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Six hot takes from AFL Round 16

Willie Rioli of the Eagles celebrates a goal during the round 16 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Optus Stadium on July 8, 2018 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Editor
8th July, 2018
115

Another weekend of footy in the books and plenty to talk about. Here’s my hot takes from Round 16.

So long Cyril, but we’ve got plenty of Riolis left to relish
More often than not when an AFL star retires we have a decent amount of time to get used to the idea.

Most players, after all, don’t retire until at least some way into their 30s, and many often announce it well before the end of the season.

This allows the chance of a languorous, lovely goodbye – and that’s something we haven’t gotten the chance to do with Cyril Rioli.

The little Hawks legend stepped out of the game this week at the young age of 28, but with four premierships, three All Australian guernseys and a Norm Smith medal under his belt.

Because of the player being who he was and the circumstances being what they were there’s been plenty who’ve paid tribute to him over the course of the week and I won’t spend too much time trying to do what many others have already done better.

Suffice to say that Cyril was the kind of player who, in an era where footy could sometimes be unsociable or lethargic, was never anything less than the exact opposite.

I will say this, too: I reckon that if there is something that would put a smile on Cyril Rioli’s face as he leaves the game, it’s that his family name will live on for plenty of time to come. Certainly puts one on mine.

He was not the first Rioli to grace our great game, after all, and certainly won’t be the last.

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We’ve all seen how good Daniel Rioli is. Already a premiership player. Outside of Richmond’s ‘big four’ he might be the best to watch at the Tigers.

And then on Sunday night we got to see a bit of what a nifty little talent Willie Rioli – who debuted just four months ago – is.

Two goals, including a crucial one late to give the Eagles a seven-point buffer, was a vital performance in a win that has kept West Coast in the top four another week.

Keep an eye out too in the next couple of years for Maurice Rioli junior – eligible for the 2020 draft, and a potential father-son at Richmond or Fremantle, or could even choose to go to Essendon as an academy player (by way of the Tiwi islands).

Cyril, what a player. Rioli, what a name. We’ll miss the first one, but we’ve got plenty more to look forward to from the latter.

Willie Rioli

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Injury crisis can’t derail Collingwood, Bombers finals hopes all but blown
At the start of the year Collingwood’s lack of tall players looked like the biggest flaw in their list – so if you’d told me that all of Ben Reid, Darcy Moore and Lynden Dunn would be lost to longterm injury at some point or another, I’d have assumed their season was over.

For Adam Treloar to pull the incredibly rare double-hamstring is just rotten luck on top of that, while Daniel Wells being ruled out for the season due to a foot injury is as sad as it was predictable.

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But in the wake of all these injuries… Collingwood have done fine, just fine, and continued to do so on Sunday at the MCG.

A revitalised Essendon surely did give them much more of a challenge than when the two clubs last met on Anzac Day earlier this year.

The Dons held the lead for most of the third quarter and partway into the last, but in the end the Magpies pulled away for a win that will keep them in the top two at the end of the round.

While they got the win, Collingwood should probably be a little wary of the fact that they conceded five goals to the Shaun McKernan-Mitch Brown pairing.

In the next three weeks they’ll have to contend with the likes of Ben Brown, Jack Riewoldt, and perhaps Josh J Kennedy – and can’t afford to let them run amok.

Meanwhile, for Essendon, it now appears that finals is probably going to be just a bit too much to ask for.

They’re not going to make up the massive percentage gap they have with the top eight before the end of the year so they probably need to make up about three wins on the likes of Hawthorn and North Melbourne to be any kind of chance.

That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it’s just not very likely – which is kind of a shame really, as they’ve been quite good in recent weeks, and might’ve been exciting to watch in September.

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Steele Sidebottom

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Sydney’s midfield could really use a Tom Mitchell
Sydney went into Thursday night’s clash at the SCG as the nominal favourites, but ultimately were a bit lucky not to come away from the match being thoroughly embarrassed.

Geelong’s inaccuracy in front of goal is something we’ll talk about more later, but what’s notable is that while the scoreboard was ultimately close, the Cats decisively won the midfield battle.

They finished the game +11 in contested possessions, +2 in the clearances, +31 in disposals – perhaps not huge differentials, but it equated to +13 inside 50s and +6 marks inside 50.

Over the years Sydney have managed to consistently have one of the best midfields in the competition, usually without having one of the very best individual midfielders in the game.

Josh P Kennedy, Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker have all flirted with absolute superstardom somewhere along the road, but none has ever taken a season by the horns the way we’ve see Nat Fyfe, Patrick Dangerfield or Dustin Martin do.

Instead Sydney’s midfield success has been built on strong contribution across the board – but in 2018, they aren’t quite carrying the load they once did.

Neither Kennedy or Parker is having an especially good or bad year, but Hannebery in particular is the one who has Swans fans scratching their heads.

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He has played 11 games this year and cracked the 20-disposal mark less than half of them and hasn’t kicked a goal (or even a behind) all season.

He was out early with a calf strain on Thursday night and is expected to miss about three weeks – fingers crossed it will allow him to refocus himself and return to his best footy in what’s left of the year.

The improvement of Isaac Heeney this year has most covered for the drop-off of Sydney’s other midfield talent, but without him on Thursday night they were exposed.

And it got me thinking: gee, wouldn’t they love to have a player like Tom Mitchell in the side right now?

I’m sure there’s a wide variety of reasons why Mitchell left but from a perspective outside the four walls it always just seemed like he wasn’t one of John Longmire’s most loved.

Longmire has a lot to hang his hat on in his coaching career – no other coach in the league can match his perfect record of playing finals every year – but the fact Tom Mitchell never reached his full potential in red and white is a mark against him.

Maybe if Mitchell still was with the Swans he could be the difference between them seeming to be thereabouts, and being at the very top. Maybe, maybe not.

Tom Mitchell Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

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North needs more from small forwards
North Melbourne only had a single win in the last month coming into Sunday’s game, so fans aren’t going to be too upset with a 37-point victory over Gold Coast.

The win has put North back level on points with the lower section of the top eight, held out only by a slim percentage margin.

The disappointing aspect of the game though was that the Roos failed to make up that percentage gap by picking up the big-margin win that was there for the taking.

North had +90 disposals and +26 inside 50s and really should have taken the opportunity to bank a ten-goal win.

What it exposed is that without multiple tall forward options to kick to, North’s forwardline just doesn’t have enough players who can impact the scoreboard.

Jarrad Waite and Mason Wood are both sitting on the sidelines due to injury, and Brad Scott opted to play Ben Brown as the sole tall target in a smaller lineup.

Nick Larkey, who has been a dominant goalkicker at VFL level for the last year and a half, must surely be wondering what more he could do.

Richmond of course are well known for the fact that they run a one-tall forward line and it seems to work for them.

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Crucial to that is the fact that they have a number of dangerous small forwards who can put the pressure on but also know how to hit the scoreboard.

North’s smaller types in the forward line – Kayne Turner, Nathan Hrovat, Shaun Atley – just aren’t kicking goals the way they need to.

The short-term answer for North is to get another tall target in. Hopefully Waite or Wood or both is able to return soon.

The longer-term answer – given that their appeals to Jordan De Goey have fallen short – might be to target some moneyball smalls in the offseason.

Jamie Elliott and Jeff Garlett seem like the kind of players who would be gettable at Arthur Daley Clearance House style prices – why not make a call?

They could add a new dimension to the forward line and help the ‘Roos take another step forward.

Ben Brown North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

Wooden performance leaves Carlton holding the spoon
In their past two matches before this weeks we saw the Carlton Blues return to playing a more defensive sort of game, looking to frustrate their opponents and prevent blowout losses.

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Against Collingwood, Carlton conceded 53 inside 50s but only allowed 11 goals. Against Port Adelaide they conceded 64 inside 50s, but only 13 goals.

These were sides that the Blues, realistically, were never expected to beat. Going on the defensive against them kept Carlton in the match but arguably never really put them in a position to win.

Still, it can be good fun to keep the good teams nervous, as the Blues certainly did in these matches, and every now and then you crack through for a victory.

Against the Brisbane Lions on the other hand Brendon Bolton smelled a win and couldn’t resist flicking the switch and telling his boys to attack.

It went… poorly. Carlton actually came out on top in the inside 50 count, but seemed to give up all their defensive intent to do so.

While the Blues did ultimately lay nine more tackles than their opponents, they had 145 less disposals, the vast majority of them uncontested.

The Blues simply weren’t putting in enough defensive effort to win the ball back off Brisbane and the Lions, free to do as they pleased, torched them for it.

Brisbane ran on eighteen goals from 49 inside 50s, by far Carlton’s worst defensive performance in the past three weeks.

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The Blues could only manage seven goals from 51 and really it continues to baffle that they don’t feel they have room in the team for Harry McKay.

The end result is that Carlton will almost certainly finish the year having collected the wooden spoon for the fifth time in 17 seasons.

To put things in perspective, no other side in the league has finished on the bottom of the ladder more than twice in that same period of time.

If the Blues were to knock off St Kilda and Gold Coast in the next couple of weeks there might be some hope of avoiding the cutlery, but it seems unlikely on the back of a performance like this one.

A bit ironic really that there happened to be no less than five players on the field who were No.1 draft picks themselves – Luke Hodge, Marc Murphy, Matthew Kreuzer, Jacob Weitering and Cam Rayner.

It looks like the Blues will be the ones tasked with choosing just who the best prospect in this year’s draft class is.

Most see it as boiling down to a race in two: South Australian key forward Jack Lukosius, or Victorian midfielder Sam Walsh.

Walsh by all reports is exactly the kind of player you’d want to bring into your club on basis of personality and commitment. He could be a future captain and the kind of guy whose loyalties you’ll never have to question. And very, very good at playing footy, of course.

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Lukosius, on the other hand, is considered by some to be the best key forward prospect we’ve seen in a long time – but you can be that if an interstate side drafts him, Port Adelaide and Adelaide will be watching like a hawk (or, more aptly, a Crow) from day one.

Patrick Cripps

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

Cats, Demons miss chance to boost percentage
I’m sure that if you had gone around in the middle of the week and offered Geelong fans a 12-point win and Melbourne fans a nine-goal win then both groups would’ve snapped it up in seconds.

In the end though at the end of the round it’s hard not to look back on the respective scorelines and feel like – despite getting the four points – both clubs missed an opportunity.

Geelong put up a head-scratching 8.23, Melbourne 13.24. The Cats can at least take some solace from the fact that six of their minor scores were rushed – only one of Melbourne’s was.

As things stand, both of these clubs find themselves inside the top eight, but the line by which they’re making the cut is not very comfortable.

They’ve both got a percentage advantage on both Hawthorn and North Melbourne right now, and that’s why they find themselves in sixth and seventh rather than eighth and ninth.

Melbourne actually have the second-best percentage in the league, Geelong the third – but they missed a chance this week to really put some distance between themselves and the rest.

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Will either club be left to regret it? We’ll know in seven weeks’ time – but Melbourne in particular should be aware of just how painful missing out on percentage can be.

Simon Goodwin Melbourne Demons AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Quick and nasty
– The Brisbane Lions may have only won three games this year, but their average winning margin is more than 58 points (comfortably the highest in the league). Probably don’t read too much into it, but a sign of what they’re capable of.

– Hard to believe that North Melbourne were set to drop Paul Ahern two weeks ago only for him to be saved by a late change. Only five games at AFL level but makes a strong case to be recognised as the club’s best young talent.

– Richmond vs Adelaide at the MCG really did feel a fair bit like a carbon copy of last year’s grand final, albeit with Jayden Short filling in the role of Bachar Houli. Can’t be good for the mental state of the Crows.

– Luke Hodge has clearly had an influence at the Brisbane Lions, and Gary Ablett has played some good ones for Geelong, but Devon Smith – 31 disposals and 13 tackles on Sunday in a losing effort – is recruit of the year, not a doubt about it.