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Six talking points from Round 4 of the AFL

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Roar Guru
11th April, 2021
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It was a wild weekend of footy – how many tips did you get right on Saturday?

Let’s get into the big talking points.

The Swans keep on keepin’ on

You just know there’s going to be a point where Sydney staggers a little. It’s more or less inevitable, and there was a thought Thursday night’s clash against Essendon would be that game.

Seven of the last ten games between the two clubs have ended in wins under a goal, and Essendon – albeit against weak opposition – had bounced back last week to earn their first win of the season. For a while, it looked like the Bombers might score the upset. They did what the Tigers, the Crows and Brisbane were largely unable to do: prevent the Swans from producing their high scoring, superb game.

The Bombers were able to stem Sydney’s newfound frenetic style of footy, with the competitiveness they rediscovered last week carrying over into this clash.

Alas, it was clear that despite the valiant efforts of the Bombers, a win wasn’t to be found and Sydney’s dream start continued. Inaccurately. Up next for the Swans are their Sydneysider rivals in GWS, while Essendon have a tricky clash away at Brisbane. Plenty of intrigue within those two games, especially moreso given the Giants’ win and Lions’ loss this weekend.

One big subplot from the clash: Buddy Franklin. Franklin’s apparently waning influence on the sport has been well discussed, but for one glorious moment the big man’s influence became prominent, with Franklin kicking the sealer a half dozen teammates couldn’t as the Bombers fell just short. Franklin’s future has been much discussed, but with 1000 goals in sight and the champion reportedly set for an extended run of games, expect him to live in prominence a little bit longer.

One more additional subplot: with the Demons’ loss on Sunday, there are now only three 4-0 teams. The Swans, the Demons and the team I’m more than happy to discuss below.

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Oliver Florent and Nick Blakey of the Sydney Swans

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Western Bulldogs are legitimate premiership contenders, with an upcoming fixture to match

They’re both 4-0, but compared to Sydney, it is somewhat easier to define the Doggies’ position: they’re premiership contenders, no objection.

Saturday’s clash against preliminary finalists Brisbane was a bit of an underrated prospect. I was fascinated to see if the Lions could take their slim victory last week and spark something, or whether the Dogs would run out of steam after a topsy-turvy three weeks of wins. Turns out, neither was close to the truth.

Playing devil’s advocate to myself, the Lions are not in fantastic form, and Ballarat is a location where the Bulldogs tend to do very well, so it was not surprising that the Dogs won – but it’s hard not to be impressed at the style of the win.

The Bulldogs’ victory was built on their ability to absolutely dominate the contest up forward. On a wet and wild day – not usually the climate for tall forwards doing their thing – the talented trio of Josh Bruce, Aaron Naughton and Tim English kicked a half-dozen goals and plucked mark after mark, with the Dogs’ midfield also able to snuff out the Lions’ challenges, particularly in the third quarter.

Their fixture is also of advantage for Luke Beveridge’s side, as they have an upcoming sleight of games that enable to them to simultaneously bank the wins and prove their worth. Doggies’ fans have even more reason to smile, given they’d be hot tips to move to 6-0 over the next fortnight, as neither the Suns nor Giants look like viable challengers. After that, huge clashes against Richmond and the Power bookend a clash against the Blues.

Staying in the present for now, the Bulldogs’ most recent win elevates them to the upper echelon of the competition at this still-early stage and, with Richmond and West Coast both losing on a weekend they smashed Brisbane, it means that they certainly have claim to be among the premiership favourites at the minute.

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Adam Treloar of the Bulldogs celebrates

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Brisbane floundering, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel

The Bulldogs’ opponents on Saturday, the Lions, have more than a few concerns coming out of that loss. It shifts them to 1-3 – their only win being by literally the slimmest of margins – and means they’re headed into next week’s game against Essendon favourites, but scarcely.

That isn’t to say they didn’t compete on Saturday. They did, particularly during a nice period in the second term where they kicked a couple of goals in succession to close the gap, but that was just about it.

For mine, this was their worst performance yet – even more so than Round 1’s stinker against the Swans. The Lions, barring that aforementioned patch midgame, looked uncompetitive and very, very far from the team that excited last year. Their forward line was particularly poor, with Eric Hipwood their only multiple goalkicker, Joe Daniher only securing a junk time major and Lachie Neale painfully off the pace, being outworked by the Dogs’ midfield despite not even having a direct tag.

Fortunately for the Queenslanders, they head back into their comfort zone with five of their next seven games being played in their home state. Chris Fagan’s noticed this and ever-optimistic – significantly more than I’ve been in this column – insists there isn’t any reason to “hit the panic button”. The Essendon game will be trickier than most expect, and a Port game away is frightening, but games against Carlton, Freo and the Suns in the should be winnable for the Lions.

They’d be hoping so.

Lions coach Chris Fagan

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Saints, Giants resurrect themselves for this week

Saturday’s twilight clash between the Saints and Eagles wasn’t looking too enticing. And neither was a game a few hours later, between Collingwood and the Giants. And yet, just quietly, we got two of the most surprising results of the weekend.

I’ll start with the former clash: the Saints’ stunning victory was the best win of the weekend. Bold call from myself? I wouldn’t have thought so.

For a team that had been fairly comprehensively written off, looked to have already had produced their best footy for the game and was stranded 33 points down in the third term, Brett Ratten’s team showed superb passion to will themselves past the Eagles in that final term. Mathematically, the Saints win – a 52-point turnaround – isn’t something we’ve seen very often from this team; I certainly can’t remember a biggest comeback by the saints since their 55-point turnaround against the Bulldogs in 2015.

Comeback statistics aside, the Saints’ win was the perfect dose of euphoria that they needed. After a thrashing at the hands of the Bombers – and with extraordinarily tough games against the Tigers and Port Adelaide to come in the next two weeks – a win is what they needed. They’ve still got those tough games (and an injury crisis) to reckon with, but St Kilda has done more than enough to garner a week’s worth of praise. It goes without saying that to keep the praise, they’ll need to do much more than this one win, as good as it was.

The Giants’ win, as well, came at just the perfect moment for the previously winless club and, as I’ll mention below, at the perfect time for their coach. Like the Saints, they were considered outside chances against their opposition – though having the better of the Pies from the get-go, GWS had a more comfortable win.

I don’t think the Giants are out of trouble yet – they’ve got to face the Swans, Bulldogs and Crows in the next three weeks, and, like the Saints, they’ll need to show considerably more than one win to regain the respect of the competition.

Tim Taranto of the Giants kicks

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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Friday night footy provides all the drama you’d expect, but did we learn much?

Just as Channel Seven came back from a halftime advertising break and segued to their commentary team’s insight on the clash on Friday night, the broadcaster cut into the programming for the breaking news of Prince Phillip’s passing. It was more or less the least dramatic aspect of the night. The week’s marquee clash had it all: umpiring controversies, a coach and opposition fan sledging each other, injuries and, naturally, a very close finish.

With a result that close, it would be easy for me to jump to conclusions about these two teams – that’s footy journalism 101, right? But drama aside, I’m honestly not sure where to look to garner any conclusions from this. Last week’s losses for both these teams were poor, and this week was an opportunity for redemption. Both teams looked super competitive at times, both teams had opportunities to win and the favourites won.

Nevertheless, this is a footy column and I’m obliged to find something to discuss. Here’s a few things to mention: Port’s dominance around the clearances (winning them 36-24) was beyond commendable; Port’s second quarter wastefulness was bound to frustrate their fans and meant they had to wait significantly longer than needed to ice the game; and the ramifications from the Power’s win do come in the form of two key injuries. Xavier Dursama’s knee ailment and Zak Butter’s ankle injury will see both miss as-yet unknown amounts of time is bound to affect Port, such is their dependency on their excellent youth ranks.

To sum this up in a sentence: great yet controversial game which won’t tell us much. I’m surprisingly grateful for that, given the season. And yeah, for those who read The Roar’s expert tipping column: I’m not sure why I tipped the Tigers either.

Aliir Aliir of the Power handpasses the ball

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

And just quickly, Collingwood inherits the criticism crown

A week can change a lot in football, especially so within the opinion of critics.

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Unfortunately for the Giants, a club who know all too well about ferocious criticism about team and coach, their win has been overshadowed by ferocious criticism of their opposition’s team and coach.

In last week’s Talking Point’s piece, I scarcely mentioned the Pies, who had just suffered a painful one-point defeat at the hands of the Lions. I did say, however, in my limited remarks, that the “Magpies’ ravenous critics still out for blood after Eddie McGuire’s departure in February, the omnipresent pressure on coach Nathan Buckley simply won’t go away”.

I also mentioned that speculation about Buckley’s future was being held off by a louder and more furore – the one against Leon Cameron. I just hadn’t fully made the connection that the two embattled coaches would be up against each other, and I certainly didn’t tip Cameron to best Buckley on current form.

After Saturday’s upset loss, it only takes a cursory look at Collingwood’s social media pages to notice that “sack Buckley” posts are now the vogue. Of course, Buckley’s been in this position before – more than once. But with McGuire gone, there’s a newfound momentum pushing for change at the club. Watch this space.

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Everybody gets a turn

Adelaide Crows
Their AFL team had a slightly-more-uncomfortable-than-expected win, but it’s the Crows’ women’s team that has made it through to yet another AFLW grand final. I’m looking forward to seeing Adelaide Oval packed out for that decider next weekend.

Brisbane Lions
Spoken enough about them, so I’ll just ponder a question: was Eric Hipwood’s acclaimed mark really so good?

Carlton
It was a stinker of a Saturday night game, but the Blues have levelled their win-loss ledger and now head into next weekend’s clash against the Port Adelaide at 2-2. There’s no way I can tip them in that clash, but a competitive performance should see David Teague’s men with a smidgen chance of an upset.

Collingwood
A trip to Perth to face West Coast comes at a nervy time for the club. Pies’ fans will be hoping it’s more of a “2020 elimination final” type of game rather than a “2018 grand final” kind.

Essendon
Despite the loss, there’s no real grounds to dispute the fact their last two weeks have been significantly better than their first fortnight. I’ve spent a lot of time in this column discussing upsets, which is often a fool’s game, but the Bombers are surely a chance over the struggling Lions next weekend.

Fremantle
Nat Fyfe’s 0.6 goal kicking result yesterday brought back uncomfortable memories of 2013’s grand final. Absolutely love the guy, but that was painful to watch.

Geelong Cats
Did not get a mention in the broader piece, but Geelong’s loss to the Demons should be a massive red blinking alarm for the club. There’s no way they lose to North next weekend, especially on the rebound, but the Cats’ need to rectify something and quickly.

Gold Coast Suns
I’m not sure what to make of the Suns’ loss. They kept is close and never stopped pushing, but poor mistakes and an inability to break through in what was a low scoring final quarter means they’d be kicking themselves more than anything else.

GWS Giants
I saw a couple of “Toby Greene for captain” calls during the week. Given his performance this week, there’s some food for thought here.

Hawthorn
Not that my own team played too well in a win, but the Hawks’ digging themselves a massive hole with a flat first quarter shot themselves in the foot. Could’ve been a very, very close ending if they weren’t trying to peg the margins back so late in the game.

Melbourne
Undefeated after four rounds. For Melbourne, that’s a somewhat unusual position to be in. What’s the rules here? When do we begin to ‘believe’ in this side?

North Melbourne
North’s had a tough enough week on The Roar so I’d do best to compliment them. A much-improved performance, which is just about all they could do after hitting rock bottom on Good Friday.

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Port Adelaide
A debut on your birthday? Always a good thing, and Lachie Jones made the most of it – 17 disposals and already called an instant AFL cult hero by the media. Nice.

Richmond
I haven’t always been a massive fan of Damien Hardwick, but I couldn’t help but laugh at his insinuation in a Friday presser that even he can be prone to singing Port’s INXS song tribute as he’s at leaves Port Adelaide home games. I feel that, Dimma.

St Kilda
Jack Steele’s (co-)captaincy of the club did take me as a surprise – he’s the AFL’s youngest skipper – but he’s bounding from strength to strength. He 33 disposals, 17 contested possessions and a goal capping off his side’s upset win.

Sydney Swans
In one way, the Swans’ luck did run out. They’ve had plenty of luck in terms of limited injuries this year – having not yet used their medical sub before in the three weeks preceding Thursday’s game – but Issac Heeney’s broken hand wasn’t what the club wanted. Hoping the best for him.

West Coast Eagles
If Luke Shuey’s injury last weekend was a concern, the Eagles’ would be frustrated about former skipper Shannon Hurn’s calf injury. A sliver of silver lining: Isiah Winder’s medical sub debut seeing him kick a goal from his first kick. Almost my favourite niche AFL statistic club.

Western Bulldogs
On a weekend where his former club dug themselves a deeper hole, Adam Treloar was superb for the Dogs, collecting 29 disposals – 18 of those being contested possessions. His departure looking more glaring for his former club by the day.

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