Nine quick takes from AFL Round 20

Josh Elliott Editor

By , Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Just three weeks left in the season, and the race for finals is more intriguing than ever. Here’s my quick takes from AFL Round 20.

    Port didn’t show up for the Showdown
    What can you say after a match and a result like that – the Showdown is usually a highly competitive affair regardless of where the teams are on the ladder, but this was anything but.

    The Crows came out of it with a 14-goal win, and amazingly, the margin flattered Port given how inaccurate Adelaide were in front of goal.

    Adelaide finished the match with +100 disposals, +20 clearances, +50 inside 50s, +46 contested possessions. That’s a victory of hilarious proportions.

    Last week when Port Adelaide escaped with a win over St Kilda, Ken Hinkley said it was the kind of victory that can make a season.

    What it really should’ve been was a warning sign that the Power are not where they want to be. If they didn’t know that then, they certainly know it now.

    Port Adelaide Power walk off sadly

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Cats in crisis – not challenging Danger ban was the right call
    It’d be harder to come up with a worse nightmare scenario for the Geelong Cats than Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood both being unavailable at the same time.

    That was, to a degree, the case this Friday night – Dangerfield out with a one-match suspension, Selwood copping an ankle injury during the game.

    They only had to spend a short time with neither of them available, but it was disastrous – they were given a very sound beating from the visiting Sydney Swans.

    What’s worse though is that on Sunday afternoon it was confirmed that Selwood needs surgery on his ankle and won’t be playing again during the home-and-away season.

    The earliest we’ll see him back is the first week of finals and he likely won’t have had any chance to prepare or gain match fitness.

    That’s incredibly bad news, possibly season-ruining for the Cats. Right now though, they should be thanking their lucky stars they didn’t challenge Dangerfield’s suspension.

    They would not have had any success doing so and would only have put themselves in a position where next week they would face a fellow top-four side in Richmond with neither of their star combo available.

    As it is, they’ll have Danger back – and they’ve got to hope that’ll be enough to keep them in the top four until Selwood returns at finals time.

    Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2017 tall

    (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Breathe easy, Hawthorn (probably) aren’t making finals
    Hawthorn’s remarkable revival of form following the bye has been something to behold, and over the past week or two it became a terrifyingly realisitic possibility that they could still creep into finals.

    Well, take a nice, relaxing breath – after their defeat at the hands of Richmond on Sunday, that possibility is now almost purely mathematical.

    Here’s how Hawthorn could still get in – they must win all three remaining games, and then hope for results to go their way.

    What results, exactly? Port Adelaide, Sydney and the Bulldogs only need one more win each to lock in a finish above them, and Essendon, West Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda need two. So long as four of those teams hit the required mark, the Hawks can’t make it.

    Port Adelaide have: Collingwood, Bulldogs, Gold Coast.
    Sydney have: Fremantle, Adelaide, Carlton.
    Bulldogs have: GWS, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn.
    Essendon have: Adelaide, Gold Coast, Fremantle.
    West Coast have: Carlton, GWS, Adelaide.
    Melbourne have: St Kilda, Brisbane, Collingwood.
    St Kilda have: Melbourne, North Melbourne, Richmond.
    Hawthorn have: North Melbourne, Carlton, Bulldogs.

    There’s a mathematical scenario out there somewhere things can happen for the Hawks, but we’re probably not going to see it.

    Their loss on Sunday showed potentially the downside of the magnet-shifting tactics that have made revitalised them lately.

    Alastair Clarkson has been experimenting a bit with turning forwards into defenders and it has had some brilliant results this year with Ryan Burton, James Sicily and Jack Gunston all having an impact.

    However, that strategy should really come with a warning to ponder – if you turn all your forwards into backmen, who is going to kick your goals?

    Going up against one of the league’s best defensive teams in Richmond, Hawthorn could only manage two goals in the first half. They didn’t have an answer.

    Jarryd Roughead Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    And that’s good news for Sydney
    I said three weeks ago that the Sydney Swans were my new tip to win this year’s premiership and now that Hawthorn, the only side to have beaten them since Round 6, are effectively out of the race, I’m feeling yet more confident on that one.

    We could debate a fair bit whether or not to take much out of Sydney’s big win over Geelong on Friday night. After all, as already discussed, the Cats were missing some handy blokes.

    That said, Sydney weren’t exactly at full strength either, missing their skipper and most important midfielder in Josh P Kennedy – and they still made the Cats look second-rate.

    Sydney’s midfield just has such a remarkable depth of elite players in it, and the way they tore apart high-quality sides like Adelaide and Geelong last year shows that.

    When push comes to shove in finals, I don’t see any reason why the Swans shouldn’t be able to put in simillar performances, and this year there probably won’t be a fairytale finish to get in their way.

    If someone’s going to stop them, it might come from a lot closer to home…

    Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Are GWS set for a Giant finish?
    GWS have had a pretty significant injury list at times this season, but of the players who are generally best 22 for them, here’s who won’t be there next week: Jeremy Cameron, Ryan Griffen, and maybe Tim Taranto. That’s it.

    The Giants are very close to being a fully fit side again. Griffen and Taranto are no guarantee to make it back this year but they’re not the most important. Cameron should be back for Round 23, or if not then, for finals.

    With the Cats stumbling and losing Selwood, the Giants have jumped up into second spot on the ladder and it is theirs for the taking if they can keep playing footy like they did in Canberra on Saturday.

    That was, by a mile, their best performance of the year to date, and while they’ve been questionable at times during 2017, this is the right time of year for things to come good.

    They’ve got the Bulldogs, West Coast and Geelong to close out the home and away season. In three weeks time, we’re going to know very well whether or not they’ve got what it takes to come home strong and contend for the flag.

    Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    Richmond can’t afford to lose Dustin Martin
    There’s been questions at times this year over whether or not Richmond can afford to keep Dustin Martin given he could command a salary of as much as $1.2 million a year.

    However after another elite effort on Sunday to guide them to a win over Hawthorn, and likely a spot in the top four, the facts are inescapable – they can’t afford not to.

    32 disposals and two goals just almost feels like the standard Dustin Martin game at the moment, which is remarkable enough on its own.

    I’m not saying that Richmond with Dustin Martin is guaranteed to be a premiership contender in the years to come – they’re in with a chance, though.

    The Tigers without Martin though? A flag would be well, well beyond them you’d say.

    For that reason – whatever it takes, Richmond have got to get that signature. Give the man a blank cheque and make whatever other decisions have to be made to fit that number in the salary cap.

    If they don’t, Richmond fans will spend the many years to come wondering what might have been.

    Dustin Martin Trent Cotchin Jack Riewoldt Richmond Tigers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Time for Essendon to make tough calls on veterans
    With only three games of the home-and-away season left, and no guarantee of finals to follow, Essendon are nearing the point where they must decide what to do with the older members of their list.

    One would think that Heath Hocking and Brent Stanton, neither of them playing in the best side at the moment, are certainly set to finish up.

    However things are a little more difficult when it comes to the question of Brendon Goddard, Jobe Watson and James Kelly.

    Brendon Goddard is in the best form of the three but there are often questions over his leadership and behaviour. If the Dons don’t believe he can be part of a flag push then it may not be worth retaining him.

    Jobe Watson has played some great games this year but has been rested more than once and had some quiet ones. On Saturday against Carlton, he seemed a long way off the pace.

    James Kelly was set to retire two years ago and against all odds is somehow still going at an admirable pace – but you’d think he is probably set to finish up too.

    What does that all mean for the Dons? This off-season is going to be a big one for them with some crucial decisions made, and if they do some serious pruning, they may find the have plenty of salary cap room to play with.

    Essendon captain Jobe Watson. Photo: Greg Ford

    (Photo: Greg Ford)

    Ziebell tolls for a move forward
    It was the kind of performance that might have turned some serious heads, had everyone not turned the match off at half time.

    After copping an injury just before the main break it looked like Jack Ziebell’s day was done – instead, he came back on and kicked five goals in the second half.

    The fact that it came in a match where North’s big man up forward Ben Brown was taken off without a goal to his name because of concussion made it all the more unique.

    Quite a similar story to Patrick Dangerfield’s heroics a few weeks back, unfortunately it came against the backdrop of an uncompetitive, unwatchable game rather than memorable MCG thriller.

    Still, it’s something that should have Brad Scott and the rest of North Melbourne’s coaching staff thinking over the summer.

    Ziebell does present a very difficult match-up as a forward – a bit like Toby Greene – and if the Roos can find some capable coverage for him in the midfield it may be worth playing him there close to full time.

    If North’s dream scenario of landing Josh Kelly and Dustin Martin comes true then they’ll certainly have that option.

    If not, they’ll have to get a bit more creative – but one of the few upsides about being rooted to the bottom of the ladder is there’s no reason not to experiment.

    Jack Ziebell North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017 tall

    (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Percentages the proof of incredibly competitive year
    At the end of Round 20, the AFL boasts a competition where 11 teams have a percentage of 100 or better, including all of the top ten.

    I haven’t run the numbers but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the first time in the history of the game that we’ve had so many teams with a positive record. With a bit of luck St Kilda could even make it 12 before the end of the year.

    After that, only two teams in the league are below 80 per cent, and none at all below 70 per cent.

    I’ve said it before many times, but it’s a great year to be a footy fan.

    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.

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