Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. After riding the motions of yet another high-octane, jet setting week of snakes and ladders where the AFL maneuvered their pawns all over the chessboard of Australia to accommodate requirements and dodge Covid restrictions, we the common rank and file were treated to some first-class football as the home and away season begins its slow descent onto the finals runway.
Thursday night pitted Geelong against Fremantle out of Optus Stadium and despite losing a few key players in the lead up, it’s very safe for me to say that the Cats brought the heat, whilst Freo were given the old Heave-Ho and sent down below. Another week of errant goal kicking and lack of forward presence really exposed the Dockers as they lost in-form ruckman Sean Darcy to a knee injury as well as tall forward Rory Lobb to an ankle injury. Meanwhile up the other end, with the absences of Gary Rohan and Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield put on a forward line clinic, kicking seven goals between them and providing a constant headache for the Dockers defenders. Cats storming to a margin suitable of any teenagers’ Hotmail address with a 69 point victory.
Highs- Tom Hawkins showcased exactly why he has been one of the most dominant, if not the most consistent forward of the past decade. Kicking 4.1 from his three contested marks and forming a strong one-two punch attack up forward alongside Patrick Dangerfield. Speaking of one-two punches, how well do Tom Stewart and Zach Tuohy work together? The latter again got forward for a couple of shots on goal. Sam Menegola and Brandon Parfitt both looked good as well – honestly, I could justifiably put 90% of the Cats side in this piece. Sean Darcy fought a lone hand before succumbing to injury, having a day out against the Geelong ruckmen.
Lows- Gee it was slim pickings for the Dockers, wasn’t it? They squandered a lot of the scarce opportunities that were available to them. David Mundy was quiet by his lofty standards this season, the Dockers forwards were a non-factor for the Cats, only managing three goals across four quarters of football and taking two marks inside 50 compared to the Cats 28 – It was a pretty damning display from a team looking to push the envelope and make finals this season.
If you too tuned into Friday night footy then you were buckled in for a rollercoaster of action and emotion, with the Tigers running away 20 point winners over the Lions in what proved a costly clash that elevated Richmond from 12th to 7th on the ladder temporarily in Jack Riewoldt’s 300th game. This match had so much going on that I’d need an entire article to myself just to mull over the basics – lucky HB has us covered already. If you haven’t already, check out his terrific review for a comprehensive breakdown of the match. The biggest news coming out of this one was the season-ending kidney injury Dustin Martin sustained at the hands, or feet on Mitch Robinson? Apparently, it occurred after receiving a kick from Robinson. What Dimma actually meant to say was Dusty tried to plow through Robbo and despite Robinson being sent for six, the Brisbane tough nut was straight back to his feet whilst Richmond’s multi-millions marketing megapower was on his hands and knees and had to be escorted from the ground and taken to hospital. Season over for the 26-time Norm Smith medallist.
Highs- Richmond fans will be elated after the win express posted the Tigers back into the eight. Ol’ Mr. Brightside looked a shining beacon of confidence in his 300th match, kicking six goals and being the Tigers focal point up forward. Mabior Chol looked like a seasoned professional in front of goal and as a backup to Toby Nankervis who was a catalyst the ruck, Chol finished the game with four goals and provided well on the lead. Brisbane’s midfield lead by captain Dayne Zorko, Hugh McCluggage, Mitch Robinson and Jarryd Lyons were the dominant midfield, but couldn’t get their team over the line.
Lows- The Tigers injury woes just keep piling up. On top of losing Dusty for the rest of the season, Kamdyn McIntosh failed to return to the field after grasping his hamstring and David Astbury injured his ankle. The Lions forward line was one of their biggest failures of the night. Although he kicked three goals, Joe Daniher showed at pivotal times in the second half a lack of follow up and refusal to defend, with his team looking to him to fill the void Eric Hipwood’s injury left in the forward line, neither he, Daniel McStay (two goals) nor Tom Fullarton could fully break the chains and take the mantle as the dominant player in the Lions forward line across four quarters.
Now, I’m not going to serve you up gravel and call it popcorn chicken – this match was terrible. It was a stinker by almost every measure. Port Adelaide would see off a competitive St. Kilda by 13 points at Marvel Stadium. In what was a match marred by error and poor kicking, the Saints got out to an early lead which they maintained until Port would wrestle it back just before half time. With behinds being kicked at either end of the ground constantly, eventually the Saints managed to trim the margin back late in the game with the fourth quarter showing the only sense of excitement for the game. Late goals to Sam Mayes and Charlie Dixon sealing the win for the away side.
Highs- Mitch Georgiades was a force up forward, despite only racking up 10 disposals, the 19-year-old provided a spark and just kicking goals when Port needed them most, registering one in every quarter in a game that was just a barrage of constant error after error, especially up forward. Ollie Wines and Jack Steele provided their standard midfield masterclasses out of the centre. How lucky are Port and Saints fans to have players that provide such huge numbers every week, that we consider such an amassed total to be ‘standard’. Karl Amon was massive for the Power, the wingman kicked two important goals and was a continual threat winning the ball. Is there a more important ruck duo to a team’s fortunes than Ryder/Marshall at the Saints?
Lows- Max King and Tim Membrey were comfortably beaten by Trent McKenzie and Tom Jonas, the Saints’ scoreline ticking over more at the hands of midfielders and ruckmen. The biggest low for the game was the lamentable first three quarters. Definitely not a game you’d send around the globe in an effort to promote the game.
The Suns got out to an early lead against the Bulldogs, Bevo’s boys would take back the lead early in the second quarter and never surrender it, despite a few spirited comebacks by a resurgent Gold Coast side that looks to have improved tremendously from their early season form, overcoming personnel loss through injury and finding a new team balance that is keeping them competitive in games for longer. The Bulldogs had a good spread of goal kickers as their star-studded midfield locked horns with a much-improved Suns group led by the ever-dangerous Touk Miller. Dogs winning by 11 points despite the Suns kicking three of the last four goals of the game.
Highs- I’m not neglecting young Jamarra or Jeremy Sharp, check my previews for the upcoming Bulldogs and Suns games for content related to their games over the weekend. Alex Sexton was almost the difference for the Suns up forward. Despite a few wayward shots on goal, he almost won the game for Gold Coast by keeping them in it. Standard Touk Miller praises because I’m in his awe, Ainsworth and Holman were productive up forward for the home side. Smith and Macrae were solid for the Dogs, the latter getting forward to kick a couple of goals. I like Chris Burgess for the Suns, as a backup’s backup’s backup in the ruck I think he shows a lot. Tim English did get the better of him in this encounter.
Lows- The Bont’ was in and on everything, but his disposal was woeful at times. As good as Alex Sexton was, a few of those missed goals will haunt him. Sometimes I just don’t know what to think about Izak Rankine. Sometimes he moves around the forward line like a Jason Akermanis second-coming, other times he looks lazy and hesitant to impose himself.
There are two teams in the AFL that are notorious for outdoing themselves in the eye-roll stakes – Essendon and Melbourne. If I had a dollar for every time I made the comments “Only Melbourne.” Or “Trust Melbourne to out-Melbourne themselves”, then I would probably have enough money to fill my petrol tank – and given the climbing fuel prices, that’s a decent sum. Not to rob the Hawks of their dues, their intensity was there when it needed to be and Melbourne could barely break a jog to repel their attacks. After getting out to an almost five-goal lead in the first half, the Hawks had a run of five out of six goals in a row and eventually took the lead early in the fourth quarter. With Melbourne wrestling the lead back and a last-minute goal to Luke Breust tieing the scores with a minute and a half to go, a drawn match was the finish.
Highs- Jack Viney had his best game since returning from injury. Finding the ball 32 times and laying 11 tackles to go with his six clearances. Clayton Oliver was his usual damaging self. Tom Mitchell had a smorgasbord of possessions as is his standard, Christian Petracca found a lot of the ball and was a contested beast in the first half, Bayley Fritsch kicked three goals for the Demons as did Luke Breust for the Hawks, the latter was the difference up forward for Hawthorn.
Lows- Melbourne’s accuracy is the easy target here, Pickett and Brayshaw both missed late chances to kick the match-winner in the final quarter. Full credit to Hawthorn, but a worrying trend for Melbourne this season struggling to beat teams in the lower echelons of the ladder. North Melbourne at 18th had the better of them for three quarters, Hawthorn at 17th managed to tie with them, Collingwood at 16th beat them, Adelaide at 15th beat them, Essendon at 13th really worried them and Greater Western Sydney at 11th beat them – It’s like a reverse Port Adelaide predicament where the Power can’t beat teams above them, the Demons struggle to beat those significantly below them.
Sunday kicked off with the Kangaroos and the Bombers facing off from Metricon Stadium. After a lazy first half the inaccurate Bombers chipped away and would hold the lead into the fourth quarter where despite a spirited comeback, the Kangaroos couldn’t hit the front. The Bombers winning by 18 points.
Highs- There were plenty of takeaways for both teams. Aaron and Tarryn (Hall and Thomas) were strong out of the middle for the Roos. I like the sound of that; Aaron and Tarryn – the dynamic duo. Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish were great for the Bombers, especially in the second half when the proverbial finger was pulled out. Both of the star Bombers playing roles that developed out of necessity as the game went on. Peter Wright played one of his best games for the red and black, holding his own in the ruck and kicking three goals to go with his 20 disposals. Jake Stringer once again was the gamebreaker when Essendon needed something big to happen. After a massive influence at the contest in the first half, Stringer was well held until he exploded late in the third quarter and into the fourth where he kicked four second-half goals and turned the game on its head almost single-handedly.
Lows- Credit to Kayne Turner for his defensive role on the dangerous Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Although the Bombers forward looked sore from very early in the game, Turner negated his influence in a strong four quarters effort, making Essendon’s equal highest goal scorer this season a non-factor. Devon Smith and his lack of discipline must surely be on thin ice at Essendon? He is fast becoming a liability that takes more away from the team than his inclusion gives.
Collingwood did all the hard work early, only to roll over and play dead whilst Carlton made light work of their lead. The Pies got out to a four-goal lead in the first half before a flurry of goals either way made the scoreline fluctuate like cryptocurrency. After leading by 20 points halfway through the third quarter, Collingwood conceded nine of the last ten goals of the game to go down to the old enemy by 29 points. Overall a 53 point turnaround for the Blues.
Highs- After being well held Harry McKay smashed the chains held by his captors, kicking four last quarter goals and further taking the game away from the Magpies. Young Collingwood forward Oliver Henry looks to be making swift progress in his development, kicking three goals in just his fifth game. Sam Walsh was phenomenal for Carlton yet again. Surely his name has to be amongst the top contenders for the Brownlow this season? Jordan DeGoey played another ripper for the Pies, his move to play more midfield time is paying off.
Lows- What the hell happened to Collingwood after half time? Or what did Carlton have slipped in their drinks? It was a case of two teams looking completely different after half time. Both teams had their deficiencies around the ground and looked atrocious at times, with numerous players from both teams providing little support when their teams needed them.
The Eagles slew another of their flat-track demons by beating the Crows at Adelaide Oval. It was a tough slog early as both teams missed shots and suffered through some ill-directed disposals, but after half time West Coast broke away and kicked 10.8 to Adelaide’s 4.4 to run away 42 point winners in what was a strong second-half showing from a team that’s come under fire in recent weeks after three big losses in a row. For Adelaide, it’s back to the drawing board again as they deal with a mismatched team structure that has let them down once again.
Highs- West Coast’s small forwards got the better of their Adelaide opponent’s. Jamie Cripps was a constant threat kicking 5.2 and Liam Ryan was a persistent thorn in the side of the Crows defenders, finishing the game with 3.4 and providing plenty of spark. Andrew Gaff looked to be back to his running best as he moved the ball along the wings with poise, Ben Keays found plenty of it and hit the goals twice and Rory Laird hardly faltered. Brodie Smith looked solid for the Crows as a barrage of opposition goals came his way in the second half. Nic Naitanui dished the ball up on a silver platter for his mids.
Lows- The Eagles will be hoping that captain Luke Shuey’s latest calf injury isn’t a major setback after being subbed out in the final quarter and having his leg iced up. Taylor Walker looked to be the only one able to hit the goals early as the Crows kicked the only goal of the first quarter, but he was well held after that point. Elliot Himmelberg also struggled to impose himself against a quality defence.
The Giants led by as much as 35 points in the second quarter but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Swans in a barnstorming finish as they piled on seven straight goals in what would become a run of nine of ten in a row beginning just before half time and stealing the lead from GWS in the third quarter, a lead that Sydney wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the match. Winning by 26 points in what wound up being a 61 point turnaround.
Highs- It was the Buddy show in the second half as the Swans champion forward slammed through 4.2 and was a massive contributor up forward in turning the game upon its head. Tom Papley was also at his sneaky best kicking four straight and believe it or not, DISHING A CERTAIN GOAL OFF TO A TEAMMATE. Tom Hickey was strong in the ruck and providing a marking target around the ground as Luke Parker put on a show out of the middle. Taranto and Hopper battled honourably for the Giants but had their backs up against the wall.
Lows- The Rolls Royce did a wheel bearing as the Giants premier midfielder Josh Kelly looked to roll his ankle, struggling to walk on it unassisted he was taken off the field and didn’t return. Ruckman Matt Flynn twice left the ground with what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, finishing the match on the bench with his arm in a sling. Both teams lost key players and staff in the hours leading up to the game as they were forced to isolate after being exposed to a Covid exposure site.
That will do us here for another week. Given the current state of uncertainty around which games will actually be being played, when and where; please bear with me regarding the preview.
Now, sink your teeth into this.
Collingwood vs Port Adelaide
They say a week is a long time in footy, well looking back to nine weeks ago feels like an eternity. Funny to think back on the furore that made front page news the last time these teams met was which club should get to wear the black and white. Fast forward to now and I’m sure the players would be happy to play shirts vs skins if it meant the season could continue amidst the current Covid chessboard that we’re navigating. The Magpies looked to be on their way to a hugely demoralising win over the old enemy in Carlton on the weekend. It finally looked like the players could get around Robert Harvey’s game plan and put some competitive football out there. Well, for a half anyways. Carlton piled on the goals in the second half and turned the game back on Collingwood to win comfortably. Port Adelaide just did it against the Saints. The old ‘it wasn’t pretty, but we did it.’ perfectly sums up their win at Marvel.
So what does it all mean?
The Power are a game clear back in the top four thanks to Brisbane failing to overcome the Tigers. The race to the top four is shaping up to be a last-laps thriller as the top six are all well and truly in the hunt with only a game and a half now seperating first and sixth. The Magpies are only playing for their own humility from here on out. The bottom four, or just outside looking like a certainty.
All eyes on:
Hiya Georgie!- Mitch Georgiades hit the ground running in terrific fashion this season. The agile forward had seven goals to his name at the start of season 2021, then after kicking four goals in his first game of the year against the Bombers in Round 2, he would go on to add a further eight goals across the next five rounds to average two goals a game and look like the head of a promising crop of young players earning their stripes in the Port Adelaide system. Or should I say, earning their V’s? Ya know, since they’re not actually allowed to wear their prison bar stripes at Port? Eh? Eh? Anyways, back to young Mitch. Back-to-back hauls of two goals in Round 8 and 9 would be the equal best returns we’d see from Georgiades until he bagged a goal in every quarter against the Saints on the weekend and was the Power’s most accurate and reliable weapon in attack, almost single-handedly keeping them in the game. If this bloke isn’t a consideration for the Rising Star this year I’ll be pleasantly surprised, Ken Hinkley has an endearing talent at his disposal.
Should I stay or should I go?- It’s hard to pen a staunch defence on Collingwood’s improvement in the latter part of the season on the back of their second half capitulation at the hands of Carlton. Since Nathan Buckley has gone the team has at times looked like a completely different side on the park. With Jordan DeGoey spending noticeably more time playing the colloquially named role that he and Jake Stringer have thrust upon them “the Dustin Martin midfield/forward role”. We’ve seen a fair mix of young players coming through who have shown signs at times, but it seems like the Pies may be in for some growing pains. If they continue to fade out or lack answers to opposition coaches making changes, then they’re going to find their backs up against the wall most weeks. The team that cocked it up against the Blues this weekend looked like a shadow of the team who grabbed the Tigers by the throat in the last quarter of the previous round and stormed home to one of, if not their most impressive win of the season. What they did to Richmond in that final term is exactly what the Blues did to them this round just gone and it’s fade-outs like that that both interim coach Robert Harvey, and whoever draws the short straw for the senior coaching job will have to stamp out of their game. Stat.
Carlton vs North Melbourne
It’s hard to believe that this North Melbourne side have only won two and a half games this year. Their form in the latter half of the season suggests they’re making the right calls as a club, but more on that later. They come into this one against the Blues off a spirited 18 point loss to the Bombers. The Blues looked dead in the water for all money against the Magpies before coming out after half time spitting fire like a 90s mixtape. Mounting a 53 point turnaround to steamroll the Magpies by 29 points at an empty MCG.
So what does it all mean?
So you’re saying there’s a chance? Statistically, yes. Carlton can still make the finals, and if they played every quarter like their second half effort against the Magpies then their finals prayers would be slightly more than just that – prayers. Mind you, if I had Sam Walsh as my priest then I’d be forgiven for expecting miracles to happen. For North Melbourne it’s Operation: Don’t Piss Mum Off – avoid that wooden spoon at all cost.
All eyes on:
Change is as good as a holiday- It’s getting to the point where North Melbourne are just too good to be on the bottom of the ladder anymore. I know that statement is moot because if they were actually too good to be on the bottom, then they of course wouldn’t be. Since the Bombers thrashed them to the tune of 72 points back in Round 12, their biggest losses since have been 23 points and 29 points – both against top four teams in Brisbane and Western Bulldogs respectively. Their form across the past two months no longer screams of the perennial cellar-dwellers that will be lucky to win more than a couple of games for the year, despite their slim record in the win’s department still, North Melbourne are no longer easybeats in the AFL. A lot of credit must go to David Noble and his team for persisting with this side and playing the younger players. He’s implementing a game plan that not only the players seem to respect and understand, but a belief amongst North Melbourne supporters that their team is on the right path. Then to see such an arrant change in the way they’re conducting themselves on the field, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas down at Arden Street.
Passing the torch, or flicking the switch as you walk out? – Some teams have some heartwarming stories of a faithful club servant or champion player passing the torch to the next generation who’s there to take their spot and lead the club over the hill and into brighter pastures. I heard a touching recount this week of the moment Cameron Mooney felt that he passed the proverbial torch on to Tom Hawkins to play in the 2011 Grand Final over himself which piqued my interest and got my old brain box thinking. So many teams aren’t blessed with the opportunity to time the downslope of one champion player with the sudden rise of another, or more so have the foresight and the sheer luck to pull off such a neat transition. What am I getting at with all of this? After my high praises of Harry McKay last week I started thinking, who else does the heavy scoring for Carlton? I know Sam Walsh and Patrick Cripps get forward for the odd goal, Matt Owies has strung together some ok games up forward this season.
Upon further reflection, I decided to check where the Blues were getting their scores from this year. The bleeding obvious answer is clearly Harry McKay, with 52 goals from his 17 games this season, he’s the current Coleman Medal leader. Next best? Eddie Betts with 24 goals from his 15 games. It’s almost daylight between those two and the next sufficient goal scorers on Carlton’s list for this season. When your second highest goal scorer for the season is a 34 year old small forward serving his second stint at the club, where does the future of your forward line lie? One might say that it has an insanely sound core that can be based around Harry McKay, and that one would be correct. You can build an entire list around someone like Harry McKay. But where else will their goals come from? Who, if anyone, is even remotely close to acceptable as the future torch-bearer to carry on once Eddie Betts retires? There’s Jack Martin, but he’s a whole other article that I’ll tackle when the time is right.
Brisbane vs Gold Coast
Ah, my favourite time of the year again, the pinnacle of AFL media branding – The Q-Clash. The latest instalment of my favourite Scrabble board themed match will see a Brisbane side hot off a dispiriting loss to the Tigers take on a Gold Coast side who have found a new lease on life, having come into a consistent vein of form over the past month and off the back of a very admirable 11 point loss to the Bulldogs.
So what does it all mean?
All of a sudden the Lions are out of the top four and another loss paired with a Sydney win will see them drop to sixth place, two games ahead of West Coast and three ahead of Essendon, Richmond, Fremantle and St. Kilda. What a strange season this is becoming, all of a sudden the Brisbane Lions are only a three-game-better side than St. Kilda. If the Suns maintain this form they’ll avoid the bottom four, but still fall short of that elusive finals berth.
All eyes on:
Sharp dressed teen- I’ll admit, I never knew much about Jeremy Sharp before this weekend. Other than a strong contested mark that I recalled him taking against North Melbourne earlier this year that really caught my eye, he hadn’t come across my desk much as an opposition supporter. The 19-year-old played just his sixth career game against the Dogs over the weekend and if his return was a reflection of his capabilities and not just a flash in the pan, then I can see why Suns fans are excited about this kid. Playing predominantly in the back half, he made the most of his disposals and rebounded the ball well amid the heavy presence of experience in the Dogs forward line, becoming an important link between defence and the midfield and aiding his side’s transition of the ball, the boy with the luscious golden locks approached the game like someone seven years his senior with a hundred more games experience. I’ve overhyped players prematurely on the back of a good game before and been made look like a fool when they fail to reach said heights again. So I’m really hoping that this isn’t the case here, but after seeing the number 37 read the play so well whilst coming under fire from a highly skilled opposition, dare I mention just how ‘Sharp’ he looked for a 19-year-old?
Rigorous Robbo- Now I’m not going to lie here, when Carlton threw Mitch Robinson to the scrap heap at the end of the 2014 season, I remember thinking to myself: ‘how the hell did such an undisciplined, loose cannon muster his way to 100 senior AFL games?’. Watching him on the field as an opposition supporter was bad enough, I’d heard the stories of his off-field escapades and figured I’d seen the last of the 25-year-old. On the back of a brawl in the Melbourne CBD where Robinson sustained a broken eye socket, his lying to the club over the cause of his injury was the straw that broke the back of the old, dark, navy blue camel. Brisbane made the call to throw the wantaway midfielder a lifeline, chief recruiting officer Peter Schwab citing Robinson’s super-competitiveness and attack on the ball as key characteristics that they saw which would see him slot into the midfield nicely alongside fellow Victorian and new recruit Dayne Beams. Now aged 32, Mitch Robinson has played an additional 127 games for the Lions and has risen to heights that I certainly never perceived as possible after seeing his run at Carlton. He was a joint best and fairest winner at the conclusion of the 2015 season in what was his first season at the new club and placing second in 2016, now in the final year of his contract, Mitch Robinson has done his future chances absolutely no harm this season by continuing his ferocious attack on the ball and managing to find the goals at time this season.
West Coast vs St. Kilda
The Saints will travel to Perth to take on the Eagles from Optus Stadium. The last time these two teams met was back in Round 4 where St. Kilda would hold off West Coast at Marvel Stadium and win by 20 points. In what has been a full-circle year for both clubs thus far, the Saints having meandered through their season and found form in the past month, the Eagles have looked good until a run of three very subpar games looked almost certain to derail their season before a timely win over Adelaide last weekend.
So what does it all mean?
The Eagles are still playing for a spot inside the eight. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still in the eight and a game clear at that. But we’ve seen already what can happen when teams inside the top eight start losing. It’s a very tight assembly of teams gathering and vying for a spot in the finals, and the further this season progresses, the more uncertainty prevails. The Saints are currently only percentage outside the eight which makes this a thrilling contest.
All eyes on:
Clashing In- There are a number of looming matchups in this game that are making me go the full Big Kev, because I’m Excited! Let’s start off with Nic Naitanui vs Paddy Ryder/Rowan Marshall. We’ve seen on a number of occasions this season where the ruck duo of Ryder and Marshall set the world apart between the Saints and their opposition. Having a formidable pair that can split their ruck duties with forward duties and work in tandem has been a saving grace for the Saints and a baseline for their midfield press. There’s no need to oversell the importance of Nic Naitanui to the West Coast team, because anyone that even remotely knows football can recognise what a dangerous tap ruckman he can be. We saw it just this weekend gone where Naitanui got the better of opponent Reilly O’Brien with no exchanging of smartphones after the match. It was his tapwork and his ability to give his midfielders first crack at, and the best opportunity to win the ball.
The other matchup is a blanketing one, but just stop and consider Elliot Yeo, Tim Kelly and Andrew Gaff going head to head with Jack Steele, Luke Dunstan and Brad Crouch. If both team’s midfielders hit this game early with a sense of urgency and intensity, then we are in for a treat. Jack Steele has been one of the most consistent and damaging players in the competition this season. Personally, I see his contribution up there with the likes of Petracca, Wines, Bontempelli, Oliver, Parish, Miller and Merrett for what he’s been able to achieve. Likewise, since being plucked back from VFL obscurity, Luke Dunstan has become a mainstay in the Saints lineup and a solid contributor to their midfield. His averages since returning to this team are short of phenomenal given that he was a likely candidate to be shown the door at the end of the season only a couple of months ago. Although his form has tapered at times this season and he’s found himself on the receiving end of some criticism directed at St. Kilda’s offseason recruits and their failure to fire, when the Saints are looking good, so is Brad Crouch. Some may see that as tell-tale signs of a player being a front runner, but if Brett Ratten can continue to push Crouch and squeeze more out of him, alongside his other midfield charges, he has the potential of unlocking Crouch’s form that we saw at Adelaide over his eight years there.
Now I know I’ve gone into depth on the quality of West Coast’s midfield before, but it’s hard not to be excited by a team that boasts so much talent. It’s why I was so critical of them during their recent three games losing streak, because they have all the foundations there of a team that’s able to achieve great things, but failure to exert themselves makes them look like a faltering mess. With Tim Kelly and Elliot Yeo winning the hard ball and earning the clearances paired with Andrew Gaff streaming the ball down the wing and inside 50, this weekend’s contest has me eager.
Adelaide vs Hawthorn
As far as games in the 16th plays 17th stakes go, this one doesn’t really resonate as anything too special. Two teams that are heavily in that phase where they’ve lost key players to retirement and trades and are looking to establish a new world order to bring their teams forward and back into contention. Hawthorn pulled off an almighty tied match against the top of the table Demons last week whilst the Crows fought well for a half but were blown away by the Eagles at Adelaide Oval.
So what does it all mean?
Since neither of these teams will be playing finals, it’s all eyes towards the future and the development of their younger players. Finishing in the bottom four will reward both teams with better draft picks, but that doesn’t discount the importance of getting wins into establishing sides.
All eyes on:
May divorce be with you- Well. It would appear that we’re not such a happy team at Hawthorn currently with news circulating left, right and centre that there’s a massive chasm in the Hawks’ Hotmail account between outgoing email Alastair Clarkson and incoming email Sam Mitchell. With the announcement body of a succession plan for the Hawthorn senior coaching position still warm, it’s been widely reported that there’s trouble in paradise with the mighty fighting coaches not quite seeing eye to eye, which is strange given that there’s only about two centimetres height difference between the pair. So much so that club president Jeff Kennett has been forced to email all Hawthorn members and reassure them that everything within his party is hunky dory and that the privatisation of the SEC is a move that will benefit members of all clubs. Hang on, something is a bit skew-whiff here.
With many tipping that this next coaching transition period for the Hawks is headed down a beaten track and destined to end up messy, we’re faced with the uncertainty and the playing side will suffer for it. Will the former West Coast midfielder stamp his foot down and force Hawthorn to end Clarkson’s contract 15 months prematurely and cost the club over $1 million in remuneration directly out of their soft cap? Or will Mitchell be forced to ride the bumps with a grin? One for all and all for one, not the way we coach at Hawthorn. This will get messy
You can’t handle the youth- With Adelaide on the ropes again this season, it’s been a fall from grace for this once-strong football club since their capitulation at the hands of Richmond in the 2017 Grand Final. It’s almost been an inverted affair ever since, with Richmond springboarding off that demoralising victory to win a further two flags in the ensuing three years, it’s been a tough slog for the Crows who have lost players to rival clubs and had draft picks not quite blossom in ways that the club had hoped. It’s of no surprise to hear that the Crows will be open to further trading of senior players at season’s end, with free agents such as Daniel Talia and Matt Crouch open to being shipped off. With fellow senior stalwart Tom Lynch also not likely to be offered a contract at the conclusion of season 2021, it’s a brutal call by the club, but one that often needs to be made to clear the decks and continue to draft youth. It’s a situation that their opponents this week Hawthorn have seen themselves hit with in recent seasons and one that will bring a lot of short term pain before the Crows see any long term gain.
Melbourne vs Western Bulldogs
There are a few really big matches scheduled for this weekend, both in terms of the teams that are playing and their respective placement on the ladder. The following contest is scheduled for one fall and is one of our two heavyweight main events of the weekend. Introducing first the challenger; once hailing from the suburb of Footscray, now residing purely in “Western”, the Bulldogs! And their opponents, hailing from the state capital and the current ladder leading champions by half a match, the Melbourne Demons!
Sorry to put my infamous curse on a game once again, but every time I hype up one of our top weekly clashes, the game turns into fizzler, so my apologies in advance. Melbourne come into this one on the back of a horrible draw that they succumbed to against Hawthorn last week. The Bulldogs did enough to see off a stroppy Gold Coast side that just kept coming at them.
So what does it all mean?
Any fans of the original ECW in the house? If so, you’ll appreciate this. What does it all mean you ask? Well. It’s currently a three way dance between the Demons, the Bulldogs and the Cats for top spot come the conclusion of this round and it’s a relatively simple equation; if Melbourne win then they’ll maintain their place on top regardless of Geelong’s result. If the Bulldogs win they’ll almost certainly finish the round on top due to their lofty percentage being 10 points higher than that of Geelong’s. If the Cats do win, however, the only way they take top spot is at the expense of the Bulldogs, and they would be required to beat the Tigers by a few hundred points or something to that tune.
All eyes on:
Spread Dead Redemption- The Bulldogs have found a lethal mix of goalkickers from all around the ground, no longer overly reliant on their ‘big 3′ of Naughton, English and Bruce (who only kicked a goal each against the Suns on the weekend) to kick a bag each and contribute the bulk of their goals. Instead their 14 goals at Metricon came from nine individual goal kickers ranging from three goals to second gamer Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, to two goals from ball magnet Jack Macrae and a further three goals shared between defenders Jason Johannisen and Caleb Daniel. It’s hard for a team to defend against three dangerous talls in the opposition’s forward line. We’ve seen at times this year that all three of the Bulldogs’ spearheads can rip a game apart off the back of strong marking and backing it up with good goal-sense. But it’s even harder for a team to defend against a vast mix of players capable of hitting the scoreboard. We’ve seen at times this season where contested ball machine Tom Liberatore has snuck forward and kicked multiple goals. Small forward Cody Weightman has popped up at times and provided a dangerous spark with a nous that’s hard to predict as a defender, and captain Marcus Bontempelli is a proven goalkicker, currently third in the Bulldogs’ goalscorers for the season on 21. Perhaps what will set the Dogs apart from teams like Melbourne come finals time is their ability to score and their plethora of bodies able to pop up and find the goals, especially when their traditional avenues to scoring aren’t performing.
So hot, want to touch the Viney- People love to drop the “if I had to go to war, he’s the footy player I’d want by my side” line, like as if there’s a situation fathomable where that scenario would actually play out. Usually in today’s game when such a quote is bestowed upon us, it’s in reference to Brisbane legend Luke Hodge or Cats captain Joel Selwood. Personally, I’m not too sure that drink driving or lining a player’s head up with a goalpost would be traits that I’d look for in football/military crossover comrade. (I’m kidding guys, don’t tell the Hawthorn supporters that I had a crack at Luke Hodge) Every now and then the occasional squire will throw the name Jack Viney in the aforementioned category and it’s another name that I could stand by. Honestly, when he’s at full flight in the field, the bloke is as hard as your Mother-in-law’s head and if he borrowed Jayden Hunt’s long-sleeve jersey then I could accurately say that he’s someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. Watching how he attacked the contest and attacked his opponent against the Hawks on the weekend just further reiterated to me how important Jack Viney is to Melbourne and just how imperative it is to their finals aspirations that he be fit, firing and showing nothing but his grunt and determination.
Open a jar’a Jamarra- If you can put the media blinders on and ignore the constant hysteria around him, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan played a good hand against the Suns last weekend. If you look at his quality as opposed to his quantity, then for a 19 year old in just his second game, he was exceptional. His three goals all showcasing his natural talent and ability, but it was his forward craft that really caught my eye. He presented well in the forward line and fooled his opponents more than once with false leads, not just for his own benefit, but to draw his opponent away from a teammate and allow a clearer passage to goals for his team. This isn’t something you can just teach a player, it’s football smarts and it’s a genuine craft lacked by a lot of forwards in the AFL today. If this is a sign of what’s to come, then the big marks and flashy goals will be the cherry-on-top of a brilliant minded footballer.
Essendon vs GWS
Essendon didn’t show up against the Kangaroos for over a half of football last week, so in hindsight, they did well to get on top of an impressive team display from the Roos, and turn that game into a win for themselves. They come up against another aspirant for finals football who are suffering through their own in-game fade-outs, the Giants having started well against the Swans and been run over in the second half.
So what does it all mean?
Greater Western Sydney have an opportunity this week to elevate their position into the top eight and bring themselves one step closer to playing finals football. Coming off a disappointing loss to the Swans dinted their chances last week. Likewise, the Bombers will be hoping to utilise their superior percentage and win this one to stay inside the top eight. Their run home includes games against Sydney and the Bulldogs so they’ll be after as many runs on the board as possible.
All eyes on:
Childbirth or finals berth? The Giants will again be without star Toby Greene and gun tagger Matt de Boer this week as the pair continue to isolate after visiting an exposure site for Covid-19. More interestingly, the Giants small forward Bobby Hill has opted to return home to locked-down Sydney to be with his pregnant partner. I sit anxiously awaiting Caroline Wilson’s scathing opinion on the 21-year-old and his decision to abandon his team, teammates and coaches to fly home and be at the birth of his child – especially given that this may be their last chance to make finals. Sound familiar? It should. Don’t get me wrong, for the record, I am a family man and fully support any person putting their family before their workplace, regardless of how highly paid, or how heavily in the public eye they are. But surely if it was such a mighty uproar that Wilson was merely voicing her opinion on behalf of some disgruntled players and staff from St. Kilda when two of their own players opted to fly home prior to their game against Adelaide, which was apparently a “must-win” and “their last chance of playing finals football”, back in round 13, then certainly we’ll be hearing all about it again this week? If Caroline was so quick to staunchly defend her comments, one can only assume that someone in such a prominent position would have the integrity to widen her stance and double down on Bobby Hill this week. If it was so outrageous for Seb Ross and Tim Membrey to personally condemn their team’s finals chances way back in Round 13, I hate to think of just how horrific it is for Bobby Hill to do so in Round 19 – in her opinion anyway.
If ya Snell what the Bombers are cooking- No, I’m not pitching Carlton’s next horrible membership campaign. I’ve taken a liking to Essendon’s mid-season draftee from 2019, Will Snelling. Originally drafted from West Adelaide in the SANFL at pick 10 by Port Adelaide in the 2016 rookie draft, Snelling only managed to break into the Power’s senior side once in 2016 before being delisted at the end of the 2018 season. Overlooked in the 2019 pre-season draft, he was nabbed by the Bombers at pick 7 in the mid-season draft of 2019 and made his club debut in Round 18, playing three games that season. He became a mainstay for the Dons, playing every game for his new club in season 2020 and following it up with the first 11 games of 2021 before suffering an injured thumb kept him out of the side for a month. At his best, Bombers fans have seen a gut runner that makes up in effort and willingness what he lacks in stature, magnified when seeing those short corgi-like legs pumping as he gathers on the wing and sets up a forward entry. Up until last week’s game against the Kangaroos, Snelling had kicked 11.3 from his 14 games this season which is not only a decent return for a small player who spends a lot of time throughout the middle, but also an accurate return. He is one of only a few players at Essendon that fans feel a sense of confidence as he lines up for a set shot with his beautiful kicking action. Given the number of injuries to key midfielders that Essendon has battled with throughout the 2021 season, we’ve seen a solid return from the boy who grew up supporting the red and black. At times he’s been thrust into the bowels of the midfield and spent time out on the wing, but to average almost a goal a game along with your 20 disposals and five tackles a week is a very handy contribution for a player that cost the team so little.
Geelong vs Richmond
The second heavyweight title fight in our double-header main event this weekend comes to us from the MCG. Yes, despite my love for taking the piss out of them, I still consider Richmond a heavyweight in this competition, and will continue to do so until such time arises that they relinquish their title and fail to defend their form of the past four seasons consistently. The other side of the coin is a true contender for this year’s title, Geelong are just ticking along nicely. I’ve said it before, Geelong have only managed to just get enough done in numerous games this season, but a win’s a win and once you’re in the top rungs, few remember what you had to do to get there.
So what does it all mean?
The Tigers are clawing their way back into finals contention and will be looking to win as many games as possible between now and season’s end to make it five straight seasons of playing finals football. Something that this club hasn’t seen for a generation. The Cats need to win and win big if they aspire to finish this round atop of the ladder once more. Even in a worst-case scenario, a loss won’t push them outside the top four this week.
All eyes on:
Done and Dusty’d- After his heavily publicised kidney injury at the hands of Mitch Robinson on the weekend, Dustin Martin has been ruled out for the remainder of season 2021, facing no contact training for at least the next three months. Even if the Tigers are to make the finals this season, it will be the first time that Richmond have played a final without Dustin Martin in the side since 2001 when the superstar was only 10 years old. Quite. A gripping stat when you break it down, in 20 years this club has not played a final that didn’t feature the three time Norm Smith Medallist, Mr. September himself.
Speaking of nicknames- It’s another piece of appreciation here, but this one is at the admiration I have for Tom Hawkins and what he’s achieved throughout his career. If Dustin Martin is known as Mr. September for his uncanny knack of turning up in finals, then ‘The Tomahawk’ (which is an awesome nickname in itself) could and should be referred to as Mr. Consistency. Whilst watching their game against Fremantle on Thursday night, I heard the god-awful commentary team mention a stat that really played on my obsession with obscure stats – Tom Hawkins has kicked at least 40 goals in every season for the past 10 seasons. If that doesn’t scream consistency and reliability then I don’t know what does. The man who turned 33 this week has been a central pillar in attack for a Geelong side that has sustained success almost every season since he debuted back in 2007.
Sydney vs Fremantle
It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that these teams met last and played out their absolute thriller that saw the Dockers snare a last gasp victory over the Swans by two points. Buddy kicked six that day but it wasn’t enough as Fremantle champion Nat Fyfe kicked the sealer for his side with minutes to go. The Swans are in fine form having won their past three games in a row against quality opposition. The Dockers have now lost two of their past three with their last win coming against Hawthorn.
So what does it all mean?
Pending the results of the Port Adelaide and Brisbane games, Sydney could see themselves in the top four this weekend. The way they’re playing is the right style at the right time, whilst many have predicted their downfall this season, the Swans have continued to rise and beat quality opposition. Fremantle are currently 10th and a win may see them back inside the eight this weekend, however they have direct competition from the Tigers, Saints and Giants who are all vying for the same spot, on top of the Bombers and Eagles who will be doing everything within their power to remain inside the eight.
All eyes on:
Thrills and spills, frills and Mills- What a season Callum Mills is putting together. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t religiously watch the Swans every week, or if he is constantly overshadowed by the leviathan names he plays alongside in Franklin, Parker, Heeney and Kennedy, but after watching his past fortnight against the Bulldogs and the Eagles closely, it’s easy to see why Swans fans are so infatuated by their no-nonsense midfielder. Since being moved from defence to the midfield last season to cover a range of injury woes, Mills has been going at an average of 28 disposals per match with almost 12 of those contested, 5 clearances and 5 tackles a game are staunch numbers regardless of who you are or which team you play for.
Annnnd, I wrote all that then found out he is isolating due to covid. What a pity he won’t be playing this week. Still, the Swans have unveiled plenty of midfield talent this season, and with old guns like Josh Kennedy and current star, Luke Parker supporting players like George Hewett in the middle, they should be able to cover his loss as he sits out due to Covid protocols. It gives James Rowbottom another crack in the guts, and given the role of defensive mid, he has been quite effective.
Mundy on my mind- Plenty will be said about the Fremantle on-baller this week by people with nicer offices and bigger paychecks than me, so I plan on keeping this simple. But as he prepares to walk onto the field for the 350th time this week I feel a special shoutout and nod of appreciation is warranted from an opposition supporter, for the longevity and quality of his contribution to the Fremantle Football Club. Not only that, but his ability to elevate himself and continually improve his ability at age 36 is something that almost any young player should aspire to. The epitome of teaching an old dog new tricks, Mundy has continued to thrive in a code with an ever-changing landscape, all whilst maintaining peak physical fitness as he fastly approaches his former teammate and captain Matthew Pavlich’s club record of 353 games.
Yibbida yibbida, that’s all folks. Thanks for sticking fat with me throughout these uncertain times. Apologies if the AFL force changes that make my comments redundant. As always, please feel free to light the comments section up with your adoration or trepidation and don’t forget to support your local bakery. All the best fellow lockdown-erinos.