1. Port Adelaide’s list is close to full strength

Only two of the Power’s starting best players, in Robbie Gray and Orazio Fantasia, are currently on the sidelines, and it’s expected both could be fit in time for finals. I’ve been critical of the Power’s inability to knock off sides in finals contention, but I recognise they’ve had their share of injuries. It seems crazy to think that the trio of Rozee, Butters and Duursma, who are in the early part of their careers, were more sorely missed than any others during their time out of the game. Well, all three hit the field at once in what seems like the first time in an eternity, and whilst all three probably didn’t feature in the votes in this game, there is no denying that Port Adelaide is a far better side with them in the team. Maybe, just maybe, if they can get somewhere near full strength, the story come September may be different. Time will tell.

The Pies tried hard, but as is so often the case this year, they just couldn’t close the deal. A big priority for Collingwood during the trade period will be a key forward. Whilst Mihocek had a reasonable outing with 3 goals and has been solid this season, the lack of firepower up forward is glaring. It’s also clear how much Darcy Moore is sorely missed. Charlie Dixon finished with four goals for the match and that might not have happened if the big Pies defender was available. Collingwood now find themselves just two points ahead of bottom-placed Kangaroos. If they fail to secure a win for the rest of the season, it is still possible that the wooden spoon is on offer. As embarrassing as that may be, keep in mind that their 2021 first round pick actually already belongs to GWS. Don’t panic, Pies fans – you’ll still get Nick Daicos by exchanging later picks, but GWS would be feeling pretty good about things if the Pies take home the spoon.

 

2. Teague’s career ended in one quarter of football

Blues fans should feel pretty disconsolate today. After an improved showing in the past month, and with a small chance of playing finals on the table, there are no words to adequately describe the third quarter effort which basically handed the Kangaroos an easy win. Add to this club favourite Ed Curnow playing in his 200th game, and you have to wonder whether or not the players in the Navy Blue really understand the enormity and privilege afforded to being involved with an AFL club.

With the review in full swing, this capitulation will not augur well for David Teague. If you can’t get your players up with finals on the line and a club stalwart in a big milestone game, then questions need to be asked.

Now that I’ve addressed how poorly the Blues played, let’s not forget that North Melbourne are a vastly improved outfit for the side that many said were not going to win a game eight weeks into the season. The midfield is coming together nicely, and Nick Larkey had a breakout game with seven goals, most of which came against arguably the league’s best defender, in Weitering. Collingwood could probably use Jaidyn Stephenson right now. He’s certainly found form. It seems that North look almost certain to get off the bottom of the ladder now. That will be a huge effort and will underline what a great coach David Noble seems to be.

 

3. We saw the best and the worst of the Lions in one day

At half time, trailing the Suns by 27 points, following on from two consecutive losses, many pundits in the football world would have started wondering if the Lions were still a force in 2021. The first half of the third quarter saw the Suns hanging on for dear life in the face of a tidal wave of Lion attacks. It ended up a five-goal to nil quarter and the Lions held a six-point lead at the last break, although the signs were not looking good for Gold Coast. And, as expected, the dam walls broke in the final term and Brisbane ran out comfortable winners by 49-points after piling on eight goals to just one in the last quarter.

Lincoln McCarthy finished with four in a continuation of his stellar season, while Cameron and Daniher kicked three each. Brisbane’s remaining four games are all winnable, and may well see them eventually take a Top 4 spot.

It was a disappointing outcome for the Suns. If there’s anybody who doubts the mental component of football, all they’d need to do is watch a game like this. At half time the Suns were on track to upset their much more fancied cross-town rivals. However, once the Lions raised their intensity in the third quarter, the mindset of the entire side changed as they played with a lack of confidence and cohesion making mistake after mistake and always leaving the door open for their opponents to pounce. The aim for the Suns in the remaining rounds is to find at least one more win. In previous years they’ve ended seasons badly. They can’t let this continue…

 

4. Dom Sheed is an A-Grader

The Saints were coming hard in the last quarter with Max King on fire and Zak Jones working hard in the middle. But each time the Saints threatened, Dom Sheed chimed in with two final quarter goals to give them breathing space early one, and then the sealer late. Both goals were on the run and from just inside fifty, and we’ve all seen how sweetly that left foot of his can strike the ball ever since that fateful day in 2018. The Eagles now seem to have things back on track and should play finals despite remaining games against Melbourne and Brisbane. I’m not sure how far they’ll go, but they do have a few premiership players still playing out there.

The Saints will be thrilled to see Max King’s form. There was plenty of debate in AFL circles regarding who was the better of the King brothers, and most would’ve had Ben slightly ahead for this season. This game may change a few minds. His superiority was clear and showed us all the makings of a 200-plus game career St Kilda will be ruing those earlier games where they suffered heavy losses and rendered their percentage impotent. They find themselves just half a game and percentage outside the 8, and if certain results go their way, a win against Carlton this week may even bounce them into eighth spot in this crazy season!

 

5. The Hawks are in the race for the wooden spoon

One gets the feeling that the loss in this game leaves the door open for the Hawks to finish last. They play the Pies in Round 21 in what could be a showdown for the spoon. North have Adelaide in Round 23 which I suspect they’ll win and move off the bottom. The Hawks weren’t terrible against the Crows who just seemed to find the answers each time the Hawks came at them after half time. It’s interesting that Clarkson arrived at the club when it was on its knees and he may be handing over the reins to Sam Mitchell in the same situation he found them in. Let’s not forget the four premierships he won during his tenure, but I’m sure he didn’t want it to end this way.

The Crows needed this win. Back to back spoons wasn’t something I’m sure the Adelaide Football Club would deem acceptable. Taylor Walker finished with four majors and has kept his chances of snaffling the Coleman Medal from leader Harry McKay alive. He’ll need to be at his best as he currently sits six behind the Carlton spearhead who had the week off with a toe injury. Adelaide have a few tough weeks ahead and will be hoping for a win in the last round against the Kangaroos. If they succeed, it will be seven wins for the year which will have exceeded many people’s expectations.

 

6. This is the first time Melbourne have lost to a Top 8 team

Losing to the Western Bulldogs is by no means a disgrace. They’re a very good team. But after winning the first 9 games of the year, the Demons’ win-loss record since is a mere 50% with four wins, four losses and a draw. Their three previous losses and the draw were against teams that were outside the eight at the time. For the first time they’ve gone down to one of the better teams, and with four weeks remaining to the finals, the concern will be to see if they can find their best form again in order to contend for the premiership.

They have the Suns, Eagles, Crows and Cats remaining. If they drop two of those, they may even fall outside the Top 4. We’re about to find out where they really are.

The Bulldogs have rightly come into favouritism for the ultimate honours just slightly ahead of the Cats in most betting outlets. Interestingly the Demons have slipped back to third. The remaining games for the Bulldogs are all winnable without being certainties. Marcus Bontompelli may well have scored some votes once again in this game finishing with 31 disposals and two goals in what seems like deja vu for most of my analyses of the Dogs games. His form has been at a level deserving of being favourite, but we all know how hard it is to win a Brownlow.

 

7. The Swans are still a Top 4 chance

If you have a look at the Swans remaining four games, if they get over the Bombers next week, they may win all four games and finish with 16 wins. That makes it more than possible for the Swans to procure the double chance. After where they’ve come from following on from their last season, that would be a phenomenal result that nobody saw coming. Isaac Heeney was a standout in this game booting five goals and marking everything. Watching him in full flight is very enjoyable. If he were able to produce that form each week he would be one of the league’s best.

Buddy is just 17 goals shy from his 1000 goal milestone, but an incident during the game will come to the attention of the MRP which might see him sidelined for a week or two and will make the task of reaching that milestone this year that little bit more difficult.

Fremantle started the game strongly and should’ve been well ahead at quarter time, but too many costly errors kept the Swans in it and the result was just a seven-point lead at quarter time. By half time the Swans started to control the game and it was all Sydney after half time booting a total of eight goals to just two after the long break, eventually winning by a comfortable 40-points.

Losing both Fyfe (shoulder) and Walters (hamstring) during the game certainly didn’t help Freo’s chances. Sean Darcy also seems to be troubled by his knee throughout the contest. It’s pretty much season over for the Dockers. It may be wise to get Fyfe’s shoulder operated on in preparation for 2022. Like many sides battling to sneak into the 8, they’re just not quite there yet. And yet somehow they’re still only half a game outside so they’ll try and nurse Fyfe back into action somehow.

 

8. The Tigers’ injury list may cost them a finals spot

A quick look at the list of premiership players missing through injury at Tigerland tells the story of why they find themselves currently outside the 8 and looking less and less likely to be a part of September action. There are no less than seven walk-up starters on the sidelines including Dustin Martin who will take no further part in this season. They had four very strong years in which the health of their list was always running at a premium, but it appears their run of good fortune is over for now. It demonstrates just how much things need to go right in order to sustain success. They’re a great club and will no doubt come out next year and make their mark once more.

As for the suggestion that the players have lost the hunger, I witnessed a group who tried their guts out after half time but just didn’t have the manpower of their opponents on Sunday.

Geelong are the real deal and are a real chance to go all the way. In contrast, the Cats have just two key players who are unavailable in Cameron and Duncan. Cameron may return by Round 21 whereas there’s no certainty that Duncan will play again this year.

Against the Tigers on Sunday, the Cats were clinical. They set the victory up in the second quarter booting 5 goals to none and lead by 41 points, eventually going on to win by 38 after the Tigers kicked a few in junk time. Hawkins and Ratugolea booted 4 each. The Cats face North, the Giants and the Saints before facing off to the Demons in the final round for what may be a play off for a Top 2 spot. If the game were played tomorrow I’d fancy the Cats on form, but that could easily change.

 

9. The Bombers blew a big chance

Essendon simply had to win. With tough games looming, it would’ve been nice to be sitting in the 8 a game and percentage clear of the Tigers who would’ve occupied 9th position. And with a 16-point lead and seemingly with the game under control at half time, they had the makings of a winning performance. However, after half time the scoring dried right up and they could only manage a paltry 1.7 to 6.6 to eventually go down by 13 points. They had their chances and went forward enough times, but they just couldn’t find an avenue to goal.

The absence of Harrison Jones, despite being in just his first year, would’ve been felt tonight and may have made the difference. Making the finals now just got a whole lot harder.

It was a good win for the Giants who went into the game without Toby Greene. Lachie Whitfield was unstoppable with 35 possessions that continued to hurt Essendon throughout the night. GWS now find themselves in 8th position despite some costly losses in recent weeks. And they won’t have any time for relaxing or celebrating this win as their run home is not easy. If they can win enough games in the last month to remain in the top 8, they will thoroughly deserve their place there, but a quick look at the fixture will tell you that it’s a huge ask, even with the mercurial Toby Greene back as early as next week.

 

10. The Giants are in the 8 but are just the best of a bad lot

The race for 8th is still up for grabs for the Bombers, Tigers, Freo, Saints and the Blues barely have a pulse. All of those teams are really not travelling terribly well, and in virtually any other year would be nowhere near it just based on their win-loss ratios alone. But here we are with this glut of mediocre teams in a battle for the final place in the 8 now that the Eagles have a little breathing space. It does make for a very interesting first week of the finals.

With the exception of maybe Richmond getting back a few players and having that recent finals experience, you’d have to imagine that whoever finishes fifth with make light work of those teams in week one of the finals. Nobody really wants to see that, but there’s a pretty clear chasm between fifth and eighth right now. We really do want it to be the Tigers, because they’re the only ones who may be able to rise to the occasion and make a contest of it. If they can get over the Dockers and North over the next two weeks, the Round 22 clash against the Giants might be the decider. Let’s see how they bounce back from this bad loss against the Cats.

The Giants are far from entrenched in the 8, not only because of their two-point advantage, but because their next two weeks sees them face the Power and the Cats. The Bombers take on Sydney and the Dogs in an equally tough fortnight. The Dockers take on Richmond and the Lions. The Saints face the Blues and the Swans. Whatever the case, whoever occupies 8th on the ladder will possibly have a negative win-loss ratio for the first time since Essendon got in with 10 wins and a draw in 2009.

Most years a minimum of 12 wins is required and it has been as high as 14. So, in my humble opinion, and with a caveat on the Tigers, whoever finishes 8th this year may deserve the honour but will probably be little more than a mere imposter.