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