TWO weeks to go, we’re almost there, and it’s probably a race in three.
Top of the ladder Adelaide, second-place by a game and half, the GWS, and the bolter from the zip-six start in Sydney – it will be a hard task for any of the others in the mix to overcome at least two of those three in the one September campaign.
Mind you, 11 months ago a team from seventh did topple both reigning Grand Finalists in eight days, so buckle up, there’s most likely more surprises on the way.
1. Firstly let’s acknowledge Stevie J from last week then Bob and Gibbo from yesterday. One will go down as one of the most mecurial, successful and likeable small forwards the modern game has seen. Another, a 300-game player, the heart and soul of the Bulldog breed, an All-Australian captain. The other won two best and fairests in premiership years, a three-time premiership backman who was essential to the Hawks dynasty. Three mega careers, and the Retirement Class of 2017 just continues to mesmerise.
2. Then let’s get the MRP out of the way, it’s become such a fixture of weekly discussion and controversy. Greene, hmm, is it a week? Jarrod Waite does that all the time. There isn’t technically a rule for it, perhaps there should be. Then again, when Anthony Rocca tackled Bob Murphy, aggressively but not unfairly in 2006, and Bob did his knee sadly, would that come under scrutiny in these days? You couldn’t be 100% sure it wouldn’t, and that’s a concern in itself.
3. Impact and outcome are too closely linked, bad record and early pleas are doing too much damage. Players would challenge some of these, and should feel like they could. The penalty for doing so and losing should not equate to exactly a week extra, maybe it comes into the deliberations of the tribunal if you challenge but lose. Half the MRP issues would be solved if players could feel safe challenging their rulings. The plea bargaining is muddying the waters.
4. Back to the footy, need to acknowledge the demolition Saturday afternoon up in Sydney. The Swans would be outright favourites for the flag if they could sneak into a double chance. They are the most in form side in the competition, winning 12 of their last 14. The Crows comparatively have won nine of their last 12, the Giants, only four of the last nine. It’s been a stellar coaching job to recover from 0-6, credit to Horse Longmire but also to Stewart Dew, who is clearly a senior coach in waiting.
5. And given how things are panning out, it looks ever more likely that the Giants and Swans would be projected to meet in the Preliminary Final. AFL House would love that. Whilst a Grand Final would be that extra bit special, it would be played down in Melbourne and that would take ever so slightly some of the gloss off. But a huge prime time Grand Final decider up in Sydney, right in the heart of Rugby League finals, a finals campaign which will feature prominent games in Queensland and Melbourne, would be almost as good a result the game could ask for.
6. If there’s a long range Norm Smith book open somewhere, you could do a lot worse than throwing some loose change on anyone named Crouch. These two sticking together will attract success for years to come. Brad, 23, averaging 27 touches a game, he is 12th in the league for tackles averaging seven a game, and 15th in the comp for stoppage clearances. His brother Matt, 22, is averaging 32 touches, is third in the competition for disposals and effective disposals, sixth for contested possessions and ninth for stoppage clearances.
7. Such is their dominance but crucially their contribution to the Crows’ season, both Brad and Matt at Adelaide are first and third at the club for disposals, third and fifth for tackles, third and first for contested possessions, third and second for effective disposals. These are the sorts of players that win Norm Smiths, leading their teams to Premierships. Two great careers still in the early days here.
8. Big occasion down Sleepy Hollow last Saturday and it was a bit of a fizzer. The Tigers got wind I gave them a rare pat on the back and played accordingly. They brought nothing to the table really and Geelong gets away with another good four points, but gee, a more spirited Richmond would have tested the hosts a hell of a lot more. Shame. So the Tigers still have their question marks, and the Cats are still not ‘that’ good, please don’t be sucked in.
9. The Dogs didn’t give too much last Friday night, especially in the second half and it’s a shame. Tom Liberatore’s performance was a bit reflective of the team’s, a bit listless for effort and want, and whilst you back the reigning premier to be much better side next year, for the son of Tony you wonder where he is at. Needs a big pre-season. Or a new club.
10. But on the Dogs, let’s not forget that at this time last year, they were nursing themselves into a finals spot, itching for the pre-finals week off, with iffy form and an injury list to work through. That bye can do wonders for someone this year. Without that bye last year the Dogs probably don’t salute, they don’t get that reset, the refresh they desperately needed.
11. Another quick one for those gambling types, we do hope you chucked something responsibly on Josh Kennedy a fortnight or so ago when he was over $5 for the Coleman. Now with the clubhouse lead, by one over Joe Daniher, with two rounds to go, he has eased into $1.70. Still, two tough-ish games for the Eagles to come, whereas the Bomber spearhead has two JLT quality fixtures to dine out on, so a good hedge on Daniher wouldn’t be the worst idea.
12. We loved the Melbourne-Angus Brayshaw story on Sunday. Firstly the recovery by the Demons when the Saints got within a kick, in front of a stellar home crowd, it was just mega positive for a side that has almost all the tools to have a sniff. Unfortunately, for mine, without a fit Jesse Hogan you put a line through them. But as for Brayshaw, 24 touches, three tackles, a massive influence in the win for his first hitout in the big time for some time, properly good to see.
13. The losers on the MCG Sunday afternoon, St Kilda, that’s it for them now. One of the Saints or Dees had September in their sights this year, in fact you felt both were up to it, but the former will fall short and rue lost opportunities. If anyone just needs to make Josh Kelly come home next year it’s the Saints, he could not be more what they need, in fact without him, or someone like him, you can’t see them challenging for that second flag with this group. With him, very much they could.
14. Back to the Dees quickly, Jack Watts, where is he at? Wasn’t missed on the weekend and in Hogan’s absence you’d think they will persist with Sam Wideman up forward. If Watts left Melbourne, who would want him? He is basically a shorter Josh Fraser. Not in the future Dees premiership team, doesn’t fit any other team really other maybe than the Suns going for broke
15. On the Gold Coast, Rocket Eade said on the weekend if he had known the rabble he would inherit he would not have taken the job in the first place. Oh my Mark Evans, have you got a challenge on your hands. Let’s call a spade a bloody shovel, if their next coach does not work out for the club on-field, then the club’s existence is on the chopping block, they can’t waste another three years. If the AFL had its way they’d make sure Evans got his short, premiership winning friend from down at Waverley to be the next coach, it’s that important.
16. As for the other coaching narrative from the week, the Ross Lyon-Collingwood-Brad Hardie yarn. So Hardie believes, with a whole bunch of third parties involved, that Lyon sounded out Collingwood to see if there’d be mutual interest for next year and on. Look, Hardie has copped it from both the Dockers and Magpies, but, where there is smoke there’s fire. To me, it sounds like the Pies have gone “well, we need a few different plans, one would be if we want to poach, who would be poachable, let’s find out from Clarkson’s manager and maybe Lyon’s manager too”. That’s good due diligence. Bucks might end up staying but the Pies if they do move on from him would want a big name for the clubs sake, the narrative, all that. What if via ‘third parties’ said Lyon was gettable, the Pies probably strongly consider it don’t they?
17. And as for weird off-field ideas, this column has mooted there may be, albiet perhaps not enough to manifest, interest from the Hogan camp to head back to Perth for a multitude of personal reasons. Would a three way deal work where the Dockers receive Hogan, send their first pick, around number five right now, and a player to Adelaide, who then send Jake Lever to Melbourne?
18. So some big games this weekend, but firstly, footy in Ballarat for the first time, interesting to see the Bulldogs head down this route. There’s some cash in it, much like the nest egg Launceston/Tasmania has been to the Hawthorn dynasty, but when Sunday saw over 50k for Melbourne-St Kilda, and that the Dogs got over 30k to a match featuring the Giants at Etihad, it would be nice to see these Melbourne sides really solidify their core base and ramp up from there, instead of the novelty cheque books elsewhere.
19. But the game itself will be a final for the nominal home team. They lose, especially if the Bombers get up in Queensland later in the day, will call curtains to their flag defence you’d reckon. 12 wins and a good percentage gets you in, and a loss to the Power means they won’t be able to reach that standard unless results go their way along with a thumping of the GWS the week after. But where there’s a will, there is a way.
20. Big, big Friday night. Sydney hasn’t made a habit of losing since Easter really, so a big test to take on the top of the ladder Crows at a venue they have only lost at once all year (Hawthorn in Round 14). Adelaide will be super tough to beat but if anyone can bring them down, it’s the hottest team in the land. Don’t. Be. Shocked.