Halfway through the AFL season, only three teams are in contention

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    We’re ostensibly halfway through the AFL season, and the pieces are moving into place.

    There look to be about five or six tiers of teams in the race for September glory, and the gap between some of them is stark.

    Of course, a number of them are well out of the race.

    West Coast, Richmond and Melbourne are the teams setting the pace at the halfway mark, not just occupying the top three spots on the ladder, but clearly playing the best football in the competition.

    The Eagles and Demons are the momentum sides, having won ten in a row and six in a row respectively off the back of scintillating ball movement, mastering their kicking games, and harnessing offensive power.

    West Coast has Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy sitting third and fourth in the Coleman medal, while Melbourne has averaged 129 points per game through their winning streak.

    Jack Darling West Coast Eagles AFL 2017 tall

    Both teams have plenty of time for a lull, which they will have, before peaking again in September.

    The Tigers play a relentless pressure and forward handball game, while also understanding the value of kicking it long into their front half. Once there, and the ball hits the deck, the small forwards can get to work.

    We know what Richmond can deliver, and if any had forgotten, they delivered a masterclass against Essendon on Saturday night.

    Sydney and Geelong occupy the next tier of teams, both clubs doing what they always do with their blend of professionalism and star power, each defensively sound but sometimes lacking potency in attack.

    As ever, they’ll finish around the 14-16 win mark, but do they have enough dynamism to win three or four finals against the best teams in the league? Recent history suggests not, and neither is seen as a particularly successful MCG team.

    Frankly, I’d be staggered if either won the flag.

    North Melbourne and Collingwood are the risers who few had contending for the top eight, let alone well entrenched there by the halfway mark of the season, a game and percentage clear of ninth.

    Both the Roos and Pies have proven themselves as super honest competitors, committing to team play which has lifted them above the levels we saw last year. Friendly draws have also helped, which is offered to them based on poor performance last year.

    Collingwood has only played two top eight sides through 11 rounds, while North has played four. Neither club has much to fear with their fixture in the second half of the year either.

    They’ve got confidence and unity, which will continue to carry them through, but will ultimately lack the class to go all the way.

    Port Adelaide, Adelaide, Hawthorn, Greater Western Sydney and Essendon make up a larger tier of clubs that share some similarities in that internal and external expectations were high coming into the season. In all five cases, we’ve been met with inconsistency – some excellent performances but also some very poor.

    It looks like the majority of these clubs won’t play finals this year, and in each case it will be rightfully seen as an abject failure.

    The Power have had mixed success integrating Steven Motlop, Jack Watts and Tom Rockliff, and are finding it hard to shake their tag for flakiness. The Crows have been decimated by injuries, but finding themselves outside the eight this deep into the season wasn’t part of the plan. They’ve now dropped three out of their last four as it all catches up with them, and are losing touch with the double chance.

    The Hawks lack a bit of midfield depth outside Tom Mitchell, and don’t quite have the class of their premiership years. James Sicily has been a revelation down back, but they aren’t a contender.

    Tom Mitchell

    GWS are another who have been cursed with injury, but this has been a common problem in recent years, and their list management has left them in a hole given no depth to handle it.

    That said, their win over Adelaide on Sunday in one of the matches of the season could spark them to rise up the ladder in the second half of the year. They are a ball movement side, but when they bring the pressure too they are far harder to break down. It’s hard to trust them to deliver it always.

    Essendon have been the disappointment of the year and with only four wins are going to have to do everything right to play finals from here. They turned the corner in Round 9 against Geelong, but were put back in their place by a powerful Richmond on Saturday night. They’ve lacked cohesion and confidence overall.

    Fremantle, Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast are poor teams that have been able to pick up wins against each other or the rabble below them, but are in various stages of rebuild.

    The Dockers have a huge gap between their top players and those on the rungs below. The Suns have started to unravel after a good start to the year, having lost their last three matches by an average of 65 points. The Dogs have gone down an unconventional path since their flag, consistently putting out the youngest team in the league.

    St Kilda, Brisbane and Carlton are the aforementioned rabble. It might be a bit unfair to lump the Lions in with the other two, given they have played some bright football. The Saints have played some of the worst football of the year, while Carlton have been irrelevant for so long it’s a surprise they haven’t been demoted to the VFL.

    As it stands, there are three primary chances for the flag, with everyone else playing catch-up. They don’t hand out premierships in June, but this is the time of year when the contenders firm up their position for a September assault.

    West Coast, Richmond and Melbourne are miles ahead.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (122)

    • June 5th 2018 @ 6:24am
      Roger of Sydney said | June 5th 2018 @ 6:24am | ! Report

      As with any election it is too early to call.

      A couple of things missing, Swans beat WCE at home, and are still to play Melbourne and Richmond, both who the Swans beat easily last year, but ingnoring that GWS at full strenght is by far the best team in the comp.

      Melbourne are yet to be truely tested lets see how the next month goes. WCE probably, Richmond probably, GWS and Swans maybe

      • June 5th 2018 @ 6:53am
        Slane said | June 5th 2018 @ 6:53am | ! Report

        My recollection of the Sydney vs Richmond game last year was that Richmond lead for 95% of that game and if it weren’t for some errant goal kicking probably would have won instead of losing by 9 points. I’m not sure how you could possibly say that the Swans beat them easily. But then saying that GWS are by far the best team and that Melbourne will probably beat WCE and Richmond (who already towelled up Melbourne once this year) shows that you are living in a fantasy land anyway. 50-50 games at best, GWS and the Swans are both a hell of a lot easier to beat this season than WCE or the Tigers.

      • Roar Guru

        June 5th 2018 @ 7:33am
        Paul D said | June 5th 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

        Maybe we could use some electoral slogans in the afl such as “A drover’s dog could have led Richmond to the 2017 premiership”

        And did

        • June 6th 2018 @ 9:10pm
          Philby said | June 6th 2018 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

          …and yet most good judges have said it was the single greatest coaching achievement in the history of AFL.

          I know who I believe.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 8:07am
        Thatsashame said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Swans best wc on round 1 when nic nat had a few minutes on the ground and the team hadn’t clicked. If it was played again the eagles would win by 6 goals minimum. Swans have been average most of the year despite their position. They won’t finish any higher than 7 or 8

        • June 5th 2018 @ 10:41am
          Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          Buddy Franklin beat west coast in round 1 the eagles are a far different proposition now. The game would be a lot closer

          • June 5th 2018 @ 11:35am
            Perry Bridge said | June 5th 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            With or without Jack Darling?

            • Roar Rookie

              June 5th 2018 @ 12:02pm
              Mattician6x6 said | June 5th 2018 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

              Even without. Game against swans wce were without jk so even if JD misses a few games I think we are fine

            • June 5th 2018 @ 12:45pm
              Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

              We still have josh Kennedy don’t worry and Liam Ryan to come back

              • Roar Rookie

                June 5th 2018 @ 12:51pm
                Mattician6x6 said | June 5th 2018 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

                Brander aswell, with chf still most important position in footy how he fell through is astounding imo

            • June 5th 2018 @ 1:27pm
              Rod said | June 5th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

              With Jack Darling but without Josh Kennedy

        • June 5th 2018 @ 4:03pm
          DTM said | June 5th 2018 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

          We’ll see in a couple of weeks when its Swans vs Eagles at SCG. Whilst I think the Swans will win, the Eagles will be coming off a week’s rest (not sure if that’s good or bad).
          The Eagles are a much improved side from last year and round one but I would not exclude Sydney from the genuine flag contenders. On their day, Geelong can beat anyone too – they have not been consistent but that is not necessary at this time of year.
          So for me, there is still at least 5 teams in it.
          I’m impressed but unconvinced about the Roo’s and whilst they have improved, I can’t see Collingwood challenging any of the top 5.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 9:07am
        Davo said | June 5th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        The Swans should maybe be with the other three sides but there seems to be something missing this year. They need Sam Reid back to help Franklin and players like Dan Hannebery and Kieran Jack to lift as they have been below par.
        There most important player is Callum Sinclair as if he goes down they are in big trouble as no immediate replacement.

        • June 5th 2018 @ 9:51am
          GoSwans said | June 5th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

          Josh Kennedy must be carrying an injury but Heeney and Parker have covered his poor form to enable the wins. Hannebery has groin problems.

          As is quite often the case the fittest teams in September will be the contender. Those with high injury lists now become the biggest chance of producing an upset to the article. I therefore wouldn’t rule out any of the best.

          • June 5th 2018 @ 10:59am
            Davo said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

            Callum Mills who I really rate will be a big out as he can cover a few positions. I’m hoping they have the depth but I can’t see it at the moment especially compared to Richmond and Melbourne.

          • June 5th 2018 @ 12:12pm
            IAP said | June 5th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

            Hannebery was good for about one season; he’s a mediocre footballer. So is Jack.

            • June 5th 2018 @ 8:37pm
              Maggie said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

              Which year of the three years in which he was named in the All Australian team was that?

        • June 5th 2018 @ 2:56pm
          Josh said | June 5th 2018 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

          The Swans are an interesting one as they lost 3 coaches in Francou, Cox, and Playfair in the off season and the new coaches have brought about a change of style as well. It’s undeniable that we haven’t clicked yet, and on our current trajectory we’re not winning the flag. But something is building in Sydney, we tried to make some adjustments last year as well but some of our younger guys weren’t ready to step up and we had to revert back to our traditional style to avoid disaster.

          Thanks to some of our lesser and/or younger players stepping up this year, we have more of a complete list than we have done for a while. It’s a matter of how quickly we can adjust. There have been signs that we’re on the way there, but at the moment I would say we’ve only played 4 or 5 great quarters of footy this season. To be not playing well and still be 8-3 after 11 rounds is a bloody luxury, but at some point in the next few weeks things are going to need to click.

          I’m not entirely sure Melbourne is the real deal, I feel like this is their season of learning how to be one of the big boys before they join the group of perennial contenders. West Coast have enough players with experience of the 2015 GF that they should be able to carry the younger guys, but at some point the kids they have will struggle, and how they respond to that as a team will be very interesting.

        • June 5th 2018 @ 4:19pm
          Christo the Daddyo said | June 5th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

          Agree on the risk around Sinclair – the Swans would be horribly exposed in the big man department if he gets injured. But if he remains fit and healthy, and Reid comes back in the second half of the season the Swans should go OK I think.

          The backline seems to be coping with Mills’ absence interestingly – I thought him getting injured was going to have more of an effect that it has. McVeigh’s return to form has been amazing. If he’s ever in a foot race he’s in trouble, but apart from that weakness he’s been brilliant this year.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 10:39am
        Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Buddy Franklin beat west coast

    • June 5th 2018 @ 8:01am
      Pablo said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

      It’s a bit early to be singing the praises of Melbourne. Yes they have been on a good run but who have they beaten in that time, bottom half teams and an Adelaide side that forgot to turn up. Melbourne have only played 3 top 8 teams, whereas the Hawks have played all 8.

      We have already seen the best of Melbourne. While Geelong and Sydney have been inconsistent they have an X factor and proven finals experience. They will have more chance of upsetting West Coast or Richmond in September than Melbourne.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 10:43am
        Nigel said | June 5th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Melbourne have beatnen the saints, the dogs, the suns, carlton, Brisbane and a banged up Adelaide missing 7 of their best 22. Although they are in good form at this stage no one is favourites everyone in the top 8 can beat anyone on their day

        • Roar Guru

          June 5th 2018 @ 7:57pm
          Dalgety Carrington said | June 5th 2018 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

          Granted WC haven’t met anyone approaching anything near form away from home. Most of their games at home have been against banged up sides and/or sides more accustomed to smaller/narrower grounds. They also have gotten themselves into some pretty hot form from this run and claimed their most impressive victory by far against Richmond.

          • Roar Rookie

            June 5th 2018 @ 8:04pm
            Mattician6x6 said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

            Love it dal : D chocolate is good for a blue mood.

    • Roar Guru

      June 5th 2018 @ 8:08am
      Peter the Scribe said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      I think you can’t argue too much with Cameron’s tiers here, with the top three clearly ahead. Sydney and Geelong seem like they will make finals yet again, like they always do, which leaves three spots in the eight for Nth, Pies and perhaps one Adelaide side.

      • June 6th 2018 @ 5:09pm
        Tricky said | June 6th 2018 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

        We’d be in the top tier if we continued that form from round 4 but it only went as far as 3 qtrs against richmond. Hopefully we can rekindle that from round 17, 4 hard games in a row there. We’ll need to be at our best if you’re prediction pre season of top 4 is to come to fruition.

    • Roar Guru

      June 5th 2018 @ 8:21am
      Cat said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Geelong will come down to who is available at the pointy end (as with every other side) and whether they can get something – anything – out of their rucks. Geelong’s defence was supposed to be its weak link but even without Taylor (3 games) and Hendo (0 games) they are the stingiest in the league. Attack remains an issue – some continuity of players would go a long way. Cockatoo, C Guthrie, Taylor, Menzel and Scooter should all be back after the bye round. I’ll honestly be surprised if Hendo plays this year.
      Chris Scott this year, for the first time, has shown he can alter the game plan to suit who he has at his disposal week-to-week (we’ve played some dour defensive footy and some really open games too).
      Does that mean Geelong should be ‘favourites’? No, but I like our chance none-the-less.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 1:04pm
        Joe said | June 5th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        Last week Henderson was put on the short team injury list, alongside Cockatoo, Guthrie, Taylor, Menzel and Selwood. He could be back around the bye too.

        • Roar Guru

          June 5th 2018 @ 3:01pm
          Cat said | June 5th 2018 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

          I’m aware of what the club is saying. I am also aware he has missed all preseason and has had 3 operations on his knee this year so far. He’ll need 2–3 solid weeks of training then another month of VFL before he’ll have any fitness base or touch. One more set back and he’d be gone.

    • Roar Guru

      June 5th 2018 @ 8:47am
      Rick Figjam said | June 5th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Thanks for the article, Cam.

      Not too sure about this analysis.

      WCE, Richmond and Melbourne (Lever will be damaging) also have the least amount of injuries. It would be interesting to see them tested, but let’s hope for the games sake, no further teams endure mass casualties.

      Like the Bulldogs in 2016, I see quite a few teams managing their way to the finals just as the cavalry arrives. GWS, Geelong and the Crows will be the three most likely to shake things up should this be the case.

      On Geelong, Scott is doing exceptionally well in mitigating against his undermanned forward line and defence. He’s locked the entire back half of the ground down with an exceptional midfield zonal defence and utilisation of his sweepers.

      It’s not that difficult (in any game) to limit the damage on the scoreboard though, but you have to be able to score yourself, i.e. two-way football — this is where the Cats may come unstuck as they open up their attack once reinforces arrive.

      Henderson and Taylor will add the much-needed one-on-one defending required when launching centre corridor counterattacking football while mitigating against the turnover.

      Collingwood adds some spice for two reasons:

      1. They’re playing outstanding football; and
      2. They too are an MCG tenant!

      The latter will be tested this weekend against Melbourne and will most certainly worry the likes of Richmond should the Pies gain further momentum and form. Conversely, it’s going to be very difficult for every other side outside of Melbourne for obvious reasons.

      Certainly no laydown misère at this stage.

      • June 5th 2018 @ 12:46pm
        Tom M said | June 5th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        My Pies had Richmond worried up to 3 quarter time. Then Richmond went o anther level and smashed us by 7 goals.

        • Roar Guru

          June 5th 2018 @ 1:05pm
          Rick Figjam said | June 5th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

          That was many rounds ago.

          Saint Kilda flogged Richond by close to 100 points this time last year if memory serves me correct.

        • June 6th 2018 @ 5:13pm
          Tricky said | June 6th 2018 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

          Was that when the Pies went 2 down on the bench?

    • Roar Rookie

      June 5th 2018 @ 9:02am
      Mattician6x6 said | June 5th 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Wce are ticking along nicely and at this point deserve to be in the position they are and unless something catastrophic happens I’d imagine with Richmond will finish top two. Melbourne are surging and sometimes it’s not who you beat but how you’ve beaten teams that us the measure. Sydney and Geelong both ha similar weakness in a lack of ruck firepower, we all know that is the cats weakness and though I love the big sinc he will be no match for gawn, nic/lycett or nankervis come finals. Kangas are interesting with that draw, wouldn’t surprise if they manage finishing top four but will wait till after this weekend to really measure that likelihood.

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