Compared to last week, round three felt very sedate. There were no field invasions, no fire alarms, no goal kicking milestones, and no award show slaps. Still, Joel Selwood broke the captaincy record, Jordan Dawson won an enthralling Showdown after the siren, Brisbane recorded the first 100-point win of the season, and Carlton fans officially cancelled their September vacations.

It’s only April, but 2022 has already delivered in spades.

 

LAST WEEK’S TEAM

B: Sam Docherty, Sam Frost, Changkuoth Jiath

HB: Jayden Short, Jeremy McGovern, Aaron Hall

C: Karl Amon, Patrick Cripps, Jordan Dawson

HF: Luke Parker, Mitch Lewis, Isaac Heeney

F: Shai Bolton, Nick Larkey, Jack Gunston

R: Jarrod Witts, Christian Petracca, Touk Miller

INT: Jack Macrae, Lachie Neale, Andrew Brayshaw, Matthew Kennedy

 

THE CHANGES

HALF BACK FLANK: ANGUS BRAYSHAW (MELBOURNE)

The meteoric rise of Melbourne’s vast array of midfielders saw one of its members left slightly out in the cold. Perhaps it was the series of concussions that contributed to the omission, but Angus Brayshaw had almost become the Demons’ forgotten son. A change was needed, and with his move to the wing, Brayshaw finally grabbed a new lease on life in Melbourne’s starting 18. This year, it’s another change of scenery, and Brayshaw has taken to the half back sweeper role like a duck to water. Saturday night was the coming out party for Brayshaw, with 34 disposals (24 kicks, 10 handballs), seven score involvements, five inside 50s, all coming at 85% efficiency, and if that wasn’t enough, Brayshaw also pulled down a staggering 20 marks.

WING: ED LANGDON (MELBOURNE)

Last week, Karl Amon overtook Ed Langdon for the wing position, and it seems Langdon took this omission to heart, as on Friday night, Langdon was a man on a mission. Patrolling his wing like an army general surveying the landscape, Langdon ran all day, didn’t spend one second on the interchange bench, and amassed 31 disposals, eight score involvements, five marks, and 490 metres gained.

HALF FORWARD FLANK: ZAC BAILEY (BRISBANE)

By now, everyone must know of my feelings for Zacs in the AFL. With every passing game, this certain Zac looks more and more like a star, and one that Brisbane fans will be embracing for the next decade. On Saturday night, Bailey, along with the rest of his teammates, tormented North Melbourne with a 108-point thrashing. Bailey was instrumental, with 17 disposals, 11 score involvements, and four goals. Bailey is without a doubt the second-best Zac in the AFL, and at 22-years-old, his best is certainly still yet to arrive.

FULL FORWARD: MAX KING (ST. KILDA)

He wears the famous number 12 on his back, and it must put a smile on every St Kilda fan’s collective face when young gun Max King puts together performances of dominance like we saw on Sunday afternoon. With the scoreboard very tight heading into the last quarter, the Saints needed something from their spearhead, who if we’re being honest, hadn’t done much up to that point. What happened next will become a part of King’s season highlights, as he took the game by the scruff of the neck and single-handedly took the game away from the Tigers, marking everything that came his way, on the way to kicking four last quarter goals. It may have only been a quarter of brilliance, but what a quarter it was!

ROVER: CLAYTON OLIVER (MELBOURNE)

The third of Melbourne’s trio of inclusions, Clayton Oliver played another career-defining game, but at this point, that folder is getting so large we may have to move the needle. With Christian Petracca having a slightly off night, Oliver was the Demons’ main destroyer, barely putting a foot wrong with 38 disposals (20 kicks, 18 handballs), 18 contested possessions, nine score involvements, eight clearances, 666 metres gained, and an astounding 15 inside 50s. It is such a gift for Simon Goodwin that if one of his midfield superstars has an even slightly average performance, the other head of the snake is more than ready to strike.

 

So, with those five players making their way in, it meant that five unlucky players had to be removed.

We’ll start in the back half, and Brayshaw’s inclusion meant omitting Aaron Hall, a player who gets plenty of the ball, but how many are hard-earned? Yes, Hall managed 25 disposals, but he is also part of a rotation of kick-in specialists, and his team also suffered an embarrassing defeat. Granted, you may be able to make the same argument for Jayden Short, who kept his spot this week, but for three quarters, Richmond kept pace with St. Kilda, and Short’s rebounding work went a long way in keeping the Tigers in the game for as long as they were.

It was an easy decision to replace Karl Amon on the wing. Amon was opposed to Jordan Dawson on Friday night, and simply put, he lost the battle. The vacant wing spot came down to two players: Langdon and Hugh McCluggage. In choosing between the two, I went the way Langdon because he occupied the position in round 1 and could be considered somewhat unlucky to lose his place last week.

In the midfield, Clayton Oliver played a game that made it impossible for me to exclude him, but that meant dropping another midfielder. Unlike the “official” team, I’m not going to put inside midfielders on the wing just to fit them in, and midfielders that kick goals don’t get selected on the forward flanks. You’re either good enough to make as a midfielder, or you’re not. From the bench, I gave Jack Macrae’s average showing a pass due to his excellence in the first two weeks, Matthew Kennedy has been consistently brilliant, and Andrew Brayshaw was one of Fremantle’s best. Patrick Cripps is the Brownlow favourite, and Christian Petracca isn’t far behind. That left just one, and he played an average game at the worst possible time, leaving me with no other choice. Touk Miller out, Clayton Oliver in.

The other two inclusions all came in the forward line, and it was surprisingly difficult to make the necessary changes. Luke Parker’s five goals kept him in the team last week, but another goalless game meant that Parker needed to be removed from our forward line. Like the wing, I had two players fighting for the spot, Bailey, and Jordan De Goey. De Goey has gathered more of the ball over the first three rounds, and you could argue that he’s been more impactful, but scoring accuracy hurts him. In the first three rounds, De Goey has kicked 4.7, in contrast to Bailey’s 7.3. For this reason alone, Bailey got the nod over De Goey.

Then we come to the key forwards, and as I mentioned, Max King was fantastic in St Kilda’s win, but that meant moving on one of our key targets. Between Nick Larkey and Mitch Lewis, both had incredible round 2 performances, but which one deserved to hold his place? When making the final call, I thought about each player’s importance to their team’s overall performances, and when looking back, Hawthorn’s win over North Melbourne stood out. At one end, Lewis was a contested marking beast, combining with Jack Gunston to get the Hawks over the line, while at the other end, Larkey was good, but kicked two goals to Lewis’s three, and only took three marks, compared with Lewis’s nine. Therefore, Mitch Lewis kept his place at centre half forward, and Nick Larkey was replaced by Max King at full forward.

 

THE UPDATED BEST 22

B: Sam Docherty, Sam Frost, Changkuoth Jiath

HB: Jayden Short, Jeremy McGovern, Angus Brayshaw

C: Ed Langdon, Patrick Cripps, Jordan Dawson

HF: Zac Bailey, Mitch Lewis, Isaac Heeney

F: Shai Bolton, Max King, Jack Gunston

R: Jarrod Witts, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver

INT: Jack Macrae, Lachie Neale, Andrew Brayshaw, Matthew Kennedy

IN: Angus Brayshaw, Langdon, Bailey, M. King, Oliver

OUT: Hall, Amon, Parker, Larkey, Miller

 

WHAT ABOUT HIM?

Once again, we find ourselves asking the familiar question. What about (insert name here)? It’s excruciatingly difficult trying to fit everyone into this team, and I’m not about that life of naming a bunch of emergencies just so certain players don’t fell left out in the cold. That’s not how we role here, and this is my team, so I must wear the consequences of the decisions that I make. Still, for those in the waiting room, their efforts must be acknowledged, and that’s what this section is for. And before you ask, if I spoke about a player in this section last week, and they were unable to elevate themselves into the 22, I won’t be speaking about them again.

What about Jacob Weitering? Perhaps the best key defender in the AFL, Jacob Weitering is as important to Carlton as any other player. Controlling the backline excellently, Weitering has had to step up this season in the absence of Liam Jones, and so far, has barely put a foot wrong. When crunch time came on Sunday against Hawthorn, Weitering was at his best, and every time the Hawks went forward, Weitering was there to intercept. In the dying stages, when Hawthorn had one last roll of the dice, Weitering once again saved the game for his team, and like Stephen Silvagni before hi, Weitering will go down as a Carlton great in defence.

What about Peter Wright? Two Metre Peter has been a revelation at Windy Hill since his recruitment, and he has further cemented himself as a key forward superstar of the future. Following on from his three-goal effort against Brisbane, Wright was just as good this week against the reigning premiers, with four goals from 10 disposals and five marks. Now, if this piece was being compiled by fellow Mongrel, Jimmy Ayres, there’s every chance that 2MP takes his place as the starting full forward (and knowing Jimmy as I do, he’d also occupy the other five forward spots), but for now, Wright was just, and I really mean only just, unable to usurp the other key forward that retained his place in the 22.

What about Tim Taranto? Does anyone in the competition have a midfield, besides maybe the Western Bulldogs, that bats as deep as the GWS Giants? Last week, it was Tom Green getting all the praise, and this week we turn our attention to Tim Taranto. I am confident in saying that in any other team, Taranto could lay claim to being his side’s premier midfielder, but in western Sydney, he is just another cog in a very impressive wheel. In the battle of the AFL’s new boys, Taranto was magnificent, picking up 36 disposals, eight tackles, seven inside 50s, six clearances and 655 metres gained. What counts against Taranto is his disposal efficiency of 64%, and his five free kicks against.

What about Hugh McCluggage? As I stated earlier, the choice of who took the last wing spot came down to Hugh McCluggage and Ed Langdon. While Langdon and Jordan Dawson have been arguably the two best wingmen in the first three rounds of the season, McCluggage at least deserves to be in the conversation. McCluggage was excellent in the North Melbourne demolition, and he does average slightly more disposals than both Dawson and Langdon, but there is one big factor that I saw when making my final decision. McCluggage was a slow starter. Only gathering 14 touches in round 1, McCluggage was a non-factor in Brisbane’s win over Port Adelaide. He bounced back with three goals from 19 touches in round 2, but by then Karl Amon had overtaken him.

What about Tim English? After thoroughly dismantling his Sydney adversaries, Bulldog Tim English drew comparisons to the late Jim Stynes. Now, that’s possibly an overreaction so soon into the young Dog’s career, but it does feel like English is ready to take that next giant leap into the upper echelon of great ruckmen. English’s stats have exploded this season, and the improvement simply astounds. Disposals have gone from 13 in 2021, to 23 in 2022, marks from five to seven, hit outs from 16 to 22, inside 50s from two to four, and defensive rebounds from one to three. So why isn’t English in the team? The simple fact is that for at least half the game on Thursday night, English was matched up against young Joel Amartey, who looked a little out of depth, and this helped to plump up English’s numbers. It also feels like no ruckman has enjoyed dominance over all three rounds, and consistency with Jarrod Witts kept his in our line-up. For now.

What about Tom Stewart? It feels like every time I write about Tom Stewart, the aspect of his game that gets brought up most is his consistency. Only once since his debut has Stewart dipped below 20 games in a year (18 in the COVID affected 2020), and I have personally never seen Stewart play a bad game. So consistent is Stewart that occasionally this counts against him. What I mean by that is that Stewart’s brilliance is so quiet and un-assuming that it so often goes un-noticed. When the game was there to be won on Saturday night, Stewart was enormous, and everyone certainly took notice. Finishing with 29 disposals (22 of those by foot), five marks, 767 metres gained (over 200m better than his nearest challenger), and an amazing 14 defensive rebounds, Stewart was everywhere when his team needed him, and was a key factor in willing his team over the line.

 

That’s all she wrote for Round 3, and we’re fortunate that another week of footy is just days away. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Thursday night football, because it’s not the traditional start of the weekend that we’ve all been so used to. But it does give an opportunity for other matches to have clear air, and this week it’s the AFLW Grand Final. Good luck to both teams, let’s hope for a thrilling encounter that inspires so many to follow in these players’ footsteps.

See you all again soon.

 

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