We’re one round away from finals – you’d think Gab Rossi would have learnt everything there is to know about the season by this point, right?
Here’s what he picked up after Round 22.
1 -The Saints will not play finals.
The Saints entered Round 22 requiring to win its remaining two games to get into the eight. If there are any of you who might think a win next week against the Swans might get them in, provided other results go their way, you’d be wrong. St Kilda’s percentage is well below that of the teams in contention to the point where they would need to beat the Sydney Swans by 20-plus goals, and I don’t even think that would be possible even if a massive COVID-outbreak ravaged the club. Even a plane delay where the Swans rolled up at quarter time might not be enough. So, sadly for Saints fans, it looks like a case of another year of what-ifs and missed opportunity after being so well placed at 8-3 after Round 11. I might sound like a broken record, but I will remain baffled by the decision to extend Brett Ratten’s contract at the time it was done.
The second half of this season has seen, at times, a dramatic drop-off in form that is concerning enough to wonder if they have the right man at the helm. Those within the club have a better idea than me no doubt, and Ratten is not the only problem facing St Kilda. I just think they went a bit early on their decision. Perhaps they still think it’s the right one, but if they’re now having doubts after what has been a poor run with just three wins from their last ten games, if they wish to reconsider, it’s going to get messy.
Brisbane are an interesting one. We’ve seen them cough up a big lead in their loss to the Tigers. Against the Blues they allowed them to get to within 15 points after heading into the final quarter with a commanding 57 point lead. and against St Kilda they had a lapse in the thrid term as the Saints kicked four unanswered goals and lead by 5 points at 3/4 time before the Lions regained control and eventually won by 15 points. Brisbane have also been questionable away from home winning just five from ten games on the road. Their best is very good, but they need to improve away from the GABBA, and they won’t win too many games come finals time if they continue to go missing for a quarter or more. This win against St Kilda had merit as they were challenged and fought back, but it’s going to take more than that to prevent another disappointing finals campaign. Special mentions in this game start with the continued rise of Cam Rayner. His four-goal second half with the game on the line was special, and it would seem that his number 1 pick status from the 2017 national draft is looking like bearing fruit at last.
For the Saints, it looks like they might have found themselves a gem in young Windhager. Not too many players this season can lay claim to getting the better of Lachie Neale, but he certainly did just that. The Brownlow fancy managed just 16 possessions while the emerging Saints star had 21 of his own in a near-perfect tagger’s game. You’ll be searching long and hard to find games where Neale has had less than 20 touches.
2 – The Giants are so boring to watch
GWS clearly came into this game with a strategy that nearly paid dividends. Possess the ball at all costs and don’t let the game open up into a free-flowing contest. They clearly recognised the Bulldogs’ strength was their run and quick ball movement. The end result was a dour low-scoring affair. For the first 70 minutes of the game there were just eight goals scored before a 20-minute period to end the third term where nine goals were scored. When the game did open up a bit the Giants seemed to cope just fine. They kicked five goals to four during this period only to go back into their shell in the final term and fail to score a goal while the Dogs only managed one. Luckily for their finals chances, it was enough to get them over the line, but you won’t see a more painful last quarter in a tight contest than this one.
By the end of the game, the Giants had 49 more possessions than the Dogs with a staggering 165 marks for the game. This was on the back of a gameplan that involved a succession of short kicks to players in space. The entire last quarter was a succession of plays with the Giants kicking sideways for the most part with the Bulldogs sweating on them to eventually make a mistake, which they invariably did. One gets the feeling while watching this game that the result may have been different if the Giants were actually prepared to take the occasional risk. But it wasn’t to be and the Dogs are now still alive in the race to September.
Bontempelli played a key role in getting the Dogs across the line as good leaders do, but it did look like he was playing sore and one wonders if there may be an injury concern that could put him in doubt for their vital clash against the Hawks in Tassie. For the Giants, it’s finally good to see Josh Kelly stringing a few quality games together. I expect a revitalised GWS unit will have a better season next year and he will be part of the reason.
3 – Ben Cunnington must play on next year
One can be forgiven for thinking that Ben Cunnington is older than 31. I know I did before Wikipedia set me straight. It might have something to do with his premature baldness or the fact he’s been a stalwart of the Kangaroos since 2010. Whatever the case, we are all well aware of what he has had to deal with in his personal life, and his return to the AFL was a true sight for sore eyes. Considering he has been absent for 13 months, it was a pretty solid game and he didn’t look off the pace. He managed 17 touches, spent some time in the middle and looked like he belonged there. From what I’ve seen, I sincerely hope he’s not planning on hanging up the boots at the end of the season. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge him that option after all he’s been through, but I think he would go a long way to improving North Melbourne’s fortunes in 2023.
With a bit more game time, I’m sure he would prove to still be amongst the best players at the club, and a midfield with him alongside Davies-Uniacke and Simpkin would be ominous. Here’s hoping he’s going to play on.
The Crows might count themselves a little lucky. The Roos kept pace with them for three quarters and looked a chance to cause an upset, but injuries meant that early in the third term they had just one fit player to rotate on the bench. The Crows took full advantage and ran away with the game with a five-goal to nil final term. Darcy Fogarty booted another four and is enjoying his most consistent period at the top level. The showdown next round may be a dead rubber, but I am certain it means a lot to the Crows and they’ll take out all stops to end the season with a win.
As for North, they have improved enough late in the year to possibly fancy themselves a chance of winning against the Suns at Marvel next Saturday and avoiding the embarrassment of back-to-back wooden spoons. Hopefully, Ben will have a blinder and be a part of a victory.
4 – Looks like the Suns might have set
After Round 17, the Suns were just a game outside the eight with eight wins and what appeared to be a relatively favourable draw. Many were seduced into thinking their form was strong enough to possibly win four or five of their remaining six games to propel them into September action, but they’ve fallen well short winning just one of their last five. Whilst Geelong are proving to be the best side going around at the moment, it was obvious early in this clash that the Suns were just not competitive.
The game was all but over at quarter time and the Cats eventually coasted to a ten-goal win without really having to raise a sweat. The sad thing for Gold Coast will be that not only have they missed out on finals, they look likely to not have improved on their best ever season where they finished 12th with 10 wins. That. of course, is providing they can beat the Kangaroos next week and that’s no certainty either.
The Cats have a very interesting decision to make with respect to what they do in their final round clash against the struggling Eagles. They have an unassailable lead at the top of the ladder, so will they be resting a bunch of players in the lead-up to the finals, or will they just go into it as business as usual knowing there is a week off after Round 23? Whilst it would be great to go into the finals with fresh players coming off a two-week hiatus, does not playing football for three weeks do more harm than good? Certainly, anyone with niggling injuries will be rested, but it might not be a VFL team that hits the field despite the fact that the result of this game will have little or no consequence.
5 – Teams with better leadership win the close ones
When Carlton lead by eight points with just three minutes to go, many thought the finals drought was over. Carlton supporters knew better as they know it’s a club still trying hard to shake off a losing culture that has plagued them for some twenty years now.
What went wrong in the last three minutes?
Well, even though this wasn’t the only factor, what was apparent was a genuine difference in onfield leadership between the two teams. Max Gawn made his presence more than felt during that period. In every contest he was involved in, and there were several, he pushed the ball forward and almost singlehandedly willed his team across the line. As far as he was concerned, the Dees would not be denied. Conversely, Patrick Cripps who had a great night it must be said, was virtually unsighted during that period. I’m certainly not blaming the guy solely for the loss, but the difference between the two leaders was stark. And the final result was no surprise.
The Blues now have to wait one more week to know if they will play finals or not for the first time since 2013. They let a huge opportunity slip but must take some heart for what was a much better game than their previous two efforts. One gets the feeling that if they bring that effort again against the Magpies they’re more than a chance.
Melbourne have a battle against the Lions next week for a place in the Top 4. Brisbane at home will be a far cry from their dismal performance in their previous encounter. It looms as a great game, as does the Sunday game between the Blues and Pies. This has been one of the most interesting seasons in recent times. It will be a shame if Carlton miss out as they have spent every single round this year in the 8, but they’ll only have themselves to blame.
And as for the leadership issue, hopefully, the lessons of games like Saturday night may instil some much-needed knowledge into their group of leaders.
6 – One gets the feeling the WA teams don’t like each other
I wonder what AFL fans living in Melbourne would be like if there were just two teams represented in Victoria. In Perth and Adelaide, when it comes to their respective Derby and Showdown games. both crowds are feral, and the hatred between fans more than spills out onto the playing arena. Even when you have a side with just two wins on the board, it seems to matter little. It took just ten minutes for a melee to occur and there was plenty of spite throughout the game.
The Dockers took the points breaking an 11-game winning streak by their crosstown rivals last season, which may have come as a surprise to many. And unless the Eagles can resurrect their playing group in a hurry, we may be witnessing the start of a reversal of that streak. Three in a row now for the Dockers.
Sean Darcy won the Glendinning/Allan medal for best afield honours and is emerging as one of the premier ruckmen in the AFL. The Dockers will go in favourites for their final game against the Giants away from home. If they were to win that, a Top 4 spot is still up for grabs which would be just reward for what has been a great season despite a few lapses in form. The problem may well be that if they were to finish fourth, it would be a tough clash against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium. Maybe they will go into that game with some confidence having been successful at the same venue earlier this year, although the side they met on that occasion is vastly different to the much stronger unit running around at present.
7 – Tom Lynch is on fire
The Tigers spearhead is in career-best form and was completely dominant in the Tigers’ crushing win over the Hawks. He finished with eight goals and, after missing a lot of football this year, finds himself just seven behind leader Charlie Curnow. Is he making a late charge? It might be beyond him, but another game like this one against the Bombers in Round 23 and you never know.
Richmond seemed to have rectified their issues losing those close games and seem to be hitting their top form at the right time. The Tigers will most likely finish 7th and may cause a few headaches if they can maintain this level. A lot has seemed to click for them at the right time. One wonders if Dusty is available for the finals…
The Hawks were blown away early. Blues fans looking on would be fearing the worst come next week as it looks very much as though the Bulldogs won’t have too much trouble based on what we saw on Sunday.
Next year, the Hawks will be without Ben McEvoy which will leave a gaping hole in their ruck stocks. Hopefully, their younger guys coming through will step up. Reeves has shown promise at times but it’s early in his development. The Hawks do still look a fair bit off the pace and will need a huge preseason, as well as good trades and draft picks to advance on this year’s return.
The Tigers can breathe a sigh of relief after their horror run with close losses. They’ll be playing finals so it’s all behind them now.
8 – The Swans are the real deal
Sydney have had patches of indifferent form during the season. In fact, after their shock loss to the Bombers in Round 16, they were sitting precariously in 8th spot with nine wins and many thought they’d fade away to also-ran status. They’ve now managed to string six wins together which has catapulted them into 2nd spot. With one game remaining against out-of-form St Kilda at Marvel Stadium next Saturday, unless they slip up and put in a shocker, they look likely to be hosting a final in Week One.
It’s a significant rise for a season that looked at the crossroads after their last loss. It’s also made even more significant when you consider that Sydney finished in the bottom four in 2019 and 2020. However, under the watch of John Longmire, Sydney have never stayed down too long unlike many of the other clubs in the AFL. It’s a testament to their system and culture. It’s simply amazing that here we are talking about the Swans as flag contenders.
The dream run of 11 straight wins has finally come to an end for Collingwood. So many close wins surely couldn’t be sustained. This game looked lost midway through the third quarter only to see them rally late to go into the final break trailing by just 23 points. Many watching the game were sensing another revival and potential come from behind victory brewing, but this Swans unit might be becoming too professional to squander good leads on the eve of the finals.
They may have provided a blueprint for teams taking on the Pies in the next few weeks. The normally damaging Nick Daicos was kept to 20 touches. Sydney’s defence was relentless all day demonstrated by the manner in which Dane Rampe ran down Mihocek in the last quarter snuffing out any slim chance the Pies may have had for victory.
So now we have the Swans as a genuine flag contender. Should they go all the way, does Buddy still move on? Surely not. The big guy should take his $500k salary and play out his last days in the AFL as a Swan. He already walked away from one club that won two flags in a row after his departure.
9. The Bombers appear to have put the cue in the rack
The Bombers hit a patch of good form from Rounds 14 to 20 where they won five games from seven. Their loss to Collingwood should never have happened and it arguably should have been six wins. Since their win in Round 20 against North Melbourne, they look nothing like a team searching for any more wins. Their loss to the struggling Giants in Round 21 was disappointing, but the huge loss to the Power this week by a whopping 84 points, their biggest loss for the season, tells me the Bombers are eyeing off the finish line and can’t wait for Mad Monday.
It’s a shame, because the Bombers have a big fixture in Round 23 against the Tigers, but Essendon don’t look as though they might be interested in having any say on how the eight might look.
The Power take on the Crows in a showdown that will bear no significance on the finals this year, but that won’t stop the parochial SA fans coming out in big numbers in what will no doubt be the closest thing Adelaide people will experience to a finals like atmosphere this year. It would’ve been more interesting had the Power lost this game as it would’ve had both teams on eight wins with the winner going on to finish higher on the ladder. However, that honour is certain to go to the Power as they are one win ahead of the Crows with a percentage differential that can’t be reeled in.
Still, I’m sure Crows fans will be up and about and excited by the prospect of beating Port Adelaide twice in one season. I’d also like to take a moment to sing the praises of Sam Powell-Pepper. Even though there have been times where his form has been up and down and he has struggled to cement his place in the team, I certainly think he’s in their best 22 and he has shown that in recent weeks. This week’s four-goal haul was one of his best games. He’s a bull who always goes hard. I’m a fan.
10 – It’s between Carlton and the Bulldogs for 8th spot. So, I just did a few calculations, and here’s the deal for anyone who is interested in the mathematical side of which team will finish in the eight. Obviously, after their strong win against the Hawks, the Tigers will definitely be in the finals.
If the Doggies win against the Hawks next week, and Carlton lose, the Bulldogs should leapfrog Carlton, however, there is a scenario where that won’t happen even if the results go that way. (You can put a line through St Kilda as they’re not going to beat the Swans by 20 goals or more which is what they’ll need to do if Tigers and Dogs win one more game).
Obviously a win or a draw from Carlton against Collingwood next week means they’re in. But if they were to lose, and the Dogs get up, there’s a slim possibility that a narrow loss for the Blues and a narrow win for the Dogs could still leave Carlton with a superior percentage. The differential it needs to stay within is probably around just 14-15 points. By that, I mean that the two margins added together can add up to as much as approximately 14-15 points and the Blues should still play finals.
Example 1: Dogs defeat Hawks by 2 points, 80-78. Their percentage will be 107.67 Carlton lose to the Pies by 10 points 70-80, their percentage will be 107.80.
Example 2: Dogs defeat Hawks by 11 points 96-85, their percentage will be 108.13. Collingwood defeat Carlton by 4 points 75-71, their percentage 108.17
Example 3: Dogs defeat Hawks by 14 points, 79-65, their percentage will be 108.38. Pies beat us by 2 points 91-89 and Carlton’s percentage is 108.27 – the Blues would miss out. Basically, if the Bulldogs win by anything over 14 points, the Blues would need to win or draw.