TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 11

 

  1. Prior opportunity is dead and buried

It’s official. The death occurred approximately 4:00pm Eastern standard time (2:00pm in Perth) when Jack Darling tackled Sam Petrevski-Seton as soon as he took possession of the ball and wrapped him up. The Blues defender knew two things. He was tackled at the exact moment he took possession of the ball, and he knew that the tackle was such that his arms weren’t free so trying to get rid of the ball was an exercise in futility. What he didn’t realise is how much importance the umpires place on his acting ability.

“What do you mean?” I hear you say as you’re reading this?

The umpire paid holding the ball because Petrevski-Seton didn’t pretend to try and get rid of it. You know what I’m talking about right? You know those fake wriggles and shoulder-shimmies players do when they’re completely wrapped up by an opponent and can’t get their arms free? Are we as viewers that stupid as to know that somehow, miraculously, the ball is going to come out with correct disposal when a player clearly has no way of getting rid of it? So, when you really sit down and think about it, players have to learn how to “act” like they’re still trying to get rid of it to appease the umpires. If they don’t put on a good performance, the umpire is going to pay the free kick against them.

It used to be a simple case of having enough time prior to getting tackled which would mean if you were unable to move the ball on correctly, your opponent would get the free kick. I’ll pose this question: How is this different to staging for a free kick? We see players pretend to be pushed or hit in order to gain favour with the umpires, so the AFL got tough and started fining players who were clearly faking it. So when a player is clearly unable to get rid of the ball due to being constrained, any attempts to get rid of it are staged just as much as falling over or feigning a knock. Anyway, this is just a long-winded way to suggest it was a diabolical decision, and ever since Alistair Clarkson asserted the rule was not being officiated in the correct manner, clearly the interpretation has changed, and not for the better.

 

  1. It’s a little hard to believe Port Adelaide are still only 3rd favourite for the flag.

We got a great game on Saturday afternoon. There was a free flow of scoring and the game was tough. Based on the way the game ebbed and flowed, and due to the brutal nature of the contest, I actually believed Richmond would be the ones to come home strong as I believed they’d found their mojo in recent weeks and were building nicely towards the finals. I also figured they’d been in many finals-style matches and they’d draw on their vast experience on the big stage.

But in the last quarter they were soundly beaten by a Port Adelaide team that had plenty of energy in reserve and they managed to keep the Tigers scoreless in the last term – a rare feat indeed. So I’m a little baffled that as it stands right now, Richmond are ahead of the Power for premiership favouritism. Whilst I understand the thinking behind that, I’m really beginning to believe that people continue to underestimate Port at their peril, but by the same token, I imagine this would suit Hinkley’s men just fine. The added weight of expectation can be a burden.

For the Tigers, young Bolton was impressive, and Riewoldt’s last two weeks show a welcome return to form. The Power had stars all over the ground. Veterans Gray and Boak were huge, as was Charlie Dixon despite being wayward with 2.4 in front of goal. But the player that has impressed me over the last fortnight in particular is Zak Butters. It’d be an interesting conversation right now regarding who would be in front on form between him and Rozee. Right I’m leaning towards the boy from Bacchus Marsh.

 

  1. The Dogs have beaten just one side currently residing in the 8

Many pundits had the Dogs playing finals football this year. People are still feasting on the carcass of their surprise 2016 premiership win. It has to be said they have been disappointing since that year. Sure, they managed to sneak into the 8 in 2019 with 12 wins but were blown away in their first and only finals appearance after their successful year. With five wins and five losses, sitting in 10th position a game and percentage outside the Top 8, it’s certainly not what they were hoping for.

Upon closer inspection, aside from a win against the Giants way back in Round Three, their only other wins have come against sides that currently sit outside the 8. When they have faced sides above them on the ladder, they’ve fallen well short, and this game was no exception.

They face Adelaide next round in a game they should win. The following week is against the Dees, and that could well decide which team will have any chance to break into the top echelon.

For the Lions, once again Lachie Neale looks set to get another three Brownlow votes. If this season was a 22-round fixture, he may have given the record number a shake. He’ll take some catching. Hipwood was great bagging five goals. They had winners everywhere and once they banged on five unanswered goals before half-time, they were never threatened. The Lions’ three losses have been against Geelong, Hawthorn and the Tigers, but they have taken some scalps. I guess it depends where the finals matches are played. One thing’s for sure, if you’re an interstate this year, the cards certainly seem to have fallen in your favour. That home ground advantage, in front of an actual crowd, certainly makes a difference.

 

  1. The Blues are making a habit of falling away.

After the half-time break, within the first 20 seconds of the3rd quarter, Zac Fisher dribbled through his fourth goal to give the Blues a handy 19-point lead. Blues fans would be daring to dream of a rare win against a strong Eagles outfit in their home town, but as usual, the pressure could not be maintained and the Eagles went on to kick eight out of the remaining nine goals of the match. It wasn’t without some controversy however.

Throughout the match, the Blues forward pressure was as good as it has ever been. They laid a total of 17 tackles inside 50, and they all went unrewarded for one reason or another. At the other end of the field, the Eagles only managed five tackles inside 50, yet three of them resulted in free kicks. It certainly didn’t help with the game in the balance when Sam Petrevski-Seton was adjudged holding the ball for a second time in the game, and whilst there may have been an instant of prior opportunity, it was touch and go, however no benefit of the doubt went the players’ way. The resultant goal hurt the Blues, and the supporters were bewildered at several similar incidents inside their forward arc where the player with the ball was not penalised.

That’s not to say it would’ve saved the game, but the momentum certainly shifted. Jacob Weitering kept the great Josh Kennedy very quiet to half-time, but as the Eagles ascendancy in the middle really took hold in the third term, the Eagles forward received silver service from his on-ball brigade and kicked two of the five unanswered goals before the final break and played a role in turning the game.

Nic Naitanui was damaging once again, although young Tom De Koning did seem more at home against the Eagles champion than Pittonet in what was a bright glimpse into the future of the third-gamer. Two weeks in a row the Blues have surrendered handy leads. Teague has his work cut out trying to manufacture ways to prevent this from happening, but it seems that leadership on the field is becoming an issue when things swing against Carlton. They can take consolation from the fact that they matched it with the flag fancy for almost 3 quarters, but the form fluctuations within games must be a major concern. And the Eagles midfield were far too strong after half-time with the deficiencies at Carlton laid bare. A little whisper that Ollie Wines, despite the success Port Adelaide is enjoying, is on their radar and may be gettable.

 

  1. The Dees seem very good against weaker teams, and terrible against the better teams.

Before you say it, yes they got within a kick of Brisbane and Geelong who are occupying Top 4 positions on the ladder. If you analyse those games closely, they were scrappy low-scoring affairs in which the Dees fought hard to stay in the contest and played a defensive style. In their other three losses against West Coast, Port Adelaide and Richmond, they were simply pushed aside with ease and conceded high scores. So it seems when their defence is on, they can match it with most teams, but the better sides won’t allow them to score as freely as the weaker teams have.

Against Top 8 teams, the Dees have managed to score an average of just 46 points while averaging 81 points against the lower sides. Sure, it’s harder to score against the better teams, but the most they’ve managed is just 52, and if they want to play finals, that’s probably not good enough.

And the woes continue at North. The injury list continues to grow. Their decimated playing group is a genuine excuse to give Rhys Shaw a pass for now. Larkey was a shining light on a dark day, and Luke McDonald toiled hard. Games against Brisbane and Collingwood over the next two weeks will probably see them consigned to the second-last position on the ladder thanks to an even worse Crows outfit.

As for Melbourne, it’s a fascinating fortnight ahead. If they can find some good form and beat Collingwood and the Bulldogs, then a finals berth is well within reach. But which Melbourne will turn up? The scrappy defensive unit that doesn’t kick a winning score, or the one that attacks and creates scoreboard pressure?

 

  1. Tom Hawkins isn’t slowing down at 32.

I’ve been watching Tom closely this year with an eye on how much longer he may be able to go on. My verdict is at least two more years at this stage. I’m not basing this on one game. He hasn’t slowed down, looks to be moving as well as ever, and he’s still a very important player at the Geelong Football Club. He’s sitting on 266 games, so I expect him to reach 300 before he hangs up the boots.

Geelong dominated the Saints, who were well down it must be said. Menegola was superb, and Dangerfield did his usual thing. Mitch Duncan is having one hell of a season. I think many don’t realise how good he is. There’s a lot of upside for the Cats despite the occasional patch of indifferent form. For them to be a real threat they’ll need to produce more of what they have over the last four weeks. Even in their loss to the Eagles they were very good.

For the Saints, this was a major hiccup. They would’ve gone into this game chock-full of confidence on the back of 4 straight wins including the big one over Port in Round Eight. The Cats gave them a lesson in pressure football keeping them goalless after half-time. Ratten is a very good coach. I’m sure this will spur the club on to redemption and expect them to bounce back against Essendon next week. We’ll find out soon enough whether or not this was a reality check or just a bad night.

 

  1. Fremantle’s youth outpointed the ageing Hawks

The Dockers midfield stocks don’t exactly look amazing on paper. Aside from the brilliant Fyfe, who spent some time playing forward as is often the case, you have three kids all under the age of 21 in Brayshaw, Cerra and Serong taking on the likes of Brownlow-medallist Tom Mitchell, number 1-draft pick Jaeger O’Meara and premiership champ Liam Shiels. Although Mitchell got plenty of the ball, the trio of youngsters had the better of their opposing Hawthorn counterparts in what shapes as a bright future for the Dockers’ midfield stocks.

Even ruckman Sean Darcy, at 22 years of age, was the dominant ruckman on the field against the might of McEvoy and Ceglar. The Dockers do come across as perennial battlers, but many of us over in the Eastern states are probably not acutely aware of their injury concerns with players like Alex Pearce, Joel Hamling and Darcy Tucker gone for the season as well as Michael Walters and Jesse Hogan currently on the sidelines. A fitter Freo would hurt a lot more teams.

The Hawks may have thought they turned the corner last week after coming back from a five-goal deficit against Carlton before cruising to a comfortable 31 point win in what was probably the best football they’ve played in season 2020. Alas, their woes were on display once more. Their disposal efficiency was well down on Fremantle’s who were able to beat Hawthorn at their own keepings-off game as demonstrated by a staggering 82 extra uncontested possessions. The Docker face a Blues outfit desperate for a win this week, and this game will determine just who’s list is at a better stage. I suspect it may be Fremantle’s.

 

  1. Collingwood got home, but they’re not flying.

Before Collingwood supporters start organising a lynching, yes, the injury toll from the Sydney game was huge. Having to make six changes was always going to prove difficult. However, the fact remains that the Magpies’ last four weeks have not been fantastic. After what was a terrific win over the Cats in Round Seven, they were smashed by the Eagles, beaten by a less-fancied Dockers, they won narrowly against a struggling Swans outfit, and struggled to shake off the winless Adelaide, who, it has to be said, had they kicked straighter, the result may have been different.

So where to from here for the Pies? Are they serious Top 8 material? I guess that depends a lot on who makes a return to the team. Moore and Reid should be back, as should Elliott and Hoskin-Elliott. The latter pairing should aid with goal scoring. They’re definitely missing their skipper who is still a couple of weeks away. A loss to Melbourne this week is a possibility and would place serious doubts on Collingwood being able to retain a spot in the finals.

Adelaide continue to fall over, although this week was a better effort. Love him or hate him, Taylor Walker does make a difference. Unfortunately he had a few moments he’d rather forget, but the team looked better having him out there. It’s still hard to see the Crows winning a game, but history tells us they should jag a win over the next six games. Next week they take on the Bulldogs and the following game is against the in-form Cats. The other four teams they’ve not yet played are Carlton, Hawthorn, GWS and Richmond. So, if they’re supposed to win one game, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who that will be against. And, as a Carlton fan, my feelings of dread are already beginning…

 

  1. It gets harder from here for the Bombers

After a heart-stopping draw against a spirited Suns, the Bombers find themselves in ninth position outside the 8 by half a game, albeit with a weak percentage, but with a game in hand on the 8th placed GWS. It sounds like there’s plenty to be optimistic about. That is, until you see who they have to play against in their remaining seven games.

Out of the seven teams they are yet to play, five of them are sides that currently occupy five out of the top six spots on the ladder in St Kilda, Richmond, Port Adelaide, West Coast and Geelong. The other two are against Hawthorn and Melbourne, who they were scheduled to play back in Round Three but the game was called off due to a COVID scare. Strange times indeed.

This game was a must-win, so to walk away with two points is definitely not the result they were after. A win would’ve had them equal on points with the Giants who occupy eighth place on the ladder, but the draw ahead now looms large. That said, if the Bombers can win enough games to gain them entry into the finals, they would’ve earned it well and truly.

A special mention to Bombers defender Jordan Ridley who has taken a huge step forward in 2020.

The Suns also missed a chance with a late behind to Ben King levelling the score, and a long shot by mercurial rising star Izak Rankine. His shot from outside 50 was always going to be tough. It’s a shame he didn’t flush the kick and score a behind. That would’ve been enough, and the papers would’ve hailed him the hero. I imagine right now he may be feeling dejected for not making better contact with that last kick and missing out on the glory that would’ve accompanied a well-executed drop punt, but I think before his career is done there’ll be more than enough moments to make up for that such is his talent. It wasn’t by any means his greatest game, but you can’t help but marvel at the way he moves and reads the play.

I’ve said before that he reminds me of the way Akermanis played his football, so I’ve come up with the nickname “Izakermanis”. Spread the word! Let’s see if it catches on.

 

  1. An interstate side is most likely to win the Grand Final

With Victoria being the veritable basket-case that it is, it will be very difficult for any team from the COVID-afflicted state to find premiership glory. By the time finals roll around, you’re talking about players who’ve spent 3-4 months living in a hub away from their home, friends and family. You’ll also have audiences that will invariably be one-sided.

This is not a parochial Victorian having a whinge. To me, it’s just the reality of the situation which, based on the crazy events of 2020, was the best the AFL could do to even have a season. And I say just as well, because it has been a welcome distraction for us Victorians who currently enjoy an 8pm curfew and very limited movement by day. Believe me, we’re not complaining.

The three teams for me that could enjoy glory are West Coast, Port Adelaide and Brisbane. Richmond are always in the frame, but they’ll really have to work for it. And who knows. With the way the year is going, any side who finishes eighth or better could pull one out of the hat. I’m not discounting the Cats, Saints, Giants or even the Pies or any side that can displace one of these teams. I’m just saying being closer to home for the better part of the year has to give you the edge.

 

Mongrel Podcast Episode 20 is up for your listening (dis)pleasure.

Apple https://t.co/g4bV1JJg5i

 

Google https://t.co/UN78vo5ZmS

 

Spotify https://t.co/tiQBltgi0f