Another great round of AFL, with the top 4 race opening right up. So what did we learn from Round 20 of the AFL Season?
Collingwood midfield and impact of Dayne Beams
This is devastating to write as a Swans supporter, but the Pies completely outclassed the Swans in the midfield on Saturday night. Going into the match of the round, many had thought the Swans midfield would be too much for the Pies to overcome. Kieran Jack has been in stellar form, and with Dan Hannebery, Josh Kennedy and Ryan O’Keefe rotating through, they would be hard to stop. But I put their dominant performance down to the comeback of Dayne Beams into the team. Out for the first 15 rounds with a quad injury, he has slotted in to a midfield that desperately needed it. Previously, most of the work was being done by Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury, with Luke Ball chipping in a good game here and there, but with Beams now back in the side, it really poses the question to opposition midfields and their defensive capabilities. The Pies broke apart the Swans midfield with sheer pace, and with the quality of disposal lifted significantly now that Beams is in, the Swans couldn’t shut it down like they usually do.
So can the Pies be a legitimate premiership threat this year? Based on these past two rounds, their form suggests they can knock off any team on any day, but history suggests they need to be in the top 4 to have any shot at a preliminary final, let alone a premiership. At their current standing, they sit 6 points adrift of 3rd and 4th spot. Assuming Fremantle win their next 3 with an incredibly easy draw, the Pies need the Swans to hit a bit of a rough patch over the final weeks. Looking at the ladder predictor, and being as harsh as possible on the Swans, they should win against the Saints, and could lose both to Geelong and Hawthorn. If this is the case, and the Pies get up in their final 3 matches, they will take 4th spot from Sydney.
Time to give up on Carlton
Right, they’re done. They don’t deserve to make finals after a loss to the Dogs. Sure, the Dogs are playing great footy at the moment, but come on. The experienced players of the Blues – Murphy, Gibbs, Waite, Betts, Carrazzo and Simpson should’ve seen them over the line, but they were completely outclassed. Not beaten horribly in the clearances, but a massive disparity in the inside 50 count, contested possessions and tackles indicates once again, the Blues just weren’t hard enough at the ball.
I’m sick of this effort from Carlton. Nothing makes sense. They have some of the best players in the game, they have one of the best coaches, yet something isn’t clicking. What Mick Malthouse inherited was not as bad as this. They were a decent side last year crippled with injury and a coach who maybe couldn’t take them that extra step into the top 4. The difference is composure. You look at all the teams in the top 8. They all deserve their spot, even the newcomers such as Port Adelaide and Richmond. They’re great to watch, show great composure under pressure, and can lock down opponents when need be. The only times they get beaten is coming up against a side above them, and even they had some upsets wins over Hawthorn and Sydney. Carlton cant do this at all. People say they have been unlucky to come up short against top 8 teams such as Essendon, Geelong, Collingwood, Hawthorn and Sydney, but these results were a good indication of where they are as a team. Good in patches, but cant hold it together over a full four quarters.
Such is the log-jam in the top 8, it will take a massive turn around for them to be even considered a legitimate finals team in the coming years. North Melbourne is improving, and Adelaide and West Coast be pushing hard into the eight. Im afraid it will take some time for the Blues to make any impact on the premiership.
Too late for Adelaide and West Coast
Both pencilled in for finals at the start of the season, both Adelaide and West Coast have had underwhelming seasons, and have both found form too late in the year. Many leading experts had West Coast as their premiers, but a horror run of injuries and a seemingly disinterested coach has given them an inconsistent season well below what they are capable of. The massive injury list has seen only 3 players – Dean Cox, Jack Darling and Andrew Gaff, playing all 19 games so far. Their squad, when fully fit would have to be one of the most talented going around. Their forward line is arguably the best in the competition with Kennedy, Darling and Lecras. Priddis, Gaff, Selwood and Wellingham round out the midfield, while Cox and Naitinui is the best ruck combination in the league. Terribly unfortunate that this squad hasn’t played to its full capacity.
For Adelaide, I feel as if we all underestimated the impact of Kurt Tippett leaving would have on their club. With Tippett taking the first defender, Taylor Walker would end up on a weaker second defender, which would demand a lot from the opposition and their stopping powers. Now with Tippett gone, and Tex going down with an ACL injury in Round 5, their forward line is no more the powerhouse it was last year. Like West Coast, inconsistency has plagued their season. Odd losses to Carlton, Collingwood and Port Adelaide in the derby last weekend could have easily been won, turning their season right around and putting them well in the hunt for finals. The win over Geelong shows just what their team can put together on their best day.
Essendon and the lucky 9th placed team
Losing by a combined total of 188 points over the past three weeks, the effects of the ASADA investigation are certainly on show now. A significant change in mentality over these matches has seen their intensity drop off significantly. Not by much, but enough to make a difference. All key statistical areas have dropped off in the past three matches. Contested possessions are down by 5, inside 50’s down by 8, tackles down by 2, and uncontested possessions by 7. While these numbers aren’t mind-blowing, any drop in intensity is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of their games. A drop in so many statistics is surely a result of the external pressures from the ASADA investigation. Something else that can be taken out of this – it just shows how such a small drop in intensity can translate to a complete reversal of form. This is what makes the top teams so good. Consistent performance over an entire match.
In our ladder predictor we foolishly thought that the Bombers would get up in their final 5 matches. Well, based on ladder positions and their brand of football, it was certainly a possibility. The likelihood of losing premiership points has thrown up an interesting scenario where 9th place may end up playing finals. This puts Carlton and West Coast in a great position to capitalise. Whether or not they deserve to be there is another question, but I’m sure they won’t be complaining. Probably one team you could say play ‘finals quality’ football is North Melbourne, but their loss this weekend makes it much harder to push up into that 9th spot.