By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Just like that, preliminary final weekend has arrived and with it, two cracking contests. The rising Demons, minor premiers for the first time since 1964 and seeking their first grand final appearance since 2000 up against Geelong, playing in its fifth preliminary final in six years.
On Saturday night, the beat-up Western Bulldogs facing the fit, firing and intimidating Port Adelaide Power. Two huge games that loom as classics. See what Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash think of the two games below.
Clayton Oliver and Cameron Guthrie will play big roles for their respective sides. Picture: AFL Media
Melbourne vs Geelong
Optus Stadium, Friday September 10, 7:50pm AEST
Melbourne will face Geelong on Friday night in a preliminary final at Optus Stadium. The two sides met in the final round of the home and away season less than three weeks ago. It was a clash of two halves, Geelong led at half-time by 39 points and looking destined for the minor premiership. However, after the main break it was all Melbourne, with the Demons outscoring the Cats 58-15, including six goals to none in the final quarter. Fittingly the result was eventually decided with Demons skipper Max Gawn kicking the match-winning goal after the siren to break Geelong hearts, and give Melbourne their first minor premiership since 1964.
Melbourne defeated Brisbane in a qualifying final two weeks ago by 33 points in a very impressive performance, while the Cats fell to Port Adelaide in a qualifying final by 43 points before turning it around last week to defeat the GWS Giants by 35 points. It will be Geelong’s fifth preliminary final in six years, while for Melbourne it will be just its second since 2000. Will the Demons find themselves one step closer to breaking their 57-year premiership drought, or will the Cats spoil the fairytale and make the grand final for the second consecutive year?
Where the match will be won:
It sounds cliché but the midfield battle is key to deciding which team will be the first to book their place in the 2021 Grand Final. Clayton Oliver ran rampant in the round 23 clash collecting 37 disposals and two goals in a best on ground performance, while Max Gawn wasn’t far behind with 25 disposals, 39 hit-outs and a goal. Rhys Stanley must do all he can to limit Gawn’s influence in the ruck, and give the Geelong midfielders the best chance at getting first use of the ball out of the middle. Both teams are strong all over the ground, while the Cats must be efficient with their delivery inside 50 as Melbourne’s backline is the best defensive system in the league. It will come down to who is more efficient with their opportunities, as both teams have the superstars to propel their side to the big dance.
Key match-up: Tom Hawkins vs Steven May
It’s the All-Australian center half-forward up against the All-Australian full-back. In round 23 Hawkins booted four goals on May with three of them coming in the second quarter. Hawkins has kicked 11 goals across his past three games including five last week in arguably his best game of the season to date against the Giants. While May has his work cut out for him, he has been the most consistent one on one key defender all year and stopping Hawkins is something he is clearly capable of if Melbourne’s pressure up the ground is at a strong level. The Demons defence is the most dynamic in the league, while the three-headed monster forward line of Geelong being Hawkins, Cameron and Rohan is equally as strong. Hawkins vs May is the nucleus of this battle, but which group wants it more?
Prediction: Melbourne by four points.
Ollie Wines and Bailey Smith will need to be in good form for their sides to win. Picture: AFL Media
Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs
Adelaide Oval, Saturday September 11, 7:40pm AEST
Aside from the fact the Western Bulldogs were a top four side all season and threw it all away in the last three weeks, this 2021 side is eerily similar to the 2016 premiership winning group. Backs against the wall playing in elimination finals on the hunt for an unlikely premiership from outside the top four. Add into it the injuries the Bulldogs have copped, losing Alex Keath and Cody Weightman this week, it’s again mirroring the 2016 campaign, when they lost a core group of senior players throughout the season. It means the pressure is all on Port Adelaide. Playing at home, in front of a crowd with a week’s rest up its sleeve and its opponent in injury trouble. It’s a lot different to 2020, when the Power came up against dynasty side Richmond and entered slight underdogs. The time is now for Port Adelaide and this is as good a chance as any to qualify for its first grand final since 2007.
Where the game will be won
If Port Adelaide are to win through to the grand final, its edge will be found in the forward line. With Alex Keath now out of the side, the door is wide open for the Power’s forwards, specifically Charlie Dixon, to have a day out. Zaine Cordy is a handy in, an experienced defender with a premiership medallion already, but Keath’s shoes are big ones to fill. Last weekend, Brisbane had 14 more inside 50s than the Bulldogs and six more marks inside 50, yet only managed two more shots on goals. Considering the Keath injury, the Power need to take advantage of the smaller defence of the Dogs and be efficient going inside 50. If they can’t, the Bulldogs have proved that they can hurt you at the other end through their dynamic midfield. It happened against the Lions, the Dogs were able to turn missed chances from Brisbane into attacking opportunities and hurt them on the other end. Not giving the Bulldogs a chance to do this will be objective number one for Port Adelaide.
Key match-up: Ollie Wines vs Jack Macrae/Marcus Bontempelli
Jack Macrae was superb against Brisbane and set the scene from the outset with 13 first quarter disposals. Enter Ollie Wines. The stoppage bull needs to assert his dominance on the game and if he does, he’ll be able to diminish Macrae’s influence on the game. In the process, if he can beat Bontempelli inside, that will go a long way to Port Adelaide winning the game. With a slight injury cloud hanging over Bontempelli’s head, a couple of tough, hard contests to start the game might just play in the back of his mind slightly and knock him off his game. Even if he’s off by just 10 per cent, that’s a huge plus for the Power. Overall, this midfield battle is key to the game. Both sets of midfield groups have been in stellar form and as is the case in finals, whoever wins the midfield battle will win the game more often than not.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 24 points
Cover Picture: AFL Photos
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash.
The 2021 AFL Finals Series begins on Friday night. Photo: AFL
After 23 rounds of AFL we have reached the finals. Eight teams remain, who will be crowned the 2021 Premiers? It all starts this weekend with four huge finals, Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash take a look at each matchup and give their prediction as to who wins and why.
Port Adelaide will host Geelong at Adelaide Oval on Friday night to begin the 2021 AFL Finals Series. Photo: Port Adelaide FC
Second Qualifying Final:
Port Adelaide vs Geelong
Adelaide Oval, Friday August 27 7:50PM AEST
It would be easy to assume Port Adelaide enters this game favourites after the weekend we have just witnessed. The Power coming back from 19 points down at half-time in a low scoring affair against the Western Bulldogs to win and Geelong conceding 9.4 to its 2.3 in the second-half to lose to Melbourne after the siren. However, let’s not forget the dominance that Geelong can possess in games. For the first-half on the weekend, the Cats suffocated the visitors. They set up superbly behind the ball and played the type of offensive footy that suited the state of the game. At times, agonisingly slow but also fast when required to catch Melbourne’s intercept defenders one-on-one. This was ultimately effective, hence the 8.1 to 1.2 second term. Granted, Port Adelaide have been in great form, however, its forward line has not seemed as potent as it has been in the past. If this doesn’t change this weekend, Geelong would own that half of the ground and won’t let up, especially considering the loss it just suffered. The Power are a strong chance to win, don’t get me wrong, and the home crowd will make a difference.
Where the match will be won
It’s the old cliché ahead of a final, but the midfield battle will ultimately decide this game. Port Adelaide is at its best when it pressures its opponent inside the forward half. This aspect of their game nearly got the Power into a grand final last season, and considering Geelong’s defensive dominance when it’s allowed to set up behind the ball, it becomes even more vital for Port. Geelong on top in the midfield is a recipe for disaster for its opposition. Its defence is incredibly hard to break through once the ball is locked in and seems to suck the life out of teams (or maybe that’s just me as I sink into my couch bored of the Cats chip, chip game). Geelong enters favourites for mine as its commitment to its game style has shone through all season and should hold it in good stead in the grit and grind that is a final. What will give Port Adelaide its biggest chance of a victory is winning the midfield battle. Being able to keep the ball inside its half of the ground would prevent Geelong from setting up defensively and make it susceptible to being scored against quickly. Winning the midfield battle throws out everything I have talked about before this paragraph and especially considering Tom Stewart’s injury and inability to play, makes Geelong’s defence nervous.
Key match-up: Geelong forwards vs Port defenders
Super general and broad, I know, but have a look at the last time these sides met. Jeremy Cameron five goals, Tom Hawkins four and Gary Rohan three. The end margin? 21 points. All-Australian Aliir Aliir and Tom Jonas become so vital in slowing down the tall-forward duo of Hawkins and Cameron. If they can, it makes life a lot harder not only for those two, but also the small forward at their feet. As a Richmond supporter, I’ve watched Geelong’s forwards give us a bath twice this year. If Port let the Cats get on top in that area, it’s game over, there is simply too many players that can hit the scoreboard.
Prediction: Geelong by 15 points.
The Swans will host the Giants in Tasmania in the Second Elimination Final on Saturday Afternoon. Photo: Sydney Swans
Second Elimination Final:
Sydney Swans vs GWS Giants
University of Tasmania Stadium, Saturday August 28, 3:20PM
Sydney will take on GWS on Saturday in what will be the third time the crosstown rivals have met in the finals in the space of five years. In 2016, it was a Qualifying Final, 2019 an Elimination Final and now in 2021 another Elimination Final. The Swans and Giants have played twice this season, with GWS defeating Sydney at the SCG in round five by two points before the two teams met again in round 18 where it was the Swans who took home the chocolates, defeating the Giants by 26 points at Metricon Stadium. The Giants are in a purple patch, while the Swans have been consistently strong throughout the year winning seven of their past eight games to finish the season. It’s 6th vs 7th, however on form both of these teams are well and truly in the premiership race so expect a hotly contested battle from the opening bounce.
Where the match will be won:
With Josh Kennedy and Callum Mills likely unavailable due to injury you’d expect the Giants to win the battle in the midfield, however Sydney have shown they can win games without winning the battle in the middle of the ground. They are the number one turnover team in the competition, their pressure all season has been relentless which is where teams have struggled against them. If GWS’s delivery inside 50 is at a high efficiency they will go very close to winning this game as you would expect them to win the midfield duel. However, if the Swans bring the pressure they’ve brought all year, force the Giants into turnovers and efficiently move the ball from their defensive half to their forward half, they will be very hard to beat. Both defenses have genuine assignments ahead of them going into this one as well. For the Swans it’s Toby Greene, the gun Giant had 18 disposals and kicked 1.7 in their round five match-up and is a genuine match winner for GWS. While down the other end it’s Lance Franklin who will be causing nightmares for the Giants backline. Franklin has kicked nine goals in his two matches against the Giants in 2021. The match could also very well come down to these two players.
Key Matchup: Lance Franklin vs Sam Taylor:
Lance Franklin has had an incredibly successful 2021 to date, especially against the Giants. In round five Franklin booted five majors, while in round 18 he kicked 4.2. His likely opponent Sam Taylor has had a breakout year and grew up idolising Franklin. Last time the two met Buddy even offered the young GWS defender advice on how to beat him one-on-one. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out, with Franklin averaging 4.5 goals per game against the Giants across two meetings in 2021. If he can get in space and Sydney’s delivery is spot on it’s hard to see how Taylor stops him.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by six points.
Melbourne host Brisbane at Adelaide Oval on Saturday Night in the First Qualifying Final. Photo: Getty Images
First Qualifying Final:
Melbourne vs Brisbane
Adelaide Oval, Saturday August 28, 7:25PM
It’s 1st vs 4th in this massive Qualifying Final at Adelaide Oval, and while usually there is a big gap between the minor premiers and the fourth best team at the end of the Home and Away season the Lions are a genuine chance in this one. The two teams have met once in 2021 where it was the Demons who were too strong for Brisbane. The Lions led that game by 20 points at halftime, before Melbourne kicked nine goals to three after halftime to complete a 42-point turnaround and win by 22 points at Giants Stadium. Christian Petracca finished with 26 disposals and two goals in a best on ground performance. While Zac Bailey kicked four goals for the Lions, and Kysiah Pickett and Tom McDonald kicked three majors each for the Demons. Both teams enter the finals in strong form, with Melbourne winning their past four games to finish minor premiers for the first time in 57-years, while Brisbane won their final three games of the home and away season by at least six goals or more to scrape into the top four and secure a double chance. Melbourne have been the most consistent team throughout 2021, while the Lions are roaring right now. Can the Demons put themselves one win away from a Grand Final berth or will the Lions continue their hot run of form?
Where the match will be won:
If Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca are at their best Melbourne will be very hard to beat as they are arguably the best midfield combination in the AFL right now. While the Lions have their own very handy duo in 2020 Brownlow Medalist Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons. The Demons have the best defensive system in the league headlined by Steven May and Jake Lever, if Brisbane aren’t efficient with their ball movement from the middle of the ground going inside 50 they’ll struggle to kick a winning score. There are key matchups across the ground that will decide the result of this match, it will be highly contested and could very well be low scoring. Melbourne have a number of scoring options inside 50 as do the Lions, it sounds cliché but both teams are strong all over the ground and it may very well come down to who takes their chances, this one will be a lot closer than some may think.
Key matchup: Max Gawn vs Oscar McInerney
McInerney has a massive task on his hands this week matching up on the number one ruckman in the competition. While Gawn also has a young apprentice on his side in Luke Jackson, he is still the Demons number one choice at the opening bounce. In round 12 Gawn was way too strong for McInerney finishing with 31 hitouts to 18, but also was much more influential around the ground with 17 disposals, four tackles and a goal to McInerney’s eight disposals, zero tackles and a behind. McInerney must be better this week and it is vital he does what he can to limit Gawn’s influence, otherwise Melbourne’s midfield will likely get on top, making it extremely tough for the Lions to get first use of the ball out of the middle.
Prediction: Melbourne by 12 points.
The Bombers defeated the Bulldogs on the back of Peter Wright's seven goals in Round 21. Photo: AFL
First Elimination Final:
Western Bulldogs vs Essendon
University of Tasmania Stadium, Sunday August 29, 3:20PM AEST
Who would have thought three weeks ago the Western Bulldogs would be in an elimination final in week one of the finals? Certainly not me, the top four seemed an absolute lock. This is where the Bulldogs are now though and they need to fight their way out of the mess they have created. The best part about this match-up is that the two sides faced off in round 21, resulting in a 13-point victory to the Bombers, the beginning of the Bulldogs’ fall. The good news for Bulldogs fans is that their side had every right to win the game. Plus two scoring shots, +49 disposals, +21 inside 50s, +19 contested possessions, +40 uncontested possessions, plus seven marks inside 50, plus eight intercept possessions and plus seven tackles inside 50. The difference in the game? Essendon got on top of the Bulldogs in the midfield. The Bombers were +16 clearances, plus six centre clearances and +18 tackles. If the Dogs fix this part of their game, which after becoming such a threat early in the season, has become a space in need of fixing, it will go a long way to a win. As simple and dumb as it may sound, goal-kicking would carry the Bulldogs a long way also. The final score line of 12.12 (84) to 15.7 (97) and the fact the Bulldogs had 10 more shots than Essendon (33-23) proves some accurate and efficient attack on the scoreboard will take the Dogs a long way.
Where the match will be won
Luke Beveridge described his midfielders performance against Essendon in round 21 as nearly one of the worst he’s experienced since joining the Bulldogs as coach. That probably explains the importance of the midfield battle this weekend better than I could. All the stats are mentioned in the paragraph above and paint a pretty clear picture. Whoever gets on top in the midfield will get the job done. Each forward line is potent enough that if enough ball gets in there, they will hit the scoreboard strongly.
Key match-up: Jake Stringer vs Bailey Williams
The midfield is the clear big “key match-up” in this game. However, Jake Stringer versus whoever the Dogs assign to him could be the other pivotal match-up. Stringer’s in a rich run of form and is a proven match winner so far this season. With Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy able to lock up the key forwards, it frees someone like Bailey Williams up to take Stringer. You take Stringer out of the game and in my opinion, you take Essendon out of the game. This is assuming the Bulldogs midfield responds strongly, which I think it will. We watched teams refuse to take Dustin Martin out of finals games for four years and look where it got them. Stringer has the potential to have a stinker by himself even without close attention but why take the risk? Put the fire out before it even starts and get the ball rolling in your direction, Bulldogs.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 30 points.
Cover Photo: AFL
Comments from Tony Armstrong and Eddie Betts were some of the most powerful about the issue of racism during the week. Picture: ABC
Odd decision, Footy Classified
I, like many others, saw Eddie McGuire making comments around Taylor Walker's apology video for his racist comments which in itself was not great. It's odd, to say the least, to see McGuire making comments as he himself has made racist comments of his own not too long ago and his club, Collingwood, has been accused of being a racist one under his reign as president. Considering the likes of Tony Armstrong and Eddie Betts, former teammates of Walker's, spoke amazingly about the issue of racism on Fox Footy and the ABC, I'm unsure why Footy Classified would see it fit for McGuire to discuss this issue. An Aboriginal man pouring out his soul onto our tv screens about the pain and hurt these comments cause versus a white man that has said racist comments of his own. I know which I'd be listening to in this scenario.
Upsets galore shaping the eight with crucial clashes to come
Going into round 21 it looked as though there were a few matches where you could tip the winner with ease. However, it was not to be. The GWS Giants upset the Cats in Geelong, the Saints defeated the Swans, the Bombers were too good for the Dogs and the Gold Coast Suns were too strong for the Blues. After Carlton lost to the Suns, we are down to five teams competing for the final two spots in the eight. Ninth through to 12th all sit on 36 points respectively with two matches remaining in the season, while the West Coast Eagles are just holding onto seventh, a game clear on 40 points. After the Giants upset the Cats they are now half-a-game clear ahead of ninth on 38 points. After Melbourne held on to defeat the Eagles on Monday night, it finds itself back on top of the ladder, however, the Cats, Bulldogs and Power are all just two points behind it. It doesn’t stop there either, in round 22 there are a number of crucial games that will shake up the ladder even more. Starting with Friday night’s clash between the Giants and Tigers. Separated by just two points, the Giants will just about lock up a finals birth with a win, while Richmond must win to keep its destiny in its own hands. The Cats take on the Saints on Saturday in Geelong with the Saints in similar circumstances to the Tigers, it is a must win. Meanwhile, the Cats need to win if they want a home qualifying final. To finish off round 22 the Dockers meet the Eagles in what is a must win game for Fremantle if they want to remain in the finals hunt, and West Coast need to win if they want to remain in the top eight.
David Teague is under scrutiny at Carlton following a disappointing 2021 season. Picture: AFL Photos
Is it a Teague or Carlton problem?
David Teague has some questions to answer as Carlton coach at the moment, there is no doubt. The inconsistency of performance from week-to-week is something that he, along with the players and other football staff, need to answer for. In saying that, overall, is the Blues form this season a Teague issue or a Carlton problem? This has been an issue at Carlton for a long time now. Since David Parkin ended his second tenure as coach in 2000, only one coach has had a winning record; Brett Ratten, who went 60-59 from 2007 to 2012. Wayne Brittain had a 39.13 per cent winning record, Dennis Pagan 24.04 per cent, Mick Malthouse 37.04 per cent, John Barker (interim coach) 23.08 per cent and Brendan Bolton 20.77 per cent. This has been a more than 20-year problem as a club and I don’t think Teague is all to blame. Does he have to wear some of it, of course. However, it’s only his second full season and he’s pulled them to an 8-12 record. Who was the last Carlton coach to win eight games in a season? Malthouse, in 2013, when the Blues won 11 games. Do changes need to be made in the football department? Probably. However, sacking a coach demoralises a group and could send the Blues a hell of a long way back instead of a few steps forward.
Where has that been all year Saints?
St Kilda supporters would have been thrilled with the way the Saints played against the Swans in round 21, its pressure was incredible and its efficiency going inside 50 was arguably the best it has been all year. However, at the same time the Saints would be equally frustrated at the fact they’ve shown how good they can be when they’re at their best, while at their worst they can lose a game by more than 100 points. Even if the Saints do scrape into the finals it has been a wasted year for St Kilda. Going into 2021 many had them making the jump into the top four, and midway through the season it looked as though finals were out of the question, however, thanks to the teams above them they remain in the mix. They’ve got the list and the talent to be one of the best teams in the competition when they’re at their best, can they build off their win against Sydney and take down the Cats in Geelong?
Peter Wright was in superb touch for Essendon at the weekend. Picture: AFL Photos
Is “Two-Meter Peter” the key to unlocking the perfect Bomber attack?
After Peter Wright booted seven majors as the Bombers flew past the Dogs by 13 points on Sunday, we all wondered how he struggled to get a game at the Gold Coast Suns. However, it seems as though it’s a classic case of a player needing a change of scenery. It has been a successful first year as a Bomber for Peter Wright and after his performance against the Western Bulldogs there’s no reason why he can’t be their number one forward target. If he is surrounded by Anthony McDonald Tipungwuti, Jake Stringer and Devon Smith as well as Harrison Jones when fit there is no reason why this Essendon forward line can’t perform. Many questions have been asked about the Essendon forward line, however, if Wright can continue to perform all they have to do is find the right pieces to put around him.
Suns inconsistency frustrating
Gold Coast currently sit on 28 points and two-and-a-half games outside the top eight. Its season has included wins over Sydney, Richmond, GWS and now Carlton. The frustrating part is that the Suns have lost games to Adelaide, Carlton, St Kilda, Fremantle and North Melbourne. The Suns could be playing finals footy in 2021 but their inconsistency lets them down. Their best is great. They apply pressure, hunt the ball and the opponent and they fight to stay in games. The Richmond and Carlton games stick in my mind. Both seemed like games where they might run away from the Suns but Gold Coast clawed its way back in and fought out a win. Other weeks, like against Melbourne in round 20 and the second-half against Brisbane in round 19, the Suns roll over. The difference between where the Suns are now and the finals isn’t that big and that’s the same for a lot of fringe sides. Consistent effort, intensity and pressure will take them there.
Cover Picture: Getty Images
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash.
Lincoln McCarthy celebrates a goal during Brisbane's remarkable 49-point win over the Gold Coast Suns. Photo: AFL Photos
Lions roar out of the den to claim Q-Clash and keep top-four hopes alive
It was a dismal first half for Brisbane on Saturday as they trailed the Suns by 27-points at halftime in the battle of the two Queensland teams. Going into the match the Lions had been out of form and at halftime it looked as if the run of bad form was going to continue as a much-improved Gold Coast Suns team was all over them. However, after the main-break the Lions found their roar and managed to kick 13 goals to one in the second-half to run away 49-point winners in what was a stunning victory. The huge win and massive second-half may have ignited belief into a team that looked extremely flat, as we approach the final few games of the season.
They all deserved a week
When David Astbury elbowed Lachie Plowman back in round one I remember saying, “that’s got to be a week.” Same thought with Joe Daniher’s incident in the same round and Luke Shuey’s in round 16. So, when I saw Lance Franklin elbow Luke Ryan, while I thought it deserved a week, he couldn’t be handed one, because of the precedent that’s been set. It’s the wrong call though and I think the entire footy world agrees. All four of them involved a wind up, throw the elbow back and connect with the head. Gary Lyon hit the nail on the head on AFL 360.
“In the end you can argue, if you want to punch a bloke in the head no worries, write me a check, write the check before you go out, punch him in the head,” he said.
“Don’t knock him out or break his jaw, because then you’re going to be in trouble, but punch him in the head and that’ll be fine or if you want to chuck an elbow, chuck and elbow but don’t break his jaw and we’ll be okay.”
He’s spot on. All four deserve a week and all four would get a week in 2022 when there will no doubt be a new precedent set on the action.
Isaac Heeney was superb in Sydney's 40 point win over the Fremantle Dockers. Photo: AFL
The Swans have found the perfect mix to fly up the ladder
Going into 2021 most people had Sydney improving but almost no one besides Damien Barrett had them finishing in the top-eight. As we head towards the final four weeks of the season the Swans are a genuine contender. They will play finals and are currently only one game out of the top-four. They’ve spent the past two years in the lower half of the ladder, but this enabled them to bring in an abundance of young talent, while also debuting and getting games into their youth. Now they’ve got a combination of established senior players such as Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd, mixed with players in the 23-25 age bracket including Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, Tom Papley and Jordan Dawson combined with a number of players in the 18-21 age bracket who are improving every week. The young Swans have injected much needed energy and pace into the playing group, while the experienced players are driving the ship, as this flock of Cygnets and Swans make their charge up the ladder. There's a lot of belief in this Sydney team who have come from behind to win in their past two matches. They'll look to make it five-straight wins as they take on the Bombers on Saturday night.
Carlton need to bounce back
The mark of a good team is the ability to bounce back and respond after a poor performance. Melbourne’s been superb at it all season, Sydney did it against Geelong after back-to-back losses to GWS and Gold Coast and the Cats themselves did it against Essendon after a loss to Brisbane, just to name a few. Carlton isn’t to these sides level and a win against St Kilda this week probably doesn’t matter much in terms of finals for 2021, but what it would do is instil that belief and confidence in itself going into 2022. Friday night footy with the whole country watching the week after an embarrassing loss to the bottom side in North Melbourne. The ability to take the hit from the fans, cop the media scrutiny and respond on the biggest stage in a weekend fixture does a lot for a side.
The Cats are now premiership favourites after dismantling Richmond in round 19. Photo: AFL Photos
Geelong is the team to beat
I’ve watched Geelong dismantle Richmond twice this year and other teams for that matter, firstly with its defence. Whether it’s Tom Stewart, Mark Blicavs, Lachie Henderson, the list goes on, there is always one or two spare players behind the ball that always seem to impact the contest. What assists them is the pressure up the ground which doesn’t allow teams to move the ball quickly and expose those loose defenders. It’s this commitment to defence and the ability to execute it that has them as my premiership favourites. Now can it be exposed and broken? Yes. Brisbane did it superbly in round 15, quick ball movement catching Geelong off guard and putting the Lions in good scoring positions. Ultimately, when it comes to the nitty gritty come finals time, this defensive focus will win the Cats games. Couple it with their ability to score quickly when required through Tom Hawkins, Gary Rohan and Jeremy Cameron when he’s healthy and Geelong seem a dangerous prospect.
Round 20 could see the ladder take shape with just three games to follow
There are a number of games in round 20 that will help shape the ladder with just four games remaining in the home and away season. Currently 9-12th all sit on 32-points with just percentage separating each team. The GWS Giants are eighth after defeating Essendon on Sunday night, however they sit ahead of the four teams below them by just two points. While the top-four race is also well and truly still on, with the Brisbane Lions and Sydney Swans sitting one game behind Port Adelaide in 5th and 6th respectively. With Melbourne struggling over the past month they also look vulnerable in third position, only one and a half games clear inside the top-four on 54-points. The battle for the minor premiership is also still on, with the Western Bulldogs and Geelong only separated by percentage but also only two points ahead of Melbourne, and top-spot may still be in reach for the Demons if they can turn their form around. We're in for an exciting few weeks leading into the finals.
Cover Photo: North Melbourne FC
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Jack Riewoldt is chaired off after his 300th game against the Brisbane Lions at Metricon Stadium. Photo: AFL Photos
14 disposals, seven marks (all inside 50) and six goals is a quality game at any stage of a career, but it’s even more special in a 300th game. It was a superb performance by Jack Riewoldt, reminiscent of the Jack of old, taking a hanger, kicking snags and putting Richmond on his back in a must-win clash. With Geelong up next for the reigning premier, it was evident the Tigers had to win one of these two games between Brisbane and the Cats. They’ve got one, mostly due to Riewoldt’s performance, and now need to win at least four of the next five to make the top eight.
A Disastrous Docker Shocker
Fremantle found themselves in the top-eight going into round 18 as they took on Geelong at home. With the Cats being entrenched in the top-four race it looked to be a huge test for the Dockers. However, as the game was at Optus Stadium, Fremantle were always going to be in with a strong chance, but from the opening bounce it turned out to be the complete opposite … in fact it was a ‘Docker Shocker’. It was a disaster for Fremantle, a club looking to play finals for the first time since 2015. The Dockers have improved in 2021, however these are the games they need to be a lot more competitive in if they want to be a legitimate finals threat. They’re a big chance to make the eight as they’re currently in the pack of teams between 7-13th that has formed looking to fill those final two spots inside the top-eight, however their percentage took a big hit as they managed just three goals. They must turn things around this week against an in-form Sydney Swans if they’re going to be any kind of threat when September rolls around.
Marcus Bontempelli is the frontrunner for the 2021 Brownlow Medal in what is an incredibly wide open race. Photo: AFL Photos
The Brownlow race is heating up
Usually by this point in the season there are at least one or two clear Brownlow Medal favourites. However, after 18 rounds it’s anyone’s guess who will take home Charlie in 2021. Looking at the ‘On The Pine Player Of The Year’ leaderboard it’s probably down to our current top six which includes Sam Walsh, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Steele, Darcy Parish, Touk Miller and Tom Mitchell. However, our leaderboard aside I would say Marcus Bontempelli would have to be the current favourite with Clayton Oliver, Darcy Parish and Jack Steele not far behind. Sam Walsh, Ollie Wines and Touk Miller are also three wildcards. As we head into the final few rounds of the season the Brownlow race is well and truly on, and it looks as though it may be one of the closest counts ever.
Hold off on Melbourne slander
A lot has been made of Melbourne’s draw with Hawthorn and to some extent it’s probably fair enough. The Hawks sit 17th on the ladder with just four wins to their name and they trailed Melbourne by 20 points at quarter-time on a wet night. It was a game the Demons never should have lost, however, it’s not panic stations yet and here’s why. The Dees have proven their system holds up and beats the top sides. They have beaten Geelong, Richmond, Sydney, Western Bulldogs, Brisbane and Port Adelaide. Their losses have been to Adelaide, Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney by an average of nine points. So, it’s clear, they take the foot off the pedal slightly against the lower sides and on four occasions they’ve been caught out. The week after these three losses, however, they have come out and beaten the Western Bulldogs, Essendon and Port Adelaide. That’s pretty substantial proof over a long period that Melbourne are going to be just fine.
Are the Blues still in the finals hunt? Photo: Carlton FC
Credit to Carlton
During the first-half of Carlton’s clash with Collingwood, it felt like it was going to be the same old result. Carlton couldn’t get any form of connection going between its midfielders and forwards, it allowed Collingwood easy marks inside 50 and the Blues turned the ball over at an alarming rate. However, we have to give credit where credit is due. That fourth quarter was scintillating, Harry McKay taking contested marks, Sam Walsh putting the side on his back, Eddie Betts kicking crumming goals and the Blues hunting Collingwood as a team and forcing a complete flip of momentum. Six goals to zero is a quality finish to the game and it helps Carlton sit just one game outside the top eight.
There is a glimmer of sunshine on the Gold Coast
It’s been another year to forget for the Gold Coast Suns, however since their loss to North Melbourne in round 15 it looks as though they may have turned a corner. Since the loss to the Kangaroos they’re 2-1 across the past three weeks. The three results include an impressive win over Richmond in Melbourne, a nail-biting one point win over the Giants and most recently an 11-point loss to the Western Bulldogs. With finals out of reach, if the Suns can continue to perform at the level they have over the past three weeks it installs belief into their young group going into 2022. The Suns at stages looked like they may challenge for the top-eight in 2020, however fell away late in the season with many expecting them to make the jump in 2021 or at least challenge for the eight again. However it wasn’t to be, but for a club with an abundance of young talent and quality seasoned players there is no reason why they can’t be back in the conversation for 2022.
Cover Photo: Sydney Swans
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Are the Swans suddenly a genuine premiership threat? Photo: AFL Photos
The 2021 finals race is heating up
A few weeks ago many thought the top-eight may have already been well and truly locked away. However, with a couple of teams dropping off and a few teams taking their form up a notch, suddenly the finals race is wide open. As we move towards round 18 there is only two games separating 7th to 14th. Suddenly Fremantle have jumped to 7th, while reigning premiers Richmond find themselves in 12th position. The West Coast Eagles have slumped to 8th after a horror three weeks, while the Saints and Bombers are surging and the Giants are hovering around the 8th to 10th mark. It looks as though the finals may not be locked in until the end of round 23 and with the premiership race wide open, this season just got a whole lot more exciting.
Nick the slithering lizard has found his perfect rock
The Sydney Swans drafted Nick Blakey as a forward with the ability to go through the midfield. Throughout this season, he has been inconsistent and prior to the past fortnight had been in the worst form of his career to date as he was going in and out of the Swans’ best 22 as well as a couple of games as the medical sub. However, a shift to halfback has seemingly worked wonders, he is incredibly skilled and combined with his slithering dash off halfback it has proven to be a great move for the young Swan. Over the past two games he is averaging 18.5 disposals and 6.5 marks while going at around 80% efficiency with most of his disposals by foot. It’s only been a couple of weeks but it looks as though Horse has finally found a perfect place for his pet Lizard.
It has been a dismal four weeks for the struggling Eagles. Photo: AFL Photos
End of the Eagles’ fortress
I mentioned to someone the other day that the round 19 game at Optus Stadium between West Coast and St. Kilda was a very winnable game for the Saints. They’re in good form and the fortress the Eagles have built is no-where near as strong. He said ‘yeah, but you still tip West Coast.’ I agreed, but after Monday’s loss to North Melbourne at Optus Stadium, that decision might need some more thought. The utter dominance that the Eagles used to display at the ground is gone, and seemingly, like Richmond, the confidence has been zapped from them. In their last four games at Optus, they have lost three of them and the one win they managed was a four-point comeback win over Richmond when the Tigers collapsed. Like Richmond, I think the Eagles can re-group and have another crack at a premiership next year, but 2021 is gone.
Tom De Koning appreciation post
I’ve been a huge fan of Tom De Koning for a long time and he has been repaying the faith since becoming a regular in the Carlton line-up across the last couple of seasons. 15 disposals, six marks, four tackles, five intercept possessions, four score involvements, 284 metres gained and 14 hit-outs at the weekend was a great showing and highlights what the 21-year-old is capable of. Being so young and standing at 203cm and 100kg, down patches will come and he’ll be inconsistent. However, he will be a key part of Carlton’s spine for the next decade. Combined with Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay, Sam Walsh and Patricks Cripps, it is a strong spine for the foreseeable future to build around.
After falling to another top-eight team at home are Port Adelaide still the real deal we thought they were? Photo: AFL Photos
The Power is Dim
For a majority of this season Port Adelaide have looked as though they’re a genuine contender. However, after falling to another top-eight team at home on Thursday night it’s hard to see them challenging for the flag. The only current top-eight team they’ve defeated is Sydney and that came down to the last couple of minutes as they trailed with less than five minutes to play, they very well could have lost that game as well. They are dominant against the lower ranked teams but struggle against the best. You have to ask the question; can this team actually win the flag or are they flat track bullies? They face a St. Kilda team full of confidence at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night and right now my money is on the Saints.
Keep quarters the same
In answer to Chris Scott’s opinion that games are too long, as a regular consumer, I can happily say they’re not. The 2020 shortened quarters were crap and fans hated it. In response to shorter quarters allowing teams to play off shorter breaks, yes, that may be true. As professional organisations and athletes, if you can’t figure out how to play off shorter breaks with regular quarters, there’s something wrong. With the knowledge and technology we now have in sport rehabilitation and training along with the professionalism of the players, it’s very doable. In a time when so much is being changed in the game, just leave the quarters alone.
Cover Photo: AFL Photos
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Ben Brown celebrates a goal with Nathan Jones in round seven. Photo: AFL Photos
Big Ben given an opportunity to shine
I must sound like Ben Brown's biggest fan with my writing about him over the past 12 months, but I think it’s warranted. Tom McDonald has a great tank and likes to roam up the ground, which is fine, because it’s worked for them all year. Luke Jackson is a 19-year-old, 199cm player, so he can be excused for not being 100 per cent ready to be the stay at home dominant forward. He doesn't need to be dropped he’s in the Demons’ best 22, but some help from Brown would benefit him and the team greatly. Brown has played five VFL games and kicked 12.5. He’s been given three chances at AFL level and has averaged nearly two goals, four score involvements, and over two marks inside 50 a game, which is above average. They have the pieces to go deep in the finals, they just need the right role players to fill in the rest. Brown is one of them and he gets his chance under the bright lights of Adelaide Oval on Thursday night against Port Adelaide.
The Kangaroos are beginning to find their way North
After North Melbourne’s 128-point loss in round three to the Western Bulldogs it was hard to see how this team could possibly get a win in 2021. It was the ease in which the Kangaroos were being beaten that raised the alarm bells, however from round seven onwards the improvement has been clear. While they’ve only won just the two games they’ve been competitive in every game over the past ten weeks and at least given themselves a chance. They have a plethora of young talent on their list and they are improving by the week. The clear example was there against the Dogs in round 16, after falling to the Bulldogs by 128-points in round three, just 14 weeks later they were defeated by 29 points, making it clear the Kangaroos are beginning to find their way North.
Sam Reid celebrates a goal with Lachie Ash during their round 16 win over Melbourne. Photo: GWS Giants
GWS are putting it together at the right time
The GWS Giants have one of the most talented lists in the AFL, but they’ve often been referred to as a selfish team. However, it looks as though Leon Cameron may have gotten through to his players as they begin to use their talent and play as a team as we reach the business end of the year. They were incredibly attacking and moved the ball with a high level of efficiency against Melbourne, who are currently one of the best teams in the competition and were previously unbeaten on their home ground in 2021. It was enough to show us that when the Giants are at their best they can compete with anyone, and another test looms in round 17 where they face the Gold Coast Suns who will be full of confidence after a strong win over Richmond.
The age of the smaller midfielder
In recent years, midfielders have gotten bigger. Nat Fyfe, Marcus Bontempelli, Dustin Martin, Patrick Dangerfield etc. All near key forward size with the ability to impact in the most taxing position on the ground. It’s not a league wide new trend, but seeing smaller bodies midfielders like Darcy Parish and Sam Walsh start to dominate has been an unexpected change. Parish is just 180cm and 80kg, yet averages 14.1 contested possessions and eight clearances per game, both in the elite category. Walsh isn’t quite to that standard, but the fact he hasn’t been bullied out of the middle at 184cm and 83kg is pretty impressive. For context, Jack Steele is 187cm and 91kg, Fyfe is 191cm and 92kg, even Jack Macrae is 192cm and 88kg. The little men are back, led by Parish and Walsh this season and by 2020 Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale.
Touk Miller continued his phenomenal year with 36 disposals against Richmond in round 16. Photo: Getty Images
Touk Miller a star
I’m not buying into the ‘Touk Miller should be All-Australian,’ talk, as I think there is too many midfielders ahead of him that have had better individual and team seasons. I do, however, think he’s a star and will one day be an All-Australian. He has a great mix of inside and outside game, averaging five clearances a game but also picking up 19.6 uncontested possessions and 445.6 metres gained per game. His running power was especially prevalent against Richmond. He’s picking up 30.6 disposals per game, which is currently the eighth best in the competition. The next step, as it is for a lot of midfielders, would be to hit the scoreboard more, but that will come. If 2021 is anything to go by, he’ll keep adding different parts to his game.
Dockers blow huge opportunity
Whenever Fremantle is playing away from Perth it’s almost a lock that you will tip against them, which is exactly why I tipped Carlton to beat them on Saturday night. With the game being at the MCG it was a huge opportunity for the Dockers to prove everyone wrong and show us they can win on the big stage away from home. However, they can only blame themselves as they could have defeated the Blues if it wasn’t for a number of wasted opportunities in front of goal. The Dockers finished with 8.16 to Carlton’s 12.8. They had 24 scoring shots but only kicked their eight goals across two quarters. Fremantle kicked 8.11 to Carlton’s 6.1 in both the second and third quarters combined and it looked as though they were going to run over the top of the Blues who led by as much as 28 points early in the second quarter, however the Dockers managed just one behind in the final quarter. Carlton found another gear and managed to finish off Fremantle in the final quarter in what was a golden opportunity blown by the Purple Haze, as a win would have leapfrogged them into the top eight.
Cover Photo: Gold Coast Suns
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
The Hawks leave the field following their upset win over the GWS Giants. Photo: Hawthorn FC
The nest of Eyas is getting larger
The flock of Baby Hawks are emerging right before our eyes. They’ve won two of their past three matches against quality opposition in the Sydney Swans and the GWS Giants. Their confidence is growing by the week and it’s particular noticeable across the ground, the likes of Changkuoth Jiath who has had a breakout year in 2021 averaging 20 disposals and six marks per game across half-back, while Will Day has slotted back into the line-up perfectly since returning from injury and played his best game of the season to date against the Giants. Denver Grainger-Barrass played his first game for the Hawks on Sunday after being taken with Pick 5 in the 2020 National Draft looked really promising. The forward line is also showing strong potential with small forward Dylan Moore continuing his strong year kicking four goals in the win, while Jacob Koschitzke was lively once again. Jai Newcomb has also looked really strong, stringing three consecutive games together after being picked up by the Hawks in the mid-season draft.
The Eagles sanctuary is no longer tough to break into
Once upon a time a trip to the West was feared by the rest of the competition, however suddenly that incredibly tough trip to Optus stadium doesn’t seem as tough. West Coast have lost two of their past three games at home to both Essendon and the Western Bulldogs and to make it worse in round 15 they were thrashed by a rampant Bulldogs team. The Eagles simply looked flat against the Dogs only managing 6.7 and conceding 13.20 something we rarely see from a West Coast team in Perth. If the rest of the AFL fixture plays out the way it is meant to, the Eagles only face one more top eight team at Optus Stadium. However, based on recent weeks it looks as though anyone may be able to break into the Eagles’ sanctuary.
Fremantle were too good for Collingwood in what was a confidence boosting win. Photo: Getty Images
Dockers’ win flying under the radar
I know Collingwood haven’t been great in 2021 but for Fremantle to beat them at Marvel Stadium is no mean feat and should give a young, rising side on the rise some confidence it can win more games on the road. Given their record on the road leading into the game, which included losses to Melbourne (when it wasn’t the best side in the competition like we know now), Carlton, Brisbane, Essendon, Port Adelaide, this win was a pivotal one for the Dockers. Road games against Hawthorn, Sydney and St Kilda are still to come, and some wins not only make finals a possibility, but help a young side believe in itself.
Sun struggles to shine in the Apple Isle
Gold Coast were already struggling immensely before they travelled to Tasmania to face the bottom of the ladder North Melbourne. However, a win would’ve slightly released some pressure. They were in the game throughout the match however that’s still not good enough, with the amount of talent this club has in its repertoire they should be far better than a young Kangaroos team. Going into 2021 they were expected to push for finals for the first time in their ten-year history after showing strong signs in 2020, however they’ve gone backwards. It doesn’t get any easier for the Suns as they face a hungry Richmond team on Thursday night who will be keen to bounce back after their incredibly poor round 15 performance.
The Saints caused a major upset at the MCG on Friday night defeating reigning premier Richmond by 40 points. Photo: AFL Photos
Saints’ fans pulling their hair out
If you were a St Kilda fan, you would be ropable, even after a win like that over Richmond. Playing at the MCG, on a wet night, with the Tigers fielding 18 of its 2020 premiership winning 22, the Saints shouldn’t have stood a chance, but they defended superbly and looked okay going forward. Saints’ fans would be asking ‘where the hell has this been all season?’ The match-up was made for a Richmond win, they never lose in the wet at home. It does mean St Kilda’s finals chances are alive, as long as they bring that intensity every week.
Mentality is king
If Gold Coast’s and Carlton’s season tell us anything, it’s that mindset and defensive intensity is the most important part of an AFL game style. In 2020 and even the early rounds of 2021, the Suns were kings of the contested ball, tackle pressure and surge mentality. In round six it was on full display against Sydney, Gold Coast 40 point winners. Same can be said for Carlton. They’re defense, or lack there-of, has been dissected every week without fail. When both side’s buy in, they win games. Look at Richmond, they’ve built a dynasty through this style of game. It works, and when you don’t do it, losing streaks like the one Gold Coast has been on the last three weeks occur.
Cover Photo: Hawthorn FC
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Brisbane are flying after a slow start to the season. Photo: AAP - Dave Hunt
The Lions are swarming
The Brisbane Lions are flying under the radar right now. Have we somehow missed the fact that they’ve just quietly won seven straight games? Across those seven weeks the Lions have averaged 106.9 points per game which is the most in the competition. With a forward line as strong as theirs you’d expect the likes of Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood and Charlie Cameron to be dominating the scoring, however, that’s not the case. Against the GWS Giants in round 11 the three of them combined for just three of Brisbane’s 19 goals. It’s the spread of goal kickers that is making this pride of Lions so dangerous. In their 64-point win over the Giants midfielder Mitch Robinson was phenomenal kicking four goals, while Lincoln McCarthy, Dan McStay and Dayne Zorko all finished with two goals each. It makes for a mouth-watering clash on Friday night with top of the table Melbourne who are coming off an impressive 28-point win over the Western Bulldogs. Will this pride of Lions continue on their winning ways? Their biggest test yet looms next.
Amazing what winning does
I went and watched Melbourne live in round one against Fremantle and its win and the way it played was nothing to write home about. It’s amazing what winning does, however, as you fast forward to round 11 and the Demons play with more confidence, authority and flare. All of a sudden, players are willing to make that defensive effort or run off the ball because it works. Who would of thought? Imagine if they had of butchered the win over St Kilda in round two, a game they only led by four points at half-time. Or if they had fallen over against GWS the next week when they trailed by a goal at half-time. They may have figured it out anyway, but it’s amazing what these wins do for your confidence. They help you get wins over Geelong, Richmond, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs, as the Demons have done this year. Go back and watch that round one game, you’ll see the difference.
Jack Riewoldt was best on ground in Richmond's win over Adelaide. Photo: Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos
Make it realistic Kane
I know it’s Kane Cornes’ job to create headlines and half of what he says he doesn’t actually believe, it’s just to, as I said, create headlines. However, to say that Richmond should trade its 32-year-old key forward in Jack Riewoldt to keep Callum Coleman-Jones, who’s played two games and kicked four goals is idiotic. Riewoldt is in great form, sits top five in the Coleman medal and the Tigers are in the hunt for the premiership. Coleman-Jones played a great game and has earned his try in the senior side, but I can bet that he is the biggest advocate for not trading or retiring Riewoldt. He’s played two games! It’s the biggest overreaction to one game of footy I’ve ever seen. Melbourne provided the best case study to do the opposite of what Cornes said after its 2018 Preliminary Final run. The Demons were seemingly happy enough to trade Jesse Hogan to Fremantle because young-gun Sam Weiderman had played one good final that year. What happened? Melbourne finished second last in 2019 and ninth in 2020, with Weiderman playing a 24 of a possible 39 games in those two years and kicking 30 goals. Young players need these older heads for guidance and help, and in contrast to what Cornes said, Richmond absolutely can play three talls, in fact, it needs to. Back-up ruck help for Toby Nankervis and a key forward that takes some pressure off Tom Lynch, who gets smashed in marking contests for 120 minutes every week. Jason Castagna, Jake Aarts, Shai Bolton, Jack Graham and Daniel Rioli as your pressure smalls and the Tigers are good to go.
The Dockers aren’t going anywhere
Fremantle aren’t going anywhere unless they learn how to win on the road. The Dockers have one of the most exciting young lists in the competition. They’ve showed signs of how good they can be as well. Going into this season like many I had them pushing for the top eight and whilst they still can make the finals, their record away from Perth makes it seem less likely they’ll make the jump. If they were to make the finals and finish in 7th or 8th it’s hard to see how they get past the first week. Port Adelaide had the game wrapped up at quarter time on Sunday. They took a 40-point lead into the first break, and whilst they are a contender in 2021 it proved the Dockers are still a long way off. Away from Optus Stadium this year they’ve lost by 22 points, 45 points, 24 points, seven points and 46 points. Their only win outside of WA came against the Adelaide Crows by 12 points. If this team is going to make the jump and play finals this year or next, these are the games they need to be a lot more competitive in. You’re not a legitimate contender if you can’t win away from home.
Jake Stringer and the Bombers are flying into Dreamtime at Optus Stadium. Photo: AFL Photos
Dreamtime can’t come fast enough
I’m not one of the believers that Essendon’s win over West Coast at Optus Stadium was “one of the best of the modern era,” as one commentator called it, because the Bombers did it in 2018. However, it doesn’t take away from the superb win that it was, a game which they trailed by 29 points at one point. Darcy Parish was superb again, as was Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who is an All-Australian small forward at the moment. It sets up a mouth-watering Dreamtime game with Richmond, albeit at Optus Stadium rather than the MCG. Essendon should be confident heading back to the same ground and if it’s a genuine threat to the top eight, should expect to win. Richmond needs some continuity with winning and its team being on the park, so expect a fired up Tigers also. I can’t wait.
The Blues let another opportunity slip
Carlton currently sit 13th on the ladder with a record of 4-7. We have been waiting for the Blues to make that jump from the lower half of the ladder into the top eight as their young list begins to mature. However, it looks like 2021 might be another year where the Blues miss the eight. They have improved, no doubt, however, they’re struggling to get the job done with the game in the balance. On Sunday, Carlton trailed Sydney by just three points at three-quarter time, however, the Swans went on to kick four goals to one in the last quarter and run away with a 22-point win. This seems to be a reoccurring theme for the Blues. In four of their seven losses the games sat in the balance at three-quarter time. If they were able to get on top like the best teams do their record would look a lot different. They’d be 8-3 and entrenched in the top eight. While there has been improvement, 2021 might be the same old story for Carlton unless they turn things around in the second half of the season.
Cover Photo: AFL Photos
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash.
The Saints let one slip against the Cats on Friday night. Photo: AFL
Saints blow golden chance under the roof
St Kilda were all over Geelong in the first half on Friday night, however they went into halftime with just a one-point lead. The Saints kicked 3.11 in the first half to the Cats’ 4.2. They had more than double Geelong’s scoring shots and were all over them across the ground, however they succumbed to woeful accuracy in front of goal eventually losing by 21 points. If they had've kicked straight early the match could've been over by quarter time. It was a golden opportunity blown by the Saints against arguably the most in form team in the competition. There is a long way to go in 2021, however this is a game they should’ve and needed to win. Going into this season the Saints were one of the most hyped up teams in the league, after the loss to the Cats they sit in 11th position on the ladder with a record of 4-5, however more alarmingly they have a percentage of just 81.5.
Are we letting Hawthorn off too easy?
Here are some of the names that played for Hawthorn on the weekend. Blake Hardwick, Kyle Hartigan, Sam Frost, Jarman Impey, Liam Shiels, James Worpel, Tom Phillips, Luke Breust, Chad Wingard, Ben McEvoy, Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara. Three premiership players, a Brownlow medalist, a best and fairest winner and three multiple All-Australians … and they lost to North Melbourne. The only players for the Kangaroos that I would put in a similar category to those I just mentioned would be Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell, Jy Simpkin and Todd Goldstein. That’s an embarrassing loss in what has been an embarrassing season to date. Alistair Clarkson deserves the right to never be sacked given his unbelievable record, but he has to cop some flack for the season they’ve had. Their list is simply too good to be 17th on the ladder, with a 2-7 record and a percentage of 75.4.
The Western Bulldogs continued their impressive start to the season with a 19 point win over Port Adelaide in Adelaide on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
I’m on the Dogs’ and Dees’ train
When teams that have been down for a while begin a season strongly and look like contenders, I’m usually of the believe that you need to win a final for me to jump on board. I’m making an excuse for Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, however. It’s for a few reasons. Both teams have beaten legitimate contenders this season, on multiple occasions. Both sides have stacked midfields full of star power that also defend, which is a necessity in the competition. Lastly, both have key position stocks at either end that are really strong. The Dog’s backline not so much, however, given the way their midfielders defend up the ground, they don’t need key defenders, their team defence does the job. Melbourne have three legitimate key forwards and two of the best defenders in the league. That’s hard to stop and that’s why both sides are contenders in my eyes now.
Are Port Adelaide really as good as we think?
After the loss to the Western Bulldogs the Power find themselves 1-3 against the current top eight teams. They’ve lost to the West Coast Eagles by 37 points, the Brisbane Lions by 44 points and the Western Bulldogs by 19 points. The only team in the top eight they have beaten is Richmond. Are the Power flat track bullies? Personally, I don’t think so. The stats are alarming considering how badly they’ve been beaten in two of those games, however I think as the season goes on they'll level that stat out against the fellow top eight teams. They are too good of a team not to, however with the Power currently looking dim against the best teams in the league the pressure is on to flick the switch.
GWS had no answers for superstar Tiger Dustin Martin. Photo: Getty Images
What were the Giants thinking?
It’s beyond me that GWS didn’t have someone running with Dustin Martin throughout their clash with Richmond on Saturday night. It’s well known if you stop Dusty you’re well on your way to stopping the Tigers. In every Richmond loss this season Martin has struggled to have a strong influence on the game as he has been heavily tagged, whilst in every win he’s been arguably the best player on the ground as he's been let off the chain. Against the Giants he had 28 disposals and four goals. While Martin hasn’t played poorly in the matches where he has been ‘shut down’ it is a long way from his game breaking best. The Giants only lost to the Tigers by four points, it only makes me wonder if someone went to Dusty and even kept him to just one or two goals … GWS win the game.
Are the finals teams locked in?
We’re nine rounds in, but are the finals sides locked in already? As the ladder stands it’s Melbourne (36), Western Bulldogs (32), Geelong (24), Brisbane (24), Port Adelaide (24), Sydney (24), West Coast (24) and Richmond (20). GWS, Fremantle and St Kilda sit a game behind the Tigers, however, I just don’t see them finding a way in. Inconsistency has and will continue to let them down and plain and simply they won’t beat the teams inside the top eight to give it a shake-up. St Kilda and GWS had chances at the weekend and butchered it, as did Fremantle against Essendon. Unless there’s a bunch of injuries for one of the current top eight teams, I think they’re locked in.
Cover Photo: AFL Photos