A third of the home-and-away season is in the books, and it’s time to take the temperature of the competition.
Football lore suggests that not much changes in the make-up of the top eight from this point on apart from swapping of positions within, and it’s an easy case to make this time too.
The Demons are flying along at 8-0 but are reaching the point where they are due a loss. It could happen against any team without creating undue concern, and arguably the sooner the better.
The beauty of Melbourne so far is that they’ve won so professionally. They’ve won playing a sustained four quarters, they’ve won playing great football, they’ve won in a scrap and they’ve won with bursts after an arm wrestle. All three areas of the ground are operating well, and they are proving strong with and without the ball.
They haven’t played the Bulldogs, Port Adelaide or Brisbane yet, but have taken both Geelong and Richmond to the cleaners. They’re a top-four lock and a legitimate premiership contender.
The Dogs have probably played the most scintillating football of the season, or at least played it the most often. They can score quickly and often when that electric midfield of theirs is allowed to cut loose, and seven of their opponents have felt the burn.
Their only sober moment so far came against Richmond in Round 7, but it was a good type of loss – up at halftime having proven they can control the Tigers, they were taken aback by their opponent’s ferocity after the main break. It was a good reminder that they shouldn’t be getting ahead of themselves, and they still sit two games and percentage inside the top four, so no harm done.
Aaron Naughton, Josh Bruce and Tim English are proving a terrifying trio of marking talls, and while they are suspect down back regardless of what coach Luke Beveridge says, if their midfield wins the battle in each of their September matches, they’ll be taking home the flag.
Port Adelaide Power
The Power sit third at the moment but have been a long way from convincing. There’s no doubt at all that they can beat the lower teams by eight or nine goals, but that’s never been a problem.
The real question about them is how they stack up against the best teams, particularly when the chips are down. Do they have the heart? Are they resilient? They’ve played only three decent teams in eight rounds and have been pathetic in two of them – losses to West Coast by 37 and Brisbane by 49 could easily have been double that.
Both of those losses were interstate, and they have lucked out with the draw this season – they have to play only one more good side on the road. They may well win enough games to make the top two and are almost certainties for the top four, but they’ll have proven nothing when we hit September.
The Cats were horribly out of form in the first five weeks of the season and are lucky to be as high on the ladder as they are, but they have turned into a menacing prospect over the last few weeks.
Wins against three top-eight rivals are simply key when fighting for a top-four spot. They were fortunate to beat Brisbane and took full toll of a listless West Coast, but they were simply breathtaking against Richmond last week.
Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins are working seamlessly together, and Gary Rohan is enjoying the freedom that has meant for him. With Cameron Guthrie and Mitch Duncan in elite form, Joel Selwood still producing and Patrick Dangerfield still to come back, the Cats are going to take some stopping.
Another top-four side from 2020 that struggled to find their feet in the early part of the season, the Lions have certainly clicked into gear over the last month, finding some form and confidence against lesser teams interspersed with a dominant performance over Port at home.
The forward line is finally in sync, having averaged 98 points per game in the last four rounds, with Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood and Charlie Cameron are working in tandem to better effect. Lachie Neale will be a welcome addition at some stage, and in his absence the likes of Jarryd Lyons and Hugh McCluggage have found another level, supported by veterans Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson and the rise of Zac Bailey.
There’s probably still a question of substance over Brisbane, but we’ll get some answers against Richmond, GWS and Melbourne before their Round 13 bye.
The Swans are the new kids on the top-eight block this year, having knocked off Brisbane, Richmond and Geelong and gone down swinging against Melbourne and GWS along the way.
They are the best kicking team in the competition when they are allowed to be, as the Lions and Tigers found out, but they could do with finding some more avenues to goal. Callum Mills has become Sydney’s best player, which has given them a different look too.
They’re going to have some down games due to the number of inexperienced players taking the field, but they have a dream run home if they can stay square or even ahead of the ledger when hitting August. If so, a top-six spot beckons.
West Coast Eagles
The Eagles are one of two teams rounding out the current top eight that are carrying a heavy injury burden. Elliott Yeo hasn’t played yet, Luke Shuey has played half a game, most of their first-choice backline is missing and Liam Ryan’s magic up forward has been missed.
They have had some considerable ups and downs this year, both round-to-round and in games, but have banked an invaluable five wins along the way. Their draw is soft up until the bye too, so they have a chance to be in a great position before the cavalry arrives.
West Coast are still very much in the ‘watch this space’ category and could be the team peaking in September this year.
Are the Tigers finished, or are they going through their usual routine? It’s a question that will remain unanswered until deeper in the season.
In their three premiership years of this era Richmond has been 7-5, 7-6 and 6-4-1 at various points around the halfway mark, and they are looking at being 7-5 or 6-6 at the bye this time around. The Tigers have lost a combined one game in the last six home-and-away rounds of the last four seasons, so they know how to peak.
Like the Eagles, they must record wins while struggling with key injuries and try to strike for a top-four spot as their fixture opens up in the second half of the year.
Greater Western Sydney Giants
The Giants have won four of their last five matches after opening the year with three straight losses. Is it fool’s gold, or are they building to something? Three of the wins have been against bottom-five opposition, and they’ve played only two top-eight sides so far, beating Sydney but losing to Melbourne. It’s hard to see them being anywhere but the middle of the ladder, better than those below but not up to the really good teams.
The Dockers remain an interesting proposition, but there is still an underlying flakiness, as evidenced by losses to a struggling Carlton and vastly understrength West Coast, that they must rid themselves of if they are to become top-eight contenders. Do they still have time to do something significant in the next few years while Nat Fyfe is at his peak? No-one is betting a sheep station on it.
St Kilda Saints
After a couple of solid performances to open the season the Saints quickly fell in a hole so deep it prompted talk of them being shipped off to Tasmania. They have been able to right the ship with wins over Hawthorn and Gold Coast, but sterner tests await, and they still have the third-worst percentage in the league despite a 4-4 record. At least they will be hitting Geelong and the Bulldogs in the next two weeks with some form and confidence. So far they are the disappointment of the year and won’t be playing finals.
Gold Coast Suns
At various points this season it has looked like we are not watching our older brother’s Gold Coast Suns, but they just keep falling at vital hurdles. Losses to Adelaide (home), Carlton (away) and St Kilda (home) by less than two goals all had merit in their own way, but they just have to find a way to tough those games out and get the W against similar opposition to themselves. Maybe next year.
The Blues are always the subject of much debate, an ongoing battle between being able to see the talent and waiting for them to put something substantial on the board. Their games are usually enjoyable to watch, with great swings in momentum, but that’s not the fast track to finals football. Basic skill errors continue to let them down, so they get caught out of position defensively and get scored against quickly.
It shouldn’t be forgotten how far back the Crows are coming from despite their spirited opening to the season. What’s clear is that the playing group is buying what Matthew Nicks is selling, and he is shaping as a good coach of limited talent, similar to Stuart Dew. The rebuild will be long, but it looks on track in the early days.
The Bombers are 2-6 but have lost three games by three points or less. They’ve had a couple of nine-goals losses on the road to contenders like Port and Brisbane and have been more than competitive against teams around the middle and bottom of the ladder. It’s a fair reflection of where they are, but they are blooding some outstanding young talent along the way. Their fans are right to be excited about what might happen in three to five years.
Enough has been written about the Pies and Nathan Buckley. This club has become a train wreck, but one that will remain compulsive viewing for all the wrong reasons.
It seems that unceremoniously shipping off club greats like Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis to other clubs to end their careers in order to make room for players that were supposed to keep them competitive hasn’t worked. Culture ruined, and the results have followed accordingly. It’s midnight for the Hawks.
North Melbourne Kangaroos
It’s an ugly season getting uglier, with long-term injuries this week to Jaidyn Stephenson and Aiden Bonar, two of their better players so far. It’s Mark Neeld-bad right now, which is as low as it gets.