Ten Things I Learnt After Round 17


1. Sam Durham could go down as the best mid-season draftee of all time

Most of the time, it has to be said, when a player is added to an AFL list via the mid-season draft, the player brought in is usually somebody who might be good enough to make the senior team but invariably is used as a top-player or a depth player. In other words, those players often don’t make an impact and end up being cut after a season or two.

This is clearly not the case with Essendon’s Sam Durham. The 22 year old has had a breakout season and is an integral part of the Bomber midfield, and even a reason why the Essendon find themselves occupying a spot in the Top 4. He was his usual slick contributor on Friday night in their win against the Pies.

If you’re reading this, feel free to let me know if there’s been an equal or better player drafted in the mid-season than this guy. I couldn’t think of any, but I’m open to suggestions from others. Please comment as I think it would be a fascinating exercise.

Now, let’s get back to the game at hand. Essendon came into this game after losing three of their last four games. Collingwood lost to the Suns last week. Both sides had questionable form, but the Pies were the favourites coming into the clash, possibly based purely on reputation. Collingwood had the upper hand for much of the first half, but after half time, Essendon took control and jumped ahead by as much as 31 points before a few late goals to the Magpies which caused much consternation in the Bombers camp before they rallied to collect  the victory by 12 points.

Essendon’s forwards shared the load with two each to Langford and Wright, and even though young Nate Caddy finished with 1.3 alongside his name, there was more than enough to get Bombers fans excited with six marks from twelve touches. The usual suspects in Caldwell and Merrett ended with 30 touches apiece while Dylan Shiel made a solid return after time in the VFL with 26 touches. Sam Draper also enjoyed sole ownership of the ruck contest and it could mean mothballs for Goldstein. All in all, this win is massive for the club.

The knock on the Bombers has been their lack of wins against teams in the eight, so it was the best possible result. They’re still well and truly in the mix to finish with a double-chance and virtually certain to play finals. The next challenge is against Melbourne next week.

Two losses in a row in games that were winnable now sees last year’s premiers in genuine danger of missing finals. Injuries are still plaguing the Magpies with the latest one being Mihocek suffering a torn pectoral muscle which will see him out for the remainder of the 2024 campaign. Collingwood’s forward stocks were already depleted. Their better players included Sidebottom with 31 touches and Pendlebury with 24. Nick Daicos managed 31 touches but the focus on him made many of his disposals less effective than expected. The road ahead for Collingwood includes a tough July featuring Geelong, Hawthorn and also Carlton at the start of August. If they make the eight it will be a fair effort.


2. AFL to consider playing all Suns games in Queensland to get them into finals

Yes this is a ridiculous post, but it’s no less ridiculous than the fact the Suns are completely winless away from home, whereas on the Gold Coast and in Darwin, they are inexplicably undefeated. Taking nothing away from North Melbourne, who have really put together an impressive five weeks, but the reality of a side vying for September action handing the embattled Kangaroos their second win of the year reeks of mental weakness. The disparity between their home and away form is massive, and it must be due to a losing mindset. Hardwick will have his work cut out trying to address this.

In what was a tight contest where the margin remained inside twenty either way for the whole game, the Kangaroos lead the game for the vast majority of the match and weren’t going to let this one slip. The last quarter did see the Suns pushing hard, but the Roos withstood the challenge with the help of a few missed opportunities. Larkey finished with three majors for North, while McKercher, Sheezel and Davies-Uniacke all got 30 or more possessions. The win takes the Kangaroos above the Tigers on the ladder by percentage. This win is also important because the next fortnight sees them playing the two top teams. However, two of their remaining games include very winnable ones against the Eagles and the Tigers. With the form they’re in now, I would say they should win those games and possibly move up to 16th on the ladder.

It’s becoming commonplace for the Suns to press for the Top 8 but fall short by dropping games that a side blessed with their talent should win. I’m not sure how Hardwick can remedy their poor form on the road. The AFL would love to help them with it in some way, I’m sure. Their little project is failing miserably. No finals in 14 years in the competition and not surpassing ten wins in any year. Ben King only managed one goal for the game and was quiet. Noah Anderson starred with 30 disposals. I’m going to ask where Matt Rowell is at. I remember a kid who entered the competition as an 18 year old picking up three Brownlow votes in three-straight games. He’s a very good player, but he hasn’t hit the level he showed on debut. He’s been good, but just 16 touches in this game is disappointing. They take on the Power at home next week. That will be interesting for so many


3. Port Adelaide are good again all of a sudden  

I can’t remember a season with so much fluctuating form like this year. The Power have been dreadful at times but they made light work of the Bulldogs. They, too, are one of those teams who turn up every other week for some reason.

This game took shape early with Rozee, Butters and Wines collecting over 40 possessions between them in the first quarter. The Bulldgs could only look on as the Power scored five goals to nil in the first term. Rozee finished the game with 36 touches while Butters had 33 and Wines 30. Georgiades is proving to be Port’s most potent forward with a bag of five majors on Saturday. Horne-Francs kicked three goals from his 20 disposals and all of a sudden, the Power are in contention for a Top 4 placing when they’d been all but written off. The game against the Suns next week will be huge for the club and its embattled coach.

While we’re on the subject of mediocrity, that was a pretty sub-par effort by the Dogs. Port Adelaide’s first quarter proved too much and the Bulldogs never recovered, eventually going down by 48 points after trailing by 30 at the quarter time. Bontempelli batted hard kicking two goals from his 21 possessions. Treloar got plenty of the ball finishing with 38. Looking ahead this loss may be compounded by the Blues next week whose form suggests the Bulldogs won’t be able to match them. However, it seems the Dogs only turn up every second week, so maybe the Blues might need to bring their best.


4. The Cats might have their mojo back

It was just a fortnight ago when the Geelong Cats were dismantled by the Blues to the tune of 63 points where we thought they might be pretty much cooked for season 2024. A solid win against Essendon followed by a victory against the in form Hawks suggests it looks like they’re back on track, destined for finals and not out of Top 4 contention.

Jeremy Cameron booted four goals as did Brad Close. Tom Stewart seems to be enjoying some time in the middle. Whatever the case, Geelong’s past two weeks suggests they are still in the conversation. A win against the Magpies on Friday night and that conversation may get louder.

As good as Hawthorn have been in recent times, it is worth pointing out that they still haven’t beaten anybody currently in the eight. Finals are still possible for the Hawks, but that will become a thing of fantasy with any future losses. Dylan Moore was one of Hawthorn’s best with two goals from 26 touches. However, only two other players in Worpel and Impey were able to get the ball more than 20 times. The game against the Dockers in Tassie next week is a must-win if Hawthorn are to break into the eight.


5. Old habits make a return to sink Blues

Ask any Carlton supporter about the loss to the Giants and you’ll hear that they are still haunted by ghosts of Carlton’s recent past where similar defeats were commonplace. After an eight goal to three first quarter, it’s inexplicable to think that the script would be flipped in the manner it was with 14 goals scored by the Giants in the second and third terms, while the Blues could only manage three in what can easily be described as a return to the Bolton era. The Blues rallied late in the game as they often do, but the end result was a 12 point loss.

The Giants have saved their season on the back of this win and the style of play they went with after quarter time was more in line with the dare that we’ve been used to. It seems to have gone missing in recent weeks, but its deadliness was on display reducing Carlton to mere onlookers. Jesse Hogan booted five goals and possibly benefited from the corkie that reduced Weitering’s ability to impact the game: He took full advantage while midfielders in Coniglio and Green were dominant after quarter time and the veteran Callan Ward booted two goals from his 30 touches suggesting his career is not done with by any measure just yet. It was an important win that has them back in the eight for now, and they ashould remain there beyond next week as I imagine they’ll be too good for Richmond.

Carlton will be doing some soul-searching after the loss. After such a scintillating opening term, one can’t help but think that the Blues thought they could go into cruise control and the win was just going to happen. That’s certainly how it looked anyway. Curnow was well held and fortunate to retain his streak of scoring goals in consecutive games with a late goal from a very mediocre eight touches. McKay kicked Carlton’s first three goals and finished with five. Cripps battle hard kicking two goals from 33 touches.

Carlton sides in the club’s recent history have seen them wilt under pressure. For two quarters we witnessed intense pressure from the Giants and the Blues didn’t have any answers. The good news is that they still sit second on the ladder, although they have now been dragged back into that pack chasing Sydney. Next week they face the Bulldogs who will be hurting after their poor showing against the Power. A win will reduce this loss to a mere blip on the radar, while a loss will bring the spectre of missing finals back into the conversation after looking like genuine premiership contenders.


6. Fremantle quietly pushing their case for a Top 4 spot

Whilst the Dockers were expected to beat Richmond on Saturday night, they’ve now put together three consecutive victories including the prized scalp of Sydney and are sitting 3rd on the ladder: Josh Treacy had one of his best ever games finishing with five goals. Serong and Brayshaw did their usual thing getting 62 touches between them. It all seems to be falling into place nicely for the Purple Haze, and after taking the points against the Swans last week they might feel entitled to start thinking big. But, as we’ve seen all season, fluctuations in form for most of the sides mean thinking too far ahead is fraught with danger. The Hawks next week in Tasmania won’t be easy.

Richmond’s fall from grace could be complete if they were to win the wooden spoon this year, and with North Melbourne beating the Suns it’s beginning to look likely. The upcoming game against the Kangaroos in Round 21 could decide this, although the Eagles are still very much in the picture for wooden spoon honours too. Shai Bolton had a much needed return to form booting 4 majors from 16 touches. Skipper Nankervis has had a good year. He had 26 touches in a strong display. Richmond take on the Giants at the MCG next round and will be hoping for a repeat of the 2019 Grand Final, although much has changed since then.


7. The Eagles are back to their worst

The dark clouds over the once powerful club seemed to have lifted mid-season with victories over Fremantle, Melbourne and Richmond. Many thought it signified an end to the worst of this troubled period on the back of young gun Harley Reid. Whilst we know Reid will definitely be a star, that initial honeymoon is over and the club look likely to remain on three wins at the end of the season. In this game they were blown away early and never came closer than 30 points after quarter time.

One positive was four goals to Oscar Allen who has had a year he’d rather forget both with injury and form. It’s hard to see the Eagles troubling any teams from here on, and I’m sure the Lions will enjoy a comfortable win next week.

Melbourne has been waiting for Jacon van Rooyen to have a breakout game. This was awfully close to that with 4.4 against his name. Bayley Fritsch finished with three and Pickett scored two in what has been a good couple of weeks for him. It could’ve been anything for Vanessa Rooten (I don’t know if this is intentional, but im leaving it in because its funny -HB) but he is growing in confidence and may be the key to ending Melbourne’s forward line woes. The Demons are still outside the eight and will need to beat the Bombers next week to have a realistic chance of playing finals. With Christian Petracca gone for the year it’s going to be a tall order.


8. Logan McDonald will be psychologically scarred by now

If it’s one AFL player you might not want to be right now, it would have to be Logan McDonald. Last week he had a chance to win the game after the siren, or tie the match with a behind.

He failed to score.

This week he had a set shot from 50 to put the Swans back in front with under two minutes remaining. His kick looked all right when it left his boot but it veered slightly left and missed narrowly, keeping Sydney two points behind which became the eventual losing margin. No amount of practicing your goal-kicking can remedy those demons in your head. After this happening two weeks in a row, he might benefit from speaking with somebody with a PhD in sport psychology.

When Sydney lead by five goals early in the third term, it looked very much like they were heading towards a customary Sydney win by a comfortable margin. The Saints responded with four goals only to see Isaac Heeney kick the last two goals of the third quarter. The margin at three quarter time was 19 points, and it was amazing to see the Saints hit the lead and hang on, but when Sydney managed just five behinds in the final term ending with 3.11 for the second half you can see how the Saints were able to get over the line kicking 9.2.

Jack Higgins kicked three majors, including the one that put the Saints in front. Liam Henry provided a spark in the second half and finished with 20 touches and a goal. Rowan Marshall edged out Grundy in the ruck by virtue of hitting the scoreboard. It was a win for the ages and one that puts a smile on the faces of Saints fans who have had little to smile about this year. They’ll be heading to Adelaide to take on the Crows next round.

Sydney had ample chances to take the points. Gulden was very good once again finishing with 28 possessions. Isaac Heeney kicked those two goals late in the third but both he and Warner, despite having 24 and 23 possessions as well as two majors apiece, didn’t have their usual impact on the contest. Betting for the Brownlow may be in turmoil with a possible suspension looming for Heeney. Sydney host the Kangaroos next week and should surely arrest this slide. Can you imagine if they were to lose to three sides in the bottom four? Only in 2024 maybe…


9. Five straight wins for the Lions but still not convinced

The Lions had a tough game against the Crows who seem to match up well against last year’s Grand Finalist. Lachie Neale did his Brownlow chances no harm with a 36 possession game and three goals. Josh Dunkley had 35 touches. Rayner also booted three goals.

Brisbane led from beginning to end but the lead never went beyond 26 points. It was a solid win but hardly the kind of win that tells you they’re near their best. The Lions now find themselves in 7th position with their win relegating Collingwood to ninth place. It should end up being six in a row when they go to Perth to play the Eagles this Sunday.

The Crows would be a frustrating team to support. So many of their losses this year have been games they were in with a chance with a few minutes remaining. In those contests they would fall short by a goal or two, while others were just insipid performances: Ben Keays inpressed on Sunday with four goals. He is a highly underrated player who seems capable of playing just about anywhere on the ground. Laird topped the possession count with 27, Rankine, Walker and Fogarty all kicked two goals, but Izak looks likely to be suspended after an incident involving Brisbane’s Starcevich. You could add that to the list of misfortunes for the Crows this year. Next week they host the Saints at home and would want to win that game for their fans.


10. The Jeckyll and Hyde season continues

Have you ever seen a season with so many twists and turns like this one? You can cite Geelong as one example who won the first seven games in of the year, only to win one of their next seven. There’s the Bulldogs who seem to alternate between their best and worst on a weekly basis and they played against Port Adelaide who are similar. It must’ve been the good week for Port. You had Hawthorn losing their first five matches followed by eight wins from their next ten outings. Then you have Jeckyll and Hyde within games such as the Blues against the Giants this week blowing them away in the first quarter then going into their shells to concede 14 of the next 17 majors. Brisbane have also had games where they’ve surrendered big leads.

Sydney looked as though they were not going to lose another game this year a couple of weeks ago. Whilst the two losses they’ve had have been very narrow margins, one was a rare SCG defeat while the other was to a bottom four team and arguably the upset of the season. And when you consider that Carlton are still prone to major lapses in some games, if they’re your top two teams, then anything is a possibility.

I’ve all but declared that the season was becoming a two horse race, but now those two horses are straying a little off course. This could be just a speed bump for both teams, and their next game could see them back on the winners list and looking as potent as ever. But as it stands right now, the two top teams going down this weekend has left the door ajar for the pursuing pack, and the last seven weeks of the home and away season will no doubt throw up some more Jeckyll and Hyde results, proving just how much this game is so often played above the shoulders.