Is there some sort of curse on the eighth spot this season?

Everyone says they want it, but most seem to avoid it like the plague. This week, in a situation where one of the teams absolutely had to put their hand up, it was GWS playing better, harder footy in the second half to relegate to the Bombers to ninth and give themselves every chance of returning to the finals this season.

The Giants were without their two leaders, with Stephen Coniglio missing and Toby Greene still forced to isolate (because they don’t want his greatness rubbing off on anyone else, presumably) but they were able to rally behind some gut running from Lachie Whitfield and the continued emergence of your 2021 Rising Star, Tom Green.

What – you think I am going a little early with that statement? Convince me otherwise.

More on Green later – the Giants were looking as though they’d fall by the wayside again at half time, but they hit the third quarter and played both ways, stifling the Bombers’ run and cracking it at the contest to outwork Essendon on the inside, and outpace them on the outside.

Carrying on from Round 18, there were some worrying signs from the Bomber mids, which we’ll get to, but overall this was a wonderful win from the Giants, who have now put their hand up as the team to beat in the race for the last spot in the eight.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

 

IS TOM GREEN THE ONLY OPTION FOR THE RISING STAR AWARD AFTER THIS GAME?

Hell yes.

Don’t come at me with arguments for Nik Cox – please, spare yourself the embarrassment. Tom Green has been far and away the most impressive of the eligible players in 2021, and his ability to stand up and become the man for the GWS Giants was never more apparent than in this one.

We’re always talking about players that are able to lead, and players that could be future leaders of a club – people, this kid has Michael Voss written all over him, but how many times did Vossy fill in as a ruckman in his second season? I’m guessing he didn’t…

Make no mistake, it was the leadership of Tom Green that was his most impressive attribute in this game, and that is saying something, because there are so many other aspects of the game he does well. He has some of the cleanest hands in the game, makes wonderful decisions with the footy and has the sort of vision that you just cannot teach. Seriously, he sees options for outlet handballs in congestion before the outlet player even knows he is an outlet player!

He finished this game with 29 touches, including 11 in the last quarter to really elevate his game ensure the Giants were going to remain in control, and if he does not win the Rising Star award this season, it will be the biggest travesty since I won second prize in a beauty contest despite being the only entrant.

He’s a star, people, and may very well turn out to be the player everyone was predicting Matt Rowell to be coming into this season.

 

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE BOMBERS’ MIDFIELD?

Cruise control, baby. They played like a cohort that were waiting for the game to come to them, and expecting that it would. Against opposition like Jacob Hopper and Tom Green, that, my friends, is a dangerous game to play.

Merrett and Parish combined for just 35 touches, which is usually about the number one of them picks up on any given week, alone. Whilst there was no clear standout for the Giants at the coalface, with Green the only Giant mid to have above two individual clearances, Merrett and Parish were just unable to get their hands on the footy, and their normally explosive run and spread from the stoppage was more like a firecracker of three-quarter paced ambling along with everyone else.

In Parish’s case, the efforts of Lachie Ash were largely responsible for his ghastly outing, but if you’re going to be one of the top mids in the game, and that is what is now expected of Parish, then you have to learn to deal with, and beat defensive mids. You also have to rely on your teammates to put blocks on and help you out.

There was none of that from the Bombers, who played a selfish brand of footy in the middle.

We saw signs last week that would have been troubling for both Bomber fans and their coaching staff – players meandering back through the middle as their opponents pressed hard forward, and we saw plenty of it again in this game.

In a nutshell, the dynamic duo of Merrett and Parish were outworked, outclassed, and in Parish’s case, beaten by a better man on the day. Meanwhile, the return of Dylan Shiel without a game in the seconds fell flat in a big way. His only moment to have any glory came and went in the blink of an eye when he sprayed a running shot for goal that may have given Essendon some momentum. Classic Dylan.

You’d excuse him, however, as it is not his fault that he was thrown immediately back into the mix, and you always want to give players a game or so to get their bearings when they come back from a long-term injury. He’ll be better-assessed next week.

Finally, Jake Stringer, at times the ignitor of the Bomber offence, did what he could when inserted into the middle, but it wasn’t enough. He still looks as though he is the most dangerous player on the ground when he gets the footy, but with 14 touches, and nine of them coming in the contest, he found himself under pressure a little too often to have the impact he has in recent weeks.

Edit – after writing the review, I saw that the AFL website listed Zach Merrett as one of Essendon’s best. Holy hell… I guess that had to whack someone in there…

 

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE GET PETER WRIGHT SOME GRIPPO?

The stat sheet informs me that he dragged down four contested marks in this game, but what it doesn’t tell me is how many times he got both hands to the incoming footy and failed to keep hold of it.

I want to make a conservative guess at five, but it could be as many as seven, as I am not the best at maths, and even simple addition sometimes throws me for a loop. I guess his inability to keep control of the footy in the air is the thing that has prevented him from being the player people speculated he could have been when the Suns drafted him? Is that a fair statement?

He got the majority of his footy up the ground in this one, spending time in the ruck relieving Sam Draper, but inside fifty, it really seemed as though Wright had one of those “almost” games.

Funny – if he stuck one or two more of those marking attempts inside 50, it may have been “almost” enough to get the Dons over the line.

 

WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR BRENT DANIELS?

Pretty sure I am on record as stating that at his best, Daniels could be an All-Australian forward pocket. He is quick, intelligent and makes excellent decisions with the ball in hand.

I’m looking at my notes as I write this, and as the last quarter wound down, I see Daniels’ name feature in three key plays, marking at half back, running forward to mark on the wing , and then roving the Draper ruck tap inside the Giants’ attacking fifty to dribble home the sealing goal – that, my friends, speaks of an improved tank, and the ability to put in whilst others have stopped to a walk.

Speaking of stopping to a walk, we’ll discuss Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti very soon…

Back to Daniels – his ceiling this season would be as a goalsneak that works up through the wings and loses his opponent in traffic. He is lightning off the mark, and his pressure around the ball and second (and third) efforts were genuine highlights. With 17 touches for the game, his numbers don’t leap off the page at you, but he could end up being the best small forward in the finals if the Giants make the cut, and from there… well, you only need a few big games to etch your name into history.

I’m sorry… that’s a bit hyperbolic. He could be a very contributor on a finals team this season, and a forward line with Daniels running around at the feet of a motivated Jesse Hogan and Harry Himmelberg could spell trouble. At 22, the world is his oyster.

 

DO RUCKMEN ACTUALLY KNOW THE RULES AROUND COMPETING IN THE RUCK?

If so, do you think one of them could lean over when they all get together and whisper in the ear of Shane Mumford?

Look, I hate the “blocking” rule in the ruck. If you’re good enough to position yourself well and prevent your opponent from getting a clear run at the footy, I don’t think there is much wrong with it. However, the AFL umpires do not give a shit what I think, and as a result, we saw Big Mummy pinged for four free kicks for blocking Sam Draper out of the contest and not getting a hand on the footy, himself.

I’m not quite sure what Mumford was afraid of – Draper was only +7 in taps for the whole game, but there was a definite leaning for Mummy to crash into Draper as he prepared to contest, and the umpires were right onto it.

Given the athletic advantage Draper possessed, I really think he under-performed in this contest. He and Mumford had 11 touches each, and Draper was able to take one mark for the game. The five free kicks against Mumford in the ruck inflated Draper’s clearance stats to have him finish with seven, but for a young bloke with so much more gas in the tank, I was really surprised that he was unable to punish the Giants a little more. I mean, Mumford finished with six clearances of his own!

All that said, the ruck remains a real issue for GWS, and you could see it becoming a huge stumbling block in the finals. Their list boasts Brayden Preuss, who has been as useful as tits on a bull this year due to injury, Matt Flynn, and Kieren Briggs, but once again, despite their best efforts, it is Mumford doing the heavy lifting when he should be used as a luxury.

 

IS ANTHONY MCDONALD-TIPUNGWUTI COOKED IN 2021?

Maybe. Either that, or he is injured.

Watching him in this game, Walla gave next to no second efforts and was easily beaten by Connor Idun. His chasing was non-existent, and the only time he seemed to have a direct influence on the game was when he had the ball delivered to him on a platter – there was no earning possessions for AMT in this one at all.

So, what is it? Injury, or has he hit a massive wall, only for the wall to topple over and crush him?

At this stage, I am not sure. He has been known to have these games where he goes from the penthouse to the outhouse, but this is the second straight week where he has been held goalless and has only managed five touches. A player of his ability having such a minimal impact is almost a slap in the face to those who toil away and work their backsides off for a place in the league. We heard on commentary, during one of the rare moments where Walla was involved, that he spent three years in the Essendon reserves.

Hmmmm, do you think, just maybe, it is efforts like this week that saw him spend that long in the bloody ressies?

It was only a few weeks back he was in the forward pocket in Matt Oman’s Rolling Australian team on our site. Now, I would be horrified if Matt had him back in contention. Positions in the AA team should be for players who offer a consistent run of form, and up until around Round 14, that is what we received from him.

Since then, he has fallen off a cliff, and if he doesn’t arrest the slide, he might end up dragging this team down with him.

 

THE RUNNING MAN

No one worked harder without the footy in this game than Lachie Whitfield. It is rare that anyone does.

He picked up 35 touches in a contest where I was wondering whether he had a body odour problem – no one was going anywhere near him! 24 of his touches were uncontested, and he made a habit out of dropping into half back to act as the release valve for the Giants from defence. Tim and time again, we saw Whitfield making the running and his opponent dropping off after the first effort.

But that’s the thing with Whitfield, isn’t it? It is never just one effort – it is two and three efforts to find space and provide an option for his teammates, and eventually, he just gets the footy.

 

A NOTE ON TARANTO

Teams have not figured out Tim Taranto just yet. I mean, it’s only been a best and fairest and five seasons in the league… maybe they need more time.

Here’s a note for future opponents – Tim Taranto is the short pass hit-up king. It is undisputed. Nobody in the league does the double back to receive the 20-metre pass as well as him, o =r as often as him.

Whenever I see a GWS player mark the footy at half back, Taranto is never far away. He loved being part of that slow build and the mark-kick passage down the ground, and more than that, he eats up the opportunity to get the easy short pass as part of that chain.

Me, I much prefer the crash and bash version of Taranto we’ve seen in the past, but if he can pinch a few cheap possessions and teams are dumb enough to allow him, then why wouldn’t he?

 

NO FINLAYSON, NO WORRIES?

I’m sure there’ll be a few people looking at the way Jesse Hogan and Harry Himmelberg combined in this one and wondering whether it may be better for the time being to see how the Giants travel with a more traditional two-tall forward line.

Finlayson is an opportunistic player, and has the potential to be a matchwinner, but the similarities in terms of he and Himmelberg, and what they offer, could force Leon Cameron to make a choice… based on today, I would be choosing Himmelberg.

I have been a little harsh on Finlayson in the past, and I think it may be due to his outward petulance on the field at times, but we rarely saw Himmelberg and Hogan get in each other’s way in this one, and with Toby Greene due back, I  wonder whether we’re now looking at the three-pronged attack the Giants actually want?

Hogan was not dominant by any stretch, but he competed in the air and looks like he is capable of being a successful bail out option at the top of the square. Himmelberg is good in the air and at ground level, whereas Finlayson is elusive when the ball hits the deck, and he is a great finisher – something both sides lacked in this contest.

Put yourself in Leon Cameron’s shoes – who do you choose to partner with Hogan and Greene as you start looking toward September?

 

ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?

Yeah, a few things.

I am a little worried about how stiff Phil Davis looks at the moment. He is running around out there at times like he has a stick up his backside. Someone should do the check before he runs out next time.

He improved as the game went on, but even his disposal early in the game made me wonder just how freely he is able to move.

Decent outings from Dyson Heppell and Jordan Ridley in defence for the Bombers, though Heppell will be haunted by that terrible 20-metre kick that went out on the full. He has really worked hard to clean up his disposal by foot, and you don’t want those types of shanks giving people ammunition.

Ridley is all class – even under pressure, he seems to take everything in stride. If you were building a defence from the next 12 years from the ground up, he would be first picked, Sam Taylor would be second, and Tom McCartin in Sydney might be second. At 22, 22 and 21, respectively, they should share a few AA teams during their career.

My admiration for the game of Taylor continues to grow from week to week. He is an incredible defender, and whilst Ridley gets to zone off and intercept, Taylor’s ability to man-up anyone in the comp and at least breakeven make him one of, if not the best young defender in the game.

Soooo, next week, huh? My AFL app is telling me that GWS get Port Adelaide. Of course, that means bugger all, as things change in the AFL like I change my underwear (about once every three days, ladies… when I wear it. Grrrowl). They need a big scalp, and Port have been massive on the road this year – knocking them over would have GWS walking tall. Plus, Toby will be back. Did you know I adore the way he plays? I do…

For the Bombers, a golden opportunity to secure a finals berth has slipped away, and with Sydney on the horizon, they will need to see a significant lift to compete. I’ll be covering that one, and both teams have been sides I have enjoyed watching this season.

That’ll do for me. Hope you enjoyed my ramblings – I was a little bit looser with this review than I normally am… it’s Sunday night and I am operating on really minimal hours of sleep (a normal weekend for the old Mongrel). Massive thanks to our members who support the site – without you, there is no us. It’s that simple.

 

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