Their next three games are against the Tigers, Hawks and Suns. On form, they may win all three and they’ll be right on track once again. Chris Fagan has a knack for not panicking in these moments. Perhaps he may be thinking it was the “loss they had to have”. Time will tell.
6. The Giants keep fluffing their lines
Go back two weeks and you’ll recall a game against the Hawks where the Giants were chasing a Top 8 spot against a team sitting second last on the ladder. We know what happened then. However, they bounced back well the following week and toppled ladder leaders Melbourne in a huge upset and pushed themselves into the 8th spot. While the Suns had a good win last week against the struggling Tigers, the Giants were still heavily favoured to take the honours in this game, and with six minutes to go in a low-scoring contest leading by 11 points, they looked fairly safe.
Matt Rowell scored, followed by Swallow giving them the lead with a minute remaining. The Giants still had several chances surging forward only to turn the ball over every time. Better teams with so much to play for find a way to win. Too many times this season, the Giants have found ways to lose.
The Gold Coast achieved a rare feat of back to back wins. Prior to that, their form was indifferent to terrible at times, so it will give Stewart Dew plenty of heart that his boys showed some character late in the game to snatch the win. I actually attended this match at the freezing cold Mars stadium and I looked on in awe at the heroics of Touk Miller. The guy is a superstar, and it’s finally being recognised. His 35-possession game with two goals was the difference. Brandon Ellis was also on fire collecting 41 possessions. It’s important that the Suns finish off the season well. Their next three weeks will be as tough as they come against the Dogs, Demons and Lions. I wonder if they’ll provide any nuisance value?
7. OK, the Swans will make the finals
I imagine the scintillating start to the year by Sydney had many of us wondering how long they could sustain it with all their younger players all featuring so prominently. I was definitely one who thought they may struggle to maintain the rage. And I felt the cracks were opening up following their shock loss to Hawthorn at home. However, it appears the mid-season break has served them well. Sure, they lost narrowly to the Power in Round 15, but then they smashed the Eagles in Geelong and knocked off the top side this week. Jordan Dawson enjoyed what was possibly his best game for the Swans finishing with 26 touches and 3 goals, while Callum Mills has proven his credentials as a midfielder once again. It’ll be an interesting next few weeks for Sydney taking on the Giants in Ballarat followed by the Dockers and Bombers. Not even living in a Melbourne bubble seems to have deterred them.
The Dogs missed Aaron Naughton up front. The normal potency when he’s there up forward was glaring. No Bulldogs player managed more than a single goal, and after finally getting his chance, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan found the going pretty tough in his debut appearance. There’s no doubting his talent which I’m sure will come to the fore soon enough. The Bulldogs are still sitting pretty with upcoming games against the Suns and the Crows before the big game in Round 20 against Melbourne. I still fancy that game as the play off for the minor premiership, but they’ll need to improve on their previous effort to win against a Melbourne team who continue to rise to the occasion on the big stage.
8. The Magpies have become fast finishers
Collingwood have certainly found a spark in their last six games. After finishing Round 11 on just 2 wins and 9 losses, they’ve now won three of their last five games, including a win against the ladder leaders and now the Tigers. But the interesting statistic has been their mostly dominant last quarters. They’ve won five out of their last six and have more than doubled their opposition scores in that final quarter. In those games they have averaged 29 points for and had just 13 scored against. Their percentage for the 4th quarter is 238.7%!! So it would pay to have a handy lead at three-quarter time in order to defeat the Pies. It’s a shame their first three quarters have been pretty woeful for the most part.
Adams and Crisp were the best for the Pies. The mission now that will please the Pies fans will be bragging rights over their Carlton rivals by trying to finish above them. A win against them next week will actually have them higher on the ladder after the game.
Where to for now for the Tigers? Even if they were able to turn it around they’d be a massive long shot at best. Seemingly cruising to a victory heading into the final term, the capitulation was as bad as they’ve played in years. You’ll have to go way back to early 2016 where they lost six games in a row from Rounds 2 to 7 to compare to this run of four losses. When you consider their next two games are against Brisbane and Geelong, it’s very much a possibility to repeat that horror run. They keep saying don’t write them off, but you’d have to be awfully close if you haven’t done so yet. It was also a dismal end for what was Jack Riewoldt’s 299th match. What can Hardwick do to save this season?
9. Jaidyn Stephenson finally pays back the Roos
The former Magpie arrived at North Melbourne at the beginning of this season under a cloud of many disciplinary indiscretions that marred his early career. Many would’ve wondered if the choice to secure his services was a wise one, particularly when you add in some injury concerns as well. Those same people would’ve seen Monday night’s performance as not only his best game for North Melbourne, but quite possibly his career. He amassed 38 possessions and kicked a vital last quarter goal in the game that the bottom-placed underdogs eventually went on to win against the Eagles on the road no less. The signs for Stephenson’s improvement have been building in recent weeks, and he now seems to fully understand how to be a team player.
The Kangaroos are now a major threat to climb the ladder and forego their number one draft pick. I’m pretty sure they’d be fine with that.
Coming off a huge loss to the Swans, and back home in front of their adoring crowd, most pundits would’ve expected the Eagles to bounce back, particularly with a finals spot on the line. When they got out to an 11-point lead midway through the last quarter, it seemed they were tracking toward a hard fought victory. Perhaps earlier in the season the Kangaroos would’ve capitulated, but they’ve found some belief in recent weeks and dug deep against what now is clearly a struggling Eagles. The battle of arguably the two best ruckmen was brilliant. Naitanui might’ve had the better of Goldstein, who broke the AFL record for the most number of hitouts, surpassing legendary Docker, Aaron Sandilands during this game. However, the fact Goldstein was able to hit the scoreboard twice, including the match sealer, it would be hard to argue against the North Melbourne veteran.
The Eagles still cling to 8th and have some soul-searching to do. They travel to Adelaide to take on the Crows and must win. The Roos have the Bombers and Carlton over the next two weeks. Both of those sides will now know they can’t take that game easy. Not too many sides will be able to for the rest of the season.
10. If you go to Mars stadium, bring thermal undies
I’m a resident of Bacchus Marsh which is just 40 minutes away from Mars Stadium in Ballarat. I have a young son who is fascinated with the various stadiums around Australia. He’s already done Marvel stadium several times, and I took him to the MCG for the first time this year. When I suggested we could go to the Giants v Gold Coast game at Mars, he was very excited. Now look, most Victorians know Ballarat is several degrees colder than Melbourne at the best of times. So, I went there with three layers of clothing, but alas, it wasn’t enough.
When we got out of the car we were hit with an arctic blast. It was freezing! We rushed into the ground as quickly as we could, teeth chattering like mad men. We found our seats in the right forward pocket at the Pavilion end. I’ll call it that anyway. It’s where their pokies are! Upon sitting at our seats, I immediately noticed we were exposed to the breeze from an opening between the main pavilion and the grandstand. So the wind blew at our back for the first half until we finally moved a few seats to our left where it wasn’t so bad. So if you do venture there, bear this in mind, and for heaven’s sake, bring a blanket and a thermos full of soup or coffee.
The ground itself had the feel of a suburban oval. The wind is a huge factor as opposed to enclosed environs of Marvel and, to a lesser extent, the G. I wonder if the players like it, or whether they dread going there. But for the spectators, aside from the cold, you’re a lot closer to the action and can feel a real part of it. I was literally a few metres from the Giants bench and we could hear the players calling out on the field. I got to see a pretty good game with an exciting finish too. Here’s the problem: I just found out that the Giants will be playing Sydney there this weekend, and now my 9 year old wants to go back again! Might have to pack his oodie…