Each week, Jimmy Ayres turns his blowtorch on and seeks some targets.
Some will have their toes warmed at a safe distance. Others will be charred beyond recognition. Here is the Round Nine version of On Fire/Under Fire.
On Fire – Sam Berry
Jordan Dawson almost forced his way back into this slot once again this week, what a pickup that bloke has been for the Crows. But instead, went with Sam Berry. The young midfielder playing just his 21st career game was sensational against one of the best midfields in the league this season. He really caught my attention after a brilliant, goal saving tackle on Sam Walsh and from then on I couldn’t stop noticing his impact on the game. It was far and away his best game of the season and the most memorable that I’ve seen in his short career thus far. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of this kind of footy from the young prodigy out of Maffra.
Under Fire – The Backline
That’s a broad statement, but I stand by it. The response that I’ve seen from the majority of Crows supporters would agree with me too. The likes of Jordon Butts and Billy Frampton were soundly beaten and scored against at will. Unable to predict the fall of the ball and caught out in space, waiting for a teammate to do the heavy lifting on more than one occasion. I thought Luke Brown was solid at times and probably the pick of Adelaide’s defenders, but for the best part of the second and third quarters, the rest were horrible.
On Fire – Hugh McCluggage & Dayne Zorko
I couldn’t split these two on the night, for different reasons. McCluggage played one of the best games I’ve seen of him, and I’ve seen him play some pearlers. Four goals, 10 tackles and plenty of the ball, he was consistently damaging. Whilst I respect what he’s brought to the team and what he’s capable of at his best, Essendon fans must look at Andy McGrath at times and wonder ‘what if…’
Dayne Zorko has impressed me once again this year. He has really transformed his game largely due to his ability to, for lack of a better term, pull his head in and avoid those silly confrontations that only landed him in hot water.
Under Fire – Forward Line
Losing Joe Daniher to a shoulder injury last week will see him miss at least a month of footy, and now Dan McStay is set to miss a period after rolling his ankle will put a bit of a dent in the Lions’ tall forward stocks. With Eric Hipwood due back any week now from his long-term knee injury, it’s the worst timing to lose key forwards, especially those whose presence would have greatly aided the return of a player who’s been out of the game for almost a year.
On Fire – Charlie Curnow & Patrick Cripps
I really wanted to throw Sam Docherty in as well, but I force myself to name no more than two options each week. It’s hard to go past Charlie Curnow who was the most dominant player on the ground. He marked everything that came his way and whatever he couldn’t mark, he recovered and sent goalward with his brilliant sidestep and agility. This Carlton side hits a completely different dimension when he’s in the side and firing. Speaking of firing, is it fair to say that the Brownlow is currently a two-horse race between Patrick Cripps and Andrew Brayshaw? Cripps was terrific again on the weekend and only Curnow may have possibly robbed him of the maximum votes. Either way, the form of Cripps has hit an unbelievable high this season, it just goes to show how hard his injured back that he didn’t have, but he did, but he didn’t, but he did, but he didn’t, must have affected him last year.
Under Fire – Adam Saad, just.
Jack Martin escapes this spot purely because he was eventually subbed out with a calf injury. Up until then, I had his name circled, highlighted and in capital letters for lack of intent and effort. Adam Saad is the slightly unlucky substitute because we’ve seen what he delivers at his best, and this was far from it. The Crows at times employed a defensive runner to go with Saad and it proved successful in relative terms – it didn’t win them the game, but it slowed the damage caused by one of the league’s better running defenders on his day.
On Fire – Darcy Cameron
Losing the highest-paid ruckman in the league for the season was a massive blow for Collingwood after their Anzac Day clash. For Darcy Cameron to shoulder the majority of the ruck duties with only 19-year-old Aiden Begg for backup is a harrowing task on any given day, let alone when you’re set to face the tough duo of Ivan Soldo and Toby Nankervis. Cameron held his own in the ruck and provided a marking target around the ground. He also backed that up with his defensive midfield work registering six tackles.
Jack Crisp deserves a mention once again, Mr Consistent for the Magpies just keeps on rocking up and playing his role to perfection.
Under Fire – Beau McCreary
A number of players from other teams have made it into this section this week on the back of an inaccurate day in front of the big sticks – Beau McCreary fits this bill with his return of 1.4. in a reflection of what could’ve been, McCreary could’ve easily finished the game with a bag to his name (of goals, Magpies fans..), but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
On Fire – Peter Wright & Nic Martin
It’s hard to not mention the bloke who kicks six goals, especially when it takes his season tally to 24 and equal third in the Coleman. A brilliant return for the once-maligned forward who is beginning to repay the faith invested in him by the Bombers after moving over from the Gold Coast. As outlandish as this sounds Bombers fans, has there been a tall forward since Matthew Lloyd that you trusted more with ball in hand than Peter Wright?
How good of a player is Nic Martin? Seriously!? The Bombers took a punt on the former WAFL player as an SSP selection on the eve of the season, and he has outperformed the expectations of even the biggest optimists thus far. With the Rising Star all but guaranteed to go the way of one of the big 3 on reputation alone, keep your eye on Martin as a smokey to poll well throughout the season.
Ripping game from Ben Hobbs too. I’ll touch on it further in this week’s preview.
Under Fire – Brandon Zerk-Thatcher
BZT copped a knock to his knee in the opening seconds of the game, causing him a bit of grief early on. He held his own against the Hawthorn forwards at times, but was largely let off the hook due to their inaccurate goal kicking. Unfortunately for the Bombers defender, I just don’t think he’ll be anything more than a depth player when the side finds their rhythm and locks in their optimal back six. Especially when the likes of Ridley, Kelly and Stewart make their way back into the side.
On Fire – James Aish & Will Brodie
There are a dozen players that I could’ve awarded this to, but I largely went with James Aish in this one. It’s not often that he wins the praises he deserves and the vast majority of his efforts go unheralded. But I think he has been tremendous for the Dockers this season and is providing them with a hard-running option that never lets up and often chooses the right option when attacking the play. Will Brodie also gets a shoutout once again, if he doesn’t wind up being the recruit of the year, then it’ll take a high calibre replacement to convince me.
Under Fire – Lachie Schultz
North Melbourne seemed to employ a negating player to run with Lachie Schultz for the vast majority of this game, and it worked wonders. Wonders in terms of quelling his individual influence, but not even remotely in stopping the run and scoring of the Dockers as a whole. Schultz was well held and disappeared for large chunks of the game at a time and had little influence on the contest whilst battling with constant attention from the opposition.
On Fire – Tyson Stengle & Mark Blicavs
Tyson Stengle was massive for the Cats, the small forward seems to have really found his groove in the Cats forward line this season. The club praises him for his determination, he praises the coaches, largely Eddie Betts, for helping him discover his confidence to attack the game.
Mark Blicavs once again was sensational for mine. It just seems like there’s very little that the utility can’t do. He is definitely their best ruck option, but his intercept marking is top-notch, his tackling numbers rank highly and he moves the ball around as proficient as most midfielders. Has he hit another level this season, Geelong fans? Or have I just never truly appreciated his output for the side.
Under Fire – Isaac Smith
A bit left of the wing here, but I was a little disappointed by Isaac Smith in this one. Honestly, I think it’s the weight of my expectation that came crashing down on him this week. I know how good of a wingman he is, across his career at both clubs he’s shown that he is up there with the most capable wingmen in the league, which I think comes back at his detriment when he has a quiet or a somewhat poor game, because he has been so good for so long, I just naturally expect the best of him. His kicking really let him down and his decision making at times left a lot to be desired.
On Fire – David Swallow & Sam Collins
Once again, I’m more than happy to concede when a player that I’ve criticised bounces back. This week, that was David Swallow. His move back onto the ball, I assume at the expense of Anderson, proved hugely fruitful for the Suns, especially against the talented midfield of the Swans. Seeing him win clearances and tackle when things went the other way reminded me of how good he is when played in the centre. Sam Collins did a brilliant job blanketing Buddy Franklin, one of those old type defender games where his stats sheet may not jump out at you, but his influence on the game in stopping Franklin was huge. Also, well done Izak Rankine.
Under Fire – Nick Holman
Another candidate for the ‘what could’ve been’ stakes in front of goal, Holman finished with 0.3 and could’ve really stamped his authority on the game. He wasn’t the only Sun that was a bit wasteful, with their final scoreline of 10.15 lending itself to the inaccurate side. You won’t hear many complaints from Suns fans however, a win is a win and a win on the road is even better.
On Fire – Isaac Cumming
I keep banging on about this bloke and he just keeps throwing up good performances. I’ve stated in recent weeks that Cunming may be one of the most underappreciated defenders in the league, I’d now like to retract that statement and issue another – Isaac Cumming is one of the most underappreciated players in the league, period. His ability to peel off in the backline and spot-up players down the ground is second to none within the Giants side. A brilliant start to this season saw him rewarded with a contract extension a month ago, tying him to the club until the end of the 2024 season.
Under Fire – Bobby Hill
I’ve let a few quiet weeks from Hill go under the radar a little, but after seeing a few poor efforts against the Cats, I just couldn’t let it slide this week. Only seven goals from his eight games this season, including three goalless returns just hasn’t been good enough from the small forward. No one can question his will to run and pressure, but his tackling prowess has really tapered this season, especially in the past month when he’s only laid five tackles from four games.
On Fire – Jaeger O’Meara
Another nomination that has been under fire for much of the season due to a lapse in form, Jaeger O’Meara looked at his best against the Bombers, playing that smooth but deadly tough midfield role that we’ve come to expect from the talented mid. He started the game brilliantly, hit a mild lul throughout the middle and finished exceptionally, highlighted once again by his gut running, one of only a few Hawks that did so. Going head to head with Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett, it was O’Meara and Newcombe doing most of the heavy lifting, which leads me to..
Under Fire – Tom Mitchell
One of the Mongrel’s many, many own Hawthorn supporters, Trent Shields made this clever quip after the game: “The commentators kept banging on about Essendon missing five players, not one mention of Mitchell or Breust being late outs for the Hawks.” Personally, I was asking Hawks supporters if Mitchell was injured. Because every time I saw him at the contest, he struggled to break out of a jog. It honestly looked as if the Hawks were 86 points up in the final quarter and Mitchell was just jogging around, waiting for the siren. Except it was actually the start of the second quarter. Cause for concern, Hawks fans? Or just an off game from a bloke that performs more weeks than not.
On Fire – Ed Langdon
Funny story: well, it’s not that funny.. but I’m going to tell it anyway. So, it was partway through the third quarter, and I was reviewing my notes for this article whilst watching the Demons/Saints game. Ed Langdon had just come off a blazing 13 disposal effort in the second quarter and was sitting on 26 disposals. I pencilled his name and ‘A.Bray’ into this slot with a question mark behind them, meaning I would watch the rest of the match before making my mind up as to who’s form warranted selection here. Bring on the fourth quarter where Ed piled on a further 14 disposals in that quarter alone, taking his game tally to a career-best 39 disposals. After Finn Maginness tagged Langdon well and truly out of the game last week, the jet completely bounced back today against the Saints in an emphatic fashion.
Under Fire – Luke Jackson
A very quiet game for Jackson, in a day that wasn’t a pretty one for the ruck purists out there, Jackson and Gawn were shown up by the duo of Ryder and Marshall. Funny how when your team is as good as Melbourne currently is, you can recover from that, comfortably. I’ll probably chalk it up to a bad day at the office, but Jackson had very little impact on the game, as his two rucking opponents held some sway over the game and both hit the scoreboard.
Another mention is Clayton Oliver playing up Zak Jones’ elbow to the chest. Give us a spell, Clarry. You are FAR too good of a player to be doing that shit. You have the skill to win a game off your own boot, with ease. The last thing that you need is to be recognised as a player that milks the softest free kicks possible. It does your character no justice, especially given the high-quality calibre of player that you are.
On Fire – Ben McKay
He probably wasn’t their best player for the game, but boy did he try his heart out. Something that only a handful of North players can lay claim to. Under siege from Fremantle inside 50s, McKay became a goalkeeper of sorts, really defending his man and the space around him well. There was a period before he went off injured in the second and third quarter where three or four forward forays in a row were chopped off and rebounded by McKay. A rare highlight in a dogged night for the Kangaroos.
Under Fire – Forward Craft
Without Nick Larkey and bereft of much goalkicking prowess, the North Melbourne forward line was just one of many causes for concern for coach David Noble this week. With Todd Goldstein floating in and out and, as I predicted last week, Cam Zurhaar also having a run in the forward line, there was just a clear lack of cohesion between the forwards. No one was communicating, nobody helped out their teammates with specific leading patterns, almost every time the ball made its way in, it was swiftly chopped off and taken back out. There are troubles galore right now for North, and this just scratches the surface.
On Fire – Travis Boak
Every time someone questions Travis Boak about his age or ability, without a doubt he comes out the very next week and shows them just how good of a player he is. A phenomenal game from the Port Adelaide veteran this week, 30 disposals, 10 score involvements, six clearances, six tackles and a goal. Sensational game from an equally sensational player. The number of times he sent the ball forward and set up scoring chains was brilliant.
Under Fire – Mitch Georgiadis
Perhaps the captain of this week’s misfiring-squad, Georgiadis squandered his way to 0.4 this week. Earlier in the season, I asked my mate Will, who’s an avid Port Adelaide fan, when the big breakout season that everyone keeps predicting is going to happen for Mitch Georgiadis, his response? “When he learns to kick straight and exert himself”
After kicking 32.17 last season, I thought the signs were ominous that he was well on his way, but Georgiadis has now kicked 7.11 from his eight games this season. Hard to argue with my old mate given his current form.
On Fire – Tom Lynch & Noah Balta
Kicking 13.6 in his past fortnight has rocketed Tom Lynch into Coleman Medal contention. It’s easy to laugh at some of his dinky little kicks that go out on the full, but the fact that he’s sending through more than he’s spraying (just) is a telling factor in Richmond winning their first back-to-back games of season 2022. I’ve sung the praises of Noah Balta being a brilliant swingman this season, but how good was he back down back against the Magpies? Lynch and Riewoldt patrolling that forward line has freed up Balta to return to the backline and the Tigers are reaping the rewards for it.
Under Fire – Rhyan Mansell
I hated it when Reece Conca did it to Devon Smith, I hated it even more when Tom Lynch did it to Alex Witherden and I despised it when Alex Rance did it to Jack Watts. I don’t care how you sugarcoat it, an elbow to the back of the head to a player that’s laying face down or has their back turned is nothing short of a dog act. I do not care how light the impact is, I do not care how big of a pest the receiving player is. Jack Ginnivan could make Hayden Ballantyne look like Mother Theresa and it still doesn’t justify clubbing a face-down bloke in the back of his head – twice. The fact that a polarising player has you riled up to a point where you would opt to lash out in such a stupid, indefensible way shows that he’s under your skin, and that he’s already won. If the AFL were actually serious about stamping out knocks to the head, then something with malicious intent like multiple elbows to the back of a player’s head whilst in a defenceless position would receive a higher penalty than a week, especially when an accidental bump that causes no injury has seen players rubbed out for more.
On Fire – Tim Membrey
I love the transformation in Membrey’s game this season. We saw glimpses of it last year with the traditional forward spending greater time up the ground and on the wing, but whilst his numbers don’t reflect a dominant day by his usual standards, the impact that he had on the game was enormous. He provided a marking target on the wing and a point of aerial difference for the Saints when they needed something to combat the dominance of the Demons. The Saints could really use two Tim Membreys right now, one to stay home in the forward line where his contested marking can be best utilised as an option to score, and one to prowl up the wing and use his contested marking and footy smarts to set up his side’s forward press.
Under Fire – Zak Jones
It was almost a case of, welcome back to senior footy Zak, now we’ll see you in a fortnight. His brain fade after unnecessarily tunnelling Ed Langdon proved costly in terms of his team’s position when he opted to strike Clayton Oliver and give away the 50-metre penalty. Don’t get me wrong, Oliver took a dive and he wears the consequences of that with damage to his own reputation and also in this article further up the page. But Jones was bloody lucky that his errant elbow only hit the chest of Oliver and not his chin, otherwise, Jones would’ve certainly found himself straight back out of the side that he’s worked so damn hard in so many facets beyond the knowledge of most, to be a part of once again.
On Fire – Chad Warner
I absolutely love the way Warner is going about his football this season. How is the bloke only 20? He has the composure of 200 gamer and the energy of a Jack Russell. He kicked 1.3 against the Suns and could’ve easily had himself a few more majors which would’ve pampered his stats terrifically. He isn’t scared of the hardball, nor is he scared to tackle, placing him in that rare category of midfielders that have the capability of attacking the game, attacking their man and also getting forward to score. This season he’s well and truly earned his place on my radar as one I’ll be keeping an eye on. I love the way he plays his football.
Under Fire – Isaac Heeney
Definitely not someone that I thought would make it here, but I’d bet my house on him not staying here for long. Heeney was given very little opportunity by Wil Powell, who to his credit, blanketed the ever-threatening Heeney and limited his impact on the game severely. There were a few scoring opportunities gone astray that Heeney wasn’t able to capitalise on what was a day to forget for most Swans players.
On Fire – Shannon Hurn & Jermaine Jones
Shannon Hurn gets a lot of the ball because his backline is under constant fire, but I’m sick of that being used as an argument to discredit his impact on games. He was winning plenty of the ball when the Eagles were in the top eight and playing finals football, and he continues now that they’re looking like bottoming out. But it’s the manner in which he wins the ball and gets it out of the backline that makes him one of the more reliable defenders in the league, and this was on full display against the Lions. In a game that many, and I mean many punters had tipped losses of up to and above 200 points, the decimated Eagles managed to keep the final margin in double figures. Given their circumstances, I’d say their back line held up ok. Also, I liked the game of Jermaine Jones. I initially didn’t realise the impact that the small forward had, but his push further up the ground really brought him into the game and was beneficial for the Eagles. This is a role I’d love to see him adopt more of in the future. Let him off the leash a little and have him win the ball further up the ground, use his dash as an attacking option and prepare to reap the rewards.
Under Fire – Josh Kennedy
This one hurts because my love for the man has been professed in weeks passed, but it was a very quiet night from the Eagles goal kicking champion. His goalless effort was his first in his last 25 games, ending his current AFL streak that was the best in the league.
On Fire – Aaron Naughton
After his first goalless game of 2022 against the Bombers a fortnight ago, Naughton bagged 4.2 and took his season tally to 19.14, throwing him back in the conversation of Coleman medal territory by some. It was a strong display from the at-times wayward forward, he looked back to his contested marking best against Port Adelaide, providing a target up forward and relieving some of the expected scoring pressure from the Bulldogs midfielders.
Under Fire – Zayne Cordy
Whilst not quite his fault, Cordy had a fair stinker against the Power. He was thrown in the ruck for periods that didn’t prove overly fruitful for the Dogs. I saw him beaten down back numerous times before being swung forward at the behest of coach Luke Beveridge, where he wasn’t able to find much of the ball either. Whilst not completely due to his own fault, Cordy just wasn’t able to stamp his authority on this game in any way.