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Six talking points from AFL Round 8

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26th July, 2020
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Another weekend of footy has drawn to a close – here are my talking points from Round 8 of the 2020 AFL season.

And stay tuned for an update to this piece when the final match of the round concludes on Monday night.

West Coast send the competition a warning
There can’t have been many side in the history of the VFL/AFL competition happier to have returned to their home state than West Coast in 2020, judging by the performances since.

Critics were coming from all corners and rightly so after West Coast struggled to 0-3 from their first three weeks on the Gold Coast hub in 2020, but their recovery in the time since has been impressive.

They closed out their time in Queensland with two much needed wins and in the two weeks they’ve been back home, we’ve see the typically imperious form we expect from them on home soil.

Last week’s win over Fremantle was by no means a thriller but the way they put Collingwood to the sword on Sunday sent the competition a message: this team is back in form.

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Now, it should be noted that Collingwood were missing some of their most crucial players, with Steele Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe and Jordan de Goey all on the sidelines currently, and Scott Pendlebury a late out just moments before the match.

A comfortable win should have been the expectation for a West Coast side with little in the way of significant absentees, and that’s exactly what they achieved.

The star of the show no doubt was Josh J Kennedy, who booted seven goals for only the third time in the last four seasons against a Collingwood defence that, up until now, has been comfortably the best in the league.

After a shaky start the Eagles all of a sudden find themselves back in the top four – pending Geelong’s result on Monday night – and only a win and percentage off top spot.

Their next three fixtures will all come at home and are against Geelong, Carlton and Hawthorn – if I were them, I’d be expecting to go 3-0 and be in the top two by the time those are wrapped up.

Make no mistake, this side remains as deep in the premiership race as anyone.

Tom Barrass of the Eagles looks happy after his team's win

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Clarko’s clever deflection draws attention to Coleman contender Tom Papley
Here’s why Alastair Clarkson remains the master of media manipulation. With one well placed comment about Tom Papley, he’s drawn the bulk of attention away from Hawthorn’s poor performance on Saturday.

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The Hawks fielded a side nearly two years older than their Sydney opponents on average and coming into the match on a losing streak and under media pressure, surely couldn’t be more motivated than they are now to get a win.

But instead a very young and inexperienced Sydney side missing some of their most crucial players proved too good for the ageing Hawks, and four goals from Tom Papley proved crucial to the result.

Two of those came in the space of a minute after Papley soccered through a goal, only to be knocked over by James Frawley in a bit of celebratory jostling with the opposition and paid a free kick directly in front of goal, which he duly converted.

Clarkson said after the match that Papley “milks free kicks as good as anyone”, and he may well be right.

That said, it’s worth noting that this was the only free kick paid to Papley on the day, and in eight matches so far he’s only once received more than a single free kick in a game (with five in his favour against North Melbourne standing out like a sore thumb).

Accurate or not, Clarko’s comment is the kind that draws attention and has become the big talking point of the game. Whatever time is spent dissecting the Hawks’ poor form this week will be less than it would otherwise have been.

Alastair Clarkson

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

As for Papley, he finds himself three goals ahead in the Coleman Medal race. At the time of writing, three players in the top five – Papley, Toby Greene and Dan Butler – are small or medium forwards.

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Is 2020 the so often talked about year where a small forward wins the Coleman? And if so, is that the start of a new trend, or just another bizarre moment in a bizarre season? Watch this space.

Greene’s individual brilliance shouldn’t make Giants too jolly
Speaking of Toby Greene, his performance on Friday night – kicking five goals for the GWS Giants in a match they only one by two – was one of the best individual efforts of the round, if not the season.

Greene is one of the league’s most polarising players, and one who I regularly find myself in two minds about. In 2020 however he has largely avoided controversy and is instead putting together one of his best seasons yet.

He’s averaging 2.3 goals per game this year, which is just a tick below his All Australian 2017 effort of 2.4 – factor in the shortened game time and it’s hard not to call that career-best form.

For GWS, it was an important win. It brought them back to a level 4-4 record, which is still some distance off the top eight, but much better than the 3-5 it could’ve been.

Whether you buy into the idea that it will help them move on from last year’s grand final loss is up to you – for mine, I think probably not, given the circumstances.

The Tigers are a very undermanned side at the moment and missing half a dozen of last year’s premiership side including crucial players like Bachar Houli, David Astbury, Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin.

GWS went into the game boasting a year of age and nearly 30 games of experience on average at their opponents, and yet there were still long stretches of the match where Richmond appeared to be in control.

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Richmond had 20 scoring shots to GWS’ 17 but kicked a heartbreaking 6.14 – if they’d been a little more accurate in front of the big sticks, they may well have snuck home with a famous victory.

Former Giant Brett Deledio said of the club during the week: “They all try to use their own ability to win the game versus trying to do it together… it’s a bunch of 22 individuals versus a collective team.”

While they are back on the winners list, I didn’t see anything from GWS this week to make me disbelieve that statement. Take Toby Greene out of that line-up and they’d have lost comfortably.

Toby Greene celebrates a goal

(Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

A win is a win and the Giants edge closer to the top eight, but they’re not out of the woods yet.

The race for the wooden spoon remains an open contest
The Adelaide Crows may not have gotten their first win of the season on Sunday – in fact, they recorded their 11th consecutive loss – but their last two performances have surely put some doubt into the debate over who will win the 2020 wooden spoon.

They were competitive against St Kilda in Round 7 and threatened to boil over and win the match on multiple occasions. This week, they gave Essendon fans heart palpitations right up until the final seconds.

Could it be a coincidence that an uptick in form arrives at the same time as a return to South Australian soil? One would suspect that coming home has helped the Crows, and if so then their extra home games in the second half of the season might be a big boost to their prospects.

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In a 17-week season, time is running out to get wins on the board – but Adelaide have North Melbourne on the Gold Coast next week before hosting Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval, and would be considering themselves a chance in both.

Get a win over the Kangaroos and they will be only one win behind them on the ladder, albeit with something of a percentage gap still to make up also.

Fremantle – pending the result of Monday night’s match against Geelong – find themselves with just two wins on the board also, though they hold the best percentage of any team in the bottom five.

The most likely scenario I suspect is that North or the Dockers are capable of putting another win or two on the board before season’s end and if so will likely move further ahead of Adelaide than they are capable of catching up to.

Ben Cunnington celebrates a goal

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

North after all came mightily close to upsetting Carlton this weekend, while Fremantle have two wins from their last three.

But whether or not it ultimately provides them with enough momentum to move off the bottom of the ladder, it seems the Crows have turned a corner in the last fortnight – and I wouldn’t be surprised if, a week from now, they’re celebrating their first win under Matthew Nicks.

Power homecoming party pooped by sharpshooting Saints
While Adelaide and West Coast may be sides whose form has improved now that they’re back on home turf, Port Adelaide’s second game in South Australia for the season left a lot to be desired.

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The Power entered their match with St Kilda as comfortable favourites, and the 20,000 fans allowed to attend the match must have been excited at the chance to see their 6-1 side in action.

It turned out to be an evening of disappointment. It shouldn’t come as a shock that St Kilda were able to keep pace until three quarter time, but for them to dominate the final quarter was a twist even the most optimistic of Saints didn’t likely see coming.

There’s an argument to make that Port were unlucky to be on the receiving end of a remarkably accurate performance – they had 14 scoring shots to 13 for the match, but finished with a scoreline of 6.8 to 12.1.

After so long being criticised for their poor conversion in front of goal, the Saints are going at 65 per cent accuracy on raw scoring shots this year, which if they keep it up would be the most accurate season of all time by some distance.

That suggests, to put it simply, that they probably won’t keep it up, and are likely in a bit of a hot streak – and perhaps Port simply caught them at the worst possible time.

Of course, the other side of the debate would point out that Port allowed St Kilda to set up easy shots on goal that were easy to convert, and many believe that the Power have struggled to make use of home ground advantage under Ken Hinkley.

Ken Hinkley

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

One result doesn’t ruin a season and Port still end the round on the top of the ladder. Their next four – Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Richmond and Geelong – will tell us a lot about where they’re at.

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As for the Saints, winners are grinners. They’ve taken a genuine scalp and currently find themselves in the top four, if you can believe it. Very exciting from a young and inexperienced side under a new coach.

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-8) – Not many players come back from an ACL injury better than they were before, but Brodie Smith deserves a nod for just what a quality performer he has been ever since injuring his knee during the 2017 finals series. His 24 touches and a goal this week was another classy effort.

Brisbane Lions (6-2) – Plenty of clubs have cost themselves the win this week through inaccuracy in front of goal – the Lions were lucky not to be one of them. It wouldn’t have been the first time it happened to them in 2020, either.

Carlton Blues (4-4) – Harry McKay being a late out for this match surely fuels the conspiracy theory that he and twin brother Ben – who would’ve played in the same AFL match for the first time – are secretly the same person, swapping between clubs for different matches and training sessions. Though if that’s the case I’m surprised playing for North won out as the more attractive option, given recent form.

Collingwood Magpies (4-3-1) – Is it going to be another premiership push derailed by injuries for Collingwood? They’ve managed the mounting toll well so far this season, but on Sunday it seemed to hit critical mass. At least Sidebottom and Pendlebury should be back soon enough – this was the first time in more than ten years that they’ve played a game without either.

Steele Sidebottom celebrates.

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Essendon Bombers (4-3-1) – He seemed to fall a step or two behind other high picks in his year like Tim Taranto and Hugh McCluggage in 2019 – and really, he probably still is – but 2020 has been an impressive season so far for Andy McGrath. His 25 touches, ten tackles, eight clearances on Sunday were very good.

Fremantle Dockers (2-6) – On the topic of the Harry McKay/Ben McKay conspiracy, surely Tobe Watson is just Jobe Watson after undergoing extensive plastic surgery and a bright red dye job.

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Geelong Cats (5-3) – Win keeps them in the top four which is all they could’ve wanted to get out of this game – not sure there’d be anything else to take from it either, though Brad Close certainly got involved on debut.

Gold Coast Suns (4-4) – Only three games into his career Izak Rankine is the player we keeping looking to for a little something special at Gold Coast. He kicked 1.4 this week – so close to being the match winner if not for some missed opportunities.

GWS Giants (4-4) – Like most defenders he doesn’t get nearly enough plaudits, but Nick Haynes deserves to be acknowledged as on the same level as some of GWS’ biggest stars. He’s leading the comp for both intercept marks and intercept possessions after eight rounds.

Hawthorn Hawks (3-5) – He might be running the risk of getting carried away by a stiff breeze, but I’ve liked the look of Will Day in his first few games for Hawthorn. He’s a very skilled user of the ball, as advertised, and could be a real weapon for the Hawks when he eventually fills out.

Melbourne Demons (3-4) – Obviously they’d have preferred to get the win, but hard not to feel that a performance like that shows some of the improvement we’ve been looking for. They look a lot better now than they did three weeks ago.

Max Gawn in a Melbourne Demons huddle

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-6) – Some real highs and lows in this performance. Focusing on the former, I loved what we saw from Bailey Scott, who could become the 12th player to be nominated for the Rising Star twice at some point this season.

Port Adelaide Power (6-2) – While it was a frustrating night to be a Port Adelaide fan, one highlight would be the impressive second-game efforts of Mitch Georgiades. After missing most of the 2019 under-18 season due to injury, it’s exciting that he’s fit and playing good footy.

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Richmond Tigers (4-3-1) – Dustin Martin is obviously Richmond’s main man especially with their outs, but Shai Bolton deserves a nod as a really impressive emerging talent. He was considered something of a dicey pick when drafted and took some time to find his feet at AFL level, but has real star qualities.

St Kilda Saints (5-3) – There’s not many feelings more satisfying than a win against your old team, and Dougal Howard and Paddy Ryder achieved just that on Saturday night. For Ryder in particular, after many – including myself – have questioned his position in the side, to bob up with two great goals and dominate in the ruck was a great performance.

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Sydney Swans (3-5) – Josh P Kennedy’s injury may well be the making of Callum Mills – he’s played more of a midfield role in the last few weeks and really started to impress. Let’s hope that he’s still played in that position even when Kennedy comes back.

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West Coast Eagles (5-3) – I can’t even begin to imagine going through what Liam Ryan has during this week, much less getting up to play a game of footy afterwards. My thoughts are with him and his family.

Western Bulldogs (5-3) – The Bulldogs have so many exciting talents that we just don’t spend nearly enough time reflecting on how great Caleb Daniel is. He’s the best kick in the comp and proof that if you have the skills, your height doesn’t matter.