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Then there were eight: AFL Round 23 power rankings

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Roar Guru
23rd August, 2021
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Welcome to the final power rankings for the 2021 home-and-away season.

Round 23 had it all – contentious umpiring, remarkable comebacks and role-players coming to the fore to put their best foot forward for the finals series.

18. Gold Coast (down two)
The Suns are struggling at the moment – this was their second loss by nearly a hundred points in less than a month, combined with a loss by 68 points against Essendon. The loss sees them obtain the lowest ranking in this week’s power rankings. Compounding matters was news of Jack Lukosius buying a $1.4 million house in Adelaide, making it increasingly likely that he will force his way out of the line-up. The one shining light was Ben King kicking four goals – he continues to be a superstar in a four Gold Coast line-up.

17. Collingwood Magpies (no change)
There were a lot of dead-rubber matches this week. Collingwood’s match was one of them, and thanks to an atrocious trade period last year, they don’t even get Pick 2. The 38-point margin is deceptive, as the Bombers clearly put the cue in the rack midway through the third quarter, allowing the Magpies to fluke their way into a tighter match. Making matters even worse is the news that Scott Pendlebury may force his way out in search of better prospects in the coaching milieux.

16. North Melbourne Kangaroos (down two)
They might be the best wooden spoon side in decades, but they still dropped a game to the Crows to end their season. Honestly, the Crows embarrassed the Kangaroos as they ended the largely positive season on a sour note.

Jack Mahony of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal

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

15. Carlton Blues (up three)
They lost but not as badly as we’ve come to expect of the Blues this year. A scoreline of 89-75 is an accurate reflection of where the Blues are at – in fact it may very well be pleasing for a Blues side that has underperformed several times this year. However, a side that features Jacob Weitering, Sam Walsh and Charlie Curnow should not be missing finals, yet either through inept off-field management or poor culture on the field the Blues find themselves at the end of yet another ignominious season. Carlton faces the prospect of their ninth coach since 2000, a rotation equally only by Essendon, who’ve had their own extenuating circumstances.

14. Adelaide Crows (up one)
The Crows were able to neatly tie up their season with a nice little bow with a positive win against a reasonably similarly ranked opposition. Ben Keays has dramatically improved in the Crows line-up and is almost the most improved player across the competition. His 38 disposals plus two goals straight are emblematic of the increasing offensive side to his game. Shane McAdam as well has shown glimpses of his ability to lead the Crows forward line in the absence of Taylor Walker with an additional three goals.

13. Fremantle Dockers (down four)
They had everything to play for, and that was the effort they mustered? I’m glad I’m not a Freo fan, because I would have been furious if that had been my team. This game had everything that has marred the Fremantle season: inaccuracy in front of goal, a lack of poise on the outside and a relatively even inside-50 count (52-50). Yet the Dockers are too blue-collar, and the Saints were able to exploit their lack of speed and skill to great effect. With Adam Cerra rumoured to be forcing his way out the door, the implications could be catastrophic for the Dockers still over-reliant on their ageing champions.


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12. West Coast Eagles (down one)
Like Fremantle, the Eagles had everything to play for, and they just let their opportunity pass them by. The 38-point margin is a testament to the capitulation of the Eagles in the last quarter against the Brisbane Lions. In more optimistic news, Nic Naitanui showed why he is the most valuable ruckman in the league, with 24 disposals. 53 hitouts and 11 clearances in a herculean effort. We also got to see what the new Eagles may look like going forward. But one thing is certain: there is sure to be more pain before this whole episode is over.

11. Richmond Tigers (down one)
A draw is a loss by any other name. The Tigers were unable to send off David Astbury and Bachar Houli as the victors they so deserved to be, instead leaving them with the empty apathy of a draw. The Tigers are left to lick their wounds with a prolonged off-season, during which they’re sure to load up on young talent and surge up the ladder next year. The Tigers finishing 12th is the second-worst finish for a reigning premier in the history of the AFL, beaten only by Adelaide’s drop to 13th in 1999.

10. Hawthorn Hawks (up two)
The end of the season for the Hawks is an odd one. They’ve pushed the best sides, including Melbourne, and dropped only one game against a top-eight opponent, that being Essendon in Round 14. The Hawks were up by five goals with six minutes remaining and were blindsided by the explosiveness of the wounded Tigers. In particular the combination of old talent in Chad Wingard (two goals) and Tom Mitchell (36 disposals) with the young talent Tyler Brockman (three goals), Conor Nash and Jack Scrimshaw has had each put their best foot forward. The Hawks have a lot of promise to surge up the ladder next season, when it will be a new page in their history.

Tim O'Brien of the Hawks celebrates a goal

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

9. St Kilda Saints (up two)
The Saints mercilessly and ruthlessly smashed the Dockers. In particular the four goals to Cooper Sharman are indicative of an absolute gem they’ve managed to find in the midseason draft, while Tim Membrey’s three goals show he’s a criminally underrated key forward. Jack Steele as well as Rowan Marshall continue to be one of the best one-two punches in the AFL. The Saints will be a solid side next year and have put the nightmare of their early-season form behind them.

8. Greater Western Sydney Giants (down one)
The Giants kicked 12 goals and 17 behinds – that sort of inaccuracy is a coach killer and the bulk of the reason they’re down to eighth in this week’s power rankings. The other aspect I am going to point out is the 0-16 record that teams with a percentage under 100 have when entering the finals. Admittedly their form against top-eight opposition is very, very good, particularly after having beaten Melbourne at the MCG and Geelong down at GMHBA, but I’m uncertain as to whether this good form will translate into finals form.

7. Sydney Swans (down one)
I’m worried about Sydney’s injuries, having lost Callum Mills in addition to Josh Kennedy and human lizard Nick Blakey. They have shown signs this year, but their injuries are piling up at the wrong time of year and they’re still reliant on the older heads of their line-up. This year has been a growth season for the Swans, and I don’t think they expected to be quite so high after 23 rounds. The Swans now face the Giants in an infamous Battle of the Bridge that will go down as the first final ever played in Tasmania.

6. Essendon Bombers (up two)
Don’t at me, guys. The Bombers are the sixth-best side at the start of the finals. They have beaten the sides they’re supposed to beat and beaten them well. They also have three players in the All Australian squad of 40, and you could make an argument that is an undercount of the significant contributors to the Essendon line-up. Sunday afternoon was no exception, as Alec Waterman and Peter Wright put the Collingwood side to the sword even after putting the cue in the rack halfway through the third quarter.


5. Geelong Cats (down three)
When there’s no Tom Stewart there’s no Geelong Cats, and with news of his lisfranc injury putting him out for the rest of the year, the increasing toll of the season is going to affect the relatively elderly Cats most. What stuck out to me as the most egregious statistics is the doughnuts that Patrick Dangerfield recorded in the last quarter and the extremely steep decline of the Cats when they were up by six goals at three-quarter time. Worrying too was a clash that may remove Jeremy Cameron from the first final thanks to the 12-day concussion protocol.

4. Western Bulldogs (up one)
I am perhaps overrating the Bulldogs here, and I might argue it’s my bias as a passionate Essendon supporter to protect myself from the inevitable decline against a solid Bulldogs outfit. For the first quarter there was a lot to like about the Bulldogs, yet despite their dominance on the scoreboard they were unable to shake Port Adelaide, who steadily worked their way back into the game with clearance domination and forward-half turnovers. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that if you can keep the Bulldogs to a lower disposal count, they will lose the game. Friday evening was one such game, as the Power played possession first and got over the line.

Marcus Bontempelli of the Bulldogs fends off Travis Boak

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

3. Brisbane Lions (up one)
That was certainly one of the more enthralling 38-point victories I’ve seen. It is because we had the addition of watching the Lions eek ever closer to a top-four berth with every goal they kicked. They were eventually able to get there thanks to some sketchy timekeeping earlier in the fourth quarter, but they have yet to play a top-eight rival since Geelong eight weeks ago, so it is unclear how much of their recent form is a false dawn.

2. Port Adelaide Power (up one)
The Power were exceptionally solid on Friday night. They’ve been a bit flighty against top-eight sides in the past, but facing the prospect of a home final in Adelaide along with potentially the grand final, the Power would be ecstatic they were able to get over the line against the Bulldogs thanks to some Robbie Gray heroics. Port Adelaide now face Geelong in a qualifying final for the ages at Adelaide Oval, where they will be eager to quieten the criticisms of their earlier performance that resulted in a Geelong victory.

1. Melbourne Demons (no change)
What else happened in 1964? The Tokyo Olympics and Melbourne finishing on top of the ladder and winning the premiership as well. What about 1987, the last year a side made the minor premiership with a kick after the siren? It was Carlton, and they won the flag that year. I’m not one to place much stock in omens, but all I can say is, considering the recent trends, the Illuminati is confirmed.

Well, there you have it, folks. My power rankings for the last round of the season. Rest assured this is not the last you will hear from me, as I fully intend to do power rankings for the trade period.