Round 7 had come to an end and yes, we’re back to the standard talking points format this week. Let’s dive in!
Is season 2019 finally starting to make sense?
The first five rounds of this 2019 season were as hectic as we’ve seen in recent years, with teams seeming to flip in and out of form on a weekly basis, and upsets aplenty.
However after two weeks of relatively predictable results, we have to ask: is season 2019 finally settling down and starting to make sense?
In Round 6 I know a large number of people managed to tip nine out of nine or at least came very close to doing so, something which felt almost impossible just a week prior.
The results last week were a long way from boring. Anzac Day was a controversial thriller, Hawthorn’s heist in Launceston gave us plenty to talk about, and Geelong’s win over West Coast was so demoralising for the Eagles as to make us re-evaluate how we rate both sides.
But while the manner of some of those results raised eyebrows, if someone had just handed you a list of last week’s winners you’d say yeah, that seems about right, and it’s much the same again now in Round 7.
Sure, Melbourne’s win over Hawthorn was arguably an upset, and the Bulldogs’ belting of Richmond definitely was. And we’ll discuss both games later on, but suffice for now to say they weren’t totally out of the blue.
Perhaps the competition will be flipped back on its head next week. But at this exact moment seem to finally have a consistent picture of which teams might be good, which aren’t, and which are somewhere in between.
Exciting, because that’s when the real analysis can take place, and leads us to do this…
Let’s take a stab at the top eight
Seven rounds down leaves us just shy of being a full third of the way through the season, so let’s do something that’s perhaps still a little stupid and have a crack at tipping the top eight.
How many changes need to be made from the current top eight? Right now it features Geelong, Collingwood, GWS, Brisbane, Fremantle, Adelaide, Port Adelaide and St Kilda.
Of those I’d say only the first three could be locked in with any kind of certainty. Geelong are clearly the league’s best side on form, GWS aren’t far behind, and while I don’t think Collingwood are on the same level yet, they’ll beat most teams most of the time.
And you know what, I’m going to go ahead and back in Brisbane too. As a young side there’s a risk they’ll peter out at some point later in the year, but they’re good enough. Fingers crossed.
Fremantle and the two South Australian sides are both strongly in the mix, but I wouldn’t say I’m confident on any of them just yet. Freo and Port are both young sides, while the Crows are yet to take a real scalp.
When it comes to St Kilda, I am confident – confident they’ll drop out. They haven’t been that bad over the past fortnight, but they’re clearly not at this level yet either.
That leaves at least one and potentially as many as four spots open for sides currently outside the eight to bust their way in, with Richmond, West Coast and Essendon the obvious contenders.
I suspect all three will get there. Richmond is the diciest proposition and it depends on whether or not their luck turns, but I reckon they’ll make it, maybe only just.
So I’ll say St Kilda, Fremantle and Adelaide to make way for the Tigers, Eagles and Dons, with Port just narrowly hanging on to eighth. How about you?
Good news: winning is still fun
Anyone who has asked me my thoughts on the Roos since North Melbourne’s 82-point Round 1 loss to Fremantle has heard some version of my little spiel about how that game left me already dead inside for the rest of the season to come.
Do you know how many teams have lost the first match of the season by 80+ points and then gone on to win the premiership? I don’t, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere between zero and probably also zero, so you can see why I was dismayed.
I’m not gonna leap in here and say that a win over last year’s wooden spooners has the Kangaroos’ season anywhere close to being back on track, but it’s hard to not have a smile on your face after a nearly ten-goal win.
The most satisfying takeaway from a North Melbourne perspective is that the game showed the ‘Roos do have some quality forward-half talent among their younger players.
As much as the club has been criticised for its development of young players so far this year, Cam Zurhaar’s bag of five really put an exclamation point on what has been an impressive 2019 from him to date.
And to see Jy Simpkin and Tarryn Thomas play career-best games – Simpkin having 27 touches and two goals, Thomas 19 and 1 – was very encouraging.
Both of them still saw their handballs massively outweigh their kicks which I’m not a fan of. They’re the players the club should be looking to give space to kick the ball.
Still, it’s another step forward in their development. And quickly on Thomas: he also had seven tackles today. Really does it all.
As for the Blues, I can only imagine how painful this one was – really their first non-competitive effort in season 2019, and after the past fortnight, this is one they would’ve expected to give a serious shake, even with their outs.
For all the improvement they’ve shown this year, they’re still only five percentage points off the bottom of the ladder.
Cats targeting Coleman Cameron
If Jeremy Cameron cared or even noticed that news had broken about Geelong placing him on their list of trade targets on Saturday morning, it didn’t show in his six-goal performance against St Kilda that afternoon.
Cameron’s 30 goals for season 2019 so far isn’t just enough to put him in the lead for the Coleman medal, it’s nearly double the next-best – Jordan De Goey and Tom J Lynch, tied on 17 each.
The decision to swing Jeremy Finlayson forward has undoubtedly been huge for Cameron. He’s provided a strong second option who takes some of the pressure off the No.1 target.
In five weeks playing forward Finlayson’s kicked 13 goals with a reasonable spread, managing at least two goals in all but one of those matches.
Harry Himmelberg too continues to provide reasonable service, managing a goal a game so far this year, and altogether giving the Giants enough dangerous tall timber to make it hard for opposition teams to double-team Cameron.
Giants fans must certainly be feeling a bit bemused that no sooner has one contract saga ended (with the potentially long-term re-signing of Josh Kelly earlier this week) than a new one begins.
Of course GWS’ most pressing priority will be convincing Stephen Coniglio to say no to free agency and re-sign with the club for 2020 and beyond, a task that’ll be made easier by the fact the Giants are winning most of their games right now and Coniglio’s main suitors are not.
Kelly, Coniglio and Cameron should all be million dollar players. But can the Giants afford to sink that much of their salary cap into just three individuals? If they can’t, then a move for Cameron to top-of-the-table Geelong all of the sudden seems scarily plausible.
Perhaps we’ll see Cameron re-sign with relatively little fuss sooner rather than later – or, perhaps one of the big contract stories of 2020 has just begun.
Struggling Swans deserve fans’ patience
Seven rounds into the season and the Sydney Swans find themselves on the bottom of the ladder, tied with Carlton as one of only two sides in the league to have just a single win so far in 2019.
While many of us predicted that this would be the year Sydney slipped out of the eight – and it’s not that impressive a prediction given we’ve just been doing it year after year until it finally happens – I doubt many if any suspected they could drop this low.
The Swans haven’t necessarily been a poor side so far this year – a percentage of 80 attests to that. But we’re in a season where that just aren’t many, if any, genuinely bad teams in the league. Only two sides have a worse percentage than that, Melbourne’s 73 being the lowest.
After nearly two decades of consistently playing finals, it looks all but certain that they’ll be not just outside the top eight but well outside, and this could be the start of a few years on the downswing rather than just an aberration.
The good news for Sydney is that they’ve already pumped plenty of games into youngsters over the past two or so years.
From this week’s side you can see players like Tom Papley, Ollie Florent, Lewis Melican, Aliir Aliir and Will Hayward who have benefitted significantly from the club going in this direction.
Rather than trying to squeeze as much as possible out of veterans, the Swans have given these players not just the chance to play at AFL level but also to taste success and play finals – something that will pay huge dividends as they mature.
Factor in the absolute top-tier talent of Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills, and the potential of more raw talents in Nick Blakey, Tom McCartin and Jordan Dawson, and it’s clear that despite their present struggles the Swans are well prepared for the future.
There’s some reasonable criticisms that could be made of the club, but overall this is a team that in the last eighteen years has played finals 16 times, featured in five grand finals, and won two premierships.
They know what they’re doing – fans should keep that in mind before they starting calling for heads to roll.
Tiger tipping point proves to be Naughton’s launchpad
Richmond’s ability to rise to the occasion and pick up wins despite having several key players out over the last few weeks has been supremely impressive, but really we should have known it wouldn’t last forever.
This week the Tigers lost Jack Riewoldt and David Astbury out of their side – Riewoldt having made it back for only one game before copping a fresh injury – and then saw both Daniel Rioli and Nick Vlastuin go down during the match.
If that, combined with the Tigers’ other injury troubles, isn’t enough to tip a club over, then not much will. While no doubt disappointed, they shouldn’t feel too much shame over the poor result.
It may have been against a backline missing almost all of its most crucial personnel but the match proved to be the perfect chance for young pup Aaron Naughton to put together the best game of his career yet.
It’s not just that he kicked a career-high five goals, but Naughton also took nine contested marks, the most ever recorded in a single match by a Western Bulldogs player, and only one off the all-time record.
That kind of dominance in the air from a teenager is unbelievable and – as much as some of us, including me, may hate to say it – utterly vindicates Luke Beveridge’s decision to play him in the forward line.
Who knows what the odds are that we ever actually get to see this, but just imagine a forward line with Naughton in this kind of form if the likes of Tom Boyd and Josh Schache also realise their potential. It’ll wreak havoc on the competition.
Also impressive for mine was the strong performances of recycled recruits Hayden Crozier, Sam Lloyd and Jackson Trengove.
It’s clear from their first seven rounds of the year that the Bulldogs are still a work in progress, but I remain convinced they’ll be something to behold when Luke Beveridge puts all the pieces together.
Clarko gets cranky, but he’s not wrong about Hawks and Dees
Being an AFL senior coach is, obviously, a very high-pressure job, and I suspect the most hated task of many coaches is the weekly post-match press conference.
People do funny things under pressure and, after a close-fought loss to Melbourne which left his side at an underwhelming 3-4 record, Alastair Clarkson was no exception, having a crack at the side his club had just lost to.
“By and large, Melbourne will applaud the fact they’ve won a game, because they’ve been down and out, and they really needed a win if they wanted to keep their season alive,” said Clarkson.
“They’ll be dancing from the rooftops tonight – but they didn’t play outstanding footy, either, today. They’re going to need, just like us, to play a hell of a lot better footy than that.
“But fortunately for them, they win the game and fortunately for us last week, we just win the game, but neither side showed anything today to suggest they’re going to be any threat come the end of the year.
“Both sides have got some work to do.”
It wasn’t just a one-off comment.
“We couldn’t sit there and say, ‘Melbourne’s pressure was just enormous and that’s what stopped us from dropping marks and missing kicks and that sort of stuff,'” Clakrson also said.
“We were out on our own and we were just dropping balls. There’s no excuse for that.”
You’ve heard the ‘they didn’t win that game, we lost it’ maxim from nuffies in facebook comments before, and now you’ve heard it from a senior coach.
It maybe doesn’t come across as the most respectful way to approach a press conference but the honest truth is: he’s right. Neither of these teams are going anywhere this year.
While Chad Wingard has shown at times that he can be a match-winner for Hawthorn, it’s clear he hasn’t fully integrated into the side just yet, and the Hawks’ other big recruit in Tom Scully is yet to find any really promising form.
As for Melbourne, one does get the feeling if they could get Steven May and Jake Lever both into the side and in form then things just might click together for them. But it absolutely must happen before the bye if they’re any chance of finals, and even then they might be too late.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (4-3) – Elliott Himmelberg has done a pretty steady job over the past two weeks since Josh Jenkins was dropped. How long can he keep him out of the side, and if it’s a while, what does that mean for Jenkins’ future?
Brisbane Lions (5-2) – The fade-out in the second quarter would have been disappointing for the Lions, who could otherwise have inflicted a ten-goal win. Still, the fact they didn’t let it cost them the match is a sign of growing maturity.
Carlton Blues (1-6) – Getting hold of a quality mature ruckman should be a priority for Carlton this offseason. Matthew Kreuzer can’t be relied upon, and a big beast at the bounce who could help protect their younger mids – like Shane Mumford once did for GWS – would be a great get.
Collingwood Magpies (5-2) – With three goals, eighteen touches and eight marks, this was comfortably Jamie Elliott’s best game for the season so far. He’ll only grow more dangerous as the year goes on.
Essendon Bombers (3-4) – While it’s stalled their momentum to some degree, all we’ve really learned about Essendon in the past two weeks is that they aren’t as good as Geelong. And that’s okay, for now at least. Still a finals and even top-four threat.
Fremantle Dockers (4-3) – A classic ‘burn the tape’ game this week. Forget it and move on. Connor Blakely smashed it in the WAFL on the weekend and should come in for his first match of the season next week, which could be huge.
Geelong Cats (6-1) – If the AFL is going to have a ‘country game’ as a marquee occasion then why on earth is it not played in the country, at GMHBA stadium? Seems like a remarkably obvious road to go down, especially given that the Cats are regulars in the fixture.
Gold Coast Suns (4-3) – Continuing speculation about Jack Martin’s future didn’t seem to do him any harm this week, with 29 disposals and ten tackles. He’d be a great get for any club, but the biggest news would be if he stayed with the Suns, and that might be a real possibility.
GWS Giants (5-2) – Toby Greene’s kicked five goals and had 17 score involvements in the past fortnight since coming back to AFL level: he’s officially back, and he really takes this side to the next level.
Hawthorn Hawks (3-4) – He was hardly bad, but Jaeger O’Meara’s 19 disposals and 1 goal on Saturday wasn’t at the same standard he’s set for himself over the first six weeks of the season. The Hawks won’t win too often without him starring this year.
Melbourne Demons (2-5) – Probably the biggest positive this week for Melbourne – aside from just getting a win – is how well Michael Hibberd played. The veteran defender has been quite poor up to this point but if he finds this form regularly that’ll help a lot.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-5) – I’m full of nice things to say about my own club as you’d expect, so which to pick? The return of Taylor Garner after more than a year on the sidelines has to be one of the best stories this week. Played well, too.
Port Adelaide Power (4-3) – Is there any more unappealing jumper combo for a footy game than Collingwood’s black and white versus Port’s grey, black and white? A predominantly teal clash guernsey might not be super sexy, but at least it wouldn’t be boring.
Richmond Tigers (3-4) – The Tigers had 112 less disposals than their opponents on Saturday night, but still managed to get 48 inside 50s, just four less than the Bulldogs. Unfortunately while Naughton dominated the skies at one end, Tom Lynch was anonymous at the other.
St Kilda Saints (4-3) – Matthew Parker continues to be a really impressive mature pick up by St Kilda, probably their best player over the past fortnight or close to. Wonder if any clubs will find a talent so good in the upcoming mid-season draft.
Sydney Swans (1-6) – With Lance Franklin probably still to be kept out by his hamstring a little while, are the Swans are serious chance to win any game they enter without him?
West Coast Eagles (3-4) – A win is a win and it’s nice to see Jack Darling get back into some form with four goals, but given the quality of the opposition and the fact they conceded five of the last seven goals it’d be hard to say this was a convincing display from West Coast.
Western Bulldogs (3-4) – Bailey Smith looked out of his depth when he debuted in Round 1, but credit to Luke Beveridge, he’s stuck by him and the kid has improved week by week. Reckon he probably gets the nod for a Rising Star nomination this round.