With all teams now at the halfway point of the season, plus with the bye rounds being almost as demotivating as watching Gold Coast lose on 50m penalties, it’s time to see where the competition is at.
The Crows are beginning set the world on fire. Their only two losses have been the nasty belting by Hawthorn at the MCG and the wet-weather grinder against Collingwood where the Magpies took control late. Their draw remains soft, with matches against GWS, Gold Coast, Port Adelaide, Melbourne, and Brisbane (at the Gabba) still to come. They’ll be a certainty come September. Can they crack the top 4? Seven teams are in reach of the top end, but with their relaxed draw it’s almost certain as they are part of the leading bunch. Top 2, however, is a tougher ask, with a run playing against West Coast, Geelong and Essendon looming as the critical three weeks.
Your author was, and probably still isn’t a believer, as Buckley hasn’t built this team. However, Bucks is doing two things with Collingwood that are very handy: keeping a lid on it, and winning tough. The former means that despite the Magpies being in third with a 9-2 record, the focus of premiership chances remains on Hawthorn and West Coast. The Pies are slowly chugging away, despite their injuries, and are building to be dominant in September.
Six months ago people were writing the Giants off for a winless year with their combination of kids and walking frames, including myself. The Giants have impressed, and although their final-term fadeouts are to be expected from a young side, they are playing modern, contested football which is tough as nails.
Somehow they are winning without a forward line. In the 2011 preliminary final against Geelong, the West Coast half-forward line read LeCras, Kennedy, Nicoski. Throw Andrew Embley rotating through and you’ve got a decimation. However, with a couple of changes, such as Nic Naitanui moving to first ruck and thus Dean Cox becoming a forward target, as well as the resurrection of Chris Masten and Josh Hill, have meant that the Eagles have managed to restructure despite the losses. The return of Kennedy, Nicoski and possibly Embley will aid their depth and give them a serious shot deep into September.
The old ‘if only’ argument comes up, but imagine if the Bulldogs had a forward line. The Dogs are playing some good footy through midfield, but are often falling short due to a lack of forward options. At times, they have managed to get around it, but it will only last so long. It’s a problem that will see them miss the finals, but their style will suit them into the future.
The Tigers are finally becoming an opponent that could, on their day, nearly defeat anyone. Although inexperience has cost them (particularly against the Cats) their impressive victory over Hawthorn will hopefully be a sign of things to come for the long-suffering Richmond faithful.
The season from hell, both on- and off-field. Admittedly, Melbourne have had a tough draw, playing all eight of the finalists from 2011 already. But on the other hand, the sort of ineptitude served up at times (such as the first quarter against Collingwood or the match against Sydney) is nothing short of horrific. If not for the Essendon game, you’d suggest that they may even go winless until the Gold Coast game.
And the only reason they would stand a chance is because the Gold Coast are playing the uncontested style that Melbourne played in 2011, a style of football which simply cannot adapt to current game styles. The Suns, despite the continued heroics of Gary Ablett, cough up the pill to the opposition and cannot take a trick. Coupled with the fitness-related fadeouts, it’s a 3 to 4 year problem for a club that has only been in existence two years.
Overrated? Definitely. And unfortunately so. Much more was expected out of Arden Street pre-season, but the players seem unwilling to get involved. The “handball-happy” gameplan succeeded once, against Geelong, and has since been thrown into disarray by high-intensity pressure on the ball carrier and his area of control. The result is that Brad Scott needs to re-work his congested clearing tactics, or else the Kangaroos will continue to be found out and struggle.
The Blues have been massacred by injuries. They also seem to have been found out. Essendon came out and smashed them with high-intensity tackling and pressure. Adelaide did the same, and since then every side bar Geelong who has taken on Carlton has aimed to emulate this tactic. And it’s worked. Even Melbourne’s loss saw them attack the ball carrier ferociously, not giving him time to make a decision and thus led to the Blues struggling for three quarters. Coupled with a champion who is unfortunately in a form slump and their injuries, and it’s tough to see them making the eight simply due to the competition.
Perennial losers, but AFL House is beginning to reek more of dictatorship after the combined Mifsud affairs, which have gone without answer for the full story, and Matt Rendell quietly re-acquiring a job at Collingwood.
The season seems to have fallen away dramatically in coverage. Channel 7 has been nearly un-watchable when Basil and McLachlan *cough* RompingWins *cough* have been commentating. The “blokey” commentary when Brian Taylor is calling has been noted elsewhere, while general coverage on the game seems to be focused much more on the free agency (Barrett) and the political (Wilson) sides rather than actual tactical analysis.
Although, Cameron Ling has been discovered as one of the better boundary riders we’ve seen in recent years.