1. Port Adelaide ‘Butters” up the Dees for 7 in a row
Although we’ve known for some time that Zak Butters can play, many are lauding Friday night’s game against the highly-fancied Melbourne Demons as the game that signifies the 22-year-old’s arrival as a true force in the competition. Coming up against the likes of Oliver and Petracca in the midfield, Butters’ career-high 41 possessions and two goals went a long way towards being the reason why Port Adelaide fell across the line in a close one. Opposition teams might’ve been forgiven for thinking that fellow 2019 draftee Connor Rozee or veteran Ollie Wines posed the biggest threat, but after a game like this there’ll be no more flying under the radar for Butters. He’s now played 76 games and looks to have found his best form. Both he and Rozee coming through in the 2019 draft was an excellent recruiting coup, and the acquisition of Horne-Francis this year is setting up the Power for a decade of midfield dominance.
They’re in an enviable position on target for a Top 4 position which was unthinkable after Round Three. Critics of Ken Hinkley have been silenced for now, but should they maintain their trajectory, the heat will be on come finals due to their lack of success at the pointy end of the season despite finishing high up the ladder in the recent past. Port face the Tigers in Melbourne next week. One suspects the Tigers will come out hard after their heartache against the Bombers.
Melbourne supporters didn’t seem to like it when I pointed out their relatively poor record against Top 8 teams in the last two years. Although Melbourne played well in what was a finals-like match, once again they’ve lost to a side that was sitting in the eight which means they’re one from three in their clashes against those teams. From Round Ten last year, their record against Top 8 teams has slipped below 50%. I still believe they are capable of winning the premiership, but to say that nobody inside the club would be concerned about their record against the top sides would be disingenuous. The fact they were in a winning position late in the third quarter with a 17-point lead will also be a source of disappointment, but it was our man Butters who kicked a goal on three-quarter time that seemed to set the scene for what was a dominant final term for the Power. Melbourne’s next two weeks see them taking on the Dockers at home followed by the Blues. Fremantle are in fine form, so next week is a real danger and could really be a pivotal moment in their season. I expect Melbourne to win being based in Melbourne, but the Dockers did get a hold of them in the corresponding game last season, and that’s when the rot started to set in.
2. North Melbourne are truly cursed
The script for an upset win against the Swans had been penned during the week. Once Alistair Clarkson decided to step away from coaching duties on the back of what is turning into a debacle of an investigation over his time at Hawthorn, many began to speculate a North win as often seems to happen when a caretaker coach steps in. The Kangaroos were hanging on to a slender lead of just three points approaching the 30-minute mark of the final term, when basically the unthinkable happened.
The North Melbourne bench had exceeded its allocation of interchanges with their 76th change of the day. This results in a free kick to the opposition, which then resulted in the match-winning goal. We don’t know if the responsibility of tracking these things is the sole responsibility of one person, or whether it’s a few club officials, but whatever the case, somebody needs to be slapped upside the head. The Swans were coming, however, and there was still enough time on the clock for the Roos to regain the lead, but losing in such circumstances must lead the 50,000+ broken-hearted members wondering if somebody has placed some kind of curse on the beleaguered club.
Getting Clarko on board was the one bright moment the club had experienced in a few years, and now that is up in the air. Getting the four points would’ve been huge, but it wasn’t to be. Hopefully, they can at least walk away from this knowing that their best will get them a win sooner rather than later.
You’d have to be pretty concerned if you’re a Swans fan. In spite of their indifferent form in recent weeks, you would’ve thought this was going to go their way in the lead-up, but certainly not the way in which it did. A loss would’ve been season over, so now they are still in touch with the Top 8, but I suggest that their form will have to lift significantly for them to play finals this year. One promising note was Lance Franklin booting 3 goals after a couple of very lean weeks in which he was goalless. Next week Sydney take on Carlton at the SCG in what will be season-defining for both teams. The Swans have really struggled at home this year, and all four of their wins are against teams who are no higher than 13th on the ladder. If they start to get on a roll, it would be laughable to think their season got back on track due to an interchange steward who can’t count.
3. Liam Jones has strengthened the Bulldogs’ defence
The Western Bulldogs had an indifferent season last year. Even though they sneaked into the finals, one of the knocks on the club was that they were a little too easy to score against. They were ranked 11th for defence in 2022. After 1tenrounds this year, they sit sixth on the ladder with seven wins and are ranked third for defence. They lost their opening two games quite badly and things looked bleak. Since then they’ve only lost once and are now on a five-game winning streak. In the last five rounds, their average score conceded is just 61 points. Liam Jones proved his worth as a defender at Carlton, and chose to sit out the 2022 season.
The Blues may be ruing their decision to delist him as they could really use him right now with a defensive unit that is barely just going. Most of us thought Liam was done as he turned 31 during his hiatus, but the Bulldogs gave him a lifeline and it seems to be paying dividends. It might’ve taken him a few games to find his AFL feet again, but you only have to look at his past fortnight where he’s kept Harry McKay and Darcy Fogarty goalless to realise his value to the side. The Bulldogs are now well poised to play finals this year and, whilst I realise Jones is not among their best five players, there’s no doubt in my mind that their backline is well ahead of where it was last year. Their next fortnight sees them playing the Gold Coast in Darwin, followed by the Cats at Marvel. They have momentum, but those games will be tricky.
Adelaide went into this game without Tex Walker, and with Fogarty well-held, scoring was an issue. They never really got going and could’ve lost by considerably more if the Dogs kicked straight. It was a huge disappointment after their big win against the Saints in Round Nine. The Crows are generally a better side at home having had four of their five wins there and just one on the road. They’ve still managed to hold onto eighth spot despite the loss, but in order to remain a player in finals calculations, they’ll need to close the gap between their home and away form. Hopefully, their home form will be at a premium next week when they take on the Lions. Then they travel up to Darwin to take on the Suns.
Their season is at an interesting point and a lot will hinge on these next two games. The Bulldogs had just over one hundred more possessions than the Crows in this game. Perhaps the blustery conditions in Ballarat were a factor, although the Crows won when they last played the Bulldogs there, but Liam Jones wasn’t a part of their defence in those days.
4. Not one Geelong player got to twenty possessions against Freo
Just when everybody thought the Cats had overcome their shaky start and got their season back on track, they’ve managed to drop consecutive games and now sit in danger of slipping out of the 8. This was always a danger game as the Dockers have now strung a few wins together and have played three weeks of footy where they’ve scored over 100 after they’d found scoring difficult for most of the first seven weeks. Zach Tuohy and Tanner Bruhn had the most touches with 19 apiece, and overall, the Cats had over 100 fewer possessions than their opponents. Statistically, that’s a comprehensive beating, but strangely enough they still managed to get the ball inside 50 on seven more occasions than Fremantle.
The Geelong efficiency kept them in the game for three quarters, but the dam wall finally broke in the last quarter with Freo booting three goals to none to run out comfortable 29-point winners. And, for the first time this season, Jeremy Cameron was kept goalless which also went a long way to ensuring victory for the home side. The Cats will be sweating on a few players returning from injury soon. Dangerfield might miss next week but could be right to go by Round 12 when they take on the Bulldogs at Marvel. This week it’s the Giants at home, and they should be able to get the four points in that one.
The Dockers are back!
They’ve now won three in a row and have officially taken a scalp. Their young forward line seems to be growing by the week with Amiss chiming in with three goals in a strong effort. Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw are winning plenty of the ball in the middle, and we’re finally starting to see the benefit of acquiring Jaeger O’Meara. He had 26 touches and looks far more settled in his new home than the first few rounds. Sean Darcy is becoming one of the premier ruckmen in the competition, and their backline is functioning well these days. You have to wonder where this has been all year, but there’s no time to rest on their laurels as they have to make a trip to the MCG next Saturday afternoon to take on the Demons who will be keen to get back on the winners’ list after their narrow loss to the Power.
You will recall the Dockers beat them in Melbourne last year and it paved the way for a second half of the season that Melbourne would rather forget after being undefeated in their first ten rounds. It’s a huge game and a win to Freo will set them up for a big second half after their break in Round 12.
5. The Gold Coast is still Brisbane’s kid brother
I was actually surprised to learn that in the 24 times that Brisbane and Gold Coast had met, the Suns had actually won on six occasions. It always seems to be the Lions with the upper hand, although I guess they’ve had some down times in recent history. The last few years, however, it’s been one-way traffic. Brisbane under Chris Fagan has seen the Lions win their last nine times in a row. And the Suns were competitive for three quarters until the final term when the Lions started to open up a gap which saw them run away with a 43-point win in the end.
The Suns will be bitterly disappointed having got themselves within striking distance of pushing for a Top 8 spot. They’re still only one game adrift, but there’s a cluster of teams in that category and a lot would have to go right for them to be a real chance. Ben King kicked three goals and is showing some consistency this year, but the Suns midfield was soundly beaten in the possession count. The Suns now get to spend the next two weeks in Darwin taking on the Bulldogs and the Crows. Perhaps the humidity will suit them and they can pinch a couple of wins. The simple fact is they need to win these games to stay relevant this season. It’s not beyond them, but it’ll take their best.
The Lions have quietly strung seven wins in a row and are doing everything right to finish the home and away season with the double-chance. Whilst Lachie Neale and the usual suspects are continuing their good form, the really pleasing thing for Chris Fagan, no doubt, is the recent form of Joe Daniher. In the last two rounds he has booted ten goals and is climbing the Coleman Medal ladder to within 8 goals of the leader in Charlie Curnow. He currently has 28 goals for the year and is level with teammate Charlie Cameron. The Lions were already dangerous, but an in-form Daniher makes them an even bigger threat. They’re heading over to Adelaide to take on the Crows who, as mentioned earlier, are not easy to outdo on their home at Adelaide Oval. They’ll be hoping for a win before their mid-season break where they’ll hopefully be able to bask in the glory of a 9-2 record.
6. Essendon stop a 13-game losing streak against the Tigers with Merrett
Whilst the game was fairly tight throughout, Richmond held the lead for more than half of the game. In fact, early in the final quarter, they looked like cruising to victory when they got to a three-goal lead in a low-scoring affair. They hung onto the lead until the very last minute which saw a scrappy kick from the pocket fall into the arms of Sam Durham at the top of the square for the easiest of set shots which sailed through and gave Essendon a one-point lead with just seven seconds left on the clock. The standout player of the match was the Bombers’ skipper Zach Merrett with 39 possessions in a strong four-quarter effort. Some of his exploits late in the game helped will his team across the line and he would’ve been very satisfied with not only the win, but also being given the Yiooken Award for being the best on ground in the Dreamtime Game.
This win was not only an important one after having lost their last 13 against the Tigers, it also halted a four-game losing streak this season which saw them tumble out of the 8 after winning four of their first five games. Now it’s just percentage separating them from the Cats in seventh place with the Bombers currently 9th. They’ll fancy themselves against the struggling Eagles next week and the Kangaroos after that. If they win both of those games, and it seems likely they will, they’ll be right back in finals contention.
The Tigers were so close, yet so far away yet again. The Bombers threw everything at the Tigers in those last few minutes of the game. It still looked like the Tigers were going to hang on, but eventually they broke through and now the Tigers are right back in 14th spot with a mountain to climb. Even with Dusty playing well and Bolton playing a great 100th game, it just wasn’t enough. The gaping hole left by the absence of Tom Lynch seems to have made scoring that little more difficult and he’s still a good 6 or so weeks away from returning. It will be a monumental effort for them to reach finals, akin to their achievement way back in 2014 where they won their last nine games to pinch 8th position after winning just three games from the first 13. OK, their current situation isn’t quite as bad as that, but they’ll have to pull off a minor miracle to play finals this year. It all starts with the Power next Sunday followed by the Giants in Sydney. They will need to snap Port Adelaide’s 7 game winning streak or their season might be in tatters.
7. Just when you thought the Eagles couldn’t go any lower…
I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for this, but when was the last time a team sitting in last place on the ladder won a game by over 100 points? I imagine it has happened at some point, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it never has. There were some I know who even gave the Eagles a chance in this game. The statistics in this match make for pretty ugly reading. Hawthorn had the ball 137 more times than West Coast. The inside 50 count was 70 to just 29. It was a smashing on every level, and you have to wonder where to from here for the Eagles? What can you get out of the rest of the season? You can blood some young kids, but how are they going to feel knowing that every week they’re going to get pounded on game day? We all know the reasons they’ve fallen away so badly these past two seasons, but they’ve just lost to the last-placed team by 20 goals. This has to be rock bottom I would say, although I shudder to think what the Pies are going to do to this mob in a couple of weeks.
Dom Sheed and Tim Kelly battled hard all day but there’s not much else in terms of well performing players to talk about. I’m pretty sure we’ve found our wooden spooners here.
The Hawks will be pleased to get off the bottom. Being a proud club, I imagine finishing last, even if it does mean high draft picks, would not be on their wish list. And to do so in such an emphatic fashion may boost their confidence enough to find a few more wins. They’ve been close on quite a few occasions so there is some hope for their supporters. We saw Mitch Lewis kick six goals which will no doubt please the Hawthorn faithful. They have a tough fortnight ahead against the Saints and the Power, but not as tough as playing against two good teams when you’re last on the ladder. Now the Hawks have actually leapfrogged the Kangaroos thanks to that huge percentage boost. They can breathe easy in 16th place for now knowing that the Eagles may very well remain on one single win for the season barring a big influx of players from injury and a surge in form.
Oh boy, is it going to be a long year for the Eagles, but if the Hawks can stay competitive and pinch the odd win, it might be enough to keep the supporters from losing faith in the plans of Sam Mitchell.
8. By the end of the game the Blues couldn’t take any Moore
Take a bow, Darcy Moore.
You won’t see a better result from somebody in their first year as captain of the club. Not only is he a premier defender of the competition, he is just as adept at public speaking as demonstrated by his Anzac Day address. He’s got it all, and his game against the Blues was a dagger in the heart of the Carlton faithful. Darcy has an uncanny knack of knowing where the ball is going to be even before it’s launched. He took a ridiculous number of intercept marks and made Charlie Curnow work very hard for his three goals. You could argue Charlie still did OK, but the damage done by Moore to so many of Carlton’s forward entries was immeasurable. It certainly didn’t help that the kicks coming in sometimes favoured the Pies skipper, but he was there time and again with his long blond locks taunting the Blues fans and keeping his team with a comfortable lead for the better part of the game.
I have no doubt that Carlton may have been within reach without the efforts of the big man, although the way the Blues have been playing, they possibly might’ve found another way to not find the goals. Conversely, at the other end, Brody Mihocek had the better of Weitering who seems a little off the pace these days. In saying that, the delivery into the Pies forward line was sublime at times. The Magpies have a week off after Round 12, and with games against the Kangaroos and the Eagles coming up, they surely go into the break with an 11-1 record and a healthier percentage than it is currently. There was so much fanfare surrounding Carlton coming into this season. The first half of last year had many thinking that they’ve finally found a playing group and a system that might elevate them back to their glory days. All that is just a pipedream now.
The Blues have lost ground on the competition this year in a pretty big way. They’ve now lost 5 of their last 6 games and their 4 wins have come against teams occupying the bottom 4 spots on the ladder with the exception of the Cats. After being 8-2 after Round 10 last year, Carlton have won just 8 out of their last 22 games. That’s the record of a team in the bottom 6 of the ladder, and that’s pretty much how they’re playing right now. Harry McKay’s stellar season of two years ago seems a distant memory, although it was pleasing to see him kick for goal using a conventional drop punt finishing with two for the day. Whispers of unrest are starting to come out from the club with suggestions all may not be well with Voss and the players. I guess that’s par for the course when sides are in a rut, but I’m sure observers of Carlton games will notice players second-guessing themselves creating a lack of on-field fluency. Something is definitely awry. There is talent at the club but perhaps the depth is still questionable. And they miss more targets than Saddam Hussein’s scud missiles used to. Carlton go to Sydney to play the Swans on Friday. I’m pretty sure the last thing they needed was a 5-day break. And both of these teams will see this game as their last chance to remain a meaningful part of season 2023. And after this weekend, I have no idea which of these teams is worthy of favouritism.
9. The Giants might be nuisance value for the rest of the season
GWS have been competitive in all but one of their games this year. With the exception of their 65-point loss to Collingwood, who, let’s face it, are a bloody good side, they haven’t lost by more than 21 points. On Sunday, against a pretty good unit in St Kilda, they were right in it up until late in the game even grabbing the lead early in the final term only to see the Saints kick the final two goals of the game and doing most of the attacking with a further seven behinds to eventually win by 12 points.
Sure, if the Saints kicked straighter in the last quarter, it may have been a bigger win, but the fact of the matter is that GWS are a side not to be taken lightly despite what their 3-7 record suggests. It also makes a difference when their captain is playing, and his absence would’ve been really felt last week. He bobbed up for two goals and did a few nice things to keep his team in the game. And we’re all liking the work of Jesse Hogan at his third club. He seems to have settled into being a more consistent contributor for his team, but I guess we’re all waiting for him to kick more than two or three goals each game. Once he starts kicking bags, who knows what that will do for the Giants?
For St Kilda, the story of their day was Max King. He returned to the side after a long absence and made an immediate impact kicking four goals. He’ll be better for the hitout and will be pleased with both the win and the contribution he made. Jack Sinclair was probably St Kilda’s best racking up 37 disposals and kicking two goals. His run and carry is always a feature, and he can hit a target at full speed. The Saints now find themselves in fifth position on seven wins, equal with the Bulldogs. There is then a gap of two games to Geelong in seventh place.
The chances of St Kilda playing finals this year, based on their remaining draw, are pretty high. Having started the year with 4 wins, things have taken a little turn as they’ve lost three of their last six games and look a little less in command right now. That said, they have a very winnable game against the Hawks coming up, and if 12 or 13 wins is what you need to make the eight this year, a quick look at their draw for the rest of the year suggests they should achieve that. Nothing is ever guaranteed of course, but they still have a few decent players to return from injury as well as having a guy called Ross Lyon coaching them.
10. We can almost draw a line for the Top 6 to be playing finals
This might seem to be an early call, but I think you’ll find that the sides currently occupying the Top 6 spots on the ladder will all be in the finals. The same couldn’t be said for the same time last year as both Carlton and St Kilda missed out on finals after occupying 3rd and 5th positions on the ladder after Round 10 respectively. And we all know what happened. The difference this year is that there is a gap opening up between 6th and 7th, and both the Dogs and Saints have reasonable draws in the remainder of the season. The final two positions in the eight are up for grabs for as many teams as far down the ladder as the 14th placed Tigers.
So, for a bit of fun, I thought I’d give a synopsis of the remaining teams and what I believe to be their chances of playing in September. And yes, we all have to bear in mind the possibility that any team inside the top 6 could fall into a heap like the Blues and Saints eventually did last year, but I’ll do my best to tell you who I think will occupy those last two spots in the eight.
Geelong – They have a lot of home games remaining. I have them down for 7 or more wins which means they probably get in, but it’s hard to get a read on them to be honest. People talk about their injury list, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some suggest. Key players missing are Dangerfield, De Koning, Henry, Rohan and Stanley. They all should be back soon. Chance of playing finals: 80%
Adelaide – I’ve got Adelaide possibly winning six more games plus a few I’m calling a toss of the coin. A huge one would be the game this coming week against the Lions at home. If they win that game, it’s on! A loss there might make it difficult. Their list is reasonably healthy. Tex should play this week. It might help. Chance of playing finals: 50%
Essendon – The Bombers are a little tricky. I have them down for five more wins and four with a question mark. They’ve got a pretty decent draw with a few tough ones thrown in. I can see them getting to twelve wins which will puts them in the mix. Let’s face it. The Bombers have lost mainly to the better teams. They’re possibly a chance but can’t afford any lapses Chance of playing finals: 50%
Fremantle – I think Freo get six or more wins so they’re in the same category as the Crows and Bombers. That win against Geelong literally changes their whole season. It’s onwards and upwards from here. But plenty has to go right, and all these sides can’t get in. so it’s 50/50 for these three teams. I guess it’s possible they can be leapfrogged too. Chance of playing finals: 50%
Carlton – This team is fast becoming the biggest disappointment of the year for many. I can see them winning five more games with question marks on four. It might not be enough to make it even if they win seven of the remaining 12 games. It looks unlikely at this stage, and their form is indifferent. But, they’re currently only half a game out, so you can’t discount them. Chance of playing finals: 30%
Sydney – This team is just so hard to get a read on. On the surface, it should be simple. They’ve beaten nobody of note and just fell over the line against North. That should tell you all you need to know, but I think most of us are waiting for the Swans to click into gear. I don’t know if that will even happen. When assessing their remaining games, there was only three or four that seemed likely wins with question marks and a few certain losses. They need to win a minimum of eight games to get there. Will they find a way to do that or will they just meander through the rest of the year? Chance of playing finals: 10%
Gold Coast – I guess it’s good that they’re even in this conversation, but their chances are awfully slim. They also need eight wins out of their next twelve and that will take their absolute best week in week out. They’ll probably finish on 8-10 wins for the year as best case. Having said that, they’re still a mathematical chance as they say. Chance of playing finals: 2%
Richmond – I’m only including the Tigers because, well, it’s the Tigers. It’s going to be a very tall order, but sometimes the Tigers do their best with their backs against the wall. The loss to Essendon was a cruel blow. Their next two weeks against the Power and the Giants are massive. I’ve got them down for losses in four games. That may be enough to bury them, but this side can surprise us all and win when they’re really not supposed to. I’ve put a line through them in the past and it has never ended well. I’ll just give them a small chance of making it. Chance of playing finals: 10%