It was inevitable the league would be properly affected by a COVID resurgence, and Round 11 was it. The league handled it well though, and we got a full suite of action.
Here are half a dozen talking points.
Sir Doug Nicholls Round is yet again an important success
Sir Doug Nicholls Round is far and away the league’s most integral round, and going beyond Indigenous-designed guernseys its importance shines through more than ever.
While attending the Port-Freo clash last night I found myself hearing a young child use racially charged language directed towards opposition players. The abuse came minutes after Indigenous players from both sides shared ceremonial gifts before the game and during a game in which Port’s Karl Amon – an Indigenous player – set the record for most disposals set by a Power player in a quarter of footy.
Australia has never been and unfortunately likely will never be perfect when it comes to respecting and understanding the Indigenous populations, but football can be a great medium for fostering something good. It’s important to keep working to try and change attitudes, and it’ll hurt every time a racist phrase is uttered or individuals in the public eye, but this goes to prove that Sir Doug Nicholls Round is absolutely vital.
The AFL can be a flawed, controversial and over-commercialised beast, but it’s difficult not to give them plaudits for developing a fantastic initiative that never fails to impress.
The Demons are very clearly the team to beat if anybody believes it
It’s a damn shame that nobody was allowed into the stands at Marvel Stadium to watch Friday night’s marquee clash. Not because it was a close, pulsating contest – far from it – but because it was as emphatic an affirmation of Melbourne’s legitimate premiership aspirations as they could produce.
I’ve been hot and cold on the Demons throughout this column this year, mainly out of a kind of disbelief about whether a team infamous for letting their fans down could seriously compete for a premiership. Going by online discourse in the lead-up to the clash, it seemed to be the Dogs to lose. I think that was symbolic of a widespread belief – or lack thereof – in the Demons.
That needs to disappear because Melbourne so comprehensively beat the Doggies that it would be criminal to not believe in them now.
The Dees won that game from the outset, managing to frustrate the Luke Beveridge’s more fancied outfit, which was increasingly evident as the game went on. The Dogs hadn’t lost a first quarter until Friday, their disposal efficiency was the lowest it has been this season and they produced their second lowest score of 2021 thus far, an unusual struggle for the typically offensively dominant outfit.
It was difficult to be unimpressed by the Demons’ spread of goalkickers – eight for 13 goals – and the way they managed to top the Dogs in the midfield. Melbourne’s ability to best the opposition in the trenches came through Christian Petracca – the probable three Brownlow vote awardee from the clash – Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn, who continue to be an enigmatic trio and who accumulated 16 clearances and 88 touches between them.
The Demons have beaten the best, but can they be the best? On current evidence, yes.
Brisbane makes it seven in a row
The Lions were headed into this weekend’s clash with six consecutive wins, that was well known. But the Giants had a similarly impressive form line that was flying a bit under the radar. They had won five from their past seven, including last weekend’s impressive win over the Eagles that saw people sit up and take the Giants seriously.
The Lions saw that record and laughed at it. The game was essentially over at the first break, as the Lions produced a barnstorming first term – it seemed to be a trend this weekend – to put GWS to bed before the game had ever really started. The Lions were scoring faster than I could refresh the scores, with every refresh yielding yet another goal: they were 6.4 before the Giants even got onto the board.
If some described Gold Coast’s win on the same day as that side at their dynamic best, it was doubly true for the Lions, whose dynamism shown through with a superb performance in every facet of the ground to overawe their opposition.
It was an opposition who did battle hard, to be sure, with the Giants managing to stem but not stop the bleeding. Leon Cameron’s men were competitive beyond the margin’s suggestion, with a patchwork defence relatively impressive, but they were outclassed aplenty by the Queenslanders.
Poor on the road, West Coast are newly worrisome at home
It is abundantly clear that West Coast have a travelling problem. They have an issue with injuries – just as Elliot Yeo comes back into the side, Tim Kelly and Oscar Allen head out in a clear display of football’s cruel nature. The very last thing they needed was an upset loss at Optus – and that is precisely what eventuated on Saturday night.
Yes, the Bombers are a stronger side than most predicted this season. Yes, teams get upset in as volatile a sport as footy is. But the fact that the Eagles were almost 30 points up at times of the game and still managed to capitulate is a worrisome sign. Such is the Eagles’ dominance at home is that any disruption to that trend could seriously put their season in jeopardy.
You’ve only got to look at their fixture to see why they should be worried. Their away games include clashes against Carlton, Sydney, Adelaide, Collingwood and Brisbane. The only one of those I’d pencil in as a win would be the Pies clash. At home they’re still yet to face three premiership contenders – Richmond, the Dogs and Melbourne – as well as a derby. On current form – and that is always a danger phrase in footy analysis – I’d back the Eagles as underdogs in all but the Freo clash.
Given their tenuous position in the current top eight – they’re only a game above a whole pack of chasing sides – they simply cannot afford to suffer any more surprise losses at home. Either that or they need to rectify their away record.
Essendon’s controversial trade period is working out for them and others
I mentioned them while discussing their opposition above, but the Bombers genuinely deserve plenty of plaudits after their upset win this weekend. They’ve (however temporarily) jumped to the front of the pack fighting to sneak into the one or two finals spots up for grabs and are on a rate of improvement surpassing more established ‘rebuilders’ like Carlton or Freo.
One big contributor for the Bombers would be pretty proud to be performing so well in the season, especially given their tumultuous trade period last year. However controversially, they lost three talented players – Adam Saad, Joe Daniher and Oratizo Fantasia. Daniher’s added a new offensive danger to Brisbane’s forward line. Fantasia is averaging more disposals than ever in his best form at Port Adelaide. Saad’s the only one who departed to join to a worse side, but like Fantasia, he has begun to produce the form that he struggled to consistently produce at Essendon.
And in their place a crop of Bombers have begun to excel. Darcy Parish goes from strength to strength. Jake Stringer is having a career-best goal kicking season. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti remains a rudely underrated footballer. Zach Merrett ignores suggestions he’d depart – or strengthens trade currency – as he continues a good season.
A game with Richmond awaits in Round 12. But regardless of that impending results, the Bombers are a genuine chance to make the eight, trade period controversy be damned (take notes, Nathan Buckley and co).
And just quickly, Geelong and Collingwood produce a genuinely awful footy game
Saturday’s clash between the Cats and Magpies was lacklustre. To say the least.
Whether it was the Pies’ horrific accuracy – they didn’t score a goal at all until the third term and added five in the final term to sugar-coat the margin – or Geelong playing their seemingly typical role by winning fairly easily, without actually playing too well, it was just a disappointing clash.
When it’s two big clubs at the ‘home of footy’ footy fans deserve better than that.
You cannot say they did not produce an upset-worthy effort – both that entertaining first half and that almost-but-not-quite final quarter comeback. They’re good enough to go three from three with Pies, Saints and Blues clashes upcoming.
A clash with Melbourne is up next. Oh yes, that should be a beauty – bearing in mind I said the same thing about the Dogs-Dees clash.
It’s only fitting in Sir Doug Nicholls round that Eddie Betts and his Swans counterpart in Buddy Franklin produced some of their best – two legitimate legends who are superb ambassadors for this sport.
Don’t look at the ten-point margin of Collingwood’s clash and think the Pies kept it close. Five final-quarter goals – all but one of their total for the match – came as Geelong had already solidified their win, and an upset was never really brewing.
Upcoming games for the Bombers: Richmond, Hawthorn and Melbourne. They’ll win the Hawks clash, but we’ll find out what they’re truly about with the other two. I’m honestly keen.
Has your team ever produced a quarter of footy so atrocious that the club’s official Twitter account apologises for it? Until yesterday, neither had I. Poor performance that should have been much closer, let alone more competitive.
we are sorry
— Fremantle Dockers (@freodockers) May 30, 2021
I said they’d win in an unimpressive manner last week, and point proven. I’m struggling to see the premiership appeal of this side at the moment.
Gold Coast Suns
Izak Rankine had been criticised for his drop in form, but he returned with a bang on Saturday, booting four goals in a slick performance. It was emblematic of the Suns at their best, even if it was only against lowly Hawthorn.
A competitive performance that belied the final margin. A bye to reset before games against North, Carlton and the Hawks – not a particularly hard run.
Hawthorn Hawks and North Melbourne
I’m combining these two in this section as they followed similar trajectories this week. North’s Round 14 clash with the Suns will be interesting: if they win that, Hawthorn and North will become wooden spoon competitors if they weren’t already.
They’ve beaten Sydney, Richmond, Geelong and now the Bulldogs. Games against Brisbane, the Power and the Eagles are yet to come in terms of competing against genuine premiership contenders. If they go 7-0 from that lot – wowee.
Port Adelaide Power
It wasn’t as easy as they’d have liked, but the Power simply did what they needed to do. They have a big clash with Geelong after the bye.
Yet again doubters of Richmond – of which there were many, with an Adelaide upset a popular tip – were proven wrong.
Do. Not. Give. Them. Plaudits. For. This. Win. It was a victory they needed to get, but they simply cannot be trusted to back it up against the Swans next week.
Their top-four ambitions remain in place with a comfortable-yet-uncomfortable enigma of a victory.
West Coast Eagles
I briefly mentioned it before, but losing Tim Kelly to an injury in the same game as Eliot Yeo’s return is a cruel, cruel blow.
It’s not hard to believe they had an average winning margin of 65 points at Marvel Stadium before this round, but it’s definitely difficult to believe that a loss of that magnitude was possible with this team.