The shifting sands of the AFL season see us land at Round Seven with as many questions as answers.
The Premiers are stumbling, the Cats are flying, and a new cohort of contenders are starting to emerge. The Giants look to be gathering momentum, the Power are staking their claim, and the Dockers have put a few teams back on their heels, but a new round presents new questions.
Let’s see if we can find a few answers.
How will Brodie Grundy go against the two-headed monster?
The ruck combination of Scott Lycett and Paddy Ryder is a formidable one, but watching the Power duo lower their colours to North Melbourne’s lone-hand ruckman last week was eye-opening, and you’d have to think the eyes of Brodie Grundy would be wide open coming into this contest.
I expected Lycett and Ryder to work Goldstein over, but the Roos’ big man toiled away to produce his best overall game of the season, and had an inspired five minute patch in the third quarter he looked like the best player on the ground. If Goldy can do that to the two-headed monster, what can Grundy do?
Lycett and Ryder will be a little stung by their efforts against North, and what better way to redeem themselves than with a comprehensive win against the best big man in the game currently?
The Lycett v Grundy match up around the ground is one I am looking forward to, with two dominant physical players locking horns, just as they did in the 2018 Grand Final. Lycett kept Grundy relatively quiet that day. If he and Ryder can do it again, the Power are the better for it, but you’d think that Grand Final loss might still sting Grundy a bit. Looking across that centre circle at Lycett might be the impetus he needs to elevate his game further.
Who can stop Travis Boak?
Hey, good question! Nathan Buckley has long preached about he backs his guys in when there’s a good midfield match-up, and why wouldn’t he? His team of mids is as good as it gets, but when the Pies have encountered Richmond, he seems to contradict that, throwing Levi Greenwood onto Dustin Martin. Will he do the same against Travis Boak?
The former Port captain is having a career renaissance, and Buckley would like nothing more than to send Boak’s form back to the dark ages of seasons past.
Boak is averaging 32.7 touches per game, and if he gets around that mark again, the Power will be very dangerous. Will Bucks pull the trigger on Greenwood, or will he back his boys in? That decision may be pivotal to the result.
Is this the biggest test for the Saints?
The surprise packet of the 2019 season run into their biggest test thus far, with the Giants returning to Canberra to redeem themselves after unexpectedly dropping a game there to Freo.
Nathan Brown has been excellent in defence for the Saints, and he’ll have his hands full with Jeremy Cameron prowling around. Perhaps the Coleman leader will be the responsibility of someone else, as his agility and penchant for getting up and back might leave Brown a little overmatched. That said, Brown has been the competition’s #1 contest killer in 2019. If the Giants go in long and high, he will make sure that a contested mark isn’t going to happen often.
Jack Billings will need to rebound from an ordinary (by 2019 standards) Round Six outing against the Crows. He needs to find some space and hit up some targets, as does Jade Gresham, who is due for a good one.
This is the game the Saints need to make a statement. The Giants are a quality outfit, and with Toby Greene back, and Josh Kelly leaving several southern clubs frowning after signing on for two more years, the club is poised to start making good on the enormous potential they’ve shown for years.
A win to GWS cements them as a top four team. A win to the Saints, and it’s time to start taking them seriously.
Are the Suns exactly what the Eagles need?
After having their wings clipped at Kardinia Park, the Eagles have limped home to lick their wounds and find form. What better way than to welcome an inexperienced Gold Coast team to Optus Stadium?
West Coast are not traveling well at all. Their captain, Shannon Hurn is the only player who can truly hold his head high after six rounds of footy, having hardly put a foot wrong, and he’ll need a few of his mates to step it up if the Eagles are to win against a Gold Coast team with nothing to lose.
You’d be crazy to bet against the Eagles, but they have been vulnerable. Jeremy McGovern had his best game of the season against the Cats and they still got walloped. Jack Darling is looking like it’s the first half of a Grand Final every week, Andrew Gaff is throwing the ball on his boot without looking, and Josh Kennedy is yet to find his 2019 niche. They’re like a Ferrari having trouble starting. Are Gold Coast the jumper cables they need to get up and running in 2019?
The Suns will bring take the game to the Eagles, in terms of pressure. They are an honest footy team, and you’re always going to get 100% effort from them, and though they lack class, they’re developing a core of young players that’ll have a dip. The Eagles need to match that intensity and punish them on the outside.
This is 12th v 13th. No one thought we’d be saying that at this stage when the season began. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. The ball is well and truly in West Coast’s court here. Are they willing to work hard enough?
Who gets the Little Master?
This is looking like it could be the game of the round. The Cats and the Bombers at the MCG on a Sunday afternoon, and a packed house watching on. Is this the kind of game that Gary Ablett could cement himself as the favourite for an All-Australian forward pocket berth? And who gets the job of minding him?
If there is one thing that teams have not exploited thus far, it’s running off Gaz once the ball turns over. The Bombers have the players to do just that. Adam Saad can come across like a chicken with its head cut off at times, but when he gets his hands on the pill, you know it’s going to generate run. Conor McKenna is another who’ll take off with a moment’s notice. If one of them gets Ablett defensively, it could swing the contest, but I doubt they’ll risk the, at-times, cavalier nature of either man on Ablett.
Ablett’s delivery around the forward 50 was on full display in Round Six as he blew the game open in the first quarter with four goal assists. The bombers will need someone who can lock down the Little Master tightly. I’d be sending Mark Baguley back to defence if I were John Worsfold – he has the kind of single-minded focus required to shut a player down. The other potion is left field if he can get up – Devon Smith.
Smith hasn’t been himself in the midfield all season, and though he is listed as a possible out for the Dons with a knee issue, if fit, he could provide the tackling intensity and focus down back to ensure Gaz is quiet. Maybe a job is exactly what he needs to kick start his faltering season, but if he is not 100% the Dons would be better off leaving him out completely to heal.
There are many facets that could swing the outcome of this one, but how the Bombers handle Ablett will be chief amongst them. His influence on the game in 2019 has been second to none, and if Essendon is to hold the cats to a reasonable score, the impact of the Little master has to be reduced significantly.
Can the Blues finish off Brad Scott?
The drums are beating at Arden Street, and only one thing can silence them – wins.
There are those who think Brad Scott is a dead man walking, but with another year to run on his contract, it would take something significant to see him shown the door. Could that moment of significance come at the hands of the Blues?
Carlton, despite a second half collapse to the Hawks, have had a very nice couple of weeks. Harry McKay is clunking marks (as is Levi Casboult for that matter) and they’re finally getting quality production from Sam Petrevski-Seton. Liam Jones is playing good footy, and Lachie Plowman is starting to show why he was such a high draft pick.
Things are starting to piece together for the Blues. Ca they actually make it work for four quarters against a North Melbourne team struggling to play the way they did in 2018?
I’ve long thought that it takes a while for a team with new inclusions to gel. Essendon was case study number one last season. Port Adelaide was case study number two. And here is North Melbourne, injecting new blood into the team across the middle, and struggling as a result.
There will come a time when these new acquisitions all gel, but if it isn’t this week, how long can Brad Scott keep the wolves from the door?
Are the Crows back?
There’s been some signs of life in the recent weeks. Eddie Betts has been up and about, and though he had limited influence on the stat sheet last week, his influence was brilliantly captured by Cam Read in his game review, highlighting just what Betts brought to the table when the Crows needed him.
Tex Walker started looking like a power forward again, and with Elliott Himmelberg starting to look a bit like an x-factor, and Brodie Smith returning to the form of 2019, the Crows looked lively.
They welcome the 4-2 Dockers who, frankly, have been outstanding this season. Their tall forward line will test the Adelaide backs, led by Alex Keath, who would be starting to be mentioned in terms of All-Australian selection… something that wasn’t a consideration at the start of 2019.
Keath, Talia and Hartigan v Hogan, Taberner and McCarthy could go a long way to determining the result in this one, with the winner legitimising its chances in 2019, and the loser… well, middle of the pack for the loser seems a pretty fair assessment. The Crows need to win these games at home. The Dockers need scalps on the road.
Is this the year of O’Meara?
This week should see two tests – can Jaeger O’Meara out the hawks on his back again? And can James Harmes stop him?
The Demon on-ball brigade has fallen away in the last two weeks, resorting to a “hack it forward and hope” approach that rarely works with today’s well-structured defences, but again the Hawks, they’re a chance to really dig in and make a statement.
As good as O’Meara is, his supporting cast is suspect. Liam Shiels is a warrior, and James Worpel will be a good midfielder, but compared the extracting of Oliver and Brayshaw, they may be found wanting. Gawn will do his best to feed the Melbourne midfield beats, and a lot will depend on Ben McEvoy’s ability to counter Gawn’s ruck work, and O’Meara’s ability to shark clearances.
If Harmes can wear O’Meara closely, the Hawthorn midfield is suspect. They will live and die by O’Meara in the guts this season, as they did in Round Six. They lived then. Can they do the same this week?
And can the Dees show something that indicates that 2018 wasn’t just an aberration?
Can Bont bite back?
He’s had a couple of tough weeks, the Bont. Beaten soundly by Patrick Cripps, and then by Nat Fyfe, he runs into an accountable Richmond midfield who, Dusty aside, are as unassuming as any in the game right now.
Dion Prestia is a workhorse, and does not have his praises sung anywhere near enough, while Kane Lambert, Brandon Ellis and Jack Higgins are covering for the absence of Trent Cotchin admirably. If Marcus Bontempelli ever needed a statement game, it’s with his Dogs sitting at 2-4, and the season on the line.
He is their leader; their superstar and they need more from him.
But are we expecting too much? He is already averaging career high numbers in disposals, clearances and contested possessions? What else can he do?
I think the issue is that there is a perception he has been beaten when opposed to another star. He was responsible for Cripps against Carlton, and the Blues star had a party. Whilst not responsible for Fyfe, the former Brownlow medallist had a big day, too. Bont needs a big day out against quality opposition, and he needs it in a win. A victory over Richmond is the kind of statement the Dogs need to make, and it’s a statement that needs to be barked out by Bont the loudest.
Are the Swans finished?
It seems to be asked a lot more over the last 12 months than I can remember, but with Buddy hurt and the improved Lions hosting them, the Swans’ backs are well and truly against the wall.
Crisis = opportunity?
The ions looked a little shaky in the first half against the Suns and if they play like that, the Swans may surprise. There is still quality there. Josh Kennedy is playing like… well, Josh Kennedy, and in Isaac Heeney, Sydney have a star ready to shine. Yes, they’ll miss Buddy again but are they as bad as people are making out?
Not at all. Names like Aliir, Rampe and Lloyd down back, the emergence of Zak Jones as a hard-running mid, and Tom Papley starting to look dangerous, the Swans could surprise a few teams very shortly.
That said, when the Lions start running and hitting targets, they’re deadly. George Hewett will need to put the clamps on Lachie Neale (and not go off hurt if Neale gets a little upset by it like Jack Bowes did last week… ugh!) if the Swans are to get close.
It’s not often you get the chance to put paid to a teams’ season, but that’s where the Lions find themselves. They have the Swans staggering, here. They need to land a knockout punch at home, but if you think Sydney will lay down, you haven’t watched them for the last few years. It’s not in their nature.
Who will be number one in the Mongrel’s Player Power Rankings?
Yeah, you know I love this stuff. I’ve been busy compiling numbers, dividing, carrying the one… all that maths business. The second installment of the Power Rankings will be up tonight between 8.30-9.00 Eastern time. Can Brodie Grundy retain his number one spot, or will a couple of defenders knock him off? What about Gaz? He’s been pretty good, and there’s that bloke in navy blue running around that is having a pretty nice season too. And how can I not add in Lachie Neale or Travis Boak?
Lots of players gunning for the top spot, but there can only be one at the top. Who has had the most powerful presence in the game in 2019? All will be revealed tonight.
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