On Fire / Under Fire – Round 22

Just two rounds to go in the 2022 AFL season and for some, things are heating up. For others… it’s time to cool right off.

That doesn’t stop Jimmy Ayres and his combination flamethrower/warm hug provider. Who gets which this week? Let’s find out.




On Fire – Rory Laird

Gee, it’s hard to go past him, isn’t it? The midfield battle in this game was an intriguing one, but Laird pulled no punches in his 200th game, on his way to 36 disposals, ten clearances, five tackles and a couple of goals in a dominant first quarter.


Under Fire – Taylor Walker

The Crows veteran forward has been in brilliant touch once again this season, but Eagles defender Tom Barrass held Walker to only five touches and a single goal for the day, severely limiting the impact of the former Adelaide captain.



On Fire – Zac Bailey

The game wasn’t quite the shootout between big forwards that I envisioned, but where there is a will, there is Zac Bailey popping up for four vital goals in the second and third quarters when the Blues began to press their comeback. Aided by four goals from Dan McStay, the wantaway forward’s best return since Round 20 of last year, the Lions stroked away to a ten-goal lead in the third quarter on the back of some brilliance from Zac Bailey, and looked a lot closer to the side that I tipped to make the Grand Final at the beginning of this season.


Under Fire – Joe Daniher

The former Bomber was restrained brilliantly by the Blues defence, held goalless for the second time this season (excluding the Round 6 game that he left the field early with injury), and for only the second time in a home and away game since crossing over to the Lions for the 2021 season.



On Fire – Jacob Weitering

With the ball spending a lot of time in the Blues’ back line, Jacob Weitering and Mitch McGovern had their backs forced to the wall relentlessly for the second week in a row, as the Lions scoring onslaught hit them from every angle. A number of wayward entries were plucked off by an attentive Weitering, the former #1 pick taking nine defensive marks, four of which were contested, to lead all comers on the ground.


Under Fire – The Entire Midfield

I’m unsure whether the weight of expectation after a strong start to the season that took most by surprise has begun to take its toll on the Carlton midfield, but they were utterly smashed by the Lions out of the centre, with the home side taking the advantage of clearances from the centre 24-8 for the game. It’s the second week in a row that the Blues have been figuratively beaten up in the midfield, and it’s earned them costly losses in both games.



On Fire – Jamie Elliot

In his 150th game, Jamie Elliot was mercurial inside the forward line for the Magpies. The presence and pressure from the crafty forward were undeniable as Elliot was able to turn every tackling opportunity into a shot on goal, finishing with four majors, three of which were the direct result of a free kick from his tackling.


Under Fire – Will Hoskin-Elliott

Once again, without being accused of singling out a whipping boy for each side, I fail to see the importance of a player such as Will Hoskin-Elliott to this Collingwood side, especially with such regular minimal impact. Out of contract at the end of this season and I’m not convinced yet that he’ll be there next year.



On Fire – Sam Durham

If Mark McVeigh had the guts to single out a handful of players that actually had a crack for the Giants a fortnight ago, I would love to have heard Ben Rutten’s similarly honest opinion of his own players when facing the Giants a week later. Personally, I could only single out a similar number of players that had a red hot crack, and Sam Durham would be in the upper echelon of those chosen. Playing a universal role this season, but culminating as a Bash ‘Em Brother style of floating wingman in the latter parts has seen a new side to the mid-season recruit from last year’s game. There’s nothing particularly pretty about the former VFL Tiger’s style of play, but he’s unafraid to put his body on the line and runs both ways without hesitation.

Shoutout to Matt Guelfi kicking a career-best four goals and looking like one of the only forward half players willing to put some influence on the opposition defenders.


Under Fire – Predictability

If you’ve watched Essendon closely enough over the past 20 years, then you too could script their games like a Benny Hill feature film with absolute accuracy. An opposition coach from a lowly side publicly whacks his players a week ago, that same coach happens to be an Essendon stalwart. The media subject him to their standard witch trials when they disagree with a senior coach and subsequently spend the week berating him. The players of the opposition side are buoyed to stand up after the controversy and are expected to come out firing. Which team is as good as a certainty to choose this particular scenario as a time to neglect their systems and slip back into making the same fundamental errors that have seen them languish in the bottom four for the best part of the season?

Is it:


  1. Essendon
  2. The Bombers
  3. The Same Olds
  4. Any Of The Above



On Fire – The Back Line

Luke Ryan was first choice in my notes during the game to get a mention here, but by the time the final siren sounded I had also added Heath Chapman and Jordan Clark to the shortlist. The defensive trio was outstanding to watch, especially in the third and fourth quarters when the Bulldogs began charging and looked to be mounting a comeback with every inside 50 kicked, only to be chopped off or spoiled by one of the aforementioned three. Ryan led the way, but the aerial prowess of Chapman and the run from Clark showed why Fremantle supporters feel so buoyed by their defensive six when at full flight.


Under Fire – Matt Taberner

I’m convinced that Matt Taberner’s body is made of glass. Just when the forward gets a decent run at things, something else lets him down. After kicking two early goals, including a terrific set shot from hard on the boundary, Taberner was subbed off with a calf injury, just to further add to his back and hamstring troubles that have seen him miss seven games so far this season.



On Fire – Isaac Smith

When the last of a dying breed of dedicated wingmen crossed over from the Hawks, many thought it would be a few seasons of stat-gathering before a prompt retirement – Wrong! Isaac Smith hasn’t just improved his own game since crossing over to the Cats, the veteran has also managed to improve Geelong, complimenting their game style and providing that age is really just a number at Kardinia Park.


Under Fire – Opposition Come September

With it looking less and less likely that Geelong will be able to host their home finals in Geelong, I still pity any side that has to come up against the ladder leaders come finals time. Missing Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Mark Blicavs and Gary Rohan, the Cats didn’t look off the pace for a single second against the Saints. If there is a year that the Cats break through their recent run of finals heartache, it ought to be this one going off their current form.


Gold Coast

On Fire – Elijah Hollands

After the beginning of his career was savaged with injury, Elijah Hollands finally made his debut three weeks ago against the Lions, and showed us exactly why he was such a highly touted recruit, being taken at Pick #7 in the 2020 National Draft. The 20-year-old was huge in this first half and finished the game with 23 disposals, nine marks, five score involvements, three tackles and two goals to go with his 520+ metres gained. I loved the way he went about it and look forward to seeing more of the young mid next year after a full, uninterrupted preseason.


Under Fire – Matt Rowell

Maybe it’s because we were spoilt by seeing exactly how good Rowell can play when unleashed in a different role, but it just feels like we are seeing one of the best young talents in the game toiling away, playing a role that doesn’t overly benefit himself, nor the self-confidence of the young player.



On Fire – Jesse Hogan

For a side that has been underwhelming for the best part of the season, Jesse Hogan has quietly strung together quite the impressive season, kicking 30 goals and averaging better in both regular and contested marks combined than the forward has since 2018 – the most recent of three times that he has managed 20+ games in a season out of the nine years spent on an AFL list.


Under Fire – Those Who Clipped McVeigh

Taking into account that if any opposition side was going to falter at a team fired up by internal challenging and external condemnation; it would be Essendon, the Giants came out and did exactly what Mark McVeigh implored them to do and made obvious tweaks to their game plan that returned the result the Giants needed most.



On Fire – Jack Gunston

Another five-goal haul from Gunston to make it 11 goals from his past three games, the first time the veteran forward has kicked multiple bags of 5+ in a season since 2018.


Under Fire – Jarman Impey

Sometimes I watch Impey play and I think, this ruthless approach is exactly why Hawthorn got you over from Port Adelaide back in 2017. Other times, like the Gold Coast game on the weekend, I’m left puzzled and can’t help but wonder what’s stopping him from reaching those levels that I know he’s capable of. That paired with some horrible decision-making off the ball when things aren’t going his way.



On Fire – Max Gawn

There wasn’t much more that the Melbourne captain could have done against the Magpies, he got the best of both Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron in the ruck, whilst also registering 31 disposals, 27 hitouts, 10 marks (four contested), 10 clearances, eight score involvements, five intercepts and three tackles. Despite some of his kicks leaving a little to be desired, it was a strong game from the best ruckman in the competition.


Under Fire – Ed Langdon

Quack, quack.

Despite the result for Demons fans, wasn’t it a great game on Friday night? Langdon’s comments during the week about Collingwood being one-trick ponies and referring to their all-or-nothing game style as all duck or no dinner, set the stage to take this game to new personal levels, and the Collingwood players and fans alike sure let him know exactly how well how comments were received. As a neutral fan, it made the game an even greater spectacle and I think there should be more of it.


North Melbourne

On Fire – Souvv

Like an American scarecrow, Nick Larkey was outstanding in his field against the Swans. After copping some criticism for his poor return against the Bombers last round, Larkey had four goals to his name by halftime and finished the game with seven on the board along with three big, contested marks and some excellent leading from the 24-year-old, who’s seven goals made up 55% of his side’s score for the day.


Under Fire – Jaidyn Stephenson

I’ve made it well known in the past that I won’t ride the media hype train and clip a player just because it’s topical to do so that the time. But bugger me if Jaidyn Stephenson didn’t make some of the most fundamentally frustrating errors that you could imagine on the field against the Swans. After a poor kick in was directly turned over to Buddy Franklin in the forward line (a basic skill error that’s forgivable on its own), Stephenson turned his back on Franklin and stood facing the goals with his hands on his head as the superstar forward strolled into an otherwise undefended goal, kicking the ball straight over Stephenson’s head and clipping the young Too on the way through. There were numerous other incidents further up the ground that only went to prove what I’ve said many times in the past: the chasm between Jaidyn Stephenson’s best football and his worst is the biggest disparity of any player in the AFL. I have no doubt of his talent and ability, I’ve seen it first hand. But when he makes mistakes, they are costly.


Port Adelaide

On Fire – Willem Drew

When the game was on the line early, I thought Drew showed a ferocity around the ball that I hadn’t seen for some time from the 23-year-old. There were a number of clearances that made me wonder why we don’t see this more often, but also a streak of ruthlessness about his tackling, laying 6 tackles before halftime and looking like a constant threat out on the wing.


Under Fire – Defensive Ball Movement

The best teams in the League are able to transition the ball out of their defence effectively and efficiently, it’s become a trademark of a successful AFL game plan. Port Adelaide struggled immensely against the Tigers when it came to not just getting the ball out of their defence, but making the next move to set up play from that point. The unrelenting pressure of the Tigers, especially in the third quarter, caused errors and panic time and time again and led to a strong source of scoring for the opposition.



On Fire – Trent Cotchin

One of the former captain’s best games of the season I felt. Cotchin won plenty of his own ball, but was deadly going forward, setting up three direct goals and being involved in six other scoring chains, the veteran Tiger looked well and truly at his old-time best as Port Adelaide had little to answer for the Tigers’ dominance, especially in the third quarter when the travelling side for out on a run, kicking seven of eight goals in a row for the term.


Under Fire – Those Who Doubt Shai Bolton

This isn’t really the right place for what I am about to write, but it’s my article so I guess I’ll construct it as I see fit. There has been a lot of media chatter around Shai Bolton potentially being the best player in the competition, a notion that was coined as a strong possibility by our very own fearless leader HB a season or two ago. Whilst many who read such comments baulk and laugh at the idea, I personally don’t think the suggestion is overly inaccurate. Bolton has now kicked 39.39 for the season. Despite the level of inaccuracy, when judging a small forward alone that is an outstanding return – but we don’t judge Bolton as just a small forward, do we? Even if you were to isolate his efforts against Port Adelaide on the weekend, Bolton, who kicked 4.5 was involved in 10 separate scoring chains. On top of that, when thrown in the midfield or working up the ground, he was able to win four clearances from his 17 disposals (11 of which were contested) and take two contested marks.


What we are seeing is a highly versatile 23-year-old that has freakish ability around goals, is slippery as a bar of soap when a tackle on him is attempted, proficient enough to win his own ball in a contested situation and hold his own as a standalone midfielder. If Bolton isn’t already in true conversations as the most versatile forward half player in the competition, then he damn well should be.


St. Kilda

On Fire – Rowan Marshall

The Saints’ primary ruckman has shown over the past month that he has well and truly found his legs to take the mantle as sole ruckman in the absence of Paddy Ryder. Although the two together still form a terrific partnership when Ryder is fit, Marshall has at least signalled in the latter part of this season that he is competent at holding down the ruck department on his own, especially given that Ryder will be 35 by the time he takes the field next season.


Under Fire – Costly Turnovers

Let’s be honest, there were a number of key areas where the Saints dropped the ball against the Cats, but the horrible turnovers that kickstarted the home sides run of nine straight goals in the second half proved to be a catalyst as Geelong made the most of a timid looking St. Kilda, ultimately running the game out with ease.



On Fire – Lance Franklin & Tom Hickey

The superstar forward looked at his ultimate best once again, against a side that he has historically tortured over the years, kicking 4.3 and being the ever-dangerous forward half threat that he has been for the best part of 17 years.

I thought Tom Hickey showed a hell of a lot in the ruck, especially against a quality opponent such as Todd Goldstein. It was one of the Sydney ruckman’s best games since his return from injury earlier in the season.


Under Fire – James Rowbottom

At halftime I had Rowbottom’s name written amongst my notes as his hard work had really impressed me, however, the asterisk next to his name was jotted down due to the poor disposal that plagued his game. I really liked what I saw from the young midfielder, but his execution at the last moment really let him down on a day that was otherwise full of highlights.


West Coast

On Fire – Josh Kennedy

All hail the King of the West. Josh Kennedy hangs up his boots as one of the best forwards of his generation, and does so in emphatic style, as his teammates continually sought him out to add to his ever-growing goal tally. Like an Adelaide pre-season camp, Kennedy tortured the Crows on his way to kicking 8.2 as the curtains draw on a terrific career.


Under Fire – Bailey Williams

That missed goal in the final quarter alone was a massive opportunity gone begging, especially one that could have edged the Eagles within a kick of sending off Josh Kennedy with a win.


Western Bulldogs

On Fire – Bailey Smith

One of the social media sensation’s best games since his month off, Smith showed us glimpses of his dash and dare that tantalised us during last year’s finals series. With Josh Dunkley providing help, Bailey Smith looked to be absolutely everywhere, winning the ball around the ground, showing off his signature burst of speed and slotting a goal early in the game.


Under Fire – Allowing Forwards Space

The Fremantle forward line was afforded far too much time and space by the Bulldogs, making the most of their forward entries, the Dockers were able to take twice as many marks inside 50 as the Dogs, with defensive structure once again coming under fire for Luke Beveridge.


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