The contenders flex, the also-rans diminish, and not a lot has changed

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    At face value, we didn’t learn a whole lot about the 2018 season in Round 16. But if you look hard enough, some novelty emerged.

    In eight of the nine games, the team higher on the ladder beat their opponent – and mostly quite handily. The lone exception was Thursday night’s dour sludgefest, which we will discuss momentarily. When the games go chalk in this way, it is tempting to write the nine games off as mostly superfluous to the season at large.

    That may be true. Save the latest twist in the Giants-Hawks-‘Roos waltz, the top eight looks broadly as it has for the best part of six weeks. Adelaide and Essendon remain two wins and a sizeable percentage outside of a finals berth, and every position from second through to eighth could change at a moment’s notice.

    The lone change to the top eight teams was the GWS Giants falling from sixth down to tenth, with Hawthorn taking their place. However, the results being as they were has seen some change in the final seedings. Port Adelaide nabbed Sydney’s place in the top four, while the Dees and Cats have slid up a spot to sixth and seventh respectively.

    Richmond, still, sit on top, with a win plus near-unassailable percentage gap (in the context of their season) over Collingwood and West Coast in second and third respectively.

    If this were Round 23, what a delightful set of finals match-ups we would be afforded – particularly in the lower seeds. There is still a lot to play out, but now Hawthorn is in the eight it does feel as though we’re going to spend seven weeks working out who plays who in week one of the finals.

    While the macro aspects of the league didn’t change a great deal, we still learnt a thing or two in Round 16.

    For instance: conversion matters. For all intents and purposes, Geelong took Sydney to school on Thursday night, dragging them through the figurative SCG mud in a game played almost entirely on the Cats’ terms. But the final margin was just 12 points, and the Swans trailed by just two at the nine-minute mark of the last quarter. At that time, the score read as such: Sydney 8.4.52 to Geelong 6.18.54 – the Cats having twice as many scoring shots to go with their dominance across most other aspects of the game.

    Melbourne were similarly wayward in their victory over Fremantle, although it hardly mattered in the same way it did earlier in the round. The Dees put up 37 scoring shots to 13; if Fremantle had kicked 13 straight Melbourne still would’ve won if they had converted less than a third of their scoring shots for goals. The Dees won the inside 50 count 78-28 in one of the most lopsided counts we’ve seen for half a decade. The Dockers were nowhere near it.

    Nathan Jones

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

    However, it was a golden opportunity lost for Melbourne to improve their percentage. The Dees jumped from 124.4 to 127.8 in the ladder-within-a-ladder, which is good. But had they converted scores at their season-long rate of 57 per cent, Melbourne’s percentage would have surged to 131.1 per cent, a clear eight percentage points over the third-placed (on percentage) Geelong. Those extra three or so percentage points will have come in mighty handy in the inevitable tiebreaker come Round 23.

    And the Giants, who kicked 10.15 to West Coast’s 13.8, could have held their place in the top six if just a couple of their missed chances came good. Now they sit half a game behind, with the daunting prospect of Richmond (albeit at home) to come.

    Which leads us to our second broad observation for the weekend: injuries are going to be pretty bloody important when it comes to deciding both who finishes where at the end of the season and beyond.

    Take the Giants. GWS were far from disgraced against West Coast away from home, their midfield in particular putting on a quality show of both aggressive and efficient football. But they fell down forward, as they have all throughout 2018, on account of a makeshift small-ball forward line. Things are so dire for GWS inside the stripe that Adam Tomlinson spent some time at full forward.

    West Coast is similarly weakened up forward, but have some more flex built into their list by virtue of the abilities of Jeremy McGovern. They look set to regain a number of their best players for this weekend’s crucial top four match up against Collingwood at the MCG.

    Jeremy McGovern

    (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    Richmond may be finally regressing to the mean from an injury perspective, after four of their players went down to varying degrees of severity in their win against Adelaide. Jack Graham and Nathan Broad will miss time, while it’s unclear whether Dan Butler and Daniel Rioli (reported as having groin soreness by AFL Media) will. 2018 best 22 players Reece Conca and Bachar Houli are already on the sidelines for a while yet.

    Collingwood, maintaining their second position, may lose Will Hoskin-Elliott to a medial ligament injury, and newcomer Flynn Appleby will certainly join what is a fairly large injury list at the Holden Centre.

    It may be a case of who can get their best players fit and firing together at the right time of the year. For some, that is the first week of finals. For others, that must come in the lead up in the jockeying for positions. Tuesday’s injury reports, already a must-read for football geeks, will become required material for the league at large.

    Two injury-hit teams headline what looms as a meagre slate in Round 17. Sunday’s game between Collingwood and West Coast may play a significant role in determining which avoids Richmond in the first week of finals. Also on Sunday is a suddenly-crucial game between North Melbourne and Sydney; both teams have hit the skids in recent weeks and could see their finals and top four aspirations respectively weakened with a loss.

    Outside of that, it might be a good weekend to ease off on the football fandom ahead of a much more lively Round 18.

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • Roar Guru

      July 9th 2018 @ 8:15am
      Peter the Scribe said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Four big games next week will shape things. Crows v Cats, Pies v Eagles, Nth v Swans and Giants V Tigers will tell us a lot. Can the Tigers win interstate? Does it matter if they don’t anyway as they look set for all their finals at the G.

      • Roar Guru

        July 9th 2018 @ 9:54am
        Peppsy said | July 9th 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

        Don’t dismiss Hawthorn vs Brisbane. Very real upset potential, especially given the last game between them.

        • Roar Guru

          July 9th 2018 @ 10:33am
          Peter the Scribe said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          Maybe Peppsy but it’s in Tassie yeah? Too cold for the Lions down there, Hawks easy IMO.

        • July 9th 2018 @ 10:48am
          Brian said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:48am | ! Report

          If we lose to Brisbane again irrespective of their purple patch we have no business being anywhere near September

          • July 9th 2018 @ 11:07am
            Birdman said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

            true – UTAS stadium will give the Hawks the inside run for the win but I’m not banking on a % boost which is almost as important for our top 8 chances.

            • Roar Guru

              July 9th 2018 @ 12:28pm
              Peter the Scribe said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

              Could be headed for a knockout final against the Cats Bird? That would be huge.

              • July 9th 2018 @ 4:14pm
                Birdman said | July 9th 2018 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

                wouldn’t mind our chances to be honest – we match up ok

            • July 9th 2018 @ 12:32pm
              Dan, Concord said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

              Peppy, I agree with the other guys that if we are at all serious about being a finals contender then we simply have to bury the Lions. This should not even be close for the following reasons:
              1. Travel factor
              2. It is going to be frosty with the sun making an appearance. Brisbane folk don’t even know how to spell frost or probably haven’t seen it! Unless they are looking in their freezer!
              3. Our forward line looks to have finally clicked and the Lions defense should not be able to cope . Wouldn’t mind seeing Cousins or Worpel in for Doc but suspect it’ll be a tall in for big boy.
              4. REVENGE! They absolutely pantsed us last time and we were embarrassing. We need to remedy that.
              5. We’re playing for a finals spot
              6. If that doesn’t convince you them just refer to Clarko!😁

              • July 9th 2018 @ 2:48pm
                Brian said | July 9th 2018 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

                O’Rourke did enough for another week. O’Brien the most likely to come in I would think unless it rains then maybe Langfrod or Worpel. Not sure where Birch is at would be good to see him in the VFL soon.

              • July 9th 2018 @ 4:18pm
                Birdman said | July 9th 2018 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

                not Langford p-l-e-a-s-e.

                It’s as if Will made a pact with the devil that if he could play one brilliant finals series, he was prepared to be a bog average footballer for the rest of his career.

                Not the worst deal to be honest given how good he was in 2014 flag.

              • Roar Guru

                July 9th 2018 @ 7:18pm
                Cat said | July 9th 2018 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

                Is that the Xaviar Ellis deal? Lol

            • July 9th 2018 @ 3:33pm
              Kris said | July 9th 2018 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

              Isn’t discussed often enough their record down there.

              From their last 34 they are 31 wins – 1 draw – 2 losses. That is outrageous

              8 losses in a row for Brisbane at York Park.

              • July 10th 2018 @ 3:43pm
                Kiwilion said | July 10th 2018 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

                1 of those losses was against the Lions, was it not?

    • July 9th 2018 @ 10:03am
      Kryschen said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Bachar Houli will be back this week, along with Vlastuin, and Hardwick said there was no real issue with Dan Rioli, so the Tigers are still looking very good from an injury standpoint.

      • Roar Guru

        July 9th 2018 @ 10:34am
        Peter the Scribe said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        Vlastuin is underrated IMO. He is a ripper, would love him in the Pies defence.

    • July 9th 2018 @ 10:48am
      Brian said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:48am | ! Report

      Round 23 Monday night either Melbourne v GWS or Sydney v Hawthorn surely

    • Roar Rookie

      July 9th 2018 @ 11:10am
      WCE said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

      it really is a perfect world – West Coast won, Subi thrashed Peel in the WAFL and Freo got smashed by Melbourne , you little beauty !

      • July 9th 2018 @ 11:44am
        Mr X said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:44am | ! Report

        You have very good taste indeed WCE.

        • July 9th 2018 @ 10:39pm
          Doctor Rotcod said | July 9th 2018 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

          Sadly Perth got revenge against Swans,where are you M6X6? Subiaco would probably clean up half the AFL’s bottom 10 right now.
          Heart-stopping last quarter and it shows how good the Eagles mids are getting.Having Naitanui at three-quarter power really helped.
          He should make Grundy accountable next week who might also have to spend time down back if West Coast have one or more of Darling and Kennedy in the side
          A couple of the misses by GWS were gettable but the Eagles kicked 3.5 in the last quarter,so it cuts both ways

          • Roar Rookie

            July 10th 2018 @ 5:43pm
            Mattician6x6 said | July 10th 2018 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

            Hope to see bennell get picked up, since he debuted vs SD last earlier in year the red legs have been going awesome. Not something I get to say very often.

    • July 9th 2018 @ 11:29am
      Tim said | July 9th 2018 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      Tigers will stumble this year in the fonals. Losing interstate so much is a tell. Relying on 4 qtr intensity works when you maintain it, and when the other sides don’t.

      Coasters, Sydney, a fit Collingwood, Geelong & a fit GWS all have better teams when they play 4 qtrs.

    • July 9th 2018 @ 12:00pm
      bogdan kanachini said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

      At the moment there is not a team in the top 8 Melbourne has beaten,does it matter?

      • July 9th 2018 @ 7:34pm
        Don Freo said | July 9th 2018 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

        They are impressive. They just knocked Freo out of finals contention (almost), so that’s great kudos.

        Melbourne is my tip for the flag.

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