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