Six hot takes from AFL Round 21

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Footy is a game to break your heart sometimes. Unfortunately, Round 21 was the kind of round to remind you of that.

    With just a fortnight left to go there’s a number of teams who now find themselves at their lowest ebb, suffering from a complete lack of momentum at a time in the season where momentum is everything.

    Geelong were tested on the big stage for the second time in two weeks, and were once again found wanting – not by too big a margin, but losing is losing.

    Port Adelaide, having sworn to take the next step towards premiership contention, suffered a demoralising deja vu defeat, compounded by serious injury – Charlie Dixon done for the year, Paddy Ryder re-injuring his hip.

    GWS, though they continue to notch the wins, picked up four fresh injuries concerns to have headaches over, after finish last week so wounded as to be playing two men short in the final quarter.

    Collingwood got through a Saturday night win over the Brisbane Lions unscathed, but copped another blow at the lower levels as Ben Reid reinjured his hamstring.

    North Melbourne, after having all the results fall their way on Saturday, feebly failed to defend their finals chances against a Western Bulldogs side that had nothing but pride to play for.

    Melbourne burned chance after chance in a crucial encounter at the MCG against an opponent they arguably should beat, not that it comes close to earning a place in their top ten disappointing days of the decade.

    But the most gut-wrenching moment of Round 21 without a doubt was what unfortunately looks like another ACL injury to Sydney’s Alex Johnson, two games into his comeback from nearly six years on the sidelines.

    I’m an optimist most of the time, but won’t do Johnson and Sydney the disrespect of trying to pretend there’s a silver lining. Sometimes luck is bad, sometimes life is cruel.

    Alex Johnson

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    Of course, bad news for some sides can be good news for others – in particular, Richmond, whose odds to go back-to-back grow ever shorter, and Hawthorn, who look set to glide into a top-four finish.

    On one hand it’d be easy to say that Richmond’s premiership defence is reaching Stephen Bradbury levels of ludicrousness as would-be contenders fall over themselves in a race to, well, fall over.

    On the other one has to pay tribute to how their side has evolved this year – they were a dominant September side last time around, but a whole different beast in 2018.

    Dustin Martin and Alex Rance guided them to victory last year but it’d be fair to say neither is quite at the same level this year that they were last.

    Instead Jack Riewoldt has been the one playing like the marquee man. It may have been against a 17th-placed side, but his dominant performance this week put his season on the map in a way it really should have been a while ago.

    In 2018 not only is he averaging his most goals per game in six years, he’s also averaging his most inside 50s per game across the length of his entire career.

    Just imagine what life will be like with Tom J Lynch drawing away one of the oppositon’s best defenders for him next year (presumably) and giving him even more space to work in. Equalisation, yippee.

    At the risk of putting the mozz on them – or perhaps intentionally trying to do so – the Tigers would have to bugger things up pretty badly from here not to be celebrating another flag in seven weeks’ time.

    Jack Riewoldt

    (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

    As for the Hawks, their biggest asset is that sense of confidence that no doubts derives from the presence in their team of multi-premiership veterans, mentored by a multi-premiership coach.

    I tipped them to beat the Cats this week not because I think they’re the more talented team, but because I could rely on them having their heads screwed on for 120 minutes (and cannot do so for Geelong).

    A fun little fact for you is that despite having been in the competition together for 110 seasons, Richmond and Hawthorn have never played each other in a finals match – perhaps 2018 will finally be the year.

    West Coast and Sydney (Johnson’s injury aside) should both also be feeling pretty chipper with their results this week, though neither is out of the woods just yet – more on that later.

    With September on the horizon I’ve got my fingers tightly crossed that something is going to come along to change the season’s momentum and throw a few things back into flux.

    Maybe GWS or Collingwood can have some good news from the doctor just for once, maybe Geelong can realise they’ve got three all-time greats in the middle and play like it, maybe Josh J Kennedy or Lance Franklin can grab the season by the horns.

    Maybe – and if we can have any single favour from luck, let it be this – a miracle will happen and Alex Johnson’s injury will be something less than what it looked like.

    But if not, let those of us who are devastated by devastated, and let those who are joyous feel joy. Footy gives and takes away. Let’s hope the wheel is always turning.

    Jeremy McGovern

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Nine left in finals race
    North Melbourne’s capitulation against the Western Bulldogs has made it all but certain that the ‘Roos will miss out on September, and leave us with nine teams genuinely left in the race for finals.

    Sure, you could make mathematical arguments for Essendon or North Melbourne to get in, but both would need a serious of events bordering on impossible to come together – it’s just not going to happen.

    Geelong are the team who find themselves on the outer right now, but with fixtures against Fremantle and Gold Coast are Kardinia to close out the year seem almost certain to bank two wins and put heavy pressure on those just above them.

    Hawthorn, Collingwood and Sydney all need to bank just one more win to make September certain. Hawthorn should do so next week against St Kilda, Collingwood in the final round against Fremantle (if not against Port Adelaide in Round 22), Sydney have it a bit tougher playing the Giants and Hawks to close out the year.

    Melbourne, too, probably only need to bank one more win – while they’re four points behind the Hawks et al, their mammoth percentage is almost worth another win it itself.

    A wounded West Coast next week presents a great opportunity, but they’ll be in dire straits if they blow it.

    Port Adelaide probably look the most vulnerable – they really must win their last two if they’re going to stay ahead of the Cats, and with Collingwood and Essendon to come in the last fortnight, that looks far from certain.

    Ken Hinkley

    (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

    Where has early-season Jack Darling gone?
    Let me take nothing away from what was a remarkably entertaining victory by the West Coast Eagles on Saturday – it was a brilliant game of footy as a spectator, and the four points must have fans feeling a lot better after navigating a tricky week off the field.

    However while the Eagles got the win, I’d say the manner in which they did so did little to convince me that they are going to be capable of winning a flag with the 22 they’re currently putting on the park.

    They desperately need one of two things to happen – either Josh J Kennedy comes back in and fires, or Jack Darling rediscovers the form that saw him dominate the competition earlier this year even with his partner-in-crime on the sidelines.

    On Saturday Darling could manage only four kicks and 0.1 on the scoreboard. Credit must be given to Port Adelaide’s defense, but West Coast need more from him if they’re going to be a serious September threat.

    O’Meara still has the moves like Jaeger
    The Jaeger O’Meara trade at the end of the 2016 was one of the most dramatic we’ve seen unfold, as the Hawks ultimately bent over backwards to seal an eleventh-hour deal with Gold Coast for a player who’d not been seen at AFL level in two years.

    Sceptics were not hard to find, and let’s be honest, no neutral fan would’ve been too sorry to see Hawthorn burned after having won three of the previous four premierships.

    Unfortunately for lovers of schadenfreude but fortunately for those who appreciate fine footballers, Jaeger’s 2018 season has made it clear he’s going to be a star player at Hawthorn for years to come, with a match-sealing goal on Saturday the exclamation point.

    He’s probably become more of an inside-leaning player than he was in his first two years in the comp, a bit like Chris Judd in his later Carlton years – but, also like Judd, he’s a damn fine one.

    Jaeger O'Meara

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    Stephenson vs Witherden put on a Rising Star show
    If those judging the Rising Star Award in a few weeks time decide to look back on this week’s game as a guide on which of Jaidyn Stephenson or Alex Witherden to back, they’ll have a hard time deciding.

    Stephenson finish the night with 25 disposals (19 kicks), eight marks, five inside 50s and a pair of goals. Witherden had 30 touches (22 kicks), 11 marks, six rebound 50s and a goal assist.

    How to pick it? For mine, Stephenson has the star power, Witherden has more complete body of work – so it probably comes down to which of those you think is more important.

    I’d liken it to the close decision between Marcus Bontempelli and Lewis Taylor a few years back. Taylor had done more for the year, but everyone could tell Bont was going to be a bonafide superstar.

    That seemed like a close call then, and seems like anything but now. Will Stephenson vs Witherden wind up going the same way? Hard to say – both have bright futures.

    What does St Kilda need at the draft?
    St Kilda’s season is well and truly over – has been for probably about 19 weeks – and the offseason will be a crucial one.

    As I did last year, I’ll be breaking down every club’s list and previewing their trade and draft strategies once the home-and-away season ends, so keep an eye out for that.

    But it’s curious to think for now what kind of player they might look to be targetting when the 2018 draft rolls around.

    Sam Walsh would be an ideal recruit – their list could use more leadership young and old, and he will provide that. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be there.

    Izak Rankine would be my next pick for them – a dynamic excitement machine who can add some creativity and watchability to what is currently a fairly mashed-potatoes midfield.

    However the Saints may well wind up being in a position where it’s hard not to take one of the taller players on the board – likely a choice of Max or Ben King.

    Max has been rehabbing his ACL injury using the Saints facilities, so they’ll have more intel on him that any other club, but do they want another key forward?

    Ben might be the better choice, as they can mould him to be their defensive lynchpin rather than risk him pushing Bruce or McCartin out – but a dynamic midfielder should be No.1 on the shopping list.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (166)

    • Roar Rookie

      August 12th 2018 @ 7:28pm
      Mattician6x6 said | August 12th 2018 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

      Josh you haven’t been convinced by wce at all this year so que sera sera
      Re darling you are talking of the bloke with 4 last week vs Alex Pearce, the darling who took a clutch mark for goal this week who also drew the attention of the port defence creating opportunities for others…..
      Well we are second and I’ll await your reasoning as to why Melbourne will win later in week.

    • August 12th 2018 @ 7:45pm
      PeteB said | August 12th 2018 @ 7:45pm | ! Report

      And the thug acts of the week go to Nathan Brown and Tex Walker. Hopefully they both kept rubbed out for at least 4 games so as to make it impact on these players and clubs next season. The AFL needs to show its serious about stamping out unnecessary reckless and violent acts that are intended to cause injury.

      • August 13th 2018 @ 10:18am
        Macca said | August 13th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        PeteB – I think the real test of the AFL’s willingness to crack down on the “thug acts” as you call them will be how the treat Cale Hooker.

        He swung a right hook into a players head while he was lying on the ground – if he doesn’t get weeks despite the lack of “damage” then the chances of seeing more incidents like the Gaff/Brayshaw one from last week are significantly increased.

        • Roar Rookie

          August 13th 2018 @ 11:06am
          Mattician6x6 said | August 13th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          He got a $1500 fine for that Macca

          • August 13th 2018 @ 11:24am
            Macca said | August 13th 2018 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            thanks 6X6 – I missed that.

            But that is a terrible response from the MRP – the AFL really should consider appealing (if it is not too late). It is a real missed opportunity.

            • August 13th 2018 @ 2:13pm
              Rissole said | August 13th 2018 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

              They couldn’t do much about it this year as at least 10 players have been fined for similar acts. He would successfully challenge it citing precedent.
              They will have to start going hard on it next year.

              • August 13th 2018 @ 2:17pm
                Macca said | August 13th 2018 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

                I would have at least liked to have seen them try.

        • August 13th 2018 @ 12:07pm
          Don Freo said | August 13th 2018 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

          He’s not called ‘Hooker’ for no reason.

    • August 12th 2018 @ 8:01pm
      Birdman said | August 12th 2018 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

      Might be a tad early to mention O’Meara and Judd in the same sentence but I’m loving the deafening silence from those many fl*gs who predicted that trade would damn the Hawks to a decade of irrelevance.

      LMAO

      • August 12th 2018 @ 9:07pm
        truetigerfan said | August 12th 2018 @ 9:07pm | ! Report

        Very, very happy to see O’Meara playing good footy. Still plenty of upside too. Hope he delivers on his early promise and becomes the gun he was always destined to be.

        • Roar Guru

          August 13th 2018 @ 1:08pm
          Peter the Scribe said | August 13th 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

          Especially if he is the difference in a Rich v Hawks GF ay TTF?

      • Roar Rookie

        August 13th 2018 @ 3:20am
        New York Hawk said | August 13th 2018 @ 3:20am | ! Report

        My suspicion is that after a second proper preseason next year, O’Meara will break out and be a superstar of the competition. He will have complete fitness and complete confidence and it will be a beautiful thing to see.

      • August 13th 2018 @ 4:37am
        Mitcher said | August 13th 2018 @ 4:37am | ! Report

        I m going to jump on this general topic, and say lines like “equalisation yay” in the article (love you work Josh but this one grates me).
        The whole concept that without utter, pure, equality for all is a genuine goal is odious.
        We might as well run 1 through 18 teams for the cup on an 18 year cycle and skip the footy and preparation if that’s the case.
        Enforced equality is absurd.
        Better teams, better operations attract better players and better results.
        Of course some areas can be balanced out. But all the bleating abut any perceived advantage of high performing clubs is painful.

    • August 12th 2018 @ 8:11pm
      Swannies said | August 12th 2018 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

      Richmond go from strength to strength and it’s great to see. They had a long 37 year wait for a flag and look set to go back to back. No one can probably stop them now except themselves. Ready to take over from Hawks as the new afl powerhouse.

      Hopefully the Hawks and Swans can meet in September again.

    • Roar Guru

      August 12th 2018 @ 8:33pm
      hairy fat man said | August 12th 2018 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

      The Demons should relocate to Thredbo.

      • August 12th 2018 @ 10:25pm
        Toorak Tractor said | August 12th 2018 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

        Well there goes my new Porsche, that daddy said, he would buy me if Royal Melbourne made the finals.

        Personally I think Hotham should be our new home. It is with deep regret that I announce that my butler will be microwaving my membership, as Toorak Village and High Street Armadale will not be adorned with red and blue streamers come finals.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 13th 2018 @ 7:50am
        Lord Dunsborough of the MCC said | August 13th 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        We already have old boy. Ski season is coming to a premature end though, the vast numbers of Range Rovers swelling the carparks up here have brought on a premature melt

        Still, going to water at the first sign of heat is a very Fuchsia thing to do of late.

        • August 14th 2018 @ 7:19am
          Chris said | August 14th 2018 @ 7:19am | ! Report

          Chicken and champagne in the MCG or Flemington car park this year? I think both from September onwards…

    • August 12th 2018 @ 8:33pm
      Matto said | August 12th 2018 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

      Didn’t take long for the Darling bashing to come back. Symptom of looking at just stats probably.
      The way eagles have moved the ball, especially into the 50 was pretty ordinary in tassy and Adelaide. Darling is playing well enough.
      It’s the wider grounds that suit them now.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 12th 2018 @ 8:46pm
        Mattician6x6 said | August 12th 2018 @ 8:46pm | ! Report

        Matto it’s hilarious, darling could kick 50 goals in a match and the part time viewers would picking some sh#te to bag him over.

        • August 13th 2018 @ 7:31am
          IAP said | August 13th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

          My bagging of him is based on him being an average player for 160-odd games. Playing well half a dozen times on his home ground doesn’t make him the superstar that West Coast supporters want him to be. In fact, if he can only play well at home then he’s definitely not a superstar, or even a good player. The good players influence the game no matter where they play, even if they don’t have a better forward to take the best defenders.
          Put Darling on the best defenders and he disappears. He’s average at best, no doubt about it.

          • Roar Rookie

            August 13th 2018 @ 10:31am
            Mattician6x6 said | August 13th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            Well darling drew the port talls that allowed gov to be manned by Ebert, something you’ve casually payed no regard to, he also dragged two defenders away from the space allowing other wce players to get opportunity.
            Very limited if you think a players worth is measured by your kpi

            • August 13th 2018 @ 11:40am
              IAP said | August 13th 2018 @ 11:40am | ! Report

              The best players aren’t used as decoys. Mediocre players are. I’m not going to come on here and say he’s wonderful just to appease you.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 13th 2018 @ 12:25pm
                Mattician6x6 said | August 13th 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                Alright mate, Riewoldt, buddy, jk never contend with multiple defenders sometimes scoring less but allowing others opportunity.
                You lost this last year when you said stringer was better so suck it up.

              • August 13th 2018 @ 1:32pm
                IAP said | August 13th 2018 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

                I didn’t lose anything. I don’t have my knickers in a twist because some random on the internet won’t say a player from my team is great.
                Darling isn’t good enough to polish the boots of any of the players you’ve mentioned there.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 13th 2018 @ 4:56pm
                Mattician6x6 said | August 13th 2018 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

                So lucky for wce they have one of those three then.
                As I’ve said before you may think a player who kicks 40+ a year is mediocre I’ll remain to think your opinion is hohum

        • August 13th 2018 @ 12:23pm
          Slane said | August 13th 2018 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

          I think just kicking 50 goals in a season should suffice. Am I right in saying he hasn’t managed to crack 50 since his first or second season? I remember thinking ‘jeeze this kid is going to tear the competition apart’ after watching one of his earlier games.

          • Roar Rookie

            August 13th 2018 @ 4:59pm
            Mattician6x6 said | August 13th 2018 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

            Kicked 40+ in all other seasons and clears the corridor for jk. He does more than enough.

            • August 13th 2018 @ 5:36pm
              Slane said | August 13th 2018 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

              Probably not all that many teams with 2 tall forwards both cracking 50 goals a game every season.

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