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Round 17 has come and gone with some results that surprised, and some that will shape September. Here’s my hot takes from the round.
Majak and Aliir give us reason to cheer
Who might have thought when the sport of Australian rules football was first invented here more than a century ago that someday two Sudanese refugees would be lighting it up on the big stage.
Both Majak Daw and Aliir Aliir have taken unique journeys to the AFL and overcome amazing odds in the process of doing so, so to see them line up on each other on Sunday was just by itself a special moment.
But for their duel to then turn into such an engrossing battle, full of twists and turns and becoming perhaps ultimately the deciding matchup of the game – this was a whole other level of watchability.
Aliir had a big impact throughout the match in defense, often proving a vital part of the Swans’ ball movement coming out of the backline.
In fact the only man who seemed capable of giving him trouble was his opposite number in Daw, who started the game well and just got stronger as it went on.
Not only did Daw wind up bagging four goals, but he just had a number of really smart moments where you got a sense of how much he has learned about the game.
It was Daw’s fourth goal that put the Roos level with the Swans with just moments remaining, and then a behind put them ahead, but there was a twist left in the tale yet.
In the final minutes of the game the Swans surged forward and just happened to find Allir there, who ran in and kicked the last goal of the game and the first of his career.
It proved to be the matchwinner and even broken-hearted North fans like myself will admit it was a pretty special moment. We may well have just seen the game of the year.
A set of pretty unique circumstances created this particular match up on this particular day, and we may not get to see anything like it again – but fingers crossed we do.
Ecstacy and agony for Eagles at MCG
It’s hard to imagine how it could have gone better for the West Coast Eagles at the MCG, but it’s also hard to imagine how it could have gone worse.
At the end of the year we might be looking back on today as the day West Coast’s premiership bid was rousingly revived, only to be suddenly stopped.
In this week: Josh J Kennedy, Jack Darling, Mark LeCras. The game was won in the rehab room – they kicked eight goals between them.
It’s the second week in a row that, following the loss of Lynden Dunn to an ACL injury, the Pies have struggled to contain opposition key forwards.
A date with Coleman Medal leader Ben Brown next weekend has got to be just a little worrying.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, those important ins look like they may be followed by an out that’s just as big next week.
Nic Naitanui went down with a knee injury during the match and while those three little letters that no one ever wants to hear haven’t been confirmed just yet, Adam Simpson said after the game that it ‘doesn’t look great’.
It was an injury to Naitanui’s right knee that kept him out for the entire 2017 season. This time, the injury is to his left.
A win like today’s – over a fellow top-four fancy and at the MCG – is exactly the kind of result that would make you think the West Coast Eagles can win the flag.
An injury like the one Naitanui is feared to have suffered is exactly the kind to make you think that the footy gods just do not favour them in 2018.
A Giant resurrection and suddenly the top eight looks settled
It wasn’t that long ago that I looked at the Giants’ upcoming fixtures and thought it was simply going to be too tough for them to navigate.
There have been a few nervous moments certainly, but over the past few weeks they’ve managed to pinch some vital wins and put themselves firmly in the top eight.
Two of the their three big guns in Josh Kelly and Toby Greene are now back, and Jeremy Cameron is not that far away.
Given Cameron is returning from suspension rather than injury one would expect he’ll hit the game in peak form and feeling like he has a point to prove.
The Giants being where they are, I feel like the top eight right now might not be too far off what we see at the end of the season.
Richmond, West Coast, Port Adelaide, Collingwood, Sydney, Melbourne, GWS, Geelong – they’ve probably been the eight best sides of the year and have all shown that they can do some damage.
North Melbourne and Hawthorn are out on percentage only but neither side feels likely to do anything more than make up the numbers in September.
The ‘Roos seem to have lost their hard-working defensive edge in the second half of the year. They’ve played in some entertaining games as a result – but lost them.
Hawthorn started the year looking strong but really have just coasted since.
Adelaide and Essendon instead might be further back from the pack but probably look like the sides most likely to have something to say about the status quo.
Both are only a win behind the Cats in eighth at the moment, but their percentage being what it is, will probably need to be a win ahead to leapfrog them on the ladder.
Sloane, Lynch loyalty something to Crow about
The regular departure of talented players from the Adelaide Crows has been one of footy’s more curious mysteries for years now, but it finally seems like the tide may be turning.
At the end of last year I said that the Crows were facing another contract crunch in 2018, but looking at it now you’d have to say they’ve handled it splendidly.
Rory Laird? Tick. Matt Crouch? Tick. Jordan Gallucci? Tick. Brodie Smith? Tick. Rory Atkins? Tick. Tom T Lynch? Tick.
And as of this week – Rory Sloane? Tick.
I’ll admit that like a lot of folks I had gotten to the point of thinking Sloane was more likely to leave the club than stay.
Not, I suppose, for any good reason other than the fact that players who do want to stay rarely leave it this late.
It’s clear that Sloane strongly felt the pull of home, which makes the decision to sign on for such a long-term deal with Adelaide all the more admirable.
And in the end he and the club were rewarded with what might prove to be a season-saving win on Thursday night.
Sloane himself had 27 touches and a goal and got a rousing applause from the crowd after he put that one through. A great moment.
Brisbane fans should expect plenty in 2019
Let me take you back in time three weeks, to one of the ‘quick and nasty’ feelpinions in my hot takes from Round 14.
“We seem to have all agreed that while Brisbane are a 1-12 side, they’re a pretty good 1-12 side. That’s fair enough but to be honest I’m still disappointed that they only have one win for the year. Just win some games, Brisbane. I’d really like to see that.”
Evidently Chris Fagan is a regular reader here and thought it was an idea worth trying. Brisbane have won three games in a row since.
There’s plenty of good things to like about Brisbane’s winning streak.
For one, two of the games they’ve won have been on two of the longest roadtrips in footy: Brisbane to Perth, and Brisbane to Launceston.
Something we often say about young teams and we’ve said plenty about Brisbane is that they tend to play much better at home. The Lions stepping up on the road is a sign of increasing maturity.
Also impressive however was their ability to just comfortably bank a win at home when everyone knew they should. Young teams often don’t mind being the underdogs, but seem to struggle with the idea of favouritism – again, it’s a sign of developing maturity.
However I’d say arguably the most satisfying aspect of the past three weeks for Brisbane has been to see two of their finest young talents kicking arse and taking names.
Cam Rayner has been a stand-out, averaging more than 17 disposals and two goals per game over the past three weeks. He could still be a late shout for the Rising Star award.
Eric Hipwood has kicked 11 goals in three weeks, sixteen in the last five. He’s absolutely justifying the pre-season hype I put on him.
Obviously it’s too late in the year now for Brisbane to do anything better than just finish off smartly, but I reckon Lions fans should start getting really excited for 2019.
Don’t say it just yet, but next year the F-word should by no means be considered beyond their capabilities.
(Oh, and they still have by a long way the highest average winning margin in the league at 52.25 points.)
Get ready for a great Brownlow night
Other than the chance for the AFL’s elite to get together and have a few drinks there hasn’t been much reason to stage a whole hullabaloo for Brownlow night the last two years running.
Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin have entered the past two counts as such absolutely undoubted favourites that any attempt to drum up drama has come off contrived at best.
In the absence of a genuine favourite, 2018 looks set to be a very different affair, and the count could very well go down to the wire.
Nat Fyfe was the nominal favourite earlier in the year until suspension ruled him out – and recent injury may now mean he would fall short of the votes required anyway.
Tom Mitchell seems to be the new pick of the litter with the bookies at least, and there aren’t too many players at Hawthorn who seem likely to steal votes from him.
But has he really been the AFL’s best in 2018? I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there are plenty of players who have been perhaps less prolific but more impactful.
Patrick Cripps, Shaun Higgins and Andrew Gaff have all been thrown around as possible contenders, and even Max Gawn seems to be favoured by a few. Jackson Macrae would be right up there too if he hadn’t gotten injured at the wrong time.
It’s a field comprised almost entirely of dark horses but if I had to pick a personal favourite (Higgins aside), I’d love to see the medal go to Rory Laird.
He may have missed a couple with injury this year but has collected 30+ touches in 12 of 14 matches this year, and totalled 40+ for the third time in 2018 this week.
Big decisions to be made as draft order starts to take shape
Last week’s loss to Brisbane made it very likely indeed, now this week’s has made it all but certain that Carlton will be holding the wooden spoon – and the No.1 draft pick – at the end of the year.
At the same time, wins to St Kilda and Brisbane have made it seem virtually certain that the Gold Coast Suns will finish in seventeenth.
This leaves both clubs with a lot to think about as they start to keep one eye – or more than that – on the post-season.
Carlton face two big decisions – do they keep the first pick in the draft and, if they do, who do they spend it on?
The Blues’ outgoing footy boss Andrew McKay this week said that Adelaide are ‘desperate’ to get a hold of the top pick in the draft with the goal of acquiring South Australian sensation Jack Lukosius.
Lukosius has been widely compared to Nick Riewoldt and has some watchers who believe he’s the best prospect the draft has seen in years.
Adelaide will have three picks in the top 20 this year up for grabs but would probably also have to consider putting a good player or next year’s first selection on the table.
A mature player would mean Carlton had to think about the deal but it’s hard to see who the Crows would want to let go of, unless the rumours about Mitch McGovern wanting out have some kind of weight to them.
On the other hand if they keep the pick, the Blues will have to decide between Lukosius and the other chief No.1 contender, Sam Walsh.
Walsh is a Victorian, renowned for his leadership, and the midfielder won the Larke Medal as the best player of this year’s U18 championships.
However if the draft was happening right now I suspect it would be Lukosius joining the Blues at the first pick, with Sam Walsh headed to the Suns at No.2.
Walsh would be the perfect fit for the Suns – they need committed, loyal players to build a fresh culture around, and he can be exactly that. Wherever he goes he shapes as a future captain.
After that it’s a little murkier, but the Suns could well have pick 3 in this draft if they’re willing to let Tom J Lynch go as a free agent.
Personally, as much as it’s tempting to push for a trade, I’d do exactly that – pick 3 in this draft is probably Ben King or Izak Rankine, and on the talent shown so far they are not the kind of players the Suns should turn down a chance at.
Quick and nasty
– Congrats to Fremantle on the win but what a bizarre game that was over at Optus Stadium. Hard to figure out what happened, but Port Adelaide would want to hope it was just a one-off aberration.
– Always an interesting talking point when Richmond loses interstate, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. Aside from Gold Coast at Metricon in a couple of weeks, they’re set to play out the rest of the season at home in Victoria.
– It didn’t cost them too much this week but Jack Viney being out again for Melbourne could turn into a big problem and quickly – his leadership seems a crucial factor in their form. Even more worrying that it is related to the same toe that’s given him trouble recently.
– Josh Schache is one of a few young key forwards who has struggled at times in his first years in the competition, but really did a lot this week to suggest he has a big future. Five goals in the last three weeks. The Dogs got him dirt cheap and other Vic clubs may be left to regret letting it happen.