Leigh Montagna believes the AFL must step in and convince Alastair Clarkson to coach Gold Coast in 2022.
It’s been a month since the bye rounds – the midway point of the year – and now we’re putting a microscope on which teams will make finals and who’s in form with six games remaining.
The Round 17 weekend was loaded with question marks over some good teams: Roos defeated Eagles on the road, Saints beat the Lions, Suns fell over the line against the Giants, and Pies made the Tigers pay for lacklustre final quarter.
The Swans are a contender now. And Port Adelaide failed a top four test against the Demons.
Let’s dig into the AFL’s shifting landscape with a stock report on who’s trending up and who’s in decline. Here’s some of the more interesting parts of Round 17 – players, teams, coaches – and the trajectory they’re travelling in.
Stock Rising: Jack Steele
Has Jack Steele flown under the radar in terms of elite leadership? He’s always been a great contributor for the Saints but over the last month he’s gone up a cog. And the Saints are winning because of it. Against the Lions he kicked two majors and had 32 touches.
He gathered 34 against the Pies and 25 against the Tigers, plus 34 versus the Crows. It’s not just the disposals. He’s laid 42 tackles in his last four games. He loves the grit as much as the run and carry.
He could possibly be the ideal candidate as captain of the 2021 All Australian team. Yes, that’s where he’s headed if he keeps going at this rate. If the Saints play finals it’ll be because of Jack Steele.
Stock Falling: Scoring
In eight games of Round 17, teams averaged 68.6. This included Adelaide’s 21 against Essendon – a record low for their club. It’s not just this round: Numbers have been steadily dropping since Round 13. Some argue it’s the wet July weather that might have caused the drop.
But it seems more likely the dearth of goals is more a defensive coaching mindset where some teams have retreated into their shells – see: Crows, Tigers, Eagles. Maybe that is in part to cover injuries as they are less likely to take risks.
It’s a small sample size but let’s hope this trend ends and free flowing football returns. That first half of the Crows-Bombers was hard to watch when 36 players were scrapping for the ball up one end. It was ugly.
Stock Falling: Tigers
Everyone has been of the opinion that Richmond’s on-field woes would simply disappear and they would correct their tired-looking and ho-hum form. That’s what champs do. But they’ve lost their last four and have gone 3-6 since Round 8.
Injuries have resulted in low-confidence. Even leaders like Dusty Martin and Trent Cotchin who had 32 touches between them on the weekend are struggling. If you haven’t sold your Richmond stocks yet, it’s time to cut the cord now. They’re not winning the premiership this year.
Stock Rising: Caleb Serong
After working through his apprenticeship as a known shutdown player, Serong was unleashed against the Hawks on the weekend and produced a 30-disposal game: only the second time he’s reached 30 or more in his 30 games.
This was a game against Tom Mitchell, one of the best at the midfield craft, and Serong racked up 10 clearances (the most on the ground) and eight inside 50s (the most on the ground). That’s impressive. It might be too early to go “all-in” on him right now, as his role could change from week to week, but he showed what he can do when asked to attack and find the football. If you’re a Dockers fan, get excited.
Stock Falling: Joe Daniher
Lions forward and hot recruit Joe Daniher has staged for free kicks twice in as many weeks. When players start diving unnecessarily it’s usually a sign they’re trying to paper over some weaknesses in their game. Joe has been solid at Brisbane and injury free this year.
The Lions are a top four team. He’s kicked 27 goals (ranked 18th in the AFL). The question we’re all asking here: why on earth is he staging for free kicks?
I get it. He’s no longer the big name on a team but this is what he wanted. Needless to say, staging is a bad, bad look. He just needs to play his steady role and be a reliable contributor instead of trying to milk the system. That’s how you become a poor man’s forward.
Stock Rising: Swans
At 10-6 it’s now time to consider the Swans a contender entirely based on their last two weeks with wins over the Eagles (92) and Bulldogs (19). They have everyone’s attention now. To put the Swans in perspective, it’s still hard to read where their true form stands: they’ve been involved in seven games where the result was 10 points or less. That includes four losses of 2, 9, 2, and 10.
And three wins of 3, 2, and 9. It means at best they could’ve been a 14-2 team at the top of the AFL or 7-9 in 11th above Essendon. Consider this: Their run home includes teams on the cusp of the top eight and non-finals teams. If you were purchasing Sydney stocks it’s the perfect time to buy.
Stock Falling: Eagles
Like Richmond, the Eagles have been expected to turn their season around at some point but it doesn’t look good for them right now. The 10-point loss to the Roos at home was unexpected. A shock actually. Eagles coach Adam Simpson said they’re low on confidence and it seems like they’ve lost their flair and risk-taking attributes.
With just two wins from their last seven games they could miss finals and until there is a seismic shift their stocks and belief will continue to plummet.
Stock Rising: Sam Walsh
We saw him kick the match-winner from the boundary line against Fremantle, a sign he can step up when the Blues need him to. Then, against the Cats, in a 26-point loss, he kept Carlton in the game with his 36 touches, 2.1 goals, nine score involvements, and eight marks.
There has been praise heaped on Walsh for some time but now he’s starting to deliver even if that hasn’t translated into a lot of Carlton wins. The best part: He’s only going to get better from here on in.
Stock Falling: Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Yes, I know, he’s 19 years old. Yes, it was his first game. And yes, I know there were mountains of pressure on his back heading into the game because of his Buddy Franklin comparison and no.1 draft tag. But if you bought a shiny new Porsche and couldn’t take it out on the highway, would you be happy?
Football fans were excited to see what the kid could do and will have to be patient with his development. His 7-disposal game that returned no goals on the weekend isn’t the end of Ugle-Hagan obviously. He’s raw. He’s young. There’s a talent hidden in that body. It’s just going to take time to blossom.
Stock Rising: Suns
Who are these Suns? They had no right beating Richmond by 10 points. And they pulled a houdini on the Giants on the weekend. These are the same Suns that had a stretch of one win in the previous six weeks.
These are the same Suns that were sitting in 16th. Right now they are trending up. But this could change for them in the next three weeks as they take on the Bulldogs, Demons, Lions. And then we’ll see if they can hold their value longer than just a hot fortnight.
Stock Falling: Power
Port Adelaide’s 11-5 record seems a bit like a mirage. When you drill down deep into their season, the results will show they can’t beat top eight teams as their five losses will confirm. Three of them were in Adelaide against Bulldogs, Cats, and now Demons.
What does this mean? They have tested their mettle against the top four teams and have failed. That’s a concern. The home ground that was once considered an impenetrable fortress is anything but. And because of that, it’s hard to trust their brand right now. They’re shaky.
Stock Rising: Cameron Zurhaar
If you were high on Zurhaar as a breakout candidate at the start of the year you would have got burned. He went goalless for the first seven weeks. But since Round 9 he’s kicked 19.17 in his last eight games and has a total of 22 goals. He’s become one of the more dominant forwards in the AFL.
Against the Eagles he kicked 2.6 with 16 touches, six marks, five tackles. We know he’s a bull. He loves to use his body as a battering ram. But I think we’re starting to see him evolve into a true impact forward. Once he improves his kick at goal the sky’s the limit.