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Twelve hot takes from AFL Round 3

Mark LeCras of the Eagles celebrates after scoring a goal. (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Editor
8th April, 2018
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5318 Reads

You could do the healthy thing and stick to cool, crisp, balanced perspectives – the carrot sticks and hummus of sports opinion – but deep down, you know you want my hot takes.

Cat-astrophe! Dangerwoodblett goes 0-2, Eagles excellent
It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario for Geelong going into their match today than to have a second loss in a row and lose Gary Ablett to a hamstring injury – but that’s what happened.

You would think after the disappointment of last week that they would have come into their Saturday match against West Coast fired up but instead a flaccid first half saw them trailing by more than five goals at the main break.

The Cats played one good quarter in the end, the third quarter, when Patrick Dangerfield – who had been left stranded in the forward line for a lot of the first half – moved back to the middle and began a resurgence.

They scored 39 points to just two in the third term and as a result entered the last stanza with a slender advantage. It seemed they had flicked the switch and would surely find a way to win.

Instead an already dicey situation on the bench that saw the Cats two men down got worse when Gary Ablett pinged a hamstring early in the final term and didn’t return.

No word as to the extent just yet but the Cats will surely take no risks and you’d have to think the odds of him playing next week, or perhaps for the next few weeks, aren’t great.

Still even three men down on the bench it seemed for a while like the Cats might be able to grind out a win. It was not to be.

The Cats fell away in the last ten minutes of the match and West Coast slammed home six consecutive goals to retake the lead and win the match.

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What an effort by West Coast – neither team played four good quarters, but they were better for longer, their ball movement scintillating, Nic Naitanui mesmerising. Adam Simpson has done a brilliant job revitalising this team.

If you go to Optus Stadium this year without taking them seriously you will get burned.

The only damper on their night was what looks like a knee injury to Liam Flyin’ Ryan. Fingers crossed it isn’t too serious. If it’s any consolation, he kicked three crucial goals. Gee he is something.

Absolute disaster for Geelong. They are a hair’s width off a 0-3 start to the season and have four of their best players on the injury list.

The upside is there’s a lot of room for improvement if players come back and they click into form, but losing winnable matches like they have in the last two weeks is the kind of thing that could cost them a lot.

Ablett

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Congrats to Port Adelaide, the AFL’s last undefeated team
It’s a sign of just how even the competition is that after three rounds we came within one kick of not having a single team better than 2-1 in the league.

As a footy fan, I love unpredictability. We thought matches like Sydney vs GWS and Richmond vs Hawthorn might give us some answers this week, but they just gave us more questions.

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After Gold Coast, GWS and Hawthorn all fell by the wayside this week, Port Adelaide have officially won out as 2018’s last unblemished side – but should count themselves damned lucky to be there.

They compensated well for the absence of Paddy Ryder in Round 2 but they were of course up against Sydney who have a similarly bare cupboard in terms of ruck options right now.

Port failed to contain Stefan Martin, one of the AFL’s more underrated big men, and that nearly cost them the game as he amassed 30 disposals and 49 hitouts, and Brisbane won the clearance count 41-33.

The expectation for Ryder is that he’ll miss six games and Port will have to be extremely wary of opposition ruckmen during that time, as teams will be looking to take the advantage.

In particular their matches against West Coast and Nic Naitanui in Round 7 and the Adelaide Crows and Sam Jacobs in Round 8 look seriously dangerous if Ryder has not yet returned.

Regardless, they should give themselves a pat on the back for a 3-0 start to the season, because no other team can do that.

Jack Watts

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Bulldogs better Bombers, leave Brisbane and Blues to battle it out
After the horrendous form the Bulldogs put forward in the first two weeks of the season, we largely wrote off Sunday’s match against Essendon as a regulation win for the Dons. We were wrong.

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A 21-point victory for the Bulldogs – which really should have been more given they recorded 34 scoring shots to 23 – was a reminder that any team can win on their day, as if we needed another one.

Luke Beveridge has has fire lobbed at him for the past fortnight and would have to be feeling pretty content right now. It’s taken some time, but maybe he has found his groove.

The players seemed to fire up for the occasion and the game had a few feisty altercations along the way. Good – that’s the passion that seemed to be lacking in the first two weeks.

Carry that over for the rest of the season and the Bulldogs might just not be a terrible football side after all.

Essendon on the other hand now find themselves with a 1-2 record and some big questions over where they’re at. It’s clear that their midfield isn’t in the top half of the competition and it seems like of Zach Merrett has a quiet day, everyone was.

They played one very good quarter of football against Adelaide in Round 1 but other than that you’d have to say they’ve been very disappointing for a side that played finals last year and recruited heavily in the offseason.

I’m not surprised to see them having a bit of a slump after a highly emotional campaign last year and while there’s a lot to like about their playing list, one wonders whether the depth of quality midfielders that a good side needs is there.

Kyle Langford is one who fits the bill and I thought had played two pretty good games in the opening fortnight only to be harshly dropped. I’m not saying he’s a gamechanger but the Bombers’ best 22 is overstocked with too many players who can’t handle a lot of midfield minutes.

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David Myers it seemed was the player who pushed him out and he offered little. It’s hard to understand why, given Myers’ relatively anonymous career to date, he would be prioritised over a promising 21-year-old 191cm mid-forward.

Of course the flow-on effect from this game (and Collingwood’s Friday night victory over Carlton) is that three weeks in, all bar two sides have gotten win under their belt.

It’s Brisbane and the Blues who have started the season 0-3, though some clubs – Essendon included – shuld consider themselves lucky not to be joining them.

Marcus Bontempelli

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The AFL could quickly stop dodgy high contact frees – but they don’t
The duck, the shrug, ‘drawing the high contact’ – call it what you want, dodgy high contact free kicks have been up for discussion agains this week.

There was an incident or two in the Easter Monday game last week that got fans talking and then two of the most respected in the game Alastair Clarkson and Chris Scott both commented on it in the media this week.

Clarko’s comments sounded good on paper but the sting has been taken out them after he stuck by a free kick that gave Paul Puopolo a goal on Sunday, referring to Puopolo’s actions as instead being an “evasion tactic”.

For mine though I’ve never been of the perspective that AFL players should cop hate for doing this, because who can blame them for grabbing hold of a competitive advantage when one is there for the taking.

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I’ve also never been the type to have a crack at the umpires for paying them because honestly they can be bloody hard to spot in the heat of the moment so fair enough.

Instead I believe the fault lies with the AFL itself.

They’ve never seemed to be too clear with what they want to do about the dodgy high-contact free kick.

Last year the changed the rules so that “Umpires will be asked to call play on when a tackle is assessed as reasonable (no swinging arm or contact being incidental) and the player with the ball is responsible for the high contact”, but when Luke Shuey won a final off a free kick paid in exactly that situation they gave it the thumbs up and said yep, right call.

This year one of my favourite things to see from HQ has been that they’ve cracked down on staging and started fining players who exaggerate contact for free kicks. Long overdue.

Like dodgy high-contact frees, staging is difficult to assess mid-game on the field, but both can easily be picked up on video review after the match.

So start whacking players who instigate high contact with fines in the same way – $1000 plus an extra $100 per offence comitted in the last twelve months, or something like that – and players will wise up quicksmart.

Joel Selwood recorded 28 high contact frees in 2016. Some of them were probably legit but you can’t tell me he wouldn’t break the habit quickly if it was costing him about three large a week.

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The league made a show of naming a 12-person panel to steer the direction of the game this week so let’s get them on the case right away.

The solution seems simple to me, so the longer the AFL puts off taking it, the more we’ll have to assume that they’re happy to have this kind of behaviour – and the potential extra risk of concussion that it promotes – in the game at all levels.

Paul Puopolo

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

The pressure is off Nathan Buckley… for now
Nathan Buckley said after Collingwood’s loss to GWS last week that the club would be rewarded for the effort it was putting in soon, and a comfortable win over Carlton on Friday night has proven him right.

Critics were quick to go after the Collingwood coach following his side’s Round 1 loss to Hawthorn but a fortnight on, we’re probably looking at both of Collingwood’s two losses to open the season as relatively respectable given the quality of the opposition.

Not that I can claim to be some kind of high-minded and perfectly non-judgemental commentator, because I already had a good headline in mind for an opinion piece this week if the Pies got beaten by the Blues.

In a world of perfect, pragmatic media we probably would all hold off on the hot takes for the first five or six rounds of the year until things start to settle. But, well… nah. Such is life.

At any rate Buckley will now have a few nice weeks where the critics will probably back off a bit and with Alex Fasolo and Jamie Elliott both likely to come in next week there’s a chance for Collingwood to build real momentum.

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However in the same manner that it’s worth casting doubt on how critical we were after Round 1, the same scepticism should be applied to our evaluation of Round 3.

Collingwood after all recorded less scoring shots than their opponents but won on the basis of an uncharacteristically accurate scoreline of 16.4.

They kicked 16 goals, but they had only six goalkickers.

Can we expect the Pies’ forwardline to operate at 80 per cent accuracy and Josh Thomas to chime in with a bag of five every week? Probably no.

Adelaide, Essendon, Richmond and Brisbane are Collingwood’s next four opponents. Go 2-2 out of that block (or better) and they’ll have shown genuine progress. 1-3 and they’ll be criticised but arguably unfairly. 0-4 and the wolves will be right back at the door.

Nathan Buckley Collingwood Magpies AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Tom Mitchell can win the Brownlow Medal
136 disposals. 34 clearances. 23 inside 50s. If you’re a midfielder in the AFL and you racked that up in your first six weeks you’d feel you’re in reasonable form. Tom Mitchell has done it in three.

It could be the form of a Brownlow Medallist.

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Mitchell polled 25 votes last year to finish as a distant third behind Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin, in a year where questions were often asked over his impact.

I reckon he’s having more impact this year than he was last and has taken his ability to rack up the numbers to a new level.

Wouldn’t you say right now that’s he probably already got nine votes to his name?

There wouldn’t be many players in history who’ve had a start to the season like that and then not gone on to win the medal.

Dangerfield, Martin and Nat Fyfe all look like strong threats, certainly – but if Mitchell keeps putting in 40 touches and a goal a game, I doubt that can be overlooked.

Tom Mitchell

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

Headache on the cards for AFL over Fremantle’s bought homegame
If, like me, you believe the Fremantle Dockers are a chance of playing finals this year, then you probably have an eyebrow or two raised about the AFL greenlighting their deal to buy a home game from Gold Coast.

This was a match that was relatively difficult to tip and for me, as well as most people whose tipping reasons I saw elucidated, the home ground advantage enjoyed by the Dockers was the key reason for backing them in.

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Now, who is to say that Fremantle would not have enjoyed just as comfortable a win on the Gold Coast as they did at home – they might well have. They were certainly the better team, poor accuracy in front of goal obscuring what was really a fairly comfortable victory.

I asked my Twitter followers last night for their opinions on whether or not the Dockers had effectively ‘bought’ a win in this match, and the vast majority believe they did.

Either way, you can be certain that if at the end of the year this win proves the be the difference between playing finals and not playing finals, or having a home ground advantage or not in finals, there will be those who have a crack at the AFL over it.

I don’t feel too strongly about the issue in abstract, but would certainly feel aggrieved in the scenario that my team finished ninth and missed out on finals just narrowly behind Fremantle. Expect the league to cop flak from whatever supporter base that happens to, if indeed it does occur.

For mine the AFL has erred not necesarilly in the decision to let the Dockers do this (after all, it’s not like Victorian teams don’t often get the same advantage for free), but to say they could and West Coast couldn’t.

The obvious implication there is that the AFL thought there was a possibility for the plan to backfire on them if one of last year’s finalists had such and advantage, but not if it was instead given to 14th-placed Fremantle.

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If the rules were the same for every club it’d be hard to argue they weren’t probably fair for every club, but when the AFL decides to pick and choose who they apply them to they leave themselves wide open to valid accusations of playing favourites.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Brisbane will get the big scalp they deserve
The Brisbane Lions might be 0-3, but it’d be fair to say they are one of the more impressive 0-3 sides we’ve seen.

Realistically we probably didn’t expect them to get any wins out of their first three matches this year, and they haven’t, but coming up against some semi-solid opposition in St Kilda and more formidable opponents like Melbourne and Port Adelaide, what’s uplifting is that they’ve threatened to win every game.

They gave the Saints the fright of their lives in Round 1 and probably it was an early exposure of just what a poor side St Kilda appear to be so far in 2018.

But they’ve improved each week, even as the quality of their opposition has. They started poorly against Melbourne but reeled the margin all the way back in.

This week, they were unlucky to not to beat Port Adelaide in a game that they were widely expected to lose by five or ten goals, playing great footy to stay in the contest throughout and having an number of oh-so-close opportunities to win the game in the dying moments.

What I want to praise them on more than anything is not the fact that they’ve challenged quality opposition, but that they’ve not yet gotten discouraged by the fact they haven’t broken through for a win.

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It speaks to a real strength of mental character which is often difficult to create in a side so young. It’s testament to the coaching of Chris Fagan, the leadership of Brisbane’s mature players, and the promise of their youth.

They are made to travel for the third time in four weeks in Round 4 when they’ll play Richmond and after that have Gold Coast, GWS, Collingwood and the Bulldogs to fill out their next five. There’s a real chance to snag as many as three wins from that block.

If they keep believing in themselves against higher-rated opposition though, it won’t be long before they surprise us with a big scalp.

In particular I’d be eyeing off their Round 10 fixture against Sydney at the Gabba – between the home ground advantage and the demolition job Stefan Martin will do on Callum Sinclair, it’s got real potential.

Dayne Beams

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

‘Specialist’ Ben Dixon has done nothing to improve St Kilda’s scoring power
St Kilda were one of 2017’s least accurate teams in front of goal, so it looked like good news to supporters when they brought in Ben Dixon as a part-time specialist goalkicking coach in October last year.

Well, it hasn’t paid off – the Saints were solid in front of goal in Round 1, but have been abhorrently bad over the last two weeks, kicking a combined 12 goals, 26 behinds in eight quarters of footy.

That’s roughly a 30 per cent accuracy rating in front of the sticks (of course, it would be somewhat affected by rushed or touched behinds). Assuming the average AFL shot on goal is 50/50 at best, that’s simply not good enough.

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“Accuracy in front of goal was a clear weakness of ours in 2017,” said St Kilda’s football GM Jamie Cox when Dixon was recruited last year.

“We went through a thorough review of all areas of our performance at the end of the season and identified the opportunity to increase our resources in regards to goalkicking.

“Ben has had success in similar coaching roles in the past. He brings a wealth of experience and we look forward to him joining our team ahead of the pre-season.”

Well… I’m sorry Ben but it’s just not working out mate. I don’t know what you’re doing but it ain’t good. Maybe goal kicking is one of those things that gets worse before it gets better, but I really doubt that.

Accuracy in front of goal is one of those things that builds confidence, and St Kilda look barren of both at the moment.

Paddy McCartin St Kilda Saints AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

Injury-riddled players making an impact
Isn’t it just lovely to see so many players who’ve spent a decent length of time on the sidelines due to injury having a big impact so far in 2018?

Nic Naitanui of course is the superstar name in this bunch, playing some great football for the West Coast Eagles when many wondered if he would ever be the same, but there is good news wherever you look for it.

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Allen Christensen seems to be finally getting a run of good luck and the fact that both he and Charlie Cameron have been able to come into the side and play quality football has been significant for the Brisbane Lions.

Unfortunate for him that his late shot on goal didn’t come off on Saturday – otherwise he’d be the talk of the town. Regardless, he should be proud to be back playing with confidence and verve at AFL level.

Christensen’s not the only good news story in Queensland though with Gold Coast’s Sam Day also looking mightily impressive in the first few weeks after an awful hip injury cost him the entirety of 2017.

I’ll admit he’s a player I had my doubts about even before injury became a factor, so to see him not just fit but also firing really puts a smile on the face.

Alex Pearce has been in remarkable form over the last two weeks shutting down two of the best key forwards in the comp in Joe Daniher and Tom J Lynch.

Cam Ellis-Yolmen is finally getting the run in the senior team he has so long deserved at Adelaide too and playing solid footy after an ACL last year, and Ben Jacobs has been one of North Melbourne’s most valuable contributors across the first three rounds.

Stephen Coniglio hasn’t been out for as long as the others mentioned here, but his effervescent form so far in 2018 deserves a nod also. All Australian calibre right now.

Allen Christensen

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

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Jarryd Lyons, the mature midfielder Carlton missed out on
I couldn’t help but think over the last two weeks watching Jarryd Lyons play some excellent football and watching Carlton do anything but that the Blues could really have done with a good-value pick up of his ilk.

In October 2016 Lyons was looking for a trade away from Adelaide at the same time that Bryce Gibbs was looking for trade to the Crows from Carlton, but the Blues said no to Lyons, and he eventually joined the Gold Coast Suns.

Carlton of course ultimately stalled off entirely on making a deal Bryce Gibbs that year but did trade him at the end of 2017 for a pair of first-round picks as was their original asking price – though they ‘downgraded’ one of those out of the first round in order to get Matthew Kennedy, and gave up their 2018 second-rounder, possibly a top 20 pick, to Adelaide as part of the deal.

It’s a deal that I’ve said before was simply too good to say no to and I do stick by that. However when looking at the form Lyons has produced at the Suns, it’s worth asking whether or not a deal for him plus a first-rounder from the Crows a year earlier might well have been just as good.

Lyons averaged a career-high 24 disposals and nearly six clearances per game for the Gold Coast Suns last year but so far in 2018 he seems to have gone to an entirely new level.

He was tagged pretty well by Ben Jacobs in Round 1 but over the last two weeks combined he has put up 66 disposals, three goals, sixteen tackles, fifteen inside 50s and twenty-one clearances.

Carlton are of course not the only AFL club who would regret not making an offer to Lyons, but the error is more galling for them as they more than any other side in the league are woefully bereft of the presence of mature midfielders.

They targetted 28-year-old Tom Rockliff last offseason for exactly that reason, which makes it all the more baffling that they felt 25-year-old Lyons didn’t fit into their plans.

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At the very least even if they didn’t want to trade Gibbs they could’ve tried to negotiate a separate deal for Lyons – the Crows, in the end, sold him for peanuts.

Instead it seems their obstinant attitude towards dealing with Adelaide in 2016 has cost them what could’ve been a recruiting masterstroke.

When Rockliff said ‘no’ last year they seemed to be out of ideas and other than going back to that oft-visited well of picking up other clubs’ off-cuts.

They’ve acquired so very many players in that manner over the past few seasons for what could be at best described as ‘mixed’ results. Why couldn’t one of them have been Jarryd Lyons?

Stephen Silvagni Carlton Blues AFL

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

North’s Goldstein vs Preuss debate still very much alive
Todd Goldstein and Max Gawn have played out some watchable duels in the ruck over the course of their careers, but Saturday’s meeting at the MCG wasn’t one of them.

Gawn won the hitouts decisively, 50-15, and Melbourne thrashed North at the centre clearances, 20-10. No doubt it was a telling factor in a contest where the Demons ultimately had 21 more inside 50s and won by 37 points.

It’s disappointing because Goldstein, at just a tick under 30, could still have several years of top-flight football in his body. He’s always been a durable player and one only need look at Aaron Sandilands to see how long ruckman can continue to have an impact.

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However at the same time, at that age, in a young rebuilding team, he needs to do better to justify playing him over up-and-comer Braydon Preuss, who might not have done any better, but would’ve gained valuable experience from playing at the highest level.

For mine, Goldstein shares the same problem as another North player of interest this week, Majak Daw, who had a crack at playing in defense for the first time at AFL level.

They both too often are passive footballers, lack intensity. They can do great things when they get involved in the game – so they need to get involved more. More mongrel is needed.

Goldstein’s best football has come when he is not just playing in the ruck but also clunking big marks on the wing or in the back and forward lines and making the most of the man-mountain he is.

A return to that best footy is only a flick of the mental switch away, I suspect, so fingers crossed we see that soon.

That said if North is willing to get experimental – and the club ought to be – I wouldn’t mind seeing Preuss shoulder most of the ruck load while Goldstein plays as a very tall winger (think late-career Nick Riewoldt) and does say 30 per cent of the ruck duties.

Todd Goldstein North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Quick and nasty
– Amid the many criticisms that can be made of Carlton, how good is Zac Fisher? For such a skinny and slight bloke to be averaging 18 touches and five tackles early in his second year of footy is a real win.

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– The Streak is over, long live The Streak. North’s 17 straight wins over Melbourne has given me plenty of fun footy memories over the last decade but it was time it came to an end. Not many hoodoos left now for the Dees, except to play finals.

– On a playing list that lacks both, Sam Murray’s pace and creativity so far has proven to be worth the second-round pick that Collingwood paid. They still probably could’ve made a smarter deal, but fair to say he’s not just a good player but one that cleverly addressed some of their most pressing needs. Rising Star nomination sooner or later seems a formality.

– How on earth did Nick Coffield not debut in Round 1? He looked impressive during the preseason and on Saturday night carried that form over into his AFL debut. 18 composed touches and a goal providing valuable linkup play, something the Saints sorely lack. Can’t fathom why he was kept out for two weeks but reckon he’s a lock going forward.