With the AFL deep into its 2013 season, plenty of questions have been answered. Still, a lot of issues remain up for debate. Here is what we learnt in Round 14 though.
Could the top 8 be set?
After losses for both Carlton and West Coast, the top 8 is now two games clear of 9th position. This seems rather appropriate, given the noticeable class difference between these top 8 teams and the remaining contenders. Barring any sanctions placed on Essendon over the supplements scandal, the top 8 should not change. Imagine Carlton making the finals if the Bombers get stripped of their points? Big news story there.
Friday nights clash between Carlton and Collingwood has now become a must win contest for both teams, for this reason. Collingwood will be looking to cement their position in the 8, while Carlton will be looking to bridge this gap to become a finals contender. On top of this, an epic encounter between Adelaide and West Coast was timed beautifully by the AFL given both their positions on the ladder at such a crucial stage of the season. For the loser, the season is done, but for the winner, finals are still alive.
Are any teams outside the 8 good enough for finals? Well, for Carlton, Adelaide and West Coast, now is time to bring it.
Collingwood is struggling
Collingwood is really struggling. Coming off one of the easiest months in football (Bulldogs, Melbourne, Brisbane, Bye), the Pies were completely run over by Port Adelaide. Destroyed. In all aspects. Entering the final term, there was still some chance that they could pull one out of the bag, but they may have walked back into the sheds. Beaten by a more intense opponent, the Pies were always second to the ball, and their big ball winners (Pendles excluded), were next to useless. Dane Swan has had almost negative impact this year, and this may be rubbing off on his teammates.
So why are they struggling? Injuries have impacted them, but so too have they for the Hawks and Swans, so that can’t be an excuse. Big Quentin Lynch has been a bit of a bust and Darren Jolly is looking old. It may also be the coach. Bucks doesn’t seem to have had the desired impact that Eddie thought he would have, and that doesn’t look like turning around any time soon. Take a look at their wins this year – only 2 have been against top 8 teams (Richmond, Geelong), and only in that Geelong match did they look like a decent finals team. They’ll make the finals, and may win 1, based only on experience against a new finals team in Richmond or Port Adelaide, but will go no further.
Geelong may be back on track
After an odd month of footy with less than convincing wins over Gold Coast, GWS and finally a loss against Brisbane, the Cats seem to have realigned things with a solid win over Fremantle. Generating 30 scoring chances against the stingiest team in the league is something else, but they also smashed them in contested possessions and came close to matching in the tackling department. This is the sort of footy that Geelong needs to be playing to consider themselves a premiership contender. This chance was slipping away with a mid season slump, but the rest of the competition no doubt payed attention to this brutal win.
Even if they didn’t win on the weekend, there’s always this week’s matchup against the Hawks that will deliver a customary win.
Neil Craig having noticeable impact
1 from 2 for Neil Craig is probably better than what everyone expected, included himself. But credit where credit is due, he seems to have brought the players on board, and his key personnel are turning up when he needs a lift. Jack Watts has churned out 2 of his best games in the past two weeks, which is no doubt due to the sacking of Mark Neeld. A noticeable lift from Dean Terlich has Dream Team entrants holding off on upgrading another rookie, and James Frawley returned from injury for one of his best games of the year.
The rebuild process for Melbourne is going to be a long and arduous one, but the impact Neil Craig has had in the first couple of weeks has given Melbourne fans some hope at least. Yes, he may not be the coach next year, but at least it shows when someone of Craig’s class takes over, the club can turn corners. A massive betting plunge on Paul Roos to coach the Dees next year may have some weight behind it, which if it is the case, good on the Melbourne club. Roos would be an excellent choice. Other contenders include Mark Williams and Rodney Eade, both of whom would command the respect of the players, something which Mark Neeld struggled with in his time at the club
Don’t get too carried away Richmond
The lid is officially off at Tiger Land, and with good reason. On current form, the club should make the finals, and be competitive to a certain extent, but calls for a top 4 finish may be a little premature, and a little over the top. The top 8 is usually comprised of two tiers of teams, and I have no trouble in saying that Richmond belongs in the second tier at the moment. Competing with Hawthorn, Geelong, Essendon, Sydney and Fremantle is another thing, and the Tiges may be exposed in a match with finals intensity against any of these powerhouses.
One thing they do have on their side though is an extremely level headed coach in Damien Hardwick. His management of a young side is quite remarkable, and should be used as a framework for rebuilding clubs such as Brisbane, Melbourne and St Kilda. This management will be crucial towards the end of the seasons, given fadeouts in what I consider a comparable team in Essendon. In past years, Essendon has started hot and faded at the end of the season. With a young team, Hardwick must ensure this doesn’t happen to his finals bound team.