Twelve quick takes from AFL Round 12

Josh Elliott Editor

By , Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Rhys Mathieson (left) of the Lions celebrates a goal during the Round 12 AFL match between the Brisbane Lions and the Fremantle Dockers at the Gabba in Brisbane, Saturday, June 10, 2017. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

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    A long weekend of footy is the best kind of weekend there is, and once again we had our world turned upside down more than once in Round 12! Here’s my quick takes from the week.

    There’s a clear top three, but then it’s wide open
    Adelaide, Geelong, and GWS – roughly halfway through the year, these three teams have distinguished themselves as being the most capable sides in the competition.

    Don’t get me wrong, all three have had their slip-ups – GWS had one just this week – but they’ve also all taken enough scalps to balance it out.

    After that though, it’s anyone’s guess, which means there’s a position in the top four very much up for grabs.

    Richmond with seven wins are leading the race for that last spot in the top four, but then there is just two wins separating fifth place from seventeenth, if you can believe it, and most of the 13 teams in that mix still have eleven games to play.

    The short version is, if you want to play finals in 2017, or even finish top four in 2017, the door is still wide open.

    I said a few weeks ago that we are living in a golden age of footy and after this weekend’s action, I’m more than happy to say it again.

    This week proved once again that any team can get a win if they wake up on the right side of the bed. The vast majority of the league has lifted their standard this year and it’s making for a competitive and thrilling season.

    As a footy fan, what more could you want?

    Oh, and just in case you need any more proof of how great footy is, here’s Jeremy Howe taking mark of the year.

    Key injuries shouldn’t cost Bucks his job
    I’m not a big fan of using injuries as an excuse for a team not getting the win. My philosophy would go something along the lines that there are two kinds of teams – winners and excuse-makers. You don’t get a trophy for being the team who could’ve done something great if fate had been kinder.

    That being said, when examining why a team isn’t performing in the way it wants to, it is important to look at what the actual causes are rather than just jumping straight into sacking the coach.

    Collingwood fans will be bitterly disappointed with their result in the Queen’s Birthday game, but in all honesty given the personnel available they did pretty well.

    In my Queen’s Birthday Forecast I said that the Pies would need to dominate the midfield contest to win the game, and that Melbourne coming into this one off the bye gave them a chance to jump them early.

    That was working out fairly well at half-time – Collingwood led the clearances 24-11 at break and had a sizeable advantage on the scoreboard too.

    Unsurprisingly, a young team like the Pies just wasn’t capable of going at it hammer and tongs for a full four quarters, and quality side like Melbourne couldn’t be blanketed out of the game that long either.

    Still, I can’t help but feel that with Daniel Wells and Jamie Elliott in the side, Collingwood would have have the dynamism needed to slice Melbourne to ribbons before half-time and make any talk of a comeback nothing but fantasy.

    Should Nathan Buckley be blamed for the fact his side has too much of a reliance on players who aren’t consistently available? Perhaps, but no more questions should be asked of him than should the fitness or recruiting staff, parts of a club that due to having little public profile are rarely scrutinised.

    I’ve been fairly strong in my belief for a few weeks now that Buckley deserves to be the coach of Collingwood in 2018 and beyond, and despite a disappointing fade out today, I still feel the same. There’s definitely enormous room for improvement, but that’s not limited to the senior coach.

    Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley

    (AAP Image/David Crosling)

    This week was a watershed moment for Brisbane
    If you’d asked me what the perfect week would look like for the Brisbane Lions would like seven days ago, I might well have said verbatim “Josh Schache re-signs and they smash Fremantle”.

    A win and a young star signing on for the future – that’s what they needed more than anything, and that is what they got.

    I have a feeling it is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of some very good things. It won’t come quickly, but it will come in time.

    The greatest part of the win was seeing young players like Hugh McCluggage, Jarrod Berry and Rhys Mathieson up and about. They are being encouraged by Chris Fagan to take ownership of the club in a way that I don’t think they every would have been by Michael Voss or Justin Leppitsch.

    Oh and I have to say, anyone getting up in arms about Mathieson’s joyous goal celebration surely comes out of it looking a bit silly. Love seeing players show a bit of personality on the field!

    Rhys Mathieson Brisbane Lions AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

    Signing up Jake Lever is Adelaide’s priority No.1
    Even while we’re in the thick of the season clubs need to be thinking a few steps ahead, and at the Adelaide Crows, there can’t be anything more important to their future planning right now than signing up Jake Lever longterm – and yes, that very much includes Bryce Gibbs.

    He was in elite form against St Kilda and showed once again just why he is the most highly-rated young key defender in the game, and essential to the future of Adelaide’s backline.

    Having someone who can provide elite rebounding ability as a tall defender allows Daniel Talia to focus on getting his shut-down jobs done, and the day may not be far away when they are recognised as the best key defensive pair in the league.

    With plenty of room in the salary cap and the opportunity on offer to be part of a team in premiership contention, Adelaide should be confident that Lever will be a stayer.

    Expect that bit of business to get done shortly after the announcement of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That should only be a decade or so away at the current rate of progress.

    Ablett awesome, but his supporting cast was smart recruiting
    If you had doubts about Gary Ablett – and be honest, you did, and I did too – you were wrong. As Ryan Buckland told us in detail during the week, he is getting it done.

    However, while Ablett’s resurgence is no doubt a huge part of Gold Coast’s improvement this year, just as important has been the wise decisions made at the recruiting table in the off-season.

    Jarrod Witts, Jarryd Lyons, and Michael Barlow – all recruited at bargain basement price, and in combination with Ablett, they form Gold Coast’s go-to centre bounce team in 2017.

    Witts and Lyons are having the best seasons of their life by some margin, and Barlow is proving a point or two to Ross Lyon – and perhaps Adelaide and Geelong too, who really should’ve had a sniff.

    Canny trading by Gold Coast, and a real feather in the cap of all three players. Two thumbs up. Great to see.

    Michael Barlow Gold Coast Suns AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    There may be some truth to Tippett trade talk
    Sydney’s decision to drop Kurt Tippett to the NEAFL for the first time since his arrival at the club this week was a big call, and one that paid dividends.

    The Swans’ ruck pairing of Callum Sinclair and Sam Naismith had great influence, admittedly against a Bulldogs side that barely bothered to contest the ruck.

    Only time will tell if that holds up as well against a team with a top-quality ruckman, but for the moment at least there’s no rush to recall the former Crow.

    Interestingly it also lends a bit of weight to the talk going around that the Swans might be happy to move Tippett on if there is a taker from elsewhere in the league.

    Even though he clearly hasn’t been in the best of form, big blokes get plenty of chances in the AFL and there would surely be some interest.

    Perhaps Brisbane could look past having been spurned by Tippett in the past and bring him across a mature lynchpin for their forward line.

    They have salary cap room to play around with so could probably afford to swallow Tippett’s exorbitant salary, and Sydney might even be willing to take their third-round pick to get his salary off the books.

    Alternatively, Richmond are known to be in the market for a second forward to partner with Jack Riewoldt, and with Josh Schache opting to stay at Brisbane, they might be willing to consider him as an option.

    Time will tell if anything comes of the Tippett turmoil. Watch this space.

    Sydney Swans player Kurt Tippett catches AFL ball

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The Hawks are the best media managers in the game
    Everyone does or says something stupid every now and then, myself more than most, but the vast majority of us are lucky enough not to have cameras trained on us when we do.

    Alastair Clarkson not so much – he’s had a handful of moments that will live in infamy on Youtube which he’d probably prefer they didn’t.

    No big deal if you ask me. Yes, a coach probably shouldn’t call the umpiring “disgraceful” in his post-game presser, but when you’re going through a year like Hawthorn is, a slip-up in understandable.

    Hawthorn though need to be credited with always getting on the front foot when something like this happens. Barely 24 hours had passed before Clarko had a media spot at half time on Fox Footy to make an apology for his comments.

    Given how the media cycle tends to puff up these comments over the course of a weekend, and given how the AFL is prone to making a big overreaction when they do, it was clever indeed of Hawthorn take action.

    Yes, the AFL has given Clarkson a $20,000 fine – but $15,000 of it is suspended to the end of the year, and the conversation is now over quickly and fairly quietly.

    Compare it to how North Melbourne handled a similar gaffe from Brad Scott last year – which cost Scott $30,000 and the club $50,000 – and the difference is enormous.

    They may not be doing great on the field this year, but the Hawks are still as smart as anyone off it.

    A Giant slip-up was inevitable
    After GWS’ last-minute win against Richmond I said here that the Giants’ last-gasp wins were only papering over the cracks of a growing injury crisis and other concerns.

    I feel pretty vindicated after they slipped up against Carlton on the weekend – although they’ve been consistently getting the W lately, they haven’t played their best footy.

    It’s easy to look at four wins in a row and talk about how they keep getting it done and know how to find a way to win the close ones, but personally I think those kind of results boil down to mostly luck – but when the team gets a close win, they don’t sit back and take stock of themselves in the same way that GWS now will after a close loss. It breeds dangerous overconfidence.

    An enormous hand of applause has to go to Carlton for capitalisng on GWS’ deficiencies, and succeeding where Collingwood, Richmond, West Coast and Essendon – all teams well above the Blues on the ladder – couldn’t.

    They’re just the kind of team that is capable of catching out an opposition side that is only coasting by, something I said in expert tips this week. I just wish I’d had the courage to actually pick them!

    Where Toby Greene has at time been the face of GWS’ ability to win against the odds this year, this week he was the chief culprit, kicking a horrendous 0.5 from some gettable set shots, including a horrendous miss late in the piece. Expect him to bounce back.

    It definitely casts a little doubt on GWS, but every team has doubts on them at the moment. They’re still well and truly in the premiership mix.

    Toby Greene GWS Giants AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Hooker hot takes flame out after bag of five
    Can you believe that just a fortnight ago there were calls come from all corners that Cale Hooker should be moved back to defense?

    Granted, he had a horrendous game that week against Richmond, and given that he’s been an All-Australian full back in the past, it’s no shock that Bombers fans and neutrals alike were growing a bit frustrated.

    Still, he’s got the potential to be elite at both ends, and if you can be elite as a forward, that’s something that’s a lot harder to find than someone on the other end of the scale – for that reason I have long been a fan of the Hooker-as-a-forward experiment.

    Having two key forwards who can both have a big impact on a game working in tandem is a rare and incredibly valuable weapon for an AFL side, and Essendon boast both that and a fleet of nippy medium and small types who can hit the scoreboard too.

    They will all have their bad weeks at times. Not everyone is going to kick a bag in every game. But the forward mix’s ability to put Port to the sword on Saturday night showed the current set-up is very much worth persisting with.

    Cale Hooker Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

    Liam Jones lives again!
    Seeing Liam Jones brought into Carlton’s line-up this week to play as a defender for the first time at AFL level was the kind of thing that made you think he’ll either conceded a bag of ten, or somehow win Carlton the game.

    Well. It was the latter one. He wasn’t perfect, for a bloke who has played the vast majority of his footy going up against some of the terrifying tall timber they grow up in Western Sydney, he handled himself incredibly well.

    Given Brendon Bolton’s youth policy, it is a testament to his work ethic that he has been able to crack in for a game at all, and if he goes on to cement a spot in the side and earn a new contract for 2018 and beyond it will be nothing short of Herculean.

    Of course, it was only one game. It wouldn’t surprise to see him return to being bog average again next week as he has many times in his career after supposed breakout performances. But hey, maybe this time will be different.

    Either way, for the bloke who has spent the majority of his recent career being the butt of jokes and copping barbs from opposition supporters, he’s very much earnt a tip of the cap.

    Fremantle need to get used to no Sandilands, and soon
    Three weeks in a row of no Aaron Sandilands, and three losses in a row for Fremantle. Coincidence? Definitely not.

    While the Dockers can no doubt cross their fingers and hope to improve when the big man gets on the park, it’s clear at the moment that they are woefully underprepared for the future.

    Sandilands is 34 and out of contract at the end of this year. He may well play on for another season but if his body continues to let him down, perhaps not.

    Either way, it is clear that the Dockers need to decide what the future of their ruck department is. Do they gamble on Zac Clarke coming good, or do they need to look outside the club?

    Richmond’s success picking up Toby Nankervis – and as mentioned, Jarrod Witts at Gold Coast – this year has been a good example the excellent luck teams can have looking for a ruck elsewhere in the league.

    The Dockers should definitely be weighing up their options here and going hard at a big man stuck in the lower level. Reilly O’Brien? Matthew Lobbe? Tom Nicholls? Billy Longer/Tom Hickey? Matthew Leuenberger/Tom Bellchambers? Rhys Stanley?

    There are definitely options, Fremantle, so ask around. Just keep your hands off my boy Braydon Preuss.

    Aaron Sandilands and Tom Nicholls battle for AFL ball

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    The race to be the All-Australian ruckman is wide open
    A dominant performance by Matthew Kreuzer on Sunday was something that was just beautiful to see. There’s something that about the big bloke and his happy grin that, when he’s on song, is just infectious.

    Not only did it deliver Carlton the best win of Brendon Botlon’s tenure in his milestone game, it is also put him very much on the map in the race for the position of All-Australian ruckman.

    With Nic Naitanui and Max Gawn ruled out, and Todd Goldstein performing well below his best, it really is a genuinely wide-open race to take that crown this year.

    In addition to Kreuzer, I could easily see any of Paddy Ryder, Sam Jacobs, Shane Mumford, Brodie Grundy or Ben McEvoy taking the crown this year, and Stefan Martin and Aaron Sandilands have both played some great footy as well.

    I’m currently putting my mid-season All-Australian team together for the end of the bye rounds, when every side will have played 12 games, and at the moment when it comes to picking a ruck I’m stumped. Would love to get the thoughts of all and sundry in the comments to help me make the decision!

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.