Ten Things I Learnt After Round Four

  1. Brisbane are two different teams this year – home and away

I know this is an early call, but so far the disparity in form from this year’s Lions between their home games and their away matches is stark. Round One against the Power in Adelaide was insipid, to say the least against a team that have barely fired a shot since. Last week’s encounter against the Bulldogs was a tight affair, but they still only managed seven goals in that game. In fact, the Lions have scored just 18 goals from their two matches on the road against 32 goals in their home games. When you consider that their two home wins are against the teams many are already suggesting might play off in this year’s Grand Final, it becomes even more remarkable.

They’ll be on the road the next two weeks taking on the Kangaroos in Adelaide followed by the Giants at Manuka Oval in Canberra. I expect them to win both of those games and buck this trend of away losses, but boy won’t tongues be wagging if they dropped even just one of these games. However, if Cam Rayner puts in another blinder as he did on Thursday, and Charlie Cameron continues on with his six-goal form, they should be 4-2 by Round Six and their season will likely be back on track. Collingwood did come into this game without a recognised ruckman, so first use of the ball was going to be a potential issue. McInerney was dominant in the hit-out department, but early on the Pies looked like it wasn’t going to be an issue as they lead at quarter-time and looked on track for a possible win. Brisbane kept the Pies goalless for a quarter and a half from that point on while scoring 10 goals of their own. It was pretty much game over from that point, although they would’ve been nervous at ¾ time with a 30-point lead against a team who made coming back from a similar margin to win last year look almost easy. But not this time. Not against Brisbane at home, anyway.

Nick Daicos was superb again with 38 touches and two majors, although during the entire second quarter where Brisbane dominated, he only managed one possession. I’m sure 16 other coaches will be watching tapes of that quarter in the lead-up to a clash against the Pies. It’s hard to believe that somebody in just his second season can be as dominant as he is, and barring injury, the Brownlow engravers may go early. As for Collingwood moving forward, they have a huge fortnight ahead against the Saints and Bombers. Will the depleted ruck division be a factor in derailing their season, or will they bounce back to their winning ways despite this? This loss is by no means a disaster, but the ruck dominance by Brisbane must be weighing on McRae’s mind.


  1. We’re still not convinced that the Blues are the real deal

The Blues are looking good sitting second on the ladder without a loss after Round Four, and supporters have every right to be optimistic. A quick look at their mediocre percentage will tell you that they have been winning games by small margins. Having drawn with Richmond in Round One, percentage may not be as crucial to their chances of playing finals, but a quick look at the sides they’ve beaten suggests when they face the better teams such as Collingwood, Melbourne, or even the Saints, they may struggle. So far, they’ve beaten an out-of-form Geelong by eight points, a struggling Giants by 10, and after a burst of good football after halftime against the Kangaroos that saw them lead by as much as 46 points, the final margin of 23 points was indicative of their last season’s form where they won many games by playing one or two big quarters and being fairly ordinary for the rest of the match. They had North Melbourne on the ropes midway through the final term and didn’t finish the job.

Harry and Charlie had 10 goals between them and were on fire, sending a signal to the rest of the competition that they were going to destroy teams. The Blues took their foot off the pedal as they often did last year. It’s good that they’re winning, but going over to Adelaide next week will be a huge test. If the Blues are a true finals contender, they win that game, even if Harry McKay misses that match.

The Crows’ recent record against the Blues is strong. Carlton lost in Adelaide last year and can look at that game as the one that cost them finals. A loss next week will see the Blues fall back into the pack. Thursday night will reveal where Carlton are really at.

No doubt North Melbourne are a better unit under Clarkson. They transition the ball very well through the corridor and have pace in the midfield which troubled the Blues at times. Their defence was a little undersized against the Blues forward giants, so a strong forward set-up will always trouble them. The good news is they’re no longer the basket case they’ve been in recent times. They will definitely trouble a few teams with their run, and their skill level has improved as well. Arden Street was clearly not a happy place, and it’s interesting how a seasoned coach can create an instant change to the culture. They look OK. Their next fortnight see them take on the Lions and the Suns. The Suns could be gettable, so if they were to win that one, they’d be pretty happy after Round 6 to be 3-3.


  1. Izak Rankine made the right move

Many questioned the Crows for the big offer they put on the table to secure the young former Sun back home. While showing promising signs up on the Gold Coast, he hadn’t been consistently performing and often found himself out of the team after a quiet game or two. So eyebrows were raised when the Crows offered the 22-year-old a reported $4million+ contract over five years. Any critics of that deal have been silenced for now as Rankine has booted 11 goals in his first four games and leads the comp in goal assists. His value to the team has been proven in spades, and now they’re winning games, there’s almost no question of his worth to the team. You have to feel for the Suns who are unable to retain so many of their stars, but there is clearly something amiss on the Gold Coast that invariably makes many who play there homesick. Adelaide’s forward line looks threatening now having scored over 100 in their two wins in the last fortnight. They may have their work cut out for them against the Carlton defence next week, but they’ll go into that game full of confidence knowing the Blues have never won a game at Adelaide Oval.

It seems all you have to do to beat the Dockers is kick 12 goals or more. They’ve only managed ten goals or less in all their losses so far this year with their only win coming against a severely injury-depleted Eagles at Optus Stadium. Losing to the Kangaroos in front of their home fans in Round Two really told the story of where they’re at, and I’m just about to put a line through them as far as finals chances go. The lack of a genuine target up forward means a lot of their forward entries are long kicks in hope.

We know Matt Taberner could be that forward, and perhaps the delivery isn’t the best, but he does seem reluctant to present and impose himself on games. He finished with two goals from sine touches which seems to be what he does most weeks with the occasional four or five goal burst here and there. Currently, the Dockers are playing like a bottom-four side. It may seem harsh, but after last year’s strong showing, at this stage, it would appear they have fallen the most of any teams with the exception of the Cats, who I feel will turn it around sooner than later. I’m happy to be proven wrong, however. They play the Suns in Adelaide next week followed by the Bulldogs at home. If they win those two games, their season will be revived. Lose one or both of those games, then my concerns will be realised.


  1. The Tigers’ season is hanging by a thread

It’s bad enough that the Tigers have had just one win and a draw from the first four games, but their next fortnight is the stuff nightmares are made of with clashes against the Swans and the Demons. Tom Lynch looks set to be on the sidelines for a number of weeks with a broken foot, so they could finish Round Six with the same number of points. The Tigers were written off at a similar stage last year, and they found a way to play finals again. Many came into this season believing the Tigers were still capable of making the Top 4, but what we’re seeing now suggests that’s way off.

It was a very odd game with the Bulldogs in control early until the Tigers slammed on seven unanswered goals in the second term as they went into the long break with a 14-point lead. In wet conditions, all they could manage was two more goals for the entire half as they eventually fell short by just five points. It’s a costly loss with what they have coming, and while their prize recruits in Taranto and Hopper have been solid contributors, it doesn’t look like bolstering their midfield will pay dividends.

The Bulldogs will be breathing a lot easier since their loss in Round Two. It was a horrible loss, but looking at the ladder now, it may not seem so bad considering the Saints are undefeated and looking hard to stop while their other loss was to the Demons who are also going along quite nicely. They’ve had a tough draw to start their year, and their next fortnight will give us a truer indication of their credentials. Their next two weeks see them take on the Power in Adelaide followed by the Dockers in Perth. It’ll be a tough assignment on the road. I would also recommend any sides coming up against the Bulldogs this season to put a bit more work into curbing the influence of Bailey Dale. He seems to be able to collect possessions at will and launches many attacks off half-back. One can be forgiven for thinking opposition coaches don’t rate him enough to put somebody on him to keep him in line. In this game, if Bailey Dale doesn’t play, the Dogs lose. It was that simple. 30 touches including 21 kicks was deadly. Take note, coaches.


  1. Let’s put a team on the Gold Coast they said. It’ll be great they said…

With nothing much to do on Saturday night, plus not being able to secure a ticket to see my Blues on Good Friday, I thought I’d take my son to see the St Kilda and Gold Coast clash. At quarter time I was happy with my decision as the Suns were taking it right up to St Kilda and actually lead by a couple of points. But from that point on, it was money down the drain and I should’ve stayed home was all I was thinking. Even my 11-year-old boy looked decidedly bored despite his love for going to live games. Whilst the Saints were impressive, the Suns looked soulless and bereft of desire. I kept thinking the whole time I was there that I was watching a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition where their opposition on court is there purely to make up numbers and create the illusion of a game being played.

The defining moment for me was Joel Jeffrey’s pitiful dribble that he kicked with such disdain allowing the Saints player to get back in time to touch it from just twelve metres out. Now in their 13th season, the Gold Coast Suns have never played finals, nor have they ever had a positive win-loss ratio. Last year saw them take some steps forward, so the expectation for this year was high. Well, after what I saw on Saturday, we’re back where we started. Honestly, this experiment is a failure. Believe me when I say I really wanted it to work. But my patience is done. Which begs the question: How bad are Geelong going right now?

The only reservations I have about my hardline stance against the Suns after watching this game is the notion I may be underestimating the Saints somewhat. They are definitely good, made even better when you look at the number of players on their injury list. The scary part is that some of those who you’d think would be an automatic selection may have to fight for their spots. Some of these kids like Phillipou, Camminiti and Owens do not deserve to be dropped to make way for the likes of Membrey and King. It will be interesting to see where they’re at when a lot of these players become available.

Ross Lyon has got them all playing great footy, and this week may be considered the first big test of the season as they take on Collingwood. A win there will silence any doubters. The season may have a long way to go, and they did falter badly last year, but a win next week makes it hard to see them miss finals again in my humble opinion.


  1. Aliir brings Ken Hinkley back from the dead

If you didn’t think AFL was a game of inches, this game may change your mind. A kick on the siren from around 48m from Ollie Florent looked set to sail through for a goal and give Sydney a four-point win. It was on target, and Florent seemed happy with the strike which was demonstrated by his disbelief when he learnt that it hadn’t made the distance. Aliir Aliir was, as always, perfectly positioned to get to the ball before it crossed the line which he did with ease in the end. This man does seem to have the uncanny knack to get himself in the right position and his reading of the play is second to none. I can only imagine what signs of affection Ken Hinkley would’ve had in store for the man when the dust settled from the joyous celebrations of the tight win.

For the players on the field, it meant their season is still alive coming into a fortnight of games in Adelaide, but for the coach, a career on life support gets a stay of execution, at least for the time being such is the tough nature of coaching in the AFL.

What a lot of people aren’t talking about is the manner in which the Swans let this game slip. Ten minutes into the last quarter, they lead by 20 points and looked set for a win in what was a low-scoring affair. From that point on it was all Port Adelaide who kicked four of the last five goals of the game. Sydney lost the match despite getting the ball inside 50 a staggering 22 more times than the Power. The forwards had little impact, and the mercurial Franklin was held goalless by none other than Aliir himself. It has to be said that this year has not seen him have the start he would like. This loss for the Swans will see Longmire and his team scratching their heads as to how they let this slip and wondering what to do moving forward. And what does the future hold for Paddy McCartin? We all wish him well and hope he can play on. An interesting two weeks to come for the Swans including the Tigers in Adelaide and the Cats in Geelong.


  1. All Giants’ opponents have kicked inaccurately this year

I’ve looked up the four games that GWS have played this year and noted that on each occasion, their opponents have scored more behinds than goals.

In Round One, Adelaide scored 12.18.

They lost to the Eagles in Round Two, who scored 14.16.

In the last two weeks, against Carlton and Essendon, their opponents have scored 9.20 and 11.22 respectively.

What is it about the Giants that makes their opponents forget where their goals are? OK, it’s probably just a coincidence, but, for what it’s worth, their last two losses have been by margins that included all behinds. They’ve been in games they probably had no right to be in. Essendon were definitely all over these guys and just couldn’t put them away. Jake Stringer could’ve kicked a huge bag but only managed 4.6 in the end. The Giants look set to be in the lower part of the ladder come the end of the home and away season and will suffer some heavy losses if their opponents start kicking straight.

It’s hard to get a true gauge on the Bombers. They may be 3-1, but a quick look at their wins and you’ll see that they are against teams who won’t play finals. They weren’t blown away in their loss to St Kilda, but we’ll need to see how they go against the more fancied teams before we give them a tick. They’ve definitely improved under Brad Scott, so they’re heading in the right direction. But most of us would probably think they will lose to Melbourne and Collingwood in the upcoming two rounds. If they win one of those, then Bombers fans can get excited. This game could’ve been thrown away due to their inaccuracy, so they actually did well to manufacture a win in the end. They can’t afford to waste their opportunities like that in the coming weeks. I’m still not convinced about the Bombers, but I could be swayed.


  1. It’s going to be another long year for the Eagles

Poor old Adam Simpson needed a lot to go right for the Eagles to be more competitive this year. Well, we know that isn’t happening already. Key players such as Ryan, McGovern and Shuey are missing with the first two of that trio looking set to be out for 10-12 weeks with hamstring tendon injuries that require surgery. Adam must’ve walked under a ladder with a black cat while breaking a mirror! The side that took the field to take on Melbourne was riddled with names none of us have ever heard of. It’s not to suggest they won’t make the grade and become great players in time, but it does speak volumes of the inexperienced group that took the field. They tried hard and did their best but were completely outclassed by an experienced and bigger-bodied Demon unit. Tim Kelly is one shining light as is Oscar Allen who has been solid since his return. I can look ahead and see who the Eagles face in the coming weeks, but whoever it is, they’ll be underdogs. That’s just how bad their situation is right now, sadly.

The Dees were clinical. The Eagles applied some pressure, but the Demons looked as though they were in a training drill for most of the game scoring at regular intervals and moving the ball with ease. Tom McDonald will be better for the run booting four goals in a welcome return to form after being out of favour. Brodie Grundy seems to be relishing the role of primary ruckman in the absence of Gawn. Oliver and Petracca are still blitzing it, as they do. It’s all going along nicely for the Demons. Games against the Bombers and the Tigers in the next two rounds will be challenging, but I expect them to prevail. Sportsbet has them as favourites to take out this year’s flag with odds of $4.50. At this stage, I tend to agree that this is the team to beat, but we saw what happened last year after they were 10-0. Maybe they’ve learnt a lot from that. Time will tell.


  1. Jeremy Cameron collects seven goals and an umpire

I guess I shouldn’t be laughing at something which could’ve resulted in an injury, but there’s always something mildly funny about a player collecting an umpire, unwittingly. In the last quarter incident after Cameron was celebrating his seventh major, I’m not sure which of the two were more blissfully unaware as they pretty much collided with one another with Cameron only seeing the high-visibility-wearing official at the last second. I’m pretty sure the umpire had no idea Cameron was coming which would’ve made it even worse for him.

Why am I talking about this incident?

Well, let’s face it, the game itself wasn’t a game that Hawthorn fans in particular would want to talk too much about. They played a decent first half and led at half-time before conceding a whopping 15 goals to just one in the second half to go down by a whopping 82 points. For the Cats, Cameron was the stand-out and possibly the only player from Geelong who put in a four-quarter effort, keeping them in the game in the first half with three of their four goals. And I’m sure this much-needed win will no doubt get their season going with another likely win to come next week against the embattled Eagles. There’s nothing like playing against a bottom team to find your form once again, and that they did.

Hawthorn looked competitive to half time and those of us looking on were beginning to wonder if it was time to stick a fork in the Geelong season once and for all. For a brief moment, it looked like the Hawks were going to cause an upset and relegate the Cats to a 0-4 start to the year after their premiership win. But, as is often the case with the younger developing teams, the story after halftime was all the Cats. The young Hawks could only look on in the third quarter as the Cats piled on 10 goals to none in an onslaught more in line with what you would expect of a Geelong team facing a weaker opponent.

At half-time, the inside 50 count was fairly even, but the end result of 61-38 Geelong’s way told the story. I’m sure Chris Scott will still be concerned about their first half as well as their opening three matches, but one gets the feeling we’ll see a different Geelong from this time on while we may see the Hawks battling for wins as the season wears on. One thing we don’t want to see is the AFL take action against Cameron for making contact with an umpire. It was clearly an accident, but one wonders if that will make a difference to the MRO.


  1. It’s bizarre that in the middle of school holidays there’ll be no games in Melbourne

Now, before all you South Australians chew my head off and start calling me a parochial Victorian or something else less polite terms, hear me out. The concept of a round of games in Adelaide is not a bad idea in my humble opinion. If it boosts tourism or gives the town a spark, all well and good. And I’m well aware how much they love their AFL in the city of Adelaide, so I’m sure it will be a roaring success. The fact remains, however, that many kids don’t get to go to games during school times, and with the term break upon us now, I would’ve loved to take my kid to a Thursday game or even a Sunday night one.

Essendon v Melbourne would’ve got 75,000 or more at the MCG but will be lucky to get to 30,000 at Adelaide Oval. A lot of diehard fans and club members in particular are robbed of access to a home game. It just seems a strange idea to do it during the Melbourne school holidays when you factor in the ten teams that are based in Victoria. Three teams that would’ve entered this round with a distinct home advantage in Fremantle, Richmond and Brisbane have had that taken away. All three of those sides are in precarious positions and need the win desperately, and to forgo a home-ground advantage is fraught with danger.

Yes, I get that this is an extra round, but it is still a lost opportunity.

I hope the Adelaide public really get behind this concept and attend as many of the games as they can, but I doubt that Freo v Gold Coast or the Giants v Hawks will pull huge crowds at Norwood Oval. The AFL already know this considering its capacity is only 15,000. I’m sure the AFL has compensated the clubs who may have lost revenue from ticket sales in one form or another, but those loss of home games for teams do sometimes even out the playing field in favour of the away teams, and those results could prove costly when contending for finals.

Melbourne will be eerily quiet next weekend. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot about “what-ifs” after Round Five, possibly more so than usual.



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