1. The Giants don’t seem to mind playing in Geelong

Nobody can deny that playing against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium is a daunting task. It’s the only genuine home ground advantage left among the Victorian clubs, and visiting sides rarely walk away with the 4 points at this venue. I know it’s early days for the Giants playing in just their tenth season in the AFL, but they have an enviable record against Geelong at their home ground. They ventured to then Simonds Stadium in their debut season and were soundly beaten, although they did only win two games for that whole year. We can almost let that one slide. The next time the Giants played there was 2018 and they went down in that clash. However, Round 4 in 2019 they took the points, and again on Friday night when they were rank outsiders with a lengthy injury list. So, out of the 4 times they’ve played in Geelong, they’ve won twice. That, by any metric, is pretty impressive.

What’s more impressive was the performance of Toby Greene. A fit and firing Greene can be the difference, and it was on this occasion too. He finished with 4 goals and a customary visit to the tribunal, although, based on the Fritsch outcome from a similar incident earlier in the year, his two-match MRP sanctioned penalty may well be overturned. Or perhaps his reputation might be a factor.

The Cats just had an off-night, but it now means they may lose their grip on a Top 4 spot if they were to stumble in both of their remaining 2 matches against the Saints and the Demons. They don’t want to limp into the finals again.

 

2. The Gold Coast may have ended another Carlton coach’s job

With the club under review, the spotlight has been on David Teague in what can only be the biggest rollercoaster ride of his life. Two weeks ago the Blues were humbled by a Kangaroos outfit sitting 18th with a blistering 3rd quarter that seemed to seal the fate of the embattled coach. Then a week later the Blues were impressive against the Saints with Teague no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. That was all undone on Saturday in what can only be described as an insipid effort, particularly when the prize of victory was to remain a chance to play finals. My mind goes back to Round 22 in 2012 when the Suns, in just their second season, defeated the Blues who were vying for a finals spot with the end result seeing Brett Ratten being moved on from the job just a couple weeks later. History often repeats itself, and another wasted year won’t sit well with the supporters. We all know who usually pays the price, but there are a few players on that list that are also deserving of scrutiny.

It’s now time to talk up the Suns, and in particular, their captain Touk Miller. He was superb once again and will poll very well in this year’s medal. His leadership was on display, and his 34 possessions and 2 goals were the difference in the end. Conversely, the indifferent form of Patrick Cripps and his clear lack of onfield leadership are a grave concern for the Blues. The speculation has always been he plays injured all the time, but if that’s the case he shouldn’t be out there. I believe it’s more a mental issue. This win will help the Suns moving forward as much as this loss will hurt the Blues. Both sides need to do some soul-searching to figure out what they stand for over the break, but at least in this game, it was the Suns who came to play.

 

3. The Tigers finally snapped out of their slumber

At half time in this game, it didn’t look good. The in-form Kangaroos held a 20-point lead over a Tigers group that could only manage two goals before the long break. From that point on it was all Richmond, booting 11 goals to just 3 in the second half, eventually running out 33 point winners. One can only imagine the talk from Hardwick in the rooms before the 3rd quarter would have been somewhere along the lines of, “OK! You’ve had your fun now. Stop taking the piss and start playing footy.” And play footy they did.

Jack Graham lead from the front with 36 touches in a strong performance and helped lift the workrate of all the players around him. It’s a scary proposition if Richmond can sneak into the 8. I wouldn’t want to be the side that finishes 5th in that scenario. Time will tell if they remain awake enough for that to happen. North Melbourne were very good in the first half and will no doubt be disappointed with their poor showing in the second half, but it was Richmond who clicked into gear and prevented the Kangaroos from getting the easy uncontested possessions they were getting in the first half. Once the tigers got on top of that and started running in waves as we’ve seen them do so at their best, the game completely turned.

However, there’s plenty to like about players like Davies-Uniacke, Simpkin, Anderson and Hall to know that 2022 might be a year with some promise. It does, however, look likely they will finish last, but after the start the Kangaroos had, it certainly doesn’t look as bad as many suspected.

 

4. Showdown games in Adelaide are always odd

On paper, this should’ve been a very one-sided affair. Port were seemingly finding form at the right time of the year and Robbie Gray back in the side getting closer to full strength. The Crows, on the other hand, lost their leading goalkicker to suspension in controversial circumstances and have been struggling. Many would think the end of the season couldn’t come quickly enough for them. Yet here we are talking about a game that went right down to the wire with the Power eventually prevailing by just four points. When you consider a spot in the Top 4 was on the line, it’s almost incredible to think it ended this way, but that is exactly what showdowns often do.

I often wonder if the two South Australian teams build themselves up more for these games than finals matches. They certainly seem to have a finals-like atmosphere, although being Victorian, anything with a crowd of any description is finals-like now.

I keep singing his praises, but Zak Butters was impressive once again. He’s become such an important player in that team and has possibly surpassed Conner Rozee as the most impressive of the younger stars on their list. So Port Adelaide survived that scare and now take on the Blues at home next week. Surely the Power will find a way to win that, but the final round against the Dogs may prove their biggest challenge for the year. Who knows? If they found a way to win that one, they may even get a home final?? Or maybe they’ll get one regardless due to Covid? Imagine if that was against the Cats. I can already hear the whinging now.

 

5. Jekyll and Hyde Saints back again

I’m still scratching my head over this team. They were super impressive against the Lions back in Round 17 and looked very much like going on to play finals if they could maintain that form. They then went down to Port and lost no fans. They were valiant against the Eagles in Perth but fell short, and when you consider the form of the Eagles they may have blown a chance. Against the struggling Blues they were quite poor, and after that game, taking into consideration their poor percentage, one could easily draw a line through them. So they came into a game against the Swans who had come off five consecutive wins as rank outsiders and never looked like losing in what was one of their more impressive efforts for the year.

Jack Higgins looked like he was having a ball kicking four goals for the match, and all of a sudden the Saints find themselves just two points outside the 8 and still in the mix. The next two games against the Cats and the Dockers will be hard, but if they bring this kind of form into those games, anything is possible. Unfortunately, the way they’ve been going all year, thrashings are possible too.

Sydney were flat in this game. You could see early on the Saints had more energy. This will disappoint Longmire greatly as staying in touch with the Top 4 may now be out of the equation on the back of this loss. They’ll be hoping to bounce back against the Kangaroos next week although they can no longer take it easy. Interestingly, footage was shown of several Swans players being reunited with family during the week after a long absence. Perhaps a few of them came into the game a little more tired than normal? But I digress. Buddy was held to one goal. He still requires fourteen for the magic 1000. Will it happen this year?

 

6. The Hawks are finally playing for their coach

OK. This is a tongue in cheek comment, but let’s face facts. They’ve played pretty well, firstly since Clarkson first revealed the succession plan, and after his announcement that he’d be gone by the end of the season, they’ve been even better. A draw with Melbourne and a win over the Lions are pretty fair efforts. They never looked terribly troubled against the Pies, so maybe they’re just trying to send Clarko off with some real effort in his final days with the club. Tom Mitchell had a lazy 44 possessions in another dominant display, and his recent form suggests his possessions are more meaningful than perhaps they were earlier in the season. The Hawks have a tough encounter with the Bulldogs who’ll be hurting after their shock loss to the Bombers followed by the Tigers in Round 23 who will be fighting tooth and nail for a finals berth one feels. It’s hard to see them winning again this year, but if they do manage a victory against either of these teams, then perhaps it is all about the coach.

One gets the feeling Collingwood just want to see the back of season 2021. As has been the case in many games this year, they were nowhere near it early on and played catch-up football for the second half to go down by a respectable margin. It’s a little hard to see where their improvement will come from to resurrect them next season. Grundy has been serviceable without starring this year. Taylor Adams looks to be the one player who performs every week and would probably make a good captain. De Goey has been good as a midfielder, and there has been glimpses from many others, but it does look as though they’re quite a few players short of being contenders. A new coach may revitalise the group, but I’m sure they’ll be busy during trade period. With the Lions and the Bombers to come, I’m sure they’ll do their best to try and keep their rivals in Essendon out of the finals, but I’m thinking it’s the best they can hope to achieve in the next fortnight.

 

7. Peter gets it Wright for the Bombers

As a young Suns forward, he showed signs of being very good but failed to reach the heights many thought he would. Eventually, he was let go to the Bombers in what is starting to look like a stroke of genius. The 7-goal haul against the top side of the competition is no doubt the best game he’s played and will do wonders for his confidence moving forward. He’s a beautiful kick and made light work of several shots from around that 50m arc or beyond.

The Bombers have been screaming for a true key forward with Joe Daniher managing just a few games for several seasons and now seemingly fit and well at the Lions. Cale Hooker has filled the role manfully for the last few seasons, but I’m sure he’s not the most natural forward going around. All of a sudden, the Bombers have a real chance of playing finals with winnable games to come against the Suns and the Magpies. Their destiny is in their hands.

The Bulldogs weren’t terrible. Marcus Bontempelli starred once again with 34 touches and a goal. Macrae also had 38 possessions, but the Bombers midfield with Merrett and Parish were just as damaging, and young ruckman Sam Draper had the better of Tim English giving his on-ballers many opportunities to push forward. The form of Tim English as a number one ruckman may be a slight concern for the Dogs. His marking around the ground and up forward are a feature of his game, but his ruck-work is probably not in the elite class at this stage of his career. The Dogs brought in Stefan Martin for this reason, but it seems unlikely he will be available any time soon.

The Dogs should bounce back against the Hawks before playing the Power in Round 23 in what looks like being a big game for both clubs. I’ve tried to steer away from using the cliché “the loss they had to have”, but I finally caved. Time will tell if there’s anything to that theory.

 

8. The Lions are back on track but it might be too late for Top 4

With the indifferent form of the Lions, and the Dockers still in the mix for a finals berth, one could’ve been forgiven for thinking that Fremantle had every right to win this game, particularly in front of their home crowd. But as is so often the case with teams battling for that 8th spot on the ladder, when the heat was applied, they capitulated. The win by Brisbane was as emphatic as could be. They demolished the Dockers in every department with winners all over the ground. Joe Daniher booted 4 goals, McCarthy kicked 3 and Zorko played one of his best games for some time amassing 34 touches in a dominant performance. They certainly needed this win. A double-chance seems all but gone unfortunately, unless the Power and the Cats fall over in the last fortnight. It’ll be a tall order to win this year’s premiership from outside the Top 4, but it’s been done before as we all know. Their two remaining games are against the Pies and the Eagles. They should go into September with winning form.

The Dockers midfield battled hard. Caleb Serong has shown no hangover from his Rising Star Award for 2020. He’s been great all year as has Brayshaw, Mundy and Cerra. They certainly could’ve used Nat Fyfe in this game. Fremantle still have an outside chance of making finals. They play the Eagles next week in a derby, followed by the Saints in Round 23. Not only do they have to win both of those, but they also have to rely on teams above them losing as well. All in all, Fremantle have a few things to be upbeat about. They’ve improved despite having had a horrendous run with injury. Perhaps another key forward might be on their wish list. Taberner has been good at times, and Treacy has shown glimpses, but are they the ones to lead the Dockers to glory? Time will tell.

 

9. The Dees hang on after lightning strikes

In what can only be described as a bizarre scene, lightning resulted in the AFL suspending the game for several minutes. This is the world we live in now. Nobody will argue that the safety of the players is paramount, but I do recall somewhere about a saying relating to being struck by lightning as very rare. And yet, with a minuscule chance of harm, off the players went. This would never have happened 30 years ago, and I am undecided if we’re any better off now. I’m pretty sure there are no records of an AFL/VFL player being struck by lightning in the 124 years of competition, but I’m happy to be corrected.

As for the game, well, the Demons won by nine points after leading by as much as 34 points early in the final term. The Eagles kicked the last 4 goals of the game but fell short making their position in the top 8 very shaky indeed. Oliver and Petracca dominated the first three quarters, but when lightning struck, the break seemed to reinvigorate the Eagles midfield as they pressed forward and got on top, almost snatching the victory. Jack Redden was one of the Eagles’ best and seems to be one of those players that fly under the radar while performing at a high standard most weeks. The Demons find themselves back on top of the AFL ladder with games to come against the struggling Crows, followed by a huge game against Geelong in what looms as a battle for a Top 2 spot. The Eagles are in real danger of slipping out of the finals. There’s every chance that even one win out of their two remaining games won’t be enough as their percentage is weak. They take on the Dockers, followed by a tough game against the Lions.

 

10. All of a sudden the premiership is wide open again

Just when we were beginning to think it was starting to look like a Geelong and Bulldogs Grand Final, proponents of that theory have been thrown into a state of confusion as we now see the Top 4 sides all within half a game of one another. The losses on the weekend to the Dogs and Cats have diminished any sense of predictability on the eve of the finals, and it’s exactly what the season needed. And if that wasn’t juicy enough, all four top teams will play another team in the Top 4 in the final round putting a nice little exclamation point on the home and away season. And there still could be a few twists.

For example, if the Power were to stumble against the Blues in Round 22, that would leave the door open for Sydney to steal their spot. Could the Saints topple Geelong in the same fixture? The Bulldogs and the Demons should win their Round 22 games, but we have seen some odd results.

We’re also nowhere near settled as far as the 7th and 8th positions are concerned. The Eagles take on the Dockers next week, while the Giants take on the Tigers in what will go a long way in deciding who sneaks in. The door is wide open for the Bombers, and the Saints are still a tiny chance as well. We’re set up for a great finish to the year. Let’s just hope and pray this COVID thing doesn’t wreak too much havoc and we get to see the season out.

 

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