Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. We’re in for a ripping week this week with some truly promising games ahead of us. That is if the underdogs don’t wreck my tipping, AGAIN. I’ve all but given up on my major comp this season. When I pick the roughie they get annihilated as predicted, when I back the sure-bet it’s an upset. Anyway, enough about my failures as a tipster and more about my ability to string a word or two or three or 12,000 together to deliver you; the Mongrel faithful, a product worthy of your time and membership.
But before we straddle the horse and gallop off into the sunset of yet another comprehensively covered week of football, let’s pull on the reins, turn this nag around and chase the steeples of Round 20.
A Friday night boilover occured in Geelong, and it wasn’t because Nan left the kettle on the stove. It came to us from alphabet Stadium where the Giants kicked five straight goals early on in the game to build a chasm that the mighty Cats just couldn’t bridge. Toby Greene was at the centre of attention once again as an errant elbow caught an attempted tackle from Patrick Dangerfield in the throat, forcing Geelong’s Brownlow Medallist and resident opinion pusher off the field and straight to hospital after an extended period on the bench. The Giants would run out 19 points winners with the man of the hour, the man with the power Toby Greene slotting four majors, whilst Taranto and Whitfield ran riot around the ground.
Highs- Toby Greene. Love him or hate him – there is no middle ground. But you can’t deny the skilful player that he is. With him comes controversy, and the more you pile on him the better he plays. Sam Taylor was unshakable in defence, an absolute rock who claimed 17 intercepts for the game. Along with Isaac Cumming who played tall, short and everything in between. The Giants looked and felt like a team that’s sitting in the top four, with an injury list that’s lucky to not keep them in the bottom four.
Lows- As a lad I often used to wonder who a shit-carter was, and why was his hat so flat. I worked up the courage to ask Grandad one day (since it was a term that he often bestowed upon us), and he jovially explained to me exactly what the role of a shit-carter used to be ‘back in the day’, and just why his hat was always flat. Has this any relevance to the Geelong game? Not really. But by golly did Geelong look as flat as a certain obsolete profession’s choice of headwear!? Maybe it’s just the pre-finals loss that every team needs (according to Ross Lyon) and not a worrying sign. Melbourne in a fortnight will be the true test.
I don’t even want to rant and rave about Carlton anymore this season. I’m just done. I actually feel bad for the Teague Train. They Choo Choo Choose’d him and he’s been basically been built up just to be torn down, but that’s an opinion for another time. They just couldn’t get the job done against the Suns, despite holding the lead into the third quarter, Gold Coast kicked a run of six out of seven straight goals that all but buried the Blues and handed Stuart Dew his seventh win of the season by 19 points. The win elevated the Suns out of the bottom four. Touk Miller was an absolute star as usual. Those would have to be the eight most commonly bunched words that I’ve typed this season. Miller is on another level and I would love to see this side climb the ladder and make finals purely to see how high his ceiling as a player is.
Highs- Touk ‘the Blues killer’ Miller. Enough said. Bit left of field here, but Jacob Townsend kicking a couple of snags in his first game for his fourth club was wholesome for me. I’ve always loved the bloke and felt he was stiff to be axed from his first three clubs, especially the Bombers. Hope he can forge out a consistent career at the Suns. Will Powell had most likely his best game that I’ve ever seen, given that I don’t watch the Sun’s every week. Love a young defender who backs himself against a decent opponent.
Lows- Where do I even start without aimlessly laying the boot into a team that’s under enough pressure behind their own closed doors? This didn’t even look like the same team that broke down St. Kilda emphatically last week, this looked more like the Carlton Regional Bus Service given how many passengers the Blues had. If Teague’s papers are signed, I feel sorry for him, as well as the next poor bastard that puts his/her/their hand up.
Unfortunately for North Melbourne, the Tigers switched on in the third quarter and kicked eight goals to two to swing the momentum back their way and they wouldn’t back off for the remainder of the game. A 26 point lead to the Roos in the second quarter was turned into a 33 points loss come the final siren. Jack Graham and Dion Prestia were critical when the Tigers needed to win in the middle and Nick Vlastuin owned the back line.
Highs- Luke Davies-Uniacke backed up his solid contribution from last week and eclipsed it, Jy Simpkin was also good for the Roos and Cam Zurhaar bagged four goals. Sydney Stack looked solid off the back flank and linked up well with Nick Vlastuin who was superb. The Tigers had nine seperate goal scorers for their 13 goals – a well-rounded team effort.
Lows- I hate teams that don’t tackle. As much as I love flashy football, not many teams have won the ultimate prize in recent years playing a game style that doesn’t involve good pressure and tackling when needed. North Melbourne had 13 players that registered one or fewer tackles for the entire game – nine of which recorded zero. Zero. Nine players didn’t lay a single tackle in four quarters of football. It’s something that I’m sure David Noble will be highlighting in the team’s review during the week, just not good enough.
The Showdown may not have even the best game of football that you’ll see, far from it if I’m honest, but it had something of an edge of your seat nuance to it. It reached a high for Adelaide fans that no-one predicted, ‘Crom’ got out by as much as three goals, but like a failed dog-walker, they just couldn’t hang on to the lead. Port’s inaccuracy kept them from hitting the front sooner, but they would wind up four-point winners in what was a tight finish. Aliir Aliir was named the Showdown Medallist for one of the more resolute defensive performances you’ll see this season.
Highs- Port’s defence looked the best I’ve seen them for the majority of this season, albeit they were playing a team that’s third from the bottom of the ladder. Lead by Aliir Aliir, Ryan Burton and Dan Houston also worked in tandem beautifully like the axles on a new trailer. Will Drew and Travis Boak were the stars in the centre with Ben Keays tagging the latter from the first bounce. Ollie Wines found himself up forward more often than usual, but he couldn’t bury the Crows, kicking 1.3 and finding plenty of the pill. Laird and Seedsman were their usual best for the Crows, Harry Schoenberg was excellent out of the middle and Tom Doedee made it count when it mattered down back.
Lows- Robbie Gray was well below his standard, which is noticeable given how good of a player he really is. Karl Amon is someone who’s really impressed me over the past month but he looked tired and up against it in this one. Hoping they both bounce back for finals. The Crows losing will Hamill and Brodie Smith really killed their rotations and hurt their chances late in the game.
The Saints decided that last week’s rot that they dished up against Carlton wouldn’t see a sequential reoccurrence, getting out to a lead early against the up and about Swans, a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish in the ensuing three quarters. Rowan Marshall was massive in the middle as he battled the ruck with Tom Hickey but won his own ball around the ground. Jack Steele, was at his usual dominant best. Finding plenty of the ball, laying plenty of tackles and setting up plenty of scoring chains. It was one of the Saints’ better wins of the season, 29 points at the final siren.
Highs- As mentioned above, Jack Steele and Rowan Marshall were the obvious keys for St. Kilda, Jack Sinclair was visibly strong in a weekend that was dominated by quality defenders having great games. Jack Higgins kicked four goals and Dean Kent scored three. Luke Parker claimed 12 clearances and was my pick for the Swans best player in a loss. Jake Lloyd also threw his hat in the ring for the quality defender stakes.
Lows- Buddy barely got near it, managing 1.1 from his five disposals and not registering a mark. Isaac Heeney weighed very little influence on the game, given the heights he’s reached literally and metaphorically so far in his career, he was very quiet. Max King sitting out with a groin inury in the second half was worrying, the Saints without a King is akin to chucking on a multi without a roughie – not worth your bloody time.
If I’m looking at the bottom half of the ladder and weighing up which team is in the biggest boghole overall, it’s almost got to be Collingwood by the length of Conrod Straight. All signs point to a team that’s only relevant to Brothers in Arms is the Dire Straits that they’re in as a club. Hawthorn continued their recent trend of playing a style of football that I like to call the “Rawson Rodeo” – where a team races out of the chute and goes hell-bent for leather in the first half, building a substantial lead of more than eight goals, then hangs on for dear life as the roughstock bucks and kicks its way back in the second half, but ultimately leaves too little too late. What does that mean minus all the yee-haw, you ask? Two weeks in a row Hawthorn have raced away to a commanding lead before their opponent has mounted a late comeback with Alasam Clarkchell’s men able to hold on.
Highs- Tom Mitchell had plenty and did plenty with it. I know he cops his whack for accumulating plenty of the ball but not doing much with it, well this wasn’t one of those occasions and you’d have a hard time arguing against that end, even with the staunchest hater of the Hawks. Jack Scrimshaw and Blake Hardwick were yet another pair of defenders who chose this round as one to stand up and do good things outside of the ordinary. I award the ruck battle in this game to the partnership of Ceglar/McEvoy. For as good as Brodie Grundy can be, his stats sheet by far inflates his actual influence on the ground. Conor Nash looked good in the centre and Chad Wingard also backed up a great game last week with a gritty effort again this week.
Lows- Taylor Adams and Jordan DeGoey were strong at the contest and won many clearances, but it was the next link in the chain that constantly let the Magpies down. Unless they find some reprieve in the way of course correction for the final two rounds, they’ve all but set sail for the bottom four this season.
One of the biggest upsets of the round saw the Bombers combine four quarters of quality, pressure football to beat the ladder-leading Bulldogs by 13 points, ending the Dogs’ run of six straight wins over Essendon, dating back to 2014. It looked ominous for the Bombers early as they faltered and allowed the Dogs to play their style of midfield domination and swift ball movement heading forward. But full credit to Essendon, they hit the lead just before half time and managed to ride the game out with precision in their forward line – something they’ve lacked in the latter half of this season. Peter Wright played a Goliath-like role up forward, clunking marks, making impenetrable leads and kicking seven goals from all parts of the forward line. It left the door widely ajar for Melbourne to make the leap from fourth to first on the ladder when they beat West Coast on Monday night.
Highs- The Bombers forward line looked functional for the first time in a long time. In the first half, Aaron Francis was standing tall as he continued his return to football from mental health leave and kicking a couple of goals. Marcus Bontempelli threatened to rip the heart out of the Bombers in the first half as he dominated every facet of the game. Jack Macrae gathered plenty of the ball and used it well as usual. Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish did the dirty work for the Dons as is their custom, but it was the working class Bombers that also caught my eye; Tom Cutler playing his best game for the club after crossing from the Lions and struggling to find his way and Sam Draper showed exactly why the club have invested their future ruck stocks firmly on his back. Jake Stringer’s cameos in the middle were a strong factor in his side’s victory and blokes like Will Snelling and Dylan Clarke showed plenty of signs.
Lows- One of the lowest lows of the round came in the final ten seconds if the game when Bulldogs forward Josh Bruce was helped off the ground with what would be revealed as an ACL injury to their most potent forward of season 2021. A massive loss on the eve of finals for a team that’s been lauded all season for their forward line fluency. The Bulldogs goal-kicking was the second biggest low of the game, to say they kicked themselves out of this one is an understatement. Full credit to the Bombers for their determination, but you can’t help but think how different this game may have been had multiple Dogs not shanked such simple shots on goal. The biggest disappointment from the opposition would have to be Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti again. Let me start off by saying I am a huge fan of this bloke. From where he’s come from to where he is now and some of the things he’s done on the field, I love the bloke. But come on.. he’s kicked three goals in the last seven weeks of football. He’s gone goalless five times in the second half of this season and hasn’t kicked more than two goals in a match since Round 10 against North Melbourne. Not even just his scoring woes, he has registered five disposals in each of his last four games and hasn’t had more than ten touches in a game since Round 12. He’s also only laid four tackles in his past four games, with his last haul of any significance being four tackles back in Round 16. I realise that he is currently second in the AFL for most consecutive games played (114) and third on Essendon’s all-time standings, but when is enough going to be enough? If he’s playing sore, he needs to be rested. If he’s so grossly out of form to the point that his position in the team is a liability, then he needs to be dropped.
With the exception of Brisbane’s fans, there wasn’t a lot to be excited about in this game. After the Dockers kicked the first goal, the Lions kicked goal after goal after goal as they looked to make amends for their embarrassing loss to Hawthorn last week. Their ten goal to three first-half helped set up a strong finish that, along with wins to St. Kilda, Richmond, Essendon and Greater Western Sydney saw the Dockers fall from ninth spot and land down in 12th. Joe Daniher starred with four goals and Lincoln McCarthy with three as Dayne Zorko wreaked havoc on a severely depleted Dockers outfit. Brisbane taking the Lion’s share and winning by 64 points in the biggest win of the round.
Highs- We saw a glimpse of how a dominant Brisbane forward line would look, with special regards to the talls department, given the state of their current injury list. Joe Daniher kicked four goals, Daniel McStay kicked two with resting ruckman Oscar McInerney also finding his end of a couple of goals. Paired with contributions from the smalls department with three from Lincoln McCarthy and two each coming from Charlie Cameron and Nakia Cockatoo, as well as small utility Zac Bailey getting on the end of a couple. It was a well timed, cohesive forward display and one that coach Chris Fagan highlighted post-game. The Lions midfield was far too good for their purple-clad counterparts.
Lows- Another season destined to be curtailed by injuries. It’s almost become the norm for Fremantle in recent years. They get hit hard by loss of key players in the preseason, they limp into a season and win a few games but the injuries pile up and up to the point that they just don’t have the cattle to meet the quota. I know I harp on about teams that don’t tackle, but here’s another example of it. Fremantle too had 13 players for the game register only one tackle or less, and of those 13, five players didn’t lay a single tackle for the entire game. It’s a damning stat, especially when you spend so much time chasing the opposition that controls the ball and scoring for majority of the game.
Our final game of the round was a real overload of information to try to watch and analyse. The Demons travelled to Perth to take on a team that has had the better of them in every encounter since beating them in that historic 2018 preliminary final. All signs early pointed the Demons’ way as they got out to a lead, before the Eagles clawed their way back in and held a lead narrowly at half time. After the main break, Melbourne would kick five of the next six goals on the trot before a rare occurrence in our game halted play, the players were sent from the ground due to lightning striking close enough nearby for the umpires to deem it unsafe. After an almost 30 minute extended break in the final term, the Eagles came out fully charged and kicked the final four goals of the match, decimating the Demons’ lead to nine points and running a late scare through the Melbourne camp.
Highs- Melbourne’s midfield won the battle of strength with the usual heavyweights in Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, along with James Harmes doing the damage. Alex Neal-Bullen played one of the games of his life, kicking two goals and commanding the Demons forward line with a game-high eight tackles. Ben Brown chipped in with three goals and Jake Melksham two. Elliot Yeo narrowly edged out Jack Redden for my pick of the Eagles midfielders. The latter hit the scoreboard with a goal but Yeo amassed 14 clearances and seven tackles.
Lows- Dom Sheed was the most wasteful that I recall seeing him in this one, upon checking his numbers, he went at 44% disposal efficiency which says a lot for someone whose usually reliable by hand and foot – just ask Collingwood supporters how lethal his left hoof can be. Eagles captain Shannon Hurn spent most of the game on the bench with a hamstring complaint which could sour his team’s finals chances, given that he’s still such an important part of their back six. Jayden Hunt was also out early in the game for the Demons with an ankle injury.
I think that should just about do it for Round 21. Time to put that round behind us as we board this vessel and set our coordinates firmly on Round 22. With the finals fast approaching it’s imperative that this ship sets sail immediately, all aboard!
Teams

North Melbourne vs Sydney

Snapshot
Both of these teams come into this game on the back of costly losses, the Swans had their hopes of finishing top four dashed as the RAMPAGING Saints got their revenge on the team that stooged them in a trade for a busted up Dan Hannebery. On the flipside, North Melbourne were run over in the second half by Richmond, a loss that all but sews them up as wooden spooners for 2021. If I’m being honest, they’re far from the worst wooden spoon winning team that we’ve see .
So what does it all mean?
Well, by putting two and two together from my previous assessment, you’ll gather that the Swans are no longer making top four, so their battle now rests with Brisbane as to who finishes fifth and who finishes sixth. Brisbane’s percentage is 13% superior to that of the Swan’s, so unless Sydney win one of their next two games by a couple of hundred points, they’re going to be relying on the Lions to lose games if they wish to leapfrog them. North Melbourne are in a similar predicament but at the opposite end of the ladder. They sit a game and a half clear smack bang on the bottom. So unless one or both of Collingwood and/or Adelaide lose their next two games, AND North Melbourne manage to beat Sydney then Adelaide, the Kangaroos will, unfortunately, claim this year’s wooden spoon. Did you understand that? Because even I had to re-read it twice.
All eyes on:
Permanent Parker- If Josh Kelly at the Giants is a Rolls Royce, then Luke Parker would have to be a VY Commodore with a crook master cylinder – because he’s the peak of his model that shows no sign of slowing down. I mentioned him some weeks ago and how he was ticking along just nicely with the next batch of little swannies blossoming at his heels, but he’s still racking up decent numbers himself, and last weekend in his side’s loss to the Saints was no exception. From his 30 disposals he had 18 contested, 12 clearances, four tackles and set up numerous goals. Sydney are very well placed this season in terrific touch for a team outside the top four. Given the youth on their list that they’ve played throughout the year, if this season doesn’t wind up fruitful for them, it would be a crime if they couldn’t back it up and improve on it for seasons to come.
Citizen Kayne- A good run-with job is often overlooked when judging who had the greatest influence in the field. We’ve seen some of the best taggers of past generations go unheralded week to week as their negating influence doesn’t register any great stat. Kayne Turner has added a number of small forwards to his list of scalps this season and even the odd chance encounter with a star midfielder. He has twice this season blanketed the dangerous Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti in both times that North Melbourne have played Essendon. He ran riot on Eddie Betts just the other week and also spent time working on Sam Walsh when Jy Simpkin was off the ground. Then against the Tigers he really got under the skin of the dangerous Shai Bolton and won himself s 50 metre penalty out of the Tigers’ backline as Bolton remonstrated. He’s played every game in his new role as a small defender and is contracted until the end of next season.
Teams

Gold Coast vs Essendon

Snapshot
All of a sudden the Bombers are right back in finals contention after a stunning upset victory over the top of the table Bulldogs. Former Sun Peter Wright lead the way with seven goals in a dominant display up forward, giving everyone a glimpse of his ability and flirting with Bombers fan’s deep desires of having a functional forward line. The Suns also mounted a mini upset of sorts in their own game against Carlton. Running out too strong for a decrepit looking Blues outfit. Will Essendon be tempted to recall out of form club stalwart Cale Hooker back to the side, or will they stick with their current mix of youth? Likewise, how will Zac Smith for the Suns go against the young ruck bull in Sam Draper? Touk Miller and David Swallow go head to head with Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish in the Dons’ battle to keep their season alive.
So what does it all mean?
The Suns have got themselves half a game outside the bottom four and would surely be striving to keep themselves that way. Just as the Bombers will be buoyed by their massive triumph over a top team, the kind of win that coach Ben Rutten has been hinting wasn’t far away. His Bombers will hope to ride that form and win their next two games to be eligible for finals footy.
All eyes on:
The time is Wright- How many Bombers does it take to change a light bulb? Two – Brayden Ham to stand on the shoulders of Peter ‘Bulldog Eater’ Wright. Ok, that one was terrible. But it’s hard to not gawk when you see a big forward do all the basics right and kick a good old fashioned bag of goals. There were so many signs to like about Wright’s game on the weekend, and the first of which occurred before he even registered one of his seven goals. Too many times, especially in the latter half of this season we’ve seen Essendon’s forwards get under each other’s feet and in each other’s way whilst trying to mark the ball. It proved costly as all of a sudden a marking contest was made more difficult by so many other bodies crashing into an inflated pack, as opposed to a one-on-one matchup that favoured the attacking side. In their first foray forward we saw Peter Wright and Aaron Francis playing one-on-one with Josh Schache and Zaine Cordy. A ripping kick from Zach Merrett came in the direction of the forwards, favouring Francis. Rather than come crashing in like a great galoot, Wright tricked Schache and got himself ball-side, only to move and create space for Aaron Francis to take the mark out in front of Cordy and subsequently kick the Bombers opening goal. That was just one instance of two talls working in tandem with each other magnificently, even more so given that Aaron Francis has been used primarily as a defender and spent little time working directly with Wright. Throw Harrison Jones back into the mix and all of a sudden Essendon’s forward line is starting to look a little like something that may just work for them. But one last thing on Wright, how good is it when a forward backs himself from anywhere inside the 50 or even just outside of, and absolutely flushes the ball with a brilliant drop punt? If this was the game Wright needed to feel like he belongs and that he can do it, then I’d say he ticked all those boxes and more.
Miller time- Whilst on the topic of lame jokes, how many Bombers does it take to stop Touk Miller? None – because you can’t. The Gold Coast superstar hasn’t registered less than 30 disposals since way back in Round 5. His lowest tally for the season was Round 1 against the Eagles where he still had 20 disposals. In over the past two months of football, Miller has only played one game where he didn’t rack up at least six clearances, but it’s not just his offensive game that earns him plaudits, it’s his defensive game too. He was superb on the weekend against the Blues in an effort that was nothing short of a three-vote game. However, his four tackles were his lowest return since playing St. Kilda way back in Round 8. Any team that has a player registering 25 pressure acts a game has a player that’s happy to do the hard yards and sacrifice himself for the benefit of his team, not many teams have a player that can rack up those numbers in pressure acts and still win enough of the ball himself to be best on ground. Touk Miller is a freak in the best way possible and I’ve refrained from singing his praises in a second stand-alone piece for too long.
Teams

Greater Western Sydney vs Richmond

Snapshot
The Tigers and the Giants both come into this one on the back of strong wins. Geelong were slain on Thursday night by the Giants division two team down in Geelong when Leon Cameron had all the answers for everything the Cats threw at him. Richmond were put to the test by North Melbourne who had the better of them for the first half, before the Tigers found another gear and kept their foot on the throat of the Kangaroos.
So what does it all mean?
One of the upcoming matches that will shape the way the finals look, with the Giants sitting 8th and the Tigers sitting 10th, the winner of this one has every chance of finishing the round inside the top eight. However, it all comes down to the results of others. Oh what a tangled web we have weaved with six teams vying for two positions
All eyes on:
Sam Taylor- No puns, no frills and thrills, just a really good defender. He had a day out against the Cats and matched up well on their potent forward line. Every time the Cats mids and half forwards looked to mount a forward press, it was either Taylor or Isaac Cumming who repelled the repeated efforts with aplomb. Even a fortnight before against Essendon, Taylor spent a lot of time playing on Peter Wright who only ended up managing 0.3 for the game. He’ll have a huge task ahead of him this week as he’ll likely line up on one of either Jack Riewoldt or Tom Lynch. Part of me hopes that he lines up on Lynch and does a number on him, just so I can hear Dimma come out in the media and take swings at Jonathan Brown and at anyone else who criticises his out of form players, regardless of how poor their performance was.
Making do- Sorry Mick Malthouse, but in today’s game, it seems that not every match is won or lost in the midfield. This was evident in the North Melbourne/Richmond match on the weekend where the Kangaroos didn’t only smash the Tigers in the hitouts, but comfortably won the clearance battle too. It was all for naught though as Richmond found a way to win the ball back and carve up North Melbourne on the rebound. After Jack Ziebell kicked a howler in their defensive 50 that hit an opponent almost lace out, it began an onslaught of Tigers goals that saw the Roos only manage three in the second half compared to Richmond’s eleven. Toby Nankervis was soundly beaten in the ruck by a partnership of Todd Goldstein and Tom Campbell, but his wingmen and rebounding players managed to pressure the Kangaroos into heavy turnovers that helped sway the tide of goal scoring and ultimately won the Tigers the game.
Teams

Brisbane vs Collingwood

Snapshot
Brisbane should enter this game with zero feelings of consternation. Despite losing their opportunity to finish inside the top four, relinquishing their position to Port Adelaide, the Lion’s still have a lot to play for in an attempt to finish fifth on the ladder. They’ll come up against West Coast the following week which ought the be a little more of a test for them than the Magpies. But then again, who knows which Eagles side will show up? The Magpies come up against the Lions this week and then their old enemy, the Bombers next week in what will be a massive game for their opponents, Essendon’s finals hopes could hinge on whether or not they beat the Magpies.
So what does it all mean?
Well, looks like i kind of did it again. If you really want to know what it all means, re-read what you just finished reading above. But for the Magpies, despite the chance to rob their old enemy of a chance to make finals, there’s not a lot of ladder news for them to look forward to. They’re highly unlikely to finish on the bottom. But pending the finish to Adelaide’s season, I also don’t see the Magpies making any serious inroads into finishing outside the bottom four.
All eyes on:
Way up squander- If Brisbane bow out of the finals early, there is no doubt that they’ll rue their missed opportunities towards the end of the home and away season. They’ve now lost three of their past four games and completely fallen out of top-four contention, with Port Adelaide all but securing the final spot inside the four, with it now just being a week-by-week prospect as to who finishes in which position, given how tight the top four currently is.  After the mid-season bye, it seemed as if the Lions were going to storm into the top four and really shake things up. Coming off the back of wins against North Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as a defiant victory over Geelong, Brisbane were primed to finish high up the order in response to last year’s second-placed finish. It wasn’t to be the case though, going on to lose three of their next four games to lowly opponents St. Kilda, Richmond and Hawthorn, with their only victory coming in the way of a come from behind effort against Gold Coast. With two rounds to go in the season they’re either going to finish 5th or 6th on the ladder, depending how they fare in their upcoming matches against Collingwood and West Coast. Regardless of how they finish up, it’s a disappointing start to finals from a team that showed so much promise and won so many big games as a club throughout season 2021.
Long memories- Whilst the Lions have taken the choccies in their past two encounters against the Magpies, Collingwood had beaten them in six straight games prior by an average of well over six goals. The last time these two sides played was back in Round 3 where Collingwood lead for 103 minutes of game time before and after the siren shot on goal to Zac Bailey handed the Lions a one point victory. Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox had a night out in the ruck as Grundy gave Brisbane’s inexperienced ruckman a touch up and Cox kicked two goals. It was a standout effort from Collingwood’s under-fire defence that night as Jordan Roughead, Isaac Quaynor and Jeremy Howe all stood tall. A lot has changed since that fateful Thursday night game, as interim coach Robert Harvey prepares his players for their final two games of the season before he finishes up and relinquishes his post to Collingwood’s incoming coach.
Teams

Geelong vs St. Kilda

Snapshot
Now I’m not going to lie, this game worries me. Not because I’m a true blue Geelong-crazed supporter and I’m worried we’ll get knocked out of top two contention, not at all. I’m worried because the last time these two teams played, what unfolded was one of the most boring games of AFL football that I’ve ever seen. It got to a point that if you gave me two shifters, I would’ve opted to go and tighten every nut and bolt on every street sign in town rather than sit through another quarter of football that would make a Ross Lyon game plan seem like a Spielberg movie. But with that rant aside, Geelong come into this game in decent form. Now I wouldn’t say red-hot form because they succumbed to the Giants last week, but prior to that they had won five on the trot, so they come in with a decent head of steam. The Saints form line this year best resembles the Russell Coca Cola yo-yo that I purchased from the travelling rep in primary school. Ok. I made that up. How old do you think I really am? But the yo-yo metaphor still rings true, the Saints season has been so up and down, they started their season flat and disappointing. They’re still rather flat and disappointing now for that matter, however, they’ve claimed a few decent scalps in the latter half of the season.
So what does it all mean?
Geelong sit third on the ladder and are well entrenched in the top four. It’s coming down to a fatal four-way between them, the Bulldogs, Power and Demons as to who finishes where, with the Demons currently half a game clear on top. The Saints are still in contention to make the top eight, just, but they too have other teams and their results to contend with. Realistically, Richmond, Fremantle, Essendon and Greater Western Sydney are all vying for that final spot inside the eight. And that’s if West Coast doesn’t throw a shoe in the soup by losing their next two games and potentially dropping out of seventh place.
All eyes on:
Impartial to Marshall- Although they’re still a chance of making finals, you’d have to call the season of St. Kilda largely a failure. They failed to capitalise on their form of last year that saw them make the semi-final and ultimately exit at the hands of Richmond. Even if they are to make the finals this season, their see-sawing form leads us to believe that they would only be making up the numbers. It’ll be a long and arduous offseason at Moorabbin, with former seasons of heavy recruiting failing to give this side the push they need to become consistent finals contenders. One piece to the puzzle that has worked tremendously is the partnership of Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder – when they’ve been able to get on the field together. In saying that, Marshall had his best game of the season against the Swans last week, one of the best of his career so far. Coming up against one of the in-form mobile rucks in the competition, Marshall not only won the hitouts count, but gathered the ball on the wing and around the ground, providing a stable target. The man who started on the rookie list has become an integral part in the Saints lineup, but given that Ryder turns 34 next year, it may be time for the Saints to start looking beyond Paul Hunter and their various rough ruck prospects for another classy finisher.
The swinging Henry- I watched a lot of footy last year. I don’t know if it was due to the whole Covid situation and having a game on TV every night like it was Big Bash cricket, or if it was to ease my mind in these troubled times. Regardless, one constant that I noticed whilst watching Geelong games was this kid I hadn’t ever really heard much of. That’s the thing about champion teams, or teams stacked with abounding champions, that unless you barrack for them or study their games, quite often the little bloke goes unnoticed. But this bloke definitely caught my eye, and his name is Jack Henry. Playing predominantly as a defender, I noticed his slick ball use and good decision making under pressure. Ok, I noticed he turned the ball over a bit, but he was barely 21 and I sent a bit of slack his way. Fast forward to 2021 and he kicked a couple of goals in back to back games early in the season which got me wondering, was Chris Scott trialling him in a new forward role, and how long would this last? Especially given he would be rubbing shoulders with Hawkins, Cameron and Rohan. But, it was short-lived and back to the backline he went. Except for Round 1, he’s played every game this season. Wasn’t I surprised that when the Cats needed a score in the second half and they just couldn’t get the ball to Hawkins to stop the rot of GWS goals being kicked against them, lo and behold Jack Henry pops up in the forward line and kicks a couple of goals again. It wasn’t enough to get the Cats across the line, but it was definitely a switch that worked. Not many teams boast a genuine swingman that can be used at the coaches discretion to change the fortunes of a game these days, if Chris Scott continues this foray for the young fella, then his future is looking bright.
Teams

Hawthorn vs Western Bulldogs

Snapshot
On paper this doesn’t seem like the most appetising of games, the near-bottom Hawks slugging it out with the near-top Bulldogs. But, if you’ve watched any of the Hawks recent games, then there’s more than a slight chance that this game could turn into something. Being played down in cold and windy Launceston, the Hawks come in on the back of a commanding win over Brisbane and a pretty convincing win against Collingwood. The Bulldogs lost in a blockbuster to the Bombers last week, and will go into this one without spearhead Josh Bruce who suffered an ACL injury in the clash.
So what does it all mean?
The Dogs will really want to win their next two to earn back that spot on top of the ladder. They’ll have to fight off Geelong, Melbourne and Port Adelaide who are all out to top each other. It will be an interesting fortnight of football! The Hawks all of a sudden have told the wooden spoon to get a big dog up it, as Clarko looks to salute the club on his way out. Hopefully, his final goodbye is a wave using all of his fingers, instead of just the one.
All eyes on:
Closer to a premiership- Adam Treloar made a successful return to football after missing 10 weeks of footy with an ankle injury that he sustained in the club’s gargantuan win over St. Kilda back in Round 10. With most of the fanfare from his return game going the way of the Bombers for their spirited win, and teammate Josh Bruce with his untimely, season-ending ACL injury, it was a bit of a case of Treloar flying under the radar. But with a return of 22 disposals and a goal to go with his involvement in plenty of scoring chains, it was a solid contribution and a great boost for the Dogs come finals time. Managing 75% match time on the ground will likely be ramped up again this week as he and Josh Dunkley have both seemed to slot back into the side from long term injuries harmoniously in recent weeks.
A lesson in botany- Some plants don’t need a lot of sunlight, some actually prefer the shade of others and happen to grow healthier, more vibrant flowers when kept out of the direct light. The hydrangea is one such example. Often a staple in years gone by of Grandma’s beautifully kept garden, the hydrangea thrives in the shadow of other plants, but still blooms its own beautiful flower that many appreciate in its own right. Sure, it’s no prized rosebush, but it’s a very self-sustaining plant that will find its own way, and with a little bit of convincing and planting in just the right place, it will usually thrive. Where the fair-dinkum funk am I going with this, you may find yourself asking? Two weeks ago I watched the Hawthorn/Brisbane game and I noticed this bloke out on the wing. He racked up plenty of touch in the first quarter alone, but when he wasn’t winning the ball he was tackling and tackling fiercely. I didn’t think a hell of a lot of it, but I made a note to keep an eye on him and check his stats at the end of the game. Then last Sunday afternoon whilst preparing a batch of jerky, I had the Hawthorn/Collingwood game on and once again in the first quarter, this player is lining up at the centre bounces, winning the ball alongside Mitchell and O’Meara and tackling like he earns a commission for each one. By the end of the game, I’d heard his name called enough that I had to go back and see why I haven’t read much on him this season – that’s because he was the Irish kid that wasn’t cutting it in the forward line, and had earnt himself pole position as Hawthorn’s newest whipping boy. I don’t know whether Clarko has started playing darts with the magnets each week given his impending departure, or if this is Sam Mitchell’s influence as incoming coach beginning to shine through. But whoever’s decision it was to throw Conor Nash into the midfield, and watch him blossom under the heels of Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara may have just found themselves the elusive tall, bigger-bodied wingman or on-baller and rejuvenated the Irish import’s career at the same time.
Teams

Port Adelaide vs Carlton

Snapshot
As far as excitement factor is measured, I’d have to say this game would be right up there with visiting the dentist and the days leading up to a rental inspection. Port have one their past four games and despite last week’s showdown being a very close finish, they ought to roll into this game with a world of confidence about them. As for Carlton, well, I don’t even think the Blues themselves know where they’re at. Not until they’re handed the results of this earth-shattering review.
So what does it all mean?
It’s a step closer to that light at the end of the tunnel for Carlton – the light being the offseason and the tunnel being the 2021 season. See what I did there? I like that one. Whilst the Blues can still mathematically make the finals, I think it’d take more than Pythagoras himself to do the maths, and even then Carlton would give him the full support of the board before they sack him a fortnight later. For the Power, they’re almost a certainty to make the top four unless they lose their next two and Brisbane win their own next two, but I’ll stick with the most likely scenario for this instance. As my trade school teacher loved to implore us, K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid. But the question for Port is where will they finish inside the top four. With Geelong and Western Bulldogs all sitting flush on 15 wins, it’s going to come down to the next fortnight of footy.
All eyes on:
A couple of retirees and soon a new coach- We are set to see the retirements of two players that have been instrumental at times for their respective clubs. One started his career at Brisbane, before seeking opportunity elsewhere and finding his way to Port Adelaide, I speak of Tom Rockliff. The once upon a time staple player in almost every legitimate Supercoach fantasy team, has called time on his career due to persistent injuries. On the other end of the teamsheets we’re also set to farewell a bloke who’s admitted he was probably ready to retire last season, but the lure of becoming a 300 game player was too strong for him. So after taking up his spot in the team for 14 games so far this season and spending the past three weeks on the bench as medical sub, Marc Murphy has limped his was to his milestone 300th game. Any Slim Dusty fans in the house? When the track Losing My Blues came on today I couldn’t help but spin the words to the imminent fate of David Teague. “Gonna start again, don’t know where or when…I’m sayin’ goodbye, I’m gonna lose my blues tonight.” I dare say he’ll lose his blues when he loses the Blues.
I’m no astronomer- Ok, so I just Googled “what happens when two stars collide” because I thought it would be an awesome segue into me speaking about Sam Walsh and Ollie Wines going head to head this weekend, and if I was lucky I could sneak a little INXS reference in there about two worlds colliding, just for the Port supporters. But it turns out that two stars only actually collide about once every 10,000 years, and when they do they’re usually travelling so slow that they just merge into one bigger star called a ‘Blue Straggler’. Yet another cool segway that almost rhymes with Blue Bagger that I could’ve used if the science behind the phenomenon wasn’t so damn boring. Oh well, I’ve wasted enough of your time by exposing my weakness for a good pun. But anyways, are you looking forward to the Wines/Walsh battle? I sure am! The last time these two teams played was back in Round 5 at the MCG and it was almost a stalemate between the two champion midfielders. The points would probably go to Sam Walsh, but it was a bloody tight contest between the two, especially if you go back now and just compare their stats. Almost an identical output from the two. This game comes to us from Adelaide Oval and the Power actually have something to play for.
Bonus content- Just a quick little shoutout to show some support for Carlton’s co-captain Sam Docherty after his recent diagnosis of a reoccurrence of prostate cancer. Whilst expected to make a full recovery, Docherty is looking at 12 weeks of chemotherapy after already having had surgery to remove a rumour at the end of last year. I feel sorry for the poor bugger and wish for all the best in his recovery.
Teams

Melbourne vs Adelaide

Snapshot
It’s been a hellish couple of weeks for the Adelaide Football Club, already dealing with injury fallout and now faced with off-field scandal. They played well in the Showdown against their arch-rivals Port Adelaide last week, but lost the lead late in the game and couldn’t regain it. If Melbourne hold their nerve and finish top two, it’ll be their highest ladder finish since they made the Grand Final from third in 2000.
So what does it all mean?
For Adelaide, it can’t be about much more than getting another two games into the kids and winning as many games left as possible to avoid finishing bottom four, or potentially wooden spooners. The situation results are the exact opposite for the Demons, they need to win their next two games to keep themselves atop of the ladder.
All eyes on:
Go on down to Jackson- Gee Luke Jackson has looked good at times this season, hasn’t he? Going at pick 3 in the 2019 draft, I have to keep reminding myself that this kid is only 19 years old, and what an apprenticeship he has in front of him. He is an understudy to the best ruckman in the league, Max Gawn, and plenty of signs are pointing to him being Melbourne’s next Mr. Big in the centre when Gawn’s beard starts going grey and he becomes sick of Mark of the Year being taken on him.
Cleaning house- Adelaide have already begun cleaning out their closets with anyone over the age of 28 in the firing line. It’s only a matter of time before Geelong take a trip to Adelaide Costco and buy their senior AFL players in bulk. With Tom Lynch being told that he won’t be offered another contract at the end of the season, and now key defender and two-time All Australian Daniel Talia also being told that the club won’t be offering him a new contract either, they’re ticking all the boxes of a club that’s clearing out to make way for youth. We’ve seen other clubs do it in the past, and it’ll be a long slog for a club that made a Grand Final only four seasons ago.
Teams

Fremantle vs West Coast

Snapshot
The Eagles have struggled since the bye, losing five of their past seven matches. Fremantle are in a similar boat having lost four of their past five and suffering through yet another horrid run with injuries. The Dockers will come up against St. Kilda next week and the Eagles face the Lions. West Coast come into this game on the back of a spirited comeback loss to Melbourne, with he Dees lucky to hold on against a late surging West Coast side that must have listened to a lot of early 90s AC/DC whilst off the ground, because after lightning caused the players to leave the ground for a 30-minute break, the home side came out Thunderstruck and ready to party. Unfortunately for them, it was a little too late as their four straight goals weren’t enough to grab the lead.
So what does it all mean?
What a game, what a rivalry, what a time of the season to feature and what ramifications rest on the result! As if the Dockers and the Eagles fans don’t hate each other enough, with both clubs battling for a spot inside the top eight, West Coast are currently sitting in 7th place and Fremantle half a game outside the eight in 12th, it’s going to be as tense a Derby as we’ve seen for years.
All eyes on:
A bit of Derby history- The Western Derby has graced our screen for 52 instalments, with the Eagles holding the bragging rights with 32 wins to the Dockers 20. We’re yet to see a draw in a western Derby and the Eagles are currently holding the record winning streak in this particular match, having won the past 11 encounters against the Dockers dating back to 2015.
Even Stephens- With the announcement of Stephen Hill’s retirement from AFL football due to ongoing injury struggles, I figured now is as good a time as ever to write a little farewell piece for a bloke who at his best was one of the flashiest and fastest wingmen of his generation. He played a vital role in getting Fremantle to their inaugural Grand Final appearance in 2013 where he and his brother Brad became the first siblings to play off in a Grand Final against each other since 1912. He grew up a West Coast fan but was drafted to Fremantle in the 2008 draft with their third pick. Hill calls time on his career after playing 218 games and kicking 112 goals for Fremantle.
That’s enough from this smorgasbord for me for yet another week. I hope you all enjoy another ripper weekend of footy and let me know all about it in the comments. As always, don’t forget to support your local shit carter and your local Russell rep.

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