Seven Things I Learnt After Round 15

1. Geelong are still hard to tip against at home

Coming into this game, most betting odds had Melbourne as slight favourites which was fair enough based on ladder position, form, and the fact the Cats have been less reliable when playing at GMHBA Stadium this year compared to recent seasons. In what is somewhat of an anomaly, the Cats have only played in Geelong on just four occasions out of the 15 rounds completed so far. They’ve won three out of those four, but it was their shock loss to GWS in Round 11 that possibly resulted in the Demons being fancied slightly ahead of Geelong.

It almost looked to be going to plan as Melbourne had their noses in front at the final break, with Jeremy Cameron out of the game after a freak knock with teammate Gary Rohan who some ridiculously suggested that the MRO should’ve had a look at the incident despite it being between two players from the same team. Honestly, if that had have been the case, it may have been time to look to another code to satiate my sporting addiction.

With all the drama of being without one of their best, and trailing by seven points in a low-scoring, rain-affected contest, the Cats had one of their best quarters for the year kicking sixlast quarter goals out of their 11 for the match. Melbourne could only look on for the most part in that final term scoring 2.4 for the quarter to eventually go down by 15 points. Ironically, after taking out his teammate in the first quarter, Gary Rohan was one of Geelong’s best for the night finishing with three goals from 16 touches having a big impact on the result. Tom Stewart was resolute in defence as always. Tanner Bruhn is playing his best footy since coming across from the Giants. A loss in this game would’ve made it very difficult for Geelong to feature in September.

Looking ahead at what’s to come, the good news is that Geelong play five of their remaining nine games at home. Realistically, six wins might be what’s required to get them there, and there are no guarantees. Their remaining games include clashes against the other three teams in the Top 4 in Port Adelaide, Collingwood and Brisbane (at the GABBA). It starts with a trip to the SCG next Friday night to take on the Swans. It’s a must-win game which will be made all the more difficult with Cameron and Dangerfield on the sidelines, but one thing is certain, and that is if the Cats do find a way to make the eight and play finals, there’ll be premiership aspirants who will be feeling awfully nervous about Geelong being involved.

Melbourne will feel they let this one slip, but they didn’t do a lot wrong. The game was simply taken away from them in a 20-minute blitz to kick off the final quarter with Geelong kicking six unanswered goals to break the game open and lead by as much as 28 points before the Demons scored a couple of late ones. Melbourne also missed many opportunities to score goals finishing with an inaccurate 8.15 against 11.12. Petracca did his Brownlow chances no harm at all finishing with a game-high 33 possessions and a late goal. Christian Salem was also one of Melbourne’s best across half-back with 22 touches. A top 4 spot is still on the cards for the Demons, and their quest for that double-chance will start on Sunday at the MCG against an improving Giants.


2. Brisbane can win in Melbourne, just not at the G

After 14 games, Brisbane have just moved ahead of Melbourne with a 10-4 record. Brisbane have had their share of trouble with their away fixtures winning just three from seven, or four from eight if you count their win over North listed as a home game for Gather Round in Adelaide. They’re proving very difficult to beat at home being undefeated at the GABBA so far, and the question for their prospects during the finals has been under question due to a poor record in Melbourne. I’m starting to think that it might not be Melbourne the city where they might struggle, but rather the MCG.

They’ve played three matches at Marvel winning two and losing one, including this week’s victory against the Saints. In fact, the Lions have won seven of their last eight games at Marvel would you believe! But it’s been well-documented they haven’t won a home and away game at the MCG since 2014. That almost seems crazy considering that, for the most part, Brisbane have been a strong unit in recent times. Yes, they won a final last year against Melbourne at the G, but the loss to the Hawks in Round 13 at Melbourne’s home of football had most of us very perplexed. In terms of the betting odds for this game, it looks like they got it right with Brisbane entering this game as marginal favourites around $1.75 for the win.

Stupidly, I tipped St Kilda, and I based that on Brisbane’s poor record on the road without really considering how shaky the Saints are looking these days or the Lions’ strong record at Marvel. After winning the first four games of the year, they’ve now slumped to four wins from their last ten games and are looking like one of those teams that may slip out of the eight in similar fashion to how their 2022 campaign ended. The Saints were less efficient than their opponents scoring just 2.3 to halftime despite getting more of the ball. Max King was kept goalless by Jack Payne. In fact, the goal scorers for St Kilda were all singles. Sinclair was once again their best with 36 touches and a goal. The game against a devastatingly struggling Eagles next week may provide some relief for the Saints, but then it gets serious again the week after as they face the Demons. The five more wins they will need to make the finals are starting to look doubtful unless they find some form.

The Lions are now firmly entrenched in 3rd place and are starting to look like genuine contenders. This win was crucial. A loss here would’ve put their prospects for the double-chance in doubt, but by half time it became pretty clear they weren’t going to let this one slip. Lachie Neale was his usual best with 29 touches. If he’s not the most consistent player in the AFL, he’d be awfully close. Eric Hipwood has found some solid form mid-season. He finished with four goals and has had a good month after some indifferent form early on. It all sets up for the run home starting with the Tigers next week. It won’t be an easy game, but it is at the GABBA, and we know what usually happens there. They’re looking pretty good but there is that two-game gap between the Lions and the top two sides. Still, I’m not so sure we have a two-horse race just yet.


3. West Coast are as bad as Fitzroy were in 1996

It’s hard to believe that a team who won the premiership just five years ago has sunk so far. What’s even harder to believe is they are as bad as a side who were in their last season ever due to being in a financial mess with sub-standard facilities and no future to speak of as a club. I’m sure the Eagles are not quite in the same boat as the beleaguered Fitzroy were in terms of being broke and basically training out of a shed, but the numbers are very much on par with where the Lions of old were in that fateful year.

Fitzroy managed just the one win that season and boasted a percentage of just 49.5 after Round 22. In comparison, this year’s West Coast Eagles have won just one match from 14 games and, currently, have a very weak percentage of just 47.3! We know why things went so bad all through last year with injury and COVID, and their injury list is still extensive, but it seems to be taking an awfully long time to get any of this right.

It’s been 12 years since any team scored over 200. Sydney did just that while holding the Eagles to a measly 34 points, and in doing so broke the club record for their biggest winning margin as well as their highest-ever score. The statistical reading is as ugly as can be. The Swans had 140 more possessions and more than doubled the Eagles inside 50’s. 11 players hit the scoreboard including a bag of five to Isaac Heaney. The Swans had many good players in what is the closest thing you’ll see to an in-season practice match for premiership points. West Coast games are now becoming torturous to watch. I’m really not sure why any fans would attend their games in Perth. Perhaps to see Oscar Allen kick a couple goals as he does each week? The hope of a competitive quarter or two? I don’t mean to kick a side who are down, but their lack of competitiveness is now a blight on this season, and a definite advantage to those sides who get to play them twice. An almost unfair advantage.

Sydney, with that massive boost in percentage, are still a calculable chance to play finals. They take on Geelong at the SCG this coming Friday. Both teams are fighting hard to stay in finals contention, and one gets the distinct impression that the Cats may be ready to launch their final assault after their solid win against the Demons, so the Swans will have to be at their best. Although, if you go back to their first meeting at GMHBA in Round Six, or last year’s Grand Final for that matter, it doesn’t make for good reading if you’re a Swans supporter.


4. Caleb Serong is right up there with the best midfielders

The 2020 Rising Star winner, Caleb Serong, had a blinder against the Bombers on Saturday night. He and his partner in crime Andrew Brayshaw make for a fierce combination as they had 61 touches between them and a goal each, but it was Serong’s second term with the game on the line that helped break the game open and put the game on Freo’s terms that I feel gave him the edge over his classy teammate in the best afield stakes. Freo scored a whopping 8.5 from stoppages, and much of that was on the back of the 22-year-old’s clean takeaways. He was brilliant and was definitely one of the reasons the Dockers are back on the winning list after a couple of indifferent weeks.

Another reason is star recruit Luke Jackson who has clearly found his best form once again with another strong performance finishing with 17 touches and three goals. The Dockers face the Bulldogs at Marvel next Saturday in a season-defining game for both sides.

The Bombers started well kicking the first two goals of the game, but once the Dockers turned up the pressure gauge, something that was missing in their last two outings, the Bombers weren’t able to match them. Their skipper Zach Merrett battled hard finishing with 29 touches and a goal, as did Nic Martin who is growing very nicely into the wingman role. He had 26 touches and also scored a goal. Essendon’s forwards found the going tough with Langford and Stringer scoring just the one goal each while Peter Wright was kept goalless by Alex Pearce after booting 5 upon return against the Blues in his last outing. The challenge for Essendon to remain in the eight goes up another notch next round as they take on the Power at Marvel who last lost at the venue was way back in 2019. Maybe the hope for a Bombers win rests on the fact the Power are coming off a bye…


5. Watching the Pies win close games is actually getting boring

Close games are always exciting and there’s nothing like watching a game deep into the last quarter where the result is still undecided. Watching this game late with the teams only separated by two points for the last 5 minutes or more should’ve been heart-in-mouth kind of stuff, but for me, a Magpies win was inevitable as they always find a way and rarely muck it up, so it just felt all too familiar and, dare I say it, a little boring.

The game started a little slowly for the Crows who were off target and could only manage 2.8 in the first half. At that stage the Pies looked in control and the result seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The game came to life after halftime when the Crows had a huge third term banging on 7.1 and restricting Collingwood to just three behinds for the quarter. Taylor Walker kicked three goals during that period and finished with five for the match. He now sits a goal clear of Charlie Curnow in the Coleman race. Jordan Dawson was also at his brilliant best finishing with 35 touches.

The Crows now sit just inside the eight on percentage where they should remain after next week’s home game against the Kangaroos, but a win today would have given them some breathing space from the chasing pack and they’ll be ruing their inaccuracy in the first half.

Once again, another lucky escape for Collingwood, although it happens all too often with predictability to be really considered luck. They just seem to have a level of self-belief that transcends most clubs since Craig McRae took the head coaching role. Nick Daicos was one of their best finishing with 37 touches and a goal. His brother Josh also got plenty with 33 possessions. I imagine that the coaching staff will be reviewing that third quarter during the week in the hope of not repeating the dose in coming games. The reality is that while Collingwood sit on top of the ladder in a season where a flag is beckoning, this conversation could have easily been about the fact they had lost two games in a row in a drop-off of form. The win will paper over a few cracks for sure, but even the trip to Carrara to face the Suns next Saturday night will be a challenge. They’ll go in as favourites, which is definitely as it should be, but if it’s a tight game we know which way it will go.


6. The gap between Hawthorn’s best and worst is massive

I expected the Hawks to put up a decent fight against the Suns up at Heritage Bank Stadium on Sunday night. I even contemplated tipping them based on their recent form which has seen them notch up impressive wins against Brisbane and St Kilda. The fact that they were coming off a bye was the one factor that swayed me to tip the home side, and I’m glad I did. The Hawks started well kicking the first three goals of the game and led by seven at quarter time. From that point on, they could only manage an additional two goals and went down by 67 points. Had the Suns been more accurate it could’ve been much worse.

The Hawks are a young side, so we understand that there’ll be highs and lows, but I’m sure Sam Mitchell will be a little deflated by what he saw on game day. Blake Hardwick and Will Day worked tirelessly and both picked up over 30 possessions each, but with the ball being in Hawthorn’s defensive half for most of the match, it stands to reason they would’ve seen a fair bit of it. Maybe they can regroup and put on a better show against another struggling outfit in Carlton next Sunday. The fact the Blues are coming off a bye might offer some hope for the Hawks next round.

The Suns were coming off a pretty poor loss last week and needed a strong response. It did take them a while to get going which might be a small concern for Dew which he will try and address, but after halftime, it was an annihilation, and to their credit, they showed no mercy to gain some much-needed percentage. They now are out of the eight on percentage only, and the focus moving forward will be the old cliché of one week at a time. Anderson and Fiorini were both among Gold Coast’s best, and it’s particularly pleasing to see the latter in good form as he has had some trouble establishing himself as an automatic selection this year.

The Suns get to spend two weeks on the Gold Coast, but the side they take on next week in Collingwood will be as tough as any. It will not only take their best football to have any sort of chance, but it will also test their mental strength against a side that barely seems to know how to lose these days. A win next week would go a long way towards the Suns playing finals for the first time in history. So far, however, these kinds of games for the Suns have not played out the way they would’ve hoped.


7. Does anybody need convincing that playing after a bye is a disadvantage?

This week, we had six teams coming off a bye and the end result was that five of those teams lost. The only winner was Collingwood who defeated Adelaide who were also coming off a break.

The same occurred two weeks prior when St Kilda defeated Sydney after both teams had the previous week off. Only two of the twelve sides who had the bye have won the following week, and in both instances, it was against a side also coming off a break.

In a few of those matches, there has been a dramatic drop-off in form. Gold Coast had a good fortnight up in Darwin beating two top-eight teams in the Bulldogs and Adelaide and looked like they were building some momentum. Following their week off, they played one of their worst games for the year going down by ten goals to Carlton who had been having all manner of issues trying to kick a decent score. This week we saw Hawthorn who’ve won three of their last four come out very flat after the break, managing just 5.4 in their match on the Gold Coast. I could go on, but you get the picture.

And, as a Blues man, I sincerely hope this trend begins to reverse as another loss after the bye for my team could see them resigned to a bottom-four position, let alone any thoughts of playing finals. If the Power loses to Essendon at the MCG next week, it would really get people wondering about this whole mid-season bye idea. I think, in essence, it is a good thing to provide a week’s respite for player welfare in the middle of the year, but perhaps, where possible, when putting together the draw for 2024 it might be wise to match up teams who are both coming off a break to even the playing field as it were. In a way, it’s kind of bizarre how it has played out this season. Anybody would think that a week off would actually give the team an advantage, but all it seems to have done this year is halt any sort of momentum teams have gathered.

I’m open to the idea that it’s an element of coincidence or some kind of anomaly which might be reversed in some way next week, but right now I think I might be onto something.



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