Ten Things I Learnt After Round 21

What’s this – no Gab Rossi this week?

Well, even the best need a rest now and again. You have to settle for me this week… you know, a big step down and all, but what can you do? Here are the ten things I learnt after Round 21.



I watch a heap of footy, and when I do, I always look for the best in teams. After all, all a side has to do is play one month of good footy and they can win the flag. The Western Bulldogs were living proof of that in 2016 and the same applies this season.

Make finals – then play your best footy.

We got a glimpse of what that best footy looks like as the Dogs put the Tigers to the sword in the first quarter of their Friday night clash. The Bulldogs’ mids made the Richmond onballers look like they were wearing concrete boots in the middle of the ground, dominating the game through the middle of the ground to produce a nine-goal opening quarter and effectively put the game out of reach.

Maybe we should have seen the writing on the wall for this when both Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin were managed this week – it smacks of a team that kind of knew they weren’t gonna play in September, right? Why else would you rest one of the best leaders the club has ever had, and arguably the greatest finals performer we’ve seen? Argue amongst yourselves on those two points.

The Dogs hit the Tigers hard and often, landing knockout blows before the Tigers even answered the bell, with Marcus Bontempelli and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan the two main weapons at Luke Beveridge’s disposal. They were well supported by Liam Jones, who completed owned defensive 50 and made it seem as though the Tigers were kicking directly to him.

The Dogs only increased their margin by a couple of goals by the time the final siren sounded, but this was a comprehensive win, with the Tigers struggling to find a genuine winner outside Noah Balta, and even he had goals kicked on him (thanks fr the help, Tiger midfielders!)

The Dogs will now definitely play finals – they have the Hawks and Eagles before facing the Cats in the final round. They’d like three wins, of course, but even one could be enough to see them over the line. Richmond… they are done for the year, now. Time to send whoever has some niggles in for surgery and play the kids for the rest of the season.



Two games out of the eight with three games to go and five teams ahead of them, Gold Coast has once again promised the world and delivered an atlas in 2023.

This week was their chance to keep their season alive – a tough ask on the road in Adelaide, but a chance nonetheless. They blew it, going down by 28 points and watching another season slip away.

There has been turmoil at the club in the second half of the season, with Caroline Wilson fanning a spark to turn it into a wildfire that saw Stuart Dew depart the club, and Steven King (the former Cat, not the horror writer) take over the reins. Since then, there have been rumours of the potential signing of Damien Hardwick and the chance they might sign Dustin Martin next year… just as he hits his peak at 32 years of age – ugh.

The Suns are still searching for an identity. The talent is there – you can rattle off a list of names as good as any in the league when it comes to that club. Rowell, Miller, and Anderson in the middle, Ballard, Collins, and Powell in defence, King and Lukosius up forward, great kids like Flaaaaanders, Humphrey, and Hollands, and yet, what are they? A lower-to-middle-of-the-ladder team… again!

I genuinely feel for Suns fans – they have been sold the dream of a developing team for years and the work simply has not paid off. If they get Hardwick… maybe then we will see someone come in with a clear vision and an approach that brings it all together. Hell, maybe even if they don’t get him, but at some stage, this team has to stop promising and start delivering.

You want AFL footy to be successful in Queensland? Then stop being so shit when it matters.



So, I have to ask you – how far away from contending do you think Hawthorn is?

I had 2026 pencilled in at the start of the season, giving the current crop of kids enough time to grow together and become the nucleus of a contending team, but after watching the way this side attacked the footy and their opponents on the weekend, maybe I am being a little conservative.

I’m by no means saying they’ll be in the mix next year – not a chance, but what I am saying is that we will be seeing more and more signs over the next season that give a clear indication that Sam Mitchell knows exactly what he is doing. By 2025, I expect Hawthorn to be winning as many games as they drop, and possibly pushing for finals.

That might be ahead of schedule, and that can be both good and bad, but far out they were exciting to watch against the Pies on Saturday.

I reviewed that game, as I am good at that stuff, and was blown away by the work of Will Day in the middle. His combination with Conor Nash and Jai Newcombe – two of the more unlikely mids of the game – was glorious to watch. They simply beat the experienced Pies midfielders up at the centre bounce, resulting in an impressive 18-3 centre clearance advantage.

You had blokes like Luke Breust and Dylan Moore up forward wreaking havoc, talls doing their thing, with Brandon Ryan kicking three, and then you had the captain – James Sicily… what a game from him!

Why the Pies didn’t drop someone onto the Hawks captain, I’ll never know. He controlled the game from half-back, taking 19 marks and collecting 37 touches, but it was the quality of his ball use that tore the Pies up like Freight Train Brown tore up Auntie Mama on The Cleveland Show.

The Cleveland Show is underrated. Come at me.

Sicily ended with three direct goal assists playing from defensive fifty, whilst Craig McRae sat back and left him all alone to do as he pleased. It was probably the first pig-headed blunder I’ve seen from Fly this season.

Hawks fans could not help but be excited by what they saw. As other teams meander through their rebuilds, seeing this effort from their team would no doubt thrill them.

Oh, and there was one other aspect of the game that was also quite a talking point.



When you think of the role of taggers in the game, you could almost be forgiven for thinking they were a relic from football days past. 15-metre penalties, taking umbrellas into the game, and taggers – so twenty years ago, right?

Nope – not if they’re used correctly, and they don’t get used better than the Hawks used Finn Maginness against Nick Daicos.

Yes, the headlines will now read that Daicos is now out for six weeks with a fracture to his knee (suffered in a collision with James Blanck), but the story before all that was that Daicos was shifted forward – all the way to full forward, in fact – due to the towelling up he was receiving from Maginness.

And no, this is not the same towelling up Joe Ganino used to get from the old blokes that hung around the City Baths when we went there for school sports – this sort was actually enjoyable to watch!

Maginness wore Daicos like a cheap suit, restricting him to five touches (one a kick in, one a soft-as-butter free kick after a Collingwo0d goal, and another free kick on the wing for a push), and he let the young star know all about it, too.

I don’t know about you guys, but there are times when I find that footy is just too nice. I want to see genuine mongrel displayed by players. I don’t want them to be all matey with their opponents – I want them to bloody hate them for the two hours they’re out there on the field. There are a few players that have that about them, but even then, it is tempered by the AFL wanting everyone to sit around a campfire and sing Kumbuya.

Maginness has that mongrel in him. Matt de Boer had that mongrel, Ryan Crowley had that mongrel, and Libba Senior had it, too. You loved to hate those blokes and if they played for your team, you just flat-out loved them. A good tagger is worth his weight in gold at this level, and with the huge scalp of Daicos now on his list of victims, Maginness may find himself a regular place in the Hawthorn side whenever they need someone slowed down.

I hope he goes to Bont this coming week. Both to see how well he goes against the bigger midfielder, and how the Dogs react in protection of their star.



The doomsday preppers are out in force this week, with Port dropping their fourth-straight game and falling to fourth on the AFL ladder.

Of course, it is all Ken Hinkley’s fault, if you listen to them. It always is… unless they’re winning. Then, it’s Josh Carr’s fault.

Ken cannot win, can he?

Anyway, Port dropped a close one to the Cats at half-finished park after also falling short against Adelaide, Collingwood, and Carlton in recent weeks. This, after winning 13-straight. The fact remains that Port will finish in the top four, maybe even in the top two when all is said and done, and will regain some quality pieces to the puzzle along the way. Dixon, Aliir, Bergman, Farrell, Lycett… they are some big outs, and heading into the Cattery is always a tough ask (unless you’re GWS or Freo, apparently). The Power were right in it up to their eyeball – both of them, actually (that was a typo but I kind of liked it) with five minutes to go, and I had the feeling this game was winnable.

They head home to take on a desperate GWS next week, which is THE game they must win. The Giants are playing great footy – their inaccuracy cost them dearly against the Swans and they’ll be determined to make amends. If Port get a hold of them and send them packing, believe me, this is a storm in a tea cup. However, if they drop five in a row, including this, which is a very winnable game at home… then maybe the naysayers will start sounding a little more balanced and a little less vindictive.



Sydney are knocking on the door of the top eight after dropping the Giants, but having watched a heap of Swans games this season, they just haven’t played great footy.

Not yet, anyway.

We sweep aside the West Coast game, because at that stage, it seemed like the Eagles were at their lowest ebb, but in other contests, the Swans have done just enough to fall over the line. They won by two points against the Bombers, and that came two weeks after they did the same against the Dogs. They’re doing enough to win, but they have another level they can get to.

Whether they do get to that level or not… that remains to be seen.

What they are getting is an incredible season from third-year man, Errol Gulden, who is just owning the footy and delivering it gift-wrapped at times to his targets. There is something about watching a player that has complete and utter confidence in his ability to deliver the footy. Darren Jarman was one of those players. He’d pick a target, guide the ball down onto his boot, and the leading player would hardly have to break stride before the footy thudded into his hands. Jarman was a football savant – Gulden is probably not as naturally skilled, but he looks like he is willing to work harder.

Over the past eight weeks, Gulden is averaging 29 touches per game alternating between the wing and onball. With Chad Warner now back in the team and working into form, and Callum Mills starting to find it a bit more, again, the Swans have the right pieces in place.. they’ve just got to get them all fitting together as they did in 2022.

With three games to go, they loom as a huge threat to make September action – something that was considered a long shot a month ago. They have the Suns, Crows, and Dees in the last three weeks and with the ladder the way it is, you’d think they’d have to win two of the tree to have a chance, or all three to make sure of it.

This has been a crazy season, but I’d love both the Swans and Giants to barge their way into finals, setting up a Sydney Derby in the first week.

Oh, and you could do worse than backing Gulden for a top three place in the Brownlow. The blokes has been great when the Swans win.



If we’d mentioned anything like this a couple of months ago, Carlton fans may have screamed at me in frustration and told me to take my jumper off.

Believe me, you don’t want me to take my jumper off… unless you do? I’ll leave my number at the end of this piece.

Seriously though, the Blues were a mess, but they have come through the dark days and into the light to now sit fifth on the ladder and are looming as real September trouble for whoever draws them in the first week.

The thing that is catching my eye at Carlton currently, is that it is not just the stars doing the heavy lifting, but players in the next couple of tiers down lifting their work-rate, as well.

Players like Paddy Dow, who was probably close to bottom-tier a while back, Jack Martin, Zac Fisher, and David Cuningham, who annoyingly spells his surname with one ‘n’ and always makes me look it up – they’re providing the spark, and it is catching fire within the group. They still get the bullish work of Cripps, the great overhead efforts of Charlie Curnow, and the rock-solid defence of Jacob Weitering, but it is not those efforts that are driving the group, now. It is the group driving the group – one-in, all-in, as it should be.

And that’s what makes them dangerous. Add in the fact they showed some great character to come from behind against the Saints and not just snatch the win, but to power away from their opponents, and you have a team that is now playing with confidence.

I have to ask – would you have rather the Blues be playing this sort of footy at this point of the season, or earlier in the year? I wonder where that bloke who was screaming at the players about how disgraceful they were, and how they should take off the jumper, is now? Wherever he is, I hope he is shutting the hell up, but I get the feeling he wouldn’t be – those types of people never do.



Right to the point, as writing this is bloody hard. Tip of the hat to Gab Rossi for doing this every week!

James Jordon is without a deal in place for the 2024 season. That means that should he opt to look elsewhere for opportunity, the Dees will be making some trades this season, but do Melbourne really want to lose him?

How about a player like James Harmes, that has been in and out of the team this season? Do they want other teams sniffing around him with the promise of a larger role?

The Dees are in a great position – they sit second on the ladder and have this abundance of talent at their disposal on the sidelines, headlined by Clayton Oliver. They also have Brodie Grundy waiting in the wings, Tom McDonald, and Bayley Fritsch to come back into this team. On top of that, players like Harmes and Jordon have been in and out of the team, played as substitutes, and generally, have been some of the “they’re nice options to have” types of players for the Dees.

But they could probably be a lot more.

Above, I wrote about the value of Finn Maginness this week. James Harmes has many of the same talents, but is a better offensive, as well. Teams who are on the verge of contending could do well to enquire with Harmes’ management as to his intentions next season, as his hardness around the contest and ability to close down a star midfielder would be invaluable.

In terms of Jordon, the poor bloke has been forced to sit out long stretches of games all season as the sub. Seven times, for those counting. Over the past five weeks, he has been more of a best-22 player, and whilst he may remain as such, his best position is on the wing, and the Dees have Hunter and Langdon locked down in those positions.

After winning a flag, teams are sometimes forced to make some tough choices when it comes to personnel. Premiership heroes deserve to be paid, and that eats into the salary cap. If either of Jordon or Harmes are collateral damage of that, there will be teams lining up to bring either, or both onboard.

If I were looking to bolster my team with solid midfield talent, these two would be high on my list of seemingly gettable players.



Nobody likes an honourable loss. We take them when our teams are learning and growing, as it is a sign that the improvement we desire is not too far away, but when an honourable loss turns into an unlikely win, it can derail some plans.

And the efforts of the West Cast Eagles against the Bombers almost brought things undone for the 18th-positioned team.

How many stories have you read about Harley Reid this season? He hasn’t played a league game, but whether he’ll go to West Coast happily, whether he wants to remain in Victoria, what West Coast could get for the number one pick… there has been a heap of chatter about the “what ifs…” when it comes to this kid.

And North Melbourne were a minute away from sneaking in and grabbing him out from underneath the Eagles’ noses.

When Ryan Maric went back and slotted the goal to give the Eagles the lead, there would have had to have been thousands of Eagles fans who were torn. The side was showing heart, they were showing fight… but they looked like they just cost the club the number one pick, and whichever way they use that pick, a chance to accelerate their rebuild.

Go Eagles..go! No… wait on… stop! Stop being good! Don’t improve so quickly!

All was righted moments later with Kyle Langford slamming through the Joe-The-Goose goal after one of the worst ball-ups from an AFL umpire you’ll ever see (how does he manage to throw the ball away, over the ruckmen’s heads to the point neither could contest?), but for a moment there, Harley Reid almost slipped to the Kangaroos.

After the game, Adam Simpson was seen smiling on the bench. He would have been ecstatic with his team’s performance, but deep down, I reckon he was pretty relieved that West Cast were able to look great and lose, keeping that number one pick and the options that come with it, in their keeping.

Where were you at on it, Eagles fans? A win, or the number one pick? Hard to decide in the heat of the moment, but now that the smoke has cleared, it was probably the best result for everyone.



I didn’t just learn this… but it has been somewhat strengthened by his recent comments that Port Adelaide should be treating their loss to Geelong as a win, due to the injuries the Power have.

Wow… where was his defence of West Coast when their team had half a WAFL side out there in Eagles guernseys? Because that’s how he defended Port’s loss. “They had half a SANFL side…” he offered, as others on the panel questioned his line of thinking. Maybe he was busy calling Eagles players fat at the time?

Yes, Port were good – I noted it above, but Geelong are hardly the dominant team they were last season, are they? Hell, they just dropped a game there to Freo last week. Maybe that was because of injuries, as well, and they should have been praised rather than questioned? Bloody silly stuff.

From his semi-paternal comments about Jason Horne-Francis early in the season, to this rubbish… sometimes I reckon Kane should stick to loading his gun and firing at random other clubs more and discuss Port Adelaide a bit less, as it seems very difficult for him to offer an unbiased and balanced opinion of them. Had they won the game, yes, give them all the praise you want.

But they didn’t.

They lost.

And there is only one type of person who treats a loss as a win.

A loser.


Before I wrap this up, I just want to send my best wishes to Gab and give him a huge amount of respect for the work he does with this column every week. He pumps them out without fail, and this is the first one in about four years that he has not been able to do. Hope to have you back soon, mate. All the best – HB.


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