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The agonising battle for eighth: AFL Round 21 power rankings

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Roar Guru
9th August, 2021
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There are clearly still some things to play out in the final two rounds of the season.

We have sides outside the eight desperately banging down the door, we have premiership contenders avoiding top spot like it’s the plague, and Hawthorn are reverse tanking to leave Sam Mitchell with the worst draft hand.

18. Adelaide Crows
No change
It was a tumultuous week for the Crows. They lost their former captain to a six-week suspension for a racial slur at a SANFL game, a punishment that some are calling too weak given the gravity of the offence. They went into Showdown 50 distant favourites and were able to push the Power for four quarters. While they didn’t get the chocolates this time around, I think there’s a lot they can be optimistic about. In particular the performances of Chayce Jones off of a halfback flank and Harry Schoenberg in the guts. Each of these players are part of the new brand of Crows youth that will take Adelaide back up the ladder.

17. Collingwood Magpies
Down three
Yes, the Pies are playing considerably better football under Robert Harvey than they were under Nathan Buckley. However, I am going to wear my best Les Zig hat today and criticise them for losing to Hawthorn. They allowed the Hawks to play their preferred brand of football and completely failed to show up in the clinches. The final margin flatters the Pies somewhat, but this was a wonderful reverse tank from the Hawks.

16. North Melbourne Kangaroos
No change
Unfortunately I don’t think North will make it off the bottom of the ladder this year. I am still optimistic about their chances next year though. They pushed the Tigers and forced them to play their best footy. What stuck out to me was the composed march down the field with a kick-mark game style before hitting the dangerous 45-degree kick inboard to get into a scoring position. The Tigers were able to force the Kangaroos to play the game at a speed they didn’t like as they applied pressure to the ball carrier and shut down the outlet kick in defence.

15. Carlton Blues
Down two
If the Blues wanted to be any chance of making the eight, they needed to win this game. Unfortunately they faced an improving Gold Coast side eager to put the memories of last week away with a cheeky season-ruining victory. Carlton allowed Gold Coast to play their best brand of footy and in the process appeared second-rate themselves. Sadly I believe this performance will mean curtains for David Teague’s tenure as head coach of Carlton as the Blues messiah complex will kick up a notch to get Clarkson.

David Teague addresses the Carlton players

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

14. Hawthorn Hawks
Down three
This is more a correction from last week, when I had the Hawks way too high for the overall context of their season. But I would like to propose a unique concept as to what explains the sudden resurgence of Hawthorn the last few weeks. It is a variation of the caretaker coach effect, but I believe Hawthorn are reverse tanking to make things as hard as possible for Sam Mitchell when he takes the reigns next year. Alastair Clarkson has been slighted by the inept leadership of Jeff Kennett and his young protege, so he is reminding Hawthorn of exactly what they’re giving up and his preternatural ability to get the best out of a not great list.

13. Gold Coast Suns
Up four
A week is a long time in footy, that’s for sure. Gone were the bad memories of the previous week, arrived are the questions as to why Jacob Townsend took so long to debut for his new club. The Suns were able to control the movement of the game, with Ben Ainsworth, Alex Sexton and Darcy Macpherson combining for 61 disposals from their high half-forward position. Noah Anderson was able to widen the gap between him and his best mate Matt Rowell as the latter has been out injured for long stretches. The Suns have been excoriated for some performances this year, but they are sitting one win shy of their best ever performances in a season.

12. Fremantle Dockers
Down four
What goes up must come down. The Dockers find themselves in the unenviable position of a false dawn. They’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat, but when it comes time to beat anyone of consequence they have fecklessly faltered. Their midfield is deprived of their talismanic captain and lacks a little bit of refined skill on the outside, while their forward line is a key forward or two short of being able to stack on big scores. The Dockers had the opportunity to cement their spot in the top eight with a win over a wounded Brisbane, yet they failed to fire a shot. It’s not all doom and gloom for Justin Longmuir’s men, however, as they probably would have been making up the numbers in a finals series anyway.

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11. St Kilda Saints
Up four
The Saints joined the Bombers and Giants as the trio of upsets this week. They beat the Swans against the grain in a win that will have Jack Higgins floating on air after he redeemed his earlier performance with four goals and a behind. Dean Kent also showed some solid highlights with three goals as the Saints mosquito fleet asserted themselves on the hapless Swans, who they made look second-rate. Jack Steele continued to put his name forward as the most inspirational captain in the league. I still think St Kilda’s percentage is too low to make up on their finals-challenging rivals Richmond and Essendon, but things are nowhere near as dire as they were in the past.

10. West Coast Eagles
Up two
The Eagles had a belated comeback, scoring the last four goals of the match, but they were reliant on a weather delay to catch Melbourne flat-footed. The side that ran out on Monday evening is too old and cannot match pressure with the best sides in the competition. It may be better for the Eagles if they miss finals given the build-up of West Australian talent at the pointy end of the draft.

9. Richmond Tigers
No change
Ninth is the natural domain of the Richmond Tigers. The gentle equilibrium between the cataclysm of a wooden spoon and ecstasy of a premiership, the ignominy of the Richmond Tigers. They may have won, but they’re still just outside the eight and reliant upon other results to go their way. However, Saturday afternoon was a good step for the Tigers, forcing the Kangaroos to play at a speed they were uncomfortable with.

Tom J. Lynch of the Tigers celebrates

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

8. Essendon Bombers
Up two
The temptation was to have my side No. 1. After all, they beat the No. 1 side, so logic dictates that they now obtain the top position. Yet they had no right to win that game. They relied on the ineptitude of the Bulldogs in front of goal as well as some superhuman feats from the seven-seater Ford Titanium himself, Peter Wright. What also stuck out to me was the performance of the lesser lights of the Bombers in Tom Cutler (22 disposals), Dylan Clarke (19 disposals) and will Snelling, who nullified Caleb Daniel. The Bombers needed to win this game to stand any chance of making the eight, and the best side in the AFL at the moment was standing in the way.

7. Brisbane Lions
No change
The Lions looked very solid beating Fremantle in Perth, giving the Dockers their second-largest defeat under Justin Longmuir, the first being 69 points against Geelong. They went into the Perth fortress and embarrassed them, out-tackling them (71-35) and moving in packs. Joe Daniher continued to show his supernatural athleticism with four goals, though it remains to be seen if he can do this against finals-bound opponents. Questions remain about the Lions, as they seem to be better without Lachie Neale in the side and too one-paced in the midfield with him on the field.

6. Port Adelaide Power
Down one
The Power beat Adelaide and moved closer to cementing a top-four spot, which is important in the context of their season. However, they go down one because they have a metaphorical bloody nose from the Crows. Worryingly the Power kicked an inaccurate 13 behinds for just seven goals and were forced to play a style they didn’t like. Aliir Aliir was the highlight and Showdown medallist with a massive ten intercept marks. He has far outstretched the potential he showed at the Sydney Swans.

Connor Rozee of the Power celebrates a goal

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

5. Greater Western Sydney Giants
Up one
If you’re me, then you picked the Giants to beat Geelong down at GMHBA. If you’re sensible you probably didn’t think the Giants had this performance in them. What stuck out was the frenetic organised chaos of their entries in their forward 50. The match was won inside the midfield group, where Tim Taranto, Lachie Whitfield and Isaac Cumming combined for 102 disposals and 13 tackles. Sam Taylor is showing his immense capacity as a key defender, with four intercept marks in the last quarter alone. Finally, Toby Greene is putting his name forward to take the captaincy of the Giants, as he always plays from the front and plays taller than his 180-centimetre frame would suggest. They made Geelong look poor in their home fortress.

4. Sydney Swans
No change
The Swans chose the wrong week to lose – and I say that as an Essendon supporter. The Saints harassed and harangued them such that they forced them out of their usual ball movement. In particular the Swans were pressured inside their defensive 50 and were unable to move the ball out. The Saints were also able to set up a kick behind play and win intercept possessions (83-73). I still think the Swans will be thereabouts, and this may be the loss they needed to avoid their heads getting too big.

3. Geelong Cats
Down one
The Cats have an accuracy problem. They’ve had the yips for the last few weeks, but Friday night was the first night it cost them a game. What also stuck out to me was the strange reliance on their defenders for scoring, as Tom Hawkins was kept relatively quiet by Sam Taylor. In particularly the Cats were the walking wounded, with Patrick Dangerfield and Zach Tuohy both going off injured, damaging the rotations and their game style given the advanced age of their line-up. The Cats need to fix their accuracy problems – until then I don’t think they’ll be in a position to win the premiership.

Tom Stewart and his Cats teammates look dejected

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

2. Western Bulldogs
Down one
The Bulldogs are down because they lost. In every match since 2014 they had beaten the Bombers by an average margin of 54 points, and on Sunday afternoon they looked to extend their win streak to seven. The statistics tell the story of a side that clearly should have won – they won the disposal count (+50) and the inside 50 count (+21), so to still lose indicates they have problems converting. The other issue is they still can’t match up on the big key forwards, as Peter Wright had a proverbial day out. The Bulldogs now face the Hawks and the Power to round out the season.

1. Melbourne Demons
Up two
The Demons are only up because they won. It was a very unconvincing win against the West Coast Eagles, but it was still a win to sew up a top-four position for the finals. It was a game that was more dominated by the meteorological patterns in the sky and a belated comeback that was not to be. The Dees have shored up the double chance, which was the only goal of Monday evening’s clash against the Eagles. They already have far exceeded expectations for this season.