Opinions are fluid in the AFL world. We bounce from writing a team off to saying they’re back in business within the space of two weeks, and as season 2018 starts to take shape, this has never been more prevalent.
We’ve had players look past it, only to excel and have doubters eat their words, coaches have their credentials and future questioned by pundits with access to a keyboard, and teams who were highly fancied suddenly become ‘on the nose’ and written off. Ruckman are now important again after a couple of years of the press telling us they’re redundant, and we’ve had club whipping boys turn into game winners.
The Mongrel has a bit of a look at the changing landscape of the AFL, and where people, including ourselves, may have just got it a little bit wrong.
THE COLLINGWOOD TURNAROUND
After the first two winless weeks, it seems every man and his dog were ready to assign the Magpies a bottom four spot on the ladder. In fairness, they were very ordinary against the Hawks in Round One, and Nathan Buckley’s decision not to have anyone run alongside the record-breaking Tom Mitchell had many questioning his coaching ability. Round Two saw a more spirited performance against a genuine contender in GWS, but playing at the MCG – a venue the Giants simply don’t play well at, meant that more was expected of the Pies.
A breakthrough win against the rabble that is Carlton, and a possible season-defining win over Adelaide on the road all but silenced the critics. The Pies have turned it around despite a rash of injuries to stars. Jamie Elliott, Alex Fasolo and Darcy Moore all sit in the grandstand, leaving the Pies looking depleted, but the emergence of Sam Murray, Jaidyn Stephenson, and the professionalism of Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury have aided the Pies to sit at 2-2 going into the biggest home and away game of the year; Anzac Day. Speaking of Scott Pendlebury…
SCOTT PENDLEBURY: NO LONGER AN A-GRADER
Mike Sheahan put his foot in his old mouth by stating that Pendles was no longer an A-Grade player after Round One. He may have gone a little early.
Pendles is a Rolls Royce, not a Ferrari. The Rolls Royce takes a little while to get going, but once it does, it is a smoooooth ride. Now Mike wasn’t wrong about Pendlebury’s season opener – it was below his usual high standards, but to make a blanket statement was jumping the gun.
In the three games since, Pendles has been excellent, and it has not just been his disposals that have hurt. He demonstrated a defensive side to his game against Carlton, taking responsibility for Patrick Cripps at stoppages. He now sits fifth in the competition in tackles, with 8.3 per game. His selflessness has been integral in the early-season resurgence at Collingwood.
An apology may be in order from Mr. Sheahan.
WEST COAST EAGLES ARE A SPENT FORCE
Many expected the Eagles to drop out of contention this season. The loss of Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis and Drew Petrie robbed them of around 900 games of experience, and given the performance of those three in their cut throat, elimination final against Port Adelaide, pundits were wondering where the big games would come from. The absence of Josh Kennedy to start of the season had many thinking they’d be fodder for other teams. Those people didn’t bank on the improvement of players like Dom Sheed, the instant impact of Liam Ryan and Daniel Venables, and the successful return of Nic Naitanui.
The eagles now sit at 3-1, and whilst the season is a marathon, not a sprint, it’s always important to get into the leaders’ pack. And yes, we’ll get to Nic Nat a little later.
THE SAINTS PLAYING FINALS
“Why not us?” screamed the headline on the front page the last ever edition of the iconic ‘Inside Football’ magazine as they questioned who would win the flag in 2018, highlighting St Kilda amongst a couple of other teams. In answer to their questions, we can point to the first four weeks of the season.
The Saints have been horrid after their Round One defeat of Brisbane. Their woeful performance against North Melbourne on Good Friday was almost enough to make me turn the TV off. Almost… but at least North played well after half time.
Since then, they’ve made it three losses in a row with defeats at the hands of Adelaide and Geelong. Their forward line is dysfunctional, their backs look either frustrated or disinterested, and their coach… well, if this keeps up, the drums will start beating for him. Beating a foolish rhythm, but beating nonetheless.
The Saints have to arrest this slide, but they look like I did on my first date all those years ago – fumbly and somewhat unsure.
Nothing divides Adelaide Crow supporters quite like Jenkins. Much maligned for not using his size and mobility to better effect, he silenced the doubters with a stellar game against Richmond, in which he kicked five goals to be the Crows’ best forward. He gave All-Australian captain an absolute bath in the first half in the process.
Fast forward one week, and the worm has turned. He had a stinker against Collingwood, and looked like the player who couldn’t get near it in the 2017 Grand Final again.
It seems the best opinion to have on Jenkins is no opinion at all. Whatever you say about the bloke, week to week, you’ll be proven wrong.
THE HAWKS ARE A BOTTOM EIGHT TEAM
Not many had Hawthorn in their top eight before the season commenced. Now, people are talking potential top four for the Glenferrie Mob. That, also, may be very premature.
The Hawks have burst out of the gates, going 3-1 over the first four weeks, with impressive wins against nemesis, Geelong and last week, Melbourne under their belt. This week they come up against the equally-surprising North Melbourne. Irrespective of that result, one of those two teams will be a huge story. Nobody rated North. Some thought they’d struggle to win a game. Either North will be 3-2, or the Hawks will be 4-1.
Add to the Hawks’ story the emergence of Jaeger O’Meara as a premier midfielder and…
JAEGER O’MEARA IS A BUST
There is a certain South Australian whose first name rhymes with Bane and surname rhymes with Horns that speculated that the deal that sent O’Meara to Hawthorn could be one of the “worst of all time” after O’Meara played just six games in 2017. After watching O’Meara out-sprint half the Melbourne team from the centre to soccer through a goal for the Hawks, he may be starting to reconsider.
Give Cornes a bit of credit – he is not afraid to speak his mind, and makes a pleasant change from the cliché-ridden landscape that is the football media, but as O’Meara continues to grow into his role, only one thing can prove Cornes correct, and I am not sure anyone wishes that sort of ill-will on O’Meara. He looks to be on the verge of being the player Gold Coast drafted him to be, and the player Hawthorn hoped for when they traded for him.
RUCKS ARE A DYING BREED
This has been the collective opinion for a while now. The dinosaurs were almost extinct, but like a plot from a bad, big-budget movie, they’ve found a way to evolve.
Brodie Grundy, Max Gawn, Stefan Martin and Nic Naitanui have put their stamp on this season. Last weekend, Grundy became the first man since Gary Dempsey to have 30 touches, 40 hit outs and kick a goal in a game. Gawn is averaging over 50 hitouts per game, and Stefan Martin almost dragged his Lions over the Power a couple of weeks back.
Rumours of the ruckmen’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
TOM ROCKLIFF THE BEST OF THE BUNCH
Of all the Port Adelaide recruits, Rockliff was the one people thought was a “can’t miss” prospect. Four rounds into the 2018 season, Rockliff is the only one not performing.
Rocky has career stats of over 26 touches per game, but is averaging just 12 per game at Port Adelaide. Whether it is mix of a delayed pre-season and injury, or an inability to fit in with a new gameplan, we don’t know, but what we do know is that the can’t-miss prospect is the one gun recruit that is failing to live up to expectations.
MELBOURNE - THE CONTENDERS?
This hype around Melbourne ran through the pre-season and into the season itself, but how quickly things change. After the Dees’ near-miss in the race for the finals, many believed they were primed to take major steps in 2018. However, in the wake of their destruction at the hands of Hawthorn, those on shows like AFL 360 and Talking Footy, journos like Caroline Wilson, and newspaper columnists alike are now all offering reasons that Melbourne are not contenders.
Rohan Connolly tipped them to finish top four. Kane Cornes had them pencilled in as premiers, but their play against Hawthorn has everyone questioning where they’re at, and whether they’re committed enough to the cause to challenge. How quickly things change.
Now, pointing fingers and smirking at the mistakes of others is great – really, laughing at the misfortune of others is one of the simple, guilty pleasures in life. But without the ability to turn the blowtorch back on yourself, we’d be hypocrites here at The Mongrel.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to own up. We made a couple of howlers, ourselves in the lead up to 2018. Here are our calls of shame.
NIC NAITANUI WILL BE A NON-FACTOR
Look, he took forever to get back from that knee injury, he wasn’t training with the team, and… hell, we were wrong. Naitanui has been amazing in the ruck, playing limited time and having maximum impact. His performance against Geelong in the West is everything you’d want from a dominant ruckman.
We went early on Nic Nat. We were wrong. Well done, big fella.
JOE DANIHER WILL GO PAST BUDDY FRANKLIN
Yeah… again, we’re sorry. Joe showed so much last year, and after a quiet start, set the goal kicking world on fire. This year, he seems to have taken the quiet start to a whole new level, with just six goals in the first four games of the year.
Meanwhile, Franklin came out of the blocks like a man on mission and leads the race for the Coleman. Daniher may make a late run again – and I am sure Bombers fans will be hoping he does, but we are willing to put our hand up and say we either went with Joe a little early, or made the mistake of underrating Franklin, which is a dangerous thing to do.
To finish off, whilst he is not a member of The Mongrel Punt team, a good friends of ours who we’ll call Adam West made a big song and dance around draft time, when his beloved Magpies chose the kid with the heart condition with the coveted sixth selection last year. He was pretty happy with him as he slotted five goals en route the Magpies win in Adelaide.