They say after eight rounds is when you can officially gauge where every team sits in the pecking order.
That’s great news if you barrack for Collingwood, or Melbourne, or Brisbane, or St Kilda… less so if you love Sydney or North Melbourne.
Another fascinating weekend of footy has seen yet more drama, yet more action, and yet more controversy: Adelaide, for all they’ve done in recent weeks, are back outside the eight, while the Western Bulldogs, second-last after the first fortnight, have clawed their way back up to seventh with another Marcus Bontempelli-inspired performance.
The Dees and Port Adelaide won in thrilling fashion – though Port did their best to kick it away, literally – the Lions proved they’re a serious premiership contender, and Dylan Shiel proved the bump is still alive.
The MRO is again in the headlines with Jacob van Rooyen one of a number of players handed contentious suspensions, while the round started and ended with ugliness: kicked off with Carlton getting booed by their own fans, and finishing with St Kilda edging North Melbourne in a match that really should be stricken from the public record.
As always, there’s plenty to unpack and even more to discuss. Let’s dive in.
Good luck meeting a Carlton fan not wallowing in self-pity about the state of their team at the moment.
For the third time in four weeks, the Blues were found wanting against a fellow finals aspirant, their 26-point loss to Brisbane on Friday night following defeats at the hands of Adelaide and St Kilda; and the critics have come from everywhere.
The ball movement is painfully slow. Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow are clogging each other’s space. Patrick Cripps is spent. The backline butchers the footy. The list goes on and on.
All these are legitimate criticisms: but acknowledging that the Blues are playing ordinary at best football at the moment is one thing, and suggesting their season is cooked after eight rounds and a 4-1-3 record is quite another.
Things need to change about the way the Blues play, that’s for sure. They’re in a bad patch – even though, as they showed in the last quarter against the Lions in particular, their best remains fearsome.
But at this time last year, they were 6-2 – soon to become 9-3 – and being talked up as a premiership contender. We all know how the rest of their season panned out from there.
For all the criticism, the Blues are still in the eight, have the scalp of Geelong to their name this season, and remain, on paper at least, capable of much more than what they’re producing. Anyone suggesting they can’t turn things around, and quickly, hasn’t been paying attention to the last few years.
In 2019, Richmond were outside the eight by the mid-season by; just last year, Geelong were 5-4 after nine. They both looked for all the world mediocre, middle-of-the-table teams; neither would lose another match for the rest of that year.
So here’s a warning: as ordinary as the Blues look right now, anyone writing them off with 16 rounds to go had better be prepared to wear some egg on their face by the time September rolls around.
Gold Coast did so much right in their five-point loss to Melbourne – but it was the little moments that were always going to decide an epic encounter.
Sure enough, two big ones in the final quarter ended up costing the Suns one of their finest ever wins: Darcy Macpherson’s final minute set shot miss, and the off-the-ball free kick against Ben King that gifted Max Gawn a goal from the square.
There’s no issue with Macpherson – he’s far from the first and certainly won’t be the last player to miss a set shot at a crucial time. He’s having an excellent season, is usually a lovely kick coming off half-back, and was again one of their best against the Demons.
King’s error, though, was inexcusable: with eight points the difference, he reacted to some light pushing and shoving between Harrison Petty and Levi Casboult by collecting the Dees defender some 90 metres off the ball.
The umpire saw it, a free kick was awarded, and the easiest goal of Gawn’s life would prove oh so crucial in the end.
You can argue until the cows come home whether we want to see gift goals like this at such a crucial stage in matches, but that doesn’t change the fact that what King did was one of the dumbest things I’ve seen a footballer do this year. It’s one thing to stand up for your teammates, but quite another thing to do so in such a reckless manner, with four umpires watching out for exactly that sort of thing, AND with the game on a knife’s edge.
The behind-the-goals vision is too far away to determine the force of the contact, and whether Petty made the most of it to try and benefit his team.
I’d argue a knock to the ribs from a bloke King’s size is enough to floor just about anyone when they’re not expecting it; but even if Petty did milk it a bit, it was still incredibly foolhardy of King to put himself in that situation.
In any case, football doesn’t need faux-tough, cheap-shot crap like this. Forget the crackdown on umpire dissent for the benefit of lower levels of the game: it’s this sort of thing has far more violent consequences in local footy. Hopefully the fact that it cost the Suns so dearly will help further eradicate that rubbish from the game.
I’ve watched the clash between Jacob van Rooyen and Charlie Ballard about 20 times now, and I still can’t figure out what else the Demon was meant to do.
Van Rooyen has been handed a two-match suspension for the incident, which saw Ballard taken from the field on a stretcher, graded careless conduct, high impact and high contact by MRO Michael Christian.
It’s banging your head against a wall to talk about match review inconsistency this year, but it’s an absolute farce, yet again, that van Rooyen’s ban is just as long as Kysaiah Pickett’s in Round 1 for what remains the ugliest bump of the season.
Not only is the Demons youngster’s suspension totally out of whack with the ‘crime’, it sets a seriously dangerous precedent.
Yes, van Rooyen’s eyes are off the ball at point of contact. That’s something we should be encouraging – if he goes back with the flight with eyes only on the footy, it’s him who gets poleaxed instead of Ballard.
So often, we see players go back without heed and pay the price – Tom Doedee against Essendon in 2021 springs to mind – and while we gush over players who do that, eliminating it from the game is just as important in trying to minimise concussion as stamping out the dangerous tackle.
It’s obvious to anyone who watched it that van Rooyen’s sole intent was to spoil the ball. His arm extends in the direction of the falling football, and only bends in the classic ‘coathanger’ move when his forearm makes contact with Ballard’s head.
If he gets about eight millimetres closer to the ball and makes contact with his spoil, then there’s no question about him having a case to answer.
The problem with the MRO remains clear – there is no room for distinction between football acts and non-football acts. While the consequences were severe for Ballard, you couldn’t seriously question van Rooyen’s intent of going for the ball, nor – given how close he got to spoiling it – that the effort was reasonable.
I would honestly rather see King cop a week for belting a bloke behind the play, a clear non-footy act, than have van Rooyen spend a fortnight on the sidelines for doing something that, had he not made the effort, he’d get pilloried for.
The positive for van Rooyen is, as Tom Lynch was a few weeks ago, he’s surely got to have the charge overturned if and when the Demons challenge the ban. Lynch, too, made head-high contact to an opponent in Alex Keath, who was concussed by it, but the Tribunal ruled he was making a reasonable play at the footy, resulting in a no-ban.
The league’s crackdown on dangerous tackles has been severe, but at least it’s become somewhat consistent and you can argue in most cases there were other alternatives – we’re beginning to see a lot of them carried out even now.
But a ban for van Rooyen would further entrench the biggest issue emanating out of the MRO these days – that it’s not about what you do, but about how badly the other guy is hurt.
News that the AFL has put coaches on notice for their treatment of umpires off-field and in the press is yet more proof that the league simply isn’t capable of reading the room.
Given the myriad of problems in every facet of the game the AFL is unable or unwilling to confront, their relentless crusade to eradicate even the most minor cases of umpire dissent is reaching ridiculous proportions.
The idea that anyone would take umbrage with Craig McRae saying he ‘lost his mind’ over the non-free kick to Nathan Murphy for getting poleaxed by Darcy Fogarty – a decision even the AFL said they got wrong and which has copped an absolute pasting from fans and the media over the past week – is laughable. If anything, McRae handled it with good grace and exceptional candour, saying the Magpies wouldn’t be requesting an explanation of the non-free to put the umpire in question under even more scrutiny.
Compare that to the NRL, where players walk on eggshells around referees, but coaches regularly and vehemently criticise them post-game.
The AFL doesn’t seem to understand that the cover-up is what gets canned as much as the mistakes themselves. Most of us, in the cold light of day, know that the umpires are human and will make mistakes. We go nuts when those errors disadvantage our teams, but the line is rarely crossed.
But when the league refuses to address an error, or ticks it off as a correct decison, that’s when people get mad. And denying coaches as well as players the opportunity to state their case and call a spade a spade benefits nobody.
Stopping the people directly affected by officiating isn’t going to stop the umpiring being a hot topic at the water cooler on a Monday. In fact, the reverse is true.
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There’s been a lot of talk about Luke Jackson in his first few months in Fremantle colours, but it would be just as silly to overreact to one exceptional performance as it would to overreact to four or five ordinary ones.
But it’s impossible to look at the 21-year old’s 24-disposal, six-mark, two-goal game against Hawthorn and not see a serious, unique Australian Rules footballer. One worth a few teething issues as he adjusts to a new role and a new system at the Dockers, a side in which it must have been tremendously frustrating for a tall forward-cum-ruckman to be playing in to start 2023.
With some improved, aggressive ball movement from Freo and a Hawks defence without the tools to hold them out bay, Jackson’s hands were superb all evening.
Even more impressive was his athleticism to reach contest after contesting, halving if not winning most of them. At ground level, his three tackles inside 50 might be the stat that delights Justin Longmuir the most.
I feel about Jackson basically the same as I feel about Carlton’s Tom De Koning: they’re Tim English four years ago. I remember when English was a beanpole getting totally dominated by the competition’s biggest and meanest ruckmen, but over the years he has grown in influence and stature and is now pretty clearly the best in the business.
Neither Jackson nor De Koning are going to get a year as sole ruckman to speed up their development, with Jackson significantly stymied by the fact Sean Darcy is bigger, most experienced and a far better fit for the way Freo are playing.
He’s going to have to become a star the hard way – but he has time, and talent, on his side. I’m still backing him in to be a superstar.
For such a young player, Nick Daicos is an enormous part of Collingwood’s lethal game plan – but as Sydney discovered on Sunday afternoon, he’s not the be all and end all.
For the second week in a row, Daicos copped heavy attention: not just from tagger Ryan Clarke, but from the entire Swans team, who never missed an opportunity to get stuck into him in a series of heated fracas.
The Pies were always on hand to stick up for him, and violently so, but it worked: while Daicos still had 13 disposals to half time, plenty were kick outs, while with just one inside 50 – a goal assist that saw Clarke swamped by avenging Magpies – he was getting most of his touches in unthreatening positions.
The result was some of the Pies’ ugliest ball movement of the year. After a season-low 59 points in their win over Adelaide last week, they mustered just four goals from 29 inside 50s in the first half against the Swans. The kicks in were scrappy, pressured, often along the ground, and a Swans backline that has been ripped apart in recent times were time and time again able to repel.
Clarke, as well as Adelaide’s Ben Keays, have proved one thing at least: Daicos can be curtailed, and it does have a sizeable impact on Collingwood. But there’s more to the Magpies than just one crazily talented young gun.
This is a team capable of winning the hard ball, as they did throughout against the Swans. Winning the clearance count 11-6 and contested possessions 138-129, they dominated possession in the crucial final term, and kicked four goals to none from stoppages, half in the fourth quarter.
A whipping boy at times among frustrated Magpie fans towards the end of last year, Brody Mihocek silenced the doubters with a bag of five, three in the last quarter to seal the game – one a legitimate Goal of the Year contender.
Jack Ginnivan, too, was electric coming on as sub; remarkably, his six disposals in a quarter and change were more than fellow small forwards Bobby Hill and Beau McCreery managed for the match combined. Add to that a goal, four score involvements and three inside 50s, he was almost best afield when the match was there to be won, and a recall to the starting 22 surely beckons.
The Magpies’ defence gets little credit, but performs magnificently week in, week out. Darcy Moore is an intercept-marking machine who also rarely gets beaten one-on-one, while in blanketing Tom Papley and taking four intercepts himself, a just world would see Isaac Quaynor get three Brownlow votes for this one (apologies to Errol Gulden and his 37 disposals).
It’s not all about Nick Daicos at Collingwood – the Pies have system to spare. And there’s glory aplenty to go around.
– The AFL’s announcement of life bans for fans caught racially abusing players is great – let’s hope enforcement goes better than some, ahem, other Australian football leagues.
– Let’s hope those same life bans also apply to any players or club staff caught doing the same thing – but I’m not confident.
– I didn’t give Jack Payne enough credit in Friday’s Footy Fix. The best game I’ve seen by a key defender all year.
– Has Jed Bews let go of Ben Keays yet?
– I really hope Tom Green gets three Brownlow votes from Saturday night over Marcus Bontempelli. You’ll struggle to see a better game.
– Welcome back, Nat.
– Yet another example of commentators not being at the ground ruining a big moment with Andrew Phillips’ late shot. Anthony Hudson thought it was going home; it fell nine metres short!
– North Melbourne trying to limit damage is understandable, but it’s going to make them bloody tough to watch this year.
– I’m not sure I’ve seen Jaidyn Stephenson have a more impactful game in North colours. Great to see.