Ten Things I Learnt After Round Six

1 – There won’t be much joy in Perth this season

The Dockers had a bright season in 2022 finishing fifth and winning a final. Many were lauding the coach and the improvement was on the back of some promising signs in 2021. I’m fairly certain that those involved with the club would’ve had high hopes coming into 2023, but after what I have seen in their first six games, I’m just about ready to put a line through them for this year. Their two wins have been against struggling teams and their narrow loss to North Melbourne in Round Two is proving to be an indication of how far they’ve fallen.

Their list hasn’t seen any major change, and they aren’t plagued with more injuries than any other club. Something just isn’t working for some reason. Luke Jackson may be wondering if he made the right move even if he is a Perth boy, and he’s playing a modest role behind the number one ruckman in Sean Darcy. The Dockers head to Brisbane next week, followed by a home game against the Hawks in Round 8. The Lions will probably tear them a new one, and I imagine they’d go in as favourites against the Hawks. However, the pressure on the club during that week will be palpable. A loss to the Hawks and a 2-6 record is the doomsday scenario for Freo, not to mention the long term aspirations of the coach. It was only 6 months ago that he was considered by some to be the coach of the year. If things don’t improve for the Dockers quickly, he may not make it to Round 24.

The Bulldogs may have just finally found their rhythm for this season after a very shaky start. This was a strong win on the road and a definite statement. Even though the Dockers aren’t flying right now, it was a comprehensive win in front of a hostile crowd and the Bulldogs were never troubled at all. Bontompelli is hitting top form and it’s no coincidence that wins are happening. They’ve now won three of their last four games and we can start talking finals again. The Bulldogs look likely to win their next two matches against the Hawks and the Giants. If they do that, they’ll find themselves inside the eight and may be hard to shift. On Thursday night we saw a ruthlessness that has been missing for most of this season. They dominated from start to finish and were simply way too good for their opponents. It might be the spark that ignites their season, or it could just be an indication of how bad Freo were, but I’m sure fans will be optimistic after the slow start, and maybe Bevo can chill for a bit. A big fortnight is coming up where they can cement themselves, but a stumble could derail that idea pretty easily.


2 – West Coast games are hard to watch

Like most struggling teams, West Coast seem to be competitive for the first quarter, and then by half time the game is all but over. It’s a little dull when you know a result that early. We all know about the troubles the Eagles have had with injuries in their last two years, and it’s disappointing to see a once-great club on its knees. This year hasn’t seen much joy either. They got that win in Round Two against the Giants, but one gets the feeling that wins for the Eagles will be few and far between this year.

I say this with trepidation knowing my Blues have to head over to Perth in some indifferent form next round, but watching West Coast so far this year tells me even a below-par Carlton should get the points, although nothing would surprise me, and a win for the Eagles will certainly lift the young team immensely. And speaking of young, the emergence of 20-year-old Jai Culley in just his seventh game booted four of his five career goals to date was one of the few positives to come out of this game against the Power. Hopefully, the Eagles will continue to unearth some future stars while they’re at this low point. With both the Perth teams not performing at present, a trip to Perth doesn’t seem so bad right now.

Port Adelaide now enjoy a 4-2 record. This is a far cry from their 0-5 start last year though they did go on to win 10 games out of the remaining 17. If they did that again they’d be comfortably in the finals. Connor Rozee was adjudged best on ground with 29 touches and two goals in a standout performance. Jeremy Finlayson seems determined to make his mark this year booting five goals. Port Adelaide will trouble many sides this year, but it’s still a little hard to tell how far they will go. They have a massive two weeks ahead of them with games against the Saints in Melbourne and the Bombers at home. Even one win will tell me they’re finals material and Ken Hinkley will see out the year. Two losses will bring the heat back on, so there’ll be plenty of pressure over the next two rounds.


3 – The Giants don’t seem to like playing in Canberra

It might be time for the Giants to forgo playing home games in the nation’s capital. Their losing streak at Manuka Oval is now up to 8. In fact, you’ll need to go back as far as Round 7, 2019 for their last win in Canberra, when they defeated the Saints by 44 points. I accept the Giants have developed into a less formidable unit these past few seasons, but their continued inability to secure a win at their second home ground suggests we might be seeing something resembling a hoodoo or football curse in the making. Perhaps they can look to their Round 8 clash against the Bulldogs to remedy this, but I daresay they will have their work cut out for them. They’re a young team in what I see as a rebuilding phase under new coach Adam Kingsley. There are still a number of stars including the likes of Greene, Kelly, Coniglio, Ward and Green, but there are many still finding their feet at the top level, and things won’t be helped by the injury to Sam Taylor who is in All-Australian form right now. The Giants look to be a couple of years away from contending at this stage.

The Lions did what they had to in overcoming the Giants, but it wasn’t without a challenge. Charlie Cameron’s seven goals made the difference in the end. Brisbane’s start to the season looked a little shaky, as did Charlie’s. The goalsneak could only manage three majors from the first three rounds, but since then has booted 17 in the last three weeks to find himself third in the Coleman race with 20 for the year. His six goals against Collingwood in what was a huge win for the Lions looks like it has ignited his season as well as the club’s. It’s no coincidence that the Lions are winning games with Charlie in top form, and it looks like he’ll be hard to stop from this point on. He only needs 10 touches to boot four or more goals, and that’s what makes him so dangerous and so important to the fortunes of the Brisbane Lions. He may be primed to have a field day against the Dockers at the Gabba next Saturday. Those heading to the game may get the price of admission in Charlie alone. He’s on fire right now and must be stopped if you want any chance against the Lions.


4 – The Grand Final replay was really a Grand Final replay

You always look forward to when last year’s two Grand Final teams meet the following year. After last year’s debacle which saw Sydney on the receiving end of an 81-point shellacking, most of us expected a much closer result with some even tipping the Swans despite the game being played at GMHBA Stadium. The Swans came into the game following a strong showing against the Tigers last week while the Cats were showing signs that their indifferent form from the first three weeks was turning around, although good wins against two struggling teams in North Melbourne and West Coast still hadn’t offered real proof. Well, it looks like the Cats have found their mojo again in an ominous sign for the rest of the competition. Those who have banked wins against the Cats in the first three rounds will count themselves lucky to have played them before the switch was turned on. And after a loss like that, one has to wonder what spell Geelong has put Sydney under for them to have offered up their worst football in years during their last two encounters.

Jeremy Cameron continued on his merry way booting another five and is on pace for a 100+ goal season which would be a rare feat in the modern game. Hopefully, he stays fit and achieves this. It’s an even scarier proposition for opposition sides when Hawkins also hits the scoreboard. He also booted five and this duo were instrumental in blowing the Swans away by 93 points in front of an adoring crowd of Cat fans who, by now, will be relieved to see their club is back from their slump and playing the sort of footy that won them the premiership last year. They had winners all over the ground with Patrick Dangerfield leading the way gathering 31 touches.

The Geelong defence held the Swans to just three behinds for the entire second half. It was an absolute mauling that will play on the minds of the players for some time to come. This was the game they were hoping to exact revenge and make amends for their poor showing in last year’s final game, but they barely let out a whimper. They now sit 3-3 with a diminished percentage outside the Top 8 with games against the Giants and Collingwood over the next two rounds. They’re starting to look like a middle-of-the-road team. Meanwhile the Cats may be ruing their slow start, but if they can overcome the Bombers next Sunday and win against the Crows down at the cattery in Round 8, all of a sudden they’ll be 5-3. After Round 8 last year, the Cats were 5-3 and also had a sluggish start to the year. We all know how that panned out…


5 – The Hawks are getting called “plucky” a lot

The match report on the AFL website for the Hawks v Crows game carried the headline “Crows snatch victory from plucky Hawks”. In other words, bottom-placed Hawthorn played well and still managed to lose the game despite being two goals up late in the game. The word “plucky” often gets used when referring to lowly teams who play above expectation. Nobody thinks a lot of the Hawks this year, and the club will be hoping for other teams to go into their games with the same attitude. Their worst is still pretty lamentable, but they’ve been very competitive for the most part and will trouble sides who go into their games not fully switched on.

James Sicily is slowly but surely warming into the captaincy. His good form is a big factor in their previous two games where they came agonisingly close to victory. Their midfield is functioning well, and ruckman Ned Reeves performed admirably against Adelaide’s Riley O’Brien. Their next month sees a potential win or two as they face the struggling Dockers in Perth during Round 8 and the Eagles in Round 10 in Tasmania. Their other games in Round 7 and 9 are against the Bulldogs and the Demons. Chances are they’ll put up a fight in those games and eventually go down. If they stay within four or five goals in those matches, no doubt the scribes will refer to the Hawks as a “plucky” outfit. Or hopefully they grab a thesaurus.

The Crows had never won four in a row under Matthew Nicks, so this is a welcome result after losing the opening two games of the season. Many are now daring to dream of a finals berth, but the next fortnight will be more telling as to just how far the Crows have come. They have a big game next week against Collingwood at home followed by a daunting trip down to Geelong. We will know a lot more about their credentials after Round 8, but you have to like what we’re seeing. It’s also looking very much like Darcy Fogarty is the man you want the ball to be with when it comes to kicking important goals. That shot on the boundary line with less than two minutes remaining that put his team ahead was sublime. He had every right to kick it around the corner being on the right side for a right-footer but, refreshingly, opted for a drop punt instead and nailed it. He’s having his best season so far and is rewarding the patience he has been afforded. It will be interesting to see if Darcy Moore goes to him or Tex next week.


6 – The Saints are very efficient

If you looked at the statistics in the Carlton v St Kilda match, you’d be scratching your head wondering how the Blues lost. They had 86 more possessions and had the ball in their hands 46% of the match against St Kilda’s 39%. And yet St Kilda managed to get the ball inside their forward 50 4 more times than Carlton. That just tells you how wasteful the Blues are and how precise the Saints were in this game. It looks as though the Blues have a multitude of highly talented players who just don’t hit enough targets consistently.

It also demonstrated a laborious game style that needs serious redressing to get Carlton out of the funk they’re currently in. Voss needs to take some responsibility for the disjointed passages of play which often sees the Blues moving the ball too slowly with their opposition ready to pounce on mistakes and punish them on the scoreboard. And let’s not even get started with their inaccurate kicking for goal. Harry is definitely all at sea right now. The 2021 Coleman medallist is completely bereft of confidence when lining up for goal.

The third quarter is where the Saints won the game with four unanswered goals, and it was also during this quarter that Harry made two vital misses. It destroys the team when forwards keep missing, not to mention the fan base. St Kilda look very much like a finals team. However, many have reminded us all that they were also 5-1 this time last year and fell away quite badly. It’s pretty hard to see that happening again this year considering all the players they will get back throughout the season, not to mention being under the tutelage of Ross Lyon. He’s clearly getting the best out of this team and they have a system clubs like Carlton can only look on with envy. Even though they were beaten around the contest for the most part, their forays forward were faster giving their attackers every chance of hitting the scoreboard while the Blues going forward looked akin to a machine with a spanner jammed in. If the Saints get over Port Adelaide this Friday, they then take on the Kangaroos which you’d expect them to win. They’ll be 7-1 at that stage looking very strong and rightly so. It’s also crazy to think just four weeks ago that Jack Steele broke his collarbone and played again in Round 6. The man is tough and so is his team.

The Blues need to do some serious tweaking to be able to match it against the better teams. A true doomsday scenario would be to head over to Perth and lose to the Eagles on Saturday night. If that were to happen, there’ll be a meltdown at Ikon Park and a call to start chopping heads. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, but a win will only be momentarily relief with the Lions coming to Marvel to take on the Blues in Round 8. The Blues will either turn things around and re-establish themselves, or it could be season over by May 5.


7 – Will North win another game?

North Melbourne fans would’ve been pretty excited after winning the opening 2 rounds of the season. Clarko was being hailed as a genius, and for the first time in a long time, there was optimism coming out of Arden Street. Four weeks later, we now have North returning to the level we saw in the previous two years. They’ve lost their last four games by an average of 40 points and have a percentage over the last month of just 63.3. A quick look at all their remaining games shows it will be very unlikely that they will chalk up a win until at least Round 13 where they play the Giants in Melbourne. Round 18 they may have a chance against the Hawks, Round 20 they play the Eagles in Perth, Round 23 is against the Tigers and the last home and away game for the Kangaroos is against the Suns in Melbourne. They might win a game or two amongst that lot, but they could just as easily lose them all. I’d love to be proven wrong and see the Roos getting on a roll at some point, but they seem well off the pace right now. They were insipid against the Suns which is a shame considering Todd Goldstein was playing his 300th game. Alastair Clarkson is a clever man though, so he may be working on something that will bear fruit, but it doesn’t look likely to do so this year.

It was a sight for sore eyes seeing Ben King kick a bag of five goals. The Suns may well have been closer to a finals spot last year if an in-form Ben King played all year, and this could be the spark that reignites his career. His first five games saw him kick a total of just 7 goals and he never really looked threatening. This will go a long way to helping him believe in himself. The Tigers’ defence will need to quell his influence next week if they don’t want to see their season sink into oblivion. Lachie Weller continues to impress, but the Suns look set to be without star midfielder Touk Miller for a considerable time. Stewart Dew will take the win, but his future as coach continues to hang by a thread. It’s a poisoned chalice to be in the coach’s box at Carrara, and I’m sure Dew knew that at the time of accepting the position, although he probably felt he could take them places. I don’t think he can, although if they come down to Melbourne and beat Richmond next week, I could be swayed. But I don’t see that happening. Surely the Tigers have to win that.


8 – Melbourne don’t look invincible at all

Watching the game on Monday night, there was an air of inevitability about it. I always felt Melbourne would eventually win even though the Tigers looked the better side for most of the game. And that’s exactly what happened. The Dees entered the last quarter trailing by 2 points, and a 5 goals to 1 final term saw them win by 18 points in the end. Young forward Jacob Van Rooyen was having a quiet night until he imposed himself on the game with 3 goals in the 4th quarter to put the game out of reach for the Tigers. Jack Viney was adjudged best afield after 30 touches and a goal, while Oliver and Petracca did their usual getting 31 and 26 touches respectively. The Demons just had that little more class when it counted. But, unlike the Melbourne side from the last two years, they didn’t look dominant for much of the game at all.

I expected Melbourne to come out this season breathing fire after an indifferent back half of 2022, but so far I’m not convinced they are anywhere near their 2021 form. They’ll most likely be 7-2 after Round Nine with games against North Melbourne, Gold Coast and Hawthorn in the next three weeks, but I’ve seen enough vulnerability to suggest their equal flag favouritism might be fanciful. I would certainly want more than five to 1 based on their current form, but, having said that, they may peak later in the season and I’ll be eating my words.

The Tigers have now had their worst start to a season since 2016. No doubt Hardwick will be desperate to bank some wins. They get their opportunity to return to the winners’ circle this week against the Suns at Marvel Stadium. The fact that this game is not at the MCG is one of intrigue. Not only have the Tigers underperformed there in recent times, but Hardwick has also expressed his disdain for the venue, and should the unthinkable happen and they lose to the Suns, I think we’ll all be talking about a thing called the Richmond Marvel curse this coming Sunday. I can’t think of a bigger doomsday scenario for the Richmond Football Club than losing this week. I don’t believe it will happen, but who would’ve thought the Kangaroos would win against them last season when Richmond were still vying for a finals berth. As I said, a loss there would invoke talk of all sorts of superstition. It could be mildly amusing, unless, of course, you follow Richmond.


9 – The Pies are still the comeback kings

Essendon had a great third quarter and would’ve gone into the final break loaded with confidence. They’d booted six goals to just one and had a handy 28-point lead. It all seemed to be heading their way, but perhaps they had short memories of the previous year which saw the Pies overcome solid deficits in many games and take the points. At first we thought they were fortunate, but now we know that’s just how they roll. Nick Daicos once again got 40 touches that included two majors in that final quarter which saw the Pies kick seven unanswered goals. He was awarded the Anzac Day Medal and will likely poll yet another three Brownlow votes in this game.

Veterans Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury are still as good as ever despite being 32 and 35 years of age respectively. Both had plenty of the ball with Sidebottom very damaging throughout. Billy Frampton is growing as a ruckman in the absence of Cameron and Cox and played one of his better games, but this begs the question as to how much better the Pies will be with Cameron and/or Cox available? The Pies were on the ropes, and the Bombers were the better side for the first three quarters, but good sides find a way, and they have a habit of doing it too often for it be luck. Essendon will feel they blew it today.

Who knows what the result would’ve been if Sam Draper kicked truly from 25 metres on a slight angle. That would’ve put the Bombers back in front by four points with under five minutes to go, but instead, it sailed wide and, as often happens, no more than a minute later, Sidebottom ran into goal to put the Pies seven points ahead. This will haunt the young man for some time no doubt.

If you’re a Bombers fan, take heart. From what we’ve seen so far, Essendon is a potential finalist. They beat the Demons and took it right up to Collingwood. Their two losses have been against the two teams that occupy the top two positions on the ladder. The next two weeks will seriously test the Bombers. They have the Cats next week followed by the Power in Adelaide. We will learn a lot more about their credentials by Round Eight. Collingwood also have an interesting fortnight ahead starting with the Crows in Adelaide followed by the Swans at home. They’ll be tough games, but if the Pies are down by anything less than five goals at three-quarter time, they’ll fancy their chances as always.


10 – Is it just me, or does it seem like the four umpires are working?

I watch a fair few games most weeks. Something struck me while watching the Anzac Day clash. I barely noticed the umpires. Now I know some won’t agree, particularly Pies fans who would point out the lopsided free-kick count in favour of Essendon by 19 to 10. The simple thing I noticed this weekend is that I didn’t notice the umpires that much. That’s all I’ve ever asked from those officiating on the ground. When umpires impose themselves on a game, it’s usually due to overzealous decision making that often results in a scoring opportunity that probably shouldn’t have been available. I think I like the idea of the four umpires. I actually believe there have been less howlers this season. That would make sense with an extra pair of eyes on the field as well as less territory to cover. E

ven as I write this, I’m sensing there’ll be many who disagree, and I‘m sure they might’ve seen decisions that sent them around the twist during this elongated round, although I’ll take a stab and suggest they’ll be more inclined to find such instances during games featuring the team they support. Hey, I’m no different. The thing is, even though it’ll never be perfect, I just feel since the beginning of this year that I’ve noticed the umpires a little less than I used to. Maybe I’m a bit slow as it has taken me 6 weeks to come to the realisation, but it just dawned on me during the Anzac Day clash (pun 100% intended) that the umps seem to have taken more of a backseat position. And I, for one, am very pleased about that. Now cue all the one-eyed supporters to tell me how delusional I am.

Can’t wait!!!


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