By Liam Melrose, Ollie Nash and Josh Farrell
Hawthorn sent off their premiership heroes in style with a 51-point win over the Gold Coast Suns. Photo: Getty Images via AFL Photos
Hawthorn give legends a proper send off
Hawthorn have continued the multi-year celebration of its stars from its 2013-2015 three peat, farewelling Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo against the Gold Coast Suns. The Hawks finished off what was one of their toughest seasons in recent memory with an emphatic win over a tired Gold Coast.
Puopolo chipped in with three goals and Stratton kicked just the second goal of his career, warming the hearts of even the most staunchly anti-Hawthorn fans around. However, the problems remain for the Hawks as Alistair Clarkson has to find a way to make this team into one that can compete in 2021.
It is evident that Hawthorn cannot play the same controlling style of football that proved so successful for a number of years. It will be a test for Clarkson as he must mould a game plan around a team without the same skills as teams he has had in the past.
The Hawks should take some confidence into next season with a commanding win on Sunday, the powerful engine room with Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel will need to carry the team next season as they will miss James Sicily and Jonathon Patton for most of the year.
If Hawthorn can capture the form they showed against the Suns going forward, their fans should be excited about the future.
Let’s give Brett Ratten some respect
We’ve got to give credit where it’s due. St Kilda has delivered on their off-season expectations and will play finals footy for the first time since 2011. Their head coach Brett Ratten is a key reason for this success.
The man can coach, it’s as simple as that. He coached Carlton to the finals in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before a surprise sacking after the 2012 season. The two seasons he missed the finals, the Blues were 10-12 in 2008 and 11-11 in 2012.
Now he has the Saints back in the top eight after going 3-3 as their caretaker coach last season. Huge props to Ratten who has proven second chances are valuable in the coaching sector.
Has Jeremy Cameron played his last game for the Giants? Photo: Getty Images/AFL Photos
A Giant Problem
This time last year GWS were preparing for a Grand Final. 12 months later they won’t even feature in the finals. The Giants had to defeat the Saints by a big margin on Friday night if they were any chance of playing finals. Taking nothing away from St Kilda, the Giants looked disinterested after half time as the Saints piled on seven goals to zero.
They have one of the most talented lists in the league, however they’ve dropped off considerably in 2020. The Giants now go into the offseason with question marks over the futures of a number of players. Defenders Zac Williams and Aidan Corr have already informed the club they will explore options in free agency, while it is believed talks between superstar forward Jeremy Cameron and the club are a fair way apart, as rival clubs circle.
The Giants three first-round picks from the 2018 draft are also out of contract in Jye Caldwell, Jackson Hately, and Xavier O’Halloran with a number of clubs interested in their services.
It was clear GWS were struggling in 2020 throughout the year, were they haunted by their humiliating Grand Final loss in 2019?
Regardless, after an incredibly poor year and with a number of players out of contract they suddenly have a giant problem.
Did Geelong time their pounce too early?
Going into their clash with Richmond in round 17 it looked as though the Cats were timing their run perfectly. They’d won six games in a row and besides their come from behind win over the Western Bulldogs, they’d won all six games by at least 28 points or more.
However, alarm bells sounded once again for the Cats after Richmond took care of them with ease. Going into the match many dubbed it as the Grand Final preview, however Geelong looked a long way off, as the Tigers went back to their frantic pressure that the Cats have struggled to handle in recent years.
On Sunday, they were playing for a top-four position against a young Sydney team. Like Richmond a week earlier, the Swans dominated the match for the most part of three quarters. If Sydney had capitalised on their chances in front of goal early in the game, it’s likely they would have put the game out of reach like the Tigers did, and given Geelong their second straight loss.
Fortunately for the Cats, Sydney failed to make the most of their opportunities leaving Geelong in the game. However, the most alarming thing out of the game was the lack of urgency the Cats had for the first three quarters with a top-four position on the line.
They looked lethargic and with their form declining this late in the year, Geelong fans would be nervous as they've struggled at the business end of the season in recent years, winning only four of their past 15 finals.
Gary Ablett, Dan Hannebery and Shane Edwards all returned in terrific form in Round 18 following their two weeks training in the 'Transition hub'. Photo: Quinn Rooney
Edwards, Ablett and Hannebery haven’t missed a beat
There is always the narrative for players returning from a stint on the sidelines that they might need a couple of weeks in the reserves or a solid amount of training. However, when you’re the calibre of player like a Gary Ablett Jr., Shane Edwards or Dan Hannebery, you don’t need any preparation.
The three trained in the 'Transition hub' together after flying to Queensland earlier this month. Returning to their respective teams after finishing quarantine, the three looked comfortable immediately.
Edwards was best on ground in his return game against Adelaide, if not he will at least get the two votes. Dan Hannebery didn’t set the world on fire with his 13 disposals, but boundary reporter Luke Hodge, one of the best in the business, raved about his defensive running and support around the ground. Ablett was back to his line-breaking best, 16 disposals and a goal to his name. They’re the upper-echelon of the competition and they proved it in round 18.
Dogs find their bite in the run into finals
Sunday’s twilight game loomed as a danger game for the Western Bulldogs in the run into finals, as a loss to the Dockers would have seen them drop out of the top eight. The Dogs instead showed us that they are in dominant form, dare I say 2016 form.
Lachie Hunter is playing some sparkling football, finding the ball 35 times, whilst Tim Liberatore had 41 pressure acts to go with his 25 possessions. Caleb Daniel continued his stellar season with 14 high impact disposals, and looms a vital cog in the Bulldogs machine moving towards October. The dogs are finding form at the right time and if Aaron Naughton can get his body right for the finals, they have the potential to go deep into October.
Tim English is shaping up as one of the most important players for the Bulldogs at the right time of the year. His 20 hit-outs and 14 disposals prove how dangerous he can be once the ball hits the ground. He has the potential to become a fourth midfielder. English is above average for disposals and score involvement. You can’t ask for much more from your 205-centimetre ruckman.
Josh Bruce will need to have a big finals series for the Dogs, after what has been an inconsistent 2020. He needs to provide support for both Naughton and English, or worst-case scenario he is going to have to be the spearhead in the forward line if Naughton is unavaliable. English and Bruce hold the key for the Dogs as they head towards another tilt at a flag.
Cover Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images