1. The Giants will be playing finals

We don’t even have to worry about what’s going to happen next week. The Giants are playing the Blues in what will be a training run at best after what we’ve seen from that mob this last fortnight. They’ll also have Toby Greene back so it’s all but sewn up. This game was the last roll of the dice for the Tigers, and most of us expected them to find another gear with their backs against the wall. But sadly for their fans, it wasn’t to be, and the Giants put on a clinic with the likes of Tim Taranto filling the hole left by Greene admirably with four first-half goals and Josh Kelly doing what he does best in a best afield performance.

The Giants have found form at the right time of the season and may trouble whoever it is they play in Week 1 of the finals, which at this stage appears to be Sydney.

The Tigers have enjoyed four very strong years, winning three premierships. Things certainly haven’t gone their way in 2021, especially on the injury front. The hole left by Dustin Martin has proven a bridge too far, but even prior to his exit, his form was not at his usual standard. The likes of Riewoldt and Cotchin have both decided to play on next year as I feel they should, but they’d both want to have a strong summer campaign to get the best out of themselves in 2022. It will be interesting to see who captains their side next year. It will also be interesting to see if they can rise again or be relegated to the also-rans they have become in this season.

 

2. The Dogs have lost their mojo 

Let’s take nothing away from the Hawks whose form in recent weeks has been great. But most of us are scratching our heads and wondering what is going on at Bulldog land? A loss to the Power in the final game of the home and away season puts them in serious danger of slipping down to 5th and losing the double-chance. After their win against the Dees in Round 19, it seemed to seal the deal, but then losses to the Bombers and Hawks have left them hanging on a knife’s edge in fourth spot.

Even with Macrae and Bontempelli both generating 30+ possessions each, they could only manage 35 inside 50’s which resulted in a measly five goals for the match. When was the last time that happened? There are concerns heading into the finals for sure. I’m sure more than ever they are looking forward to that week’s break after next week, but a loss to the Power will most likely result in a world of pain losing three on the trot and limping into the finals.

The Hawks were superb and are seemingly doing it for the coach. It’s hard to find another reason as to why the dramatic transformation in form. Just a few weeks have passed since they were considered easybeats, and now the Hawks have done the unthinkable and won three in a row including sides that will feature in September. One of the Hawks’ best was Daniel Howe with 34 possessions in a dominant display. All of a sudden their future doesn’t look so bleak and you have to wonder if the club are starting to think they pulled the trigger a little quickly on Clarko. At least that’s what many will be thinking. This week’s game against the Tigers will be a tipster’s nightmare.

 

3. The Cats are battling

A win’s a win and the Saints were coming off a very good win against the Swans the week prior, but the Cats were very slow starters, conceding the first five goals of the game before settling and eventually running out winners by 14 points in a tight contest. So yes, it was a good gritty performance and one that lesser teams would’ve dropped, but it does show them to be vulnerable, particularly following their loss at home to the Giants last week.

We also don’t need to remind people what a devastating loss to the team Tom Stewart is. That one’s got to hurt. If he isn’t the most important player at Geelong, he’s awfully close.

Seven goals between Cameron and Hawkins is an ominous sign, and their midfield saw plenty of the ball, but there does appear to be something a little off at the cattery, and I’m sure next week’s game against the Demons will reveal exactly where they’re at.

The Saints will feel they let this one slip. They led by as much as 31 points early but just couldn’t sustain that heat. Their season is over, and they’ll be bitterly disappointed after making finals last year and getting as far as Week 2. This year has definitely been a backward step. A lot of the gloss from their prize recruits in 2020 has worn and it seems they’re now going to be looking at holes that need filling yet again. Brett Ratten will have his work cut out for him to get things back on track. His second chance at this level might not extend beyond next year should they have a similar result.

 

4. Stick a fork in him – Teague’s done

Half way through the second quarter with the Blues leading by as much as 23 points, it looked momentarily as though the depleted Carlton line-up was playing to save their coach’s job. From that point on, it was a procession that should all but have his papers stamped if they haven’t been already.

Just quietly, some within the club are saying he will remain in the job in 2022 which many, including myself, find remarkable. Don’t get me wrong. I have some sympathy for the cards he has been dealt, but when you’re expecting an improvement that doesn’t materialise, something usually has to give. I guess watch this space is all we can say.

A big salute goes to Marc Murphy who bows out of AFL after reaching his 300 game milestone on Saturday. He’ll remember his last foray onto an AFL field watching the last 19 goals scored in a row by the opposition.

Port Adelaide were a little slow out of the blocks, but it was a little like letting the little kid get a few gentle hits in before the big boys starting swinging their lusty blows with full force and leaving the youngsters too scared to speak up again. They did as they pleased in what has become an all too familiar scenario with Carlton’s regular capitulations. Their form heading into the finals is as good as any team at the pointy end of the table. A few weeks ago I thought they were making up numbers in the 8. The final indicator that my assessment was wrong will be decided against the Bulldogs in the final round.

I’m sure the Bulldogs will put a lot more work into Aliir Aliir than the Blues coaching staff did. What a stroke of genius it was to recruit the former Swan. All of a sudden the Power are a genuine threat, but a lot hinges on next round.

 

5. Lions are back in the mix for Top 4

The percentage boost was needed. Winning against the struggling Pies by 85 points has now put them back in contention to enter the finals race with a double-chance which looked all but gone a week ago. The shock loss to the Dogs has opened the door, and next week’s home game against the Eagles should result in a win. Meanwhile, the Dogs are seemingly out of form and face the Power who are flying. A Lions win by a couple goals or more should do the trick.

The Lions were dominant all over the ground with Lachie Neale back from injury and Jarrod Lyons continuing on with his great form. Up forward Charlie Cameron booted six and was unstoppable. It all seems to be back on track for the Lions, and they’ll be hoping Port Adelaide do the deed for them and knock over the Bulldogs.

The Pies are no doubt just waiting for the season to end and get on with the job of hiring a new coach and filling holes on their list. It has been a pretty big fall from grace since being runners-up in 2018 and playing finals since. They look set to finish 16th depending on results in Round 23.

One player to watch in 2022 will be Brodie Grundy. He has been good at times this year, but his form has dipped somewhat. It’s always funny how some players seem to be put under the spotlight after being awarded the big dollar contracts. If he performs at a level similar to this year, the critics will be lining up. I also get the feeling Patrick Cripps at the Blues will enjoy similar attention if he has a similar year to this.

 

6. Kangaroos win their first spoon since 1972

I was surprised when I learnt of this. That’s a testament to a great club who’ve had their share of success since those days while being one of the less wealthy clubs with a modest membership in comparison to the bigger clubs. And their second half of the season strongly suggests they are not the worst team running around in the competition right now. That said, they were very poor in the early part of the season and paid the price.

They did have their chances in this game but couldn’t get the job done as the Swans kept finding the answers when it counted. The positives include Cam Zuurhar who is finally playing with consistency and the emerging midfielders like Davies-Uniacke and Simpkin. Next year will still be a battle, but I’m confident they’ll climb the ladder.

The Swans entered this game without Lance Franklin. Buddy was rested, so the prospect of the 1000-goal milestone being achieved this year is all but gone unless the Swans go deep into the finals. As is often the case with Sydney, it was a workmanlike performance where they were challenged and stood firm.

The loss to the Saints last week has cost them any chance of a Top 4 spot, so they’ll be playing an elimination final week one of the finals, most likely against the Giants. Sydney take on the Suns next week in what should be a straightforward win, although stranger things have happened.

 

7. Son of a Fritsch kicks 7

You’d be pretty happy with yourself if you were Bayley Fritsch with about three minutes to go with your team up by 23 points and four goals against your name. One imagines you’d be pretty satisfied with that effort. What transpired in the final three minutes was three quick goals to Fritsch resulting in a more emphatic 41-point win and a career-high seven goal haul for the Dees forward. And the smile on his face at the end of the game said it all. I’m thinking even he couldn’t believe his luck as the ball was delivered to him three times on a plate resulting in him converting each time.

The Demons were challenged by the Crows but just had too much class in the end. Petracca and Oliver may have done enough to garner favour with the voting umpires, but it may be a case of Fritsch stealing the votes this time around. The Dees are assured of a Top 4 spot but would like to beat the Cats next week. If the Cats were to lose, and the Dogs were to get up against the Power, there’s even a chance that would relegate Geelong to 5th which is something I’m sure Melbourne wouldn’t mind doing at all. Huge game looming.

Adelaide will be buoyed by Darcy Fogarty’s three-goal effort. He’s slowly finding his feet as a forward. The Crows forward line may have a new look next year as Tom Lynch won’t be there and there is some doubt over Taylor Walker now. It will fall on the likes of Fogarty and perhaps Himmelberg to fill the void in order for the Crows to be able to score enough to trouble the good teams in 2022. The final game for the year is against the Kangaroos. They’ll be aiming for a win there, and seven wins for the season would’ve been a par result one would suspect. The Roos will have other ideas, of course.

 

8. The Bombers are now a massive finals’ chance

The Bombers made light work of the hapless Suns. It was another one of those Gold Coast efforts where they just couldn’t find any avenues to goal. In fact, Jake Stringer beat the Suns score of his own boot kicking 5.1 for the match and showing great form heading into what looks like a finals campaign for the Bombers. Parish and Merrett did what they always do and Nick Hind continues to impress. If the Bombers finish in 8th spot, there’s a possibility they may end up playing against the Bulldogs were they to lose, and we all know what happened last week.

The tails are up in Bomber land. They haven’t won a final in 17 years. Could this be the year? Well, make sure you get over Collingwood first, then we can discuss it.

The Suns were soundly beaten in this game. Ben King is looking tired after his first genuine full season, but he has shown a lot of promise this year and has a bright future. Keeping him there will be a priority. Touk Miller battled hard but he’s often a lone hand. Expect Matt Rowell to have the pre-season of his life. He had another quiet game, but he has been cruelled by injury in his short career. We all hope he can get through the pre-season unscathed and come out firing as he did on debut and set the competition alight. If he can recapture that sort of form, the sky is the limit.

 

9. The Dockers finally win a derby after 11 losses in a row

Fremantle have been the little brother of the Perth juggernaut in West Coast for most of their 25 years in the AFL. Winning the derby for the first time way back in 1999 was a watershed moment for the club. In recent times, the Eagles have held sway in the last 11 meetings, so with finals on the line for both sides, the significance of Fremantle getting over the Eagles was all the more meritorious.

The game was well in their control by quarter time as they had a five-goal lead. As expected, West Coast hit back getting to within a kick late in the game, but the Dockers held their nerve and eventually went on to win by 15 points. Mundy was once again among the best players belying his 35 years. Could this guy play 400 games??

The Eagles are now in the situation where they need to beat the Lions next week and hope Essendon lose to Collingwood. Both scenarios seem unlikely. Since their victory over the Tigers in Round 13, the Eagles have won just two matches and lost eight. The Eagles making finals at that point seemed almost a formality, but at times their form has fallen off a cliff. Some decisions will need to be made at season’s end.

Does Josh Kennedy go on? This is one of many questions that will be asked. Make no mistake. There are concerns. Some of their losses, namely the two against the Swans and the Cats have been as bad as any as they’ve had under coach Adam Simpson. There is still a large contingent of players running around in the blue and gold who were part of the premiership team of 2018. Something seems amiss, so they’ll need to put in some work to get things going again.

 

10. Dead rubbers should be canned

The dreaded Round 23 is upon us. Every year we see games that are inconsequential being played in the final round of the season. You have 17th against 18th in Adelaide and North Melbourne. Do we need to play it? You also have the Richmond v Hawthorn game which will mean nothing, other than perhaps Alistair Clarkson’s last hurrah as coach. There are a couple of other games that will most likely have a bearing on finals, such as the Carlton v Giants game, but GWS merely have to show up and they’ll win that one. I suspect Essendon will take the points against Collingwood too. Sydney will destroy the Suns. The Lions will most likely get the job done against the Eagles. So that only leaves three games that are of any real interest. I’ll start with the Saints and Dockers game. That one there could almost mean nothing other than the fact it may be a tight contest and Fremantle would have that ever so slight chance of slipping into the 8 should Essendon stumble against the Pies. But it is a remote chance at best.

The real games of interest are the two games featuring the Top 4 teams. The Dogs need a win against Port to stave of finishing fifth and the Lions will be hoping like hell that the Power reverses their recent form against top eight teams. So really, of the 9 games next week, there’s really only two I truly care about. And maybe, as a Carlton man, I’d like to see Eddie get a good send-off, although if the tripe the Navy Blue served up in Marc Murphy’s last game this week is anything to go by, maybe he should just do a lap of honour by himself and be done with it.

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