1. I didn’t learn my lesson from 2022 when I wrote the Tigers off
It was Round Six in 2022, and the Tigers had a narrow loss to the Cats and found themselves on just two wins and well outside the 8 after their mediocre 2021 where they missed finals after taking out the 2020 flag. I decided at that point that Richmond’s golden era was over, and playing off in the finals in 2022 was unlikely. Of course, we all know what happened, and even though they didn’t go deep into September, my call turned out to be a tad premature.
Now let’s go back just a fortnight to Round Seven. Richmond had lost their 5th straight game in embarrassing fashion against a struggling Gold Coast and were 16th on the ladder. They finally returned to the winners’ list against the Eagles, but with a game this week against the Cats looking for their 6th consecutive win, it looked as though the Tigers might have been in for some pain and their ladder position would remain bottom four. So here I was, ready to stick the proverbial fork in them and they’ve done it again! There’s a glimmer of hope. They currently sit just a game outside the 8 and they’ve taken a scalp. Next week sees the Tigers in the Dreamtime game against the Bombers followed by the Power in Melbourne in Round 11. With their tails up, all of a sudden those games may provide a chance to square their ledger and really get their season back on track. If they do that, I will never count Richmond out again.
Nor will I ever let my mind drift into thoughts of Dusty starting to show signs of his career coming to an end. I thought the best of Dustin Martin was relegated to history, and his first half against the Cats didn’t convince me otherwise, but after his second half where we saw the Dusty we know and love, it would seem that maybe his playing days will extend beyond this season after all. It does seem the fortunes of Dustin Martin and the Richmond Football Club are intrinsically connected. I’ve learned my lesson. No more writing off the Tigers, and no more writing off Dustin Martin.
It is worth noting that the Cats did enter the game with a few important players missing. Both Dangerfield and Guthrie were unavailable through injury as well as a few more who you’d normally expect to be playing when fit. So you could argue that they were ripe for the picking being a little under full strength, although with their recent form of 5 straight wins, it would’ve been a brave man that would’ve tipped the Tigers in this one. Another factor was Geelong’s wayward kicking early on with 4.9 on the board at one point. Suffice to say a few things seemed to conspire against the Cats in this one, and the end result was an upset win to Richmond by 4 goals.
With the Dockers finding some form in the past fortnight, all of a sudden the trip to Optus Stadium in Perth next round becomes a little more daunting. Jeremy Cameron only managed one goal in this game so he may come out all guns blazing next week. They’ll need everything to go right for them to win in Perth and stay in the 8, but another loss will see them back into that middle pack fighting for finals relevance.
2. Will the Eagles ever have a healthy list again?
Enough has been said about the injury-ravaged West Coast Eagles and how the club are really struggling to put out a team that can compete at the top level. They’ve only managed the one win and have lost their past four matches by an average of 66 points, and last Friday against the Suns was an embarrassing 70 point loss at home. This season is shaping up to be a repeat of their 2 win season from last year with plenty of pain to come. They’ll be gearing up for next week’s big battle for the spoon game against the Hawks in Tasmania. The loser of that game will be on the bottom a game behind 17th. I might be leaning towards the Hawks in that one, although it’s not with any real conviction. And if we are talking about who might ultimately win the wooden spoon this season, you’ll need to consider North Melbourne in that conversation as well.
Whatever the case, these will be the three teams vying for the dubious honour that comes with finishing last. And the early word is that there might be daylight between these three teams down the bottom and the rest of the competitors in the AFL.
The Gold Coast Suns will no doubt still be stinging from that narrow loss to the Demons. For what was a loss by less than a goal, the Suns now sit in 11th with four wins but they would’ve been just outside the eight on percentage after the Round Nine fixture was completed had they won. Matt Rowell has hit top form. Ben King booted four goals, and Noah Anderson had another high-possession game with 27. It’s going well but the next two weeks see them play games against the Lions and Bulldogs. In order to have any chance of staying in the mix for a finals berth, they’ll need to win at least one of their next two and preferably both which may be a tall order. There are definite signs of improvement as well as the ability to win on the road. I can’t see them beating the Lions, but if that were to happen, then we will know that our little boy of the AFL may have finally grown up. Could this be the year? Well, it still seems doubtful, but they’re making progress all the same.
3. The SCG is no longer a fortress
Sydney’s season is in tatters after their fourth straight loss. They now find themselves in 14th place on the ladder with just three wins and six losses. The Swans have played four games at the SCG and a trip to Sydney to play the Swans on their home deck is often filled with dread as they have been hard to beat their in recent years. The Swans have now lost three in a row at home starting with that nail-biter against the Power where they were literally centimetres away from taking the points. One could be forgiven for thinking that game may have psychologically damaged them as they’ve been winless since. Perhaps the poor showing in last year’s Grand Final has played a part in their indifferent season so far.
Whatever the case, they have a lot of work to do if they want to be a part of finals action again this year. And when was the last time Lance Franklin went goalless two weeks in a row? Sydney face the Kangaroos next week and the Blues in Sydney the following round. They have a week off in Round 12, and if they can win the next two games, it may be a good way to relaunch their season from Round 13. They can’t afford too many more losses from here on.
The Dockers seemed to have shaken off their poor start to 2023 and now find themselves within reach of playing finals. They’ve now won two in a row in a season that wasn’t showing much promise, but more impressively beating Sydney away from home was one many thought could be beyond them. They’ll be back in Perth next week to take on the Cats, followed by the Demons in Melbourne in Round 11. You can see just how important this win against the Swans was based on their tough run at present. They’ll give themselves a chance against the Cats at home after the Tigers got the better of them on Friday night.
Luke Jackson backed up last week’s great game with another strong effort kicking three goals. Lachie Schultz booted four and I think it’s time opposition clubs pay this guy more respect as he seems to be among one of the more underrated players in the AFL. He can be very dangerous around goal as the Swans no doubt found out in the worst possible way. Nat Fyfe had a quiet one, but after spending three quarters on the bench as the sub, I’m not too sure what to expect from him. He got through the game and will only get better each week. I’m not sure if the Dockers can work their way into this year’s finals, but I will have a better idea in two weeks.
4. Port Adelaide are eyeing off a Top 4 spot
I’m sure fans of Port Adelaide won’t agree, but it’s almost like the Power have flown under the radar winning six games in a row quietly and without fanfare to now find themselves firmly entrenched in the topneoght and on the same number of wins as the second placed Demons. Zak Butters was one of their best with 32 touches and Finlayson is proving himself up forward booting three, although he also kicked three behinds and will want to make more of the many opportunities he seems to attract. They’re humming along nicely and have certainly got the media off Ken Hinkley’s back for now.
Coming into the season, he seemed to be the one whose job was most under pressure, but I think that mantle may have shifted somewhat towards a certain former Brisbane champion and Brownlow medallist. Nobody saw that coming before Round One. It just shows how much can change in a relatively short time. Port Adelaide will have their work cut out for them to continue that winning streak as they face Melbourne and Richmond over the next two weeks.
As for the Kangaroos, whilst nobody saw them posing any real threat to the in-form Power, their chances weren’t helped as players went down throughout the game including Darcy Tucker early on, and later in the match disaster struck as arguably their best player in Davies-Uniacke left the field with a hamstring strain. He’ll be sorely missed and will make their chances of securing another win any time soon even slimmer. I still have faith in Clarkson’s coaching ability to find a way to resurrect the North Melbourne Football Club, but I do get the feeling even he might be daunted by the work needed to get them back into a position of strength.
Good players for North included Larkey who finished with 4 goals, and before his injury, LDU had picked up 29 touches. It will leave a huge hole in their already troubled season. I’m still not sure if there’s another win in the Roos for this year.
5. So far, Melbourne have only beaten one side in the 8
Melbourne are currently the second favourite in the betting odds for this year’s premiership behind Collingwood, and that would make sense considering they currently sit second on the ladder. A quick analysis of Melbourne’s first nine games may tell believers in their prospects of taking out this year’s title to cool their jets a little. Melbourne have had a pretty favourable draw so far this year. Of their seven.wins, six teams currently sit outside the Top 8 with their one win against the Bulldogs in Round One being the only exception to this group.
Admittedly they’ve only played two teams in the 8 with the other game resulting in a loss to the Lions. I raise this point as there are similarities to last season where Melbourne also had a favourable draw and won their first ten games then had a poor second half to the season and virtually limped into the finals to go out in straight sets. Their Round 10 clash with Port Adelaide next week looms large. The Power are playing well and this game will reveal a lot. A loss there and the cracks in their season will start to open up. This is the kind of game they need to win in order to justify their current betting odds of $5.00. Don’t get me wrong. I can see that their engine room with Oliver, Petracca and Viney is ticking along nicely with all three consistently getting 30+ touches. I don’t mind the Gawn/Grundy combination either.
All the ingredients are there, but the invincibility they exhibited in 2021 seems absent so far. I’m happy to be proven wrong, and time will tell.
I sincerely hope that Sam Mitchell’s plan comes to fruition. At half time this game looked mighty ugly for Hawks fans and I imagine there’d already be a few losing patience as their team went down for a 6th consecutive loss. The Hawks did come out after half time with a five-goal burst in 10 minutes, but even then they only managed one more goal for the rest of the game and eventually went down by 54 points in what was a pretty lacklustre afternoon for the brown and gold. They battled hard with Sicily leading the way with 27 touches. As a captain this season, his game has definitely gone up a notch, but being on the end of consistent shellackings will eventually wear him down I suspect.
All eyes now go onto next week’s clash against the West Coast Eagles in Tasmania. Hawthorn will go into this game as favourites, but a loss there will devastate the club and possibly resign them to a wooden spoon which is something I‘m sure they’ll still be working hard to avoid regardless of being in a rebuild.
6. Joe Daniher broke the hearts of many Bombers fans
The Daniher name is synonymous with the Essendon Football club, so there was much excitement when the next generation emerged in the form of Joe when he donned the red and black. He played with the Bombers for eight seasons managing just 108 games due to extensive periods on the sidelines with injury.
His decision to leave the Bombers at the end of the 2020 season broke the hearts of many fans as they recognised the level of talent the sometimes wayward forward had even though it seemed he couldn’t get his body right for the most part. And of course, as luck would have it for Essendon, into his third season at Brisbane, Joe has only missed a handful of games already passing 50 games with his new club. If all that isn’t enough to bemoan the misfortune of losing the big man, on Saturday night, with the game in the balance at half time, Joe Daniher kickstarted the second half with two goals to put the Lions back in front. He finished the game with six majors while the Lions piled on 10 goals to two after the long break to eventually win by a very comfortable 42 points.
The Bombers started their season strongly, exceeding expectations with a 4-1 record after Round 5. They’ve now lost four games in a row, albeit against some of the better sides in the competition all inside the 8, however this one was their heaviest loss and one wonders if it will break their back after the good fight they’ve put up all year. Essendon had a 10-point lead at half-time, but after half-time they simply couldn’t go with the Lions who found another gear and took full control. Two players who were unable to play in this game in Darcy Parish and Jordan Ridley were big outs. Parish is a ball magnet, and Ridley down back may have made Daniher’s job a little harder. Mason Redman was one of their best with 30 in what is truly proving to be a breakout season for the 25 year old.
Looking ahead we see the Bombers taking on the resurgent Tigers next week after their somewhat unexpected victory over the Cats. If the Bombers can pinch a win in the Dreamtime game, subsequent games against the Eagles and the Kangaroos after that could see them back in the 8. A loss to the Tigers will make it five in a row. With both teams having their seasons in the balance, next Saturday at the MCG should be a cracker.
7. You get to see Carlton’s best and worst every week
The hardest thing about being a Carlton fan is not knowing which Carlton will show up each week, and wondering if they will play well for long enough to secure a win. Last season showed a lot of promise, but even during the early part of the year when the Blues were firing, there were wins that came about on the back of one or two great quarters with a lot of mediocrity for the rest of the game. Once again, we saw a lacklustre performance to half time by the Blues. The only saving grace was that the Bulldogs only had 4.4 on the board, but the Blues, despite a staggering 29 inside 50’s, had managed just 1.4 to half time.
It was symbolic in the first quarter seeing Harry McKay try his around the corner technique from 35m on the slightest of angles go wide for what really should have been a regulation shot at goal. Perhaps it set the tone because on three occasions in the second quarter, players using that technique all failed to notch up even one point!
After half-time the Dogs kicked the first two goals and lead by 31 points at one stage, before the good Carlton showed up and kicked the next 6 of the game to actually hit the front. A tug of war ensued where the lead changed four times before the bad Carlton showed up again for the last 6 minutes where the Dogs were able to clear it out of the middle and walk in the last 4 goals of the game for a 20-point win. It sounds crazy, but this is how it played out. The Blues had worked so hard to get back into the game and literally looked like they thought they’d done enough and packed up early.
One positive was Sam Walsh playing his best game for the year. He’s going to need to bring that form against Collingwood next week for the Blues to have any chance, but a win there is looking less likely than ever now. The Blues season is collapsing before everyone’s eyes. They’ve lost four of their last five with a tough five weeks ahead. Based on what we’re seeing, they are not a finals team as predicted by most. Nathan Buckley made the comment recently that he believed Carlton were the easiest team to coach against in this current season. Based on what we saw on Saturday night, he might be onto something.
And when Michael Voss said he was proud of their efforts after the game, maybe that’s the reason why.
In saying all I’ve said about the Blues and the manner in which they all but threw this game away before half time, it needs to be said that the Bulldogs stood up when it really counted. Bailey Smith’s run throughout the game was great, but his last six minutes almost singlehandedly turned the game for his team. His fitness is without question due to the fact that he was still running on top of the ground while most were out on their feet, not to mention his precision kicking and decision-making which would’ve embarrassed a few of his opponents on the night. He was brilliant and quite easily the best player on the ground in my humble opinion.
The Doggies’ shaky start to the year has been cancelled out now with four consecutive wins. They sit comfortably in the 8 and face the Crows in Ballarat next week. You may recall that the Crows beat them at that venue last time they met there, so it’s going to be a huge game for both clubs with the Crows sneaking past the Blues to take the 8th position on the ladder.
8. Fast-starting Crows make a huge statement
When playing against the Crows, you would want to be switched on early, especially when playing at Adelaide Oval. Back in Round Five we saw a Carlton unit who were undefeated at the time show up a little late and there were eight goals on the board to Adelaide before the Blues knew where they actually were. The scenes on Sunday against the strong-performing Saints were similar.
A devastating first quarter resulting in a 31 point lead at the first break meant the game was all but over. The Crows have won six out of nine first quarters this season, and it has resulted in most of their five wins with just one exception against the Power. Even against Collingwood they were well ahead at quarter time but an inaccurate 3.6 made the deficit more manageable for the Pies even though they’d only posted two behinds for the quarter. But hey, this is Collingwood after all. They have made an artform of snatching wins.
However, it does show how far the Crows have come this year. They challenged Collingwood and have been a much more formidable outfit this year. It doesn’t hurt when Tex kicks a bag of five as well. He’ll sleep well on Sunday night as he starts to mount his case for another season. A player that has impressed me greatly for Adelaide is their captain in Jordan Dawson. Getting him across from Sydney has proven to be a masterstroke, and so too has giving him the captaincy. But for a few lapses this season, the Crows could’ve been further up the ladder. They would be deserving of a finals spot if they get there, but there are two big obstacles over the next two weeks awaiting them in the Bulldogs and the Lions, both away from home. This is where they make or break their year.
The Saints just had one of those days pretty much. They came out of the gates a bit slower than their opponents and paid a huge price. Often when giving teams a big start, it’s easy to fall away and be overwhelmed by the margin, especially when there’s 50,000 people cheering against you. Losing Jack Steele and Tim Membrey during the match also didn’t help. It was a day where their opposition were kicking goals from everywhere and couldn’t miss, finishing with 19.7 for the game and blowing the Saints off the park to the tune of 52 points. Brad Crouch can hold his head high finishing with 30 touches against his old club. Higgins worked hard for his three majors, and Mason Wood continued his good form with two goals from 18 touches. Gee, North Melbourne could really use a Mason Wood right now.
Next week, the Saints head up to Giants Stadium to take on GWS. I expect them to bounce back and get the points there and then get another win against the Kangaroos the week after. However, a loss to the Giants would go a long way to derailing their season.
9. You really have to tag Nick Daicos
Nick Daicos would still be Brownlow favourite even after a couple of games where he didn’t dominate as he has done for much of this year. His last two weeks saw him given greater attention which resulted in games of mid-20s in the possession stakes. These numbers are by no means terrible, but when you consider he’s topped 40 a few times this year, maybe those tags did what they needed to do. So the obvious thing to do when playing against the Pies is to assign someone the job of keeping Daicos on a leash.
On Sunday, it would seem that wasn’t a tactic employed by Adam Kingsley, and Nick was back to his prolific best picking up 41 touches and gaining 540m. But will that be enough to get him three Brownlow votes? Many have suggested it won’t be with the story of the day being the form of Mason Cox who many thought was Collingwood’s best with 19 touches, 25 hitouts and two majors. He came back from injury last week at just the right time with Collingwood’s other ruck options looking on from the stands. De Goey may also poll votes as well as Tom Mitchell. Both were deadly as were many wearing black and white.
The Magpie army is in full voice, and they will take some stopping. Will it be arch-rival Carlton next week? Highly unlikely, and then they have the Kangaroos and the Eagles. It’s looking like 11-1 before they face Melbourne in Round 13.
The Giants have been competitive all year. Surprisingly, their biggest loss prior to this was a margin of just 21 points. So this is somewhat of a setback in a season that’s already starting to look like they’re making up the numbers again. Since their big loss in the 2019 Grand Final, the Giants haven’t really fired a genuine shot, and a few of their more seasoned players like Kelly and Coniglio don’t really seem to impose themselves on games as they did when GWS were up near the top end of the ladder. That may seem harsh considering their good numbers each week, but I can recall games where Josh Kelly reigned supreme and was considered one of the best on-ballers going around. Clubs were lining up to sign him up with all manner of lucrative offers, but he chose the path of loyalty and stayed on. With his team now languishing in the bottom section of the ladder, one might wonder if he took that big deal thinking he’d be part of a team in regular finals contention. Or maybe he just wanted to be a one club player regardless.
Either way, they seem a bit off the pace and won’t really trouble any of the top teams this year. They might end the season on 7 or 8 wins, and there may be some positives, but it won’t get the crowds above 10,000 at Giants Stadium any time soon.
10. Winning games is so much easier when you kick accurately
Just looking through the last three rounds, in 70% of the games played, the winners scored more goals than points in their victories. We do often talk about the importance of kicking straight, but there’s been a few results where winning teams have won against the odds due in part to making the most of their opportunities. And with the seeming lack of improvement in goal-kicking techniques in recent times, one gets the feeling that clubs still aren’t spending enough time focussing on what is a basic fundamental of the game.
This round we saw the Tigers knock off reigning premiers Geelong by four goals despite having 1 less shot at goal. Yes, the Tigers played well, but the truly devastating component of their game was the 16.6 scoreline against 11.12 for the Cats. The writing was on the wall at quarter time with 6.0 to 2.7. The Dockers kicked 16.7 against the Swans in a tidy display of goal-kicking. If a few of their shots went wide the result could’ve been very different. Adelaide also blew the Saints away with 10.2 to 5.5 by half time.
I attended the Carlton v Western Bulldogs clash and saw some easy misses from both sides, but none were more devastating than the second quarter gaffes by the Blues where they failed to even score at all from no more than 30 metres out on each occasion. In a low-scoring affair, it was unforgiveable. The Blues finished with 8.11, but you can add another four or five that missed everything to tell the real story. When the Blues finally hit the scoreboard, the game tightened up, but it was a more composed Dogs who kicked some pretty nice goals late in the game that got them over the line.
The Crows will also still be devastated because of Round Seven when they had control against the Pies but simply couldn’t put them away. To add insult to injury, they lost by a point, and the reason there was 7.16. Poor conversion is poor football. And it could be the difference between playing finals or not. These two clubs in Adelaide and Carlton are among those vying for a lower half position in the 8. I believe only one of them will make it, and you can bet your life it will be the one that kicks truly more often. And I hate to say this, but as long as Harry McKay refuses to perfect his drop punts, it won’t be Carlton.