As we see in Gab Rossi’s weekly column, Ten Things I Learnt… there is a lot you can take from a round of footy. Sometimes, huge positives and sometimes… well, the opposite of positive.
Negative, I believe, is the right word.
And so it is as I look back on Round Three and what we witnessed. A premiership team collapsing to 0-3, a plucky St Kilda proving the doubters wrong, and an umpiring decision that may have cost the Giants their chance at a win.
That’s where my focus will be as I have a bit of a gander at the harsh truths of this week’s round of footy.
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THE BRISBANE FORWARD LINE IS A MESS
Okay, we’re not pulling any punches here – they were pathetic. There are no two ways about it.
The Western Bulldogs’ defence is not its strong suit. They are held together by a recruit – Liam Jones, an interceptor masquerading as a key position player – Alex Keath, and a forward who was so concerned his time in the team was coming to an end, he opted to try his hand in defence, Josh Bruce. This is a team that should be towelled up by any offence worth their salt.
But the Lions were completely toothless against the Dogs, failing time and time again to impact the game (save for five minutes of Gunston inserting himself into the action). Eric Hipwood liked an anaemic telephone pole out there, Joe Daniher blew his early chances and was offered very few thereafter, and Charlie Cameron was well-beaten on the night.
This is a team that many earmarked as a premiership fancy, but with a dysfunctional forward line, they looked absolutely inept.
It’s funny – the pundits were in agreement that the Lions’ defence was the issue to worry about. The loss of Marcus Adams was a big one to cover, but Jackson Payne has elevated his game to be a great complement to Harris Andrews. It’s the Lions’ strong suit that has let them down.
They’re ranked 14th in the league in scoring after three weeks – unfamiliar territory, and it is clear that one or two of their big forwards with decent contracts need a foot in the arse to get them moving. Does Chris Fagan have that anger? Will he call out his meandering, lumbering forwards and give them some harsh truths of his own?
I reckon they need it.
NORTH MELBOURNE ARE STILL WAY TOO SHALLOW TO CAUSE MUCH CONCERN
Take out two of the best midfielders on any side and you’re likely to see a significant drop off in form. Look at Richmond without Jacob Hopper and Dustin Martin, or West Coast without Shuey and Yeo, or St Kilda without 80% of their good players.
Okay, the last one was a bad comparison, and they have their own section below where their efforts are addressed, but North Melbourne without Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke lacked the bite they displayed in the first couple of rounds. Against pretty average competition, they were smashed around clearances, ending up with a -19 difference. That is damning.
I know a lot of North fans will rail against this opinion, but really, you were not going to push for finals this season – it is not that bad, at all, to have a few losses, as long as time is going into the kids. Still, I know that two wins to open the season can give a fair bit of false hope, and even though there would have been a little man on your shoulder, whispering in your ear and telling you not to get ahead of yourselves, 3-0 was definitely in play and I don’t blame you for getting excited
Until it wasn’t in play.
Other than Ben Cunnington, North had nobody able to get their hands on the footy at stoppages. Cunners had seven clearances to lead the game, but only Hugh Greenwood was able to join him in the top nine clearance winners in the game.
This is gonna take time, and that’s okay. Having great top liners is one thing, but having those capable of stepping in to fill the void in their absence – that’s another level altogether.
OUR UMPIRING INCONSISTENCIES ARE A JOKE
Without beating around the bush, the umpire who decided that being questioned was a form of dissent he was unwilling to tolerate should be sent a cup of concrete. Congrats mate, you cost a team a chance at winning a game they probably didn’t deserve to win.
When Stephen Coniglio got a bit lippy in the last quarter, the penalty far outweighed the offence. A gifted goal to Jesse Motlop all but finished the Giants off and gave Carlton the win they probably should have secured by themselves had they been able to kick straight.
However, this situation is EXACTLY the fear many people had when the AFL instituted yet another rule to make the players more robotic last season – that it would decide a game.
Over the first three rounds, the umpiring of dissent has been pretty good. It was a softened version of what we saw last season. If a player has oversteppped and swore at an umpire, they were penalised. If they pointed to the replay and made the ump feel like shit, they were penalised – and that was something they were going to be consistent with, but to randomly decide that a question was too much to handle….
… far out, mate – harden up and just do the job and not be a whiny little runt about it (no spelling error).
Football acts should decide games, not the irritation of an umpire. If the AFL instituted this rule to develop more respect for umpires, do you think the way this decision influenced the result enhanced that respect, or made it worse?
The answer to that will tell you that it was a crap decision.
And don’t get me started on the play-on calls in the Crows v Port game. Just idiotic umpiring in the name of speeding up the game.
THE SAINTS HAVE EXPOSED TEAMS THAT JUST DON’T WORK HARD ENOUGH
You’ve got to hand it to Ross Lyon and his boys – they are exposing teams that think they can play possession footy and coast along against a team littered with injuries.
The Saints are manic and opposition teams don’t like it at all. They’re outmanned and outgunned, but they are playing the inspired sort of football we saw from the Lyon-coached Dockers back in 2013. They don’t give a damn who you are, who you think you are, what your chances of winning the flag are, or if you SHOULD be beating them by eight goals… they take every contest on its merits and go as hard as humanly possible every single time.
Read that again – EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
There would be a lot of pride about the Saints fans at the moment. All you can ask for is that your team has a red-hot go for the entirety of the game and they are getting that, and the great results of applying that to their gameplan.
Essendon, Fremantle, and the Dogs have all been shown up by a team just willing to work harder than their opposition. The fact they’re doing this without a plethora of their stars should be something St Kilda fans can sit back and relish. I am not a Saints man, but seeing the desire of their kids to make an impact, the hard running of formerly maligned players to create for each other, and the list coming together under the vision of Ross Lyon, irrespective of how it ends up this season, is something to behold.
THE PORT MIDFIELD IS TOO DAMN SLOW
I know what you’re thinking – they have Connor Rozee in there and Zak Butters cycles through as well.
They kind of have to, because the others were so one-paced it’s not funny.
Ollie Wines is moving like a container ship at the moment and when he does get the ball, quicker players close the distance and force him to hack at the footy.
Trav Boak is starting on the bench and being shifted to the wing at points.
Willem Drew, whose defensive midfield play I love, is not gonna win any sprints, and whilst Jason Horne-Francis will be a very good player, his burst speed, tank, and defensive running, in particular, are not just there yet.
Throw in the fact that Sam Powell-Pepper is playing so well as a half forward that there is a reluctance to move him (he kicked three and went into the middle only four times for the game this weekend) and you have a midfield that can, when Rozee isn’t in control of the footy, go up and down in the one spot.
So, what’s the answer? Wines is not gonna get quicker. Nor are Boak or Drew.
Do Port need to start rotating their bald wrecking ball through the centre more often? Can they compete with Wines, Boak, and Drew one-pacing it together?
It’ll be interesting to see what Ken Hinkley comes up with over the next two weeks. Their season may depend on it.
LOSING JOEL SELWOOD IS MORE THAN LOSING A NAME ON A TEAM SHEET
Many questions are being asked about the Cats’ start to the year, with many of the experts offering reasons, or excuses, as to why Geelong are struggling.
Some say they’re “content”, having climbed the mountain and secured the flag. Others believe it is taking their veterans a while to get up and going.
Both fair points, but I reckon the one thing missing from Geelong is quite irreplaceable.
They’re missing their heart and soul.
Long term readers will be familiar with my love for Selwood. He is the greatest on-field leader I’ve seen. As a Hawthorn supporter, that may come as a surprise, given we had this Hodge bloke running around for a few years, but my vote would go to Selwood as the leader I’d follow into battle without hesitation.
Yes, they had a seasoned performer to slot in as the new skipper, but taking away what Joel Selwood meant to this team whenever he ran out onto the park is not something you can replicate just by adding the title of “captain” to someone’s name.
The former skipper was the one who would draw a line in the sand for his team and will them on. He was where the buck stopped. And he was the one others would look to when they needed inspiration.
He’d provide it, too. Every time.
Want to know what the Cats are missing?
They’re missing Joel Selwood. And that should be explanation enough.
ISAAC HEENEY IS NOT DOING ENOUGH
Danger zone, HB… danger zone.
I know he is a darling of the Swans faithful, and I know there are circumstances that may be a little beyond his control, but there is no way you can look at the first three games of 2023 and be satisfied with what Isaac Heeney is bringing to the table.
Not unless you’re very easily satisfied, I suppose.
He’s kicked four goals over the first three weeks, but has a season-high of just 12 touches and is yet to put his stamp on a contest, seemingly content to play a secondary… or even a third-ary (yes, I know it’s not a word) role to others.
That’s no issue, except for the fact that we are often told that Heeney is a superstar. Well, perhaps it is time we treat him as one and raise the expectations on him?
Yes, congestion with a plethora of big forwards operating inside 50 may be stepping on his toes, but he needs to get amongst it and start making things happen, as opposed to waiting for the game to come to him.
If he waits too long, half the season will be gone and he’ll still be trying to work out how he fits in this Sydney forward dynamic. Perhaps its time the rest of the forwards started wondering how they fit with Heeney? And that includes a bloke with over 1000 goals to his name.
FREO SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN CELEBRATING THAT WIN
They pocked up their first four points, so I understand the relief they must have been feeling… kind of like when you just make it to the toilet in time, but they were tested by a team that had no right to do so.
Fremantle are supposed to be a contender this season, but they owed as much to the West Coast injury list as they did their own last quarter flurry of goals.
I know a win’s a win and you take it however it comes at this level, but if Shuey and McGovern… and Cripps, and Witherden… and Ryan don’t go down injured, I am not sure Freo walk away with this win.
So yes, take the four points, bank it, and look forward to next week, because this one kind of fell into your lap, and it wasn’t at all due to your stellar play.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. West Coast’s bad luck was Freo’s good luck. Now, they have to build on it with wins they create, themselves.
WEST COAST’S DECISION TO RE-UP WITH THE OLD GUYS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE
Oh yes, we’ll hear this one come up quite a bit as the injury toll mounts.
I’ve heard a few people weighing up the successful culture of the Eagles and the way they’ve refused to bottom out as indicative of the pride this organisation has in their ability to overcome.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, is it not?
Even in the preseason, we saw veterans trotted out for practice games with young players deployed off the bench. I am not sure if this was a directive from above the coach, or whether Adam Simpson believed that his best side could sneak into the top eight, but three rounds in with no Naitanui, no Yeo, no McGovern, no Shuey tells a pretty sombre tale.
The silver lining is that this forces the hand of the Eagles, and perhaps makes them put time and energy into the kids first and foremost.
Ginbey looks good, Hewett and Long had moments and Chesser… well, I like his sheets. Just kidding – he had a rough game this week, but he’ll be fine, too.
Time to invest in the future, make some tough decisions in relation to the past, and move this team forward.
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