Not a good look for the crucial Cat.
We are roughly one third of the way through the 2022 AFL season.
Generally, it’s been a fairly lacklustre season. There haven’t been many close games or mind-boggling moments, with one notable exception.
However, there have been a few surprise packet teams, some memorable moments, and some stories that have generally overtaken the AFL landscape throughout this first third of the year.
I thought that I would try and capture these moments through quotes from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises).
I made this choice because it appears that The Dark Knight has overtaken The Shawshank Redemption as every footballer’s favourite movie, they’re good movies and I wanted a reason to watch them.
As an aside, I don’t love Christopher Nolan films generally. I find Inception and Interstellar to be vessels for Nolan to tell us all how smart he is and how the whole point is for the audience not to get it.
‘Ooh, look at me, I’m playing with time and space’ is what I imagine his internal monologue is every time he starts writing a new script.
A friend messaged me when the Tenet trailer came out to ask if I had watched it. I responded that I hadn’t but “let me guess, he’s playing with time and space”.
I was right. Nolan films are only for young men my age to appear intellectual and lie, with pride, that they got Tenet.
No. You didn’t. Nobody did. The dialogue was inaudible, the movie was stupid, and would it kill him to throw in one joke every four movies just for the sake of variety?
I will give him three things, though: a big thank you for introducing me to Hans Zimmer, the effects in his movies are awesome, and his Batman trilogy was excellent.
As a postscript, the poster for Oppenheimer with Cillian Murphy is sick and the trailer should just be Murphy doing J Robert Oppenheimer’s speech on TV where he said the famous words: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”.
Anyway, that’s my Nolan rant done and dusted. Let’s get to the five Batman trilogy quotes that explain the first third of the 2022 AFL season.
1. “If you’re good at something, never do it for free”
As I was putting together a list of my favourite quotes from the trilogy, I realised that almost all of them are from villains.
This quote is no exception, coming from Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker. He said it in a room full of Gotham’s organised criminals who were bemoaning Batman’s meddling in their organised criminal enterprises.
The thing that he was good at, of course, was killing the Batman.
This is basically how I imagine two key conversations went when Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin joined the Swans.
The first conversation would of course be when Franklin was sitting at the negotiating table with Sydney in 2013, before signing his nine-year, $10 million contract.
Sydney must have tried to get him cheaper, but Franklin knew his worth. He probably pulled up some highlights of his time at Hawthorn before asking if they’d seen the goal versus Collingwood when he kicked a 75-metre drop punt after jumping over two players.
No. He wouldn’t take less money to do what he was good at.
The second was Sydney chatting it up with the AFL. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“Buddy is coming to us because you’ve given us the cost of living allowance (COLA) for no discernible reason, and he wants to come here and compete instead of walking into GWS, who won’t be good for at least five years.”
“Hahaha, no he’s not. He’s said he’s coming to our baby GWS.”
“He’s signed a contract. See [produces contract].”
“How can you afford it? There must be something illegal here.”
“Nothing illegal. It’s called backloading a contract. You have allowed it in your rules.”
“Well… ummm… we’re taking away COLA then.”
“Wait, what? Why? For operating within the rules? That’s absurd.”
“Tough titties. It’s our league. How dare you operate within the parameters that we set for you. Good luck with Buddy. He likes partying too much anyway.”
The thing that Franklin is good at is obviously kicking goals and this year he kicked career goal number 1000 in the final year of a contract that many thought he would never see the end of, given his lifestyle and his reliance on athleticism.
Well, he has seen the end of the contract and he’s played exceptionally well when he’s been healthy. And he hasn’t done it for free.
I love Franklin and the moment he kicked his 1000th goal was so special to everyone who loves footy. He has now transcended hate and is a widely adored player because of the highlights and moments that he’s given us.
Even though he hasn’t won a flag in Sydney, the ROI from Franklin is undeniable. Honestly, after relentless negativity in the world for year after year a week of positivity toward a nationally admired icon was refreshing.
While Joker failed on his mission to either kill the Batman or force the Batman to kill him, Franklin didn’t fail in his mission to kick 1000 goals.
And Franklin cashed in but the Joker just wanted to watch the world burn (I snuck in another one) and burnt his big pile of cash in the process.
2. “The night is darkest just before the dawn”
This one is a Harvey Dent quote, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Chris Nolan didn’t come up with it. Regardless, it’s applicable here to Fremantle and to a greater extent, the Blues.
I’ll start with Freo. Things weren’t necessarily that dark for Freo last year but we knew what they were: a brittle side who won at home, lost outside of those cosy confines, and were too reliant on too few, notably Nat Fyfe, Dave Mundy and Matt Taberner.
Those things have changed this season. They are a stout defensive side, having not given up 100 points to an opposing team once this season.
In fact, the highest total they have given up all year is 82 points, which they gave up in Round 1 in a winning effort against the also-resurgent Crows.
Indeed, they have given up less than 70 points in every other game this year.
Additionally, their only loss was at home, winning the other seven games against a weak schedule.
Finally, they have done it without the services of talismanic skipper Nat Fyfe, whom I do not expect to get traded (sorry, Mick Malthouse).
Yes, Freo have played a soft schedule but their win against Geelong in Geelong was massive and an indicator of their bona fides as a contender. And regardless, I did not see this coming from them.
Now onto Carlton. Quick disclaimer: I hate Carlton. I always have.
It was really solidified in 2013 when they beat Richmond in a finals series they didn’t even make. Last year and for the last seven or eight years, I viewed them as a decaying institution guided by a crippling messiah complex.
When they were trying to interview Ross Lyon, I thought, ‘Beautiful. Another Malthouse-like messiah. How do they never learn?’
When it was revealed that Lyon wouldn’t interview for a job, I thought, ‘Fair enough, given all of his premierships and sustained success as a team and list builder. They’ll probably just give it to him anyway’.
When it was revealed that Lyon was out of the running, they hired another messiah in Michael Voss and brought in solid but arguably overly expensive players like Adam Cerra.
Then I realised that they just couldn’t help themselves and I looked forward to this blowing up.
I was even more ardent in my belief that it would fail spectacularly when we heard about Liam Jones’ anti-vax position. Well, I was wrong.
Beyond that, their captain is putting together a season for the ages after a year after signing a contract that I thought was deeply ill-advised given he was coming off the two worst seasons of his career, injuries appeared to be affecting him, and the game was moving away from the contested-beast type players, which he exemplifies.
I was wrong on that too.
The Blues are irrepressible. They’re scoring from stoppages, which is probably unsustainable, but is also extremely exciting and they have got the best out of players like Cerra, Matthew Kennedy and even a player that I thought was method acting as a blimp during his first two years at Carlton, Jeremy McGovern’s brother.
He might even have earned being referred to by his first name, Mitch.
It was dark in Carlton at the end of 2021 and early 2022. Then the games started. Dawn might be breaking. I hope I’m wrong on that too.
3. “There is no true despair without hope”
This is the second quote from an iconic Batman villain, this time Tom Hardy’s Bane.
Bane is chatting it up with a beleaguered Bruce Wayne, whom he has imprisoned in what he describes as “the worst hell on earth”.
The prison has earned that title because it is in an open barrel shape, with light at the top. Everyone imprisoned there hopes that they can simply climb out. As the quote states, this or any hope is at the root of true despair.
Doesn’t that sound like Essendon?
There was true hope at Essendon last year. Perhaps they were finally putting the supplements saga behind them – something so traumatic that I expect it still impacts the psyche of the club.
Indeed, there were still vestiges of the period in key posts, with the conventional AFL wisdom being that head coach John Worsfold was able to keep his job for at least one extra year because of his calmness and stewardship through the storm that was the drugs era.
Then last year, Worsfold was gone. Ben Rutten, a highly rated assistant from Richmond, was alone running the show.
Jake Stringer was playing well and looked like he might have at least two visible abs for the first time since 2015 (in a contract year).
They had uncovered some young gems in the form of Harry Jones, the unicorn Nik Cox, and Archie Perkins.
And finally, their good players were playing well, with Zach Merrett, Jordan Ridley, Darcy Parish and Andy McGrath all having career years.
Sure, they got absolutely smoked in the final and their points differential was comfortably the worst in the league for a finals team.
But it didn’t matter, they were on the improve. There was true hope.
This year has come the true despair. Stringer looks less fit after signing a fat contract, and his soft tissues are paying the price for it.
Parish has shown himself to be a pure accumulator and the hesitant game style that Rutten has implemented just isn’t stacking up. That’s to say nothing of Dylan Shiel.
They congratulated themselves so much as a club for making the finals, they forgot that you have to play again the year after.
This forgetfulness has manifested itself in a bad start to the year and a general lack of competitiveness from the playing list and club more broadly.
Even when they stormed home against arch-rivals Hawthorn in a big fourth quarter after a spate of outs just before the game, it was a good win, no doubt.
However, Dyson Heppell doing a victory lap and slamming the carry on in the media was probably inadvisable.
Did you forget again, Essendon? You play every week. It’s not one win then hang out for a month.
4. “It doesn’t matter who we are. What matters is our plan”
This is another one from Bane, this time right at the start of The Dark Knight Rises.
In case we were wondering if Bane was a bad guy, he starts the movie by throwing people out of a moving plane. We aren’t wondering any more. He cleared up any confusion.
The AFL could stand to take a page out of Bane’s book when it comes to the new rules that they have implemented, namely the umpire dissent rule and the stand rule.
Both are relatively clear, they’re just stupid.
Generally, the umpire dissent rule is both well-intentioned and probably necessary from a health-of-the-game perspective.
Giving players carte blanche to abuse umpires is a bad look on the biggest stage in Australian rules football.
However, not allowing them to throw up their arms or have a human reaction to a decision they disagree with after they have been allowed to be humans for their whole career up to this point is absurd.
The other rule that needs changing is the stand rule. As a concept, the rule is fine and has probably opened the game up a little bit, which seems to be the eternal goal of the AFL.
The fix for this rule is to borrow from the NFL and say that the player with the ball can’t fake a disposal to get the man on the mark to react.
In the NFL, this is called inducement. A similar rule could work in footy.
In the NFL, the offence is penalised five yards for trying to get the defensive line to jump. I don’t think that any penalty should be introduced for the fake because it’s less premeditated and coordinated than a snap count in the NFL, but generally the idea is sound.
If the man on the mark jumps at a fake, the umpire just calls for him to stand again and the game continues without the 50-metre penalty.
5. “A-ta-ta-ta-ta, let’s not blow this out of proportion” (while Joker has a string of grenades)
Everyone remembers this scene. It’s a classic moment where we were fully introduced to Joker’s madness and ability to dominate a room even after the Heat-style bank robbery that opened the movie.
We saw that he was not only clever and confident, but also a dark maniac in a stark contract to Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of character.
Well, Melbourne is threatening to blow this season away. But like Joker, they can’t pull the string just yet.
I don’t feel that Melbourne is even playing that well at the moment, turning it on for a quarter here or there, usually third quarters.
And they’re just doing it in a canter from there. They are dominant defensively with Steven May, Jake Lever and Harrison Petty. They are calm and organised.
However, they are maniacal and dominant in their hunt for the ball, led by the bull Christian Petracca and the arguably better player week after week in Clayton Oliver.
Up forward, they are very good, which is to say a step down from their complete excellence in the middle and up forward.
The comparison has been made to the 2018 Tigers again and again publicly. The difference is that Richmond were playing incredible footy for the first half of 2018.
They were playing as well as they possibly could. Melbourne are not doing that. They’re doing it in a canter week after week, not blowing anyone away but disdainfully holding their opponent at arm’s length.
They are one of the better sides that I can remember, but I can sense that they have grenades lining the inside of their red and blue blazer and they’re threatening to pull on the ripcord and blow the competition away on the way to a flag.
The only question is whether they will be able to pull it, or will some opponent string them up from their heels and leave them hanging off a construction site, as they try to incite further violence.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the ongoing racial issues that have permeated the AFL season.
However, I’m just a white guy who likes sport. My opinion on those matters is frankly neither relevant nor especially illuminating.
Also, this is obviously a pretty light-hearted column and it would not feel right making fun of the many issues at play in both the Heritier Lumumba and Cyril Rioli issues.