It was the last home game for Aaron Sandilands and Hayden Ballantyne.
We are six rounds deep into the 2015 AFL season, and a few things are starting to take shape across the nation.
1. Two tales of a West Australian top two
The contrasting tales of the two Perth based AFL clubs who currently sit atop the AFL ladder is telling. Fremantle have been a perennial contender in the AFL in the Ross Lyon era.
This year they have found a way to have a full list for the toughest part of their season and have been rewarded for some strong football with a six game winning run. West Coast meanwhile has been able to overcome a plague of injuries to win four games and sit second.
As easy as it is to get caught in the emotion of West Coast’s upset win over Port Adelaide, the reality is that West Coast have a brutal second half run to the season.
The hope for West Coast is that if they can get some personnel back that maybe they can Test the best in the second half of the year for a top eight or top four berth.
Meanwhile, for Fremantle, even if injuries do come now, the run over the second half of the year is very friendly. It would take a heavy injury toll to cost Fremantle a top-four spot.
2. What is the bidding war for James Aish for?
Brisbane currently sit at the foot of the AFL table and have been woeful in attack this season.
In a team that is clearly in the bottom couple of sides it seems remarkable that a player that is not a top 22 player in this team is sparking a bidding war. Regardless of what is going on behind the scenes between Brisbane and Aish’s management and whether that is having an impact on the player’s football is really mute.
The point is that Aish is not demanding selection in the senior Lions side. In his last NEAFL game Aish had just 19 possessions and did not have the impact at that league that say Harley Bennell, Trent McKenzie and Brandon Matera had. It could be that this ongoing bidding for Aish winds up being a dud.
3. NAB Rising Star
The NAB Rising Star award for 2015 was thrown wide open when the long held favourite in Issac Heeney suffered a knee injury that will keep him out in the medium term. There is still the possibility that Heeney comes back and claims the award but time is not on his side for that happening with voters often selecting longevity over small sample sizes.
Carlton utility Patrick Cripps was instilled as the bookies favourite, but it could be an underappreciated new Cat deserves the favourite tag.
Since falling to pick 47 at last year’s national draft, Cory Gregson has been about proving the doubters wrong.
His performance at Geelong’s pre-season was faultless and his rapid game on game growth is one of the real surprises of the Geelong season.
At the weekend under the bright lights of Friday night Gregson was outstanding with three goals including two in the first quarter as Geelong set the tone for the night.
It is hard to think of a player that has grown more than Gregson over the first six weeks and if the growth continues he will follow in Joel Selwood’s footsteps as a rising star winner.
4. Game winners are getting younger
It is a favourite catch phrase of coaches at the moment, that the game has never been so even and that any team can beat anyone. What is really noticeable about the modern AFL though is how young players are continuing to make game-changing marks. At the weekend it was a guy in his second AFL season in Jack Billings that spearheaded St Kilda to an unlikely win.
Geelong’s recent resurgence has come on the back of inexperienced players headed by Mark Blicavs. The GWS win was on the back of Jeremy Cameron’s seven goals.
One of the real changes that has continued to come from the move to ‘Generation Y’ players in the AFL is the lack of fear they show in the big moments. This is a group of players who have remarkable confidence in their abilities and talents.
It doesn’t always work the way they or their clubs would like, but the proof is starting to be there that in this changing league, youth can win.
5. Malthouse’s time is up
Part of it is the performance of his team and part of it is his ongoing performance externally, but the expiry date on the games leader for games coached is fast approaching.
After a decorated career it is becoming a sad reality that the Malthouse era is going to end in such disappointing and sad circumstances. The noble thing for Carlton to do is to allow Malthouse to see out this year and really celebrate the final days of Malthouse as coach.
Whether they have the fortitude to do that though remains a distinct unknown.
6. Six finals teams outside the top seven
Cheating a little bit here by including Hawthorn who currently sit eighth, but worth considering the remarkable AFL ladder that currently exists.
Last year’s finallists in Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Essendon, Geelong and Richmond occupy spots eight to 13. It has been an incredible season of change going off the six week sample that exists.
Historically, Round 8 has been a good point to be able to figure out finals teams with roughly six or seven of the finals spots wrapped up by this point.
Last year, five finals teams were locked in after six rounds. Using this year’s early form that means there could be some real surprises when finals comes around in four months’ time.
7. The scoring drought
Yours truly was on the bandwagon that scoring would improve in 2015 with teams adopting the attacking nature of the top four sides from last year. Six weeks into the season and it is clear that it is not the case with scoring remaining at historically low levels.
At the weekend only four teams could pass the attacking benchmark of three figures. After averaging 86 points per game last year, the scores have fallen another point to 85 as teams struggle to overcome the defensive structures that each seems to employ.
Sadly as nice as it is to have good tight low scoring struggles, the real need is there for the AFL to get some more scoring back in the game.
Almost the undisputed game of the year so far was Port Adelaide’s gutsy eight-point win over North Melbourne’s in Round 3. What made that game now seem so remarkable is that two teams were able to score over 100 points.
After six weeks it is the only match to achieve that feat. Oh for the days of high-scoring shootouts.