Nine Things I Learnt After Round 13


1 – Matthew Nicks is now the coach most under pressure


I am actually of the opinion that Nicks has done a reasonable job of lifting the Adelaide Crows off the bottom rungs of the ladder.  They were extremely stiff in circumstances we’ve all spoken about in 2023 to miss the finals.  Many fancied the Crows as a finals prospect.  So when they dropped their first four games, questions were being asked.

Then they had an unexpected win against the Blues, plus the win in the showdown, and Nicks and co were breathing easier and their woes seemed behind them.  Well, sadly they’ve hit a new low losing to a side that had only won one game for the year coming into the Thursday night clash.  So now the decision makers at Adelaide Football Club are possibly regretful on that two year contract extension, but as we all know, contracts can be broken, and with the Crows lamenting at four wins and a draw from twelve games, and the prospect of losing next week against the top team, finals are all but out of the equation, and I imagine Matthew Nicks will have ten games to prove himself worthy of having his contract extension honoured.

But let’s not dismiss what the Tigers have achieved.  In recent weeks they’ve been threatening to win games, with good performances against Essendon and Geelong.  Adelaide were also experiencing some injury issues of their own while the Tigers welcomed a few back.  Timing is everything, as they say, and it looks like the Tigers got the Crows when they were vulnerable, as well as the fact they played four good quarters for the first time in a while.

With finals out of the equation, the rejuvenated Tigers will now be nuisance value for the rest of the year, as I suspect they’ll win a few.  Especially next week when Dusty plays his 300th.  I know the Hawks are in good form, but the Tigers are going to lift for the great man, and their worst is definitely behind them.

As for Adelaide, their list still looks shabby if we’re being honest.  Too much is placed on the aging Tex Walker to perform each week up forward.  Rankine is a star when fit, but boy, does his absence leave an almighty hole.  Aside from Dawson and Laird, the names on the list read a little like a who’s who.  The Crows seem to be in a holding pattern and their confidence is shot.  Losing to Richmond would kill that further.  I was a fan of the Crows and even thought they could still play finals after they had a few wins, but that’s all been undone in the last fortnight with two poor performances against the Hawks and Tigers.  The rest of the year will decide the fate of the coach, and perhaps some players may be on notice too.


2 – Brisbane begin their final tilt at playing finals


Most of us are still bewildered by Brisbane’s indifferent form this year.  It’s almost as though they’re not only scarred by the loss in last year’s Grand Final, but losing by a point to the Blues after leading by as much as 46 points in the opening round almost seemed to set the tone for what has been a very disappointing year.  The Friday night clash against the Bulldogs was a crucial game for both clubs.  The Lions had taken control by half time and lead by 33 points at the main break thanks largely to Eric Hipwood’s four first half goals.  He would go on to finish the game equaling his career-best with six majors in a long-awaited return to form.

Lions fans might have to wait a little longer to see Charlie Cameron do the same.  He had another quiet game.  It was a big statement made by Brisbane at Marvel Stadium.  They aren’t out of the equation just yet and should have back to back wins when they take on the Saints at the GABBA.

For those of you who were ready to jump on the Bulldogs bandwagon, it looks like it’s far from a safe bet.  Even with Bontempelli, Treloar and Liberatore having reasonable nights, Brisbane blew the hapless Dogs off the park with a six goal to one blitz in the second term and the deficit remained thereabouts for the remainder of the game.  They had an answer each time the Doggies were making inroads to the margin.

A quick look at the fixture will tell you that they’re still a chance to play finals.  The reality is they’ll need to win seven of their next ten games at the very least to sneak in.  They should win their next two games against North Melbourne and St Kilda, but then it’s five straight weeks playing Top 8 teams, including Port Adelaide away, Carlton, Geelong away, Sydney in Melbourne and then they take on the Demons.  That’s a horror stretch on anyone’s language, so if the Doggies somehow get there, they will have deserved it.

Brisbane’s remaining 11 games don’t seem quite as daunting as the Bulldogs’ horror run.  They do have to play six teams currently in the eight, but four of those games are at the GABBA.  In fact they have five remaining home games plus the Suns at Carrara which could be a win. If they were able to recapture the form they had at the GABBA from last season and they win all those games, they’d still need to win at least two of their away games to guarantee a spot in the finals. The teams they face on the road, in no particular order, are West Coast, St Kilda, Collingwood and Port Adelaide.  You could see them winning two of those.  They could even drop a home game or lose to the Suns and still make it on 12 wins and a draw.  It all comes down to their home games.  First up is St Kilda this week coming.  There are signs that the Lions are back from their slumber.  We’ve been waiting all year for the switch to be flicked.


3 – The Giants are losing their grip on a finals spot


GWS were unbeaten after five rounds and have since only won twice from their past seven games.  They had their chances down in Tassie, hitting the lead late in the final term, but the Hawks have found some ticker in recent times and took full advantage of a last minute downfield free kick, which ended with a Luke Breust goal to seal the deal and keep them in touch with the top eight.  Meanwhile, the Giants are trending in the other direction and are no certainties to play finals, let alone contend for the premiership.  The Giants have a tough month ahead with games against Port Adelaide at home, Sydney at the SCG, the Crows in Adelaide and Carlton at home.  The loss to the Hawks has really hurt them.

Will Day has been injured for long periods of his time in the AFL.  We saw glimpses of his potential along the way, but now that he’s enjoying a period of stringing a few games together, it’s hard not to attribute some of the Hawks’ resurgence to the form of this man.  He is consistently getting high possessions, including 29 in this game.  Opposition teams coming up against Hawthorn need to take note of what he’s doing and put some thought into playing a tagger on him.

The Hawks are slowly becoming the story of the year.  If they make finals it will be a fairytale, but with their percentage sitting at a measly 88, losses will come at a huge cost.  You’d expect them to beat the Tigers next week, and then they get a break.  The football world will be watching in anticipation to see how far they can go.  Whether they play finals or not, it’s fair to say that Sam Mitchell is no slouch.


4 – The Kangaroos finally show some spine


North Melbourne have finally notched up a win.  They led for the whole game against an insipid West Coast Eagles, it has to be said.  After scoring the first goal of the final term they were 33 points ahead.  Just as it seemed like they were coasting to a much needed win, as we’ve seen so many times before, they went into their shells and seemed hypnotised as the Eagles banged on six goals and took the lead with just a few minutes remaining on the clock.

Most of us expected that North were done, but skipper Jy Simpkin had other ideas as he slotted a goal to regain the lead, followed by a late goal to Paul Curtis to put the icing on the cake.  With the monkey off their back, perhaps the Roos can play with some freedom and we may see a more competitive outfit moving forward.

Where to from here for the Eagles?  After what’s been a brighter few weeks for the club, this was a game they expected to win.  They squandered so many opportunities as demonstrated by their 2.15 scoreline at one stage. They turned it on for 15 minutes and hit the front, and then couldn’t finish the job.

Waterman chimed in for three last quarter goals, but it was all academic.  One gets the impression that the Eagles’ star shone brightly for a few weeks, but the fire may be out and it could be a return to the previous two years.  Either that, or no Harley Reid, no West Coast?  Ok, I’m kidding!  But Tim Kelly was missing too, which lends itself to my contention that they are cactus when one or two players go down.


5 – No more St Kilda games on prime time please


I think we can all agree that high scoring games are more entertaining than low scoring affairs.  On Saturday night, under the Marvel roof with no breeze or weather at all to contend with, the combined total scored fell short of the one hundred point mark.  And even though the end result was a thrilling three point win to the Saints, most viewers watching that game would’ve fallen asleep long before the controversial free kick against Mac Andrew was awarded in the dying minutes with the recipient Max King scoring the match winner.

It was hard on the eye, as are a lot of Saints games under Ross Lyon.  Supporters won’t mind when they walk away with the four points points in a game like this, but too many times this year, they have fallen short of the mark with their inability to score freely.  The Saints won despite having just three goalkickers, including three to Dan Butler.  Jack Sinclair played in a style more akin to his 2023 form finishing with 31 touches.  The Saints have a tough assignment against the Lions at the GABBA this coming Friday.  They’ll be aiming for three in a row but the Lions might have other plans ideas.

Once again, the Suns leave Melbourne empty-handed, and this time against a side they should’ve beaten if they were serious about playing finals. Clearly, playing away from home is still an issue and even non followers of the Suns are tired of seeing this.

It might only add to their frustration that the AFL have actually come out and said the free kick awarded against Andrew should not have been paid.  The result could’ve been different, and the Suns could’ve been as high as fourth had they won, but as it stands now they’ll end this round battling to stay in the hunt for a top eight spot.


6 – Sydney give teams head starts for fun now


A few weeks ago we saw the Blues jump out to a four goal lead up in Sydney, but that was whittled down quickly and the Swans overran Carlton to the tune of 52 points.

At one stage on Sunday, Geelong held sway by 35 points after keeping the Swans goalless for the first quarter.  But once they got going, it looked very much like the Cats had no answers.  In the end, Sydney put on a pretty ominous display which saw them cruise to a 30 point win.  There is daylight between the Swans and the next best team in the competition.  Sydney head to Adelaide next round, followed by the local clash against the Giants.

Take your pick out of Sydney’s midfield with Warner, Heeney and Gulden.  That midfield is deadly, and young!  The idea they’ll be playing together for the best part of a decade is frightening

The Cats started like a house on fire, but the middle of the game saw the Swans reel them in with a powerful display.  Geelong could do little more than look on as the Swans simply flicked the switch as they do whenever a game is in the balance.

Tyson Stengle booted three for the Cats and we’re all wondering where he’ll be next year as speculation mounts of a return to WA.  Being one of the best small forwards going around, it would be a huge loss.  And speaking of losses, the Cats have now won just one game out of their last six, and desperately need to reverse that trend. They get the week off to ponder their next move, but their first game back is against the in-form Blues who will be pulling out all stops to make amends for their loss to Geelong in Round 8.


7 – The Blues are a year or two ahead of the Bombers


We have seen an improved Bombers unit this year, and not too many imagined they’d be second on the ladder coming into Round 12. A lot has been said about their draw being favourable as they have played most of the sides in the bottom half of the ladder.  The only side in the eight at present that the Bombers have beaten is the Giants. They also had a commendable draw against Collingwood.

However, their remaining seven wins were against sides that are no higher than 11th.  After their loss to the Suns last week, a win against Carlton would’ve been the only thing that could convince the doubters.  What we saw was a fair indication of where both sides are at, and at this point in time the Blues are probably a year or two ahead.

There was a lot to like about the way the Bombers went about it.  They got the ball inside 50 some 19 more times than the Blues but poor conversion resulted in 9.16.  Nic Martin is a star in the making.  They managed to quell the influence of Walsh and Cripps.  They even had more possessions than Carlton.  However, the Blues took full toll of their mistakes and scored heavily from turnovers.  Good sides will hurt you like that.  And a good side will also score 15 goals from just 41 forward 50 entries.

The Blues have had their own issues with efficiency from time to time but this past three weeks has seen a marked improvement.  They’ve averaged just over 100 for this period and have taken scalps in Port Adelaide and the Bombers.  It does appear the backline is stable once more with McGovern and Saad both returning from injury during that period.  None of this is coincidental.  Carlton’s injury list is finally contracting.  If they can keep their best 22 on the park, they may just challenge the Swans.

I’ll give a special mention to Elijah Hollands. Off-field dramas at the beginning of the year delayed his start, but right now he looks very much at home in the navy blue. Three goals from 19 touches plating half-foreard and on the wing was outstanding.  He was the steal of the trade period.  And Carlton fans are also seeing the emergence of another star, in Tom De Koning.

After the bye, the Blues have a score to settle against the Cats.  As for the Bombers, you’d expect they’ll beat the Eagles at home, but life gets a whole lot tougher from then on:


8 – Melbourne’s season is on life support


If Dees supporters were expecting a huge effort on the back of their thumping at the hands of the Dockers, they’d be disappointed.  The effort was there, but the execution wasn’t. Melbourne had 16 forward 50 entries in the first quarter but could only manage a measly four behinds. That tells the story of the forward line woes in a nutshell.

Whilst van Rooyen was pretty good with three majors, Melbourne could only manage six for the game.  Petracca was also taken to hospital in an ambulance with suspected broken ribs, which turned out to be considerably worse. He will not be available next game, and that will be too big a hole to fill, I feel.  Melbourne play the Kangaroos after the bye and should return to the winners list, but finals are slipping away.

Collingwood has defied its extensive injury list to post an impressive win to get them back into the eight.  It’s a testament to the club when a player like Kreuger can come back after a lengthy absence and have an impact, kicking three goals.  Young Harrison also kicked three and seems very much up to the rigours of AFL football.

Nick Daicos was well held by Neal-Bullen before he went off with a corked shin.  The Pies play North Melbourne next week, followed by a week off.  If Nick is sore during the week, don’t be surprised if he’s given the week off so that he can refresh himself with a long layoff for the run into the finals.  Brother Josh had 34 touches, but the award for best on ground went to Jack Crisp.  As the Pies get more players back, we should see them solidify their position, and a double-chance isn’t completely out of the picture.


9 – Forget holding the ball, what’s happened to push in the back?


Is it really bad that I’m raising umpire-related issues for the third week in a row?  It’s not something I want to be talking about, but I’m seriously wondering why it looks as though there’s been an overall shift in the way decisions are made.

For what it’s worth, I’ve already mentioned how holding the ball is still confusing.  It’s clear they’ve really only focused on the time taken to release the ball.  It doesn’t seem as though the umpires are paying it for incorrect disposal and even prior opportunity, at times.  But now I’ve noticed something else!

So, is it just me, or is the push in the back rule gone to pot?  I saw a few instances during the Essendon v Carlton game at the G, where clear pushes were ignored. I saw a tackle that ended up with the tackler lying flat on top of his opponent after falling into his back with his full body weight. No free kick!!  Marking contests do see some pushes get paid, but there’s plenty of blatant pushes that seem to go unnoticed.

Even though I didn’t really like the hands in the back rule, at least it was clearer and much easier to officiate. Now, it would appear that a push in the back is a flip of the coin.  Yes I know.  Umpiring is tough – bla, bla, bla!   Pay the bloody pushes when they’re there!  Not sure why they don’t.