Nine quick takes from AFL Round 21

Josh Elliott Editor

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    Two weeks left in the home-and-away season, and the final eight is starting to take shape. Here’s my quick takes from Round 21.

    Time for the Saints to do some head-scratching
    A painful and frustrating season came to an end for St Kilda on Sunday when they went down by four goals against the Melbourne Demons.

    Theoretically, mathematically, they could still make the eight, but that chance relies on a series of increasingly unlikely results. It isn’t going to happen.

    It’d be a bit early to start declaring it a crisis at St Kilda off the back of a mildly disappointing season, but they do have some big decisions to make, and soon.

    Alan Richardson is out of contract at the end of next year. The word is that they’ll likely re-sign him until the end of 2020 before the 2018 season begins.

    A few might turn their eyebrows up at that, but I’m all for it – St Kilda do have a few headaches, but the coach doesn’t appear to be one of them.

    They began a rebuilding effort around four years ago and the simple reality is that it’ll take a bit longer before that delivers results.

    They’ve drafted the likes of Jack Billings, Luke Dunstan, Blake Acres, Patrick McCartin, Hugh Goddard, Daniel McKenzie, Jack Lonie, Jack Sinclair, Jade Gresham, Ben Long and Josh Battle in that time, and picked up some handy players at the trade table too.

    None of them has really come fully into their own yet, but in time all or most of them will, and the Saints will rise when they do – they’ve got two top ten picks this year as well to either draft more talent with or spend on trades.

    It isn’t that far off, either. Just a margin of inches. Jack Billings could’ve easily kicked five and been the match-winner today. He may well have, if he’d had the use of his left eye.

    We could debate and speculate whether there’s enough class in that young core to take St Kilda as far as their second premiership – but speculation is all it would be.

    The simple fact is it takes more than a few years to put together an elite-quality AFL list, especially when starting from as far back as the Saints were in 2013.

    The easiest way to screw it up is to expect results too soon, make rash decisions, and start bulldozing all you’ve built before you even know what the finished product is going to look like.

    If there’s a Josh Kelly or a Dustin Martin who wants to come to the club that maybe changes things, but otherwise I say be patient and play the long game. Stick by Richo and add two of the top ten best kids in the country in November. The results will come.

    Jarryn Geary St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

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

    Richmond aren’t guaranteed a finals win
    For most of this season I have looked at the Richmond Tigers and thought that I saw a team reborn, one ready to take steps forward and break their long-standing finals drought.

    The kind of team that, if they get the chance to play a Geelong side with no Joel Selwood, no Tom Hawkins and no Mitch Duncan, should easily take the opportunity to break the drought against a team that has beaten them twelve times in a row.

    Not so. Richmond put in one of their most disappointing efforts of the year and went down by 14 points. Now we’re left to question how much progress they have really made.

    Despite the loss, they’re still almost certain to finish in the top four this year. While that means a finals double chance, it doesn’t at all guarantee a breakthrough finals win.

    Imagine this nightmare scenario: Adelaide finish top. Richmond finish fourth. Sydney finish fifth.

    The Tigers are embarrassed at Adelaide Oval in the first week of finals (not a scenario they are unfamiliar with), then host a semi-final next week against the Swans at the MCG.

    Sydney, en route to the most memorable premiership we’ve seen in… well, about twelve months, blast the Tigers early with seven goals to none in the first quarter and Richmond are never really in the game, knocked out in straight sets.

    Straight sets finals exits were once a rarity but we’ve seen four teams – Geelong, Fremantle, Sydney and Hawthorn – suffer them in the past three years.

    The Tigers need to improve if they don’t want to be next – and whingeing about the umpires in the post-game presser isn’t the path forward.

    Trent Cotchin Richmond Tigers AFL 2017

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

    What will the AFL make of Toby Greene?
    I’d love to tell you that I have a hard, unyielding opinion on what – if anything – should be done with Toby Greene after his bizarre incident with Luke Dahlhaus on Friday night, but I honestly don’t.

    It’s a strange and unusual thing to see on a football field and there are a lot of different conflicting philosophies on how it should be judged.

    I reckon anyone who thinks that Greene had no intention of his foot winding up in Dahlhaus’ face is being a bit naive.

    But, maybe those who argue Greene has a right to protect his space when receiving the ball have a point – maybe.

    The truth is that AFL, like most contact sports, is a game where if a player can do something that is legal in a way that will cause the opponent a bit more damage, they usually will.

    When you do things that way it makes it that little bit harder for the opponent to pull up and maybe it makes them think twice next time you’re in a contest with them.

    Just look at the ‘clumsy’ spoils a defender will deliver when they know they’re going to be too late to the contest, or the rough time the man on the mark will give someone who has lost their feet.

    I’d say that we probably don’t want to be followers of a sport where blokes get studs in their face and there aren’t consequences, and I’d also say that Greene could pretty easily have defended his space in a way that didn’t have that result if he wanted to.

    Going to be damned hard to enforce though and I’d wager if he does get a ban, the Giants would be every chance of getting it overturned at the Tribunal.

    The truest thing I can say here is this: I’m glad I’m not the man with his finger on the button on this one. What’s your take?

    Toby Greene GWS Giants AFL 2017 tall

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

    Adelaide are on their way to the grand final
    Two weeks left and Adelaide are guaranteed a top-two finish.

    That’s damned good news for the Crows because it means that, if they take their opportunities, they have a direct path to the grand final without having to leave home.

    There’s all kind of things that could go wrong along the way between here and there, of course. There’s every chance they have to meet Sydney somewhere along the way, who are dangerous anywhere and knocked them out of finals last year.

    My gut feel though is that they’ve got one hand on a grand final berth now, and that should excite them a lot, because they’re the only team in the league who has never lost one (of those to actually play in one).

    On top of that, I’m tipping our first all-interstate grand final since 2006 – my early call is Adelaide vs Sydney, but the Giants could get there just as easily.

    Mitch McGovern Adelaide Crows AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    Ladder position flatters flunking Fremantle
    Fremantle are going to avoid a bottom-four finish this year, but you could make an argument that they’re only a few lucky turns away from being the worst team in the league.

    The Dockers may have eight wins to their name this year, but fully half of them have come by less than a goal.

    Whether or not that means something is one of the great endless footy debates, but I’ve said a few times this year that I don’t place much stock in close wins or losses, and I stand by it.

    Every team above them has had at least five wins with margins bigger than a goal, and of the four teams below them…

    Gold Coast – Five wins by more than a goal.
    North Melbourne – Four wins by more than a goal.
    Carlton – Four wins by more than a goal.
    Brisbane – Four wins by more than a goal.

    So there isn’t a team in the league with less wins by more than a goal, and of the three they’re even with, two of them have a better percentage, and the other – Brisbane – defeated them by 57 points in their only meeting this year.

    Here’s another stat to consider – in 180 AFL games so far this season, only three have ended in margins of 100 points or greater. Fremantle have been the losing side in two of those (Gold Coast the only other).

    What does it all mean? The short version is that Fremantle aren’t very good, but really, you already knew that. They’re maybe even less good than you think they are.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things to like about their list going forward.

    End of the day though, it’d be a mistake to look at their eight wins this year and assume they’ve made significant progress on a four-win season in 2016.

    Nat Fyfe Fremantle Dockers AFL 2017

    (Photo by Matt King/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Who’s getting the spoon?
    Having sent somes jibes at the Tigers and the Dockers, it’d be unfair of me to pretend that North Melbourne, Carlton and Brisbane – the three teams battling it out for the spoon – aren’t all poor in their own way.

    They’re all quite young sides. They’re all generally lacking star power outside of one or two elite players at the top. Only one of them is going to finish the year on the bottom of the ladder.

    Which ever of them does will have, at a minimum, five wins for the year, and that will be the most by any team to win the spoon since 1998, and of course the most ever in an 18-team league.

    Here’s how the fixture unfolds for all three in what’s left of the year:

    North Melbourne – St Kilda, Brisbane.
    Carlton – Hawthorn, Sydney.
    Brisbane – Melbourne, North Melbourne.

    If Carlton don’t manage another win this year – which is probably the most likely result, even though they’ve pushed good teams in the past fortnight and shouldn’t feel ashamed – then it likely comes down to Brisbane and North in the final round, with a Brisbane win giving Carlton the spoon, or Brisbane taking the spoon if they lose.

    If the Blues manage to knock off either the Hawks or the Swans, then the Brisbane vs North battle likely becomes a spoon decider between those two teams.

    Of course in the end who actually wins the spoon makes little difference – though as a North fan having not taken one home since 1972 I’d like to see the club avoid it as a point of pride.

    Where it likely has a real impact is the draft – right now pick 1 probably nets you Dustin Martin-type Cam Rayner, pick 2 is probably Luke Davies-Uniacke, and pick 3 is pretty wide open.

    My gut feel? The spoon, and Rayner, will land at Carlton. But anything could happen.

    Marc Murphy Carlton Blues AFL 2017

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

    Taylor time up forward pays dividends
    Having had a go at the Harry-Taylor-as-a-forward-experiment way back in Round 1, it’s only fair for me to admit that persisting with it has paid off big time for Chris Scott this week.

    Losing Tom Hawkins, Geelong’s only genuinely dangerous tall forward, ahead of a match with Richmond was a nightmare scenario – certain to allow Alex Rance, the league’s premier key defender, to run free and do some damage.

    Instead, Taylor proved too much for Rance to handle. Rance played easily his worst game of the year, one of those occasional shockers he has that has always made me think the “best defender of all time” talk is a bit premature.

    Taylor had kicked only 16 goals for the year before this match – less than one a game – but you wouldn’t know it the way he was playing.

    He proved to be a match-winner and if the Cats had played him in defence it’s hard to imagine who would’ve kicked those crucial goals instead.

    Harry Taylor Geelong Cats AFL 2017

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    Josh J Kennedy more than deserves a third Coleman
    Foolish me thought not that long ago that Josh J Kennedy’s six-week leg injury would cost him the Coleman Medal and open it up to the likes of Lance Franklin, Joe Daniher and Ben Brown – but I was quite wrong.

    With another bag of six on the weekend against Carlton (which you’d imagine is not very fun for them), Kennedy has 60 goals from only 14 games played this year – more than four goals a game.

    For a point of comparison, no one else in the league is kicking even three goals per game this year. He’s more than a goal a game ahead of the pack.

    If he keeps up this pace then the Coleman medal is his for a third year in a row. It also leaves me asking this question: how bad would West Coast be without him?

    Honestly, if I was a team near the premiership but without two established top-quality key forwards, I’d be making a sneaky call to his management.

    He’s 29 and the Eagles don’t look capable of delivering a flag in what’s left of his career (and they’re aware of that), but imagine the boost he’d give to say Richmond, Geelong or Port Adelaide if they could find a way to get a deal done.

    I’m well aware that’s just fanciful thinking, but fortune favours the bold, and there’d be no harm done by any of those clubs picking up the phone.

    Josh J Kennedy West Coast Eagles AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    One Gold Coast experiment worth doing
    Just a small one to lead us out, but with only two weeks left and no senior coach in charge, Gold Coast should feel they have a license to throw the magnets around and see what happens.

    One move I’d really like to see is Trent McKenzie given license to play an attacking role off half-back or the wing and make the most of his natural talents.

    It’s really easy to forget that under Guy McKenna he was a very promising young half-back, with one of the most penetrating kicks in the league and some natural play-making instincts.

    Rodney Eade largely tried to turn him into a more defensive player and it did not work. He’s had some injury trouble but he also just hasn’t been given opportunities, playing only nine games in the last two years.

    Maybe it’s too late or maybe he’s just not good enough, but he’s out of contract and they have nothing to play for so why not give him a crack at playing his natural role and see if he still has what it takes?

    If the Suns don’t give him a chance, I’d love to see him picked up by another club at the end of the year. He’d have plenty of opportunity and fit in well with the likes of Brisbane or North Melbourne.

    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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