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Six Points: Cram the Crows condescending, Bucks, Swans weren't that good, and the rule change AFL must make

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25th June, 2023
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The bye rounds are over – and boy, do we need nine games of footy back!

Across six games this weekend, I’d argue we had one and a half properly good games of footy – and one other (I’m sure we all know which one) was so bad it should probably count as a negative.

Thank goodness for Collingwood’s thrilling win over Adelaide on Sunday – arguably the match of the year, it had tremendous skill, scintillating football, a nail-biting finish, and plenty of that sweet, juicy controversy we love to get fired up about in the aftermath.

That’s as good a place as any to start!

1. Spare us the Crows condescending, Bucks

“There’s so much to take from this game for Adelaide.

“The way they played that second half was huge. Matthew Nicks will have plenty of positives to feed his team.

“If you’re an Adelaide supporter and you’re watching this, you’re not disappointed at all. This is something that was building for you. You’ve got a young group that are coming, and you’re a part of a group that’s doing something special as well.”

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No doubt Nathan Buckley thought he was giving the Crows a high compliment with this praise after their heartbreaking, controversial, two-point loss to Collingwood.

But I can’t imagine Crows fans watching at home taking it that way.

Most passionate supporters have a single reaction to losing a close game, especially one they’ve led at three quarter time and was theirs for the taking: frustration. You can double that for Adelaide fans, who time after time after time this year – including once before against the Magpies – have burned golden victory opportunities with wayward kicking for goal.

After listening to Buckley, quite frankly, patronise their team with the praise that they’re on the right track, that they’re not quite there yet but the signs are good, that they put up a great fight against the mighty Collingwood and aren’t really losers at all with the way they played, I’d forgive them for thinking that Bucks can go and get stuffed.

Especially given the Magpies legend spent the better part of the last quarter willing his old team home, whether consciously or unconsciously, with some heavily weighted commentary – instantly calling an extremely line-ball score review on Izak Rankine as touched only to have to humorously backtrack mere moments later when the vision didn’t support his point.

I won’t sugar coat this, Adelaide fans: your team had a shot at a statement win on the road, a chance to finally prove they can take down anyone, anywhere… and they blew it. And they blew it in familiar fashion: poor kicking for goal in the first half, and then unable to hold onto a lead after blowing a quality opposition apart with a quarter of scintillating football.

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Yes, you also had precisely none of the rub of the green from the umpires all game: holding the man seemingly ceased to exist when it was a black and white jumper clinging to red and yellow, Brayden Maynard nearly sent a Crow’s hand to the moon and wasn’t called for kicking in danger, and I’ll go to my grave thinking there was enough evidence on that Rankine call to overrule the on-field call of touched.

But before you go off proclaiming ‘VFL bias’, and accuse the AFL of having a vendetta against your team, I’ll point out that the Pies copped an even rougher end of the stick when they last played back in Round 7. If Collingwood could get past that and win on the road, there was no reason for Adelaide not to do likewise.

To be clear, the Crows are awesome. Fun to watch, unstoppable at their best, if they can bottle that third quarter and roll it out for even a half a game, they’ll hardly ever lose.

In so many ways, they were the better side against Collingwood at the MCG, which takes some doing. Every single player can head back home with heads held high.

But in their last nine games, they face top-four teams Melboune and Brisbane on the road, plus another Showdown, and several other tricky clashes, even if they do get a guaranteed percentage-booster against West Coast in the final round.

They’re sitting eighth by percentage now, and that gap should only grow when they face North Melbourne next week – but those two narrow Pies losses, plus a series of other kicking-influenced defeats, have left their margin for error waifer thin, and that’s a dangerous area for a team who can be as inconsistent as any in the game.

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No doubt a lot of my frustration is down to my belief that the Crows are really something NOW, not just building for something even better in the years to come. I picked them in my top eight pre-season, and still think they should make it… but their game-turner on Sunday was the 33-year old Taylor Walker, and who knows how close he is to the Father Time cliff?

We’ve seen with Carlton this year that the promise of a bright future doesn’t always mean sustained success. Cheerful talk about the best years being ahead and the sky being the limit can be shelved until the end of the season: a lot of times, right here and right now is your best shot at it.

The Crows have once again bottled a golden chance at a serious top-four push. If it goes on to cost them finals too, it won’t be the umpires to blame – it’ll be themselves.

Adelaide Crows players.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

2. Sydney weren’t that good

Just three matches in VFL/AFL history have been decided by a greater margin than the 171-point annihilation Sydney handed to West Coast on Saturday afternoon.

From the first minute to the last, it was wall-to-wall carnage, the Swans sensing a chance for a much-needed percentage boost, their stars filling their boots with goals and disposals aplenty, and putting a historically bad team to the sword.

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The Eagles’ abject performance has dominated the headlines in the past 24 hours, but little if any credit has been given to the Swan for their part in proceedings.

And I’m not about to start – honestly, they just weren’t that good. And I’m as bewildered by this as you are.

You’d think a team couldn’t break 200 points, especially not in this age of defensive footy, being especially slick – but a significant amount of their goals were handed on a silver platter by the most pathetic, miserable effort I’ve ever seen from a team at the highest level.

Time after time, the Swans would stream forward under little pressure, find a teammate in 30 metres of space, who’d turn around, hit up another leading teammate 30 metres out directly in front, and he’d kick another goal. It was so easy as to really leave them little choice other than to score.

But even in that, Sydney still looked just as patchy by foot as they had been all year. They’d regularly miss easy targets by hand or foot, only for those targets to be given all the time in the world by the Eagles to recover and make the play look better than it was. Any single other AFL team – forget this year, any team in the decade since the formative years of Gold Coast and GWS – would have given them a real run for their money the way they played.

There’s probably no greater example of how thoroughly ordinary the Swans were, in spite of the margin, than this.

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This basically summed up the day: Hayden McLean somehow misses an utter gift of a goal from 10 metres out, only for the Swans to win the ball back about eight seconds after the kick-in, get another chance, have an Eagle outpointed and give up a silly free kick to McLean again, and then have him kick it at the second time of asking.

There are a bunch of other examples: this one-step banana from Luke Parker on the boundary looks delightful, but while the finish was smooth, he was forced into it by taking way too long to take his kick. In the end, it helps him, because he’s gone so far back from his mark no Eagles could get in to smother.

The much-replayed 20 seconds from the final quarter, which I’d argue is in the top ten most embarrassing passages of play I’ve seen in my lifetime, ends with Chad Warner waltzing past five Eagles easy as you please, getting to ten metres out… and with two teammates over the top, missing a simple goal.

While I’m at it, I’ll probably be accused of being a grump here, but I’m not a fan of the Sydney social media team sticking the boots in further, proclaiming their great percentage boost out of ripping apart the carcass of West Coast.

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It’s fine to take pride in a victory, but this felt an unnecessary cheap shot.

In any case, I can honestly say I took more positives out of Sydney’s defeat to Brisbane last week, when they were totally outclassed but fought like demons to an honourable loss at the Gabba, than I do out of this easiest of kills.

Credit to the Swans, it has to be said, for having the killer instinct to make this the all-time walloping that it was – Adelaide and Carlton missed chances to do something similar to the Eagles this year by turning focus to trying to get their spearhead 10 goals in the last quarter – but any team in the competition would have beaten West Coast by at least 20 goals on Saturday afternoon. That’s how abysmal they are.

Sydney have a resurgent Geelong next Friday night. Beat them, and then I’ll be convinced that they’re back.

Luke Parker celebrates a goal.

Luke Parker celebrates a goal. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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3. Dangerous tackles are cooked again

I honestly thought, despite all the controversy and all the weekly conjecture, we had finally established a framework around what constitutes a dangerous tackle, and how many weeks each incident should receive.

And then Liam Stocker escaped sanction for his sling on Eric Hipwood and we were back to square one.

I’ve written before that the biggest issue with MRO suspensions this year has been that they are based on outcome only, but for the most part dangerous tackles had been exempt.

We’ve seen Zach Merrett, Brad Close, Taylor Adams, Lachie Whitfield and countless others cop a week on the sidelines even without the player they tackled dangerously being concussed. It was harsh… but at least it was consistent.

Now, though, it’s open slather once again. Stocker’s tackle on Hipwood is exactly the thing the AFL apparently is so keen to stamp out: in trying to drag him off the ball, he slings him forcefully to the ground, pins an arm to prevent any defence, and failed to do what the league are supposedly encouraging and drags him onto himself rather than to the ground.

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For Stocker to not be banned because, in the MRO’s own words…

“The tackle did not constitute a reportable offence including because no high contact occurred.”

… is an absolute disgrace. Hipwood’s head not hitting the ground is not due to any extra care Stocker took laying the tackle, just as Will Day, or Close, or Adams, or any number of players this year had no control over their tackled opponents having their craniums bounce off the turf.

No wonder AFL clubs aren’t even showing their players the league’s distributed vision for executing tackles if suspensions are going to come down to the chook lotto of whether a head scrapes the ground or not. It’s an insult to the players mentioned above who served a week for their acts to not have this receive the same.

Once again, it seems like sheer dumb luck is going to be the only thing stopping your favourite player from being banned. It’s outcome over action again – and it sucks.

Liam Stocker is penalised for a dangerous tackle on Eric Hipwood.

Liam Stocker is penalised for a dangerous tackle on Eric Hipwood. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

4. Some hard truths about the Gary Rohan incident

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There has been a lot of talk around what Gary Rohan accidentally knocking Jeremy Cameron out on Thursday night means in the grander scheme of the AFL’s crackdown on high contact.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s let Grant Thomas explain what a lot of people are thinking right now.

It’s absolutely true that Rohan did not mean to knock Cameron into next week. It’s also true that the majority of other high bumps this year haven’t been intentional either – I don’t think anyone thinks Jordan De Goey intended to concuss Elijah Hewett, or Rhyan Mansell James Aish.

But surely we can now accept that accidental contact is still punishable by the MRO? I’ve whinged a lot this year about how outdated and problematic the ‘careless’ versus ‘intentional’ segment of grading incidents is, but I’d argue if anything players are given greater benefit of the doubt than they should be even now for contact being accidental – if Kozzie Pickett’s Round 1 bump on Bailey Smith is careless, then everything else should be too.

The key reason Rohan was never going to be banned is this: at the heart of the matter, suspensions are to discourage illegal behaviour that advantages, or has the potential to advantage, your own team. In the old days, it meant you couldn’t send someone’s teeth flying, ruling them out of the rest of the game, and not face punishment.

Accident or no, Mansell concussing Aish left the Dockers with one fewer player for the rest of the evening. The only team Rohan negatively impacted on Thursday was his own.

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I’d also make the point that, for a multitude of reasons, public opinion of the Rohan incident would be very different if, say, it was Harrison Petty he knocked out instead of Cameron.

It’s true he’d get three or four weeks if that had occurred; but it’s also true to say that nobody would have a problem with that. It’s among the more bizarre incidents I’ve seen all year, because it looks absolutely horrendous on Rohan’s part.

So no, the AFL not having friendly fire be a suspendable act is not going to offer any team an iron-clad precedent to escape suspension in acts of incidental contact.

It means players have open slather to knock out as many of their own teammates as they like – no doubt we’ll see a spate of those in the next few weeks. *sarcasm engaged*

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5. The big rule change the AFL has to make

I noticed an incident during Geelong’s win over Melbourne on Thursday night that concerned me so much I actually Tweeted Has the Umpire Made a Mistake about it – something I’ve never done before.

Then I watched as a near-identical incident involving Hugh McCluggage and Bradley Hill got far more prominence on Friday night, mostly because Matthew Richardson went in hard on it.

In both, Hill and Gary Rohan were given a good three seconds by the umpire to dispose of the ball, so despite the tacklers doing everything right, they were eventually able to escape with a handpass.

Given the ongoing crackdown on dangerous tackles, it’s surely incumbent on the AFL to introduce an alternative – better rewards for tacklers going about it in the way that they want.

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Both McCluggage and Harry Petty executed perfect, non-dangerous tackles, and did exactly as I’d hoped players would start to do in last week’s Six Points – they stood up strong, didn’t bring the player to ground, and were able to hold them up without releasing them.

The solution is simple: we need an iron-clad rule around exactly how much time players have to get rid of the footy when tackled, or before the umpire calls for a ball-up. At the moment, it’s very loosey-goosey, and we’re seeing too many players lay perfect tackles, only to hear no whistle, and eventually dump that player into the ground to help stick it… and cop a week’s suspension as a result.

Petty and McCluggage were, in Richardson’s words, ‘disadvantaged’ by the current system. It’s time for the AFL to introduce the most minor of tweaks, and ensure that tackling players have a carrot as well as a stick to push them in the direction of tackling ‘properly’.

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6. The Eagles need Adam Simpson more than he needs them

At the moment, West Coast are standing by Adam Simpson as coach through thick and thin – and rightly so.

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The Eagles are beyond rock bottom at this point – they hit rock bottom when they lost to Hawthorn by 116 points a month ago. They’ve drilled through the bedrock, past the earth’s core, said hi to Satan on the way down and ended up in the blank void of nothingness that lies beyond, where the only sound is Sam Newman’s voice saying Shane Warne’s death was caused by the Covid vaccine.

Coaching the club is a poisoned chalice only the desperate would take up for next year – add to that the soft-cap consequences of cutting ties with Simpson two years before his contract winds up, and no wonder the Eagles are so reluctant to part ways, even in the wake of a 171-point embarrassment. Such is the plight of the club that they’ve literally got no option.

Really, the Eagles need Simpson far more than he needs them. Which is why the following message is for you, Simmo: get out now while you still can.

It’s clear with every press conference that the constant, unrelenting scrutiny of the WA footy media, not to mention the psychological impact of a proud man coaching one of the worst teams in the game’s history, is taking a toll. Speaking to the media at the SCG on Saturday night was a broken man, powerless to reverse his team’s dire malaise.

Premiership coaches are thin on the ground, and Simpson still has enough credits in the bank despite *gestures vaguely at everything associated with West Coast*, so a quick, clean exit here is far from the end of his coaching life.

Like Damien Hardwick, he can happily then spend the next few years doing whatever he likes, knowing that whenever there’s next a vacancy, his name will at least be heavily in contention.

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It’s honestly hard to watch a good, proud man go through what Simpson is currently going through. If he doesn’t manage to escape soon, I worry what will become of him. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him walk fully clothed into the pool like Skyler White in the final season of Breaking Bad if the Eagles have another 150-point loss.

Don’t worry about the Eagles, either: they’ll be fine in the long run. They’ve got a good draft haul, Reuben Ginbey will be a star, and they’re rich and powerful enough to get through a few overdue bleak years and get back up top.

Next year, they’ll probably just be run of the mill bad if their injury crisis subsists, and while the job of the next coach will be a tough one, it’s ripe for a succession plan, like what Paul Roos set up at Melbourne when they were at rock bottom.

Get some soft cap relief from the AFL – and I’d argue, given their wealth of resources, they should be entitled to a bit of leeway on that score given the current situation – and a Roos-like figure can probably be enticed over. What’s John Worsfold doing these days?

In any case, this is about Simpson. With every latest humiliation he sinks further into the abyss, and the chances of him emerging with dignity intact lessen all the more.

For his own sake, even more than that of his club, he needs to get out of Dodge while he still can.

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Random thoughts

– It’s a shame the Suns and Giants haven’t really captured a big audience yet, because their social media teams deserve more likes.

– It’s been nice to have a week off and not be thrown into existential dread about either my AFL team or the Australian cricket team.

– Ben Ainsworth is going to play 230 mediocre games in a mediocre team and I’m going to spend all of them convinced he’s one game away from getting it, right?

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– The more I think about it the less comfortable I am with Ben Keays ripping Mason Cox’s eyewear off.

– Is it possible to think that Tom Stewart pushing Jack Viney is a) not the end of the world, but also b) a bit of a dick move?

– No doubt watching the Ben Long versus Tyler Brockman battle is one of the highlights of Sam Kerr’s sporting career.

– Andrew Brayshaw, my goodness.

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