1. It was Freo’s turn to stumble when playing for a finals spot

In what was a home game against one of the top teams with an opportunity to cement their place in the finals race, Fremantle could not have been more disappointing. Yes, Geelong is a very good team, but the ease in which they were dominated all over the ground with so much to play for, it was a shame that the success-starved Dockers didn’t give a yelp. I’ll cut them a bit of slack as losing Rory Lobb and Sean Darcy during the game certainly hurt their chances, but at home they would’ve expected a better result than a 69-point thumping.

For the Cats, Hawkins was back to his best after being kept quiet the previous week booting four goals whilst Dangerfield lived up to his name with three. One Cats player who I’ve always admired that never seems to get the plaudits is Sam Menegola. Every week he is a solid contributor and goes about his games without a lot of fanfare. He was once again one of the best afield gathering 30 disposals and a goal. The Cats take on Richmond next week who will be buoyed by their great win against the Lions. A win for Geelong will almost certainly guarantee them security within the Top 4.

 

2. Have the Lions hit a form slump?

A couple of weeks ago, the Lions looked on track to really pose a huge threat in the premiership race. Last week’s loss to St Kilda was put down as a bad night, and most expected they’d bounce back to defeat the Tigers who have lost their past three matches to teams outside the Top 8. It’s hard to read into this past fortnight within the Brisbane Football Club, but they certainly need to get back on the winners’ list or they’ll find themselves trying to make the big dance from outside the Top 4. Another loss and the alarm bells will be deafening.

Jack Riewoldt had a memorable night in his 300th game booting six goals. He was back to his best and seemed to be having more fun than anyone else on the field. Mabior Chol played one of the best games for his career so far booting four and showing plenty of class around the ground. The Tigers are still in the hunt for a finals berth but can’t afford to lose many more games. The challenge for next round will be taking on the Cats. So many of us have written Richmond off as flag contenders, but those same people will be back-pedalling at breakneck speed if they can defeat Geelong next week. If there’s one team who can pull off the unexpected, it’s the Tigers.

 

3. Port are good against teams outside the 8.

If this year is anything to go by, regardless of what form any given team is in, if you’re positioned outside the Top 8 and playing Port Adelaide, you will lose. Much has been said about the Power’s poor form against sides in the Top 8, but against sides outside the 8 they remain undefeated. In recent weeks, St Kilda have been strong with three straight wins including big scalps in Richmond and Brisbane. And with the game being held at the more familiar surrounds of Marvel Stadium for the Saints, one could’ve thought they’d be a real chance against an inconsistent Port Power, especially when you consider a position in the Top 8 was there for the taking. But it wasn’t to be. They got close but fell away just enough to give Port the win and a position in the Top 4. Despite the heroics of Jack Steele and Brad Crouch, the Power proved too strong in the end.

Mitch Georgiadis looked the most dangerous forward on the ground booting four goals for Port. Ollie Wines was also prolific and may well be a sneaky vote grabber come Brownlow night. Port Adelaide should be too good for Collingwood next round, and a Top 4 slot is theirs to lose.

The Saints will be ruing this loss and now have to travel to Perth (if Covid allows it) to take on the West Coast Eagles in what is shaping as a battle for one of the bottom two slots in the Top 8. With St Kilda’s poor percentage, a loss may put them out of reach of finals. They will be competitive. Rowan Marshall was back to his best with two goals and 22 touches. His battle with Nic Naitanui will be a highlight.

 

4. You’ll be hearing the name Jamarra for a while

After struggling last week in his debut match against the Swans, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan would’ve brought a smile to the face of every Doggies fan on Saturday night booting three goals and looking like the top draft pick that he was. He’s a seriously beautiful kick and has strong hands. He helped set up the Bulldogs hard-fought win against an improved Suns. Marcus Bontompelli did his Brownlow chances no harm, although there’s a bloke running around for Gold Coast called Touk Miller who may have something to say about that. They’ll both have prominence during the Brownlow count no doubt.

The Bulldogs take on the struggling Crows next week in what should see them winning and keep them in the Top 2 before the showdown against the Demons, although there is talk of some Round 20 fixtures being swapped with Round 19. It’s all getting a little confusing so it’s a wait and see for now.

The Suns have had a great three weeks and were not without their chances against the Western Bulldogs. A little bit more polish may have seen them snatch the four points against their much-fancied opponents. I’ve already mentioned the brilliance of Touk Miller, but there’s plenty more to like on the Suns list. Fiorini and Sharp had 30 or more possessions each and it’s good to see Alex Sexton back in form after being a bit on the outer in recent times. Gold Coast do have a couple winnable games in the home run. If they end the year on eight wins, that would be a pass mark considering how bad they’ve looked at times this season and last. The makings of a good team are there, but the challenge has always been to keep that list together.

 

5. The Dees don’t play well against sides outside the 8

I’m sounding like a broken record, but look at who the first-placed Melbourne has lost against. They’ve lost to Adelaide, Collingwood, GWS, and now they’ve had a draw with 17th placed Hawthorn who came off a big loss to the Dockers and have not been in great form in the last couple of weeks. This result is despite their matchwinners in Petracca and Oliver playing strong games. It almost makes no sense that they can go across to Adelaide and make light work of fourth placed Port Adelaide and not be able to put away the lesser sides. I’m sure Simon Goodwin will want this issue addressed before September before they drop any more of these games.

The Hawks were terrific in this game and just refused to give up. Luke Breust almost got them the victory in what was one of his better games for 2021. I wasn’t sure if he had another year left in him, but at 30, and in the form he’s displaying, he may even find his way into 2023 barring injury. Tom Mitchell’s 39 possessions were also impressive and he was arguably the best player on the ground. The Hawks will be trying to finish the season strongly. There are some winnable games on the horizon if they’re good enough.

 

6. Bombers are in the 8!!

It’s interesting at this point of the year for a side with a negative win-loss record to find themselves in 8th position, but here we are. Essendon had to shake off a dogged Kangaroos to eventually run out winners by three goals. Jake Stringer proved the difference booting three of his four goals in the last quarter. Once again Merrett and Parish had plenty of the ball, and Peter Wright finished with three goals demonstrating his continued improvement as a Bomber.

Essendon’s run home is an interesting one. They have the Giants, Swans, Bulldogs, Suns and Magpies. Three wins might be enough to get them there. Four wins will guarantee it, I would think. It’s very possible.

North Melbourne went into this game without the ever-reliable Ben Cunnington. I thought this game was almost a 50/50 proposition going in due to the vast improvement of the Kangraoos, but when I learnt that Ben was not going to take his place, I felt it was advantage Essendon. And so it proved to be. Whilst the likes of Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke have been great contributors in the North Melbourne midfield, the cool head and experience of Cunnington adds another dimension.

Despite Goldstein once again dominating the hitouts, the clearances were very much in favour of the Bombers 40-29. I believe that result would’ve been vastly different if the veteran was out there, and I also feel that it’s no coincidence that North Melbourne have been a better side since his return from injury.

 

7. The Blues finally realise they have a slim chance to make finals

It was a slow start for the Blues. Collingwood had five of the first six goals on the board and Carlton looked slow and disorganised until a couple of late goals in the second quarter gave them some semblance of hope as they only trailed by ten points at the long break. The third quarter didn’t seem a great deal better as they conceded a couple of easy goals before hitting back late once again and only being eight points down at the final break. At this stage, Coleman medal leader Harry McKay had failed to kick a goal and was soundly beaten by Roughhead. The last quarter, however, the Blues got on top in the midfield and were finally able to deliver the ball well to Harry and the end result was four goals to him out of six last quarter goals for the Blues while the duo of Jones and Weitering were able to repel everything and keep the Pies goalless.

In the end, the Blues enjoyed a 29 point win, and Sam Walsh may have just added another three votes to his Brownlow tally.

The Pies looked very strong early, with Brodie Grundy proving far too good for the young Blue ruckman Tom De Koning. He was everywhere and the inexperienced De Koning couldn’t go with him. To the young man’s credit, he was able to draw even with him later in the game despite conceding a goal to the Pies through an errant pass. He bounced back shortly after with a goal of his own and it seemed to settle him for a better last quarter in which the Blues midfield got on top. The Blues are a slim chance to play finals. They’d probably need to win at least four of the next five games to get there, and even then some sides above might have to do a Steve Bradbury for that to happen. The draw isn’t terrible. Kangaroos, Saints, Suns, Power and GWS.

 

8. West Coast’s small forwards are as good as any

We often focus on the big forwards at the Eagles like Kennedy, Darling and more recently Allen. We all know how good Jamie Cripps has been for a long time, and who doesn’t love the way Liam Ryan goes about it? Make no mistake. This was another danger game for West Coast, especially after losing their last three with some pretty poor form. When Josh Kennedy was a late withdrawal, the pendulum swung a little towards the Crows. However, when your two gun small forwards kick eight goals between them, it will usually put the game beyond doubt which is exactly what happened and the Eagles now have a one-game buffer in seventh place. They’ll want revenge next week against the Saints after their early season loss to them, providing the scheduling goes that way.

Adelaide seem a spent force at this point in time. It’s hard to see them winning another game in the form they’re in, which actually does leave them vulnerable to the wooden spoon once again. Both North Melbourne and Hawthorn seem likely to chalk up a win or two for the remainder of the season, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can dig deep and regain some of that great early season form. They play both the Hawks and North Melbourne in the run home. The North Melbourne game is Round 23, and if North happen to chalk up a win before then, and Adelaide don’t, that could well be a playoff for the wooden spoon. Will it turn out to be a tanking affair?

 

9. The Swans are still a chance of finishing Top 4

Halfway through the second quarter, the Swans were down by 35 points and looked insipid. Fortunately, they scored three late goals close to half time which reduced the margin to just 16 points giving Sydney all the momentum. What happened from that point was a further six goals to none in the third quarter giving the Swans a total of nine unanswered goals and a 19 point lead at the final break before a Finlayson goal early in the last quarter broke their run of unanswered goals.

Franklin booted four goals for the match as he edges closer to his 1000th goal, requiring just 19 more. But more importantly, Sydney are in with a chance of a Top 4 finish as the Lions are faltering and the inconsistent Port Adelaide sit in fourth, just one game ahead. If the Swans were to make the Top 4 it would be the story of the year after their last season where they finished 16th with just five wins.

The Giants are still in with a chance of making the 8. Losing both Toby Greene and Matt de Boer pre-game certainly was a blow, but the manner in which they started seemed to defy that. But once the Swans got on a roll they had no answers. It has been the story of the Giants this season where they have lapses and surrender a lead as was the case against the Suns last week. Their next five games include two teams in the Top 4 and three teams vying for one of those places in the 8 that seven teams are fighting for. In order, it’s Essendon, Port, Geelong, Richmond and Carlton. To be honest, that’s a bit of a horror run, so if they made it, they would’ve earned it well and truly.

 

10. Seven teams are battling for two spots in the 8.

At the completion of this round, it’s quite amazing to see that the Bombers have slipped into the 8 as well as a little amusing to see Richmond in 9th place… but I digress. We’re getting down to the business end, so I’ll quickly run through the seven teams and how they’re looking in the run home in order of where they currently sit on the ladder.

West Coast – A couple of tough games and some winnable. Should squeeze in with three wins or more.

Essendon – Also a couple of tough games. Three wins minimum are needed. 50% chance

Richmond – One very tough game against the Cats. Four games against teams lower placed. 75% chance

Fremantle – Pretty tough draw remaining. I think they’ve blown it. 20% chance

St Kilda – Poor percentage may cost them. A lot will depend on their game against the Eagles next week. They lose that, it’s done I reckon. Tough draw. 20% chance

GWS – Pretty tough draw. May come down to the Tigers clash in Round 22 if they can eke out a couple wins between then and now but that seems a tough ask. 10% chance

Carlton – One tough game against Port in Adelaide. Other four games against Kangaroos, Saints, Suns and Giants. Even with four wins, would need results to go their way. 10% chance.