Round 14 of the AFL has come to an end and there’s less than a month left in the home-and-away season now. Here are my talking points from the weekend.
Bulldogs, Blues let their chances slip by
At what feels like should only be the mid-point of the season, we are instead deep into the final rounds and, for those teams on the fringe of the eight, every result is crucial.
Some were able to keep their dream alive this week with critical wins, and we’ll talk about them more soon, but the Western Bulldogs and the Carlton Blues both missed out on golden opportunities this week.
The Dogs produced some scintillating football in the first quarter against Geelong on Friday night, booting six goals to none and looking on the verge of a season-defining win.
But Geelong steadily chipped away at that lead all night and managed to slip past them by nine points in the end, all the more impressive given the shortened quarters of season 2020.
As for Carlton, their finals dream was dealt a life-threatening blow when they allowed Collingwood to streak ahead for a win in the final quarter on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues were eight points ahead at halftime but didn’t kick a goal in the second half in a match that highlighted just how far they still have to go.
It’s undoubtedly been an improved season by them but they’ve won only two games by more than 7 points. That’s the same number as bottom-four sides North Melbourne and Sydney, and one less than Hawthorn.
Both sides now significant hills to climb if they’re to have any chance of playing finals football. Neither can afford to drop another match between now and the end of the home-and-away season.
Given this week’s results, you’d have to think both have probably fallen too far back to catch up now – but, stranger things have happened.
Joe puts on a show in unexpected return
It wasn’t long ago it seemed the most likely outcome of 2020 for Joe Daniher would be a year gone by without playing a minute of football.
His sudden return for the Bombers against Hawthorn instead came as quite a surprise, as he moved from ‘indefinite’ to ‘available’ on Essendon’s injury list overnight.
That being the case, it was hard to know what to expect. If he’d gone the entire game without being sighted – as seemed a possibility in the early stages when the Bombers struggled – I don’t think too many would’ve been shocked.
Instead, you could hardly have written a better tale of his first game back. With the Bombers six goals behind at half time, Daniher was one of the sparks that saw them fire up for a famous comeback.
He finished the game with ten marks and three goals to his name, rising to the challenge in a lot of crucial moments. Essendon would not have tasted victory without him.
Something that hasn’t been said enough about Daniher over the last 12 months is what a rare and unique footballing talent he is. There’s a reason clubs have placed such a high value on him.
Beyond merely being good at football, there’s just something inherently charismatic about the way he plays the game. It’s hard not to feel wrapped up in the joy he shows when he kicks a goal.
All things considered, it was a delightful and deserved return for a player who has endured more than his fair share of scepticism and scrutiny over the last year.
It almost feels crass to immediately turn to the question of just what this means for his future at Essendon – so I won’t spend too long on it.
I’d actually like to see him stay. But would any of us survive the nuclear smugness radiating out of Tullamarine if that came to pass? Doubtful.
Queensland return sees West Coast stumble, again
Thursday night’s clash between Richmond and West Coast was billed as a possible grand final preview and, if it proves to be so, we look set to enjoy a fine contest on the last day of the season.
It was goal-for-goal in the first half, before a quick burst of three in a row in the third quarter saw Richmond take an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
When you have two sides this good that can be the difference – a few brief minutes of the game where one gets on top and does some damage, as the Tigers did.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about Richmond is their supreme confidence. Whether it’s Dustin Martin or Liam Baker, not one member of the 22 has even a shred of doubt about their own premiership credentials.
Do West Coast have the same confidence? They came into the fixture with eight consecutive wins under their belt, but it’s hard to ignore the fact they’ve faltered immediately upon returning to Queensland, where they struggled so much earlier in the year.
Of course, it must be acknowledged they were up against the reigning premiers and lost one of their most crucial players, Josh Kennedy, to a concussion early on. Boiling it all down to the Queensland location would likely be an oversimplification.
Still, it’s clear that the announcement expected to come on Tuesday regarding just where the AFL grand final will be played in 2020 is going to do a lot to shape the season.
The Eagles will be hard to ignore as flag favourites if Optus Stadium is selected, conversely, there’ll be many writing them off entirely should the decider be fixtured at the Gabba.
In the meantime, they face a challenge just to get into the top four – right now they sit outside it, albeit with a game in hand against three of the four incumbents.
If they’re to finish top two and earn some home finals then they likely need to go undefeated from here. That will be a challenge, but certainly possible with a run home versus Essendon, the Bulldogs, St Kilda and North Melbourne.
Rising Star Riccardi receives rude rating
Jack Riccardi didn’t enter 2020 as one of the season’s highly-touted draftees. The mature VFL key forward wasn’t picked up until the 51st selection of the 2019 draft, and had to wait until Round 13 to make his AFL debut.
Two goals and ten marks in a losing effort against the West Coast Eagles was impressive enough for him to keep his spot, but his performance against Fremantle really caught the eye.
In a game were GWS were comfortably on top throughout, Riccardi pulled in another nine marks and kicked four goals, tying with the reigning Coleman medallist for the most of any player on ground.
He’s clear offering more than Jeremy Finlayson has throughout the season so far and, in the space of seven days, seems to have cemented a spot in the Giant’s best 22.
Perhaps his addition can be the spark that reignites a stuttering GWS season. The result – a 38-point victory over the Dockers – is of the sort we expect from a team of their talent, but we’ve rarely seen them match expectations in 2020.
They will finish the round outside the top eight on percentage, but with Carlton, Adelaide, Melbourne and St Kilda to come, their destiny is very much in their own hands.
Bar the winless Crows, each of those sides is a fellow finals contender, a classic ‘eight-point fixture’ where the Giants can further their cause not only by claiming a win for themselves but by denying their opposition one.
Cameron’s four goals were a season-high for him also and if Riccardi’s arrival is making life easier for him too, then the Giants will be a team to watch closely in the run home.
Riccardi appears to be a lock for this week’s Rising Star nomination but surprisingly his performance was made controversial by the fact that Champion Data’s AFL player ratings ranked him as the worst player on the ground.
— AFL Player Ratings (@AFLPlayerRating) August 29, 2020
This has prompted plenty of backlash and questioning of the value of Champion Data’s ratings system – and this certainly isn’t the first time it has produced some obtuse results.
As a footy stats nerd I feel compelled to weigh in: yes, believing that the stats can tell you everything – about any topic in life – is a bad idea. But believing they tell you nothing is perilous also.
Demon Christian on ‘trac’ for superstardom
It’s a grave failing on my part that we are 14 rounds into the season and this is – according to my recollection – the first talking point of the year dedicated to the outstanding form of Christian Petracca.
Ever since entering the AFL as a No.2 draft pick great things have been expected of him, and those flashes of talent he showed in his earliest years have only increased our expectations.
He has been maligned at times over his so-far short career as some questioned whether he could realise his talent – but doubters have been put to bed in 2020.
Realistically, he’s 24 years old and will play his 100th game two rounds from now. This is exactly the time when we should be expecting him to hit his peak, and he’s done exactly that.
In 2020 Petracca is averaging career-high numbers for disposals, clearances, goals, score involvements and metres gained per game – all even without adjusting for the shortened game time.
On Saturday night he booted four goals to guide Melbourne to a narrow three-point win over St Kilda, a result which has put them into the top eight and dramatically boosted their hopes of a return to finals after a hellish 2019.
In such a tight affair, Petracca’s potency was the difference for the Demons, although the excellent form of Steven May (and perhaps also the absence of goal-line cameras) proved critical as well.
Lachie Neale’s excellent form has made him 2020’s clear Brownlow favourite and, with only a handful of weeks left in the season, I find it hard to believe this year’s count could end with anyone other than him wearing the medal.
But take Neale out of the picture and Petracca would be the clear favourite – and he’s certainly an All Australian lock, also. He has arrived as a star of the game – which will make the years to come very exciting for Melbourne fans.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-13) – Had the bye this week. I wonder how they spent it, and whether we’ll see a different team emerge on the other side.
Brisbane Lions (10-3) – Also had the bye this week. I know exactly how they spent it (or at least should have): goalkicking practice.
Carlton Blues (6-7) – I’m not sure that Marc Pittonet and Tom De Koning in the same team is doing a lot for Carlton. Just gave Brodie Grundy two opponents to knock around instead of one this week.
Collingwood Magpies (8-5-1) – Mason Cox’s form since returning to the team on Monday has been really impressive. I’ll admit I thought we might have seen the last of him, but he still has some shots to fire.
Essendon Bombers (6-6-1) – Daniher created the lion’s share of the headlines this week, but this was also an outstanding game in the career of Andy McGrath. He has quietly had a brilliant breakout year.
Fremantle Dockers (5-8) – It’s incredible how David Mundy just keeps playing brilliant and classy footy year after year. I hope he goes around again in 2021.
Geelong Cats (10-4) – I’ll admit that I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Gary Rohan sceptics society for some time now, but he was brilliant in the final quarter on Friday night. Important win.
Gold Coast Suns (5-8-1) – They’ve traditionally struggled to win games late in the year under Stuart Dew so – regardless of the quality of opponent – it’s a good effort to ice on this week. Well done.
GWS Giants (7-6) – Two goals this week another impressive step forward in the development of Bobby Hill. Great to see Brent Daniels finally get one on the board for 2020 too.
Hawthorn Hawks (4-9) – Probably their most frustrating result in a year that has provided plenty to choose from. The silver lining is that Jack Scrimshaw was really impressive.
Melbourne Demons (7-6) – He wasn’t best on ground but having Max Gawn back in the lineup was important for the Dees. Can’t help but wonder last week’s match against the Bulldogs might have gone had he been available.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-11) – North traded all their good karma this year in exchange for Luke McDonald having a career revival and Ben Cunnington regrowing his hair. Close call but it still worth it.
Port Adelaide Power (11-3) – Robbie Gray hasn’t fired a lot of shots this year (though that goal after the siren was pretty memorable), but he did this week with 27 touches and two goals. More of that please.
Richmond Tigers (9-4-1) – You’d think a team at the top might be struggling for young talent but they aren’t. Noah Balta is a star and they’ve had more AFLCA votes by players 21 and under than any other side this year.
St Kilda Saints (8-6) – It would be devastating if they missed finals from here. Have Hawthorn, West Coast and GWS left – need to win at least one to be a chance, two to be certain.
Sydney Swans (4-9) – It’s clear that the Swans are having their worst season in some time, but I don’t think too many will be losing their heads. Going OK considering their youth and inexperience.
West Coast Eagles (9-4) – The Nic Naitanui era isn’t coming to an end any time soon at West Coast but we may have seen the man who’ll step up when it does this week, with Bailey Williams making his debut. Exciting prospect.
Western Bulldogs (7-7) – They have had some big contributions from Lachie Hunter in the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, that bizarre trade rumour is officially dead and buried.