Well, the first of the bye weeks are done and another heap of things either learned or reaffirmed for Gab Rossi. Heads up – he is a Melbourne-based comedian who loves his footy. Sometimes, he writes about issues as part of his footy commentary. You may, or may not agree with them. Some opinions, you may hate. That’s okay – you can do that. Just as he can have the opinion to begin with. Maybe if you’re going to have a whine about something, stop, press back, and go read a different column.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

 


 

 

1 – Premiership favouritism is not so clear now

At the time of writing this, Melbourne were still well ahead in terms of the betting agencies and their odds for back to back premiership wins. It seems that most pundits have the Demons at around $2.75 with the next best at around $6.00. Surely this figure will be getting updated shortly and, while I imagine that Melbourne will still be the front-runner, I imagine the gap will be considerably smaller.

Last week we were all telling ourselves that the Demons had an “off” night and had to lose sooner or later. However, two losses in a row tells me something else may be up, especially when you factor in both of these games had the Demons leading by 4-5 goals before half-time. And with the Magpies seemingly in good form, next week’s Queen’s Birthday encounter is no certain victory. In fact, a loss there and there will be alarm bells. We all know that the Demons have a very even spread of talent and are hardly a one-man team, but the absence of Steven May has certainly had an impact.

Through the first ten rounds, opposing scores against the Dees was a paltry average of just 58 points. The last fortnight has seen 94 points scored by Fremantle in Round 11 and 73 scored by Sydney in Round 12. So already we can see their defence is not as strong without May present. What’s even more concerning is their forward line seems to have lost its edge as well. Rounds 1-10, the Demons scored an average of 94 points a game but have only managed 56 and 61 points this last fortnight. Whilst Bailey Fritsch keeps hitting the scoreboard regularly, Ben Brown has now been goalless for three games in a row and must be on the precipice of being omitted. Sam Weideman seems to be the first one dropped when he doesn’t perform, and he has rarely been able to get a succession of games on the trot to truly find his feet. It will be interesting to see who takes the field next week out of these two. Either way, the Demons are slowly coming back to the pack, and what should’ve been an easy tip next week has all of a sudden become one of uncertainty. This is great for the competition, but will the return of May solve the problems, or is there more to this than we think?

 

2 – Did losing Tom Stewart almost cost Geelong the game?

I’ve talked about just how important Steven May appears to be to the Melbourne team. I have similar feelings about Tom Stewart when it comes to the Geelong defensive unit. We know he was a big loss to injury last season, and Geelong reached the finals but didn’t have a major impact in small part possibly due to his absence. Friday night saw Geelong leading by as much as 40 points in the first half around the time Stewart was subbed out of the game.

The Bulldogs were able to score a little more freely from that point and managed to reel the Cats in until the final quarter heroics from superstar Jeremy Cameron dragged them across the line by a couple of goals. It seems every club in finals contention has that one or possibly two defenders who seem to be the glue that holds the team together when the pressure’s on. Some of these types of players are hard to replace such as Jacob Weitering for the Blues and. now that he’s on the sidelines, one has the sneaking suspicion that Carlton’s season may take a bad turn.

Conversely for the Western Bulldogs, one of their issues this year has been the lack of size in their defensive unit. It was for this reason that Jeremy Cameron was able to take a stranglehold of the game finishing with six goals to snuff out the Doggies’ comeback aspirations. The Bulldogs are now sitting outside the 8 and look dangerously like missing the finals. Their next four matches include the Giants, Hawks, Brisbane and Sydney. Based on what we’ve seen so far this year, they’ll probably win two and lose two. And that right there won’t do their chances of playing in September any favours.

 

3 – Bailey Smith what were you thinking?

Now I’m not the head-butting type, but if I was, the last person I would do that to would be an Irishman. They’re a scary bunch, and if Smith thinks that Zach Tuohy isn’t looking forward to his next meeting with the Bulldogs, think again. Once he has gotten over the shock of the young Bulldog smashing his forehead into his, he’ll be quietly planning his revenge. The next time Smith and Tuohy share the same football field, a lesson will most likely be meted out. But seriously, what was the young feller thinking?

It was ugly, and I’m one of those people who think the act of head-butting somebody is almost as bad as spitting on them. He’s lucky he only has two weeks to think about his actions. But on a lighter note, the adoring throng of teenage females that love our game would’ve been looking on in horror that such an action could potentially ruin such a perfect face!

Young Smith is considered one of the best-looking roosters currently running around in the AFL, but if he continues to smash that perfectly structured face into the heads of other players, the damage to such a fine specimen will devastate the females of the AFL and quite possibly many males as well. If you haven’t already noticed around Melbourne town, there are billboards depicting Smith doing some modelling work, so it would be ill-advised to do something that could result in tarnishing a thing of beauty. Nobody will give modelling work to somebody with a crack in their forehead, even with those piercing baby blue eyes. Hopefully, he has learnt a valuable lesson, and all his adoring fans can take their hearts out of their mouths for now.

 

4 – Did West Coast play better or are Adelaide not that good?

I would say it’s a bit of both, but I would also say to anybody playing the Eagles for the remainder of the season that to take them lightly would be to do so at your peril, particularly as players start returning to the line-up. The game on Saturday had all the hallmarks of previous rounds where the Eagles had matched the all-time record of seven losses in a row by 50 or more points. Trailing by 31 points at quarter time, it looked certain to be broken, but to their credit they fought out the match and matched the scoring with the Crows for the last three quarters. It’s a sad thing when you have to praise a side for having a 31 point loss, but I guess improvement has to start somewhere. They’re a very proud club and will do whatever it takes to eke out a win or two before the season’s over. They did manage to get to within 21 points early in the last but the Crows held their nerve. The Crows will be relieved with this win. It’s their first since Round 6 so it’s always nice to break a long run of losses.

Taylor Walker came back after a week off due to COVID protocols and had an impact. There’s talk of him playing on and as yet there has been no contract signed. Without knowing what the club has in mind, I would imagine Walker would like to finish his career as a one-club player, but I also reckon there may be a club or two in the premiership window that could use another tall forward for a season or two to help them get over the line. If Walker has aspirations of playing in a winning premiership, it’s highly unlikely it will happen at the Crows, so is there a perfect storm brewing? Time will tell, but big Tex may soon lose patience with his club if they don’t put an offer on the table soon.

 

5 – Gold Coast was just two off the all-time record for inside 50’s

Even after a sluggish start where the Gold Coast just managed a single goal to North Melbourne’s 4 in the opening term, by the time the game had ended, the Suns had entered their 50 metre zone a staggering 81 times which is just two times shy of the all-time record of 83 set by Melbourne in 2018 and North Melbourne in 2013 against the Suns and GWS respectively.

Once the Suns snapped out of their slumber after quarter time they were relentless. The Roos looked like they came to play and lead by three goals at the first change. For a moment I thought the Suns of old had returned, but by halftime the planets had realigned and order was restored with the Gold Coast obliterating the Kangaroos scoring 7.7 to zilch.

The Suns now occupy tenth position on the ladder and are just a game behind the eighth-placed Magpies with the rarity of a percentage over 100!

North Melbourne really are a mess. If the coach is any good, then that means the players aren’t. Either way, it seems hopeless at least for now. Personally, I don’t see how David Noble can last. Winning isn’t everything, but all we’re looking for are signs, and there simply isn’t any. That’s when you have to wonder if the coach is getting the best out of the playing group, and for me the short answer is no. Sacking coaches is not always the answer, and he has earned the right to at least coach out the season, but if they don’t win any more games or show as little improvement as I’ve seen, then something has to give. I feel for any coach who is moved on when the side isn’t performing. I just don’t know if you can persist with something that isn’t working for too long and expect something different to happen.

 

6 – No Buddy, no problems!

I’d like to take a moment to say well done to Sam Reid. Here’s a guy who we know has ability, but he’s also been a fringe player at the Swans for some time, probably due mostly to injury. In the absence of Lance Franklin who piled on  six goals against the Tigers last week, one was wondering where Sydney’s goals might be coming from. Well, right on cue, Sam Reid stood up booting three goals, but it was also his pressure that impressed with 10 tackles. That’s a staggering amount for a tall forward.

Sam turned 30 last December and is getting towards the end of his career. This could have easily been his last year, but after Saturday and his improved form in recent weeks, he may have extended his career beyond this year. I thought he was all but gone, but he has proven me wrong and he looked great against the Demons. So, too, did Logan McDonald who also booted three after a quiet game against the Tigers.

I won’t go on any more about the troubles facing the Demons. They still sit atop the ladder a game clear and a win next week against the Magpies will get them back on track. I guess Sydney are a good side so it is not unreasonable for them to lose, but here’s some food for thought on the Demons’ year to date. Melbourne have only played three teams who currently occupy a spot in the Top 8 so far this year. And they have lost two of those games. Nine of their ten wins are against teams all sitting in the bottom half of the ladder. Let that sink in for a moment.

None of us genuine football followers really like it when they throw around the “they haven’t played anyone” terminology. You still have to perform against most sides in order to procure a win. However, in light of the past fortnight, the reality of their poor record against the better teams, this information can’t be ignored. By the end of the year they may have a much better record against the better teams and I’ll be eating these words. The other question I have in all this is how did last year’s premiers seemingly get handed what appears to be a favourable draw?

 

7 – Nick Daicos has lived up to the hype

Were it not for the father-son factor, Nick Daicos may well have been the number one draft pick in last year’s draft. With his brother Josh already playing, it was always going to be certain he’d up in the black and white, but what none of us really knew is how long he’d take to find his feet and if he was going to do well with all the pressure that comes with such high expectation. I think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t disappointed. In fact, no matter how good a young debutante is, not many play in Round One in their first season and remain in the side through the first 11 rounds. And not only that, in Sunday’s game against the Hawks, he had 36 possessions and was arguably the best player on the ground.

So well done to the young feller. He’s a gun and is more than worthy of wearing the number 35 made famous by his superstar Dad. I just hope Josh isn’t the jealous type, although he goes all right too. The Hawks looked pretty much down and out early in this game, but as we’ve come to know from them in various outings this year, they don’t give up too often. They had their chances to take the points, even leading by as much as 11 points late in the game, but the Pies just seemed to want it that little bit more.

And hats off to Oliver Henry who just a few short weeks ago looked like he couldn’t hit the side of a barn when lining up for goal. Since that fateful day in Perth where he came on as a sub and booted four goals he’s been able to kick truly at the right time, including the final goal that put his team in front late in the final term. The Magpies are now sitting in the 8 and have to take on ladder leader Melbourne next round. They’ll enter this game knowing Melbourne is gettable and also knowing they are playing some good football. I’m actually looking forward to having a quiet Monday at home and watching this game.

 

8 – The Docker defence doesn’t always get the credit it deserves

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that most premiership teams have a great defensive unit. If that was the main criteria for premiership success, then the Dockers would be worthy of shortened odds for the ultimate prize. Only Melbourne has had less scored against them than Fremantle this year, and that’s only by two points. They are averaging just 62.4 points against so far this year. So who is the Fremantle defence? A lot of us Victorians probably aren’t terribly familiar with these guys. Let’s start with Luke Ryan. Very consistent and reliable player off the half-back line. He’s been partnering up with Brandon Walker rebounding and setting up attacks from defence.

Your talls in defence are the evergreen Alex Pearce, and now you also have Brennan Cox who we thought was a forward but is now playing his best footy down back. Hayden Young had 23 possessions in a back pocket and worked hard all day. These guys are hardly household names, yet they’re getting the job done every week. As much as we love players like Andrew Brayshaw getting 30-40 possessions, I’m sure within the club’s inner sanctum the defenders are regarded just as highly as their mids.

Brisbane weren’t terrible on Sunday. They had their chances but just lost it due to a few bursts by the Dockers which resulted in a flurry of goals, mainly during the third term. That’s another aspect of Freo from previous years that was missing: the ability to score quickly. Both Brisbane and Fremantle look like Top 4 sides and what we saw at Optus Stadium this week was the closest thing yet to a finals preview. The standard was high, the skills were good, and the pressure was something to behold. In Round 15 Brisbane have to venture to the MCG to take on the Demons. We’re going to learn a great deal about both sides that night.

 

9 – Mid-season draft is a good thing

A lot can happen during a season, particularly things like injuries. You may find yourself at the halfway point of the season with huge troubles having lost a few key players. Due to the constraints placed on AFL clubs in terms of compiling player lists, even the best-prepared list manager will have limitations that will, at some point, stretch the depth of his roster.

There is no case clearer in this year’s mid-season draft as the Carlton Football Club. Their tall defence stocks are depleted so badly that they were left with just one tall defender who has played just 32 games with 4 more experienced tall defenders all unavailable through injury, including the All-Australian fancy in Jacob Weitering. They’ve been able to secure the services of former North Melbourne tall defender Sam Durdin. It will be interesting to see if he can slot straight into the team come Round 13 against the Bombers.

Caleb Marchbank has recommenced playing in the VFL but has already had a knock which is slowing his progress into full fitness. But, at least now, the Blues may have an option. Perhaps the mid-season draft could go further. Some of the bottom teams such as the Kangaroos and Eagles could really do with some bolstering. A lot of discarded players running around in the second-tier comps have possibly matured somewhat from their first tilt at AFL level and could succeed with a second chance with a bigger body and more settled mindset. In saying that, I’m not so sure I like the idea being touted of a mid-season trade period. Just imagine if a team looking for a ruckman pinched somebody like Todd Goldstein off the Roos. It would just seem wrong to do. But they say it’s coming. Time will tell.

 

10 – Jumping out to a five-goal lead early in a game seems dangerous

Is it just me, or has there been an inordinate number of games this year where sides have jumped out to considerable leads only to see their lead evaporate resulting in a loss or a narrow win? It certainly seems to be that way. In three out of the six games played on the weekend, we had this scenario occur. Friday night’s clash between the Cats and the Bulldogs saw Geelong get out as much as 40 points ahead. They eventually ran out winners by 13 points, but not before the Bulldogs got to within a kick late in the game. Melbourne lead Sydney by 26 points early in the second term and eventually lost by 12 points. The Demons had six goals on the board by the first minute of the second quarter and managed just three more for what was almost three full quarters of the game.

On Sunday, Collingwood lead by 30 points midway through the second term. The Hawks fought back and actually lead by as much as 11 points midway through the last quarter before the Pies worked their way to victory by four points with two last quarter goals. This seems to be a growing trend in 2022 more so than previous seasons. Last week the Tigers gave up a 30-point lead before half-time against the Swans. The Blues have seen even bigger leads whittled down to less than a kick but have managed to hold on so far for wins. My point is that leading by around 30 points early in a game may be desirable, but sides would do well to remember all the games where those leads have been eroded with unexpected results on the back of it.

Momentum is a funny thing when you consider how a team may dominate for periods of the game and be dominated in other parts and playing inexplicably poorly after doing so well early. The sports psychologist who can tap into the reasoning behind why teams do this would be an instant millionaire.

 

 

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