Round 22 was arguably one of the best weekends of football this year, proving to be a huge factor in determining how the finals will shape up. With only one week until finals, what were the main talking points out of this weekend of AFL?
Essendon’s huge win and the Blues continue
As the charges are expected to be laid anytime as I write, I won’t speculate as to what will happen, as they will no doubt circulate very quickly. Nonetheless, Essendon’s come-from-behind victory on Saturday night against the Blues was one of the biggest moments of season 2013, with David Zaharakis again the hero sealing the match in what could be James Hird’s final game in charge for a while. As a neutral fan of both sides, I was mesmerized in the final 10 minutes in what was a finals-like atmosphere, with plenty of emotion and both teams having so much to play for. Brendon Goddard’s tearful post-game interview (second time this year) appeared indicative of the emotional burden that the players have been burdened with season-long and the scenes in the change rooms after was a welcome sight for fans of the club. On the field, the Bombers displayed much more grit after their month from hell, led by the likes of Pears, Hurley and the growing legacy of the under-fire champion Jobe Watson. Paddy Ryder also produced a fantastic last quarter where he was able to run Warnock ragged at ground level and won a key contest at half-back which ultimately proved crucial in the final 2 minutes. In what is no doubt to be another tough week, Bombers fans should take some solace in their players performance as they brace for the coming sanctions.
For the Blues, yet again it was left down to too little as Kade Simpson and Michael Jamison toiled hard down back whilst the rest of the team took turns at squandering chances up front. Betts, Yarran, Henderson, Duigan and Tuohy combined to score 5.13, however it was Bryce Gibbs who provided arguably the worst shot, as in the dying minutes he crumbled under pressure from a relatively simple distance. The Blues should count themselves lucky if they’re to play finals this year but on recent performances anyway, it’s safe to say that a quick exit in the first round is on the cards.
Geelong the true premiership favourites?
Despite Chris Scott’s keenness to deflect premiership favoritism to Hawthorn, the performance by his team against last year’s premiers surely has him thinking big. Geelong’s first quarter was absolutely stunning, completely dominating possession and out-muscling a hardened Sydney outfit. Ted Richards was Sydney’s leading disposal getter after the term, with the ball seemingly never leaving Geelong’s half. Despite the scoreline never blowing out, the Cats were classier with their ball use and appeared in full control throughout the match. Geelong’s much revered free-flowing play was in full view Saturday, as the likes of Mackie, Bartel and Enright ran freely across the middle of the ground, providing the sell-out crow with some highly entertaining football. Steven Motlop was electrifying every time he was around the ball, much akin to a young Cyril Rioli in 2008. He booted another 3 goals playing at the feet of the battling Hawkins and his final term grab over teammate Mitch Duncan looked a genuine mark of the year contender. John Longmire would be concerned with some of the KPI’s, being decimated in inside 50’s (62-37), centre clearances (15-6) and tackles (95-65).
Hawthorn’s rubbish defense
After watching the premiership favourite’s match on Saturday afternoon, questions should be raised regarding their defense, rather than how devastating they were in attack. Yes they did kick 17 goals from 32 shots on target, but the way in which they tried to keep the Roos out all afternoon simply won’t win the premiership. At times the footy was breathtaking – an end to end free flowing contest of AFL demonstrating the offensive potency of both teams. North Melbourne is well known for this, with the majority of their matches turning into a shootout where they manage to fall just short. Most of the criticism aimed at the Roos targeted their inability to slow a game down and regain composure. Well this translated into the Hawks game plan. It just so happened that Hawthorn has a far more prominent attack than the Roos, which ultimately gave them the win. Take a look at Geelong’s performance against Sydney. They won with sheer weight of possession, denying the Swans inside men any ball, something which they are renowned for. Inside 50’s for Sydney were kept to 37, and Geelong had 95 tackles. In the Hawthorn match, the Hawks were actually beaten in the inside 50 count, and only laid 65 tackles. That sort of footy will not win you finals.
Key injuries to finals contendors
Some brutal games in round 22 proved to take its toll on teams in the top eight, with some huge injuries that could dramatically affect finals campaigns.
Sydney’s horror weekend continued, after scans confirmed that premiership defender Rhyce Shaw ruptured his ACL on Saturday and will miss the finals. Daniel Hannebury scared the football world by also appearing to injure his knee, however he was able to finish the game off strongly but will be unable to play next week. These injuries add to an already deep list that includes the likes of premiership players Adam Goodes, Sam Reid, Lewis Roberts-Thompson and Lewis Jetta.
Nathan Vardy took a Shane Mumford knee to the head (think about that!) early on and looked set to be subbed with the concussion rule, however he returned shortly after and looked ok. Unfortunately he was later subbed off with hip complaints and is a big chance to be either rested or unavailable this week.
The Hawks #1 stopper Liam Shiels was subbed out early on in the game as he reinjured his problematic ankle and may be in trouble, with scans yet to confirm the extent of the injury. Cyril Rioli also provided a scare to the Hawks faithful, landing awkwardly and having to leave the field for ankle treatment.
The ever-important Luke Ball was subbed out in the pies match due to tightness in the calves, a lingering issue for the battle-weary star. Dayne Beams was also a late withdraw due to back issues. These two are crucial to the pies success and they will need them fit and healthy if they are any chance of going deep into September.
Nick Suban was subbed out a quarter time with a tight hamstring and Hayden Ballantyre again needed treatment on his troublesome shoulder. The Dockers have a number of sore players and should use next week’s matchup against St.Kilda as an opportunity to rest their stars, given that a top-two placing now appears unlikely.
Riewoldt’s underrated year
In an otherwise dreadful year for the Saints, the return to form for Nick Riewoldt has been a shining light. Once arguably the only opposition to Gary Ablett jnr’s stance as the #1 player in the game; Riewoldt’s body had begun to take its toll as he continued to shoulder the St.Kilda attack and be battered by multiple defenders week by week. Journalists were quick to write him off as a spent force but a supposed new love for the game (and radical knee surgery similar to that of Kobe Bryant’s) has resulted in another consistent year.
While many can point to Jeremy Cameron’s remarkable influence in a struggling team (AA worthy), I would argue that St.Kilda’s midfield supply has been worse or atleast on par with the Giants this year. Against the Gold Coast, strong performances from Dal Santo and Montagna resulted in Riewoldt being able to amass 10 marks inside 50 for at least 10 shots on goal, whilst gathering 26 disposals in a vintage display, reminiscent of 2009.
However this display was a rarity, as the struggles of Dal Santo, a younger midfield being blooded as well as Montagna playing more across half-back are some reasons for St.Kilda’s poor inside 50 provision in 2013.
Despite the teams struggles here are his stats:
- #1 total marks (190)
- #5 contested marks (37)
- #3 marks inside 50 (70)
- #8 total goals (48)
- #13 Dream Team points (av. 102.3)
It’s hard to name a player who has performed better at Center Half Forward this year. The likes of Kennedy, J.Riewoldt, Roughead and Cameron have excelled deep in attack, but few offer the versatility that Riewoldt provides further up the ground. He thoroughly deserves a 5th All-Australian position, however sadly I highly doubt this will happen purely based on the lack of wins.
Just a hypothetical: If Riewoldt were to play for Collingwood, how many marks inside 50 would he be able to gather?