THE longest round in football ended on Wednesday, another kicks off tonight, where’s Stephen Dank when you need someone to assist you with recovery?

We are more or less a quarter of the way through the season so the sample size is progressively more persuasive. Mind you, and North is the pertinent example, the ladder can still lie to us.

This column advocates the theory that a good start usually equates to a good season, but aside from Richmond no-one has proved a thing yet really, which equally presents opportunity and uncertainty to all.

1.       Looks like this year might finally be the year the Grand Final moves later than the 2:30 start we’re used to. Whether that’s 3:20 or 4:45, it certainly seems sometime today we’ll get confirmation that we’re well on the way towards a later finish.

2.       Anzac Day on Wednesday and what a glorious day to be an Australian. Lovely sunshine in Melbourne, over 90,000 to the MCG, and hats off to the Storm fans who then literally packed out AAMI Park that very evening. Combined with the crowd Tuesday night that’s almost 200,000 football fans within 24 hours acknowledging the spirit of the Anzacs paying tribute through the vehicle of sport. Australians, possibly even Victorians, do it better or as good as anyone else in the world.

3.       Good to see the NRL pull a crowd for what its worth in Sydney for once too, over 40,000 to Allianz for the Dragons and Roosters on Wednesday. The sort of crowd the A-League can only dream of unfortunately. Barely 22,000 combined for two finals games last weekend, both in Melbourne, to which one was scheduled at 6pm on a Sunday. Can we get a Royal Commission in to the running of soccer in this country? The A-League executive decision-making is as trustworthy as Cam Bancroft in a Cape Town hardware store.

4.       Back to the footy, we’ll work backwards from Wednesday, the Pies are most likely, finally, ‘clicking’. Two prevalent questions remain though before the mob gets too excited – they may be clicking but how good actually are they, and even then can they be consistent? Given its still only April, the answers most likely are ‘not that good’ and ‘probably not’. But happy to be proven wrong of course.

5.       Mason Cox clunked eight catches against a backline that did indeed have some height about it, the All-Australian Michael Hurley with Cale Hooker and Michael Hartley too. Certainly making some sort of progress, if not steady. But if Darcy Moore is fit what happens? Probably not needed down back, so that’s going to be a tricky call at some point.

6.       Their opponents, it’s looking a hell of lot like when the Bombers are forced or pressured into a ‘run and gun’ style they look damaging, but against any sort of organised defensive structure it’s all a bit wanting. They’ve got some impressive cattle at their disposal and a good coach, so they remain a ‘hold’ despite the naysayers.

7.       And as for Brendan Goddard, I’m not sure why we’re as fussed by his body language on the day, he won a tonne of ball, over 30 touches, but played a shocker. He is 33 next month so we don’t need to retire champions, to which he is, but his performance was far, far worse than his interactions with teammates. If Triple M still hands out worst on ground he’d go close to collecting the 3, 2 and 1 all to himself.

8.       Here’s the random idea for the week before we get back to the footy – every club is looking for a blockbuster to own, we’ve seen the worth of Anzac Day, Anzac Day Eve, Dreamtime at the G, etc. Well what about Queen’s Birthday Eve, the Sunday, but primetime? St Kilda as one of the smaller clubs in town could use it and why not every year host Sydney in a throwback game, honouring the rivalry where Albert Park Lake had the Saints at one corner, and the Bloods at the other? Sydney can wear a South Melbourne jumper, call it the Lakeside Game or something, the best on ground wins the Lockett Medal, Saints fans and Melbourne-based Swans fans can enjoy a big Sunday night game with the day off Monday. It’s a winner. Again, Gil, you’ve got my number, call me.

9.       Sydney have now lost both their home games against SA sides, Port in Round Two and then Adelaide last Friday. That’s eight points missed that a typical, top-four Swans side should be banking. Where top four is just as instrumental as ever, that might be a difference maker between say third and fifth come August, we shall see.

10.   And then their cross-town rivals the Giants, well, how awful are they going? The worst third placed side we’ve seen in some time. Scraped in against the Pies, a Jake Carlisle mark away from losing to St Kilda, they look a mile off it. Unlike the Gold Coast the GWS nailed their start-up concessions yet if they don’t make a Grand Final very soon it’s a disaster for them and the league alike. Only because it’s so open and Richmond aside everyone’s a chance are they still probably destined for top four – but if I’m Richmond I’m not bothered at all.

11.   North are fourth five rounds in. But. They lost to Gold Coast in a lake Round One, took down St Kilda, lost to Melbourne, smashed Carlton down at Hobart then a big win over Hawthorn. Five games against bottom ten teams from ‘17, two of their three wins over teams they finished above last year despite finishing 15th themselves. That’s a dirty bit of context to that ‘fourth’. They’ll be lucky to win two more before their bye in Round 13. ‘Sell’.

12.   Geelong continue to be plucky, but that game was more to do with Port. Super impressive against Sydney in Round Two, but almost lost to Brisbane at home, in fact should have, and then disappointing again on the weekend. There is no excuse at Alberton but if they lose to North this week then that’s just about where they’re at unfortunately.

13.   Over in the west, Freo did a number on the Doggies and whilst 11th as we speak, their draw after the bye looks great. They could finish with a 7-2 record, 6-3 at worst, so whatever they can do over the coming month will be gravy. Their skipper, as you read here first, looks in Brownlow form, the forward line is effective and their defensive structures are on point. Should play finals. ‘Should’.

14.   Speaking of ‘should’, Melbourne should have won Tuesday night. Yet they didn’t, and it’s the same reasons coming up that had them miss finals last year, ever present when they lost to Collingwood without a yelp in the final game of 2017 and fell to ninth. Some serious backbone issues down there. The team on paper looks like the inspiration for the title of Bruno Mars’ song with Cardi B, but in 2018 they’re playing like it’s an ironic reference instead.

15.   Bringing up the rear once again, Carlton, winless but not completely friendless. Been reasonable enough to show hope but you’d want to see this improving a bit more rapidly before too long. The midfield is the big concern, Murphy didn’t play on the weekend but when he does he is too invisible to be considered a star anymore. Cripps gets shutdown and he has no mates. But, Dow, O’Brien, Petrovski-Seton, these types have immense talent so in good time they’ll start to ascend, perhaps, maybe, fingers crossed…

16.   The Brisbane Lions. They played four Grand Finals in a row 14 years ago. Michael Voss then got them into the finals in 2009 just before he went on his mature-aged recruit splurge. Their record since? 13th, 15th, 13th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 17th, 18th and 17th so far this year. Bottom four again at best you’d think by season’s end, this is quite a serious stint down at the bottom.

17.   We don’t want to often tread into these waters, but the Sam Powell-Pepper one is fascinating. The league has given him a three-game ban essentially. He served one week initially because the Power leadership group suspended him for breaking curfew, he then missed another because the league began investigating and he made himself unavailable for selection in turn, and now another game because the league has added an extra week on to total the three games it thinks he warrants. For what? Clearly something untoward, inappropriate, has most likely happened, and if so an appropriate sanction needs to occur, no doubt. However, no-one has pressed charges and the investigation found “no evidence or suggestion of sexual or indecent assault”. The club is adamant the extensive evidence it collated showed nothing more than what substantiated the club’s decision for the initial week off. So, the league suspended him for three weeks because of…? And given that decision, where’s the AFLPA? No-one’s won here at all.

18.   When he plays inside 50 Dustin Martin is the Tigers’ best forward. But there’s another down there who’s arguably as important, if not their most effective forward on his own merits: Jason Castagna, a veteran of 35 games. He is second in the league for tackles inside 50, fourth for score involvements and fifth for marks inside 50. Not bad for second round Rookie Draft selection; guy’s a gun.

19.   So we have the reigning premier playing the best football of any this year, playing almost as well as they did last year, up against the fifth-placed risers, who are playing as well as any in the chasing pack. It’s the Tigers’ game to lose, which any fan would concede, but given the inroads the Demons made at times last Tuesday at times it’s not insurmountable for Collingwood to be a viable crack if, as we mentioned above, they actually can be ‘that good’ and be ‘consistent’. We can probably lock in season-long judgements on both teams come 6pm this Sunday.

20.   And then the other game of the round occurs the same time on the other side of the country. Second to Richmond by percentage, West Coast, up against a team one win behind, in 11th, Fremantle, in the first Derby at the Cray Pot. It’ll be a full bunger, 60,000+, it will be mental. As we’ve said for a year or so, you think the Showdown at Adelaide Oval is something, flick on Fox Footy Sunday twilight and have a go at it. Now, the Dockers are the better side despite underdog status, the Eagles though have won the last five against Freo so the purple side of town are overdue too. If the Dockers do get up, they’ll be in the eight to which they should stay from here on in. The Eagles win, they’ll go 5-1 and need a ‘mare to miss September. Huge. Massive. Tune in.


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