There has been a lot of talk this year about the battle for a top-4 berth considering there are probably 6 teams who could legitimately push for a spot in that bracket. Here’s some proof of why that battle is so important.
In American sport, merely making the playoffs gives you a shot at a championship. Post-season results, especially in baseball and hockey, tend to be random.
Looking at the most recent winner in each of the 4 major US sports proves this:
NFL - New York Giants - Went 9-7 in regular season, snuck into playoffs. Were seeded 4th of 6 teams in the NFC.
NBA - Dallas Mavericks - Went 57-25 in regular season (equal 4th-best record in NBA), making them the 3rd-seed in Western Conference.
MLB - St Louis Cardinals - Were the National League wildcard after storming home late in regular season. Had the worst record of any team to make the playoffs.
NHL - Boston Bruins - Won 46 of 82 games in regular season (equal 8th in NHL), making them the 3rd-seed in the Eastern Conference.
In AFL however, it’s a completely different story. If you don’t have a strong H&A season and get a top-4 berth, don’t expect to reach a Prelim, let alone make or win a Grand Final.
Since the current finals system was came into effect in 2000, only twice has a team which finished 5th-8th made it to the last four.
It largely comes down to the fact that in the second week of the finals a top-4 team which lost its Qualifying Final plays a 5th-8th placed Elimination Final winner. No matter how much momentum the lower ranked side has, and no matter how much the top-four side may be stumbling, the side which proved better in the H&A season has won 22 of 24 times.
The only sides to overcome this barrier:
- 2001 - Hawthorn (6th) d Port Adelaide (3rd), 3 pts
- 2007 - Collingwood (6th) d West Coast (3rd), 19 pts (in Extra Time)
Hawthorn’s win came against a Power side which had still yet to win a final, with John Barker the hero. Collingwood’s defeat of West Coast came against an Eagles side which was without its star midfield trio of Judd, Cousins and Kerr. And the Pies still needed Extra Time to get the win.
A lot, but not all of this, comes down to home ground advantage. Winning a game interstate is tough; winning a final on the road is even harder. Excluding the three neutral GFs in that times, since 2000 there have been 61 finals where a side has had a home-ground advantage. The home side has won 43 of these, at a winning rate of over 70%. When the home side has won, the average margin was 40 points. When the travelling side won, it was 28 points. Also notably, Collingwood has won its last three interstate finals in that time so they are one team who could overcome this.
At some stage a side from 5th-8th will make a run but history says a strong H&A season is crucial. Teams ranked 1st and 4th can often enter a finals series on a level playing field, however the difference from 4th to 5th is always significant.
This makes the race for a top-4 berth in 2012 super important.
COLLINGWOOD d ESSENDON BY 1 POINT
Collingwood: This was a great win by the Magpies who fully deserved the four points. They were the better teams and there were a number of good signs, led by the form of Nathan Brown in his return. Their good players all played well and they played a style which has served them well in the past. This team has a resolve to it that means it will not drop away too far, and when they get back to full strength they will still be one of the competition’s best teams. The backup ruck position is still a problem though. I am super impressed with Lachlan Keeffe but when Tarrant and Reid return, they can’t all play down back together. Keeffe could be used as the forward/2nd ruck, it will be a tricky situation otherwise if he is squeezed out. Goldsack and Beams played their best games of the season and Sidebottom, Blair and Clarke all had a huge impact.
Collingwood has won its past 17 matches when leading at three-quarter time.
Essendon: A gallant performance by the Bombers but again they don’t do anything that makes me think they are anything more than a mid-ranked team. They continue to get involved in shootouts which isn’t a good sign as they don’t have many game-breakers. Zaharakis was outstanding while Ryder had an impact late, and Heppell was also good. The Bombers have an easy few weeks coming up and could set themselves up for a finals berth but will want to play better than they have, as really they have played only one good game in five rounds.
CARLTON d FREMANTLE BY 8 POINTS
Carlton: Despite the scoreline indicating the Blues had less opportunities than Fremantle, it’s fair to say the Blues still had control of the game for most of this contest. This game was played at a slow pace which didn’t faze the Blues who enjoy holding onto the ball and controlling the tempo. They took their chances when going forward and held on at the end. Apart from the game against the Bombers the Blues have been impressive this year and are on track for a top-4 berth. Walker’s return was encouraging and Henderson continues to improve down back. The fact Judd was kept quiet also indicates there isn’t an unhealthy reliance on him.
The last time Carlton won a game with 15 or fewer scoring shots was in Round 13, 1987. It only happened 6 times in the AFL from 1996-2011.
Fremantle: The Dockers were unlucky to lose this one given their inaccuracy in front of goal. Having said that, they were outplayed for periods of the game and didn’t really deserve the win. The Dockers aren’t playing pretty games this year but are staying competitive throughout and have fought back from hefty deficits against Sydney and Carlton. The signs are good that they are a top-8 team, especially if their second-tier players such as Mzungu, Crowley, Pearce and Duffield continue to contribute. When their superstars get up and running they are going to be a tough team to beat. An interesting note in this game is that the Dockers won the clearances by 10, against one of the best midfields, without Sandilands.
Fremantle became only the 8th team since the start of 2005 to lose a game despite having 7 more scoring shots than its opponent.
WESTERN BULLDOGS d GWS BY 42 POINTS
This was a flat performance from the Dogs who seemed disinterested early. They basically did only enough to get the four points, with not too much to get excited about. Griffen, Higgins, Sherman, Wallis, Minson and Cordy all showed good signs but it was an otherwise lackluster effort. Despite posting 25 more inside 50s, the Bulldogs continue to struggle to get the scoreboard return that should reflect.
The Western Bulldogs have been outscored by 52 points in first quarters this year, better than only GWS and Gold Coast.
GWS: This was another promising effort from this young team. They started well and at no stage looked completely out of place out there. They won the contested possessions and again saw some great signs from some talented youngsters. Cameron was the highlight but Bugg, Hampton, Treloar, Bugg and Shiel also showed plenty of promise. They will get blown out some weeks and be competitive in other weeks but results don’t mean anything with this team – they are definitely on the right track.
Jonathan Giles has had more hitouts in his first five games than any player in the past 20 years.
NORTH MELBOURNE d GOLD COAST BY 34 POINTS
North Melbourne: Andrew Swallow was quoted post-game as saying North played ‘kamikaze’ football against the Suns. He said it as if it was some sort of surprise or that it wasn’t how they normally play. From what we have seen since the start of last year, the Roos are one of the most attacking teams and are happy to have a shootout, which is what happened in this game. Their ball movement from defence or stoppage is attractive with lots of handball and spread but they are still vulnerable when they don’t get first hands on the ball because they love to run forward but don’t necessarily run back to help as much.
Gold Coast: Not many people expected this type of performance from the Suns who for the second week running had a strong first half before falling away. Again it can be put down to a young side still lacking fitness and experience to be able to maintain AFL standards for four quarters. In the absence of Ablett and Rischitelli, the midfield battled hard, led by Swallow and Hunt who did some exciting things. When up and running the Suns play a super-attractive brand of football with the likes of Bennell, Matera and Prestia all able to show glimpses of brilliance.
GEELONG d BRISBANE LIONS BY 38 POINTS
Geelong: It’s hard to read too much into this result because of the horrible conditions. The Cats have always played well in the wet and ground their way to a victory despite coming out behind in most indicators such as contested ball, tackles, inside 50s and scoring shots. Hawkins’ performance continues his form as one of the game’s premier power forwards while Motlop again showed good signs. Keeping a team to one goal in the opening three quarters is a great effort, regardless of weather.
Brisbane: The Lions fought hard in this game but just lacked the finishing quality and experience of the Cats. This game could have been a shootout if the conditions were more favourable but instead it turned into a game where the result was inevitable early on. This Lions team is not as bad as it was last year, but not too much better either. They are still young and need to continue to give games to their kids.
Brisbane went goalless in a first half for only the third time in its history.
ST. KILDA d MELBOURNE BY 18 POINTS
St. Kida: The Saints are nowhere near the team they once were, but are still a cut above the bottom teams thanks to their group of match-winners. Despite attempts to shut them down, Dal Santo, Fisher and Hayes all had a huge say in this game and the Saints did what they had to. They still don’t play a very attractive brand of football but will continue to remain competitive while their superstars are on the park.
St. Kilda has conceded the fewest points of any team in 2012 (67 per game).
Melbourne: Melbourne finally put up a fight in this game but failing to score in the final term suggests they are still a long way off. The Demons put out their most experienced side of the year so it’s not surprising they were more competitive but still lack enough depth to stick with good sides for four quarters at this stage. Nathan Jones was a shining light early and Jeremy Howe continues to impress. Aaron Davey still can’t get near it and can’t be too far away from getting the chop again.
This was only the 10th time in the past 40 years a team went scoreless in the final term of a game where the margin was less than 6 points at three-quarter time.
SYDNEY d HAWTHORN BY 37 POINTS
Sydney: This was a very impressive win from the Swans, easily their best for the year. This comeback was led purely by the midfield, mainly Kennedy, Bird, Parker, Bolton and Hannebury. The Swans won the ball when it needed to be won and spread hard after half-time, despite it looking early like they would be outclassed. Their ability to shut down the Hawks and not allow them to control the game as they like to was outstanding. The backline looked shaky early but held up in the end thanks largely to the pressure applied up the field and the teamwork of Grundy and Richards. Shaw did a great job on Rioli and Nick Smith was influential when he came on.
This was only the 11th time in Sydney’s history it came back from 20 points down at half-time to win.
Hawthorn: The Hawks can blame the midfield for this loss. Getting the ball inside 50 only 41 times will not win you many games and they were smashed in all areas between the arcs after half-time. The Hawks were made to look like they don’t have midfield depth as the Swans ran all over them. Burgoyne was a shining light but Franklin and Rioli continue to struggle and the backline was also exposed at times. They weren’t allowed to play the way they wanted and couldn’t find any other way to get the ball forward, which is a worry. They are lucky there aren’t many other teams that play a lock-down style like the Swans.
Hawthorn took just 55 uncontested marks, its third lowest tally since the start of 2006.
WEST COAST d RICHMOND BY 10 POINTS
West Coast: The Eagles remain the competition’s luckiest team, continually winning close games that could fall either way. This time they got out of jail against the Tigers team who seemed like it had more to play for but couldn’t find a knockout blow. West Coast continues to remain efficient with the ball and solid defensively. They move the ball well, remain dynamic at stoppages led by Naitanui and Kerr, and are so potent up forward. Gaff works remarkably hard for a second-year player, and Masten is turning into a good player.
West Coast has conceded 100 points in only one of its past 21 games.
Richmond: This game panned out pretty much how it was expected to. It was a shootout between two gun midfields, and while the Tigers could easily have won the game, the defensive part of the game cost them. Richmond still finds it difficult to exit their back 50 and also struggle to play any way other than all out attack. If they improve defensive structures and don’t over-possess so much coming out of defence they will win more games. Again in this game they were reliant on Deledio, Martin and Cotchin for all their midfield drive, which is unhealthy but because that trio is so good they were in the game. Maric battled hard against the Eagle rucks, but the under-sized backline was always going to find it tough because the team has no mechanism to restrict the opposition from getting it in there quickly and often.
ADELAIDE d PORT ADELAIDE BY 19 POINTS
Adelaide: The Crows weren’t convincing in this win but stepped up when it counted to dominate the final term. Their draw has been extremely favourable so far yet they haven’t been overly great in this early part of the season, despite sitting 4-1. Their midfield is the main improvement on last year, continuing to match it with most sides in clearances and contested possession, an area of concern in the past. The form of Dangerfield is key to that and he played one of his best games on Sunday. If Walker and Tippett can continue to provide targets up forward they will remain in the hunt for a top-8 berth because their draw is so easy.
Patrick Dangerfield’s 39 disposals were the most by a Crow apart from Scott Thompson since Tyson Edwards had 41 in Round 11, 2009.
Port Adelaide: This was yet another gallant loss by the Power. They have played five good teams this year and stayed competitive in each, which is a credit to their persistence and style of play. They again just lack the composure and class to find a way to win. They seem to struggle early in games and find themselves down, then get on a roll and get back into the game before ultimately falling short. Considering they don’t have a great list, they are performing very well. This week is a huge game to prove themselves.
Port Adelaide has conceded 85+ points in 17 consecutive games.
Fremantle d St. Kilda by 13 points
Fremantle: The Dockers have a toughness about them now that they never had under Mark Harvey. They were beaten in most areas yet were able to hang in the game and pull out the win. It was a great performance, led by Stephen Hill’s ability to break the game open after half-time. McPhee on Milne was a surprise matchup but worked very well, while McPharlin did a good job of ensuring Riewoldt didn’t have a great impact. What is still a concern is ball use and decision making coming out of defence. They still seem to have periods where the game is being played in their back half and need to address this better, although I do like the risks they are taking through the corridor, something which is unlike Lyon’s low-risk policy at the Saints.
The average age of the Fremantle team was its oldest since Round 8, 2008.
St. Kilda: If Dal Santo doesn’t fire, the Saints don’t have enough class to beat many teams. Sam Fisher didn’t have an impact in the second half and Milne was well held. The Saints still rely on their big guns and when three are well held they just don’t have enough talent to win. Hayes, Goddard and Montagna were influential but unable to do it all on their own. With losses to Port Adelaide and Fremantle this year, the Saints are a long way from where they have been in the past but still good enough to challenge for a spot in the eight.
Riewoldt & Milne kicked only one goal between them. Since 2002 when they have combined for 0 or 1 goal in a game, the Saints have won only 5 of 23.
Essendon d Carlton by 30 points
Essendon: The Bombers have proven in recent seasons they are capable of beating anyone. They have caused upsets against Hawthorn, St. Kilda and Geelong in the past three seasons and can now add the Blues to that list. They did so thanks to a good overall team performance but mainly from an impressive midfield output led by the skipper. While there was a heavy reliance on Watson (13 clearances, 20 contested possessions), he was good enough to ensure the Dons matched the Blues in the clearance count and got the ball moving forward. Stanton’s work-rate is elite and continues to find plenty of the ball due to hard running. The Bombers are always up for a shootout and came out on top in this one but by no means does this indicate they are a better team – they were simply better on the day.
Carlton: Carlton’s back-line continues to be a major concern. The only way the Blues will be successful this year is if the midfield can ensure the ball doesn’t come into the back 50 too many times, or too quickly, which is what happened on Saturday. The fact the Bombers won the clearance count and were able to transition the ball easily through the middle of the ground meant the defence was under the pump and looked very shaky, conceding 34 scoring shots from only 49 Bomber F50 entries. The loss of Carrazzo meant Stanton did as he pleased, while the inability for anyone to help Waite as a tall forward target was worrying.
Chris Judd’s kick-to-handball ratio this year of 0.76:1 is the lowest of the competition’s top-15 ball-winners.
Collingwood d Port Adelaide by 24 points
Collingwood: The Pies did what they have done often in the past few seasons, getting a large early lead and not looking threatened throughout. Unlike the Pies of 2010-11 however, they failed to run away with the game and were largely uninspiring. They are nowhere near where they have been and the fact that they lost the inside 50 count by 8 at home to Port Adelaide is further proof they are just doing enough to get by.
In 2011, Collingwood averaged 36 points in fourth quarters, the most of any team since Essendon in 2000. This year they are averaging just 12.5 points in Q4, ranked 17th in the AFL ahead of only Gold Coast (and behind GWS).
Port Adelaide: For the third week in succession the Power were competitive without coming away with a win. Port has the toughest draw in the league but should be pleased with the way they have begun the season with honourable losses to Essendon, Sydney, and Collingwood. They continue to match their opposition in the hardness stakes but lack the outside finishing to get over the line. The loss of Robbe Gray is a huge one as he is one of their very few match-winners. John McCarthy and Brad Ebert are proving to be handy acquisitions in the midfield, while Ben Jacobs played one of his better games.
Adelaide d GWS by 46 points
Adelaide: This was a pretty disappointing effort from the Crows, especially after such an encouraging start. They are much improved in and around the ball but are still a bit shaky in defence where at times the Giants looked capable of scoring relatively easily once they entered the forward half. Porpyzia looks like he is coming into some good form while the conditions were perfect for Sloane, who was very good.
GWS: Great effort from the Giants in this one to stay competitive for as long as they did when it looked early as though they could get blown out. Good signs from youngsters Shiel, Treloar, Bugg and Hampton mean the Giants continue to be on the right track. They stayed in the game thanks to moving the ball quickly to an open forward-line despite being largely dominated in and around the ball.
West Coast d Hawthorn by 5 points
West Coast: The Eagles have been lucky to win a number of games since the start of last year and got away with another one on Saturday night. This game really could have gone either way. Andrew Gaff is turning into a top-line midfielder with elite endurance and an ability to find space and use the ball well. Again youngsters Scott Selwood, Masten and Darling led the way but Kerr put in his best game for the year at the right time. The height of the Eagles continues to be their strength (15-6 contested marks) and defensively they remain one of the better sides.
West Coast has won its past six games decided by under 10 points.
Hawthorn: The Hawks could easily be 4-0 this year and will be hoping these close losses to Geelong and West Coast won’t hurt in their push for a top-four berth. They had the better of the Eagles for most of this game yet couldn’t put it on the scoreboard, allowing the Eagles a match-winning burst early in the last. Josh Gibson again held together a defence that looked shaky at times, while Rioli, quiet again, came to life in the final term.
Hawthorn has lost its two games this year after leading at three-quarter time. Only one other team has led at 3qtr time and lost (GC v Ess, Rd.3).
Brisbane Lions d Gold Coast by 65 points
Brisbane: The Lions are not a great team but will show glimpses this year if Black and Brown can contribute and their youngsters continue to improve. Unlike last week, the Lions played the way they want by moving the ball quickly and pumping it forward and it paid dividends. Rockliff, Golby, Polec, Rich, Cornelius, Banfield and Redden all had an impact which bodes well for this team which is still in rebuilding mode.
Brisbane’s tally of 430 disposals was the most in club history.
Gold Coast: While the Suns would have hoped for a better performance after half-time, again there were positives to be taken out of this game. Karmichael Hunt played one of his best games, while Caddy, Prestia, Lynch and Bennell all showed plenty. As with many games last year, the Suns are capable of matching it when the ball is up for grabs but struggle in the other two facets of the game – applying pressure to win it back, and using it efficiently. They scored only six goals from 47 inside 50s and lost the tackles by 33. As they get more experienced and fitter across the board they will be much more competitive for four quarters.
Gold Coast has taken 26 marks inside 50 this year, five fewer than any other team.
Geelong d Richmond by 10 points
Geelong: The Cats are battling and were unable to dominate this game like many expected they would given their dominance at home in recent seasons. This was a rather boring game, which is largely unlike Geelong, and the conditions can’t be to blame as they often excel in windy or wet games. Much like Collingwood, they are just going at the moment but are 2-2 and will improve as they get players back and as the season wears on. Tom Lonergan was great on Jack Riewoldt while Steven Motlop continues to show plenty. When Varcoe returns they could form a deadly partnership at half-forward. Their well documented problems at winning contested ball will turn soon enough.
Geelong’s score of 75 points was its lowest at home since Round 15, 2006 (42 games ago).
Richmond: The Tigers have competed hard in losses to Carlton, Collingwood and Geelong, looking at times in each like they would get blown away but hanging in and keeping it respectable. The Tigers continue to want to play a high possession and attacking game and while it isn’t necessarily working for them, credit to the coaches for sticking with it. Youngsters Morris, Ellis and Conca show improvement, however the form of Martin, Riewoldt and Vickery would be a continued concern.
In 2011 Richmond only kept its opponents under 85 points on three occasions. This year the Tigers have done so in three of four games.
Sydney d North Melbourne by 36 points
Sydney: The Swans keep rolling along, proving they are a class above the mid-table teams in the competition but not tested against the top-5 just yet. Their midfield continues to perform in most facets and with some added X-factor up forward in emerging superstar Lewis Jetta, the Swans are travelling well. The Swans only had one more scoring shot in this game and had fewer inside 50s which suggests the result wasn’t as one-sided as it seemed, but their most impressive win of the season nonetheless.
In 2010-11 Lewis Jetta kicked a combined 16.33. This year he has kicked 11.2.
North Melbourne: A largely disappointing effort from North. The thing that worries me about the Kangaroos is their lack of defence. They keep getting involved in shootouts which has never been a recipe for success. The back-line was under the pump and struggled when the ball hit the deck, a regular problem for them. They won the contested ball but as with many games in recent seasons, they lack class and skilled ball users, as with Harvey being well held by Shaw and Wells quiet, they struggled. I’d like to see Harper get more games under his belt not as the sub as he adds some pace and skill forward of centre.
Apart from their Round 2 game against GWS, the Kangaroos have conceded 55+ inside 50s and 100+ points in each of their three games.
Western Bulldogs d Melbourne by 21 points
Western Bulldogs: This wasn’t a convincing performance but it was a win nonetheless in a game which wasn’t so much about style, more about which team could make the most of its opportunities. The game-breaker again for the Dogs was Dahlhaus whose speed and class was clear. Veszpremi added some much needed run from defence while Djerrkura looked lively. Jones put in his best performance for the season and presented well, while the fact Cooney and Wallis stepped up were good signs.
Matthew Boyd was kept to under 20 disposals for only the second time in his past 77 games.
Melbourne: The Dees tried hard but simply seem a long way off. With their lengthy injury list, they simply don’t have the depth to match it with many sides. The game plan is still seemingly a long way from being executed, as they simply can’t hold onto the ball for any length of time. From defence they lack run and an ability to break the lines with a simple chain of handballs, whereas when they kick long to numbers they generally turn the ball over. Until they get back to somewhere near full strength they are in for more pain.
Melbourne has had 268 and 276 disposals in the past two weeks. No other team has had fewer than 298 in a game this season.
CARLTON d COLLINGWOOD BY 60 POINTS
Carlton - A clinical and dominant performance led again by the midfield. The Blues won the ball when it needed to be won and were much better than their counterparts on the spread, meaning they were able to get the ball inside 50 where their dangerous forwards kicked their third big score in as many weeks. The Blues’ speed around the ball will cause anyone trouble and their ability to not only get to the ball first but also apply pressure in all parts of the ground is impressive. Again the defence looked shaky early as the Pies were able to score often from limited opportunities but the Blues will back themselves in shootouts because they have too much firepower for most sides currently. Kreuzer and Waite were outstanding for the third week running, while players like Armfield and Hampson keep improving. If Carrazzo can shut out one of the opposition’s best mids each week while dominating like he did on Friday night, this Blues team could push for a top-2 spot.
Carlton has topped 120 points in three successive weeks for the first time since Rounds 15-18, 2000.
Collingwood - The Magpies were bad on Friday night but it’s not panic stations yet. Yes they are are battling a bit currently, but this Carlton team is good and the Pies just never got going. Midway through the second term with Murphy and Judd dominating, Swan and Thomas quiet, and the Blues playing at their best, the difference was only nine points. Pendlebury had an out of character stinker, while the tall forwards couldn’t get into the game because midfielders were smashed at stoppage and couldn’t exit defence consistently well. The main concern for me is the rucks. Jolly was awful and is really struggling. He failed to dominate McCauley in Round 1, was quiet last week against Ivan Maric, and was taken to the cleaners by Kreuzer. Wood is simply never going to be a good second ruckman because he can’t play forward, presenting the Pies with a huge problem. O’Brien and Toovey got exposed by the Blues’ leg speed and quick ball movement, while The lack of spread in the midfield was also a concern.
Collingwood lost the clearances by 18, their worst loss at the stoppages since losing by 18 to the Bulldogs in Round 15, 2009.
SYDNEY d PORT ADELAIDE BY 22 POINTS
Sydney - Sydney hasn’t played any of last year’s finalists and sits 3-0 after a solid start to the season. They are building slowly but haven’t been truly tested by a good team yet so it’s hard to know exactly where they are sit. The form of Hannebury and Parker was encouraging against the Power while Jetta continues to show improvement and gives them a real spark.
Luke Parker became only the third Swan in the past 20 years to have 30+ disposals before his 20th birthday (Shannon Grant Rd.9, 1996 and Dan Hannebury Rd.20, 2010 were the others).
Port Adelaide - The Power team is full of players who have a crack but lack polish. The Power results in the past fortnight have been similar – they have competed for the majority of the game against better teams but ultimately come up short. Players like Cassisi, Trengove, Ebert, McCarthy, Broadbent and Thomas lack class but all try hard and make sure the Power will stay close to most sides because they can match them in the hardness. In most cases though, talent prevails and that’s where the Power rely too heavily on Hartlett, Gray, Boak and Pearce – their only players with genuine match-winning ability. The Power has come up against three of last year’s finalists so with a win and two honourable losses on the board they should be encouraged.
RICHMOND d MELBOURNE BY 59 POINTS
Richmond - Richmond are a hard to team to judge after three rounds. They ended up with an impressive looking win over Melbourne after a slow first half, burning the Demons due mainly to their exceptional stoppage work. The problem with Richmond is that they can look great against the poor sides but struggle to perform at such a level against the better teams. They really did beat up on the Demons here though which is a good sign considering both teams are in the same phase of their development after a number of lean years. The Tigers continue to be a high-possession team and it might have worked against Melbourne who struggle to apply pressure, but they should be judged by how they track when facing the top tackling teams.
The Tigers won the clearances 43-25, their biggest win at the stoppages since beating Collingwood by 18 in Round 8, 2005.
Melbourne - The Demons continue to show little. They were down by only eight points at half time but fell apart afterwards, allowing the Tigers to pile on nine goals in the third term. The most disappointing part was at the stoppages where they were destroyed, with the absence of Moloney and Sylvia felt greatly. On paper the Melbourne back-line is more than capable but when they get smashed in the middle of the ground as they have been in the opening three rounds, the defence is under too much pressure. The game plan continues to be a work in progress but it all starts in the middle and if they are beaten so convincingly in there it will be hard to slow down opposition scoring. They simply don’t have the players at the minute with Moloney and Sylvia injured and Green (now also injured) and Davey out of form.
Melbourne had only four players on Saturday who were over 25yo – the fewest of any team for the round apart from GWS.
FREMANTLE d BRISBANE LIONS by 29 points
Fremantle - This game was a classic Ross Lyon performance. It was ugly but effective for the Dockers who still managed to win the contested ball and inside 50 count easily and deserved the win. They haven’t set the world on fire this year but are steadily improving, starting with the defensive mindset that Lyon has so obviously brought with him. One pleasing aspect for the Dockers this year is that it hasn’t been their superstars that have been doing all the work. Sandilands, Pavlich, Hill and Fyfe haven’t really got going, Mundy only just returned from injury and Ballantyne has missed the past two through suspension. They are getting steady performances from the next tier of players such as Barlow, Johnson, Duffield, Suban, Pearce, Mzungu, De Boer, Bradley and Dawson. If they can continue to get solid contributions from this group, once their big guns start to fire this team will be tough to beat. Mundy’s return was impressive.
Brisbane Lions - With just 20 inside 50s and 10 scoring shots, it’s fair to say the Lions battled through this one. The Lions were effectively without their ruckman (Leuenberger, off early in 2nd quarter), and best midfielder (Black), so the fact they struggled so much isn’t too much of a surprise. This big shock was that Brisbane went completely into its shell and played a slow, boring game when in possession. Brisbane’s best wins are when they take the game on but the fact they played with no real flow meant they were obviously conscious of getting blown out if they played any other way. Polec was a shining light after coming on as the sub, while the fact that Drummond got through unscathed is a good sign for the Lions.
ESSENDON d GOLD COAST BY 17 POINTS
Essendon - There is a general feeling that the Bombers are a better team than they were last year but from what I have seen they are still the same. While they controlled the game on Saturday night for the most part, the fact the Suns were in front at three-quarter time is an indication they just don’t have the capacity to bury teams. Their first three opponents all failed to make the finals last year yet they couldn’t put any of them away until late in the game, despite having the bulk of the play in each game. The continued good form of Monfries, Jetta and Ryder is a good sign as each has the capability to become top-line players if they maintain the standards they have set early in the season.
Gold Coast - The Suns are on the right track. From what I have seen of them early this year, their younger players are improving and while still not ready to take the next step, they are definitely heading in the right direction. It is unfortunate that they are being judged on results when they are still young and unable to compete for four quarters. They have now lost to the NAB Cup winner and two of last year’s finalists which actually isn’t that bad when you think about it. Their stoppage work is still a strength and their speed of ball movement also a feature when they are up and running. With Ablett dominating, Bock back in the team and Warnock adding some experience to the back-line, they will only take the next step when the younger brigade is ready. Players such as Swallow, Prestia, Bennell, Lynch, Smith, Caddy and Matera are all future stars who have under 25 games experience. When they get to 50 games the Suns will be a force. I also like the look of Aaron Hall, they might have just unearthed another one.
ST. KILDA d WESTERN BULLDOGS BY 63 POINTS
St. Kilda - You could be forgiven for watching this Saints’ performance and thinking Ross Lyon was still coaching. This was a typical St. Kilda game – low scoring, strangle the opposition, plenty of stoppages, press up and cause forward half turnovers. They seemed able to pick apart the Bulldogs’ zone easily when coming out of defence, in typical Saints fashion with lots of uncontested marks and switches and little need for risk. Goddard did as he pleased while Hayes hasn’t missed a beat in his return. David Armitage has really come of age while Stanley, Milera, Geary and Newnes are some of the next wave of Saints who are slowly starting to have an impact.
Western Bulldogs - The Bulldogs have struggled against the Saints in recent seasons and on Saturday night all the same factors that played a part in previous meetings were evident. Most notable was an inability to stop Sam Fisher from having an impact, and also the lack of effective ball movement out of defensive 50 in the face of the Saints’ forward pressure. The Bulldogs’ lack of run and creativity through the middle of the ground was enhanced by the fact Ryan Griffen was well held by Clint Jones, with Dahlhaus quickly becoming one of their most important players because of his ability to break a line and get through traffic. Playing three ruckmen rarely works, and each of the Bulldog talls struggled to have any impact.
WEST COAST d GWS BY 81 POINTS
West Coast - The Eagles were 94 points up at three-quarter time, again thanks largely to the dominance of the younger crop of players. With Embley, Priddis and Glass out and Kennedy and Kerr quiet, the Eagles kept rolling thanks to Scott Selwood, Shuey, Ashley Smith, Masten and Gaff which is a great sign. They are a real force based on what we have seen this year – but they haven’t beaten any of last year’s top-8 sides so that is when we will get a real gauge. So far, so good though, top of the ladder for the first time since 2007.
West Coast has kicked 20+ goals in three consecutive games for the first time in club history.
GWS - There were a number of positives to take out of the game for the Giants. Despite the lop-sided scoreline, they outscored the Eagles in the final term and came out on top on contested possessions and clearances. They continue to want to share the ball around a lot by hand which puts them under pressure but they still weren’t completely disgraced in this game. Conigilio has impressed me most of their kids so far, with Shiel, Kennedy, Treloar, Greene and Bugg all also showing good signs. Ward and Scully are showing they are worth the big price tags, while Chad Cornes and power are holding up their end of the bargain by providing experience and leadership.
In their first three games the Giants have scored 15 times in the first half and 30 times in the second half.
HAWTHORN d ADELAIDE BY 56 POINTS
Hawthorn - This Hawthorn win was typical of the Hawks in recent seasons. After being unable to play their usual style in the opening two rounds against last year’s Grand Finalists, on Sunday they were back playing a possession-based game where they controlled the tempo and didn’t allow the Crows to get much flow going. As we know their foot skills are elite and they held onto the ball for extended periods to frustrate the Crows who couldn’t win the ball back quickly enough. Franklin and Rioli still haven’t got going this year so the Hawks have plenty of improvement left in them, but their next group of players such as Whitecross, Stratton, Suckling and Shiels all contributed which is a good sign and highlights the depth across the board. They are one team who don’t need to win the contested ball to win the game because their pressure and ball use will give them an edge.
Hawthorn took 140 marks on Sunday, the most of any team in 2012. Since the start of last season only 10 times has a team taken 140 or more marks in a game, and seven of those have been by the Hawks.
Adelaide - The Crows couldn’t stop the Hawks from playing the way they wanted, which indicates their defensive style is still being refined. The Crows beat up on two of the competition’s poorer teams in the opening two rounds so this game was a reality check considering that apart from Richard Douglas they are at full strength and couldn’t get close to the Hawks. In 2011 the Crows were a poor team when the ball was up for grabs but they were actually very impressive in that area on Sunday, winning the contested ball by 21 and the clearances by 7. The problem was their inability to win the ball back off the Hawks, losing the tackle count by 28 and allowing the Hawks to exit the back 50 too easily. Jacobs has become a good ruckman while Dangerfield, Tippett and Callinan all played well but the Crows still have a number of players who don’t turn up every week.
Adelaide has won the clearances in each of its games this season. In 2011 they won the count only eight times.
NORTH MELBOURNE d GEELONG BY 17 POINTS
North Melbourne - In the past decade, it would be hard to argue any team was less attractive to watch than North Melbourne. They didn’t have a great game plan, were never very good, and lacked any special players worth watching, bar Harvey and the inconsistent Wells. This 2012 version is different and Sunday’s performance proved that. While the Roos still seem like a team who will battle it out for a spot in the top-8, what they now have is one of the most attractive game plans in the game and some genuine reasons for fans to be excited. It all starts in the midfield and their stoppage work is very impressive and their young crop is getting better by the week. One thing I like about North’s side is that they have a lot of mid-forwards – Wells, Ziebell, Bastinac, Harvey, Adams to name a few. Ziebell is fast becoming a superstar with his clearance work exceptional and kicking elite. The Roos are becoming almost Collingwood-like in running forward of the ball when they see an opportunity to, which means they will continue to score freely but can get burnt at times. It worked on Sunday because they won the contested ball and dominated out of the middle. Sam Wright’s job on Steve Johnson was outstanding while Luke Delaney also had the better of Tom Hawkins which is encouraging for a backline which will continue to be under the pump if the midfield keep up this trend of favouring attack over defence.
Brent Harvey and Daniel Wells both topped 30 disposals, only the third time they have done so in the same game. They have played together 167 times.
Geelong - I don’t read too much into this Geelong loss. They were beaten comprehensively but without Scarlett, Varcoe, Wojcinski and Josh Hunt, and Mackie subbed out, they were understrength and came up against a Kangaroos’ team with a point to prove. The Cats had more scoring shots and lost the inside 50 count by just two despite the fact they were beaten comprehensively when the ball was in dispute. The ruck situation is still a problem, with no real solution in sight – playing West and Stephenson together is not the answer. The retirement of Ling is also a worry as Harvey was able to roam free and dominate, but the Cats have plenty of time to find a suitable replacement before it’s too late. Bartel, Chapman and Johnson were all unable to have an impact, meaning too much was left to the younger crop of players who aren’t ready just yet. The Cats’ defence can always be exploited by teams who don’t bomb the ball inside 50 and North were smart with the entries and made the Cats pay. The real positive was the form of future star Steven Motlop, whose class shone out.
The Cats conceded their most points in a game since Round 9, 2008 v Collingwood.
Nothing has changed! Weird round, not one result was a shock or indicated anyone is much better or worse than last year.
1 (1 last week) Geelong (1-1) - Still No.1.
2 (2) Hawthorn (1-1) - Couldn’t get it done when it mattered but they lost to a champion team, no harm in that.
3 (3) Collingwood (1-1) - Did what it should have done and the superstars keep performing.
4 (4) West Coast (2-0) -
5 (5) Carlton (2-0) - Just keep rolling along.
6 (6) Sydney (2-0) - Impressive win considering no Mumford but really fell apart in the third term. Still a fair way off the top five teams.
7 (7) Adelaide (2-0) - Very impressive win. Will be interested to see how they go against the Hawks this week, Tippett, Walker and Porplyzia could stretch them.
8 (8) Essendon (2-0) - Still the 8th best team in the AFL. Some good signs against the Power.
9 (9) Fremantle (1-1) - Fought hard to get back in the second half but ultimately a disappointing loss.
10 (10) St. Kilda (1-1) - Beat Gold Coast. Whatever.
11 (11) North Melbourne (1-1) - Beat GWS. Whatever.
12 (12) Western Bulldogs (1-1) - Have been unlucky to play the two NAB Cup GF teams in the opening two rounds. Are on the right track.
13 (13) Brisbane Lions (1-1) - Bad bad loss. Get Brown back this week but lose Black. Lack depth. At least Rich is playing well.
14 (14) Port Adelaide (1-1) - Had a crack at least and weren’t embarrassed. No polish.
15 (15) Richmond (0-2) - Not the worst effort from the Tigers. Will be a while before they are a force though.
16 (16) Melbourne (0-2) - Think positive - at this rate they will get pick 3 in the Draft.
17 (17) Gold Coast (0-2) - The kids aren’t stepping up. But they are still kids. Be patient.
18 (18) GWS (0-2) - Will struggle against any team with outside run.
1 (2 last week) Gary Ablett – Consistently elite in a poor side. Is literally doing everything he can.
2 (1) Lance Franklin – Threatened at times but was beaten by Lonergan. Will bounce back.
3 (3) Chris Judd - First time with 30 disposals and 3 goals as a Blue (did it four times at West Coast).
4 (5) Scott Pendlebury - Best decision maker in the game.
5 (6) Joel Selwood - Almost too tough for his own good. Relished the contest on Monday.
6 (7) Marc Murphy - Dynamic - he and Judd are the best 1-2 combo in the league.
7 (10) Dale Thomas - Watch the third quarter. Changes games.
8 (4) Adam Goodes - Slow start to the season. Kicked a couple of clutch goals but not much impact overall.
9 (9) Travis Cloke - Hardest working forward in the game.
10 (14) Jimmy Bartel - Keeps playing well in big games.
11 (13) Sam Mitchell - Was so dominant in the first half that nullifying him was the key to the end result.
12 (9) Matthew Pavlich - Went missing for periods of the game which can happen as a forward when the ball isn’t coming down there.
13 (15) Brendon Goddard - Back to his best on the weekend against poor opposition.
14 (11) Cyril Rioli - Showed flashes only.
15 (12) Dean Cox - Dominant again.
Next in line (no order): Swan, Boyd, H.Shaw, N.Riewoldt
West Coast defeated Melbourne by 109 points on Saturday. The result wasn’t too surprising based on current form but considering that in 2008-2010 both sides were among the competition’s worst, it’s amazing how quickly the Eagles have separated themselves from the Demons.
The result came about for a number of reasons, including the fact it was played at Subiaco, that Melbourne are still adjusting to a new game plan under new coach, and that West Coast had five of the six oldest players on the ground and are overall a more seasoned and experienced team. The main reason, however, and one that stood out to me most comes down to recruiting.
From 2008-10, West Coast had H&A finishes of 15th, 11th and 16th, while Melbourne had finishes of 16th, 16th and 12th.
2008 was the year where both were so bad they earned priority picks at the start of the draft. Melbourne, who finished last, had the selection one ahead of West Coast in each round. Here’s how the first three rounds panned out.
- 1 - Melb - Jack Watts
- 2 - WCE - Nic Naitanui
- 17 - Melb - Sam Blease
- 18 - WCE - Luke Shuey
- 19 - Melb - James Strauss
- 20 - WCE - Tom Swift
- 35 - Melb - Jamie Bennell
- 36 - WCE - Ashley Smith
- 3 - WCE - Chris Masten
- 4 - Melb - Cale Morton
- 21 - Melb - Addam Maric
- 22 - WCE - Scott Selwood
Also, in 2010, West Coast’s first two selections were Andrew Gaff and Jack Darling who have already developed into core players.
The Eagles turned it around quicker because they had a core of experienced veterans like Cox, Kerr, Priddis, Glass, Embley, Adam Selwood and Lynch, so the younger players were able to come in and not need to star straight away. The question for many in the pre-season was that as these veterans near the end, were the younger brigade, now in the 20-60 game range, ready to take them to the next level. According to the Champion Data Player Rankings from the weekend, their best players were Scott Selwood, Shuey, Masten, Hurn, Naitanui and Gaff. This suggests that this next crop are ready.
Melbourne are by no means a lost cause. While Maric didn’t work out and the other players they recruited in that time still up and down, they are on the right track. Without that core of experienced superstars (Green was their only player with 130+ games experience on the weekend; West Coast had 6), too much is being asked of the young players too soon.
Recruiting is tough and this is only a small sample of the list and drafting of these two teams. It’s still early to judge a lot of the players because each develop at different stages, but the point I am making is that if teams can draft well like West Coast, they can turn it around if the list is balanced. Perenially struggling gives you access to the best of the talent pool which is what both of these teams did. Having said that, West Coast is by no means good only because of the talent on its list, there are a number of factors and the game plan is the major one. Talent plays a part but tactics and structures cannot be under-stated.
CARLTON d BRISBANE LIONS BY 91 POINTS
Carlton - This Carlton midfield keeps producing numbers similar to what West Coast did in the mid-2000s. The Blues are becoming so dominant in the middle of the ground that a strong forward- and back-line aren’t as vital to their success, which is big for them considering their defensive unit is nowhere near the AFL’s best. If Murphy and Judd can produce like they did on Thursday night, the Blues are almost unbeatable because the games will be played in their front half where they are potent and possess elite pressure skills to win the ball back. They are blessed with some of the competition’s quickest players meaning their speedy ball movement continues to give plenty of opportunity to their forwards who, with the impending addition of Walker, are looking very dangerous. Armfield has provided a spark there, while Waite continues to prove his worth. Despite being understrength and battling through the pre-season, they couldn’t have started the H&A season better.
This was the 8th time Judd & Murphy combined for 60+ disposals and 2+ goals in a game. Carlton has won each time.
Brisbane - Very disappointing effort after such a promising performance in Round 1. Having said that, a lot of lower-ranked teams will get beaten convincingly by the Blues this year and the Lions without their skipper are never going to match it with the best. Their inability to get the ball out of defence was a real worry, allowing the Blues 11 scoring shots from forward 50 alone. The Lions will compete against some of the lower-ranked teams (like Round 1), but this result suggests they are way off the top-6 of the competition because they don’t have the depth to compete with the better sides. I hope they don’t drop Polec even though he was quiet, he needs to keep playing.
The Lions became only the 2nd team since the start of 2001 and the 27th ever to lead at quarter time and lose by 90+ points.
ESSENDON d PORT ADELAIDE BY 25 POINTS
Essendon - Not the most convincing of performances but they deserved to win the game with 10 more scoring shots, 32 more tackles and 18 more inside 50s. What I like about the Bombers is that they have the speed to trouble most sides - Jetta, Zaharakis, Dempsey (and Winderlich when he returns). Ryder has stepped up in the opening two rounds which is a massive bonus, and somewhat surprising to me as I had almost written him off. Hurley and Crameri work hard as forwards to provide options, and the midfield seems to be able to hold it own but still lacks stoppage support for Watson (the Power won the clearances 41-33 and Watson won 7). As I predicted in the pre-season the Bombers haven’t done anything to suggest they are any better, or any worse, than in 2011.
The Bombers have generated 30+ scoring shots in successive weeks, something they failed to do in 2011.
Port Adelaide - The Power are a work in progress. They will be up and down, with their good being OK and their bad being pretty bad. They put up a gallant effort against the Bombers but the 25-point margin flattered them a bit. The Power continue to be competitive in one phase of the game and that is contested ball and stoppage. The facts are though that when they have the ball they don’t have many players with good skills and decision making to hurt the opposition, and when the opposition has it they struggle to win it back.
The Power haven’t kept their opponents to under 100 points in consecutive weeks since Rounds 20-21, 2010.
SYDNEY d FREMANTLE BY 13 POINTS
Sydney - Considering the loss of Mumford, this hard-fought win deserves plenty of credit. There was a lot to like about this performance, most notably the form of Kennedy who has become a top-line midfielder. The Swans were able to nullify the influence of Sandilands thanks to their back-line, as despite the Dockers winning 10 more clearances, Sydney was often able to win the ball in defence and begin attacks to goal from there. The problem for the Swans remains their inability to put sides away. They had control of the game and let Fremantle get back into the contest in the third term when the Dockers simply worked harder than them and won the disputed ball. What the Swans will be most pleased about is that youngsters Sam Reid and Alex Johnson are holding down key posts and doing a great job, and third-year players Lewis Jetta and Gary Rohan are becoming more influential (Jetta in particular).
Sydney has won its first two games in a season for the first time since 2001.
Fremantle - The Dockers remain an inconsistent group still coming to terms with a new coach and new style of play. Far too often they go for extended periods without being able to exit their defensive half which is a problem that needs to be sorted (it happened against Geelong in Round 1 and for most of the first half on Saturday). They still need to be able to get better results from stoppage given the amount of times Sandilands gets his hands to the ball. They allowed the Swans too often to read his hits, or if the Dockers did win first possession and get a clearing kick, it was often scrappy and didn’t lead to anything. The return of Mundy is important because he seems to be their best player at winning a clearance and making it count. Ballantyne was also sorely missed because he provides a spark in the forward-line. Their current forward setup of players like Bradley, Mayne, DeBoer, Anthony and co are hard workers and each are important in their own way but don’t provide the X-factor that Ballantyne does. Overall it was a decent performance but there’s no doubt they are still not near the best sides in the competition.
Michael Barlow become only the second player since the substitute rule was introduced to come on as the sub and have 20+ disposals.
WEST COAST d MELBOURNE by 108 points
West Coast - Hard to fault anything the Eagles are doing currently. One of the most pleasing things about this performance was that the Eagles didn’t take their foot off the pedal, wanting to crush the Demons by as much as they could despite having the game in the bag at half-time. They absolutely obliterated the Demons in all areas but again it was their ability to play the game in the forward half which led to the demolition. What I like about the Eagles is that they can score heavily from clearances but are equally great at being able to apply pressure to cause turnovers and punish the opposition. They will find it tougher against the better stoppage sides, because their defenders still struggle from quick ball movement, but they are well on their way to another tilt at a top-four berth, and maybe more.
West Coast scored a competition-high 10 goals from stoppage in Round 1 and a competition-high 20 goals from turnover in Round 2.
Melbourne - They were comprehensively beaten in all aspects of the game. This Eagles team is red-hot at the moment and Subiaco is always a tough trip but 41 scoring shots to 13 is horrible. I feel for the back-line as Frawley, Garland, Rivers, Grimes and debutant Tom McDonald were just under the pump the whole game. They lost the inside 50 count by 45, the equal second-biggest differential recorded (since 1999). The problem is that what we are seeing is similar to how they played under Bailey, getting numbers back and then struggling to get the ball out of defence. While their method for exiting defensive 50 is different this year, they still just can’t get it out and can’t get any extended periods in their forward half. Mitch Clark and James Magner were two of the few positives to come out of the game.
Mitch Clark has kicked 4+ goals in a game four times in his career, but each has come in a losing side.
COLLINGWOOD d RICHMOND BY 21 POINTS
Collingwood - The Magpies did what they had to, kicking away in the third term, but ultimately this wasn’t one of their finest performances. Considering they are had four players with less than eight games experience (Paine, Keeffe, Sinclair, Seedsman), it’s understandable that the Pies are nowhere near their 2011 form. The good sign though is that they hung with Hawthorn in Round 1 and turned it on in the third term on Saturday night when they needed, led by their superstars Thomas, Pendlebury, Swan, Cloke and Shaw. Like Blair last week, Fasolo provided a real spark and is turning into a handy player now in their best 22. Reid continues to impress down back while Marty Clarke was much better this week. With players to return in coming weeks the Magpies are still a force.
The Magpies have had fewer than 350 disposals in both games in 2012. In 2011 they had fewer than 350 only three times all season.
Richmond - At least they didn’t fold and lose by 10 goals when it looked like they may have after the Pies took control in the third term. Coach Hardwick’s comments post-game were spot on as he spoke about the youth of the Richmond team and that they still struggle to perform highly for four quarters because they are inexperienced and have many players still in the development stage of their careers. The back-line is still the major worry as unless the midfield stop the ball from coming in, they are going to get scored against heavily. Rance and Houli are both in the 45-50 game experience range but still make too many poor decisions/skill errors in the back half which are usually punished. Martin has started the season slowly while Vickery really struggled to have any impact for the second week running. Nahas as the sub surprised me.
The Tigers had 427 disposals - the most by a losing team since Round 22, 2010 (St. Kilda 469 v Adelaide).
ADELAIDE d WESTERN BULLDOGS BY 18 POINTS
Adelaide - It was only a few years ago that the Crows regularly eked out wins by restricting the opposition scoring in dour contests. While in this game it was more the Bulldogs who wanted a hard-fought game, the fact the Crows came out on top proves that they can win these type of games but also seem now to have the firepower to win a shootout. The Crows have enough midfield grunt to beat most sides, led by Thompson, Sloane, Dangerfield and Vince, and with Mackay providing some important outside run they are developing a better mix than in the past. The third quarter was disappointing though, as they were completely outplayed and all their big guns went missing. Porplyzia and Walker stepped up when it mattered and the midfield fought back to get them over the line, continuing their unbeaten 2012 run. Youngsters Talia, Smith and sub Lynch all had an impact - the signs are good for the Crows but the true tests will come against the top sides, starting with the Hawks this week.
The Crows lost the inside 50 count but won the game. In 2011 they lost the inside 50s 11 times and lost each time.
Western Bulldogs - Another respectable performance for the Bulldogs this week, fighting hard to the death but lapses late in the 2nd and 4th quarters proving ultimately crucial. Most indicators such as contested ball, clearances, tackles and inside 50s indicate this contest was an even one but the Crows’ ability to conjure goals when they needed was the difference as the Bulldogs are still looking for the right mix up forward and some class through the middle. Liam Picken was superb once again while Boyd willed them back into the contest with support from Cross, Griffen and Murphy. Dahlhaus continues to be a revelation and is well on his way to becoming a top-liner. Markovic stood up for most of the game and Lake was better - all good signs for the Bulldogs but no wins to show for it.
Clay Smith is the second player to ever be subbed out in each of his first two career games (Tom Simpkin, Rounds 11-12, 2011 is the other).
NORTH MELBOURNE d GWS BY 129 POINTS
North Melbourne - The Kangaroos don’t have any problems scoring heavily and in this game they simply destroyed the Giants in a much more convincing fashion than the Swans did in Round 1. It’s hard to judge this performance though because of the nature of the opposition but the ‘Roos deserve credit for their dominant performance where they shared the ball around exceptionally well (505 disposals) and had a record number of inside 50s (83).
Ryan Bastinac had 44 disposals - the youngest player to do so since Robert Harvey in Round 2, 1992.
GWS - The Giants crashed back to earth after their encouraging Round 1 effort and failed to score a goal in the first half as they simply couldn’t get the ball out of the back half. These results have to be expected, much like Gold Coast last year, so it’s hard to know what to take from this game. They lost the contested possession count by only 9 but they simply can’t spread at any respectable level yet and don’t have the ball use or decision making to exit defence effectively. Ward battled hard in the second half, as did Cameron, while Coniglio continues to impress with his ability to get through traffic.
Toby Greene’s total of 58 disposals in his first two career games is the 2nd-most in history behind Michael Barlow (67).
ST KILDA d GOLD COAST BY 92 POINTS
St. Kilda - This Saints performance was very much like what they have produced in recent seasons, beating up on a poor side due largely to the performances of their big guns. When Goddard, Dal Santo, Hayes, Fisher, Montagna and Riewoldt all dominate, the Saints are almost unstoppable, and as long as these six are together and playing well they are a threat to any team. The problem for the Saints is that while they are trying to get some youth into the team, it’s still the same players who are the best each week and none of the younger players are stepping up to fill the void if any of the stars are to get shut down.
Goddard, Hayes, Dal Santo and Montagna have each reached 25 disposals in the same game 17 times, of which the Saints have won 15.
Gold Coast - Not much to say here other than we knew the Suns were still a long way off. An interstate trip against a 2011 finalist coming off a loss was always going to be difficult. The experienced players battled hard but the kids are still not ready and there’s not much that can be done about that as with so many kids in the team they can’t really be fast tracked. Scoring remains a problem and the fact they handballed so much (139 kicks, 191 handballs) also indicates they are trying to implement a game plan they just aren’t ready to execute against better sides.
Since Shane Crawford (1999, Rounds 17-18), Gary Ablett is the only player to have 40+ disposals in consecutive weeks. Ablett has now done it three separate times.
GEELONG d HAWTHORN BY 2 POINTS
Geelong - The Cats won this game because of their hardness at the contest and risk-taking coming out of defence - two of the hallmarks of their success over the past five years. While the hardness wasn’t a surprise, some of their exits from the back 50 in the second half were remarkable considering the change in most team thinking in the past few seasons. It was like the Geelong of 2007-10 and while it didn’t exactly pay off each time, it proved the Cats are still willing to do what it takes to give themselves a chance to win. As with most Geelong wins, it’s hard to single out any players because they have such a good spread of contributors across the board but one player whose efforts mightn’t get much praise is Tom Lonergan. He has the wood on Lance Franklin in the past three years, yet no-one knows it. Give the guy some credit! Hawkins is finally becoming the Jonathan Brown-like presence he always threatened to be, while Bartel, Selwood and Enright did what they do. Having said all that, the Cats were lucky - they kicked 14.3 for the game and weren’t really the better side, it really could have gone either way.
No Geelong player reached 25 disposals, only the third time this has happened since the start of 2007.
Hawthorn - As Alastair Clarkson said after the game, the Hawks were up in most key indicators but were unable to find a way to win. They had a clear edge in contested possession and tackles which usually goes a long way to victory, but simply missed their chances with only five behinds in the final term. One player who impressed again was Broc McCauley - he really has done well in Bailey’s absence in the opening 2 rounds and I was surprised he got subbed out. Cyril was kept in check, Franklin was beaten, and Mitchell got shut out after half-time, meaning the Hawks lost their star power and had to rely on lesser lights like Suckling and Whitecross who were good but not good enough. When Roughead sat behind the ball for periods in the second half he looked at home but it was a sign the Hawks were trying to save the game rather than win it. Lewis was great, but Chance Bateman’s form is becoming an issue.
The Hawks were goalless in the final quarter for the first time since Round 12, 2011, also against Geelong.
Brisbane (-20.5) v Carlton
I am big on the Blues but this Lions team at home intrigues me. The midfield battle is big and I think the Lions can get within a few although the Blues should win.
There really weren’t any huge surprises from the opening round. Geelong and Collingwood’s losses weren’t bad enough to think they have fallen away much at all, while most other sides did what they should have.
Melbourne and Richmond were most disappointing while the Lions and Power rise up above them after good wins.
1 (1 last week) Geelong (0-1) - The Cats were gallant against the Dockers and were unlucky to lose. They are still the reigning premier and the best side.
2 (2) Hawthorn (1-0) - Did what they should against the Pies but can they beat Geelong for the first time since the 2008 Grand Final? I’m not giving them the No.1 spot until they do .
3 (3) Collingwood (0-1) - Weren’t disgraced despite being the third-youngest team of the round. They are proven and have plenty of talent which all performed well last week. Still one of the best sides .
4 (4) West Coast (1-0) - Priddis provided the grunt while Naitanui and Kennedy added some class in their super impressive win. The LeCras loss hasn’t been felt at all and they can’t do much wrong at the moment .
5 (6) Carlton (1-0) - It was only Richmond but there was pressure to perform despite the injuries and they did it easy. If they kicked straight they would have won by 10 goals. Going to be a force this year but won’t move up the rankings until they beat someone above them.
6 (5) Sydney (1-0) - Didn’t have much to gain in the game over GWS but all-in-all weren’t overly impressive. Got the job done.
7 (7) Adelaide (1-0) - Like the Swans they did what they had to. Unlike the Swans they did it in entertaining fashion and showed plenty flair. On the right track.
8 (8) Essendon (1-0) - Let’s not get carried away here, they needed a miss after the siren to win. Still nowhere near the good sides and just a fringe team, but are developing a real potency up forward with a competition-high 19 marks inside 50 against the Roos.
9 (9) Fremantle (1-0) - The Dockers won a hard-fought and hotly contested game against the reigning premier? Must be the work of the best coach in the land. This could be the start of something special.
10 (10) St. Kilda (0-1) - Hard to know whether the loss was embarrassing or not. When North lost a tight one away to West Coast in Round 1 last year no-one thought it would turn out to be such a gallant performance. Can’t see Port doing a West Coast though but who knows? The jury is out but they’ll get on the board this week against Gold Coast.
11 (11) North Melbourne (0-1) - The Roos were outplayed and didn’t deserve to win but could have stole victory at the death. Hard to judge, and with GWS their next opponent we won’t know where theyre at until they play the Cats in Round 3.
12 (12) Western Bulldogs (0-1) - Some good signs but overall still not ready to match it with the best sides. Came up against a red-hot Eagles.
13 (15) Brisbane Lions (1-0) - Great win on the road minus their skipper. Black was sensational as the Lions dominated stoppages. Huge game this Thursday night.
14 (16) Port Adelaide (1-0) - They’ll take any win they can get after their 2011 season. They are showing improvement and should aim for eight wins. Hartlett, Wingard and Redden are the future.
15 (13) Richmond (0-1) - Their backline still struggles and the midfield rarely play four good quarters in a game. A long way off.
16 (14) Melbourne (0-1) - Hard to argue that they are better than any team other than the bottom two after that dismal effort. Can they get within 10 goals of West Coast at Subiaco? Huge ask.
17 (17) Gold Coast - Disappointing loss at home. Still no forward-line or back-line emerging but let’s not forget they are still babies. On a positive note, their skipper is still No.2 in the Player Power Rankings.
18 (18) GWS (0-1) - For such a young side it was a super effort on debut. Plenty of good signs from the kids and showcased a good brand of tough footy mixed with classy ball movement at times. Lots to like.