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Six talking points from AFL Round 5

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5th July, 2020
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It’s been another history-making week of AFL football. Here are my talking points from the round.

Here come (more) AFL hubs
Since Round 2, four of the AFL’s 18 teams – those representing South and Western Australia – have been in a hub on the Gold Coast. But hubbing in the AFL is about to go a whole new level.

Come Monday all ten Victorian AFL teams will be on the move to either Queensland or New South Wales, with some then to go on to Western Australia over the next few weeks.

These sides have been promised they’ll be back home within a month – with the possibility of a second shut-down period to come if there are still heavy restrictions on Victorians.

(That’s a promise that, interstate fans will note, was never extended to the non-Victorian clubs going into hubs.)

But only the next two weeks of the fixture have been released and it remains unclear what might happen after that, as the situation around the country – and particularly in Victoria – continues to develop.

Indeed, it will be the first time in the 123-year history of the VFL/AFL competition that a round of football has been played without Victoria hosting a single match.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. We’ve seen in hubs so far that some teams handle it well, some don’t, and it hasn’t been easy to predict which will be which.

It has also been reported today that several senior Richmond players, yet to be named, are likely to stay home, and could voluntarily miss four matches of the season as a result.

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That’s a decision I would support any player in making, and respect Richmond’s decision to do so. But it does highlight just how chaotic and unpredictable the next few weeks are likely to be.

Dustin Martin leads the Tigers off after a loss

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Congratulations to Brisbane on not doing a Melbourne
It was a case of once bitten, twice shy for many media pundits earlier in 2020 when we made our predictions of how the Brisbane Lions might back up their breakout year.

After all, we had just watched a simillarly young and exciting team in the Melbourne Demons fall flat on their faces immediately after having seemed to finally come good.

Concern was rife that the Lions could ‘do a Melbourne’ – an expression that I’m sure Dees fans are glad has entered the AFL lexicon – and even Brisbane coach Chris Fagan acknowledged the concerns.

Brisbane’s Round 1 loss to Hawthorn would’ve had a few fans grinding their teeth, but they’ve been faultless ever since, culminating in a very comfortable dismantling of the previously-undefeated Port Adelaide on Saturday.

Port’s wayward kicking (6.12 in front of goal) didn’t help their cause, but after a start to the season that gave them the appearance of premiership contenders, they were made to look second rate.

The asterisk on Brisbane’s form so far is that they’ve have left Queensland since March and, all things considered, don’t appear likely to do a large amount of travelling any time soon.

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Could that boon – combined with their obvious talent and quality – propel them to another top-four finish or even the premiership in 2020? A grand final at the Gabba wouldn’t hurt either.

You couldn’t definitively call them the best team going around right now, but you’d have just as difficult a time looking to prove that there’s anyone better.

Of course, if you’re looking for a side where we can speak more categorically…

Cam Rayner of the Lions celebrates a goal

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Winless Adelaide are the AFL’s worst side
If there was any doubt this time last week – and there couldn’t possibly have been much – we know with confidence after Adelaide’s loss to Fremantle that they are on the AFL’s bottom rung.

Neither side exactly covered themselves in glory during the match, but Fremantle – who have been relatively competitive throughout the season despite not previously getting a win – showed they were a class above.

The Crows, on the other hand, simply continue to look lost at sea and it’s hard to see where their first win of the year will come from (though knowing only the next two weeks of the fixture doesn’t help).

They have what looks like a rejuvenated West Coast side to face at the Gabba next weekend, before returning home to host St Kilda the week following.

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Neither match is necesarilly unwinnable, but without a significant lift in form they will likely prove so.

It’s an unpredictable season and we’re only five rounds in, so nothing is written in stone. That said, if you were projecting a likely wooden spooner at this stage, it’d be hard to go past the Crows.

That would mean getting a no.1 pick in the door, and possibly pick 2 as compo should Brad Crouch move on. That would be great for their rebuild, but they can’t go another 12 rounds without offering fans something else to get excited about.

Key figures at the club would no doubt be banging their heads against the wall after another expose on the now two-and-a-half-years-old Gold Coast camp was published this weekend.

Why not use it as an opportunity to finally own up with complete transparency to the club’s mistakes, and at long last allow players, fans and the club to move on? I won’t be holding my breath.

Matthew Nicks, Senior Coach of the Crows

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

You’d love to have a King twin (or two)
It’s been a rough little patch of history recently for developing key forwards as the likes of Tom Boyd, Patrick McCartin, Jesse Hogan or Josh Schache have entered the league with much fanfare but struggled to cement themselves as AFL players.

Some of those names still have shots to fire and I don’t mean the above statement to write them off, but fair to say it’s become uncommon in recent years to see young key forwards live up to the hype.

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Not so the twin Kings, Max and Ben, who both put in quality performances this week, Ben playing just his 19th game and Max playing only his fifth.

Ben’s ten goals for the year have him only one behind the Coleman Medal leaders. Max has seven from his first five games, which is two more than Ben did at the same point last year.

Part of the struggles of early-picked key forwards like Boyd, McCartin or Jonathon Patton has been that they were perhaps better built for a different era of AFL (though each has faced numerous challenges beyond that).

Not so the Kings, who look like the result of a laboratory experiment to create the ideal modern key forward. They’re tall but they’re also athletic. They’re great below the knees and they can run. They each have more than a few tricks up their sleeves.

One alone is weapon enough, you can understand why a club like St Kilda (or Gold Coast, for that matter) would drool at the opportunity to lure the other brother to their list.

Max was never likely to go anywhere bar St Kilda, but some might recall the pick 6 with which Ben was taken hoped around the AFL during the 2018 trade week, belonging to the likes of Brisbane, Fremantle and Melbourne before they moved it on.

The Lions picked up Lachie Neale – who’d be leading the Brownlow at this stage – with that selection, but the Dockers and the Demons might be having some regrets.

Right now the Kings are as exciting to watch as any junior players in the league. I can’t wait to see how their careers develop over the next decade to come.

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And while we’re talking about the Saints…

St Kilda look good playing Brett Ratten’s brand
When the sudden need to find a new Thursday night fixture arose this week, the decision to pick out St Kilda’s match against Carlton was at least in part an acknowledgement of the exciting footy the Saints have played this season.

They were a delight to watch against the Bulldogs in Round 2, and then didn’t go into their shells when they were beaten by Collingwood the next week – instead continuing to run and gun to victory against Richmond in Round 4.

Carlton, too, had played some good football in the weeks prior, and the match – which also happened to be Brett Ratten’s first as senior coach against the side he played and coached in 375 games for – promised to be a spectacle.

St Kilda’s quality performance, particularly in the first half, made it so. After a week of conjecture about the state of the game, well, it wasn’t match of the year but it was good, watchable footy.

Jack Steele seems to have taken his game to another level this year while the likes of Ben Long, Hunter Clark and Nick Coffield are taking steps forward.

The Saints finally seem to have a settle forward line and with the likes of King, Tim Membrey, Josh Battle, Dan Butler and Jack Lonie in there, it’s in the conversation as one of the most potent in the league.

After five weeks they have a 3-2 record (one of those losses by less than a goal), and their next matches are against two of the AFL’s bottom three sides in Fremantle and Adelaide.

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If they’re serious then in a fortnight’s time they’ll be 5-2 and firmly in the mix for a finals campaign – which would be their first in nearly a decade. Bring it on.

Max King of the Saints celebrates a goal

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-5) – Not a player many would be taking notice of, but I’ve liked seeing Ben Keays get a solid run at AFL level so far this year. Not sure he’s going to become a long-term player just yet but there’s some promise there – a long way from Adelaide’s worst so far in 2020.

Brisbane Lions (4-1) – The trade rumour about Charlie Cameron earlier this week was utterly bizarre. Not sold that there’s anything real to it, but even if not, Brisbane should just hand this guy a blank check. Eight inside 50s and seven score involvements on the weekend.

Carlton Blues (2-3) – Thought it was a really good performance from Will Setterfield this week, albeit in a losing effort. If the Blues can expect that kind of form from him on a regular basis, he’ll more than just the early pick with which he was originally drafted to the charcoal and orange.

Collingwood Magpies (2-2-1) – Jaidyn Stephenson has kicked the first two goals for Collingwood (and no more thereafter) three matches in a row, which is the sum total of all matches he’s played this season. A more bizarre stat you will not find.

Essendon Bombers (3-1) – Really liked seeing Andrew Phillips get a run as Essendon’s ruckman of choice this week. While no one would expect him to match it with Brodie Grundy, he played well, and will hopefully get a chance to cement that position over the next little while.

Fremantle Dockers (1-4) – Probably the best game of Andrew Brayshaw’s career so far, and Adam Cerra a fine performer too. With Nat Fyfe stuck on the injury list this week, you’d be absolutely stoked as a Fremantle fan to see these two take a step up.

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Geelong Cats (3-2) – Ablett and Selwood were obviously the headliners with a combined 650 games of milestone between them, but the highlight of the match for mine was Jack Steven kicking his first goal as a Cat and the team getting around him when he did. A moment of pure joy.

Gold Coast Suns (3-2) – I was really impressed that they held their own well after Matt Rowell’s shoulder injury – probably their best patch of footy for the game was the 20 or so minutes thereafter. They couldn’t maintain it, but still did themselves proud.

GWS Giants (3-2) – Harry Perryman became a solid citizen for GWS last year, but he might be 2020’s most improved player (in close competition with a number of others). He’s shown some great goalkicking prowess in previous weeks, while this time around he was racking up the touches. One to watch.

Hawthorn Hawks (3-2) – They are proving a hard team to get a read on – have gotten comfortable wins over two of last year’s top four, but looked second-rate against others. I wouldn’t say they’ve convinced us just yet, but how many clubs have?

Melbourne Demons (1-4) – It’s early days for the careers of Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon at this club, but I dare say they’ve not won over Melbourne fans just yet. Neither was exactly a celebrated user of the ball in their previous lives and that hasn’t changed.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-3) – Bringing Ben Cunnington back this week was probably as big of a selection howler as we’ve seen in recent memory. Did not look remotely ready to play an AFL game. Sending Luke McDonald to tag, on the other hand, was a winner (just about the only one on the night). More of that, please.

Port Adelaide Power (4-1) – If you wanted to accuse them of being flat-track bullies across the first four rounds, they gave you the perfect ammunition this week. Must improve dramatically against the Giants next week if to show they’re still the real deal.

Richmond Tigers (2-2-1) – Back on the winners list this week, I’m interested to see how this team tackles the hub. Wonder if maybe having a few senior players stay home will freshen the team up and make them more hungry. I’d love to see Riley Collier-Dawkins get a debut.

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St Kilda Saints (3-2) – Probably talked the Saints up enough for one week. Fingers crossed Dan Hannebery isn’t off the field too long.

Sydney Swans (2-3) – Quality young talls should be their priority when it comes to end-of-year recruiting. It’s hard to tell right now what their five-years-from-now spine is meant to look like. Nick Blakey will fit in somewhere, but otherwise…?

West Coast Eagles (2-3) – Leaving Queensland without a hub win would’ve been a disaster, one they’ve now managed to avoid. Get back to level pegging next week with a win over Adelaide, and there’ll be plenty of time to repair their season now that they look set to play a half-dozen or more consecutive games in WA.

Western Bulldogs (3-2) – A bit like Brisbane, they appear to have gotten their groove back after a shaky start to the season. North are by no means a scalp, but a team that on paper they should be expected to beat comfortably – and they did. Nice bag from Josh Bruce also.