Nine quick takes from AFL Round 17

Josh Elliott Editor

By , Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Seventeen weeks in, six to go, and the 2017 AFL season if anything just continues to get more and more intriguing. Here are my quick takes from the week.

    Sydney are my new premiership favourites, because why not?
    Ever since I ruled West Coast out of the premiership race a while back, I’ve been struggling to work out who my new pick to lift the cup at the end of the year is.

    GWS are slammed by injuries and no guarantee of recovering in time. Melbourne too, and more on that later.

    Adelaide and Geelong are both good, but occasionally throw up that average game here or there where you wonder if their midfield depth won’t get blown away in September.

    Port Adelaide, Richmond, St Kilda, Essendon, West Coast and the Bulldogs are all fine teams on their day, but are they good enough? Probably not.

    Then there’s Sydney. They’ve won nine of their last ten, have the second-best defense in the league, and are just one win and percentage out of the top four (with six games left to make up that gap).

    If you completely forget for a moment that they started the season 0-6, there’s no reason not to think of them as a flag fancy.

    They’ve got the game’s best forward, the game’s best midfield, and close to the game’s best defense.

    They slaughtered both Adelaide and Geelong in finals last year. Don’t forget that. Neither side has improved all that much. They could do it again.

    Sure, they might only finish fifth or sixth – but there’s an argument to be made that, with the prospect of copping two byes in three weeks if you win a qualifier, that’s almost preferable to third or fourth.

    I don’t see any reason why they can’t do it and I don’t see any team in the league playing better football right now. I’m getting on this bandwagon now before it becomes standing room only.

    Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Buckley wins the battle, but no one’s winning the war
    While I may not fully agree with the decision, from this vantage point I’m pretty confident that the days of both Nathan Buckley and Rodney Eade are numbered, and running low.

    Collingwood said during the week that a decision wouldn’t be made on Buckley’s tenure until the end of the season, and the same will probably be the case for Gold Coast.

    I don’t buy that at all. Buckey has been at Collingwood for six years (and three years before that as an assistant), Eade at the Suns for three.

    What on earth is the last six weeks of this season going to tell you about them that you don’t know already? Zilch.

    If the decision to keep them or cut them loose is honestly being based on that small a sample of evidence, then it’s going to be a poorly made one.

    The two blokes who six years ago were the new dreamteam at Collingwood went head to head on Saturday, with Bucks’ Pies getting up, though neither side played well. Both coaches were supposedly fighting for their careers.

    My gut says it’s a fight that, for better or worse, they’ve already lost.

    Rodney Eade Gold Coast Suns AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    Dangerfield can be a legendary class player
    There are superstar players, and then there are those who transcend even that – the players who, decades after their retirements, define the era of the game in which they played.

    I’d argue we’ve had three of those since the clock ticked over to the year 2000 – Chris Judd, Gary Ablett, and Lance Franklin (though I’m sure plenty would spruik for some others).

    After his performance against Hawthorn on Saturday, I’ve never been more convinced that Patrick Dangerfield has what it takes to join them.

    Twitter exploded when he went down. Within 60 seconds we had run the full gamut of possible outcomes – Geelong out of the top four and flag race, Dustin Martin wins the Brownlow.

    In an almost comically short space of time, Danger was back on the field, albeit looking proppy and parked at full forward.

    From there he put in what will probably be the most memorable individual performance of the year (sorry Michael Walters), and if he had been more accurate could easily have kicked ten.

    Regardless, 5.6 was an enormous contribution to a game that Geelong ultimately only narrowly got the four points out of.

    This was one you’ll tell your grandkids about, arguably the most dramatic chapter yet in a rivalry that just gives and gives and gives.

    Imagine Ablett playing there next year. Probably three of the top five best players to wear navy and white in 158 years of Geelong history side by side. Scary stuff.

    Patrick Dangerfield Geelong Cats AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon)

    The Wingard-Gray switch has worked wonders for both
    If your team goes through the off-season without acquiring anything big, but you still need to improve, you might not have any new players to lift the side up, but you can sometimes create that effect by throwing some magnets around.

    That’s what Ken Hinkley went for when moving Robbie Gray to the forward line and Chad Wingard to the midfield in 2017, and it has worked a treat.

    It wasn’t revolutionary thinking – both have spent a decent amount of time in each area of the ground – but it didn’t have to be. It has definitely made the team better.

    Gray might have had a quiet one on Saturday – and by quiet I mean he only kicked two goals – but he is headed for probably a 60-goal season as a medium forward, which is close to unheard of.

    Wingard on the other hand tore North apart. His skills are too good not to have him in the middle, and he is still averaging more than a goal a game. 30 and six this week – enormous.

    Chad Wingard Port Adelaide Power AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    Bennell back would be a huge boost for Fremantle
    I’ve had my doubts over the last year or so as to whether or not Harley Bennell would ever play a game in purple.

    However, he made a return to competitive footy on the weekend through the WAFL, and played some decent footy.

    There’s still no guarantee we’ll even see him this year, or ever, but if he can make it back and become a regular that’s going to be enormous for Fremantle’s future.

    When you consider that Nat Fyfe is expected to sign soon – it was even rumoured last week that he already has, though not confirmed – they do have a midfield to be excited about.

    Fyfe, Bennell, Michael Walters, Brad and Stephen Hill is more than enough game-breaking midfield talent to be a winning team, backed up by the ball-winning ability of Connor Blakely and Lachie Neale. Developing young stars like Lachie Weller and Darcy Tucker are just the icing on top.

    As it is, their forward line isn’t yet capable of delivering on that kind of midfield might, as we saw today in the Derby, and as has been Fremantle’s curse more often than not in recent years. +13 inside 50s, -6 goals. Yeesh.

    Still, if Bennell comes back into the mix then that makes both him and Walters who can rotate through there to create goals, and a young-to-middle-age midfield group that has a bright future.

    Magpies player Marley Williams (left) and Suns player Harley Bennell. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Will Sutherland picks cricket
    The 2017 AFL draft lost arguably its best key forward prospect on Sunday when 17-year-old Will Sutherland, son of Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland, announced he would pursue a career in cricket, not footy.

    It’s a pretty bold choice – unless you’re going to be a regular in the Test team it’s hard to make the same money in cricket that you would in the AFL, and there’s a lot fewer spots there than there are on AFL lists.

    Sutherland’s reasoning behind his choice? He just loves cricket more. And who could argue with that? Follow your dream.

    If it doesn’t work out, there’s always the Hugh Greenwood route. It’d be a lucky club that theoretically picks him up as a Category B rookie in five years time.

    Melbourne needs its midfield back
    Nathan Jones, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, Dom Tyson and Christian Salem would be a pretty handy first five in your midfield – that’s your starting centre-bounce team and two quality wingers right there.

    They’ve all been absent for Melbourne lately – only Viney and Tyson have played a game inside the last three weeks, and only one each.

    Tyson could be back as soon as next week. But Brayshaw, Jones, Viney and Salem are all unlikely to be seen again before Round 20, maybe Round 19, and that’s assuming everything goes swimmingly for them.

    9-7 Melbourne have Port Adelaide (who are top four) and North Melbourne (who they lost to earlier in the year) to tackle between now and then, with GWS and St Kilda to follow.

    Luckily, they’ve got Brisbane and Collingwood to finish up against and hopefully prime those star players for finals.

    There’s no doubt though that these injuries have come at close to the worst time possible, and threaten to derail what has been a breakthrough year for the Dees. Fingers crossed that all five of those blokes are playing good footy come September.

    Nathan Jones Melbourne Demons AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    North Melbourne is getting something nice for Christmas
    You’ll have to forgive a down-on-his-luck North fan for dreaming about the off-season after the Roos copped what will hopefully prove to be their biggest loss of the year on Saturday.

    In all fairness I didn’t think the effort put in by the team was that bad, it was just the classic example of a young side that has sneakily built up one of the league’s longest injury lists being beaten up by a mature, finals-bound opponent.

    They got blasted in the clearances 49-30, which is a talent thing, but they were prolific winners in the tackles, 91-58, which is an effort thing. I can be proud of that.

    With six games left North could easily win three or four and rise into the middle section of the table, but it’s also just as easy to see the Roos not winning another game for the year.

    That would mean either pick 2 or pick 1, which would be the highest draft pick the club has held since it selected Daniel Wells in 2002.

    That is of course assuming that pick doesn’t find a new home as part of a trade for Josh Kelly or Dustin Martin (or both – let me dream).

    The side is desperately crying out for a superstar talent to be a match-winner on a list mostly made up of solid if unspectacular players.

    Hopefully, by one route or another, we’ll be landing one later this year.

    2016-afl-draft

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Do we really need clash guernseys?
    A brief little needless rant to close out the week, but does it bug anyone else that the clash guernsey rule only seems to apply if a game isn’t one of the AFL’s big-money match-ups?

    Carlton and Richmond, for example, should arguably wear clash guernseys when they play each other, and maybe Essendon and Collingwood too. They don’t. Neither do Sydney or GWS, who met on the weekend. They didn’t even make the Swans wear white shorts.

    Obviously the AFL wants these marquee fixtures to be as visually appealing as possible, but here’s something they should know – we all want our clubs to look visually appealing, not just the teams who make the league big money (or the ones they hope will in the future).

    I’m not saying that Sydney and GWS should wear clash guernseys when they play eachother. I’m just saying that if they don’t, North Melbourne shouldn’t have to wear one against Collingwood. If you can tell the difference between orange and red you can tell the difference between blue and black.

    There are maybe a handful of situations where there are genuine clashes that it is worth having an alternate for, but they are fewer and far between.

    Let’s not put teams out of their preferred, traditional guernseys any more than is absolutely necessary. Rant over.

    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.