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Eight talking points from AFL Round 3

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7th April, 2019
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Another round of footy, another batch of talking points from the week gone by! Let’s jump right into it.

Brisbane are the AFL’s best team to watch
Three weeks in and it’s official: there’s no better team to watch in footy than the Brisbane Lions.

Being scheduled opposite a grand final rematch on Saturday night is a pretty tough deal. Most people were going to pick the Collingwood vs West Coast matchup that we knew would be a good contest, and it didn’t disappoint.

But the concurrent game between Brisbane and Port Adelaide at the Gabba had it beat as a spectacle after a grandstand finish that the saw the Lions – for the second time in two weeks – snatch a win in the final minutes.

After leading for the first three quarters Brisbane nearly let the match slip, allowing Port to kick four of the first five in the last quarter and open up a goal-and-a-half lead.

Like some others I didn’t tune in to watch the match until the game at the MCG ended, and changed channel just in time to see Lachie Neale put the Lions within a goal with about six minutes left on the clock.

The seconds anxiously ticked by until the big moment: Oscar McInerney clunking a mark up forward and kicking truly to put the Lions back in front.

Not content to simply hold on for victory, Brisbane laid down two more quick goals from Eric Hipwood (his sixth) and Charlie Cameron to ultimately make it something of a comfortable 16-point margin.

It’s not just the fact they’ve had two great finishes in as many weeks that’s making Brisbane an exciting side to watch. It’s the way they play the game.

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So many young sides as they mature seem to struggle with having the confidence to make the most of their talents. They’ve been taught ‘don’t lose’ rather than ‘win’. Not this Brisbane side – they play with no fear.

Their recruiting – both in terms of the players they’ve taken with their draft picks, and those they’ve lured from rival clubs – might be the best in the league over the past couple of years.

Making it all merrier is this feeling of emerging from what has been such a lengthy and difficult period for the club.

Nothing summed it up better than Mitch Robinson’s reaction of stunned disbelief to his teammate Lincoln McCarthy’s great grab in the third quarter.

One of the league’s more expressive characters, Robinson’s face said what we’re all thinking: I can’t believe what I’m seeing, but I like it.

Mitch Robinson

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

North fans feeling the ten-year itch
If you had forewarned North Melbourne fans before the 2019 season began that in Round 3 we’d lose to one of last year’s top four sides by 16 points – hey, we’d have certainly been disappointed, but it would hardly be cause for revolution.

Yet that’s exactly what’s on Kangaroo lips at the moment. Why?

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Certainly an 0-3 start to the season doesn’t help. Brisbane and Hawthorn are fairly good sides who North have been relatively competitive against, but the Round 1 thrashing at the hands of Fremantle was an absolute debacle.

Still, at the end of the day I suspect fans’ discontent doesn’t come directly from the performances themselves, but instead just the feeling that we’ve seen this all before.

This is the tenth year that Brad Scott has been the coach of the North Melbourne Football Club. Only Alastair Clarkson and Damien Hardwick have been incumbent in their roles for the same length of time or longer, and have both have a premiership or premierships to their name.

Scott’s not a perfect coach. No one is and I don’t expect him to be. But familiarity does breed contempt and when you see the same man at the helm for a decade without delivering the ultimate success, it’s only natural to get a bit restless.

The biggest issue is that Scott still seems to have the same sort of flaws he did five years ago. He’s still too conservative in his team selection, he still seems to guide the club to an underwhelming start to the season every year (those glorious nine weeks in 2016 aside).

There’s benefits to Scott’s consisten5 and level-headed perspective but when the club is going through a poor patch of form it gives fans the impression that he’s out of touch.

What’s baffling me and many fans right now is how a player the calibre of Jasper Pittard has stepped into our best 22 without a question mark while a fan-favourite talent like Paul Ahern seems to have so many barriers raised against him.

I wouldn’t say Scott is performing much worse than he has at any other point in his career to date. I’m sure we’ll find form at some point and win just enough games to avoid having a high draft pick while not doing quite enough to get into finals.

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But I empathise with fans who are starting to get a bit fidgety and frustrated. And, like many, I’m wondering just what it’ll take for someone to turn the blowtorch on.

Brad Scott

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

Rance, Riewoldt absences give Richmond a Giant headache
Saturday’s match between GWS and Richmond offered enough talking points to fill a column of its own but the biggest takeaway has to be that without Alex Rance or Jack Riewoldt, the Tigers are just not a top-tier team.

There’s no shame in that. They’re arguably two of the top ten players in the league – definitely top 20 – and no team is going to lose that much talent and still be on top of the world. Not a chance.

Jeremy Cameron’s remarkable 7-goal, 30-disposal performance – the first to hit that benchmark in eight years – and Jeremy Finlayson’s bag of five – in his first game as a forward, no less – showed just what a blow to the backline Rance’s absence is.

The Tigers brought some height back into the team in the form of Ryan Garthwaite and Noah Balta this week, but it’s clear they don’t have a ton of options and it may take them some time to find a combination that works.

The Riewoldt issue is less dire firstly because he’ll be back hopefully in just a few weeks and secondly because Tom Lynch is doing a fine job of providing the Tigers will a tall target to kick to.

Despite clearly not being at full fitness just yet, Lynch has kicked ten goals in his first three weeks as a Tiger, an impressive start to his Richmond career that’s probably flown under the radar a bit.

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Compounding Richmond’s other problems was a poor game by Dustin Martin where he was tagged out of it by Matt de Boer and became, shall we say, demonstratively distressed.

He’s sure to cop some kind of attention form AFL house this week however you’d expect any penalty applied will be a purely financial one.

Oh, and added to that is hamstring injury that could see skipper Trent Cotchin on the sidelines also… yikes.

A 1-2 start isn’t ideal for Richmond, but it’s also not any worse than where fellow preliminary finalists Collingwood or Melbourne are at right now either. Look forward to seeing how they bounce back.

Jeremy Cameron

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Geelong made the right call keeping Tim Kelly
I’ll admit to being one of those who thought when the Tim Kelly trade didn’t go through that Geelong had made a mistake by not simply tearing the bandaid off and moving on.

The Cats clearly felt that it was worth keeping Kelly even if only for another 12 months because he could help them win a flag this year – and three weeks in, you’d have to agree with them.

The footy world collectively went cold on the Cats over the course of this last offseason. We were disappointed that they eeked out only an eighth-place finish last year and were not blown away by them signing names like Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan.

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However on occasion, the times where it’s hard to see where improvement will come from are when the most improvement happens. Instead of expecting new teammates to lift the side’s performance, players and coaches are forced to look inward and ask themselves what they can do to make the team better.

Chris Scott has clearly had some fun switching around magnets over the offseason and given Geelong a new-look midfield mix that is allowing some lesser-known players to shine while also maximising the benefits of their superstar talent.

One of the most crucial contributors to this has been Kelly, who was close to best on ground in the first two weeks and then a quality contributor again this week before going off early with an ankle injury that hopefully won’t keep him out too long.

Geelong took down two of last year’s preliminary finalists in the first fortnight and this week backed that up outdoing Adelaide – a reasonably good side at worst – on the road off a five-day break.

Is it too early to have them as flag favourites? Yes, probably, but not by much.

Tim Kelly

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

Dons better Dees in the ‘Disappointent Derby’
Friday night’s match between Melbourne and Essendon promised relief but guaranteed pain and after four quarters of footy it was the Bombers who left the MCG with a breakthrough win.

Given how poor both sides had been to start the year you wouldn’t have expected it to become a shootout but that’s exactly what it was, the two sides kicking a combined total of 38 goals.

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Steve Hocking would’ve been jumping up and down in excitement and as our own Ryan Buckland noted on Twitter, the goals came so thick and fast that at times Channel Seven didn’t even seem to have ad breaks ready for them.

Was fast and furious football an indicator that – despite the fact only one could win – both of these sides have found a way to flick the switch back on? Look, probably not.

Neither team was great defensively, but the Bombers at least found their goals through their regular forwards and of the two sides look better placed to continue high-scoring form into the coming weeks.

Melbourne had eight goals alone through the combination of James Harmes, Jayden Hunt and Jay Lockhart, something you can hardly expect to happen on a regular basis.

Several Demons have been noticeably struggling for form in the first few weeks and that didn’t seem to change on Friday night.

Alex Neal-Bullen and Michael Hibberd are two who jump out at me, probably because they’re in my fantasy team and haven’t seen a football often enough to remember what one looks like lately.

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No one however needs a change of luck more desperately than Tom McDonald whose season so far has seen him manage a single goal in Round 1 and none in the last two weeks.

The Dees are a little lucky that Jesse Hogan has had his own troubles to start the year over in the west – were that not the case, we’d be asking a lot more questions, and Simon Goodwin’s comments about Steven May’s fitness aren’t making that deal look any rosier.

Simon Goodwin

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Wingard joins Hawthorn’s heisted heroes, is Jon Patton next?
In the last ten years Hawthorn have taken just two first-round picks to the draft, and neither of the players taken with those selections (Ryan Burton and Kieran Lovell) are currently on their list.

Instead the Hawks are, as we know, masters of the trade period, and so much of their team is built on the success of players poached from other clubs.

This probably sounds a bit jaded. It’s not meant to – trading in talent is just as legitimate a strategy as drafting it, and no one does it better than the Hawks. It’s hard not to be envious.

Jaeger O’Meara and Ben McEvoy, formerly of Gold Coast and St Kilda, were two of their best on ground today, but it was of course a club debutant in Chad Wingard who caught the eye.

Wingard only had ten disposals playing mostly forward which is no surprise given he’s coming back from injury, but managed to pop through three goals in a match that was only decided by 16 points.

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That’s not to say they would have lost if he didn’t play… but they might have.

If you think that Hawthorn are going to change tack in their recruiting strategy this year then you’re sorely wrong. It was only yesterday that news broke linking them to GWS’ Jon Patton.

Patton is someone I’m surprised didn’t get talked about more in last year’s trade period as he had all the makings of being a brilliant low-risk, high-reward acquisition much like another new Hawk, Tom Scully.

Understandably clubs are made a bit nervous by the fact the bloke has done his knee three times and fair enough. Of course at Hawthorn that’s probaby, like, a two-week injury at worst.

He’d be the perfect recruit for them. Jarryd Roughead is in the final years of his career and the fact Hawthorn brought in a small midfielder in Dylan Moore to replace Roughead when he was a late out today is a reminder that the Hawks don’t really have a clear replacement for him on their list.

Patton’s unlikely to ever be as athletic as he could’ve been pre-ACL injuries, but if they could turn him into a 30-goal key forward then that’s enough to add some good structure to their forward line and make everyone else’s job easier.

If you were hoping this team was going away any time soon – which we all optimistically tend to do at the start of every season – well, they’re not.

Chad Wingard Hawthorn

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Competitive Carlton let another chance slip
Here’s a quick exercise: Let’s take a look at how last year’s bottom six sides are doing so far in 2019.

Brisbane are 3-0. St Kilda are 2-1. Fremantle are 2-1. The Western Bulldogs are 2-1. Gold Coast, remarkably, are not only 2-1, but only a goal away from being 3-0.

And Carlton are 0-3.

All three of Carlton’s losses have been competitive, even impressively so. They resisted the urge to roll over against Richmond in Round 1, and pushed Port Adelaide and Sydney hard yet ultimately fruitlessly in the fortnight that’s followed.

Amidst the always reliable form of Patrick Cripps and exceptional impressive early efforts of No.1 draft pick Sam Walsh, what’s impressed me the most in their first few weeks is the development of their bookends.

Jacob Weitering after a year or two in the wilderness has found form and looks like the player Carlton thought he could be when they drafted him.

At the other end, Harry McKay has five goals from three games and has clunked 15 contested marks, six of them this week. He’s leading the competition for that stat.

But… they need to win. More than any of the sides in the mix for this year’s wooden spoon, Carlton need to win.

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If their first round pick still belonged to them then they could chalk up competitive losses as a promising sign of potential while happily adding one of this year’s best talents to their list.

But it doesn’t. Their losing is serving only someone else’s interests and now more than any other year in Brendon Bolton’s tenure that line between losing but looking good and winning (even if it’s done ugly) is a barrier they simply must breakthrough.

I said just last week that the Blues had been competitive enough in the opening games of the season to suggest they could win enough to avoid the spoon this year but given how well last year’s poorer teams have started the season that may no longer be true.

The Blues travel to Queensland next week to play a Gold Coast Suns side that has impressed us all in the first three weeks of the season and if they drop that match, they’ll be three wins behind the club most pundits expected to be wooden spooners in 2019.

That puts forward the worrying possibility that Carlton will have to sit and watch as Adelaide make use of the No.1 draft selection this year. Who knows what damage a debacle like that might do to the club.

(And yes, I know – I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that my own club appears just as deeply in contention for bottom spot as the Blues do right now.)

Patrick Cripps

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

Everyone gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (1-2) – The Crows were inaccurate on Thursday night but it’s the fact that so few of their goals were kicked by their actual forwards that worries me more. Brad Crouch is their leading goalkicker so far in 2019 (with four).

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Brisbane Lions (3-0) – I know I said something similar last week, but Saturday’s game really reinforced just what an underrated acquisition Lachie Neale has proved to be. Most impressively the Lions had him committed to joining the club before the media even knew what was happening. Speaking as a North Melbourne fan… how do you do that?

Carlton Blues (0-3) – Carlton fans no doubt have a long wishlist of things they’d like to see next week but Matthew Kreuzer back would be at the top of it. Toby Nankervis, Scott Lycett and Callum Sinclair – by no means the dominant ruckmen of the league – have all smashed them in the past three weeks.

Collingwood Magpies (1-2) – Jordan De Goey is too tall for the fast defenders, too fast for the tall defenders. So hard to stop. The Magpies need more from their other forwards, though.

Essendon Bombers (1-2) – After a nightmarish debut, Dylan Shiel has been in really strong form the last two weeks. 31 disposals, 600 metres gained, eight inside 50s, seven score involvements and five clearances this week – if he’d nailed his two shots on goal it’d be everything you could want.

Fremantle Dockers (2-1) – Fremantle could have dropped their bundle when Nat Fyfe went off with concussion and no one would’ve criticised it, so nice work by them to close out the win. Derby next week probably won’t go well for them but it’ll go much worse if Fyfe needs a week off.

Geelong Cats (3-0) – The biggest highlight of Thursday night had to be three goals by Gryan Miers. He’s as good at football as his parents are bad at naming children (further evidence: his siblings are named Jaydy and Ryger).

Gold Coast Suns (2-1) – It’d be a mistake to think that Gold Coast are at all as far advanced as Brisbane, but together they’re putting in a really competitive showing for Queensland footy this year. When’s the last time the state had an 83 per cent winning record?

GWS Giants (2-1) – Cameron and to a lesser degree Finlayson will get the plaudits this week, and that’s absolutely deserved, but the underrated talking point from this week is the successful return of Shane Mumford. Didn’t dominate but got through his first game in 18 months.

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Hawthorn Hawks (2-1) – Having talked about Hawthorn aggressively pursuing players from other clubs, I’d be remiss not to point out what a smart pick up Ricky Henderson has been for them as a delisted free agent. Another typically productive game this week.

Melbourne Demons (0-3) – I’ve got no interest in hearing that Melbourne’s large number of offseason surgeries excuses their winless start to the season. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a club try to push that line before.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (0-3) – What a marvelous player Shaun Higgins has become. It’s early days but he is odds on to take home a third consecutive best-and-fairest this year after being clearly North’s best player again this week.

Port Adelaide Power (2-1) – No win this week, but Port fans are getting that Rising Star Nomination they haven’t in the first two rounds. Connor Rozee’s remarkable 21 disposals and five goals in just his third AFL game can’t possibly be overlooked.

Richmond Tigers (1-2) – Undoubtedly the biggest positive for Richmond this week was the debut of Sydney Stack. In five months he’s gone from being overlooked in the national and rookie drafts to having 17 touches and a goal on his AFL debut. Great stuff.

St Kilda Saints (2-1) – Too many players who just didn’t make a big enough contribution for the Saints on Sunday. Blake Acres, Dan McKenzie and Jack Sinclair have all been at the club for a number of years now but don’t feel like they’re better footballers than when they arrived.

Sydney Swans (1-2) – I love it when players only take a week to make one of my opinions looks silly. It’s longer than they usually last I suppose. After pushing the ‘Heeney in the middle’ line last week, I can’t deny he was a matchwinner up forward this week.

West Coast Eagles (2-1) – Plenty of players have had impressive finals campaigns only to fade back into obscurity in the years that follow. Not so Dom Sheed, who has carried his breakout September form into 2019. That goes more generally for the Eagles, who are as firmly in the premiership race as anyone.

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Western Bulldogs (2-1) – This was a rather disenchanting performance by the Bulldogs after impressing so much in the first two weeks of the season. Zero goals, three behinds in an otherwise excellent game by Marcus Bontempelli was really costly.