Welcome ladies, gentlemen and all others inclusive to this week’s Mongrel Preview. It’s time to put the dogs out, handball the kids to your partner and strap yourselves in. Please remember to keep your hands, feet, arms, legs and your mind firmly inside the article at all times because this ride is set to transport you to all corners of what will be a frenetic, edge-of-your-seat Round 23.

That’s right folks, that time is upon us. Sadly, we must bid farewell to the home and away season as we build up to the great denouement, which for those of you who aren’t heavily into stage work or film; is the final part of the narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together. By the end of this weekend we will know exactly who is playing who come finals time. as the top eight will be set in stone. We are treated this year to such a close season, as the top eight won’t be decided until the conclusion of Round 23, making this one of the most exciting ends to year of footy in recent history.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, why don’t we paddle this canoe straight back down shit creek and wade our way through the waters of Round 22.

Friday night was a blowout of, dare I say it… GIANT proportions! GWS jumped out of the blocks like Bronson in that weird episode of Round the Twist where he swallows the Whirling Dervish and it turns his willy into a propeller, kicking seven goals to the Tigers two, making the first quarter their highest scoring quarter of football this season. The Giants got out to a 10 goal lead before taking their foot off the throat in the last quarter, with Richmond kicking four of the last five goals to bring the margin back to a flattering 39 points.

Highs- The eight-million dollar man was relentless in attack and defense, amassing bucket loads of disposals and tackles like an excavator on a union jobsite. Tim Taranto slotted four goals in the first half, playing a stay-home forward role to replace the suspended Toby Greene for majority of the game. The Giants midfield got on top of their Richmond counterparts and dominated for the best part of the match when it mattered. Liam Baker looked good for the Tigers and Jayden Short continued his season of good touch.

Lows- Shai “Copperfield” Bolton’s disappearing act after quarter time hurt the Tigers. Although he bobbed up for a couple of goals in the second half, the game already had the housecleaner treatment by then, because she was done and dusted. Yet another painstaking trek for the Tigers, having to make the gruelling trip all the way to Marvel has proved unfruitful. Maybe Dimma can request a colonial inquest into why they’ve had to play so many games at a venue that he and his supporters hate. I’m sure Jonathan Brown will appear as a character witness.

Saturday afternoon kicked off with Clarko’s penultimate match at the helm before Sam Mitchell takes over the job in just over a week’s time. It was the former’s last game in his side’s home away from home; Tasmania, and his last in front of a crowd. Their opponents in the Bulldogs never really clicked into gear, with the lead teetering each way before the undermanned Hawks kicked the final six goals of the match to hand the Bulldogs one of their worst losses of the season to the tune of 27 points.

Highs- Alastair Clarkson just keeps finding new ways to say ‘Far-Queue’ as he’s slowly edged out of the club. Daniel Howe was sublime in the absence of Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel, stepping up and winning plenty of the ball all around the ground, and getting on the end of a goal. Jai Newcombe was a tackling machine, laying 11 for the day and slotting back in well for only his sixth game of the season. Blake Hardwick worked hard in defence and Tom Mitchell did a lot of heavy lifting in the midfield.

Lows- Gee the Doggies have picked the worst time of the season to start playing so poorly. Not only was it their lowest score of the season, but it was only a point off their biggest losing margin this year as they lost their first away game. Nothing just seemed to work for Luke Beveridge as his side loses touch with the top two, all of a sudden next week’s clash with Port Adelaide becomes season-defining as to where they finish on the ladder.

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because there’s not much that I could add without flogging a horse that’s so past dead already that it’s bones have calcified. But, wow. How woeful were Carlton? Port Adelaide were relentless as they turned a 23 point deficit into a merciless 95 point demolition of the Blues. It was a well rounded team effort that Ken Hinkley would have loved to see on the eve of finals, and a timely percentage boost that’s seen the Power jump up to second on the ladder.

Highs- Plenty of things to like in this one if you’re a Port Adelaide supporter. Wines, Boak and Amon did the damage in the middle, Aliir and Byrne-Jones were solid in defense whilst Dixon and Fantasia were productive up forward, Fantasia providing an electric spark, but a good team share with their 21 goals coming from 12 individual goal scorers.

Lows- I’ll start by stating that Carlton went into this game without Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay, Liam Jones, Jack Silvagni and Sam Docherty. But what a sad state of affairs their second half was. 85 minutes of goalless football and conceding 19 straight goals in a little over a half of football was decrepit, sadly the end of the season and the imminent changing of the coaching guard – again, cannot come soon enough for this battling team.

The Saints came marching in against the Cats, kicking the first five goals of the game to get out to a 31 points lead in the first term. They would find a way to stay in front until late in the third quarter when the Cats kicked truly and took the lead. It was goal-for-goal in the final with Geelong bagging the final two goals of the match to win by 14 points. In a tough battle of the midfields, it was the Cats’ on-ballers that came out on top as they sewed up a guaranteed top four finish.

Highs- Jeremy Cameron returned for the Cats in fine form, kicking four goals and getting a good run in before finals. Despite the faltering start, the Cats ticked all the right boxes on all the right pages as they look to wager another assault on the finals. Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie were dangerous whilst Rhys Stanley gave one of his better games in recent memory. Tom Hawkins kicked three and Luke Dahlhaus applied constant pressure. The coasting giant may have been awoken.

Lows- after starting so well, too much was left up to too few as the Saints lost their last chance at having a crack at the finals. Once again their same few big names didn’t fire and the pressure was ominous. Max King looked the goods early but couldn’t shake a groin complaint that ruined the remainder of his game.

Brisbane stormed home against the Magpies to claim an 85 point victory and a timely percentage boost ahead of the finals. The match started off evenly for most of the first half as Collingwood’s senior players lead by example, but the Lions started a shattering run before half time, kicking 13 of the next 14 goals outscoring their opponents in the second half 11.6 to 3.6. Charlie Cameron kicked himself six majors as Joe Daniher and Daniel McStay also combined for six, making it hard for the Magpies to finish their season outside of the bottom four.

Highs- As I mentioned earlier, Charlie Cameron looked sharp at every contest in the forward line, proving a constant bother for the Magpies defenders. The Lions midfield lead by the pressure of Dayne Zorko and Jarryd Lyons looked an absolute class above, complemented by the contributions of Lachie Neale and Hugh McCluggage. The ruck battle between Brodie Grundy and Oscar McInerney was an intriguing one. After almost being written off by myself, the Lions have launched themselves back into top four contention.

Lows- A tumultuous season on and off the field is almost at an end for the Magpies. Despite unearthing a few gems along the way, it’s ultimately been a struggling season as the club looks to rebuild and rebrand themselves in the offseason, including appointing a new head coach.

It was seemed a walk in the park for the Swans early as they lead the game from go to whoa. North Melbourne would mount a spirited comeback in the final quarter to get back within a kick late in the game, however the Swans would prove too strong and too reliable as a team, kicking three of the last four goals in the game to run out 14 point winners.

Highs- Will Hayward and Cam Zurhaar were the prolific goal scorers for their particular sides, Hayward finished up with 3.3 and Zurhaar 3.1 for the evening. Luke Parker was again monumental as he won plenty of the ball, tackled hard and pitched in with a goal to boot. Aaron Hall and LDU looked the good for North.

Lows- The Swans lost Nick Blakey and Josh Kennedy to injury which could curtail their finals aspirations. Another honourable loss for the Roos who’s entire second half of their season has been comprised of close wins and honourable losses.

We saw a tight opening quarter in the Melbourne/Adelaide clash before the Crows gave the Demons a little too much leeway in the second quarter and allowed them to pile on the scores and get out to a near five goal lead. With the help of a dominant forward display from Bailey Fritsch, the Dees managed to kick away and seize victory against the team that ended their undefeated run earlier in the season, the final margin being 41 points.

Highs- Bailey Fritsch’s seven goals takes his season tally to 47. If he is able to surpass the 50 goal mark, he’ll be only the second Demon since 2010 to do so. Adelaide’s midfield lead by Ben Keays and Rory Sloane took it up to the Melbourne midfield at times, but it was the overbearing tenacity of Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Ed Langdon shone through. In just his second senior game, raw ruckman Keiran Strachan held his own against the league’s best ruckman, battling honourably with Max Gawn. Two contrast, running defenders – Christian Salem and Paul Seedsman both threatened to tear the game apart at times. Sitting half a game on top, Melbourne are primed to finish top of the table for the first time in 57 years.

Lows- Adelaide’s forward line short of Darcy Fogarty was bereft of cohesion in what was certainly a learning curve for a club that will take a lot out of the momentum they rode throughout the game. Their defenders were caught off guard by the hard to match Bailey Fritsch, especially in the last quarter when he kicked four goals to steal the game away from them,

A timely boost for the Bombers as they press for a finals birth came at the hands of a 68 point shellacking of Gold Coast from GMHBA Stadium. Jake Stringer did his thing and tore the game apart with five goals and a handful of clearances, showing his willingness to play the role that the team needs of him, and excel at it. After a tight first quarter where the Bombers lacked precision going forward, they recalibrated their sights and came back out firing. Kicking 12 goals to the Suns two for the remainder of the game.

Highs- The Bombers have a fair claim to the biggest bargain recruit of last year’s trade period. Nabbing Nick Hind from St. Kilda for little more than a bag of Salt & Vinegar chips. The dashing defender was a worthy pick for best on ground as he carved up the Suns as they tried to move the ball inside their forward 50 and set up some scintillating transitions of football from the back half. Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett were prolific in tandem once again, Mason Redman and Will Snelling both having good games. For the Suns, the highlights were few and far between. Sam Collins held his own in defense and curved the influence of Peter Wright. Brayden Fiorini and David Swallow tried hard all afternoon and Touk Miller won his usual pile of possessions. Jayden Laverde, whilst being mismatched in size, held Ben King goalless and outplayed him for most of the day.

Lows- After their surprising win over Carlton last week, the Suns couldn’t back it up with the same classy ball movement and strong defence against the Bombers. Zac Smith was a liability in the ruck as young Sam Draper took him to task and physically bullied him. After singing his praises last week, Jacob Townsend let his opponent get under his skin too easily against one of his former sides, his brain fades costing the Suns two 50 metre penalties for two seperate incidents.

The Western Derby was a fair corker, with the severely undermanned Dockers finally snapping the Eagles’ 11 game winning streak against them, dating back to 2015. After a little back-and-forth early, the Dockers kicked out to an almost 40 point lead in the second quarter. The game stayed stagnant as the scoring dried up into the third quarter, that’s when the Eagles mounted their comeback and things got really interesting! West Coast would get the game back within a kick late in the last quarter, but Fremantle continued to press and held on to win by 15 points in David Mundy’s 353rd game, drawing equal with club legend and games record holder Matthew Pavlich.

Highs- Caleb Serong was influential with the ball in hand, crafty up forward kicking a couple of goals and setting up countless others to earn himself the Glendinning-Allen medal for being best on ground. Luke Ryan was strong down back and the elder statesman David Mundy continued his classy season.  The West Coast midfield looked good at times but we’re constantly second to the ball.

Lows- This was the loss that the Eagles could not afford. It’s taken their finals hopes out of their own hands and left it a varied calculation that depends on other teams around them to lose. Tim Kelly coming out of the game with a knee injury is a massive blow. The Eagles Kicking 1.5 in the second quarter was the catalyst for Fremantle building an unassailable lead.

Well, that’s our pie in the sky for last week sports fans, time to hit the road and travel on over as we take a look at the week ahead of us. Back to the studio!

This week we have been treated to a schedule with multiple games in which the outcome greatly affects not just those involved, but other teams around them on the ladder. Quite literally matches that will shape the finals, and we’re set for a few in the final round of the home and away season. I can’t remember the last time that the top four all played each other in the last round before finals, but what a spectacle we’ve got on our hands.

Our first game is one such example, so without further ado;

Teams
Western Bulldogs vs Port Adelaide

Well, we’re running a little late this week – so much so that the game has been run and won. Here’s the Mongrel’s game wrap of the Power and Dogs.

 

https://themongrelpunt.com/afl-season-2021/2021/08/21/port-adelaide-v-western-bulldogs-what-did-we-learn/

 

Teams

Richmond vs Hawthorn

Snapshot
Will Clarko claim one last scalp in his farewell tour? A scalp from the noggin of one of his former apprentices in Damien Hardwick, or will Dimma get the last laugh against his former Sensei? All order shall be restored to earth this week as the Tigers have been allowed to return to their home and MUCH preferred ground of the MCG, as opposed to being forced to travel all the way to that nasty, evil, scourge of the earth cesspool known to those of us who aren’t strong and bold like the Tigers of old, as Marvel Stadium. After stringing three wins together against the Bulldogs, Collingwood and Brisbane, the Hawks will enter their final game coached by Alastair Clarkson with an enriched sense of positivity.

So what does it all mean?
Although not statistically impossible, it might as well be. For the Tigers to make the finals now they must win this game by a massive margin, think double-digit goals and then some. Not only that, but Collingwood must best Essendon by an even higher margin than that, plus Fremantle have to lose to St. Kilda and West Coast must lose to Brisbane. So it’s safe to say that their chances are about as slim as Dusty Martin is looking in his recovery from a lacerated kidney. If Hawthorn win and Carlton lose, they have the chance to leapfrog the Blues and finish 13th on the ladder. A remarkable feat given that most people had Carlton pushing for finals with the talent on their list this season, all the while brandishing the Hawks to finish a lot lower given their entrance into a their first major rebuild period in almost a decade and a half.

All eyes on:
Howe on earth- When a side is up and about, most of their players usually are too. Daniel Howe has played a total of 19 games this season, his best return since being drafted with pick 31 in the national draft of 2015. He’ll end Round 23 on 87 career games and of those, he played one of his best games against the Bulldogs last week. Whilst I may have gone the early crow on singing the praises of his teammate Conor Nash last week, Howe has shown at times this season that he has the desired bigger body for a midfielder that fits the bill of a Nat Fyfe, Marcus Bontempelli or a Tim Taranto, and he used it to full effect against a flat Bulldogs midfield that looked to have run out of puff early. Playing alongside Hawthorn’s ball-winning maestro in Tom Mitchell, it was Howe and young Jai Newcombe that impressed me not just with their attack for the ball, but their willingness to attack their opponent and pressure them into uncharacteristic turnovers, forcing the Dogs to play on the Hawks’ terms. Something that we haven’t seen at any great length this season, and certainly not to the extent that we saw on the weekend.

Crossroads- Richmond are one of the teams firmly in the spotlight of ‘where to now?’. With the retirements, forced or otherwise, of players such as David Astbury and Bachar Houli, and the growing likelihood of more to come with delistings as well, it’s the perfect time for an outsider to ponder what is to become of this champion team. Three Grand Finals in four seasons speaks for itself. But all dynasties must come to an end, some sooner than others. Whilst many have written the Tigers off, I’m more interested to know what their internal near-future projections are. They had a rough season with injuries to big names, as a matter of fact only four players managed every game this season to date: Short, Graham, Baker and Riewoldt. I’d hardly day that Dimma has thrown in the towel, but in recent public conversations he has conceded that the club must make big changes within itself if they are to continue any form of sustained success in 2022, and that they’re taking adequate steps to do so. As it stands, next season is shaping up to be one that shows us great change in the landscape of the game and which clubs are on the rise. We’ve seen this year that teams like Collingwood and St. Kilda have fallen, whilst clubs like Sydney, Essendon and Melbourne have come forward in leaps and bounds from where they were. This finals series shapes to be one of a different ilk to whatever seen in recent years, and I predict next year of being even further from what we’ve come to expect.

 

Teams

Sydney vs Gold Coast

Snapshot
The team who has impressively turned their fortunes around to jump from a 16th placed finish last season to a potential 6th placed finish this season comes up against a side that still hasn’t managed to make decent inroads into regularly competitive football. Sydney come into this on a great jet of form, having only lost one of their past seven games. Gold Coast on the other hand have lost three of their past four games by an average of 72 points.

So what does it all mean?
Given their percentage, it’s highly unlikely that Sydney will finish the season inside the top four. With sixth place looking most likely, it’s been a great turnaround for a team that finished bottom four last season. It’s looking more and more likely that Gold Coast will finish bottom four themselves this season, after finishing 14th last season it’s not the position that coach Stewart Dew would’ve envisioned for season 2021, with many internally expecting a rise up the ladder of sorts this season.

All eyes on:
Do you remember me, Collins? – Gold Coast vice-captain, Sam Collins was a revelation down back last season, winning his first club best and fairest award and almost leading the AFL for intercepts at the end of the season. After being delisted by Fremantle at the end of 2017, Collins has found his place as a general director of defence for the Suns, but in typical fashion of most hard-working defenders, gets the job down with little plaudits coming his way. Having recently extended his contract (which was set to expire at the end of 2022) by a further three years will see the 27-year-old likey finish his career at the club who threw him a bone. The bloke who’s known to his teammates as the “Sergeant” is a key pillar in the structure that Gold Coast are trying to build their young list around. Whilst often overshadowed in the appreciations by the likes of Touk Miller and Hugh Greenwood, his no-nonsense approach to the backline goes largely unheralded. Especially in a team that’s conceding the scores that the Suns have at times this season. Get another pre-season into this young side, get some players back from injury and we’ll see what awaits them in season 2022.

The rise and rise of the Sydney Swans- After finishing the season atop of the AFL ladder in 2016 and failing to overcome the Western Bulldogs in an historical Grand Final, the Swans found their way back down the ladder to finish both seasons 2017 and 2018 in 6th place. The conclusion of 2017 would see them bowl over Essendon in an Elimination Final only to be beaten by Geelong in a Semi Final the next week. The following year the Swans would meet their crosstown rivals in an Elimination Final where the Giants stormed home and beat the Swans convincingly. The following two seasons saw Sydney drop to 14th on the ladder in 2019 and finish 2020 in 16th – the first time Sydney would see the bottom four in a long time. Fast forward to today and this team has categorically gotten their mix of mature stars with budding youth right, and we see a rise once again of a powerhouse club that never spends too long on their knees. One of this season’s great overachievers intended in the most respectful way, look set to shoot back into contention once again.

 

Teams

Brisbane vs West Coast

Snapshot
As bleedingly obvious as it seems, this match will all come down to which version of each team shows up. If the Brisbane team with an unstoppable Charlie Cameron, a Joe Daniher that’s clunking marks and nailing big goals, a Mitch Robinson who’s throwing his weight around and a lethal midfield that can win the ball with haste and have it in their forward line before you know what’s hit you, then off current form, West Coast don’t have a chance. If West Coast arrive with their star-studded team of All Australians fit, firing all on the same page for starters, then Brisbane have a genuine challenge on their hands. But knowing which West Coast team is going to show up is like knowing which day I can hang my sheets out on the line safely without a 5% chance of late evening drizzle turning into torrential rain at 1pm.

So what does it all mean?
Here’s another one of these brilliant games that will shape the way the ladder reads regardless of its result. The Lions still have a chance to finish top four whilst the Eagles still have a chance to make the eight. Both teams will rely heavily on the results of other games.

All eyes on:
Rise and shine, it’s finals time- West Coast have been a pretty good team for a pretty long time now. Not just a good team, but a consistent team. They have made the finals every single year since 2015, finishing their season in 2nd place twice (one of those being the premiership-winning year of 2018), 5th place twice and once in both 6th and 8th. With this season’s likelihood of being the first time since 2014 that they don’t make finals growing, is it time for an off-season shake up? To jump on them after one below-average season is premature, but something has to give for this club to return to their best that we all know they can achieve. Whether that’s hit the draft and find further depth to cover the eventual losses of aging stars in key positions such as Josh Kennedy, Shannon Hurn and Nic Naitanui, or join the draft table once again and lure another big fish over like they’ve done in the past with Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly. This season can be put down to one hampered by injury at times, but the fact is that in the latter half of the season when almost back to full strength, we still saw some worrying signs in games such as those against the Swans, Magpies, Kangaroos and the Bulldogs. This is a team that has all the right attributes to jump straight back in the eight next season if they don’t happen to scrape in this season, but changes are almost a necessity.

Brisbane are a different breed of pigeon. In the same time period as stated above for West Coast, we’ve seen the Lions finish 17th in season’s 2015 and 2016. A very poor year in 2017 saw them claim the wooden spoon for finishing 18th with only a small climb up to 16th witnessed in 2018. Now come season 2019 is when things got interesting and impressive, Chris Fagan commanded over this side and which saw their stocks rise from a bottom-four finish to a top two finish in the space of one season. It’s no wonder that Brisbane were confident that Fagan was the man for the job. The dramatic turnaround in the Lions’ fortunes was largely attributed to smart drafting/recruiting and good quality coaching of a team that was united with a single vision to achieve one goal. They backed that up once again with another top two finish again in season 2020, meaning that to finish outside the top four this season should be seen as a bit of a failure. Obviously, this will all depend on how they fare in the finals, but in a win/loss scenario, the Lions have gone down a peg and proved at times this season that their fade-outs or reluctance to show up from the first bounce will cost them. It’s still to be determined just how far the can push in this finals series given they have also suffered injuries to key players, but the next few weeks to come will soon give us a good glimpse at exactly that.

 

Teams

Geelong vs Melbourne

Snapshot
I’ve gone on the record at times this season and named exactly which game would be the match of the round, only for it to be a blowout, a dull contest with little scoring or something quite anticlimactic to say the least, and I said that I wouldn’t do it again. Well, you can say that this game is the Telstra Complaints Hotline because I’m calling it right now. First plays second in Round 23 with the winner to finish the season on top of the ladder. Both teams have won four of their past five games and thanks to their tied match earlier in the season, Melbourne sit half a game clear on top. A Saturday night blockbuster and hopefully the cherry on top of the Round 23 cake.

So what does it all mean?
Simple. The winner finishes on top. If Geelong lose they can still theoretically finish outside of the top four if Port beat the Bulldogs and Brisbane beat West Coast. Amazing scenes.

All eyes on:
Season defining- The home and away season all comes down to this. Not only do we have some unknown, yet potentially scintillating finals games ahead of us, but we’re treated to some pretty unreal games in Round 23, you’d almost think it was scripted. Two of the best, most consistent teams of this season will slog it out on the eve of finals in a match to determine who finishes on top of the ladder. As we know, the top of the ladder isn’t necessarily the best place to finish if you’re chasing a flag, but I’ll leave that to the stats and numbers gurus. All I want to dive into here is some of the matchups we could see coming out of this game. The young bull Christian Petracca who smashes through tackles and wins his own ball, borderline gallops towards his team’s forward 50, we’ll see the likes of him and Melbourne’s resident hardman Jack Viney return to the side and go head to head with veteran Geelong hard-nut and captain in Joel Selwood. Cam Guthrie and Patrick Dangerfield line up beside Clayton Oliver and James Harmes, what a fairytale end to the season. Having dropped Esava Ratugolea from the side, Geelong will stick with a mixture of Mark Blicavs and Rhys Stanley to combat the potent duo of Max Gawn and young rising star Luke Jackson in the ruck, with the potential for Tom Hawkins to give a chop out when contested in the forward line. It’s not just the bragging rights of finishing on top that are on the line, it’s the head of steam momentum heading into a finals series that is shrouded in mystery. When will teams get a bye? When and where will regular finals be able to be played? Where will the big dance be played and who will be allowed to attend? So many questions, so few answers. Want my answer? Sit your backside down on Saturday night and don’t leave the couch because this game will be a deadset corker.

 

Teams

Carlton vs GWS

Snapshot
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the clash of the Giants versus the team that pilfered all the rejected players from the Giants, Carlton! Is it the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end for the Blues? All I know is it’s been a season from hell in so many ways and it is a certainty to drag on for the rest of the year and into next year. The Giants have found some impressive form given that they’re missing so many players to injury. The same can’t be said for the Blues, they’ll regain captain Patrick Cripps to the side for what it’s worth in their last game of the season.

So what does it all mean?
Like a straight-to-video 90’s classic, it’s ride or die for the Giants. They’re sitting 7th and they’re half a game clear of Essendon below them. If by some miracle, Carlton can pull something out of the proverbial somewhere and win this game, the Giants will be sweating on the results of West Coast and Essendon. If both of those teams manage to win them the Giants are out of the eight once again. Beat Carlton however and their destiny is signed.
As for the Blues, well.. they won’t finish in the bottom four, but it’s likely they’ll finish closer to it than anyone else not occupying it.

All eyes on:
Spirit of Ecstasy – The ink had barely dried on the papers for his monster contract, tieing him to the Giants for another eight years when Josh Kelly stepped on the field and put on a masterclass against the Tigers, the sort of game that gives the entire AFL landscape a bit of reassurance as to exactly why his side just committed to deal worth close to $8 million to secure his services until he’s 34 years old. That’s right, after putting two years worth of down payments on their own Phantom back in 2019, the Giants have taken the plunge and signed on for eight years of capped price servicing for their Rolls Royce. They’ll be banking on a decent warranty period, hoping to gain the most of their investment’s slightly troublesome drivetrain – especially given the miles it’ll have on by the end of their agreed finance period. If last Friday’s game against the Tigers is anything to go off, then GWS have not only secured themselves a luxury vehicle capable of the smoothest of onfield actions, but also one that can turn a game in their favour on the back of his own skill and hard work.

Poach-a-coach – With the Teague Train basically dangling over the edge of the bridge, heading facedown into the ravine below, is it any wonder that other starving coaching suitors are beginning to line up with their bowls in hand, ready for bone scrap to be thrown their way? We’ve seen this week that Ross Lyon has all but nominated himself for a position still currently filled by a tenured coach. I get a sense of Deja Vu.. perhaps Mark Harvey may know a thing or two about what I’m dribbling. Nothing like a former coach putting his hand up for a job that’s not been made publically available yet – despite how imminent the decision is.

 

Teams

St. Kilda vs Fremantle

Snapshot
What a rousing victory we saw from Fremantle last week. Undermanned and boy did West Coast come storming home hate, but not enough to knock Fremantle back, claiming their first derby win in about 47 years. The Saints really started well against Geelong but in typical Cats fashion this season, they were in it for the long run. Their aging list abiding by the mantra ‘ slow and steady wins the race’. Choosing the tortoise’s approach to to the race as opposed to that of the hare.

So what does it all mean?
Fremantle can still mathematically make the top eight, however, their slim percentage in comparison to those around them hampers them. They’ll be relying on West Coast to lose to Brisbane and Essendon to lose to Collingwood if they happen to beat the Saints. I guess the Saints can still make finals too, however, their equation would require me repurposing my garage door as a chalkboard to write out the equation. They would need to beat Fremantle by a few hundred points, require Collingwood to beat Essendon by a few hundred points and Brisbane to beat West Coast by a few hundred points. They would also need Richmond to lose, just for good measure. Simples really.

All eyes on:
The old heave-ho – Father time is extremely generous to some players. It’s not very often, but from time to time you see a player that gets better in their later years, or at the very least carries a high level of performance late into their careers. David Mundy is the epitome of such a statement. He’s going to finish highly in his team’s best and fairest this season – that’s if he doesn’t win it outright. Whilst we see players delisted from other clubs or not offered contracts due to their age in their late 20s, it’s a marvel to think that the oldest player still in the competition at 36 is still producing such good quality football and playing such a pivotal role to his team. Last week, Mundy drew level with former captain Matthew Pavlich’s games record for the club on 353 and is set to break that record this week having being named to play against the Saints. With the departure of Adam Cerra looking more and more likely, expect Fremantle to be big players in the recruiting drive this offseason.

Questions- What went wrong for the Saints this season? They scraped together a few good wins later in the season, but their first half of the year left a lot to be desired. Injuries took their toll at times, but we’ve seen other teams manage similar losses through the depth of their playing lists. Will St. Kilda look to continue to top up their list with second-hand players from other clubs this offseason? Or will they hit the draft and back their own crop of young players to develop. Something has to change. Whether it’s the unity of the team that needs clicking into gear, or whether there’s just a missing piece to their puzzle, Brett Ratten must dissect what went wrong this season and how they must rectify it going into season 2022. I was one of few people who foolishly bought into the hype around the Saints in 2020 and predicted them to continue to improve this season. Much to the disagreement of the majority of my Mongrel colleagues. Regardless, 2021 will be seen as a wasted opportunity. If 2022 goes in a similar fashion, then the progression they showed in the 2020 home and away season and into the finals was all for nothing.

Teams

Essendon vs Collingwood

Snapshot
Although these two teams probably can’t lay claim to the biggest rivalry in the AFL anymore, there is no doubt that they host one of the most deep-seated and strongest grudges against one another, more so than almost any other team. If you speak to any Collingwood supporter, one of the games they want to win the most for the season is against Essendon, the same goes for the latter. Everyone loves a close game of football. The tight finishes, the heartstopping final minutes, that’s what our game is all about. But when it comes to these two teams, their fans just want to see a world of hurt inflicted on their opponents by way of the scoreboard. The Magpies will come into this having lost four of their past five games, as caretaker coach Robert Harvey addresses his troops for the final time and prepares to hand over the reins to Mr. Unknown. The Bombers have won their last two and would love nothing more than to make finals on the back of a defeat against their sworn mortal enemies – just as the Pies would love to beat the Bombers and take their finals destiny out of their own hands.

So what does it all mean?
Collingwood will finish bottom four, that’s a given. But a win would be the most spiteful of delights to potentially rob Essendon of a finals berth. If the Bombers win, the only way they don’t play finals is if West Coast or Fremantle win their respective games by about 600 points.

All eyes on:
Strive for 75- In 2017 Matt Crouch and Rory Laird finished the home and away season with a combined 1388 disposals to set the AFL record for the highest disposal partnership. As of the conclusion of Round 22, Zach Merrett sits on 668 disposals for the season whilst his partner in crime Darcy Parish sits on 646 for a grand total of 1314 combined disposals. Meaning the pair must combine for 75 disposals this weekend to break the current record. It’s a mammoth effort required, but going off each of the two player’s averages this season, it’s far from impossible. Merrett is averaging 32 disposals per game with his highest tally of 41 coming against Melbourne in Round 15. Parish is averaging 31 disposals per game, having broken his own personal best for disposals three times this season, registering totals of 42, 43 and 44 to do so. If only it hadn’t taken so long for Parish to be played out of the forward line and on the ball to the level he is currently..

Sustained pressure- With Ross Lyon this week doing the rounds and announcing his public comments on the coaching positions at each club, it was interesting to hear his take on what lies ahead for the potential candidate at Collingwood, and some of his points were hard to argue with. Lyon addressed the ongoing rift between the Magpies current board members who are headed by president Mark Korda, and president-hopeful Jeff Brown as a clear red flag for anyone throwing their hat into the ring – who wants to walk into one of the most important and publically scrutinised roles in football with such a great unknown bearing down upon you from a boardroom level? It’s set to be a massive year for Collingwood this offseason, the likes of which we haven’t seen for over a generation. Uncertainty at the top aside, there’s a raft of new players set to be welcomed in, a new head coach, they’ll say farewell to some older players, it’s the sort of period that will bring some pain and anguish to supporters, but clubs like Collingwood have achieved their sustained success of recent years on the back of mastering periods like this. If they are smart and ruthless with their decisions, they’re every chance of bouncing back sooner than some may think.

 

Teams

Adelaide vs North Melbourne

Snapshot
In a clear indication of just how even the competition is currently in the league, look no further than the quality of football being played by the team that’s about to win the wooden spoon. At the end of the day, their season has been poor because they will finish on the bottom of the ladder, that’s a fact. But not for a bloody long time have I felt such a sense of optimism around a team that has finished on the bottom of the ladder. North Melbourne have shown great signs for an undermanned and youthful side in the latter half of this season and their supporters should be, and clearly are proud of such efforts, with their record membership numbers a testament to their fans loyalty and belief in what the club is building. The Crows are in a similar position but unfortunately, I’m not sure their immediate future is looking as bright. They started the season brilliantly but aside from the occasional, sporadic decent win here and there, were ultimately fairly disappointing since. It’ll be a big season off the field for both clubs.

So what does it all mean?
North Melbourne’s papers are signed as this year’s wooden spooners, they’ll receive the number one draft pick in the offseason. The Crows have an opportunity to finish a couple of spots higher up the ladder if they win this one, but a bottom-four finish is still guaranteed.

All eyes on:
Joeys in the pouch- I’ve eluded in the latter half of the season to how North Melbourne are harbouring a promising future on the backs of their younger players getting ample game time this season, and beginning to perform at a level that not only prevents them from being blown away in games, but stacks up respectively against some teams that are further along in their progression than them. Heading into Round 23 Nick Larkey sits on 39 goals for the season and Cam Zurhaar on 31. To put that into a little perspective, Larkey has currently scored more goals than Max King and Tom Lynch, whilst sitting level with West Coast spearhead Jack Darling. That’s positive signs for a young, developing key forward in a season that started as poorly as North’s did. Jy Simpkin is top-20 in the AFL for disposals having being one of the side’s most prolific ball-winners this season and is also in elite company. Jack Ziebell and Aaron Hall are both top-10 for marks whilst Ben Cunnington will finish the season top-20 for contested possessions having only played 15 games for the year. There’s plenty to look forward to from this team in season’s to come, plus the inevitable ‘Horne Ultimatum’ come draft time.

You’ve got to drink the froth to get the beer- Unfortunately, my short term predictions for the Crows are a little bleaker. They’ve really struggled as a whole since the debacle of the 2017 Grand Final and the long-term damage done to the club in the wake of the doomed training camp that caused irreparable damage between some players, officials, and the club itself which still has a resounding impact seen to this day. It looks like a long road back for the Crows, but they’re taking steps in the right direction and doing so somewhat aggressively, as evident by their decision to not offer contracts to numerous senior players for season 2022. It’s always a tough call on club stalwarts, especially when some are still playing reasonably quality football. But as we’ve seen in the past from other clubs, sometimes the tough calls on individuals are needed for the greater good of the club. Hawthorn is one such example. Their notoriously ruthless approach to senior players has seen multiple club champions, former captains and premiership heroes finish their careers out at other clubs, but the Hawks hold no reservation in doing so because the benefit to their club by opting to play their younger players far outweighs the sentimentality behind gifting games to senior players. I’m keen to see if Adelaide’s plan revolves around hitting the draft to the likes of teams like Essendon of recent, or if they go for the top-up method and nab every second hand player possible like St. Kilda. It’s surely the former.

Well, that’s it for another week folks. I apologize for the delay in transmission, but all will be mad who with some bumper previews throughout the finals series. Take it easy in these uncertain times and don’t forget to support your local cabinetmaker.