Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. The games that shape the finals continue to roll on this week, but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, why don’t we hop, skip and jump back into Round 20 and have a little looky-loo at some of the ups and downs of yet another tip killing round of football.
Friday night started off as a good old fashioned slobber knocker between the Saints and the Blues, but in typical fashion as of late, one team brings the heat whilst the other falters and fails to fire – the team in this instance being St. Kilda. Carlton got on a good run late in the first quarter and carried it through most of the second as Harry McKay kicked four of his five goals in the first half. Jack Steele’s herculean effort around the ground wasn’t enough to inspire his teammates as he, Zak Jones and Luke Dunstan battled hard but couldn’t do enough to swing the game in their team’s favour. Carlton putting on a clinic and finishing up 31 points victors in their eight win of the season.
Highs- I’m not sure how much higher Sam Walsh can get. Michael Phelps was pretty high for most of his Olympic career and he has more gold to show for it than the federal reserve. A mammoth effort from Carlton’s next generation of bonafide superstar, kicking three goals hurting the Saints with his superb ball movement. If Jack Steele replicated his weekly output in a top-four team that was comfortably winning games, he would be awarded more medals than Dustin Martin. He was massive once again this week, but his one man effort wasn’t enough. Harry McKay has all bit sewn himself up the Coleman Medal for this year. Unless, by some miracle, Tom Hawkins has an absolute field day over the next three weeks, McKay now sits nine goals clear. Jack Silvagni played one of his best games that I’ve seen for the Blues, considering he was thrown into the ruck. Which leads me to Rowan Marshall having a day out at the expense of the opposition. Marshall, holding almost a 4″ and 10kg advantage, made the most of it in the ruck contests, but around the ground, it was Silvagni who made the difference.
Lows- St. Kilda looked about as effective as a lead life jacket as the Blues turned around their fortunes of last week and looked nothing like the team that capitulated at the hands of North Melbourne last week. Losing Paddy Ryder before the bounce to an Achilles injury was a massive blow for the Saints before the bounce, they would also lose Dougal Howard to a hamstring injury and Ryder’s replacement Hunter Clark to a concussion. Not a good day if you’re a Saints tall. Brett Ratten was left red-faced at the hands of his old side.
Saturday’s clash between the Bulldogs and the Crows went the way that anyone with an ounce of footy nous would’ve predicted. The Dogs retained their place at the top of the ladder with a 49 point victory down in windy Ballarat. Showing us exactly why they’re currently the team to beat. With skipper Marcus Bontempelli well held to a season-low by his lofty standards, it was a great team effort by the Bulldogs who’s 15 goals were scored by 12 different goalkickers, with midfielders and defenders also getting in on the action.
Highs- Bailey Smith is beginning to shine at the most important time of the season, the young pup stood up in his captain’s absence of influence, alongside ball magnet Jack Macrae and clearance king Tom Liberatore to really show the gap in talent between the two teams. Marcus Bontempelli kicked a ripper goal that will be replayed on Brownlow night as a contender for goal of the year. Reilly O’Brien and the two Rorys were strong in defeat for the Crows, Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale were also amongst the Dogs’ best.
Lows- There wasn’t much more that the Crows could’ve done, the Dogs are just a far better team. Their young forwards are beginning to gel with one another, but it’s evident that they’re a team that’s still a ways off competing with stronger teams.
North Melbourne once again took it up to a much stronger team, bothering the second placed Cats and not allowing them to streamline away, as is their custom. It was a low-scoring affair as Geelong’s inaccuracy and North Melbourne’s refusal to lay down caused an arm wrestle that didn’t look like it was over until the dying stages of the last quarter, when Tom Hawkins kicked the final goal of the game (and his first of the day, compliments of Ben McKay’s defensive efforts) to drive a dagger into the hearts of the Kangaroos fans. Cats winning down in Hobart by 20 points.
Highs- The Guthrie brothers were both regular ball winners for the Cats as the confusion around their given names and identities seemed to baffle the highly educated commentary team. Isaac Smith and Zach Tuohy found plenty of it on the wing and out of half back as Geelong’s midfielders outscored their well held forwards. Aaron Hall and Jye Simpkin were strong for the Kangaroos and I liked the game of Luke Davies-Uniacke who also popped up forward for a long-range goal.
Lows- Yet another game where Geelong find themselves claiming the win in a less-than-convincing fashion. Once again they get the job done and once again North Melbourne show us plenty of signs of their rise and improvement from where they were earlier in the year. Tom Hawkins was all but taken out of the Coleman Medal race by a great defensive display from Ben McKay, doing his older brother Harry over at Carlton a solid.
Now here’s one that not many would’ve seen coming, not to this extent anyway. Collingwood kicking 11 of the first 12 goals of the game, with the Eagles not managing to register a major until the 20-minute mark of the second quarter. It was nothing short of insipid from the Eagles who lacked any sort of cohesion, despite winning the ball were absolutely smashed at the contest and around the ground. The Magpies seemed to take their foot off the Eagles’ throat late in the third quarter as Adam Simpson’s men managed to reduce the scoreline summit to 45 points in Shannon Hurn’s 300th game.
Highs- It was an awesome, teamwide effort from the Magpies who would’ve done coach Robert Harvey proud. Far too many contributors for me to single out just a few fairly. The Collingwood midfielders bullied their West Coast counterparts, as did their forwards who accumulated the ball and bullied the Eagles defenders, playing keepings-off for the majority of the game and making them look below second rate.
Lows- Despite their immense losses to Sydney and the Bulldogs straight after the bye, this loss to Collingwood would have to be one of their worst of the season. Even losing to the bottom of the ladder Kangaroos didn’t look as bad as this loss did. I feel for Eagles supporters, it’s a head-scratching moment of realisation where you question where your team is at, and what they must do to overcome it.
Over to our last minute, reorganised Super Sunday where we would see five games played across three states. The first game was a relenting 98 point capitulation of the Gold Coast Suns at the hands of Melbourne. The Suns looked no where near the pace, sitting idle whilst the Demons kicked goal after goal, after goal, after goal, amounting to 14 straight goals – the Suns went completely scoreless across the second and third quarters, with roughly 90 minutes elapsing between goals. It was Melbourne’s first dominant showing since the bye and yet another thrashing for the Suns.
Highs- Luke Jackson did his chances of playing finals football no harm by kicking four goals, alongside fellow tall Ben Brown who also netted four majors. Bailey Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett and Max Gawn all kicking two apiece. Oliver and Petracca dealt the heavy damage early out of the middle. Touk Miller was almost the lone Ranger in the middle for the Suns, receiving some small support from David Swallow and Brandon Fiorini at times. Melbourne’s pressure was evident with their tacklers hitting hard and showing a willingness to get down and dirty. 71 times Melbourne took the ball inside their forward 50 to the Suns’ 27.
Lows- I’ll be frank. Actually I’m Jimmy, not Frank. But I’ll be honest; there’s not much more that I could put here than 80% of the Gold Coast players and their efforts. It’s a sad state of affairs and I honestly feel empathy for the players, coaches and their struggles. But there were far too many players out there that were doing little more than making up the numbers. Seven Gold Coast players registered less than 10 touches for the game, whilst a further nine would lay only a single tackle or less.
Our next instalment of results that nearly shocked the world was Hawthorn getting out to an almost ten goal lead against the Lions, going on to win by 12 points after a late-game resurgence saw Brisbane pile the goals on, however it was all in vain as they left their run far too late, carrying on the worrying trend that they displayed in their first half trouncing at the hands of Gold Coast last week. Clarko showing he still has some fire in the belly after it being announced this week that his club was wiping him like a dirty ass, releasing him from his current contract at season’s end. His Hawks would send home eight of nine straight goals into the third quarter to build a very strong lead. The Lions late resurgence saw them kicking eight of the last nine goals of the game to get the margin back within a couple of kicks, but the early heavy lifting was enough to gift Hawthorn the win.
Highs- Jarryd Lyons and Jaeger O’Meara both battled like gladiators out of the centre, Chad Wingard played by far his best game for the Hawks that I can recall. The mid won plenty of the ball on the wing and up forward as the Lions had little in the way of answers to his dominance. James Worpel also looked the best I’ve seen him for a while. The Lions’ usual few were strong – Rich, Zorko and McCluggage, but we’re soundly beaten when their backs were against the wall. Daniel McStay was the Pick of the forwards with four goals on the day.
Lows- It’s a worrying sign for the Lions that we’re a month out from the finals and we’ve now seen them beaten by the Saints by 32 points, manage to turn the tables on the Suns who had the better of them for a half, and the same again this week against the Hawks, who managed to hold off the fast finishing Brisbane. It’s clear as Creedence ‘water that Chris Fagan is struggling to make his undermanned forward line work.
In yet another instalment in the gripping Essendon/Sydney tight endings series, we had the Swans coming from behind and beating the Bombers by 7 points for the first time at the MCG since 1998. It was a thrilling, high scoring contest where we were gifted with a combined 33 goals being kicked for only 13 behinds. The Bombers fans shouldn’t take the loss too hard, their midfield held up well against one of the best in the comp that are making strong headwinds towards the top four.
Highs- Plenty of players impressed me for both teams in this one. Darcy Parish looked almost back to his best after a fortnight of hard tags. His partner in crime, Zach Merrett was probably close to my pick for best on ground. The Bombers jet showcased his ability to move the ball and hit up targets with sublime footwork. Callum Mills and Justin McInerney were the opposition’s answer to the aforementioned duo, both of the young Sydney midfielders played strongly and looked to gain confidence as the game went on. Tom Papley capitalised on some horrible defensive efforts from Essendon to register four goals. Jake Stringer almost turned the game back around for the Bombers, as he has done multiple times since being thrust into more of a midfield role and Kyle Langford reminded the coaches just how important he is to this side. Jake Lloyd’s reading of the ball and movement from defence was steadfast and Luke Parker did the damage up the other end, kicking two goals and winning plenty of footy.
Lows- Buddy Franklin was well held by Jayden Laverde who not only gave up 16kgs in stature to the future Hall of Famer, but also had to battle the weight of expectation and the entire AFL doing their utmost to see Franklin reach the magical 1,000 goal milestone sooner rather than later. As it turned out Franklin would only manage two goals for the day – one the result of the softest 50 metre penalty that you’ll see this season, the other was a gifted handball from Tom Papley (I know, shocking hey?) 15 metres out, directly in front of goal. Despite leaving the ground injured late in the game, the points go to Laverde in this battle. The Bombers once again allowed a team to move the ball coast-to-coast with such ease and lack of interference that it’s some kind of miracle that the game was such a close one. It’s a glaring fault in their current game plan, we saw Geelong and a week later the Giants take advantage of Essendon’s inability to stop the transition of fast football from deep within their own forward line. The experimenting mix of forwards and defenders continues at Bomberland, a problem that they’ll have to face head on if they wish to improve on their standings next season.
Speaking of thrilling finishes, how good was the final five minutes of the Richmond/Fremantle game? Obviously, you’re going to tell me that it was shithouse if you’re a Tigers supporter, but what an end to a game. Andy Brayshaw was king and rightfully so won the final clearance out of the opposition forward line in the dying seconds to secure his team the win. Matt Taberner backed up his return of two goals last week with a further three this week, showing his importance to the structure of the Dockers’ forward line in his 100th game. The Dockers hanging on to win by 4 points.
Highs- Andrew Brayshaw was in blistering form, surely securing himself the three Brownlow votes with 39 disposals, 12 tackles and eight clearances. Adam Cerra was very solid as Brayshaw’s understudy, especially in the last quarter when the game was there to be won. Luke Ryan did a brilliant job down back and despite wasting a few opportunities, Travis Colyer looked dangerous with his pace for the Dockers, unable to convert kicking 1.3 for the match. For the Tigers Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia looked the pick of the bunch, Sydney Stack also had his best games for the season from his limited exposure.
Lows- Bailey Banfield suffered a rough head knock whilst tackling David Astbury. Having to be taken off the ground on a medical cart, the resurgent forward who had not long returned to the team will miss next week’s game against the Lions with concussion symptoms. Shai Bolton’s goal radar was off, the Tigers star kicking 0.3 but he wasn’t the only culprit. In stark contrast to the Sydney game earlier in the day, the Tigers and Dockers kicked 3.18 between them in the first half in what was a terrible showcase of football to be honest.
Our fifth and final game in our Super Sunday series was the Giants taking on the Power from Marvel Stadium. After the Giants got out to an early lead, Port kicked themselves back into the game and held the lead until well into the third quarter when GWS managed to hit the front for a few minutes, but the Power would kick six of the final seven goals of the game to win by 27 points and solidify their place inside the top four, now sitting a game clear of Sydney and two games clear of the disappointing Brisbane.
Highs- Ollie Wines won plenty of the ball but Karl Amon and Travis Boak were my pick of the midfielders today. Shane Mumford and Willem Drew both registered 10 tackles apiece, Charlie Dixon kicked four goals as he battled a leg complaint and Peter Ladhams kicked three, including a ripper that had the ball cruelly bounce in an unpredictable fashion, bamboozling the Giants defenders and going through for a goal. Toby Greene threatened to rip the game apart at times but kicked 2.4 in a frustrating day for the little champion.
Lows- Harry Himmelberg was pinged as he used up his whole 30 seconds lining up a shot for goal in a lack of awareness from the Giants forward. Two Giants left the field under concussion protocol, both Phil Davis and Jacob Hopper, the latter receiving a nasty, accidental kick to the face as he attempted a smother. The loss see’s the Giants out of the top eight and Into ninth.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my chicken Caesar on Mission garlic and herb because that’s a wrap for last week, now we need to check the oil, top up the coolant and fill that washer bottle that your wife leaves empty for months at a time between services, because we have another insanely unpredictable week of footy ahead of us that I now have to try and dissect – and I’ll be stuffed if I’m doing it with a dirty windscreen. Onto Round 21 we go. Giddy up!
Western Bulldogs vs Essendon
If alarm bells aren’t ringing in the minds of Bombers fans, you’re either incredibly optimistic, or you have short memories. Essendon had a good run of six straight wins against the Bulldogs, but since 2015 the Bombers have lost the last six games to the Dogs by an average margin of 54 points. Including the last time these teams met in Round 21, which was that insanely demoralising loss in 2019 where the Dogs kicked 21 goals in a row to win by 104 points. That’s right, 21 unanswered goals. Mind you, 7 out of the Bombers’ 11 losses this season have only been by 16 points or less. Their biggest losses coming at the hands of Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Geelong and Richmond. So in a year that was acknowledged from the get go as a year of rebuilding and establishing a new team of younger players, Essendon’s numbers are far from disappointing. Up the other end the Bulldogs are flying. They come into this one on the back of a heavy win against Adelaide and will look to easily account for the Bombers on their pathway to finals ranked as the number one team in the competition.
So what does it all mean?
The Bombers are still a chance to finish inside the top eight, but their loss to Sydney last week has left their fate in the hands of other teams as much as their own. With the likelihood that the Bulldogs will beat them in this one, they then have Gold Coast and Collingwood and may still scrape in, but it will fully depend on the six other teams around them all vying for that one spot inside the eight. The Bulldogs must continue to win now to stay on top, the Cats are now equal on points, the Bulldogs healthy percentage all that’s keeping the two apart. Thanks to their draw against Hawthorn, Melbourne are in the dangerous position of being half a win below the Cats and the Dogs. Meaning if the Demons win and either of the other two lose, then Melbourne instantly jump them on the ladder. What a tight finish to a season both in the top four and the bottom half of the top eight.
All eyes on:
Doggies day out- This one could get very ugly for the depleted Bombers defence. With the Bulldogs being the highest-scoring team in the league this year, it’s not just their forwards that will get you – they possess the highest-scoring midfield in the competition as well. One of the Dogs biggest weapons in Bevo’s arsenal is his team’s ability to find the goals. If you send your very best defender to Aaron Naughton and he is well held, then there’s Tim English or Josh Bruce to do damage. If two of your key defenders do a brilliant job and nullify both talls in the Bulldogs forward line, then the Bulldogs midfielders, led by Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Bailey Dale and Tom Liberatore will easily find the goals themselves. This entire western Bulldogs outfit is very reliant on their scoring, and with so many avenues to goal, once they start scoring they don’t tend to stop. With Essendon’s trend over the past few weeks of allowing teams to move the ball from their defence to their attack without interruption, the Bulldogs may just be licking their lips at the prospect of a further percentage boost here. Who could blame them? Playing the possession game and controlling the ball is the Bulldogs’ forte, and has also led to the demise of the Bombers in recent weeks.
Time to call it- I know Bombers fans are clinging to the chance that their team may still make finals, but realistically there are far too many obstacles for the side to overcome this season. Losses to GWS and Sydney have proved very costly, and unless they manage to beat the Bulldogs this weekend, the odds that they finish inside the eight will extremely waver. With more players succumbing to injury; Jayden Laverde may be forced out of the side with a shoulder injury that he sustained on his way to beating Lance Franklin last week. Captain Dyson Heppell has had to have another round of thumb surgery which will likely see him out for the season and the highly improved Kyle Langford will miss the remainder of the season with another hamstring aggravation, it might be time that the Bombers draw a line through this season and start changing things up. It’s as good a time as any to continue with the experiments and get games into younger players at senior level.
Richmond vs North Melbourne
Since the 2015 elimination final where the Kangaroos sent the Tigers packing by 17 points, the ledger between these two sits at 3-2 Richmond’s way. The last time these two met was in Round 7 of 2020 when the Tigers held the Roos to a scoreless first quarter, on the way to 2.12 (24) for the game, The Tigers winning by 54 points. Since losing to Essendon by 72 points back in Round 10, North Melbourne’s average losing score has been 22 points. In that time they’ve played ladder leaders the Bulldogs, Geelong and Brisbane. Prior to that loss, their average losing margin was 54 points. What a turnaround the second half of their season has been. Whilst on the theme, since the Tigers best the Bombers in the Dreamtime game back in Round 12, the Tigers have gone on to lose six of the next seven matches as their season has spiralled out of control.
So what does it all mean?
North Melbourne are back to being a game behind on the bottom of the ladder as their mission to avoid the wooden spoon took a huge hit on the weekend with Hawthorn surprising everyone by beating Brisbane. Richmond are still a chance to make finals, but each week another loss makes it look less and less likely.
All eyes on:
Chol in the hole- At times this year Richmond’s utility Mabior Chol has looked in very good touch. He has lightning speed for a bloke that stands at 200cm tall and has the agility of a wild cat. Having played just 30 games in his five seasons at Punt Road, including 10 this season, Chol has cemented his spot within the team thanks to his ability and to fulfil the team’s needs due to injury and unavailable players. When Toby Nankervis went down Richmond’s ruck division was in a shambles. Standing up when required and along with Tom Lynch and at times Marlion Pickett, Chol has shouldered the heavy load of the ruck and even found himself forward to kick the occasional goal, including a bag of four against Geelong just the other week. He may still be a bit raw, but the talent is undoubtedly there.
Keep it Simpkin- When you stop and think of the positive influences that players have on a club, your one stop shop at North Melbourne would be questionable if it wasn’t Ben Cunnington. Since returning to the team, North have looked like a team that is miles ahead of where they looked earlier in the season. Another reason for this shift and sudden cohesion throughout the team is thanks to players like Aaron Hall and his ability to gather the ball and get it forward at all costs, the other is on the back of much-improved players such as Jy Simpkin. With Ben Cunnington missing games, it opened the door for Simpkin to play more time in the centre and improve his ball winning skills. Since taking over that role this season and partly last season, we’ve seen Simpkin flourish and complement the work of Aaron Hall and Tarryn Thomas. Next year as they look to rise up the ladder, I expect to see more growth in Simpkins game, especially given that his personal stats of this season eclipse the averages of any season past.
Carlton vs Gold Coast
The last time these two teams met was back in Round 4 when the Blues won by 11 points in what was a very inaccurate day in front of goal. The Suns enter this one off the back of their worst loss for the season, giving the Demons a timely percentage boost as they limped to a 98 point loss. The Blues put the Saints to the sword and ran all over them in a Friday night special, Sam Walsh was unstoppable around the ground and in front of goal.
So what does it all mean?
Carlton are now one step closer to cracking the top eight, they’re one of five teams who sit a single win outside of the eight. With matches against Port Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney to come it’s not going to be a walk on the park, dare the Blues dream? Gold Coast have Essendon next week and then Sydney to round out their season. If they can’t pull a win two out in the next three weeks then there’s another bottom four finish on the horizon.
All eyes on:
I just don’t know- Carlton’s map to success is harder to follow than the 40-year-old rooftop map I keep in my glovebox that is so out of date that half the hidden bush tracks on it are now suburbs. I’m speaking of a team who returned from oblivion after half time three weeks ago to rudely disrupt the Magpies hopes of embarrassing their old enemy, only to have the same thing done to them the following week by the bottom of the table North Melbourne, then followed it up by getting out to an almost eight-goal lead against the Saints last week. I don’t know what was more confusing, seeing the old dark navy whites employee Jack Silvagni in the ruck, (which to his credit, he pulled off the change superbly) or having players other than Harry McKay and Sam Walsh stand up when needed. Having Charlie Curnow return is a blessing for a team that’s become so reliant on one man to kick their score, albeit the season is almost over. Their win against the Saints was timely given the club’s current review of its football department.
Gold toast- With the Suns well and truly cooked for the season yet again, it’s time to look towards the future and consider what this team could be had they been afforded a better run with injuries. Obviously having lost Jarrod Witt’s for the season was a massive blow, but what’s the best move for this floundering club? Are their potential personnel returns next season going to be enough? I think this side must go and go hard, to what end I can’t definitively say. They’ve had plenty of high draft picks and managed to retain some young players over the past few seasons. The inclusions of Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood have created some foundations for the club, but it’s going to have to dig deep and trade hard if they wish to bring in more talent. Looking at their list and their potential trades makes me glad I don’t work in the recruiting department.
Geelong vs Greater Western Sydney
The Cat’s have backed up their Grand Final appearance in 2020 with a year of consistency in 2021. They sit second on the ladder with 15 wins and only percentage behind the top-ranked Bulldogs. The Giants are half a win outside the eight and have beaten the Cats in their last two encounters. They’ll enter this game without midfielder Jacob Hopper who was hospitalized after an accidental kick to the head whilst trying to smother the ball.
So what does it all mean?
The Cats will be looking to win this and their remaining games to keep themselves in the top two and earn the home final that’s every chance of not actually being at home, again. Story of Geelong’s life. The Giants must win or risk being bumped down the ladder – that is if any of the teams around them actually take the opportunity to climb back into the eight.
All eyes on:
Finals boost- As if the Cats really need another boost, but stop and consider that this side may be bolstered in the weeks approaching the finals, or the first week of finals with inclusions such as Jeremy Cameron and much Duncan. Since crossing over from the Giants, Jeremy Cameron has battled hamstring complaints, but when he’s been on the park he has slotted into Geelong’s forward line seamlessly. Alongside Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan, Cameron provided a lethal option in attack and looked as if his recruitment may have been a masterstroke for the Cats to find their last missing piece of the puzzle that couldn’t overcome Richmond on the biggest stage last year. Likewise, the benefit of a returning Mitch Duncan will be immeasurable. His importance to this side is something that I could not overestimate. Although Geelong are rocking along nicely in second place, the thought of the quality talent they have yet to return for finals is a scary prospect for opposition teams.
One tall short- Amongst all the chatter around what Greater Western Sydney need to fix their underachieving list, I feel their biggest requirement has been overlooked, but must be on their radar at season’s end. The loss of Jeremy Cameron has been hugely understated to a team that now relies on Toby Greene for the bulk contribution of their goals due to his reliability and the x-factor he possesses in front of goal. What a lot of people may not realise is that Jeremy Cameron took out the club’s leading goal kicker award every single season since the club’s inception in 2012. That’s nine straight years of scoring the most goals for the club, with 2017 the only year close to an exception when he, Greene and Jonathan Patton all finished on the same amount of goals. Relying heavily on Greene this season to score, as well as Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson largely due to their budget-friendly replacement for Cameron – Jesse Hogan, only managing six game for the year to date due to injury. If Hogan can squeeze in a full season, then this entire opinion may be moot, as we know Hogan has the keys to be a great forward, it’s his body that lets him down.
Adelaide vs Port Adelaide
Showdown 50 looms as a bit of a fizzer. Given the uncertainty around lockdowns, plus Adelaide’s struggles this season may have broadened the horizons for Port Adelaide, if the Power run away with this one they’ll be keeping a games distance between themselves and the Swans on the ladder. We already saw one showdown earlier this season where Port Adelaide took home the chocolates and tipped the ledger in their favour, which currently sits at Adelaide – 24, Port Adelaide – 25.
So what does it all mean?
Not much for the Crows in terms of their ladder position. They’re still widely tipped to finish in the bottom four in what’s been a tough season. The Power are in the top four and largely thanks to Brisbane’s drop in form, they’ll likely remain there unless the Swans have something to say about it.
All eyes on:
Risen far, prison bar- Another Showdown rolls around, another Port Adelaide request to wear their prison bar gurnseys gets denied by the AFL. Only this time, we’re not treated to a barrage of stern comments and threats from Eddie McGuire, given that Collingwood showed him the door earlier this year. Port Adelaide’s CEO Matthew Richardson has insisted that he will not be deterred in his club’s push to be able to wear their historically 10th jersey design that was first worn in 1902. Given that Fremantle wore their historical anchor jersey with their original green emblazoned across it, Sydney wore their tribute to the old South Melbourne red V on a white jersey, who could blame the Power for wanting to cash in on the success that other teams have generated by wearing a heritage jersey. Admittedly, the Power have been pushing for this for a long time, largely impeded by Collingwood, but that’s a whole other story for next time this rears it’s ugly head.
Tighten the screws- Adelaide have conceded more than 100 points eight times this season, then there was a loss where 98 points were conceded to West Coast and multiple games with scores in the 80s. Coach Matthew Nicks has highlighted his team’s defence as an area that needs drastic work, but drastic may be an understatement. The move of Rory Laird from being an All Australian defender to a gun in the midfield has been a masterstroke, but at what cost? The Crows are in desperate need of talent at either end, especially with players such as Taylor Walker, David McKay and Tom Lynch all entering the final stages of their careers, it’s time for Adelaide to have a full-scale shakeup.
St. Kilda vs Sydney
The Saints have only won one of their past twelve clashes against the Swans dating back to 2012. With Sydney winning their past five games in a row, they are up and about and looking to crack into the top four. The Saints were looking like coming good after hitting a strong patch of form for a few weeks, but have now lost three games in as many weeks. After a tight contest against the Bombers last week, the Swans are primed for a launch into the finals, meanwhile, St. Kilda had their finals hopes derailed for another week at the hands of the Blues.
So what does it all mean?
Sydney are only a game out of the top four, and with a percentage that’s not far off that of fourth placed Port Adelaide, it’s a huge turn around in fortunes for the team that finished 16th last year. The Saints can still make finals, but without boosting their percentage, they need a lot to go right for them from here on out.
All eyes on:
This Justin- Sydney really have a gifted player on their hands in Justin McInerney. Blistering speed for a bloke his size and excellent disposal efficiency, one of numerous rising star nominations for Swans players this season. Taken at Pick 44 back in the 2018 national draft, McInerney only managed one game in his debut year of 2019. He would back it up with eight games in 2020 and has played every game this season so far except for one. We’ve seen a great transition system at Sydney this year where players like McInerney are afforded the luxury of being rotated through the middle and gaining hands-on experience with club stalwarts such as Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy. There are not many kids in the system his age that can use the ball as well as he can, plus keep their calm when under immense opposition pressure. With Sydney climbing the ladder furiously this season, the fact that they have such young players contributing so much will be a testament to where they finish on the ladder, not just this season, but in those to come.
More rucking hell- If you’re taller than 200cm and somewhat athletic, I recommend you put your hands up for the 2021 national draft. The number of teams that would give their proverbial left one for a fit and functioning ruckman for depth in the offseason is tipped to be exponential. We’ve seen how much Gold Coast have struggled this year, being forced to throw anyone with a bit of height into the ruck. We know St. Kilda have battled at times with their duo of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall playing, let alone when one or both men aren’t playing. Richmond have been forced to persist with Mabior Chol in the ruck to replace Toby Nankervis at times throughout the season, just as we’ve seen the Bulldogs spread the load between Tim English, Jordan Sweet and Stefan Martin. The Blues were beaten in the hitouts by the Saints last week 70-11, compliments of losing backup ruckman Tom De Koning in the first quarter. Yet the Blues’ midfield was all over the Saints’ and dominated to the point of making their opposition look hapless. Jack Silvagni was thrown in the ruck out of sheer need and desperation and he held his own, providing a second option at ground level and working his opponents around the ground. I’m sure there are other examples of teams suffering immense ruck woes this season that I’ve neglected to mention, but seeing a number of teams lose their primary and secondary ruckmen to injury may just change the way teams view their ruck department, and the way their talls train to cover multiple roles.
Hawthorn vs Collingwood
I’m really looking forward to this match. Both teams are playing under coaches that won’t be at their respective club’s next year, both teams have had very patchy seasons to date and both teams claimed big, underdog wins against top eight teams last week. The Hawks have a better track record over the Pies in recent years, claiming victory in three of their past four matches against one another. The two teams haven’t met since Round 6 of last season when Collingwood beat Hawthorn comfortably by 32 points.
So what does it all mean?
Hawthorn only sit half a win below the three teams above them, and a win would see them rise as high as 14th and push Collingwood further down the ladder. A win to the Pies won’t see their ladder position change.
All eyes on:
Chad bod- Chad Wingard played one of the best all round games that I’ve seen from him against the Lions last week. When the Hawks were up and flying in the first three quarters, he was leading from the front, scoring goals and affecting the contest. Even in the last quarter when the Lions piled on eight goals to one and severely diminished the lead that Hawthorn had built between them, Wingard never took a backwards step and continued to exert himself. His game on the weekend had to epitomize exactly what the Hawks had envisioned when they recruited him from Port Adelaide, managing to stretch the high flying forward’s ability into a more central role in the middle and on the wing. When Mitchell and O’Meara click in the middle, things happen for the Hawks. When Wingard fires like he did against the Lions, special things happen – and that’s what we saw against the Lions.
What is a cakewalk?- The Magpies have only won back-to-back games once this season, and that was across rounds 12/13 with a win over Adelaide and a Queen’s Birthday special over ladder leading Melbourne. Before those wins, the Magpies had lost eight of their past nine games, with their only win coming against the last placed Kangaroos. They have a golden opportunity to do it again this week and further distance themselves from the bottom four. These two teams haven’t played each other since Round 6 of last season, and what a change in landscapes around both clubs we have seen since then. Nathan Buckley, Eddie McGuire and many other employees have departed the Collingwood Football Club, whilst we have learnt in recent weeks that there may just be some credence to the old moniker ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire”, with the narrative of Alastair Clarkson and Sam Mitchell at Hawthorn playing out just as some in the media had predicted it to. In a cruel twist of fate, could Clarko find his way to the Magpies on a long-term coaching deal? Or is a Brad Scott or Don Pyke a closer candidate? Eyes are firmly peeled on this one.
Fremantle vs Brisbane
Two teams that looked to be heading down completely different pathways this season, find themselves at a crossroads. Both sides have lost three of their past five games, causing Brisbane to fall out of the race for the top four, and causing Fremantle to only just sit inside the top eight by half a game. The last time these two teams met back in Round 8, both Charlie Cameron and Nat Fyfe threatened to rip the game apart if not for their inaccuracies in front of goal. The Lions got the better of the Dockers by 24 points.
So what does it all mean?
As I was saying, the chances of the Lions making the top four now are slim to none. Their past month of football has seen them lose to Hawthorn, St. Kilda and Richmond as they struggle to adapt their game in the injury-induced absence of key players. Fremantle must win as many games as possible if they wish to stay in the top eight, with Greater Western Sydney only half a game behind them and four other teams only a single game off catching them.
All eyes on:
Drew the short sub- Is anyone in the AFL unluckier with donning the sub vest than Connor Blakely? The 25 year old midfield utility has been named as Fremantle’s medical sub eight times so far this season. That’s eight games on his game tally that he may not have even graced the field in. I’ve made my stance on young players being named as medical sub in their first season widely known this year, but we saw under the previous sub rule regime from 2011-2015 that some players became their teams regular go-to each week. Brent Harvey was used as North Melbourne’s sub frequently due to his fresh legs and pace used as a weapon successfully later in games as other players tired. Essendon had similar ideas with Nathan Lovett-Murray who in the final years of his career also found himself being utilised as the perfect substitute player for his team. Aaron Young from Port Adelaide started as sub in 21 of his 42 career games – yep, 50% of his career tally was racked up on the bench wearing the green vest. Of course, back then there was a lot less stigma around using the sub as it wasn’t there for a medical substitution, it was there to be used for injury, or at a coach’s discretion. It’s all well and good finding a player that acts as the perfect candidate for your side to come on late or when required and impact the game in the absence of another player, but how many of them actually enjoy playing this role repetitively?
Carry on McCluggage- What a season Brisbane’s number two draft pick from 2016 is putting forward. At just 23 years of age he’s been touted as a potential future captain and the way he leads on field leaves little doubt in my mind. He wasn’t at his complete dominating self against the Hawks last week, but he wasn’t far off it. His midfield as a whole was beaten by that of their opposition. But that didn’t stop McCluggage from adapting his game and playing a different brand of football to try and drag his team back over the line. He laid 11 tackles against Hawthorn. To put that into perspective, across his month of football leading up to Round 20, McCluggage laid 10 tackles in total for those four games. His previous high for the season came in Round 11 against Greater Western Sydney when he registered seven tackles. Seeing his improvement each season makes it crystal clear why the Lions jumped on him with their second selection.
West Coast vs Melbourne
Melbourne will enter this game heavy favourites given West Coast’s poor run of form since the bye. The Demons will be without tough midfielder Jack Viney for the next two games due to suspension, but it’s the same story that’s plagued Simon Goodwin throughout the season; which forward line setup will the Demons go with? It seems strange to think that a team that is currently only half a game outside of the top two and have spent a majority of their season sitting on top, would have such a big question mark over them. West Coast have similar issues except theirs are to a far greater extent. They’re a team that’s hit a massive wall and must scrape off what’s left for this season, work long and hard, and recruit well if they’re to have another run at it next season.
So what does it all mean?
The Eagles need win only one more game for the season and they’re almost guaranteed a finals appearance. If they happen to lose their next three then they’re every possibility to drop out of the top eight if Fremantle and other teams below them continue to win. The Demons are in a similar battle with their position inside the top two. Geelong leapfrogged them and took their position at second and thanks to their drawn game against Hawthorn back in round 18, they sit half a game out of the top two.
All eyes on:
The first of many- Unfortunate news filtered through this week with West Coast forward and 2018 premiership player Daniel Venables announcing his retirement from football at age 22 due to the ongoing health issues associated with a concussion that he received back in 2019. He missed the entire season last year and couldn’t lace the boots up this year either. It’s a terrible scenario for any player to face, much less a player so early in his career. We’ve seen in recent years that senior players like Nick Riewoldt and Jonathan Brown have called time on their careers partially due to head trauma, even former number one draft pick Patty McCartin was forced to retire from the Saints due to ongoing concussion symptoms. It’s reasons like these as to why the AFL have made the heads of a player so sacrosanct when enforcing penalties and suspensions for head-high contact. Although they don’t get all of them right, just look at the discrepancies in recent weeks – a certain un-named forward that may be approaching a momentous milestone comes to mind?
Which brings me to- Jack Viney will miss Melbourne’s two upcoming games after pleading guilty to serious misconduct in an incident involving Gold Coast defender Sam Collins last week. In the footage the pair are seen scuffling on the ground, before Viney emerges on top of Collins, driving his elbow into the grounded player’s throat/jaw (?) and applying pressure for every bit of five seconds before he is removed from the player. Now we could debate the seriousness of this charge until the cows come home, but after seeing Lance Franklin avoid suspension just a week before for a deliberate thrown elbow that caught his opponent in the temple, some people demanded Viney receive more. Given that Toby Greene received a week suspension for serious misconduct after making contact with opposition Lachie Neale’s eyes. He did so only a week after receiving a $7,500 fine for the exact same charge under almost identical circumstances, when he made contact with Marcus Bontempelli’s eyes and pulled his hair. All I’ll say is, this definitely won’t be the last time we see or hear of incidents compounding into something like this.
That’s another week over and out by me, thank you dedicated readers for following me along on another tapering ride. If you’re in lockdown again then I wish you nothing but the best in this shit situation. Keep calm, smoke yourself a nice Connecticut wrapped cigar and support your local pet tag engraver.