There is a pulse left in the Sydney Swans – only faint, but it is unmistakably there.
In a nail-biting finish, Sydney managed to eke out a win at home against the Dogs, despite looking a step slow early in the game. Once again buoyed by Errol Gulden, and with some surprising pressure from Buddy Franklin in the last quarter making a big impact, the Swans were able to counter a huge clearance advantage by the Dogs with a relentless tackling game of their own, forcing their opponents into rushed disposals.
Can Sydney make the eight? Is it a bridge too far? Who stood up and who stepped aside in this one?
That’s what I’m here for, as we take a look at the game with The Mongrel’s Talking Points.
I read with interest a few comments after a recent Swans game that criticised Errol Gulden’s delivery inside 50. I reckon the people who made those calls will be quietly deleting their posts at the moment, as the young star dished up a couple of delightful passes to Joel Amartey in this game that would have had the big bloke licking his lips in anticipation of when the next one was coming.
Amartey converted only one of them, but the precise nature of Gulden’s delivery was a standout in this game, as he worked primarily on the wing in the first half, before shifting to the midfield in the second half to give the Swans a bit more burst from the stoppages.
Gulden finished the game with 30 touches, but unlike some who get a heap of the footy, he both gained ground, and hit targets as he consistently became a thorn in the side of the Dogs.
Gulden has now had his breakout season. He has demonstrated just how good he is, and can be at the highest level. With six games now remaining, it is looking more likely every week that he will occupy a place in the All-Australian team – likely on the wing.
Or will he?
Sometimes the All-Australian selectors get things very wrong. There have been instances over the past few years where some selections have left people scratching their heads. Luckily for Gulden, it is usually in favour of midfielders making the team over players who normally play half-forward or the forward pocket (Bont and Petracca at half-forward, and Dusty in the forward pocket are a few that have been pretty questionable when you consider who missed out to grant them their places) but what Gulden is doing is forcing the hand of the selectors. He is demonstrating such consistent form that these blokes would have to be the greatest collection of imbeciles outside Canberra to miss what he is doing.
We have our Wingman of the Year Award here at The Mongrel, and yes, it is true that Gulden does not feature in the top two in that formula this year (too much midfield time, as we saw today) but if we are looking at the overall package, what he has achieved thus far in the 2023 season should be enough to have his name at the front of mind of the All-Australian selectors. A strong finish to the season may see him become the first wingman since Andrew Gaff back in 2018 to make the team.
It’d be about damned time, too.
A TALE OF TWO FORWARDS
I’ve got to give Lance Franklin a heap of credit in this game. At this stage of his career, he is pretty much a ground-ball type of player and though he is now carrying a few extra kilograms (not a knock… it happens to the best of us), his pressure once the ball hit the deck was first class. And it seemed to get better the longer the game went.
We were a couple of straight kicks away from seeing Buddy have a huge last quarter – he did everything but convert his shots for goal as he ran hard, chased, bumped, tackled, and pressured all over the park. It’s been a while since we saw Franklin at half-back that late in the game, but there he was, throwing himself into contests and even stripping Caleb Daniel of the footy in a tackle that probably should have been rewarded with a holding-the-ball decision. The non-call was likely payback for the horrendous holding-the-man decision Buddy was awarded against Ryan Gardner early in the game. If ever there was a valid reason for a player to display dissent, it was that moment for Gardner.
Buddy’s stats are not going to blow anyone away – not after what we’ve become accustomed to when it comes to Franklin – but his efforts made such a difference in this game, that I have no doubt they’ll be highlighted by John Longmire once the video review is compiled.
Up the other end, it also took Jamarra Ugle-Hagan until the last quarter to get going.
I’d like t say that he was towelled up by Tom McCartin, and that would be true after about quarter time, but McCartin started the game on Aaron Naughton, who hit the ground running and really gave McCartin some problems with his mobility. Playing on Jamarra should have equated to a similar problem, but McCartin owned that contest.
It was only after McCartin copped a knock in the last quarter and started struggling to get around that Ugle-Hagan began having an impact. Of course, this came in the form of the one thing Franklin couldn’t do in the final quarter – converting when kicking for goal.
As a matter of fact, these two were quite the opposite all throughout this game. Whilst Buddy can barely jump over a piece of paper these days (his second contested grab in the last quarter looked like it surprised the hell out of him!), Jamarra can. And whilst Buddy worked his ass off to apply pressure and lay tackles, Jamarra didn’t, ending up with goose eggs in that stat.
Franklin had five tackles for the contest.
When you start out, you’re often told that when you’re not having a great day, you can still do the effort stuff – the tackling, the harassing, the pressure. Only one of the two forwards in question did that in this game, and it wasn’t the one you’d expect.
No, it was the 36-year-old that was doing the hard stuff, whilst the 21-year-old made the first effort at a contest and then put the cue in the rack.
Hats off to Buddy. He gave the young fella a lesson in this game
I’ll keep the hat on when it comes to Jamarra, though. Things won’t always come easy, and when they don’t, you have to find a way to have an impact. Maybe the young fella can learn a bit from this one?
CAN AARON NAUGHTON AND JAMARRA UGLE-HAGAN CO-EXIST?
Are we starting to see a situation where the Western Bulldogs’ forward line can only function with one of these two as aerial targets?
When was the last time you saw them work together and end up in the best players together? Maybe the game against the Hawks in Round Seven? They combined for six goals that day. Or maybe two weeks ago against the Dockers? They had six between them that day, as well
If I had a vote, I’d say their Round 17 game against the Pies was their best work, with 15 marks and six goals between them, but that makes just three out of 17 games where they have looked potent. Is that enough?
When people talk about the great forward combinations – Buddy and Roughie, Lloyd and Lucas, hell, even Curnow and McKay, there are games where things click and they look like unstoppable forces, but with the Dogs, are these two too similar to make it work? The Carlton duo, who has copped so much slack, have 74 goals between them this season. These two have 58 and the Blues-duo have a game in hand.
In recent weeks, it has been Jamarra as the number one target, but the Dogs looked good with Naughton back as the main man this one. He flew at everything and was close to clunking a few more big grabs.
Will the Dogs need to make a decision on their structure with these two? Will one have to start leading further up the ground more often to open up space for the other? Or are we going to see both trying to operate inside 50 and occasionally getting in each other’s way?
Naughton and Jamarra have the makings of a great forward tandem. They could…. yes, COULD take the Dogs places over the next few years, but only if they can work out who is doing what and where the other should be when it happens. Until then, we’re going to see one of them quiet in games way too often.
I love seeing a running half-back that genuinely does damage with his disposals. Over the journey at Sydney, I have seen many people whack Jake Lloyd for not playing the way they expect him to… even though his entire role is built around separation and rebound footy – much like Bachar Houli was at Richmond. I have tried to tell them the reason Lloyd plays the way he does, but they don’t listen, and then he bobs up and does something very courageous and they act like they were on his bandwagon all along… I might start naming names!
Anyway, one of the criticisms of Lloyd is that he doesn’t punish opponents with his ball use. I don’t think anyone will be able to say the same about Ollie Florent, who has really embraced the switch he made from the wing to half-back over the last 12 months, developing into a strong smaller defender.
Oh, and he takes delight in using the corridor to do exactly what people say Lloyd does not. He hurts them.
He slammed home two goals in this one, and in the process, ran off a player that has been redeployed to half-forward this season, Jack Macrae. More on him later.
That Florent was given the space to operate in the manner he did in this game was damning of Luke Beveridge. I know the Dogs don’t play defensively-minded players other than Libba, and even he has to be reined in at times, but to allow Florent space off half-back to run forward and kick two goals is almost neglect from both Macrae and Beveridge.
He carried the footy almost 600 metres and had six intercepts. Sure, he gave up 24 touches to Macrae, but Macrae had just four score involvements. Florent had five playing at the wrong end of the bloody ground.
This game was a bit of a warning show over the bow of the next teams to play Sydney – if you don’t give Florent respect on the rebound, he can and will hurt you. He has become the running defender clubs would fall all over themselves to acquire, and whilst he is just 24, he will enter restricted free agency after the 2024 season. I expect a few teams will be very interested in where he sees himself playing. It would be wise for the Swans to pony up some dollars to ensure he stays with the club – I am not sure they could do better in terms of a half-back runner.
JACK MACRAE – HALF FORWARD?
Ah yes, Jack Macrae. This isn’t just about him; I am lumping him in with Adam Treloar for this section.
Do you think Jack Macrae is best suited to playing as a half-forward? The knock on him was always that he got a tonne of the footy, but didn’t hurt as much as others who accumulated. A lot of that stemmed from playing next to a freak like Bont, but there was likely some truth to it, as well, as Macrae would often go sideways before going forward. Not to the level of a Matt Crouch, but somewhere in between him and Bont.
Given that, I can see why stationing him at half-forward makes sense in theory. He is always going to get plenty of it (24 touches in this one) but Luke Beveridge is reliant on him being creative with the footy.
And I don’t think that is Jack Macrae’s strong suit.
His strong suit is finding the footy, and then finding the right person to drive it forward. When that person is him… it just doesn’t seem to sit right.
Meanwhile, the wrong person to drive it forward, Adam Treloar, is stationed in the middle of the ground, getting 33 touches of the footy and doing… sweet bugger all with it! The number of times Treloar kicked without looking, or worse, kicked WITH looking and still missed targets, was despicable. The AFL app has him down for five turnovers – they must mean per quarter. Seriously, how are they recording turnovers these days, because if kicking it directly to an opponent is a turnover, they’re being very generous to him.
What Treloar can do is find the goals. He has kicked three goals on seven occasions. Macrae has done it once. Yet, here we are with the bloke who doesn’t kick goals playing closer to the scoring end, and the bloke who wastes the footy playing more where he will get more of the footy to waste.
It makes no sense!
ROWBOTTOM REINING IN LIBBA
I’m not sure many will focus on this one, because for the majority of the evening, it seemed to be Luke Parker with the responsibility of keeping Tom Liberatore under wraps. And look, if we’re being honest here, in the first quarter, Parker gave Libba far too much leeway and the Dogs made him pay.
Libba had five touches in the first minute and a bit. One of them was a goal, and it looked like one of those games where Libba was just going to find the footy irrespective of who took responsibility for him.
But there was a decent period through the second and third quarters where Liberatore wasn’t as prominent. And a lot of the credit for that quiet period has to go to the work of James Rowbottom at stoppages. Libba had six clearances in the first quarter, He added another two in the second before Rowbottom went to work. And from that point on, the main man in the Bulldogs’ engine room managed three clearances for the remainder of the contest.
Yes, Parker was back on him late in the game, but Rowbottom did a heap of the heavy lifting in this one. He had ten tackles – the only player on the park in double figures – as he harassed and hounded Libba whenever the ball was in dispute. It was another selfless game from Rowbottom who continues to grow in stature as part of the Sydney midfield. What he lacks in polish, he more than makes up for with effort. I love his game and love his application. An unsung hero of the Swans if there ever was one.
UNSUNG HERO NUMBER TWO
If James Rowbottom is the first unsung hero of this game, then save some room for Sam Wicks, who worked his tail off inside 50 for the Swans all game to register eight tackles for the game. Usually, I would add this in the “quickies” section, but the number of times he was running hard to support a teammate, only not to be used in favour of someone else… it could have been disheartening, but there he was, doing it again, and again, and again!
Add in his defensive pressure, and the work he did to lock the ball in the Swans’ forward half and you can see a young man who knows he is going to have to fight and claw to keep his spot in this lineup.
I rated his work highly.
I feel terrible only talking about Tom McCartin properly this far down the review. He was huge in this game once he was shifted away from Aaron Naughton. Naughton’s versatility really seemed to trouble him, and McCartin got caught on a block or two, which led to clear runs at the footy for the Dogs’ full forward. With Lewis Melican then taking on Naughton, McCartin switched over to Ugle-Hagan, and proceeded to give him a bath until he copped a knock in the last quarter and Jamarra started to come into the game.
Three messages from Dogs supporters about umpiring already this evening – geez… I thought there were some shockers both ways. They don’t seem to believe in holding the ball anymore, and two of them should have gone against Dogs players (English in quarter two when he evaded one tackle and got caught by the next, and Daniel in the last when Franklin got him and stripped the ball in the tackle). But the one that seems to be pissing Dogs fans off the most was the holding free kick to Buddy when it was painfully clear that Franklin had hold of Ryan Gardner’s jumper. Yep, that one was dead wrong and Franklin got the superstar call – you’re right to be annoyed about that one.
Bailey Dale really shit the bed a few times in this game. Some really poor disposals exiting fifty in the first quarter, and then his running too far effort (due to Franklin pressure again) in the last… there was a fair bit of panic about his game.
But look out… because Will Hayward doesn’t want Bailey Dale to be the only one shitting the bed! Yes, his attempt to go around the corner in the last quarter was pretty brainless, but his miss from 20 metres out directly in front in the first quarter… close to unforgivable. Imagine the Swans fell over? How would the supporters be taking his efforts in front of goal?
Was it just me, or did the commentators sound disappointed that Bont didn’t take the game over? He still had 31 touches and a couple of goals, but their words and tones almost sounded like barracking. “Oooooh, Bont is in a mood…”
Yeah, I am sure the Swans supporters were in a mood listening to you give commentary blowjobs to the bloke. He was very good, but he also missed a critical goal and wasted a lot of the footy. Just call what you see and stop trying to be oracles by picking a great player to do something great. Wanna be a genius? Pick Justin McInerney to make a difference – he did, with some of his runs through the middle and some of his tackling. Swooning over Bont is easy – making a call on a lesser light and getting it right… that’s how you build credibility as a commentator/expert.
“Ooooh, Bont is in a mood….” bugger off.
Massive game for Tim English. 60 bloody hit outs! His previous best was 40, and he added ten clearances of his own, as well. I’m not sure he could do anything else in this game. Against a team with no experienced ruckman, the bullied became the bully. He has come so far.
And finally, great to see Tom Papley get amongst the goals, finishing with four. A couple came out the back, but after four goals in his past four games, he was due to get on the end of a few. The game is better when he is up and about.
And that’ll do me. Hope I wasn’t too harsh on the Bont-love stuff. He is a great player, but I’m not sure he needs commentators barracking for him. That’s what supporters are for.
Next week, the Dogs get the Bombers on Friday night. Giddy up… that will be a belter! And the Swans face Freo in Perth, with the Dockers looking as though they might already be cooked. An opportunity beckons…
As always, massive thanks for supporting this work. Without you guys, I’d chuck it in. Seriously, your support means that much. All the best – HB.
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