Ten Things I Learnt After Round Nine

1 – Christian Petracca almost defeated Carlton on his own

I went to the MCG on Thursday night with dread and trepidation running through my veins. As a Carlton supporter, having lost 3 of the last 4 games, the idea of toppling the Dees after their meritorious victory against the Cats last week, it was a pleasant surprise to see us put six goals on the board before Melbourne had even troubled the scoreboard ten minutes into the second term. And then along came Christian Petracca kicking two goals to break his team off their slumber. He went on to finish with five majors and was single-handedly responsible for nearly getting his side back from a 38 point deficit.

The record books will say they lost by one point, but that margin would’ve been huge were it not for the master class he put on. As much as he nearly broke my heart, I was watching on in awe. All I could think while observing his efforts was that he’s a better player than the best of Carlton. I expect the Dees to return to the winners list against West Coast next week.

The Blues had the dream start against their more fancied opponents. You won’t see too many instances where this current crop of Demons will fail to score in the first quarter. Jacob Weitering was unstoppable in defence. Cripps & Walsh both got plenty of the ball and won the midfield battle. The lead Carlton enjoyed was beyond six goals and victory seemed assured. Perhaps the Blues went into defensive mode in the final term and any thought the 5-day break would possibly hurt Melbourne went out the window as they kicked the last four goals of the game and looked fresh. The only thing that stoped them winning the game was the final siren.

Melbourne will rue their slow start. Carlton may have to figure out a way to play four quarters. A good time to do that would be next week at the SCG.


2 – Port Adelaide’s win was a carbon copy of Carlton’s.

Although this game was much higher scoring than the Carlton v Melbourne clash, the way it played out is eerily similar. The Power had a handy 41 point lead at half-time and the Blues lead by as much as 38 points early in the third term. And in both cases the eventual loser came home with a flurry of goals to fall just short.

I’m sure Jeremy Cameron would like an explanation as to why the advantage rule was overlooked for what should’ve been a goal to cut the margin to a point with ample time left for a further score. It wasn’t to be. As was the case with the luckless Demons, the Cats will be ruing their slow start, and Pprt Adelaide came away with the rare honour of gaining four points at GMHBA Stadium.

The once undefeated Cats have now lost two in a row and have to head to Darwin to face the Suns who are yet to lose at TIO stadium. Three in a row looms large.

The delight on Ken Hinkley’s face as the final siren blew made clear how he regarded the significance of this win. Not too many punters would’ve put their hard-earned on the line for this result. Skipper Connor Rozee’s absence also added fuel to the Power sceptics. The simple fact is that the Power were switched on from the beginning and hit the scoreboard hard. You’d have to go back 12 years since the Cats conceded 77 points or more in a half. Willie Rioli, no longer “Junior” apparently, made his mark kicking four goals, and Zak Butters spread well for his 34 touches. (I’m here all week, try the veal!!). Ollie Wines also produced a game that would’ve been would not have been out of place in his Brownlow year.

Coming into this game the Power’s season was on the precipice after dropping two of their last three matches. 6-3 looks a damned sight better than 5-4 which would’ve had them likely slipping out of the eight. They’ll go in favourites against the in form Hawks next week.


3 – The Sydney Swans are looking ominous

I actually thought coming into this game that the Dockers might be a chance in this game. I’m not certain what impact the death of Cam McCarthy had on this group but there were some players who definitely were hit hard. But putting that tragedy aside, their inaccuracy in front of goal was at plague proportions. When you’ve got 2.14 on the board early in the final term, there’s a fair chance you’ll be in a losing position, especially when your opponent have 11.2 on the board at the final break.

It was just one of those games where the Dockers couldn’t buy a goal and Sydney won the battle without getting out of cruise mode. They are now clear favourites for the premiership. They have stars on just about every line and more elite kicks than any other club. They’ll take some beating, and it’s astounding to think their only loss for the year was against the 17th placed Tigers. They host Carlton at the SCG this coming Friday for what should be a huge game for both clubs.

Fremantle’s loss now sees them outside the eight and possibly still in contention as they come up against the struggling Saints next round. Their on-ballers in Serong and Brayshaw continue to rack up high possessions, but against a side like the Swans they weren’t damaging. Jeremy Sharp is having his best season after moving across from the Suns. It was an astute judge that saw in him what the Suns couldn’t when signing him up. His two last quarter goals saved some of the embarrassment from the 2.14 scoreline before he hit the target.

It was all too late, however, and the 46 point loss will set them back. The Dockers forward line still isn’t firing, and until it does so regularly, they’ll continue to be inconsistent.


4 – Ross might not be the boss after all

Ross Lyon is a top coach. I’m not in denial. His style can be ugly, but it’s usually effective. There’s no doubt that last year, a lesser coach would not have been able to get that side into the finals. Early last season we were marvelling at some of their youngsters playing at a level nobody expected. I’m a firm believer in the second year blues. It seems to happen a lot when you see a 19 year old whose career began with a bang.

Many seem hard pressed to take that form into their second year, eventually finding their best football in their third years and beyond. Perhaps that’s where the Saints are, or perhaps I’m being too kind. They are struggling. Just three wins on the board and coming off a loss to a side with just two wins prior to this game. It doesn’t look good for Saints fans. And even the genius of Lyon won’t be able to turn this around in a hurry.

Conversely, it looks like all the Hawks needed was to get a win on the board to get them going. After losing their first five games, they got their first win against the lowly Kangaroos and have now won three of their last four matches. They upset the Bulldogs last round, but this win against the Saints was no upset. They are hard to beat in Tasmania, and the Saints just don’t score often enough to put real pressure.

The Hawks eventually won by five points. All it took was eight goals and the Saints could only manage seven for the game. It was a scrappy affair. The Saints really needed this win. The Hawks might even end up finishing higher on the ladder than the Saints. Neither will make the eight, but I know which team I’d rather be following.


5 – The Bombers are the surprise of the year

Nobody was talking about Essendon as a challenger pre-season. In fact, most thought they were doomed for more mediocrity. After their big loss to Port Adelaide, it seemed the critics of Essendon might’ve got it right.

However, what has happened since is something nobody saw coming. In their last five rounds they haven’t lost a game. They’ve had four wins and a draw, and now occupy the third spot on the ladder. Nic Martin topped 30 possessions again. Durham’s form has continued in his breakout year. Kyle Langford kicked another four, and they found three goals from an unlikely source in Matt Guelfi. They seem to be able to defend as well, so it can only get better when Ridley makes his first appearance in a couple weeks time. They’ll beat the Kangaroos next week and go 7-2-1. It’s not a bad place to be.

The Giants are seemingly in a slump. After winning the first five matches, they’ve lost three games out of four, albeit against good teams in Carlton, Sydney and now the Bombers. It still would seem they struggle to win in Melbourne. Toby Greene has had minimal impact these last few weeks, either through suspension or poor form. Adam Kingsley must be concerned when you consider that pretty much their best 22 were out there. Next week they host the Bulldogs at home. A loss there would set off alarm bells. After their brilliant finish to 2023 followed by a strong start to the 2024 campaign, this is their first down period for some time.


6 – The Bulldogs should hardly be celebrating this win

There are some strange people among our media commentators. Reading a headline suggesting that the monkey is off Bevo’s back are quite laughable, really. Winning by 15 goals against a side that’s currently being mauled by all comers is hardly cause for celebration. In fact, a quick look at all the Bulldog wins will tell the story that they’ve beaten sides currently sitting outside the top eight only.

Any time they’ve played against teams in the mix for a finals spot, they’ve come up well short. By all means celebrate the win, but Bevo’s head is still firmly on the chopping block, for mine. He’s clearly not getting the absolute best out of his team. Maybe he gets a reprieve if they beat the Giants in Sydney next week.

You have to feel for Adem Yze. He’s been a coach in waiting for several years and he finally got his chance, however, it was with a team well and truly on the slide. To compound the problem, injuries to key players mean they look certain to finish in the bottom two barring a miracle. They had an amazing win against the Swans early on and almost got the points against Carlton, so their best is not too bad. However, as the season wears on it tells a tale of woe.

Instead of the senior players lifting the new faces in the team up to the level required, we’re seeing their better players being dragged down to mediocrity. The losses are getting heavier each week and there seems no light at the end of this tunnel. Adem has his work cut out for him. The best he can hope for next week against the Lions at the GABBA is loss by under ten goals.


7 – Gold Coast still a chance to play finals, but not really

Earlier in the season I suggested that the Suns are good against bad teams and bad against good teams. There’s virtually nothing in between. A 68-point win against the hapless Kangaroos is about the mark and nothing to get too excited about. Touk Miller was best afield with 29 touches. The Suns had a fair spread of goalkickers. Ben King topped the list with three, and many have said that the fate of the Suns rests partially with King. He’s kicked 25 goals this season and is having a decent year, but, once again, he needs to fire in the bigger games. The whole team does, but they rarely seem to do that.

If, and it’s a pretty big “if”, the Suns beat Geelong next week, remarkably they’ll be 6-4 and possibly inside the top eight. The Darwin factor will help. They’ve won every time they’ve played there and their record against the Cats is pretty good. These are the games they need to win in order to feature in September, and it’s often the ones they don’t.

I’m running out of things to say when trying to describe North Melbourne performances. I could talk about Davies-Uniacke getting 35 touches, but too many of those didn’t end well. Still, he is a good player and if he tidies up his ball use he could be a star. Zac Fisher is turning out to be one of North Melbourne’s best players this season. He’s been consistent and had 34 possessions in this game, but it does tell a story about where a club is at when a fringe player from a better performing team comes over and becomes one of your best.

For the most part, the Kangaroos just seem to be jogging when most teams are running. Clarkson talks about effort, but I reckon supporters won’t be happy with the effort they see each week. Losing is one thing, but when you aren’t leaving it all out there, supporters will turn away pretty quickly. Their only real hope for a win this season might be against Richmond. That’s not till Round 21. They could be 0-18 by then. Not good.


8 – Pies are back to their merciless best

West Coast have shown improvement in recent times, so it was not completely unreasonable for some to think that the Eagles were not to be taken lightly. Collingwood certainly didn’t do that. As they did against the Blues last week, their pressure was at elite levels, giving the visitors no chance. In the end it was a 66-point thrashing for a team that is clearly back somewhere near their premiership best. After losing their first three games they now find themselves back in the eight and it seems likely they’ll stay there and possibly even push for a Top 4 spot.

Nick Daicos was brilliant once again with 36 touches. Crisp had 34 and brother Josh had 28. In the absence of Mihocek and Elliott, it was a real positive to see three goals each from McCrae and McInnes, putting to bed the notion there may be a lack of depth at the club. They take on the Crows in Melbourne next week and should prevail.

The Eagles were missing possibly their two better performing players in Yeo and Waterman. They fielded a very young team so this result was not unexpected, especially when you factor in losing a talent like Jeremy McGovern midway through the game. A rampant Magpie team are hard enough to keep up with for most sides, and the Eagles needed a full list to be even slightly competitive with a side like Collingwood. They have a huge challenge next week against Melbourne. Waterman should return following a concussion, while Yeo may play but is in some doubt.


9 – The draw is a bad result for both the Crows and Lions

In an epic contest, both teams came into this round with their seasons hanging by a thread – a win was the only acceptable result. Only a win would keep these teams touch with the eight. The draw means they’re both still in a very precarious situation. Brisbane got out to a game high 18-point lead midway through the final quarter and looked to be heading for a great interstate win. Adelaide fought back to take the lead before Callum Ah-Chee kicked truly to tie the scores. From that point on one behind each was exchanged before the siren sounded and players from both sides did the customary thing they do and lay on their backs head in hands basically telling the world they expended all that energy for nothing. Because, in a sense, they have.

Insofar as the prospects of both the Crows and Lions go, their seasons are still hanging by a thread. It’s going to take some huge efforts to get both sides back into finals contention, none bigger than the Crows, who play Collingwood in Melbourne next week. Brisbane are playing Richmond at the GABBA and should have no trouble in that game. Ah Chee was outstanding kicking four goals from his 14 touches while Fogarty for the goals also had the same numbers in a welcome return to form. Dayne Zorko is in form that defies his 35 years, suggesting he’s far from done in his AFL career. All in all, it was a great game that could’ve gone either way but didn’t. Both sides will be ruing their poor starts to the year no doubt.


10 – What’s going on with holding the ball?

I’m kind of getting sick of this notion that AFL is a hard game to officiate. Yes, there are a lot of grey areas, but I’m seeing obvious decisions being ignored. At the Carlton v Melbourne game it almost seemed as if the umpires had been instructed to not call holding the ball. There were several instances of a fair tackle resulting in the player disposing of the ball incorrectly going unrewarded, and even a few holding the man decisions going by the wayside.

It’s now becoming more a case of the decisions which are not being paid are a much bigger problem than the ones that are, so I’ve compiled a list of points that umpires should read in order to know when to pay holding the ball:

i. If a player with the ball is spun around 14 times in a tackle and still has possession, it might be holding the ball

ii. If a player takes 13 steps while evading six players then gets caught with ball in hand, it might be holding the ball

iii. If a player dives on the ball with nobody around him and just lays there for 11 seconds or more before finally being tackled, it might be holding the ball

iv. If a player is tackled and tries to kick or handball but fails to make contact with the ball resulting in the ball being dropped to the ground, it might be holding the ball

v. If a player is tackled while holding the ball after having had ample time to get rid of it, it might be fucking holding the ball.

There. I fixed it. You’re welcome!!