Nine Things I Learnt After Round Five


 1. Playing with a broken finger is not a good idea

Nobody can deny that Clayton Oliver is worthy of being recognised as one of the AFL’s best midfielders. However, the decision to play him with the finger injury that now requires surgery looks to have been costly. On a night where quite a few Melbourne players seemed flat, Clayton himself had numbers that were well down on what we know he’s capable of. And it was apparent that he was in discomfort during the game. He finished the game with 18 touches and had little influence on the night: it’s always risky putting one of your best players out there when injured.

Unfortunately a number of Melbourne players also played games that weren’t at their usual high possession-getting best. Only Gawn (23), Viney (23) and Petracca (20) had 20 possessions or more, while seven Lions achieved this feat. Brisbane had ball in hand over 60 times more which is a smashing in anyone’s language. Only a few goals to the Demons late in the game perhaps created the illusion that Melbourne was competitive when in reality they weren’t. It was obvious early on that the Lions were more switched on. Many had the Demons down as a lock for a Top 4 slot, but as we’ll discuss later, this year is starting to look like the most open field in years.

When looking at the positives from Brisbane’s strong showing on Thursday night, it’s worth mentioning that the long wait to see the best of Cam Rayner may be over. We’ve seen glimpses since the former number one pick joined the Lions from the 2017 draft, but for the most part he would drift in and out of games. We’re now seeing him spending time in the middle and having a genuine impact. His first half set the tone for the night and the Demons just weren’t able to contain him. He can be deadly by hand or foot, and Thursday night was no exception. He finished the game with 25 quality touches and his presence will go a long way towards Brisbane reviving their season after a poor start. Dunkley, Neale and the ageless Zorko all got plenty of the ball, and after a win against a strong opponent at the dreaded MCG, another test awaits as they take on the Cars next week. If they lose that one we hear talk of a GABBA curse…


 2. Luke Beveridge is on borrowed time

Winning a premiership does allow the successful coach to enjoy a few more years in the job than a coach who has not reached those heights. The club’s faith in Bevo almost paid off when they made the Grand Final in 2021 where they lost in spectacular fashion and by a huge margin after enjoying a three goal lead midway through the third term. One gets the impression they’ve never really recovered from that, as they’ve had two very indifferent years since, and the signs of a third one are showing.

This loss to Essendon is telling. The group looked lethargic at times, and some almost look as though they would rather be doing something else. Even the great Bontempelli was below his best. He only managed 17 touches with Sam Durham keeping him company. Tim English is just going at the moment causing some to suspect he may be on the move.

Many Bulldog fans are wondering why the likes of Caleb Daniel and Jackson Macrae seem out of favour. You can add Bailey Dale to that list as well. These guys have been in and out of the team and have been good servants of the club. Something does seem amiss, and unless the Bulldogs turn this inconsistent run of form around, the future of their coach will be on very shaky ground.

Speaking of inconsistency, there’s also this Bombers team. They had a massively concerning loss to Port Adelaide in Round 4 resulting in many thinking they’d come up well short against the Bulldogs. But as was the case with the Lions against Melbourne, they came out strong and maintained their ferocity for four quarters eventually wearing down the Dogs to run out comfortable victors by 29 points. Zac Merrett starred once again showing what a great leader he’s become. Other notables included Durham who played one of his best games for the club as well as former Port Adelaide player Xavier Duursma. It was a huge turnaround from the Round Four debacle offering the fans a little hope that all is not lost. An interesting clash against the Crows in Adelaide awaits them. The scars from their last visit there would not have healed despite the improved showing on Friday night. A win would build belief that they may be genuine finals contenders and the loss to the Power was an aberration.


 3. The Giants are not invincible

It all seemed to be going to the script up in Canberra. Nobody really gave St Kilda any chance against the undefeated Giants. They remain without a loss but came awfully close to their first blemish of 2024. The Jake Riccardi goal in the first minute of the last quarter gave the Giants a 35 point lead. The game seemed over, but the Saints stormed home, kicking the last six goals of the game only to fall agonisingly short by the narrowest of margins. The victory to the Giants leaves them on top of the ladder, but they no longer seem to be ahead of the pack by as much as we may have thought. Their better players this week were Whitfield, Ash and Green. A huge test against the Blues at Marvel awaits them made more tricky by the absence of Sam Taylor and Stephen Coniglio.

The Saints didn’t get the four points, and they might not be happy with the first three quarters, but their finish to the game could spark a season revival on the back of the self-belief it would’ve created. Nobody saw it coming either. Bradley Hill’s game was one of his best in some time. He had 33 touches and was a big part of their last quarter comeback. Steele was busy with 29 possessions and Rohan Marshall continues to impress. The Thursday night clash coming up against the Bulldogs will be a belter. Both sides are 2-3 and a loss for either could decide their fate for the season. There’ll be plenty of pressure all round, but none more so than the pressure on former Saint player Luke Bevridge.


 4. Adelaide are Carlton’s bogey side

Carlton have now lost their last three games against Adelaide, and on each occasion they headed into the game as favourites. Late in 2022 with Carlton in finals contention against an Adelaide side who only won eight games for the year they went down by 29 points. The Blues went on to lose their final three games and miss playing finals by 0.6 of a percentage point. Last year an undefeated Blues showed up in Adelaide and were humbled by 56 points. The Blues following eight weeks saw them win just one game. The eerie similarities with this season where the also undefeated Blues took on a less-fancied Crows in Round Five resulting in a loss will send a few long-suffering Blues fans into a state of dread.

The manner in which the Blues lost will also be cause for concern. With a lead of 16 points with around just six minutes remaining, the Crows lifted their intensity and kicked the last three goals of the game to win by 2 points. The Blues defence was exposed time and again. Izak Rankine did as he pleased in space that should never have been afforded to such a talent. Walker returned to form with a vengeance and made the reliable Weitering look like a 19 year old in his second year. But above all else, with a conversion rate of 16.4, very few opportunities were wasted. It was clear that the Crows simply could not allow themselves to be 0-5. And, judging by the way Carlton played in those final minutes, they are still lacking the self-belief required to be 5-0.

Sam Walsh’s return was the one shining light to come out of this loss. It’s a rare player who can miss the first four games and have an interrupted pre-season that is able to have 34 touches which also included a staggering 9 tackles. It was a complete performance and a demonstration of how hard he works both on and off the field. He is the next captain in waiting at Carlton. Curnow closed the gap on Hogan in the Coleman race kicking four, but he also had three behinds which seems the norm with the Blues spearhead. The misses came at costly times. In fact, Carlton will also be lamenting their 6.12 after half time. Bad kicking is bad football as they say, and it’s a problem that they’ll want to rectify prior to their big clash with the Giants on Saturday.


 5. The Suns are good against bad but bad against good

The Suns have had three wins this season against teams who have just two wins between them. So they’ve done what they should do against those sorts of opponents. When they face opponents of a higher quality, they don’t seem to be able to go with them for four quarters. The loss to the Dogs in Ballarat included a poor start, and their other loss to the Giants was competitive but still suggested they weren’t quite in the same class. It’s for this reason I believe they won’t make finals this year. They are improving, but I still think they’re around 10 or 11 in the picking order. Anderson had a great game with 36 touches and Flanders had 34. Ben King had a good game booting four goals, but should have had a bag. There are good signs, but even with the great Hardwick in the coach’s box, I reckon they’ll miss out again.

I guess if you’re a Hawthorn fan, you’re going to want to focus on the young talent coming through with an eye for the future. None of us can really tell how good they’re going to be. And getting beaten soundly most weeks may take a toll too. This loss would hurt because they nearly pinched it against the Pies last week. This loss would’ve wiped out any belief gained from that. Just one player in Karl Amon managed to get over 20 touches. The Hawks have North Melbourne next week. After next round only one side will be undefeated. This once proud club will not be pleased if it’s them.


 6. The footy gods are against Freo

The Dockers head home from their two week stint in Adelaide empty handed after two performances that deserved better. We all know about their loss to Carlton and all that entailed. Whilst there was no such controversy this week, once again Freo had the lead for much longer than the Power. The goal at the 27 minute mark to Jason Horne-Francis gave Port the lead with just minutes to go, and despite pressing forward for much of the remainder of the match, Freo just couldn’t get it back. Serong had 29 possessions for the match and almost pinched it late with a shot that went wide. Hayden Young is having a big year while Melbourne supporters are watching on in dismay at the player Luke Jackson has become. The Western Derby is on this coming week. Fremantle simply has to win and will be expecting to do so, but the improvement iver the past fortnight from the Eagles suggest they need to be on their game.

Port Adelaide will be breathing a sigh of relief. A second loss at home in as many weeks would’ve started tongues wagging. But as a good side does, they found a way. And Connor Rozee was once again one of the top possession-getters. Houston also did well. Port Adelaide had 10 more inside 50s than Fremantle but wasted several opportunities to put any sort of gap between them and the Dockers on the scoreboard. Port’s next opponent will be Collingwood at the MCG. A loss there will see them slip back into the pack. Collingwood will not want to go 2-4. Both sides being desperate for the win will make this game a must watch.


 7. Clarko’s boys are sinking into the abyss

It isn’t good fronting up every week knowing you can’t win, but that’s where North find themselves right now. Aside from their impressive first half against the Dockers, North Melbourne have barely given a whisper let alone a yelp. After the Eagles win they’re now comfortably with a percentage of 56.5. It’s also strange to note that despite losing by 65 points, North Melbourne had 36 more possessions!

Harry Sheezel had 38 of those and North Melbourne must do everything they can to keep a player of his ilk. They other clubs will be circling as the year draws to a close. North needs to keep him no matter what. In what will be the non match of the round next week, the Kangaroos play the Hawks in what could prove to be a battle of the spoon.

The Cats played this game as though it was a leisurely stroll. Jeremy Cameron was doing party tricks and he ended up booting six majors while Brad Close was impressive with four. Max Homes is continuing his big year with 25 touches and 2 goals as well. The Cats find themselves in second place without a defeat five weeks in. Many are surprised as they were expected to fall short again, but those close to the club saw what was coming. Whilst I think it’s a very open field this year, Geelong have all the ingredients to prevail once more. Next week’s game against the Lions looms large.


 8. West Coast’s win was hardly a shock result

I’m not going to claim genius status, but I actually tipped the Eagles to beat the Tigers. Not only did West Coast look so much better against the Swans last week, but a quick look at the team sheet before the game would’ve seen you scratching your head wondering who half of the Teams get players were. So on that basis I felt confident that the Eagles really should win. And they did so, quite comfortably in the end. Waterman scored a career high six goals in his best game since joining the AFL. Number one pick Harley Reid had a cracker of a game exciting club supporters no end. The monkey for now is off their back and they’ll be hoping for a good showing in the Derby next week.

Tiger fans will be feeling disheartened I’m sure, but you must have had an idea once you saw how young the squad was. With all that said, a few of their senior players aren’t exactly at the top of their games. Martin was quiet with just 13 touches. Pickett also had 13. Shai Bolton continued his good form with three goals, and newcomer Lefau got his chance and took it finishing with 3 goals also. The Tigers will hope to get players back as the year rolls on, because right now they are looking as vulnerable as the winless teams and may find themselves not being able to trouble too many opponents. Adem Yze has had a rough start to his coaching career. The bye could not have come soon enough for them.


 9. Throw a blanket over about 8 teams for premiership favouritism.

We’re now five rounds in, so it is very early, but normally by this time you may get a team or two who seem like they’re another level above the chasing group. I don’t believe that’s the case this year. With the Giants almost being overrun by St Kilda, it makes them look bearable. It’s the same with Geelong. They almost lost to the Dogs just week. Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Carlton have also had their moments. The Swans looked really good early, but they’ve been a little off in their past two games. Port have had a loss at home so we know that bodes well for anyone playing them in Adelaide. Melbourne are an interesting one as they seemed to have shaken off any demons from their poor showing in the opening round. Carlton creates a sense of dejavu in that they were in a similar situation and lost to the Crows in Round Five as well. It’s hard to get a true gauge as to where they are exactly. The next two weeks against the two undefeated teams will give us a truer indication.

You can even head down further the ladder and possibly give a good case as to why some of those teams are still in the race. We still have Brisbane and Collingwood sitting outside the eight and slowly working their way into the season. I also get the feeling that whoever finishes on top could achieve that with as little as 16 wins. All this augurs for a great season. Just a body could beat anyone at any given stage. That’s how it should be. Maybe equalisation is working after all. Time will tell. Footy tipping is starting to get very tricky as the year wears on.