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Six talking points from AFL Round 9

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Roar Guru
16th May, 2021
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4197 Reads

Blockbuster matches, multiple complaints from coaches, some close results, umpiring howlers – yeah, it was a certainly a memorable round of football.

Here are a half dozen talking points.

Port goes soft against the best again*
Port Adelaide have a problem, and it’s an increasingly glaring one. On the surface they’re going pretty smoothly. They’ve won six, lost three, don’t have a lot of injuries and have one of the competition’s most complete teams. All that seems to matter for naught when they face a fellow premiership competitor though.

Saturday night’s clash was not an awful one – it was genuinely exciting and lived up to its timeslot’s expectations – but it again showed the Power’s struggles when they go up against a top-tier team.

Their prior two losses of this type were against the Eagles (in Perth) and the Lions (in Brisbane). In both of those games Port looked flat and never truly in the contest. This past clash against the Doggies was at home at a ground where the Dogs don’t have the best record and where Port haven’t lost this season. Those two facts were enough to sway most observers (including me) into thinking that Port would secure a win, but there was a collective underestimation in both the Power’s ability to struggle against the best and the Dogs’ strength.

To be fair to the Power, this loss cannot be registered as being on the same scale as the prior two, and that’s the reason there’s an asterisk in the heading. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said by the way they were completely blown away in the first term, fought hard to get back into the contest and then were simply unable to overcome a determined Bulldogs side, who were aided by superb goals in the final term.

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The Power won’t be derailed by the loss – they have more than enough games both at home and against weaker sides to comfortably make finals – but there’s a concerning tendency for the Power to struggle against sides that they’re more than likely to be competing against come September. And it’s a strange thing because this is a phenomenon that has existed for the last few seasons.

This year the Power have lost all three of their four clashes against teams in the top eight; last season they lost four of seven and in 2019 (the last year they didn’t make finals) they lost seven of their ten clashes against eventual finalists.

The Bulldogs, as you’d expect, were superb. They’ve managed to shake off their singular loss for the season a fortnight ago to bounce back with two strong wins. That’s paved the way for an enthralling three weeks: clashes against the Saints and Freo bookend a marquee match against Melbourne.

Power coach Ken Hinkley looks on

Ken Hinkley. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Tigers and Giants provide the goods that their last encounter in Melbourne didn’t
The last time Richmond and GWS played against each other in Victoria it was the 2019 grand final. We all saw how that game eventuated, and it was perhaps the most high-profile anticlimactic clash of recent years. Pleasingly for neutrals, Saturday night’s encounter between the two sides was a better contest in every imaginable way.

The home side was beginning to ‘struggle’ (if that word exists in Tigerland’s vernacular) with a 4-4 record and a thoroughly disappointing loss last week against the Cats. On Friday there were times, especially throughout the second and third terms, where it looked like the Giants were going to follow the lead of Sydney, Port, Melbourne and Geelong in knocking off the Tigers this season – and they’d have been the only non-finalists to do so thus far.

And yet, just because the Tigers absolutely love making a mockery of any and all suggestions that they’re ‘struggling’, ‘not travelling well’, ‘losing steam’ or any permeation of that notion, they found their way out of it. Ironically the final goal deep in the last quarter to win them the game came off the boot of Daniel Rioli, who was involved in a nightclub altercation. On that note, Richmond’s ‘win after controversy’ score moves to 3-0 in the past two years.

Richmond’s ability to win drew upon the stupendous depth of their midfield. There was no Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia, Shane Edwards et al, but there was Marlion Pickett, Jack Graham, Riley Collier-Dawkins and Jake Aarts. And naturally there was Dustin Martin, who was as sensational as you’d expect.

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The more experienced GWS team had a natural ascendency over the Richmond crew for much of the game, but they slowly got on top of the clash, and while they didn’t win any stats, it’s impossible not to give plaudits to the strength of the team.

The Giants will be peeved to let that game slip, and their slate gets no easier: the Eagles and Brisbane before North, while Richmond have a classic against Brisbane next weekend.

Shane Edwards and Jack Graham celebrate.

Shane Edwards and Jack Graham (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Hardwick’s complaints ring hollow
Speaking of Richmond, Damien Hardwick’s complaints about Marvel Stadium after Saturday night’s clash have me in two minds.

One, Marvel Stadium is a poor stadium – it’s artificial, boring and doesn’t have tradition. The MCG is objectively better. I can understand logically why the Tigers would prefer to have their home games at the G, and it’s a damn shame there was a dramatically small crowd to witness a great clash – although, yeah, the Giants’ small fan-base can account for the tiny ‘away’ crowd.

But regardless of whether or not it’s a poor stadium, regardless of whether or not the team was ‘struggling’, regardless of whether or not they were playing a team with a tiny fan-base, the Tigers have the league’s biggest fan-base.

And for just 18,000 of them to turn up on a Saturday night at a stadium a few kilometres from their usual home is certainly not on the AFL or its scheduling, as Hardwick insinuated. It’s on Richmond fans themselves.

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St Kilda lose it, Geelong don’t win it
There was a moment in the final quarter of Friday night’s game – with about seven minutes to go, an 11-point margin favouring the Cats – where Max King was lining up for goal. He was 1.4 for his kicking up until that point of the clash, and there was a big onus on him. If he scored the goal, the margin would narrow to four points in the crucial dying stages, and with a home crowd behind them his side would have the momentum.

The Sherrin slammed into the post.

It was emblematic of the Saints’ night, really. Strong in all areas of the ground and looking surprisingly superior to the Cats – who were heavy favourites – they shot themselves in the foot by some horrific finishing. St Kilda’s first quarter saw them return a score of 0.7, and it took two more misses a term later to finally garner their first major of the night – which, ironically, was King’s first and only goal.

Their ultimate scoreline of 5.17 was the worst of any team in any round this year and an illuminating reflection on their clear inability to make Geelong pay for a weirdly uninspired performance. That’s not to say the Cats didn’t do enough to win the clash – they did – but if the Saints’ kicking skills matched their endeavour, they’d have been well ahead and on track for a significantly more comfortable win. Just something for Chris Scott and co to ponder.

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Max King

Max King (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

North break through for their first of the season, but will anybody remember it?
It’s nice to finally write about North without some platitude about how they looked competitive in a loss or prognosticating about when they could ultimately win. And that’s because after nine rounds they’ve secured their win – their first since July last year. Congratulations, North fans. That means your team went winless for a shorter period than the Dockers 2016 or Adelaide’s 2020 losing streak.

Granted, as my sardonic subheading theorises, it’ll be difficult to imagine many neutrals remembering this clash. And that is honestly a shame, because beneath the game’s cellar-dweller competitors and Saturday afternoon timeslot lay a genuinely exciting clash. The game had several of the more exciting football tropes: a large comeback, a very close finish and an inspirational run of goals from a typically understated player.

It was the latter that inspired the former, as Cameron Zurhaar’s four goals included two crucial majors before and after the final break and gave the Kangaroos a genuine sniff. Throw in the effort that has been present for a few weeks now, an opposition that was potentially too complacent in their Tasmanian home away from home and some inspired performances from old and young hands alike and it’s hard to think of a more positive story from the round.

Hawthorn remain precisely where they were a week ago – a team that has two wins from nine starts and a seemingly collective shrug of the shoulders when it comes to their future. Some commentors asked last week why Hawthorn’s struggles aren’t getting enough attention. I can’t theorise on that, but they’re certainly not doing themselves many favours based on performances like Saturday’s.

Jack Mahony of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Essendon flick the script as Freo shoot themselves in the foot with some disturbingly familiar traits
Yesterday’s Essendon and Fremantle game is probably not going to be one that anybody who doesn’t wear red and white remembers too fondly. The Bombers’ record in close matches – as I discussed in this column last week – was an increasingly worrisome one, with the team significantly more likely to lose than win when the game goes down to the death. That’s a record that changed yesterday, as the Bombers – through a pair of sensational, flukey goals to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Brayden Ham – overcame a tense final quarter to secure a much-needed win.

Unfortunately for them, the story of the day simply had to focus upon the Dockers. Freo could have and probably should have won that clash. Freo’s goal kicking – an omnipresent issue – saw them cough up chance after chance at the lead and momentum. Nat Fyfe has turned into a confidence-devoid skipper, which is sure to be permeating through the club. Their away record – the club pulling off an illusion to the contrary by the great win in Adelaide – remains wholly unacceptable.

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There’s so much talent on the ground (and in the medical rooms) for Fremantle. But losses like that frustrate, and with games against Sydney, Port and the Doggies to come in quick succession, Freo’s season is over before it ever really began.

Dyson Heppell of the Bombers in action

Dyson Heppell (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Everybody gets a turn

Adelaide Crows
They Were significantly more gallant than I’d expected, especially through the first half. They’ve officially fallen from the heights they were at earlier in the season, but I expected them to surprise a few teams in the remainder of the year.

Brisbane Lions
They got the job done with absolute ease, which is as good a proposition as any club would want. In true footy form, though, their result was dented by injuries to Darcy Gardiner and Ryan Laster.

Carlton
I’ve seen comments wanting the Blues to garner more attention in this column, and I’d love to oblige, but four losses from their last five starts just doesn’t provide much to work with other than ‘are the Blues languishing?’. They have Hawthorn next up. Should win that.

Collingwood
So, uh, not a lot to report. A reversion to the norm. And ‘norm’ in this context means a tough loss and another week of the exact same criticism of Nathan Buckley.

Magpies head coach Nathan Buckley looks on

Nathan Buckley (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Essendon
I’m dubious about Ben Rutten’s comments hitting out at Freo’s use of a tagger on Zach Merrett. He said, in particular, “I think we need to let our good players play the game and compete hard when the ball is around, as it is dangerous”.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but does Rutten understand the point of tagging is to lock down the best players – which, for the record, Freo was successful at.

Fremantle
Adam Cerra’s the most interesting proposition in the Dockers team at the minute and was superb on Sunday. His performance would have Freo doubling down on their efforts to secure his signature, and Victorian clubs will be paying more attention.

Geelong Cats
Cam Guthrie was superb on Friday night and remains up there on the list of most enticing free agents. I doubt he’d leave Geelong, but you never know.

Gold Coast Suns
As is the convention, the Suns cast away any assertion of optimism with a stinker of a performance. This was as poor they’ve played this year, in a QClash of all games.

Jarrod Witts

Jarrod Witts (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

GWS Giants
Jesse Hogan played his best game for the club on Saturday, booting four goals (all of those in the second term). I mentioned this in the column before, but I’m ecstatic for him and hope this form keeps up.

Hawthorn
It isn’t often they lose in Launceston. It’s even rarer they lose to a winless team – I haven’t looked, but I’m going to garner that it’s never happened until Saturday.

Melbourne
Nine and zip! Nine and zip! Nine and zi- oh yes, it remains a weird thing to say. The prospects of ‘pulling a Melbourne’ are receding – maybe they won’t occur at all?

North Melbourne
They got him his first win as coach on his birthday in a beautiful state of Australia. It wasn’t a bad Saturday for David Noble.

New Kangaroos coach David Noble poses

David Noble (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Port Adelaide
Given I discussed them plenty above, the next time the Power play a top-eight team is after the bye (Geelong at Adelaide Oval). It’s far too early to hypothesise what will happen in that match, but it’ll be interesting to watch.

Richmond
An injury to the goal umpire is not what I expected during the clash, but major props to Dustin Martin for being a legend and checking on the official who was hobbling off with a wounded shoulder.

St Kilda
If there’s anything that might frustrate the Saints more than their kicking yips, it’ll be injuries to Rowan Marshall and Brad Crouch. Marshall’s set to miss weeks with a foot injury, while Crouch – who was among their best on Friday – will be touch and go for next weekend’s clash against the Bulldogs after suffering a fractured cheekbone.

Sydney Swans
Like Brisbane, they had (mostly) as easy a win as they’d like. Holding the Magpies goalless for half a game was bound to please, even if they weren’t at their most damaging themselves.

West Coast Eagles
Big hauls by big forwards in second quarters (a slightly niche proposition, I’d admit) seemed to be in vogue this week: Jesse Hogan for the Giants, Jack Darling for the Eagles.

Western Bulldogs
St Kilda are the Bulldogs’ next opponents, and while the Dogs will start heavy favourites, it just screams upset to me. That isn’t just my intuition: the Saints have won the last three clashes between the two sides.

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