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Seven hot takes from AFL Round 5

Ben Brown of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal from Jarrad Waite. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)
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22nd April, 2018
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Round 5 strictly speaking isn’t over just yet, but what would Sunday night be without some AFL hot takes? Go ahead and sneak a few in early, I won’t tell anyone.

And just for those that are wondering – yes, there’ll be an extra edition with some more hot takes for you here on The Roar on Wednesday night.

An open love letter to Ben Brown and North Melbourne
Two weeks ago I saw someone on Twitter say that if Ben Brown played for a top four team, he’d be talked about as a superstar.

I thought to myself: what are you on about? The man is already a bonafide superstar any way you slice it.

If you didn’t believe that at the start of 2018 surely you believe it now. After struggling to have an impact playing in a swimming pool in Round 1, Brown has kicked 19 goals in four games.

He’s currently leading the Coleman Medal and Round 1 aside he hasn’t kicked less than four goals in a game this year. He has kicked 51 goals from his last 14 matches.

You know who in the AFL has done the same? No one. Absolutely no one. Superstar.

Brown is just one part of a forward line that is clicking together extremely well for North Melbourne right now.

Remember when Brad Scott said in the preseason that Jarrad Waite’s best footy was still ahead of him and we all laughed?

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Right now he’s averaging two goals, 16 touches and 3.8 inside 50s per game, numbers that are as good or better than any other year in his career.

Jack Ziebell, who North fans have been wanting to see play a more fulltime forward role for years, is finally doing so and playing some seriously good footy.

Shaun Atley is floating forward and kicking goals and plenty of other players are chipping in.

It’s evident however that while offensive play and forward firepower are key components of the North Melbourne ‘rebuild’, they’re not the only are where North are playing good footy.

Defense has improved markedly this year. The back six is settled and in superb form, but also the effort put into team defense has lifted across the board.

It all adds up to a side that is ready to surprise anyone who dares not take it seriously and they got the jump on a far more experienced Hawthorn outfit on Sunday.

By the time the Hawks recovered it was simply too late. What a win for Jed Anderson and Billy Hartung. What a win for Shaun Higgins and Ed Vickers-Willis. What a win for North Melbourne.

Jarrad Waite

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

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New faces quiet when the Power is off
After a relatively strong start to the season Port Adelaide went into their Saturday night match with Geelong as favourites.

Not only did they lose the match but they lost it quite poorly. While they were able to keep up with, or at least stay in striking distance of the Cats for a while, they were blown away in the last quarter.

A side that has the home ground advantage and rates itself as a premiership contender simply has no excuses for that. After being the big story of the year two weeks in, Port quickly look well off the pace.

That makes two losses in a row for them now and the question it leaves me asking is, have they really improved from last year? What are the new recruits offering?

Tom Rockliff is absolved from criticism for this week at least as he was absent through injury. It’s clear he’s been carrying something for a while and to a degree it probably explains his quiet form in the first month of the year.

That being said, he’s clearly been played out of position and that just doesn’t work for him. We saw Michael Voss try to turn him into a forward many times when he coached Rockliff at Brisbane, and it appears to be happening again at Port Adelaide.

Tom Rockliff is a midfielder. If you’re not happy with that then why would you sign him?

Seven goals from five games for Jack Watts has been a passable effort, and to be fair to him he’s averaging career-high tackle numbers with 3.4 per game. But he has gone goalless against two good sides in Sydney and this week Geelong.

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As for Steven Motlop, he’s kicked five goals in the three games that Port have won, and zero in the two they’ve lost.

Of the 12 goals Watts and Motlop have kicked for Port Adelaide this year, five of them came in Round 1 against a Fremantle side that could’ve been mistaken for any 22 random blokes found at your local bus station.

I said after all three players had an impact in Round 1 that the new recruits packed a punch, and that’s true, but so far I’m not convinced they do anything more than increase Port Adelaide’s ability to beat up on sides they would already be better than.

Do they actually make Port Adelaide a better team? I doubted it in October, and I doubt it now.

Steven Motlop

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

One decision does not change a game
St Kilda have plenty of things to be positive about following Saturday’s draw with the GWS Giants.

After several weeks under the pump where they seemed to be playing uncompetitive footy, the team put in performance that fans should be proud of.

Yes, they still lacked a bit of finishing class – but they gave one of the most talented teams in the league a serious shake.

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When you lose (or in this case) draw a game and there’s a potentially contentious umpiring decision in the final moments, it is always tempting to blame the loss on that one decision.

This was the case for some fans when it came to Jake Carlisle not being awarded a free kick following a late spoil from Phil Davis just before the siren on Saturday.

Carlisle, had he taken the mark, or been paid a free kick, would’ve had a shot on goal after the siren. Scores being level, it would’ve won St Kilda the game regardless of accuracy so long as he made the distance.

I have of course seen people on social media willing to argue either side of the free kick debate with absolute certainty that they’ve got it right.

In truth I reckon if we’re being honest with ourselves, it was a borderline call where probably either decision is fair and it’s just unfortunate it happened to occur at such an inopportune time.

I know that’s got to be frustrating for St Kilda fans after they came so close to what would’ve been a remarkable win, but you can’t put the result of a whole game down to one split-second umpiring decision.

The Saints, who kicked 10.13 for the day, had plenty of chances to kick goals that would’ve put them over the top – but they didn’t. The Giants, kicking 9.19, had even more.

That’s under the roof at Etihad Stadium by the way. No excuses.

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Jake Carlisle

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Tex Walker answers the question critics didn’t need to ask
After missing Round 1 because of an interrupted preseason, Taylor Walker played the next three games of the season, kicking at least two goals in every game, nine in total.

That followed a grand final in which – though the club lost – he kicked two goals, the same as his opposite number Jack Riewoldt at the other end.

Somehow, despite this record of solid form, Walker went into Friday night’s match against the Sydney Swans ‘under pressure’, copping it from all corners in the media from his lack of contribution.

Eh? Three goals per match would make him an All Australian contender in just about every season in the modern era, and that’s what he was going at so far this year.

Maybe you could question his impact further up the ground, or you could debate the strength of on-field leadership at the Crows overall.

Maybe. Either way I do feel it was a bit silly for the man to be copping so much heat. If you’re a key forward kicking a couple of goals every week I’d say you are probably doing enough.

Justified or unjustified, Tex shut the critics up with a genuinely elite performance on Friday night – not only did he kick a bag of four but he also recorded 398 metres gained, far and away his highest tally of the season so far.

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No one – myself included – gave the Crows a chance of knocking off Sydney given that they were missing all of Rory Sloane and Matt and Brad Crouch, but Walker’s big night out was crucial in delivering a major upset and moving Adelaide to 3-2.

Oh, and so long as we’re complimenting the Crows…

Taylor Walker Adelaide Crows AFL Finals 2017

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

Crow concern over the loss of Lever as dead as a Doedee
Yes, I know the correct pronouncement of Deodee doesn’t really sound all that much like dodo, but please, let me have this pun.

I’ll admit that when I saw Adelaide fans crowing (yes, more puns) about Tom Doedee being better than Jake Lever in Round 1 I was pretty sceptical.

Oh really, you think your new one-gamer is better at football than the player who left your club in messy circumstances last year? How surprising.

But, I am forced to eat my words, because while Lever has continued to play so-so football at Melbourne, Doedee has risen in my estimation with every game he plays.

He earned a Rising Star nomination in Round 2 and on Friday night had 25 disposals (18 kicks), 11 marks, five rebound 50s and 317 metres gained.

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For what it’s worth, I reckon Jake Lever will be fine, just fine at Melbourne. He lacked the right support in the first two rounds and wasn’t the only Demon who looked out of sorts in Round 4.

Give him time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play a good one on Tuesday night.

But Adelaide fans have the right to celebrate now and get a little mouthy. That’s what footy fandom is all about, within reason.

There were plenty of raised eyebrows in 2015 when the Crows drafted Doedee, who must expect to be a late pick, in the first round. Maybe even a few laughs. Adelaide are the ones laughing now.

Jake Lever

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Bolton happy as Harry after decision to hold back McKay pays off
Carlton’s uncompetitive start to season 2018 has prompted plenty of questions levelled at coach Brendon Bolton. One that we heard regularly over the first four weeks was “Where is Harry McKay at?”

Bolton was consistent in his message that McKay wasn’t yet ready for senior football and he wasn’t going to rush him in until he did.

AFL coaches have copped a bit of criticism this year for their stubbornness. And yes, sometimes they have quite simply got it wrong.

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But an AFL coach needs to have some conviction in their decisions, even if they ultimately prove unwise. Bolton showed that in holding back McKay until he was ready, and it paid off.

After all, which of us really knows better where player is at – a coach who sees them five days a week, or us, the randos on the internet who might struggle to pick them out of a lineup?

Bolton did finally pull the trigger on McKay in Round 5 and his performance in his first game for the year was seriously eye-catching.

It’s not too often that you see an opposition key forward kick more goals than Josh J Kennedy does at the other end, but this week we saw it from a third-gamer.

The result overall was not a win for Carlton on the scoreboard but in just about every aspect bar that one Blues fans would be satisfied with what they saw on Saturday.

A bag of four from McKay suggests the forward line has a future, and a competitive performance from a side so bereft of mature players says that despite a rocky start to the year, Carlton isn’t too far off the right path just yet.

Harry McKay

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

Aaron Sandilands and Tom English in a battle of past vs present
It’s hard to think of a potential one-on-one matchup that would better show the way our game has changed than what we saw on Saturday night when Aaron Sandilands and Tim English battled in the ruck.

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From one perspective, Sandilands won the battle decisively with 53 hitouts to just 13 from English. Fremantle finished the night +5 in the clearance count and, of course, they won the game comfortably.

However on the other side of the coin, English had more of an impact around the ground, recording 19 disposals and nine marks to nine disposals and just a single mark from Sandilands.

Sandilands is one of those players that I reckon just about every fan going around has massive respect for. He is the Gregor Clegane of the AFL.

We’ve seen a lot of tap ruckmen brought into the AFL over the past few years but they just can’t carve out a niche in the game these days. Alpine in size, fearsome in nature, impossible to kill.

That said, the one criticism I’ve had of him over the years is why doesn’t a player of his height and strength take more marks around the ground or better yet up forward?

Having a tall player who can provide a link-up marking target on the wing or float forward to kick the occasional goal is so valuable, and the latter in particular is something that the Dockers have really lacked at times.

English instead is part of a new breed of ruckman that we’ve seen emerge since the turn of the millennium. They provide a contest in the ruck, but that is just the beginning of their job description.

He’s getting slammed in the ruck most weeks and probably isn’t a genuinely game-changing influence around the ground just yet, but he’s a 20-year-old playing his seventh AFL game in a position that is notoriously difficult for younger players.

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You’d expect both aspects of his game will only improve as time goes on and if that does indeed prove to be the case then he – like Sandi – will be up there with the best big men we’ve ever seen in the game.

In the end it’s fitting I couldn’t pick which way of playing the role is better even if I wanted to. Credit to both of them for doing it their way.

Aaron Sandilands

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Quick and nasty
– West Coast have been excellent this year, far above what I predicted for them. However their record at the MCG is still seriously suspect. A ten-point win over an injury-stricken Carlton was well below par. Their next game there is Round 17 versus Collingwood.

– For all that we’ve spent time talking about Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett when it comes to Geelong, the two wins they’ve taken over the past fortnight belong not to the stars but instead the young players who’ve stepped up – Brandan Parfitt being the most noticeable, but hardly alone. Kudos.

– Sydney’s 3-2 start to the year is a lot better than 2017’s 0-6, but none of their wins have been especially dominant. Like I suppose every other team in the league right now, they’ve got a few things worth being worried about.

– He couldn’t get a game back in his Collingwood days, but five weeks into 2018 Paul Seedsman is the only player in the league averaging more than 600 metres gained per game. A genuine breakout year and it couldn’t have a come at a better time given Brodie Smith’s ACL injury.

– Given all the scrutiny that has been levelled at them in their so-far very short careers, it was great to see both Paddy McCartin and Tom Boyd kicking multiple goals at AFL level this weekend. Here’s hoping it’s the start of stable, strengthening footy for both of them.

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– I’ll sound like an anti-traditionalist here but to be honest if it was up to me we probably wouldn’t have draws in footy. A good close game deserves a result. That said…

– It’s an issue where my care factor is pretty low and I’ve got no complaints about keeping the draw in the game. It’d be fair to argue that the extra physical demand time-on would place on players probably isn’t worth it when a draw is a perfectly fine result in terms of shaping the ladder.

– Nothing but respect for Shaun Higgins making the decision to put the birth of his child ahead of playing footy if the two came into conflict. Family comes first. No timing troubles in the end although given the massive knock that saw him stretchered off, he’d probably wish there had been.

– 2014 All Australian Luke Breust is averaging a career-high 3.2 goals per game after five rounds. With Eddie Betts injured (and not in particularly good form before the injury), Breust could make a serious claim for the title of best small forward in the game right now.