From three upsets involving ladder leaders, a showdown and then a derby blowout, to the Dees holding on and North youngster’s kicking bags of five.
It’s just another weekend in the tight race that is 2019 AFL season, so let’s get into the talking points from Round 16.
Playing on instincts in the final term
Four matches in Round 16 were decided in the last 30 minutes of football. Hawthorn lifted in on Friday night, Essendon got their running game going against the Swans on Saturday, the Bulldogs opened up Marvel Stadium as they did so well in 2016 and the Demons held on in a thrilling finish on Sunday at the MCG.
At three-quarter time in Friday night’s contest, Collingwood led by ten points and despite a low-scoring affair in which they lacked cohesion, it appeared as though they might hold onto another tight win.
Enter Hawthorn. A pep-talk from the master Alastair Clarkson and some early confidence-boosting possession for the youngsters helped the Hawks to not only kick ahead, but hold on as Collingwood tried to take back the four points. Along with the fresh faces kicking goals, it was young Jarman Impey’s run off half-back which got Hawthorn going.
There were just three points separating Essendon and Sydney at the MCG on Saturday. Sydney led, but the game was certainly up for grabs. Tom McCartin kicked the first, but from there the Bombers took the game on, they had too, and their run created opportunities for the forwards.
Four unanswered goals put Essendon up and it looked all but over. Sydney fought back with a goal and some behinds, but a ten-point win to the Bombers was the result.
The image of 15 Essendon officials in the coaching box, while the head coach sat on the team bench, has been doing the rounds on social media.
From an outside perspective and listening to the players after the match, taking the game on in the last term was how they won it. Instincts and run from the players on the field won that game, so what are these 15 staff members doing?
Geelong led by ten points, but in the final 30 minutes of football the game again opened up and the Bulldogs found their run. The midfielders got on top of the contest, dominating the lauded Cats’ engine room, and ‘taking the game on’ paid off.
The run from Jason Johannisen, the class of Jack Macrae and Marcus Bontempelli’s disposal, and the finish from new spearhead Aaron Naughton inspired a team victory. Meanwhile, Geelong just couldn’t keep up! Or kick straight…
Thirty points, that was the margin in the Carlton-Melbourne game at the MCG on Sunday. Melbourne were three players down and lacked some energy, so the Blues got to work.
Suddenly full of life, momentum started to swing Carlton’s way and so too some free kicks. Five goals in a row and they took the lead, it came from nowhere and it was almost another surprising result. Jayden Hunt was calm and composed, slotting a goal to take back the lead and his Dees held on.
These matches all started as dour contests, that up until three-quarter time lacked the energy and spark us fans enjoy so much. However, when the game opened up the excitement arrives, and I for one hope these regular tight finishes continue.
What to do with the Suns?
I can hear the comments now: “Why did the AFL bother with the Gold Coast?”; “Tasmania should have got a team before the Gold Coast”; “Take away their license, they don’t deserve to be in the AFL.”
These statements invariably come up whenever the Suns have a big loss, as they did on Saturday. Nine seasons in, the noise is as loud as ever and so it has to be asked, what do the AFL do with the Gold Coast Suns?
I can also hear your answers filled with disgust: draft picks, more cash, etc.
The Suns effort had been positive to start the year, three tight early wins in the season and a few close losses. Things must be improving, right? Eleven consecutive losses later and they are now bottom of the ladder, with not a lot of hope for the final seven rounds of the season.
Gold Coast have had poor quarters this year; one against the Crows, the final term in the QClash and also in Sydney against the Giants. However, the first half performance put on at Metricon on Saturday was by far the worst. The Suns scored 19 points to Richmond’s 103. They allowed over 100 points in an opening half of football, just deplorable.
Richmond were ruthless, but they looked to be completing a simple training drill on the not-so-sunny Gold Coast, where the defenders are told to put in 30 percent effort, in other words, to not bother.
The Tigers were allowed to attack, attack and attack some more. They finished the play accurately too, with 16 goals and seven behinds for the half.
Things improved in the third term for the Suns, after what had to have been one almighty spray from coach Stuart Dew. Richmond might have taken the foot off the pedal too.
Not to mention the well out-numbered Suns fans; there were easily more travelling Tigers’ and pictures of the Suns home cheer squad were not a pretty sight.
In the NEAFL, Aaron Young kicked three goals from 26 touches, but suffered a knee injury late – possibly a recurring issue – so seems unlikely to get a call-up.
Former Geelong Cats’ pair George Horlin-Smith (28 disposals, 1 goal) and Jordan Murdoch (27 disposals) were important playmakers, while Michael Rischitelli also finished with 30 disposals and a goal.
Will these midfielders come into the mix? Will they stick with the same and demand improvement?
Things don’t get any easier for the Suns, they host the Crows on Saturday night who will be out to respond following two losses.
Is this the real or the unreal Port Adelaide?
The AFL season can be a rollercoaster for footy fans and players. From the highs of grinding out a tough win, to the lows of a ten-goal blow-out, it can be an emotional year.
This season has been particularly frustrating for Port Adelaide and their fan base, and the last two months have demonstrated just that. Trust me, I’m a Power supporter and my team’s inconsistency has become painful. Rounds five and six were the last time Port notched consecutive wins and the following two featured consecutive losses, from round nine Port’s record is: W L W L W L W.
Specifically, looking at the last four weeks, Port have lost with a disappointing performance in Perth, responded against Geelong, failed to consolidate against the Bulldogs and then smashed the Crows with an immense second-half.
Once again, following a miserable effort and a loss to the Western Bulldogs – who, to their credit, played the conditions excellently – the external and internal critics came to the forefront.
The media pile the negative analysis on and ask individuals to respond and inside the four walls, the boys are asked to lift. It’s a Showdown after all.
So, with Port’s preferred ‘underdog’ label and all the motivation to take bragging rights in South Australia, Port Adelaide stepped up, applied the pressure and worked hard to grind out a win in the second half.
One of the best responses was from Port’s co-captain Ollie Wines, who was questioned on his performance last Saturday night and finished with 34 disposals and eight clearances. He teamed up with Tom Rockliff, who on return to the AFL side had 36 disposals in the midfield.
They’ve been fairly solid all year, but the back six or seven were also asked to improve after the loss, and that they did. The Crows scored just one goal in the second half and it was in the opening minute of the third term.
Ryan Burton held Eddie Betts goalless, Tom Clurey restricted Taylor Walker to nine disposals and two goals, and collectively the defensive structure allowed just five majors. There were 14 behinds kicked though.
Of course, Adelaide also lost in round 15. They were beaten in the second-half by Geelong, a team prepared to make changes and work harder than the Crows for the four-points. You could say they too were motivated to respond after their disappointing performance. On a mild afternoon at Adelaide Oval though, it was the Power who got the job done.
You can’t fault fighting spirit
While they might not have got the result, Carlton, in the final term, came back from a 30-point deficit to level the game at 98-all.
The Saints kicked five in-a-row to reduce a 46-point margin to 16, an inspired reply after a shocking first quarter.
When Taylor Walker kicked the opening goal of the half, just seconds into the third term and had another shot just moments later, the momentum should have swung in the Crows’ favour. Yet Port broke open a tight half of footy, increasing their work rate in the ‘Port Adelaide way’, to put nine unanswered goals on the board and deliver a 57-point thrashing.
The Bulldogs came together, in the final break and said, we can do this. No doubt the perfect conditions helped them pull off the comeback, but the fighting spirit of the Doggies should be noted.
What helps these teams fight their way back into a game – with the exception of St Kilda who were away – is a crowd to get behind them.
The noise of the Carlton fans, the ‘Port Adelaide’ that echoed around an away Showdown crowd, the Bulldogs faithful at Marvel Stadium helped their teams across the line.
Meanwhile, the poor Gold Coast Suns don’t even have a full cheer squad behind goals to wave the flags, shake the pom poms and support the rare goal their side did kick.
Who makes the top four?
Things opened up a little at the top of the ladder with losses this week to Geelong, Collingwood and GWS; the Cats now lead by just four points at the top, with the Eagles also in the top two outright, but it’s very congested below that.
Of the top six, any team can realistically make the top four. Geelong, West Coast, Collingwood and Brisbane currently hold the spots, though they may not come the end of the home and away season.
Looking at the possible teams who could make the top four and their respectvive runs to the finish line, and it shows just how close it all is.
Geelong: St Kilda (GMHBA), Hawthorn (MCG), Sydney (SCG), Fremantle (OS), North Melbourne (GMHBA), Brisbane (Gabba) and Carlton (GMHBA).
The run home looks reasonable for the Cats, who need to get their efficiency inside 50 back. Still comfortably at the top, Geelong should win five out of their last seven at least, though Hawthorn, Sydney away and Brisbane away loom as big matches.
West Coast: Collingwood (OS), Melbourne (TP), North Melbourne (OS), Carlton (Marvel), Adelaide (OS), Richmond (MCG) and Hawthorn (OS).
Four more matches at home plus Melbourne and Carlton away, surely top-two is likely for a side just starting to flex their muscles. Gee, they look dangerous with Nic Naitanui in the middle and plentiful options in the forward line.
Collingwood: Eagles (OS), Giants (GIANTS), Richmond (MCG), Gold Coast (MCG), Melbourne (MCG), Adelaide (AO) and Essendon (MCG).
The Magpies have hit a rough match as most sides do in a 23-round home and away season. Whatever it takes, they must regain the cohesion and find the spark, and quickly.
Brisbane: Port (AO), North Melbourne (Gabba), Hawthorn (UTAS), Bulldogs (Gabba), Gold Coast (Gabba), Geelong (Gabba) and Richmond (MCG).
Not an easy finish for Brisbane, but the sky is the limit for this team. Four games at the Gabba should help them on their way to a double chance.
Port: (AO), North Melbourne (Gabba), Hawthorn (UTAS), Bulldogs (Gabba), Gold Coast (Gabba), Geelong (Gabba) and Richmond (MCG).
GWS: Richmond (MCG), Collingwood (GIANTS), Port (AO), Sydney (GIANTS), Hawthorn (UNSW), Bulldogs (GIANTS) and Gold Coast (MS).
Tough run coming up for the Giants, top-eight still looks like but it will take a special effort to get the double chance.
Richmond: Giants, Port, Collingwood, Melbourne, Carlton, Eagles and Brisbane.
Seven matches all at the MCG in the run home is an unbelievable schedule for the Tigers. While these include tough opponents, the Tigers would have looked ahead with sparkling eyes at this section of the draw.
Things must go a certain way, but Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Essendon are still outside chances to sneak into a double chance position at the end of Round 23. Adelaide has arguably the best run home of these three, but must get creative when things aren’t going their way. The Crows have had two poor second halves in a row and failed to respond when momentum swung their opponent’s way.
So, who makes your top four from here?
Adelaide Crows (8-7)
It’s not unusual to see Crows’ fans leave early to ‘beat the traffic’, but did the players do so too? Just 12 inside 50s for the second half, lost clearances 21-12 and had almost 100 less disposals than Port.
Brisbane Lions (10-5)
There was something about the Lions today, you could tell early that this was a win they really wanted. Into the top-four and a top-eight position all but sewn up, a return to finals is imminent.
Carlton Blues (3-12)
Three goals from 18 disposals and another tagging job, this time on Clayton Oliver for the first half. Jack Silvagni having a good couple of games for his club and auditioning for any others, who might like to take him in a trade at the end of this season.
Collingwood Magpies (10-5)
What is going on? Alarm bells are surely sounding for the Magpies, who struggled to gel moving forward on Friday night. Only nine goals on the board, they’ll need a more than that if they want a chance against the Eagles next weekend.
Essendon Bombers (8-7)
John Worsfold’s job was in jeopardy a few weeks ago according to the media and now we’re talking finals? Outside the eight on percentage, what a story this could be.
Fremantle Dockers (7-8)
Disappointing first half in the Derby and they fall to a third consecutive loss. A positive start to the season could quickly come undone, with many of the same questions being asked.
Geelong Cats (12-4)
No need to hit a panic button, but goal-kicking practice should feature on the training agenda this week. So many opportunities not converted from gettable spots.
Gold Coast Suns (3-12)
It was the third game Suns’ co-captain David Swallow has played, in which the opposition have kicked 100 points to half-time. Happened twice in his first year at the Gold Coast (Geelong and Essendon) and now Richmond, picked up 30 disposals and a goal himself though.
GWS Giants (9-6)
Tough loss for the Giants, that’s two in-a-row now. Need to respond quickly but a Tiger-challenge at the MCG awaits.
Hawthorn Hawks (6-9)
The kids are alright! When Hawthorn were on their charge in the final term 20-year-old’s Oliver Hanrahan and Mitchell Lewis contributed to the scoreboard. Be patient though, reminded Alastair Clarkson post-match, there will still be ups and downs.
Melbourne Demons (5-10)
Tom McDonald has been struggling for form, found his range on Sunday, but a knee injury late in the third cut short his six-goal game.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (6-8)
Feel good story of the week goes to North Melbourne and the return of Majak Daw to VFL footy. Daw played two stints in the opening term, a successful comeback and will increase playing time in the following weeks.
Port Adelaide Power (8-7)
Robbie Gray won his fifth Showdown Medal with a perfect 15 votes. No goals this time around, but his 35 disposals and 10 clearances were crucial to Port’s second-half blitz of their cross-town rivals.
Richmond Tigers (9-6)
Ruthless at Metricon, but let’s talk about that run home. The Tigers remaining seven games are at the MCG, where they have a brilliant record over the last three years.
St Kilda Saints (6-8)
A first quarter to forget, but Josh Bruce’s six goals would have warmed the hearts of a few very cold Saints supporters in Hobart.
Sydney Swans (6-9)
The Swans deployed Aliir Aliir in the ruck and while he didn’t win the hit-outs, his work at ground level was equally important against the miserable Zac Clarke. Matthew Kreuzer is up next.
West Coast Eagles (11-4)
Five goals out of the centre and 11 from stoppages, what an impact Nic Naitanui has in the ruck. Four goals from a third-gamer in Jarrod Cameron as well, the Eagles are back to their potent-selves up forward.
Western Bulldogs (7-8)
Can I say the F word? One game outside the top eight and the latest scalp was the ladder leaders in Geelong. Melbourne, St Kilda and Fremantle to come…