Upsets, breakthroughs, bags of goals, and a top-of-the-table clash – Round 9 had it all. Here’s my hot takes from the weekend.
The West, better than the rest
It’s amazing to think that at the start of the season I was looking at the West Coast Eagles for a possible bottom-four finish – instead here we are nine rounds in, they’re 8-1 and on top of the ladder.
Their Round 1 loss to Sydney was a more competitive performance than was widely expected from them at the time – I put it down to home ground advantage being a big deal in the first week, but it was more than that.
They’ve won eight straight games since then and for the most part they have done so in dominant fashion, culminating in what was ultimately a comfortable victory over their closest rivals and the reigning premiers on Sunday.
This match was billed as a must-see, and that it was, but in the end it wasn’t so much the close contest we were expecting. In fact it was an genuine shellacking.
If you ask why it is that West Coast have improved this year, it’s a simple answer: everything. The most dynamic ruckman in the game is back, their ball movement out of defense and through the middle is scintillating, and their forward line has found form across the board.
They’ve got their best midfielder Luke Shuey to come back into this side, too, by the way.
This is a team that I have twice tipped to win the flag in the last six years (in 2013 and last year in 2017), but right now it looks like they might be taking their strongest shot at it in the year I least expected them to.
They’ve answered every question asked of them except one. It’s a question that will get asked of every interstate team to be in premiership contention until at least the year 2058. When push comes to shove, can they win on the MCG?
A win like this should open up questions again over where is the right place to play the grand final in the event that the highest qualifying team is not Victorian. It may not have the same capacity, but Optus Stadium doesn’t seem unfit. Unfortunately, those who ask those questions will find they fall on deaf ears.
The Eagles play only one more regular-season game at the MCG all year – against Collingwood in Round 17 – so chances are we’ll head into a finals campaign still with that hanging over their heads.
The team they beat today could well be the team they find themselves coming up against in the grand final if the cards fall that way – certainly they’ve been the best two teams of the year so far.
Unlike the Eagles, Richmond do seem to have a much clearer illustration of just how good they are playing interstate – they’re 100 per cent in Victoria this year, 0 per cent when not. But also unlike West Coast, it’s probably not something they have to worry about.
If they can hold on to a top-two spot – by no means guaranteed, but certainly likely – then they’ll have the opportunity to win back-to-back premierships without ever needing to leave the MCG.
Of course, slip out of the top two and there could be real trouble – especially given their results interstate so far in 2018.
But let’s not get too deep into all the possible permutations of finals just yet. Especially not you, Eagles fans. Enjoy the hell out of this win. It will build so much confidence and positive momentum among the team – and if you have that, anything can happen.
Finally, Brisbane get the breakthrough they deserve
It was billed as the battle of Luke Hodge versus his old mates, but in the end the veteran played second fiddle to the emerging young talent of the Brisbane Lions as they finally notched their big breakthrough.
Charlie Cameron continued to catch the eye as he has done all season. I thought pick 12 for him was overpaying when Brisbane made the deal, but I’m eating my words now. He brings the forward line together, puts bums on seats, and is in the conversation for recruit of the year.
Eric Hipwood continues to be probably my favourite young player in the competition. You might remember I picked him as the AFL’s No.1 player in 2025 when I was musing this preseason – and I stand by it. Four goals was big, and he will only get better.
Cam Rayner may not have dominated the contest but he chimed in for two very handy goals. Tom Cutler did dominate – 27 touches, three goals. Alex Witherden had another strong one with 24 touches. 28-year-old Matt Eagles kicked his first AFL goal. What a day it was.
It’s a win that Brisbane sorely deserved and one that has been a long time coming. Fans have surely been frustrated by an 0-8 start to the season, but such a clinical and comprehensive victory against a side usually on the other end of those must surely restore a lot of faith.
It could even spark something of a winning run. Sydney at the Gabba next week is a big challenge again, but gettable, and then they have North (in Victoria) and Essendon (back at home) before the bye.
It took them nine weeks to pick up their first win of season 2018, but it won’t take that long again to find their second.
Job well Don, now do it again
I tipped the Cats on Saturday so I can’t pretend to be Nostradamus, but I wasn’t too shocked to see Essendon start the match on fire.
It was clear that a run of bad form culminating in a truly inept performance against Carlton last week had seen their frustrations reach boiling point.
The sacking of Mark Neeld during the week looks to have been cathartic for the club and if the rumours about how the coaching team was managing things are true it’s hard to believe the status quo went on as long as it did.
The old adage that things are rarely either as bad or as good as they seem rings true here – Essendon are not the incompetents we saw lose to Carlton, and probably also not the powerhouse we saw slaughter Geelong.
More than anything else the win was built off the back of a radically increased effort level.
Essendon had the ball in their hands for a full sixteen more minutes than Geelong on Saturday but also managed to lay 91 tackles across the length of the match compared to just 68 from their opponents.
That saw them join a very select group of clubs who’ve had a match this year where they lay more than two tackles per minute of opposition possession – and you simply do not lose games of footy when you do that.
The problem is it’s not especially sustainable. Hawthorn did it earlier this year in a game where they murdered Melbourne and won big, but then played out a woefully low-intensity loss against North the very next week.
This win will shut up critics for the time being and rightly so, but Essendon can’t realistically hope to tackle their opponents to death like this every week – they’ll run themselves ragged if they do.
A statement game is all well and good so long as it is backed up with genuine, lasting improvement – and with GWS and Richmond to follow in the next fortnight, we’ll quickly find out whether or not the Dons can deliver.
McDonald, Viney returns have Melbourne ready for bigger fish
A run of four straight matches against relatively uncompetitive sides couldn’t have come at a better time for the Melbourne Demons, who put an exclamation mark on a month of good form by thrashing Carlton at the MCG on Sunday.
After a somewhat shaky start to season 2018, Melbourne have comfortably bettered Essendon, St Kilda, Gold Coast and now the Blues in their last four weeks of footy, and not only has it allowed them to work themselves into form, but it’s given some key players the chance to return and make an impact.
Tom McDonald has been the big story. Since coming back for the game against Essendon he has kicked 13 goals in four matches, a pace that would have him in contention for the Coleman medal if he’d been playing all year.
His status as a free agent has barely been talked about so far this year – out of sight, out of mind I guess – but Melbourne would want to sign him up very soon. Tall players who can play excellent footy at either end are hard to find.
The Dees’ other big absentee during the season though has been co-captain Jack Viney, who played his first game of the year today for a quiet but encouraging return of twelve possessions and a goal.
The end result is that Melbourne are well entrenched in the top eight – amazingly, they’re somehow third overall – and have plenty of positive momentum.
Next week offers them a golden opportunity to talk a real scalp against an injury-hit Adelaide side in the Northern Territory (Jake Lever will certainly be hoping so).
Belief will continue to build if they can pull that off. The top-four berth I predicted for them at the start of the year isn’t off the cards yet.
De Goey puts on de showy
It’s a credit to how impressive Jordan De Goey’s form since he returned from his injury/suspension has been that any questions over his commitment to being an AFL player have very quickly dried up.
He kicked six goals on Saturday night and has now kicked twelve in the past three weeks, proving to be a valuable part of a depleted forward setup at the Pies.
This is a Collingwood forward line that was missing Darcy Moore this week (and playing him in defence when they did have him), and has gotten a grand total of 31 minutes of footy out of Alex Fasolo and Jamie Elliott his year.
In past seasons Collingwood have sometimes just let crisis be crisis and made excuses for not performing, instead now it has lead to innovation and they’ve seen bags of goals kicked from unexpected places more than once in 2018 – and have a 5-4 record as a result.
Although Collingwood still find themselves outside the eight at the end of this round, it’d be hard to argue they haven’t improved as a side.
Whether or not that proves to be a longterm move in the upward direction may ultimately have a lot to do with whether or not they can retain two of the brightest young stars, De Goey being one of them.
I ran this poll on Twitter during the week, curious to get a popular opinion on whether or not the Pies will successfully re-sign De Goey and Moore.
Do you think De Goey and Moore will be at Collingwood next year?
— Josh Elliott (@JoshElliott_29) May 15, 2018
Clearly the voters on Twitter are no more certain about it than I am.
We know Sydney is keen on Moore and St Kilda on De Goey, and you’d expect plenty of other clubs are willing to throw their hats in the ring for either if they appear to be genuinely on the market.
We also know Collingwood have a strong interest in Tom J Lynch, though most rumours suggest they’re a few steps behind Richmond or Hawthorn in that particular race.
It’s a delicate balancing situation because the Pies will have to make good offers to rising talent in order to keep them from considering other options – can they afford to do that while also pursuing a big fish like Lynch? Can they afford not to?
Personally I’m pretty sceptical that any side will have much luck tempting De Goey away, and the same probably goes for Moore also, but watch this space.
Dangerwoodblett drops to a 1-3
Speaking as someone who tipped Geelong to win this year’s premiership at least partially on the basis of just how good their superstar midfield could be, Saturday’s game was the kind that makes you want to tear your hair out.
(Evidently this is a process that Gary Ablett has already gone through.)
We’ve been able to excuse a poor performance or two from the Cats along the way this season due to an unkind slate of injuries that has seen all of Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield, Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson miss games.
However they had just about all the key pieces of their side in place this week, and still played abysmal football – it’s just not good enough.
Dangerfield and Joel Selwood both put in strong efforts, Ablett was the odd man out. He had 17 touches but only eight kicks, and laid only a single tackle for the day.
The Cats now have a record of one win, three losses in games where all three players are in the side.
Geelong find themselves just barely in eight this week on percentage, and have a reasonable 5-4 record for the year – but many of their wins have come on the back not of their stars firing, but lesser-known players stepping up.
The big story of this season for them should be the dominant unbeatability of Dangerwoodblett, instead it’s the surprising rise and potential All Australian selection of Tom Stewart.
With all due respect to Stewart, that’s not what we want to talk about when we’re talking about the Cats this year.
Geelong, you’ve got too much talent to be playing rotten footy. Stop it. I want to see magic happen.
North Melbourne are a finals threat
When we put it to a vote at the start of the year asking The Roar readers to predict the 2018 AFL ladder, nearly three-quarters of all voters tipped North Melbourne to win the wooden spoon.
This might sound like the beginning of an ‘I told you so’ take, but it really can’t be, because I didn’t rate them much higher, predicting a finish in 17th.
Instead, nine games into the year, North Melbourne are in the top eight and look like a serious chance of still being there when the season comes to an end.
Are the ‘Roos one of the best eight teams in the AFL? You could debate that, but a soft fixture thanks to last year’s bottom-four finish means they might not have to be.
In what’s left of the season North play Brisbane and the Western Bulldogs twice, along with Fremantle, Geelong, Essendon, Gold Coast, Sydney, Collingwood, West Coast, Adelaide and St Kilda.
North only needs seven more wins this year to make finals likely, eight to make them certain. There’s probably at least six ‘gimme’ wins left in that fixture and plenty of others where the Roos will be a strong chance.
What we’ve seen from North this year is that while they may not be the most talented team in the league, they are arguably the most consistent – you know every week they are going to produce a good effort, if not a winning one.
One or two injuries could derail their season pretty quickly but they’ve had a golden run in the medical room so far this year. If that luck holds, chances are this side will be playing in September.
Shanghai needs something spicier than Port versus the Suns
I’m not one hundred per cent against the idea of putting AFL games in front of an international audience, even though I can think of several good reasons to be.
Watching the gripes and dramas of rugby union and football in Australia is more than enough to turn a person off ever wanting to see Australia’s native code become an international phenomenon.
Right now the vast majority of Australians have a chance to go see the world’s very best Aussie rules players live in action on a weekly basis without having to travel too far at all.
Rugby and football fans will never be able to same and Aussie rules fans would meet the same fate if the game was ever to trully ‘take off’ on the world stage.
Perhaps more pertinent is an argument from the perspective of resource allocation – yes, international games are all well and good, but surely clubs’ time and money could be better spent elsewhere.
As said, I’m still not entirely against it, because I like the idea that over in Shanghai, people who might otherwise never encounter the game are getting the chance to fall in love with our brand of football.
Fat chance of that though when they get sent a fixture like Port Adelaide versus Gold Coast. Poor weather is just bad luck, although it probably wouldn’t have made the game any more competitive.
This is the essential issue with playing a game overseas – you either schedule an uninteresting fixture, which is therefore unlikely to entertain a foreign audience, or you set up a blockbuster, and in doing so deny passionate fans in the game’s heartland the chance to see it live without spending thousands.
There seems to be a bit of doubt going around that Gold Coast will put their hands up for the journey again next year and given that Port are unwilling to sacrifice one of their own home games to make it happen, that might be the end of the Shanghai experiment.
I doubt anyone will miss it too much (except David Koch of course), but here’s hoping that if it does go ahead again, Shanghai is treated to something a bit more watchable.
Time for a Friday night double feature
Friday night footy has been pretty hit-and-miss so far in 2018. One week you’ll have a thriller like Sydney versus Hawthorn, the next a wet slog like Adelaide against the Bulldogs.
Certainly the AFL has shot themselves in the foot at times with this year’s fixture – the fact that Carlton have had two Friday night matches already, with more to come, continues to be a head-scratcher.
It’s easy to criticise though. Unpredictability is what makes footy great, but it’s also what makes it really difficult to decide which matches are and are not deserving of blockbuster billing.
Case in point, you would’ve thought this week’s Friday match – played between two sides who have both played in grand finals in the last two years – would have as good a chance of being a thriller as any.
The match saw a nice little milestone for and good performance by Eddie Betts, but on the whole isn’t going to get too many flashback Friday replays in years to come.
So what’s the answer? I’ve seen some suggest that the ‘floating’ fixture currently used for the final round of each season could be brought into effect over a larger portion of the year.
It’s an idea that has some merit, but risks alienating a large portion of the AFL fanbase who need to know well in advance when their team is going to play if they’re going to attend games.
Speaking as a North Melbourne fan living in Sydney, I’ve been glad to know well in advance this year that the club will play a game on my birthday and I can plan a trip around that.
Instead, I reckon the closest we can come to a solution is simply to play two games on Friday night instead of one.
The simplest thing to do would simply be the schedule two games on Friday night starting at the same time, but possibly some fiddly fun could be had with a late-starting game in Perth especially before daylight savings ends.
There’s always going to be an element of luck in terms of picking a good game to fixture on Friday night but odds are if you have two then at least one of them will probably be watchable.
Quick and nasty
– Lance Franklin coming back and looking in good nick means the Coleman Medal race is well and truly alive. He’s ten goals behind Ben Brown right now, but that’s not big deal for Buddy – he could close that gap in a single match. And of course Jack Darling, amazingly, is firmly in the mix.
– Devon Smith continues to do all the little things right and is having a really good first season for the Bombers. If things keeping going this way I reckon he’ll be the proud owner of a Crichton medal by the end of the year.
– St Kilda have now played eight games in a row without managing to kick more than ten goals in any single one of them… and they have Richmond and West Coast, the best two teams in the competition, to follow in the next fortnight. Eek.
– It’s a sign of what high regard Kevin Sheedy is held in that he could suggest playing a ‘Country game’ in the city and people would actually go ahead with the idea. Take the country game to the country, or don’t call it that.
– I’ve been a North fan long enough that the idea of Jack Ziebell challenging a ban at the Tribunal filled me foreboding despair, but what a good call it turned out to be by the club. Not only did he get off, but it seemed to spark him back into form after a quiet couple of weeks.
– Fremantle’s average result at Optus Stadium this year is a four-goal win, and their average result in games away from there is a nine-goal loss. The quirks of the fixture probably make it seem like a bigger gap than it really is, but that’s huge.
– 78 games into the season before we had our first 100-point margin. Not sure we’ve lasted longer in any recent season than we did in 2018? Sadly for Carlton it was a pretty quick end to the high spirits of getting their first win last week.
– Seems to be a controversial opinion but I actually rather like Melbourne’s clash jumper. Certainly better than a predominantly white-based one.