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Six hot takes from AFL Round 8

Dustin Martin of the Tigers. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Editor
13th May, 2018
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Footy always gives us plenty to talk about and Round 8 was no different. Here are my hot takes from the week.

No win for North, but Dusty can be tagged
There’s plenty of North Melbourne fans feeling proud of the side’s effort after pushing Richmond all the way until the final minutes on Sunday.

I’m sure I’ll be able to look back positively on the result in a few days, but for the time being I’m just disappointed that the club couldn’t convert the opportunity to take their biggest scalp of the season yet.

All things considered it’s probably a good sign of where the club is at – disappointment is something you only feel when you genuinely believe you could win, and I might not have believed that about this team at the start of the year.

North did ultimately fall short of becoming the first team to beat Richmond in Victoria this year but other clubs will learn plenty from this match and the biggest lesson is that Dustin Martin can be tagged.

Ben Jacobs kept Martin to just 16 disposals on Sunday and no scoreboard impact though, champion that he is, Martin was able to provide his teammates with a game-high three goal assists.

There isn’t another tagger in the league right now who can hurt his opponents the way Ben Jacobs does, but surely other clubs will have watched the tactics used here with interest.

Will we see Martin cop more hard tags in 2018 as a result? And is that they key to beating Richmond in Victoria? Time will tell.

Dustin Martin

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

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Showdown serves up another classic
Is there a better rivalry in football than the South Australian Showdown? One could make a case for Hawthorn and Geelong, but surely none has stood the test of time better than this.

The Power and the Crows produced yet another absolute classic match on Saturday complete with twists and turns and a result that was only decided in the final minutes.

I’ve been sceptical of the value of Port Adelaide’s new recruits at times this year and I still am, but one can’t argue with Steven Motlop or Tom Rockliff this week.

Motlop only kicked the one goal for the day but it was the last goal of the game and the match decider. Perhaps another player would’ve kicked it in his place if he wasn’t there… perhaps not.

Tom Rockliff’s impact was more prolific. Port finally unleashed him as a genuine midfielder and it paid off. 31 touches, six clearances, nine tackles.

Fingers crossed that’s the end of this latest experiment to force the square peg that is Tom Rockliff into a round hole. He is what he is, and he’s very good at being what he is.

Of course in the end the real star was not Motlop or Rockliff but Robbie Gray whose bag of six goals was perhaps the most influential individual peformance we’ve seen so far this year.

Can this win get Port’s season back on track? They’re 5-3, finish the round in the eight, and have a 2-2 record against follow top eight sides so far this year.

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No doubt it will give them some confidence and momentum, and deservedly so.

Robbie Gray Port Adelaide Power AFL 2015

(AAP Image/Ben Macmahon)

Tom Lynch’s days as a Sun are surely numbered
Maybe in a few months time people will be screenshotting this and making me look silly on social media, but I doubt it. Surely, surely, Tom Lynch has at least one foot out the door of the Gold Coast Suns.

The consistent message about the Suns co-captain has been that he’s looking for the team to show signs it can improve and to be entirely fair to Gold Coast, they’ve done that at times this year.

They’ve got three wins for the season so far which is probably not putting them in finals calculations just yet but has been impressive given how the Commonwealth Games has thrown out their fixture.

But those wins have all come against sides who were in the bottom four last year and can mostly be traced back to the ‘new coach bounce’.

Stuart Dew has brought the Suns a level of system that they’ve never had before and yes, it’s made them a more competitive side.

There’s no gifting games to talented players just because of talent: you fit into the system, or you don’t fit into the team.

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It is an approach that has its benefits and hopefully can be the beginning of a new era of strong culture at the club which can eventually lead to genuine success.

However a game like we saw from them on Saturday against Melbourne makes it clear than even if the Suns are on the right track, they’re still a very long way from the finish line.

Despite lots of speculation it seems like the AFL will not give Lynch the godfather ambassador payment we thought they might, meaning salary offers from Victoria will be pretty competitive with what he could make by staying.

Is there really any chance in that case that we don’t see him line up with a big finals-playing Victorian club at the MCG in 2019? For better or worse, I’d have to say no.

Tom J Lynch

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Woosh! Has the game gone over Worsfold’s head?
The Essendon Bombers said goodbye to four-time premiership coach Kevin Sheedy at the end of 2007 and they haven’t won a finals match since.

The Dons have gone through a variety of coaches in the decade that has followed, running the gammut from the new and untried (James Hird, Matthew Knights) to the experienced and accomplished (Mark Thompson, John Worsfold).

Before they appointed Worsfold I thought to myself that the Bombers hadn’t really managed to nail the right selection for their next coach (and had gotten it catastrophically wrong once) since Sheedy’s departure.

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That would mean they hadn’t really nailed a senior coaching selection since 1981 – a long time between drinks and one that leaves a club open to questions over whether or not they know what they’re doing in this regard.

When they signed John Worsfold at the end of the 2015 season I thought they had gotten it right – and his first two years in the job seemed to support this.

Worsfold faced the massive challenge of guiding Essendon through the worst year in their history in 2016 and then turned it around to make finals last season. Expectations were exceeded in both years.

A few weeks of bad form will quickly tear through any credits a coach has in the bank though and fair to say the Dons are falling well short of fan expectations right now.

With all due respect to Carlton, one could probably find a more mature and experienced playing list at a country bus station. A side that believes it’s a finals contender has no business losing to them.

The Dons’ decline has opened Worsfold up to questions over whether or not he’s got what it takes to make the Bombers better in the modern era.

Certainly he was a great choice to come in and steady the ship for a few years during a difficult period, but Essendon fans may be thinking it would’ve been wiser to have his role be a short-term Paul-Roos-at-Melbourne affair.

Maybe, maybe not. Bit too late for that now as the Dons re-signed him until the end of 2020 just a few short weeks before this downslide began.

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The question is clear for both Worsfold and Essendon. Are you good enough to survive and thrive in the modern era? A blockbuster MCG clash with Geelong next week is the perfect chance to give us an answer.

John Worsfold

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Media/Getty Images)

No Naitashuey no problem, Eagles are just Darling
The West Coast Eagles seem to become a better team with every game they play and that hasn’t been more true all year than it was this week.

They’ve been ultra-impressive at home this year but we’ve only had a limited sample size of their form on the road, so a trip west to play the Giants looked sure to be a challenge.

In the Eagles’ favour was the fact that GWS are missing several key players right now through injury, but Jeremy Cameron returned for this one, and the Eagles had absences of their own.

A suspension for Nic Naitanui that you’ve probably heard about at some point during the week and a hamstring injury to Luke Shuey robbed them of two of their most important players (and one of the league’s best portmanteaus.)

In the end West Coast should probably be thankful that Naitanui’s suspension came in a week where they were scheduled against a team without a dominant ruckman of their own – Rory Lobb and Scott Lycett fought the battle to a draw.

All things considered a week for Nic Nat to rest, avoiding one of the longer roadtrips in footy, was probably not the worst thing that could happen to this club given they got the four points regardless.

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The Shuey-less midfield did finish the day -5 in the clearances but it didn’t matter. West Coast’s ball movement has been their strength this year and it was again.

Meanwhile up forward Jack Darling continues a breakout season that at this stage would have him in the All Australian team and firmly in the mix for the Coleman medal.

In the past fortnight the Eagles have battled both of the sides they played in last year’s finals series and there’s no better illustration of just how much they’ve improved in 2018 than the gulf between those performances and these ones.

You couldn’t ask for better momentum going into surely the most anticipated match of the year so far next week at home against Richmond.

Jack Darling

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

Blue breakthrough leaves Brisbane on bottom
One of the frustrating things about being a team in the bottom regions of the ladder can be that when you do get a win, it’s often spun more as a negative story about the team you beat than a positive one about you.

Pundits have been tearing chunks off the Bombers all weekend and you can expect that to become even more vicious during the week, and not unfairly.

I’m sorry to say Carlton fans that this isn’t the opening to me praising your club in detail, but a tip of the cap to say well done. I see what you did there.

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One result doesn’t answer all the questions we have about the club, but who cares – celebrate the win, that’s what it’s all about.

One question it does answer though is that of which AFL side would be the last one in the league left without a win in 2018. Turns out it’s the Brisbane Lions.

Funnily enough I would say with some confidence that they certainly haven’t been the worst team in the league this year, but evidently the ladder feels differently.

A 14-point loss to the Western Bulldogs was another opportunity for a breakthrough gone begging in a season that has had several of them.

Luke Hodge is a player I’m really curious about at the moment. We assumed that we would see him have a big impact on this club in 2018, but eight rounds in, the jury’s out.

His stats have dropped away dramatically this season. Maybe that’s just part of playing a different role in this side… but I think it leaves him open to questions of whether he’s committed to making Brisbane better, or just keen to top up his super.

I noticed with interest on Sunday that that he was a part of the Collingwood vs Geelong broadcast.

I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill here but if I were a Brisbane fan I’d be expecting a senior leader at the club to be fully invested in the season at hand, rather than potentially staying an extra day interstate for the purposes of building a media profile.

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Fingers crossed that Brisbane get a win soon and leave us without the need for more lingering questions like this.

Luke Hodge

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Quick and nasty
– Ben Ronke’s big bag deserves more praise than just a short paragraph, but I was rather ill on Friday night and tucked myself into bed early – sorry Sydney fans, this’ll have to do. Love the fact that he also laid ten tackles.

– Can’t say I’ve heard a peep lately about Rory Sloane re-signing with Adelaide and we’re getting a look now during his Lisfranc injury at what the Crows are like without him. They’re still a dangerous side even without him, but would they be a flag contender in 2019 if he leaves?

– Both got a mention last week but both deserve a mention again – Nat Fyfe and Jackson Macrae are in incredible form right now. Arguably the two most certain All Australian midfield selections at this stage.

– All-time AFL record 32 contested possessions from Ben Cunnington against the Tigers on Sunday, a Herculean effort. Despite the brilliance that is Ben Brown, he’s probably leading the Syd Barker Medal count right now.

– It wasn’t ideal to play intriguing fixtures like North vs Richmond and Collingwood vs Geelong on Mother’s Day when the attention of footy fans is (rightly) elsewhere. Surely the AFL fixturing department doesn’t need a psychic to tell them that Gold Coast vs Melbourne at the Gabba could probably be played on Sunday instead?

– That said, Collingwood’s performance in particular on Sunday didn’t live up to the hype of what looked like a promising game. Hideously inaccurate and for all the good momentum, they’ve got one win from their last three, that coming by the skin of their teeth against the side last on the ladder. Mounting injures – both before the game and during – are of course a factor.

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