Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. As we edge closer and closer to this year’s finals series we begin to trim the fat and see exactly which teams look up to the challenge, and which teams are going to confirm their holiday reservations for September.
But before we jump into the doom and gloom of Round 20, let’s watch a bike race in reverse so we can back-pedal into what happened over the weekend.
On Friday night we laid witness to the latest instalment in the ‘Black and White Battle’ with Port Adelaide and Collingwood kicking off our weekly festivities from Marvel Stadium. Although the Magpies of the Collingwood persuasion would get out to a minor early lead and hold it through to the second quarter, goals to Charlie Dixon and Boyd ‘Splinter’ Woodcock would put the Power in front and gain a lead that they wouldn’t surrender for the match, winning by 28 points. A few dubious umpiring decisions and non-decisions clouded the headlines on what was a rather dull Friday night match.
Highs- Ollie Wines was at his usual Brownlow-fancy best after a patchy start to the match and Karl Amon continued his rich run of form that has earned my praises over the past month or so of football. Charlie Dixon kicked 4.3 but dare I say he had a lot of things go right for him in the luck department – if you know what I’m saying. Todd Marshall kicked three goals in his equal best showing for the season and Travis Boak was his usual consistent best in game number 300. Jack Crisp was a highlight for the losing side, the star mid/defender gathering plenty of the ball and using it well, as did Steele ‘Rusty’ Sidebottom who played one of his better games of recent memory in a down patch of form. Brodie Grundy and Scott Lycett had an entertaining ruck battle for those of us who find pleasure watching two big men bash and crash into each other. His inaccuracy was a blight in the end but young Magpie, Oliver Henry impressed me again with his forward presence as did Willem Drew in the middle and on the wing for Port Adelaide.
Lows- Collingwood will be without skipper Scott Pendlebury for the remainder of the season as his super secret basketball background wasn’t enough to stop him suffering a broken leg, compliments of a tackle from Willem Drew in the first quarter.
Port should’ve and could’ve put this game away earlier had it not been for their errant disposal, literally kicking themselves out of the game at times. When Mason Cox came on as the substitute for Scott Pendlebury and kicked a goal soon after it looked like the tall may provide an unbeatable option up forward, unfortunately for the Magpies it was short-lived as he failed to have much further influence on the game thereafter.
Last week we saw a few examples where a team shit the bed. No other term does justice to describe exactly what happened, other than they shit the bed. This is exactly the choice of words I use to describe the following match. After a lacklustre arm wrestle into the first half that went goal-for-goal the entire time, Carlton came out after half time and decided that they would play with both hands in their pockets and wearing concrete shoes – or at least that’s how it appeared to those tuning in. North Melbourne piled on seven unanswered goals in the third quarter which set them up to cruise home in the final, winning by 39 points and embarrassing an insipid Carlton.
Highs- There were highs aplenty for North Melbourne and I’m going to go to the trouble of listing most of them: Nick Larkey snagged himself a bag of seven, his personal best, and troubled the Carlton defenders all day. Tarryn Thomas kicked four goals and Jaidyn Stephenson kicked three as both players accumulated plenty of the ball on the middle and up forward, causing damage at every opportunity. Ben Cunnington slotted back into the Kangaroos side seamlessly after missing last week’s loss to the Bombers. Jack Silvagni and Jack Newnes were two of very few Blues that could leave the ground holding their heads high enough to at least see the bleak horizon ahead of them. Patrick Cripps also chipped in with three goals for Carlton.
Lows- After turning the tables on Collingwood after half time the week prior, Carlton let North Melbourne run riot on them and barely managed a whimper in the second half. Not even David Teague taking a page out of John Worsfold’s playbook of desperation worked when he tried the infamous ‘Cale Mary’ prayer by swinging defender Jacob Weitering forward in the last quarter to no avail as it was too little too late. Harry McKay was withdrawn from the match and it only highlighted Carlton’s scoring woes and how reliant they are on their young superstar forward. I expect there’ll be a range of list changes at Carlton come the end of the season as the young brigade continue to carry their aging stars throughout games and eventually to the knackery where they’ll be turned into old, dark navy glue.
Game number two in my own personal ‘shit the bed stakes’ was the Q-Clash, where Brisbane beat Gold Coast by 49 points at the Gabba. Mind you, Gold Coast would look like a powerhouse in the first half holding Brisbane to only four goals as they built a lead of almost five goals for themselves before half time. I’ll admit that the Lions had their chances but missed many shots on goal. After half time though it was a mauling as Brisbane would go on to kick 11 straight goals, with the Suns only managing a single goal and five behinds in the entire second quarter. It then looked more like a team hunting for a top four finish taking it out on a side trying desperately to avoid the bottom four.
Highs- Brayden Fiorini played an absolute blinder in a losing side and by far the best game I’ve personally seen him play. Touk Miller was close to his usual impressive best, however, I felt he wasted and butchered more disposals this week than I recall him doing in recent times. Ben King and Josh Corbett looked on fire early as the tall pair kicked three goals apiece. After earning my praises last week Jeremy Sharp backed up his efforts with another solid contribution. For the winners, Jarryd Lyons and Daniel Rich both just showed up and did their thing once again, Mitch Robinson and Dayne Zorko were handy and both hit the scoreboard. The forward trio of Lincoln McCarthy, Joe Daniher and Charlie Cameron combined for 10.8 and could’ve had this game sewn up earlier had they managed to kick straighter.
Lows- Gold Coast’s ruck woes were on full display as Oscar McInerney bounced back from a hammering at the hands of Richmond last week, showcasing a great differential in height between himself, Chris Burgess and Caleb Graham. Izak Rankine was defended completely out of the game by Brandon Starcevich, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sent back to the Magoo’s soon to get some touch. Pacey defender Oleg Markov was subbed out of the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Watching Joe Daniher play was an epic rollercoaster that Bombers fans got all too used to riding before the at-times maligned forward made his move to Brisbane in the offseason. Daniher would hit the post from two shots on goal directly in front and less than 20 metres out, only to dazzle fans with his incredible aerobic abilities by kicking two freakish goals as well. You’ve really got to drink the froth to get the beer with Joe.
Another tale of too little, too late came as the Eagles saw off a late-charging St. Kilda and ran out eight-point victors. The Eagles would lead from the outset and never surrender it for the remainder of the game, despite the Saints mounting a slight comeback in the dying stages. It was a five-straight goal patch from the second and into the third quarter that saw the Eagles establish their strongest lead of the match, the Saints would get a couple back, but the game ultimately went goal-for-goal until late in the final quarter when the Saints have one last push, but West Coast’s composure held them off.
Highs- Max King slotted six goals for the Saints and looked unstoppable as he clunked a whopping eight contested marks. The midfield battle of Gaff, Sheed, Yeo and Kelly vs Steele, Dunstan, Ross and Jones didn’t let me down. Jack Steele and Luke Dunstan were quiet by their standards of this season, but it was an entertaining clash nonetheless with Steele laying seven more tackles than any other player on the ground. Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy kicked three apiece and Jake Waterman looked dangerous in one of his better games that I’ve witnessed, his scoreline of 1.3 could’ve been better.
Lows- Liam Ryan looked dangerous early before the high-flying forward clutched at his hamstring on his left leg, being subbed out in the first quarter. The Saints just couldn’t get a continual run at the game to score goals in succession when it was needed. They end the round a game outside the eight alongside the likes of Essendon, Richmond and Fremantle who all succumbed to the same fortune with a spot inside the eight up for grabs.
The top of the table clash saw Bulldogs reclaim top spot over Melbourne with a convincing 20 point win. Some errant kicking by the Demons cost them, but after the first quarter they never really looked like they had the composure to grab the lead back. It was a punters dream game for his multi, with all of the regular offenders; Macrae, Bontempelli, Oliver, Petracca and Gawn all having strong games.
Highs- The Bulldogs knew that this was their opportunity to reclaim top spot, and they seized it with both hands. Bailey Smith was inspirational at times, I have to remind myself that this bloke has only just turned 20. Max Gawn got the better of Tim English in the ruck but we were gifted a heartened display from two of the best midfields in the competition. Cody Weightman followed the lead of many other small forwards and found the top rungs of the Max Gawn stepladder, using the imposing ruckman as a training bag and pulling down one of the marks of the season.
Lows- Skill errors were undoubtedly compounded by the wet weather and heavy downpour in the first quarter. Melbourne’s first half score of 19 points was their lowest for the season so far. Bringing Josh Schache into the game as a makeshift defender became a masterstroke for Luke Beveridge as fellow Bulldogs defender Alex Keath suffered a hamstring injury in what is a massive blow for the finals-bound Bulldogs. Melbourne’s star defender Steven May was barely sighted down back, only managing a single mark for only the second time this season was a poor return for a bloke who averages six marks and three intercept marks per game.
Our last Saturday game was Adelaide and Hawthorn from Marvel Stadium where despite a few score-levelling goals, the Crows looked in control for the most part of the match. Rory Laird and Ben Keays were stirring in the victory as they went head to head with Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara in the centre. Taylor Walker looked back to the heights he set earlier in the season, kicking four goals for the match whilst Mitch Lewis got on the end of three for the Hawks. Hawthorn had their chances late but couldn’t convert their inside 50s into scores, the Crows kicking the final three of the match to win by 19 points.
Highs- The Crows rediscovered their scoring ways, kicking their highest team score since Round 4 and their third highest score of the season. Tom Mitchell who averages a little over four tackles a game registered nine for the game and showed his intent early with five in the first quarter. Rory Laird almost certainly secured himself the three Brownlow votes this week, racking up 36 disposals, ten clearances, five tackles and two goals. Adelaide’s contested marking was a focal point in their win.
Lows- The Hawks now go into their Round 20 clash against the fifth-placed Lions having not won a game of footy for over a month, their last win was their upset over GWS back in Round 15. 1965 was the last time the Hawks won the wooden spoon, but they’re shaping up as favourites this season as North Melbourne are starting to play good football and now sit equal on points with Hawthorn. James Cousins was looking good for the losing side before injuring his hamstring late in the game.
Sydney defeated Fremantle by 40 points to kick off affairs on Sunday. The Dockers well and truly held their own early and looked to keep a chokehold on Sydney, until losing veterans Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters to a shoulder and hamstring injuries was the beginning of their turn of fortunes. The Swans went on to kick eight unanswered goals either side of half time with the Dockers struggling thanks to injury, only managing to score two goals in the second half.
Highs- Isaac Heeney was incredible for the Swans, kicking five goals and taking 11 marks including an absolute screamer that will certainly be a mark of the year contender. Veterans Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy were both vital in the win with the former kicking two goals and both setting up numerous others. Adam Cerra was a cut above for Fremantle as he alongside Andrew Brayshaw battled endlessly.
Lows- Losing Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters was tough enough for the Dockers to battle, adding to their misery in David Mundy’s 350th game was ruckman Sean Darcy spending stints on the bench with an ongoing knee aggravation. Buddy Franklin escapes sanction once again, this time for a deliberate elbow to an opponent’s head.
In our heavyweight clash of Geelong vs Richmond, we saw the Cats at their best, piling on seven straight goals prior to half time to build a game-winning lead. The Tigers came out after the long break and kicked the first two goals, looking like they may mount a comeback, however, their resolve was short-lived as Geelong proved too fast, too strong and too composed, winning by 38 points.
Highs- Tom Hawkins and Esava Ratugolea combined for four goals each as the pair ran rampant in the Cats forward line. Patrick Dangerfield looked dangerous and is beginning to build on his form at the right time of the season for Geelong. Cam Guthrie and Tom Stewart were both prominent from start to finish, Quentin Narkle came in for the injured Joel Selwood and quickly turned into a super-sub, gathering a game-high eight clearances and a goal from his 12 disposals.
Lows- Joel Selwood was subbed out of the game with a corked quad in the third quarter after sustaining the injury early on in the game. The Tigers found it tough to score against the Cats quality backline, only managing two goals for more than the first hour of football.
Our final game for the round was the Sunday graveyard shift of Essendon taking on the Giants from Metricon Stadium. Essendon would get out to a three goal lead before half time, then to borrow a term i coined earlier, completely shit the bed and played dead whilst they let the Giants run over them to regain the lead and establish one of their own. Greater Western Sydney running away 13 point winners with a depleted side against a dissapointing Bombers who suffered a massive dint in their finals aspirations at their own downfall.
Highs- Lachie Whitfield was the premier on-baller, along with Tom Green their opponents could do little to curb their influence. Sam Taylor had a stronghold in the Giants defence and Connor Idun absolutely destroyed the dangerous Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for the second time this season in terms of limiting his influence. Dyson Heppell showed everything that was good about the Bombers as well as everything that was poor. He and Jordan Ridley were resolute in defence, but some errors and turnovers from the Essendon captain were extremely costly. Will Snelling was handy.
Lows- It seemed as if the Bombers just walked into this game and expected to be awarded with eighth spot on the ladder whilst giving little exertion. They started the first half ok, this may have been compounded by the inaccuracy of the Giants. After half time the boys from Blacktown made a switch and played the most basic game of schoolyard keepings-off that you’ve seen since stealing another kid’s footy at lunchtime in Miss Fitzpatrick’s grade six class, and painfully, the Bombers had no answers. Darcy Parish was well tagged out of the game for the second time in three weeks and Essendon suffered another week of struggles from their forward line. Their forwards missed easy shots and dropped marks that they should’ve been taking.
Now with that scathing assessment out of the way, let’s do our best Alex Rance impersonation and take a dive headfirst into Round 20.
Teams

St. Kilda vs Carlton

Snapshot
Is there a team currently in a more dire position than Carlton? They are currently sitting 13th on the ladder and are only a game clear of the likes of Gold Coast and Adelaide. If they continue to play football with levels of resilience like that of which they displayed against North Melbourne last weekend, then they’ll almost certainly finish bottom four. The Saints only sit one position ahead of the Blues, after losing to West Coast last week they’re now a game outside of the eight with a percentage that’s poorer than the three opposing teams who sit equal with them on points.
So what does it all mean?
A win for Carlton keeps them a game clear of their chances of dropping into the bottom four. It may also resurrect the coaching career of the Teague Train that would have to be closer to being off the rails now than ever before. If the Saints can win they’ll keep themselves eligible for the top eight. Mind you, they have three teams above them to compete with, as well as the Giants who sit half a game clear inside the eight.
All eyes on:
King of the Saints- Max King must be one of the only forwards in the competition to see the West Coast Eagles’ defence and think ‘bring it on’. Ok, that’s probably extremely inaccurate. However, we can’t deny that the lofty forward has had a good run playing against the Eagles so far in his short career. He’s only kicked more than two goals on three occasions this season, the best of those three returns were bags of five and six – both against West Coast. Meaning that of his 30 goals so far in season 2021, over 1/3rd (11) of them have been kicked on Eagles defenders. King’s only other return against West Coast came in 2020, where he threatened to break loose but his wayward kicking caused him to finish the game scoring 0.4. with one out on the full, and one not making the distance. It may seem minuscule, but we’ve seen over the years that some players have a great time playing against some teams over certain others, I can’t wait to see how King’s career plays out and if he can maintain such a hot streak, especially given the quality of the West Coast defence.
Captain Carlton and the one-man band- As an outsider looking in, it seems Carlton have a history of laying all their eggs in one basket when it comes to bearing the weight of their midfield. In the early-mid 2000s the Blues used a string of number one draft picks to recruit Bruce Gibbs and Marc Murphy as the future of their midfield, alongside Matthew Kruzer as a hulking ruck/forward option. In the ensuing years they would also recruit league legend Chris Judd who would ironically shoulder the bulk of the team’s midfield work for almost a decade, and at times carry a team that was bereft of match-winning talent, despite their array of quality players. I spoke last week of torches being passed, it would seem that Chris Judd passed the torch to Patrick Cripps who assumed the role of the premier midfielder at Carlton, and also one of the premier players throughout the competition. With wide media coverage over the years pointing to the fact that Cripps hit such a dominant form from such a young age, the superstar was likey to be burnt out if Carlton didn’t do something to alleviate the excessive pressure heaped on him as one of only a few consistencies in a mediocre team. Now, are we beginning to witness the same precedent at an early stage with Sam Walsh? Like Cripps, Walsh was selected from the draft with Carlton knowing full well his potential and he’s assumed the role within the team superbly, showcasing this season another level again in which he can take his game. But is he doomed to suffer the same fate of those around him and those who came before him? What can Carlton do to release some pressure mounted on their star players? Do they demand too much from someone too young, or have they drafted players who take that burden upon their own backs, and over-exert themselves for the better of the team?
Teams

Western Bulldogs vs Adelaide

Snapshot
The Dogs are flying once again, thanks to their strong showing against Melbourne last week. They’re back on top of the ladder and are hitting their peak form whilst getting stars back from injury at just the right time. Adelaide had a good win over Hawthorn last week but will still languish a lowly finish. The Bulldogs have beaten the Crows in their past two encounters by an average of almost 50 points.
So what does it all mean?
Nice and easy this one, Bulldogs win to stay on top of the ladder, lose and pray that Geelong and Melbourne also lose. For Adelaide, it’s about getting experience into younger players and managing their current crop as the season rounds out.
All eyes on:
Rough trot home- Adelaide now face the unenviable task of finishing their season coming up against three of the teams currently occupying the top four, as well as a very resurgent North Melbourne. It’s highly likely that their win over Hawthorn last week that saw them jump above Collingwood on the ladder, will be their final will of season 2021. With the ladder leaders being their opponents this week, followed by the fourth placed Port Adelaide next week, the Crows will then have to front up against former ladder leaders and current third placed team Melbourne the week after. Once upon a time they would’ve taken solace in the fact that they faced certain wooden-spooners North Melbourne in the final round of the home and away season, however, given the Kangaroos’ change in form over the past few months, I would highly prefer the Shinboners’ chances than those of the Crows. It’ll be a rough finish to what’s already been a rough season for the Crows, who you’d think would certainly be looking to the draft in the offseason. With the chance to offload some senior players and potentially improve their draft position, the end of the year could prove fruitful for Matthew Nicks and his team.
Schach-ing up the competition- Hindsight is a wonderful thing, Dave Mustaine said that it’s always 20/20. Looking back over his decisions leading up to his side’s Round 19 clash against Melbourne, Luke Beveridge would be forgiven for feeling a little proud of his apparent foresight. We’ve seen at times this year that coaches have employed some strange choices to fill the role of the substitute player. We’ve seen some ridiculous calls that have seen players make their debut on the bench as a sub, but I’ve made my thought clear on that. Over the weekend we saw 400-gamer Shaun Burgoyne start off as medical sub for Hawthorn in the same match that saw Adelaide’s fellow senior player David McKay also start as sub, a pair of blokes in their mid-30s with 403 and 244 games to their names respectively. It raised the eyebrows of many when the final team sheets were released and Josh Schache was named medical substitute for the Western Bulldogs. A forward who had only played one game for the season way back in Round 7, as a defender, and was well beaten on the day which saw him relegated to the VFL ever since. But with Alex Keath injuring his hamstring in the opening minutes against Melbourne last week, it seemed like Luke Beveridge had made the right decision naming Schache on the bench, as he made his way on the field to replace the injured defender. With Keith not looking to be back in the side in the immediate future, it may have just opened the door to a maligned Schache who has lacked confidence throughout his career. He did himself and his prospects of remaining in the side no harm with a strong defensive effort against a quality opposition in the Demons. My concern now is, how will the Bulldogs team balance fare without Keath in the side who has been a rock in defence since crossing over from Adelaide?
Teams

North Melbourne vs Geelong

Snapshot
The Cats have won their past seven games against North Melbourne stretching back to 2015, including the demoralising win back in 2019 where the Kangaroos could only muster one goal for the entire game, finishing the game with a score of 1.8 (14). It’s been a change of fortunes for North in the latter half of this season who have shown vast improvement from where they were earlier in the season. Geelong are just idling nicely, currently sitting second on the ladder.
So what does it all mean?
A win increases the Cats’ chances of taking top spot on the ladder if the Bulldogs are to lose. A win to North Melbourne would see them jump above Hawthorn in the ladder and finally relinquish bottom place.
All eyes on:
MaLarkey- Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes it’s borderline, other times we get it terribly wrong. I read an article at the end of Round 10 when North Melbourne were just dealt a 72 point drubbing by the Bombers where the author demanded that North Melbourne reassess their forward line set up because the likes of Zurhaar and especially Nick Larkey just weren’t working, and if the Kangaroos were serious about forging a new identity then Larkey’s goalless return against the Bombers shouldn’t go unpunished. In a slight twist of fate, Larkey would kick an equal team high 2.1 the next week against the Saints before North had the bye in Round 12. The very next round we’d also see a return of two goals in a more prominent display against the Giants. Since that fateful drawn match down in Tasmania, Larkey has gone goalless only once and not kicked less than three goals in a game since. In an extreme turnaround from earlier in the season, the Kangaroos are hitting up their forwards a lot cleaner, and players like Nick Larkey are reaping the rewards. Since Round 14 Nick has kicked four bags of three goals and last week’s bag of seven, taking his season total to 34. Meaning that his 19 goals across the past six weeks is more than he had kicked for the entire season to that date. I know we all get it wrong sometimes, I always own my bad calls. But isn’t it funny how much better a young forward looks when the rest of his team around him start to gel?
Radio silence- Anyone who turned into the Geelong/Richmond game last week were gifted to a blissful patch during the third quarter when Anthony Hudson spilt his drink onto the recording equipment in front of him and we were without commentary for a few minutes as Fox had to quickly rectify the issue. For me personally, it was great to enjoy the sounds of the game for a few minutes and not have to listen to the godforsaken drivel that we’re subjected to by commentary teams weekly. All I could think of was, why couldn’t we be so lucky as to have this happen on a Friday night game when the mainstream commentary is at its unbearable worst. Watching the T20 Big Bash cricket last season, they employed an interesting take on the commentary where they would turn their microphones off mid-play for two overs, I believe they called it ‘Sounds of the game’ or something along those lines. As an avid patron of cricket, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the players speak to one another during play. It exposed the viewers to some insight with the direct tactics and thought processes of the bowling side. You heard the captain speaking to the bowler on what he thought would be the best course of action, you heard the bowler commanding his teammates into position to best suit his upcoming delivery, it was great for a short period.
I fully understand the ramifications this would have for football and the wider effects on people with vision impairment and other reasons for requiring commentary. But for those few minutes of gametime watching Geelong and Richmond butt heads, it was refreshing to hear the direct sounds coming from the game that we wouldn’t usually hear over the commentary team as well as over the crowd noise that would be a regular factor in season’s not affected by Covid. Especially in an era where so many people, myself included, are choosing to stream the football on slight delay as a means to avoid certain commentary teams that do very little to add insight into the game being viewed (thanks to Doc for his not yet patented, genius idea), it’s embarrassing to listen to at times. Sooner rather than later the AFL and their broadcast partners must wake up to the lack of quality commentators that they employ.
For the record, Anthony Hudson is one of the only current commentators that I can say I enjoy listening to, hence why I wished the Coke bottle incident occurred on a Friday or Saturday night game.
Teams

Gold Coast vs Melbourne

Snapshot
After their second half capitulation at the hands of the Lions last week, the Suns will come up against a Melbourne side who are currently playing like they’ve dropped a cylinder, compared to their early season form that is. The Demons have won their past eight games against Gold Coast, going way back to 2014.
So what does it all mean?
This is a must-win for Melbourne as they begin to lose grip on their top two position. With Geelong hot on their hammer and the Bulldogs currently playing a better brand of football, it’s all back on the Demons to string some wins together and improve on their post-bye form that’s left a little to be desired.
All eyes on:
Sticky Pickett- Across the first 13 rounds of the season Kysaiah Pickett had averaged a little over three tackles per game. His highest contribution came in a heated game against Geelong back in Round 4 when he registered seven. Now over the past month, we have seen a dramatic increase not just in his tackling around the ground and in the forward half, but in his intensity and willingness to throw himself at an opponent in an effort to win the ball back. An increase that has equated to an average of six tackles per game over his past four games. Some players are beginning to find a good form at the right end of the season, for someone who could prove to be one of the biggest x-factor players of the finals, Melbourne will relish having a pressure forward that’s hitting the scoreboard and laying bone-crunching tackles.
Corbett the sure bet- Gold Coast’s woes in their tall department have been well publicised this season. They’ve lost multiple ruckmen and key position players to injury, forcing them to send players to unfamiliar positions out of necessity. One player that I’ve noticed having a red hot crack at cementing his spot in the team is Josh Corbett. Out of the ten games that he hasn’t been named as medical sub this season, Corbett has only gone goalless once and that was at the hands of the ladder-leading Bulldogs, where he kicked two behinds for the afternoon. For a team that’s ranked equal last in the league for goals scores, it’s a great sign of a forward’s potential when he’s averaging almost two goals a game and is currently sitting second in his team’s goal rankings, with the least games played of any teammate to have kicked double digits in goals this season.
Teams

Collingwood vs West Coast

Snapshot
The last time these two teams met was back in Round Five, and what a metamorphosis we’ve seen within the league since then. Oscar Allen and Jack Darling kicked five goals apiece whilst perennial Collingwood heartbreaker, Dom Sheed ran a footy clinic, kicking three goals to go with his 28 disposals. It also happened to be the only time earlier this season where then-coach Nathan Buckley reaped the rewards of playing All Australian defender Darcy Moore up forward, where he kicked three goals. Since that night the Magpies have gone on to lose nine of their thirteen ensuing games.
So what does it all mean?
The Eagles remain in finals contention, but with matches to come against Melbourne and Brisbane still, they’ll have to be at their best to remain in the eight. For Collingwood, it’s got to be a matter of win games and finish outside the bottom four if for nothing but humility.
All eyes on:
Howe many days- After missing the last 15 weeks of football with a hamstring injury sustained against West Coast back in Round 5, Jeremy Howe will make his much-anticipated return for the Magpies. The high-flying defender was a staple in the Collingwood backline earlier this season as previous coach Nathan Buckley experimented with playing Darcy Moore forward. To say they could’ve used Howe to stem the flow of goals kicked on them at times is a massive understatement.
You gotta Hurn it- Shoutout to Shannon Hurn for playing his 300th game this week and becoming the first Eagles player to hit the 300 game milestone – an unimaginable feat when you stop and consider the quality players that have played long careers for West Coast. The ultimate ‘man behind the scenes’ that shirks the spotlight and avoids being singled out at all costs, he just rocks up, does his job and goes home and has done so for 16 seasons. He’s captained the club, he’s won a premiership and he’s been named All Australian. Every club has a player that’s criminally underrated by those outside of the club, Shannon Hurn would likely top my list.
Teams

Essendon vs Sydney

Snapshot
These two teams have played some absolute thrillers over the years. Their past four games have been decided by an average of six points, and quite regularly come down to a final minute play. Who could forget the time that Dane Rampe was excused by the AFL for climbing a goalpost whilst David Myers had a shot at goal after the siren? The Swans come in red hot after hitting a rich patch of form, the Bombers had won two in a row until their inept showing against the Giants
So what does it all mean?
The Bombers cooked a golden opportunity to sink an undermanned GWS last week and cement themselves in the top eight for another week. Now they face the prospect of having to beat at least one of either the Bulldogs or Sydney if they’re even a chance to play finals football. Sydney are sitting only a win outside of the top four and haven’t lost a game in over a month.
All eyes on:
Almost Jones- I realise Harry Jones has been out of the team for the past few weeks, but I’ve had this piece in my mind for a while and what I’ve seen over the past six weeks has only escalated it. I’d love to know how many times a game I heard a commentator call “…and Jones! Almost. The ball spills”. The same goes for his fellow key forwards in Cale Hooker and Peter Wright. We have seen time and time again this season that Essendon’s forward line can be a massive asset to them, but at times it is their biggest downfall. Cale Hooker’s form since the bye has been well below the bar he set earlier in the season, so much so that he’s been dropped this week. An early leader for the Coleman Medal has barely got his hands on the ball for six weeks. Peter Wright has shown enough at times to flirt with Bombers fans and justify the club’s choice to trade him in from Gold Coast. But the mind tends to wonder just how potent he could be if he could hold on to more marks than he spills in forward contests. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is another, his form across the past five weeks has been well below the standards he has set. At his best, he is one of the most damaging and influential small forwards in the competition. His blistering pace and agility paired with his ground-shaking tackles and bumps make him a weapon and a fan favourite at the Bombers. He has looked slow and sore for a few weeks now, it’s almost getting to the point that you think a lot of younger and middle aged players at Essendon are just limping through to the end of the season.
El-blow- How serious is the AFL about stamping out trauma to a players head? Deathly serious. We have seen numerous instances in other sports around the globe where past players are suffering immensely from blows to the head that they suffered whilst playing their chosen game. The repercussions on a player’s health are exponential in what’s becoming a massive agenda for world sport. I just find it funny that a completely accidental contact, a tackle or a spoil that are all legal in our game and natural football actions can come under such immense scrutiny, yet Lance Franklin can have his one week ban overturned for deliberately elbowing a player in the head. A swing that wasn’t warranted, nor was it in the motion of any legitimate football action. We have seen numerous instances this year in which the AFLs policies contradict their decisions and outcomes. How any player can receive multiple weeks for a dangerous tackle, regardless of the outcome to their opponent, yet a player (not just Franklin, we have seen multiple instances this season) can elbow or connect with a player’s head, not within the field of play, at times nowhere near the ball and generally receive a single week suspension or a fine at worst. It’s something that is frustrating fans and making the AFL themselves look extremely silly and will continue to look this way until they address the insufficiencies and adapt to overcome the inconsistent results.
Teams

Hawthorn vs Brisbane

Snapshot
Hawthorn have lost four of their past five matches against the Lions by an average of over five goals. The Hawks will come into this one on the back of a reasonable showing against the Crows but were put to rest late with a fourth quarter flurry of goals to Adelaide. Brisbane had Gold Coast piling on goal after goal to lead by almost five goals, that was until the Lions decided to show up after half time and blew the Suns completely out of the water. With the departure of legendary coach Alastair Clarkson, Hawthorn will soon be guided by incoming coach Sam Mitchell – another oh-so successful AFL coaching succession plan.
So what does it all mean?
Brisbane are desperate to finish the season in the top eight. Port Adelaide are their biggest current obstacle, sitting a game ahead of the Lions. The Hawks look like a shoo-in for their first wooden spoon in over half a century.
All eyes on:
It’s not all beer and skittles- Are clubs embarrassed when their dirty laundry is exposed? I’d say they’re even more embarrassed when they publicly deny that those stains on their dirty undies are indeed what they appear to be, only for said dirty undies to end up in the bin a few weeks later. I’m not calling Clarko a pair of dirty undies, I am however questioning Hawthorn’s entire handling of their current coaching caper. Collingwood forced the Hawks to show their hand by sacking Nathan Buckley, which in turn lead to Hawthorn’s drastic, hastily implementation of a “succession plan”, tying Sam Mitchell to the club and signing Clarko’s exit papers. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the news is running wild that Clarkson and Mitchell aren’t seeing eye to eye – who would’ve thought that the coach who punches holes in walls and abuses junior football umpires would be hard to share the spotlight with.
But to round it out, I’d like to acknowledge just how big of a deal Alastair Clarkson has been, not just to the Hawks, but to the AFL over the past two decades. He lead the Hawthorn football club into one of their greatest eras as a club, which says a lot given the heights that this team achieved in the 80s. He’s a four-time premiership coach and some of his tactics that were ever the envy of opposition coaches are still widely employed today. When you look at the assistant coaches who worked under him, many, if not most, have gone on to better positions and some achieved greatness themselves elsewhere. As much as it hurts to acknowledge as an opposition supporter, Alastair Clarkson will be forever remembered as one of the greatest coaches of this era, and all time.
Missing link- The Lion’s drafted Joe Daniher in the offseason as one of their final missing pieces to the jigsaw that Chris Fagan has methodically built to get this Brisbane outfit back in contention and winning finals. Unfortunately for him and his team, the untimely injuries to key personnel may just rob them of victory in their impending finals berth this season. Losing Cam Rayner on the dawn of the season to an ACL tear in a practice match against Gold Coast. Fagan had noted and we had seen at their training that the Lions had plans of using their number one draft pick in a hybrid role this season, sharing him between the midfield and the forward line, leaving new recruit Joe Daniher to share the tall forward duties with Lincoln McCarthy and Eric Hipwood. Now with Eric Hipwood sidelined for 12 months with an injury of his own, it’s just another obstacle for the Lions to overcome. One of the feel-good team stories of the past few seasons, I’d hate to see a finals campaign derailed due to injuries to key players.
Teams

Greater Western Sydney vs Port Adelaide

Snapshot
The last two times these teams met was in Toby Greene’s 150th match last season where a late run of goals would see the Power run away with the win by 17 points. Port have won five of their past six matches whilst the Giants have lost three of their past five, they are however set to regain some top talent this week.
So what does it all mean?
Both teams desperately need this win, this is one of those games that has huge potential repercussions, regardless of who wins. The Giants will need the win if they wish to remain in the top eight, whilst the Lions simply must win if they have any hope of cracking back into the top four.
All eyes on:
Greene machine returns- The impending return of Toby Greene is a massive and timely boost for the Giants. Despite outplaying Essendon last week, the Giants looked like they were still desperately missing a deadly punch up forward, and we all know the scrappy Toby Greene has more punch than the prom in an American teen movie. Despite missing five games this season, he has the most goals registered of any small forward and is undeniably the catalyst that could be the difference between the Giants making finals and the Giants dropping back to the bottom half of the ladder in what would be yet another wasted season.
Fixin’ Dixon- Is there a more frustrating player in terms of capability and timing than Charlie Dixon? The appointed leader of the Power forward line has put together another solid, but patchy season thus far. To date he has 37 goals to his name and other than a rough patch earlier in the season, hasn’t really gone goalless for extended periods. But in saying that, we haven’t seen him grab a game by the scruff and use his bulking stature to fully dominate a team’s defence. He has four hauls of four goals to his name for the season and a single game of three, every other game has been two or less. Whilst his numbers suggest consistency, on the eve of the finals I’d love to see Dixon absolutely tear a game apart. We’ve seen Tom Hawkins play a decade of being Mr. Consistent, always contributing with regular goals and happy to dish off shots to teammates in a better position, but we’ve also seen Hawkins stand up in big games and bring a team to its knees by outmarking his opponents and scoring at will. This is the one thing we haven’t seen from Charlie this year, and with the Giants still missing key players, this game looms as a perfect opportunity for Dixon to exert himself and stamp his authority as his team look to consolidate themselves in the top four come finals time.
Teams

Fremantle vs Richmond

Snapshot
The Dockers have had a tough time against the Tigers in recent years, losing in four of their past five encounters. Then again, who hasn’t had a tough time against the Tigers in recent years? Some teams haven’t beaten them in almost eight years – looking at you, Essendon. Despite both teams suffering from lusterless seasons at the hands of injuries. That’s not to say that the stakes aren’t high, both of these teams are playing for a spot in the finals. Whoever loses is almost guaranteed to miss the top eight, with both Richmond and Fremantle sitting flush on eight wins for the season, alongside Essendon and St. Kilda, being half a game outside of the eight.
So what does it all mean?
Son of a bitch! I did it again. I was having a really good run without prematurely adding the wrong piece to the wrong section. Look, I know I could just copy and paste and chop and change my article, but I’m not going to. This is more of an on-flow of how I see each game and I don’t plan on diluting that with style changes. What the hell is this guy on about? Just shut up and talk about the footy! Ok then, although this round doesn’t have the blockbuster games that we’ve seen in recent weeks, the games like this particular one are intriguing because their results directly affect both teams involved, as well as other teams around them. Ahh, the joys of the final weeks of the season.
All eyes on:
INJURIES- I know I’ve harped on about Fremantle’s injuries this season, but GIVE. ME. A. BREAK. Or should I say; give Fremantle a break, would you? How much can one team take? There are only four players in the Dockers’ list that haven’t played a game this season, that’s how far this team has been stretched. They have literally lost key players in almost every position on the ground to different injuries this season, it’s a credit to Justin Longmuir that they’re not rotting away in the bottom four. You would have to think that this season becomes another write-off for the Dockers, once again. I have no doubt that with a fully fit side, this Fremantle side has all the cornerstones to play strong, reliable finals football. With a healthy mix of youth and experience through the midfield that’s led by Sean Darcy in the ruck, potentially the next dominant ruckman in the league behind the likes of Max Gawn, Brodie Grundy and Nic Naitanui, they may be just one experienced tall forward and a crafty defender away from competing once again for their elusive first premiership.
Good players in Short supply- I feel not enough credit is given to Jayden Short. Maybe not by the greater AFL media, maybe just by me. I don’t know. But watching the Tigers this season, Short has probably been my pick for their most important, if not their hardest working player. He showcased this by winning Richmond’s best and fairest in a premiership year of 2020, coming off the rookie list. I don’t believe many players have ever done that before. Even fewer players have won such an award when Dustin Martin was a contender for it – that in itself is a marvellous accomplishment. Those who love the stat ‘metres gained’ would appreciate that he has one of the highest averages in the league. Not just that, but he is ranked elite in the majority of the more popular stats and his season averages are generally all consistently higher than his career averages to date. With a number of Tigers missing at points throughout the season, Short has been able to readily adapt to the rigours of a fluctuating role on the field to benefit his team. Damien Hardwick sung his praises as one of the team’s most undervalued players external to the club, and I tend to agree with him.
Well, that’s all from me for this week folks. Time to get keen, finals are almost here. Enjoy your weekends, eat some jerky and don’t forget to support your local financial advisor.