With some results on the weekend having a massive bearing on the make-up of the top 8, we look at the major talking points to come out yet another stellar round of AFL.
Gold Coast v Collingwood
As far as upsets go, this was right up there. Maybe not in terms of ladder position or form heading into the round, but this was the first upset by the Gold Coast Suns over a legitimate finals team. Before this, their victory against North Melbourne showed they had the potential to derail any decent side, but this was on another level. What makes this upset so special is the quality of the players they had to overcome. Against the Roos, players such as Andrew Swallow, Drew Petrie, Lindsay Thomas, and Daniel Wells were the only ones to stand in the way. This week, to overcome the Pies meant to outplay Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Dane Beams, Luke Ball, Travis Cloke, Ben Reid and Heath Shaw. The Suns proved that even a matchup with these superstars didn’t faze them, and even during tight moments late in the 4th quarter they stood up firmly to the challenge.
So what can we take away from this result? Well firstly, the Suns are capable of causing some major upsets against potential finals bound teams. Over the next four weeks, they face three potential finals teams in Carlton, West Coast and Port Adelaide. These teams must understand that this is no guaranteed four points, and they have to bring their A-game. A loss here could mean the difference between finals or not. For Collingwood, well, who knows what this means. They seemed slow and casual, especially late in the match, their former Brownlow Medallist Dane Swan had zero impact, and their inconsistent performances are difficult to comprehend for such an experienced outfit. Their top 4 chances took a major hit with this loss and are now 10 points plus percentage behind the Swans. Realistically, they don’t deserve a top 4 finish, and will struggle to make an impact in the finals.
How good is this guy? Yes, we’ve already covered this match, but his performance is deserved of an individual mention. 49 disposals, 20 contested possessions, 7 marks and 2 goals and countless desperation acts during crucial moments saw this living legend add another certain 3 Brownlow votes to what would no doubt be an impressive tally. With 10 30-plus possession games in 2013, there is clearly no better player in the competition, which is reflected by his dominance in the AFL Player Rankings. While in many other team sports it is difficult to determine who the overall ‘best’ player is, there is no doubt with Gary Ablett. What he brings to the Suns has been magnified in the past by comparing him to his teammates, while this year, his ability to singlehandedly win games has shown another side to the great man.
Swans consolidate top 4 position
Always flying under the radar, even after winning the premiership last year, the Swans continued their fine form to consolidate their position in the top 4. Now ahead of Fremantle by 4 points and percentage, the Swans have positioned themselves well for their final 6 matches. One of the most impressive aspects of the Swans’ form this year is their depth. With injuries to Goodes, Reid, Roberts-Thompson, Johnson, Shaw and Jetta, many of their players this year would not be considered in their best 22. Their replacements however have been more than impressive, slotting into the system with little drama. The emergence of rookie Tom Mitchell, who would probably be second to only Jaeger O’Meara in first year players shows just exactly what the Swans system is all about – getting selected based on defensive merit and accountability, and being able to fit into a game-plan for the good of the team. This has made the transition for these new players all the more smoother, ensuring the Swans can carry on with their winning ways.
Sydney’s next six games resemble last year’s run into the finals, with some tough matchups in the weeks leading into the finals against Collingwood, Geelong and Hawthorn. Last year, this was a blessing in disguise, with the Swans playing finals’ intensity footy a fortnight before everyone else. They will look to do the same this year, and with injured stars coming back at the right end of the season, another big charge is on the cards.
Richmond bound for finals?
An impressive season for Richmond so far, but one thing hanging over their heads was that they hadn’t defeated a side above them on the ladder. The loss against North Melbourne further added to this, with many starting to question if a late season fade was in the making. A win this week against Fremantle restored order, and almost cemented their spot on the top 8. With 3 wins separating them from Carlton in 9th, only a massive collapse can see them dropping out. Looking at their draw for the next 6 matches, this is still a possibility. An extremely tough draw has been dealt to the Tigers, with only 1 win to be pencilled in against the GWS Giants. The Round 21 match against Carlton is shaping to be a must win match for both teams.
One thing in the plus column for Richmond is the late season revival of Trent Cotchin. ‘Cotch’ struggled to keep his early season form, which continued all the way up until the North Melbourne game. Maybe it took that brutal loss at the hand of the Roos to kick him into action. Whatever it was, the Tiger captain is coming into form at the right end of the season, which will be desperately needed in these upcoming crucial matches. A big performance from not only Cotchin, but the rest of their impressive midfield will be required over the next few weeks, especially when up against the gun midfields of Sydney, Hawthorn, Carlton and Essendon.
Still a chance for Carlton?
After previously writing off Carlton’s chances to make the top 8, some crucial losses by Port Adelaide has left the door ajar. The tough fought win on Friday night against North Melbourne may have been the grind they needed to spring them into finals like form. With both teams playing to keep their finals chances alive, Carlton demonstrated the type of footy they can potentially play, leaving them in the top 8 at nights end, only to be booted out again by a Port Adelaide win on Saturday night.
With these two teams on the brink of finals, the draw comes into play in spectacular fashion, with the two teams playing each other in the final round. A slight advantage should be given to Carlton, despite some tough matches in Essendon, Fremantle and Richmond. Crucially, they avoid the trip out west to face the Dockers, something that Port Adelaide unfortunately will have to endure. Another tough match for the Power against the Cats at Skilled Stadium will prove to be a major test.
Take into account some of the major upsets that have occurred this season, tough draws for teams fighting it out for the lower finals placing’s and we have an absolute cracker of a final six rounds. This season has provided us with some incredible matches, and with many ‘must win’ matches remaining for a lot of sides, whichever teams make it into the finals will no doubt deserve it.