By Liam Melrose, Ollie Nash and Josh Farrell
The Tigers were back to their September best on Friday night against the Cats. Photo: AFL Photos
The Tigers know how to hunt in September
Richmond have been building all season as a group regardless of who has been in their 22 each week. When the Tigers play with that frantic pressure that has won them two of the past three premierships, they’re incredibly hard to stop.
It has become a trademark style for Richmond over the past three years, and when their style is in full flight you almost feel as though you’re watching a pack of vicious Tigers chasing and attacking their prey. They hunted Geelong down on Friday night, making the Cats look second rate in what many were dubbing the Grand Final preview.
While the Tigers still haven’t got their best 22 available due to injuries, if they bring that brand of football into the finals you wouldn’t want to come up against them. They’re the clear premiership favourite in my eyes right now.
Will Scott’s Cats ever win a flag
Having been a Geelong supporter my whole life I have been privileged to follow one of the most successful teams in the modern era, seeing three premierships in five years and regular finals appearances. In recent years however, the Cats have consistently failed at the final hurdle. They have dominated the regular season year after year, but never look likely to challenge for a premiership.
Chris Scott has coached Geelong for nine years delivering a premiership in his first season with a star-studded team who knew how to play a winning brand of football. It has been nine seasons since Scott won that premiership, which is one less than Nathan Buckley who is under immense pressure to deliver a premiership for his beloved Magpies. The question must be asked whether Scott has a game plan that will stand up in the big games, or whether it just makes for a good home and away team.
On Friday night we saw a Geelong team that once again will not stand up in big games against the competitions best teams. Superstar forward Tom Hawkins has been dominant all season but was kept desperately quiet, with many commentators saying that 'Richmond unlocked how to stop the Cats when going forward.' The Cats midfield was unable to stop a rampaging Richmond, as they simply powered through the middle of the ground, with the Tigers kicking 7.15 for the match. Whilst the game against Richmond is an outlier in the scheme of the season, it is an all too familiar sight for Geelong fans in September.
The Cats struggled to diversify moving forward, without a strong number one ruckman Esava Ratugolea is forced into the midfield, and the cats lose options going forward. The midfield continued to pump the ball long into Geelong’s forward 50, and after almost every attempt the Tigers would rebound from defence and put themselves into a scoring position. Geelong must look to create more options or be more flexible, not simply relying on Hawkins when moving forward, because he clearly can be stopped by a strong defence.
Brisbane confirmed a top-two finish after defeating Sydney at Cazaly's Stadium in Cairns on Sunday night. Photo: AFL Photos
Lions roaring at the top of the jungle
After Sunday’s win over Sydney, Brisbane have confirmed a top two finish, which brings at least two home finals and well and truly sets them up for a tilt at a premiership.
The Swans made the Lions earn their victory, kicking the first two goals of the final quarter, bringing the margin back to just two points. However, the Lions remained composed under pressure and showed us why they’re a premiership threat, piling on six of the last seven goals to runaway 26-point winners.
The Brisbane midfield showed they’re also more than a ‘one-man-show’. With Lachie Neale well held by Swans tagger Ryan Clarke, the door opened for Jarryd Lyons to steal the show. The talented midfielder finished with 20 disposals and a goal, showing fellow premiership contenders they’ll need to put time into Lyons as well as Neale if they’re going stop Brisbane in the finals.
Is 2020 finished yet?
We’ve reached that time of the year where teams know they’re not playing finals and to be honest, you can tell they’ve mentally checked out. The ladder position tells you the story for the most part, but the performances in the last three to four weeks tell an even deeper story.
North Melbourne look as if they’ve given up. Seven losses in a row by an average of 40.5 points and Rhyce Shaw is searching for answers. The Roos are praying for the end of 2020.
John Worsfold and Essendon are a close second behind the Kangaroos. Back-to-back 50-point losses to Port Adelaide and Geelong, with the Bombers giving no contest in either game. Dons fans are growing very impatient, so the end 2020 couldn’t come fast enough.
The Hawks have joined the club in the last few weeks. People forget this team dismantled Richmond at the MCG in round three by 32-points. Fast-forward to the end of round 17 and they’re 16th on the ladder with seven straight losses to their name. The back of 2020 looks nice to the Hawks.
Premiership heroes Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo will play their final game for Hawthorn on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
A thanks to Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo
Hawthorn skipper Ben Stratton and small forward Paul Puopolo have called time on their exceptional AFL careers. Both three-time premiership players with the Hawks, the two have earned a farewell game to say goodbye.
Both players were mature-age recruits and great stories of perseverance. Stratton was pick 46 in the 2009 draft after playing three seasons in the WAFL. Puopolo was pick 66 in the same draft after playing 68 games for Norwood in the SANFL.
Key parts of one of the best teams in AFL history and from the outside looking in, they seem like good blokes too. Sit back and enjoy a few beers in retirement boys.
Eagles continue to get a passing grade
Ask anyone who follows the AFL who the most talented team is, except for a few one-eyed supporters, most would say the West Coast Eagles. With the addition of Tim Kelly, the midfield is one of the best in the competition with talent almost overflowing. The Eagles however have failed to truly put their stamp on the season, and the game against St Kilda was another example of that.
Whilst the Saints have played well this season they are in no way challenging for a premiership just yet, and they seriously pushed the Eagles staying within touching distance all game. As many commentators say, the most important part of a premiership team is not its stars, but those last five or six players selected. The quality of these players heavily dictate the strength of the team.
Tim Kelly, Andrew Gaff, and Nic Naitanui all dominated as usual, but once you move from there the Eagles quickly lose their quality that they have at the top. Those three players accounted for over 33 percent of the Eagles disposals for the game, half of the team had ten disposals or less. In big finals games, especially games away from home, relying on a small contingent of players to win the game for you is fraught with danger. The Eagles need more from the ‘lesser knowns’ if they truly want to contend for a premiership in 2020.
Cover Photo: AFL Photos