Two third of the way through the season and two more contenders probably got eliminated from the finals race. Adelaide and Essendon lost to the top two sides, in Richmond and Collingwood, and now find themselves two games and percentage away from eighth position, with only seven games remaining. The Tigers were too strong in the finish for the out-of-sorts Crows, while the Bombers threatened an upset for much of the day, before a late Collingwood blitz delivered the Magpies a 16 point win.
The round started with the Cats’ upset win over Sydney, which could have been far more if not for a woeful performance in front of goal. The Lions made it consecutive wins for the first time since 2013 when they thrashed a disappointing Carlton, and the Power made it five on the trot with a 36 point win over St Kilda. Hawthorn moved back into the top eight after romping to a 63 point win over the Bulldogs and the Demons had an similarly comfortable result against the Dockers in Darwin.
North Melbourne got the job done in their 37 point win over Gold Coast, while the Giants were the big losers of the round, dropping from sixth to tenth, following an 11 point defeat to the Eagles in Perth.
Everyone Else Is Officially Playing For 2nd
Season 2018 has been one of the more compelling seasons as the ladder remains firmly up for grabs, but it seems as though the final outcome is already set.
The Tigers dismissed another challenger on Thursday night to sit one game clear at the head of the competition and, barring some type of Armageddon, should finish on top of the ladder come the end of the regular season. Richmond have easily accounted for the Swans and the Crows in the past fortnight, and are effectively unbeatable at the ground where premierships are won.
The Tigers won their 17th game in a row at the MCG (equalling the Demons effort of the 1950’s) and with an expected two home finals to come, they should qualify for a second successive Grand Final. And while the Tigers have been ultra-consistent for 2018, many of their challengers have yet to convince punters they can go all the way.
West Coast started strongly but have faltered in recent weeks with key players missing, the Magpies are yet to confirm they are the real deal against the top sides, Sydney appear off the pace with consecutive losses and the likes of Geelong and Melbourne drop too many games they shouldn’t and are no guarantee to make the finals. Port Adelaide seem the one team who are well positioned, and similarly to Richmond, enjoy a favourable run home that could seem them finish top two and secure two home finals.
But while the Power showed they could knock off the reigning premiers only a few weeks ago, the other biggest advantage facing the Tigers is their MCG dominance. Of the teams sitting 2nd to 5th, three are interstate, and while they will have their own advantage in getting to the Grand Final, it will still be played at the MCG, which is basically a Tigers monopoly. Should Richmond face off against a non-Victorian side, it will be theirs to lose.
There Has Been No More Communal Love For A Retiree
Cyril Rioli shocked many when he announced his retirement from the game aged just 28, but rumblings of him walking away from the game had been around since the start of the season. Family reasons forced the mercurial forward away from the game, and since his announcement last Wednesday there has been full blown adoration from teammates, rivals, fans and opposing supporters.
Social media has been abuzz with highlights and well wishes from all corners of the footballing community, with many recounting his individual effort in the 2008 Grand Final – in his first season of football – as the day he stamped himself on the AFL landscape.
Often lauded for his impact on games from a minimal amount of possessions, Rioli was an integral player in the Hawks threepeat of 2013-2015, capping off the remarkable run of flags by being voted best afield in the premiership win over West Coast. Considering the circumstances that have led to Rioli’s exit, it is hard to remember a more universal appreciation of a player in the immediate aftermath of announcing their retirement.
‘Starting Points’ Is Coming In 2019
The Competition Committee have been charged with analysing a raft of rules that could come in to improve the style and aesthetics of the game and the rule most favoured to appear, as soon as 2019, is the starting position or ‘zone’ rule.
Utilised through the under 18 competitions, variations of the rule could see teams either be required to have six players in their forward, centre and defensive areas or have a player stationed in a longer goal square, with a minimum of two other players in their forward 50 every time there is a stoppage, regardless of where that stoppage takes place on the ground.
While most hardened fans are wary of introducing the anti-density parameters, it became clear how necessary this rule is 37 seconds into the Eagles-Giants game. GWS cleared from the opening bounce and found themselves with a stoppage in their forward pocket. From that set-up, every player on the ground was in their forward half. West Coast forwards had pushed up to the top of the Giants forward 50, with Scott Lycett their deepest player on the wing, in line with the centre circle.
To consider that a team would set up so defensively inside the opening minute of the game provides a perfect snapshot of the mentality of most coaches and suggests that a radical solution is required to alter these mindsets.
Goal Kicking Is The Biggest Blight On the Game
Forget the rolling mauls or the over-officiating, kicking on goal is the biggest issue in the game. Two sides – Geelong and Melbourne – recorded over 20 behinds in their games, while the Giants potentially kicked themselves out of the contest against West Coast in a narrow 11 point loss.
That the Giants’ loss dropped from sixth position to tenth because of their narrow loss suggests just how crucial kicking on goal can be on a final result, on a ladder position, or even a finals berth. GWS gave up the chance for the lead when they had control of the game in the second term, returning 1.6 for the term. In contrast, the Eagles booted 5.0 and were able to hold on for the win, despite having four less scoring shots. Had they Giants won, they would be two points behind the double chance.
Melbourne and Geelong are still no guarantees for finals action in 2018 and the lost opportunity of percentage could come back to haunt them. The Demons certainly don’t need reminding after missing out on the top eight by just 0.5% in 2017 and would be disappointed that they could only record a 50-point win against the Dockers when triple digits were on offer.
Admittedly, percentage isn’t the biggest concern for the Demons as they presently hold the second-best percentage in the competition of 127.8, behind only Richmond. And the Cats in fact have the third best percentage – at 123.1 – but with both teams on the same number of points, the loss of percentage in not kicking straight could end up hurting one of these two teams if a final top eight or home final chance comes between them.
There have been countless examples of poor kicking costing sides victory this season and the problem for fans watching is that shots at goal missed seem to be getting easier and easier. Max Gawn has almost become the poster boy for simple shots missed, with his late chance in Round 1 against the Cats going astray, gifting Geelong victory. Gawn appears to have his own Bermuda Triangle in front of goal, with two other shots from similar range in front of goal, also resulting in behinds. One took place on the weekend against Fremantle, after he took a terrific contested mark, while he also missed one against Collingwood in their Queens Birthday clash.
And for all of conversation and bemoaning of the drop in high scores, being able to kick straight and convert set shots into goals would be the ultimate quick fix!
The AFL Need To Give Up Creating The Game On The Run
For not the first time, the AFL were made to look amateur when a recently introduced rule was taken advantage of, resulting in another new rule. A ‘shot-clock’ had been applied to players having set shots on goal, with the requirement that players start their run up towards goal within a 30 second period of receiving a mark or free kick.
The idea of the rule was to prevent players from deliberately milking the clock in lining up a set shot, bringing the process to a pre-determined time. However, this then created the ability for players, who wouldn’t normally need 30 seconds to take their shot on goal, to utilise the full amount of time available to them, whilst wasting time.
Mason Wood famously did it for the Kangaroos in 2016 to ensure victory against the Saints, eating up the final seconds of the game after taking a mark deep in the pocket, and preventing St Kilda from having one final chance to win the game if he kicked a point. More recently, Jake Stringer took it to a farcical point when he stood, arms on waist, at the top of the goal square for his allotted time, after receiving a 50m penalty.
Partly to stall a late North Melbourne charge and partly to antagonise the opposition supporters, it ultimately didn’t look great and as a result, the AFL reacted swiftly by adding an amendment to their rule. As expected their addendum took all of one weekend to backfire and spark outrage.
Umpires were given licence to call play on if they believed players were abusing the 30 seconds and Shaun McKernan became the unwilling victim in Essendon’s close loss to Collingwood. Moments before the third quarter time siren and with his side up by a point, the tough call came at a crucial moment for the Bombers, arguably robbing them of momentum going into the final change.
If the AFL are serious about setting a new baseline of rules in the upcoming seasons, tinkering along the way won’t do anything to reduce confusion. If the AFL want a 30 second limit on set shots, then they may just have to accept that the Jake Stringers of the competition will manipulate it to their advantage.
The Rising Star Is No Foregone Conclusion
Two weeks ago, it seemed that Jaidyn Stephenson was the incumbent winner of the rising star award, but to suggest that the Collingwood forward is a shoe-in is premature. The young Magpie has certainly been impressive, kicking 25 goals from 15 games and often being a focal target in the forward half. But there have been plenty of other rookies who would be worthy winners of the award.
Oliver Florent is the short-priced favourite, having played a starring role for the Swans. Florent is averaging 17 disposals, three marks, two tackles and three inside 50’s and has also booted seven goals in season 2018. Number one draft pick Cameron Rayner was nominated last round and has produced a solid season, having played every game this season at the Lions.
Ed Richards has been one of the few shining lights at the Bulldogs this year playing mostly in defence but has proved his versatility with cameos up forward (where he kicked three goals in a quarter against the Power) and also through the midfield. Jack Henry has slotted into an almost no-name backline at Geelong, which is the stingiest in the competition while Alex Witherden is averaging over 22 disposals per game as an important link player at the Lions.
Dockers duo Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw are yet to be nominated but have been mainstays in the Dockers midfield, as has Bayley Fritsch who has developed from a medium forward to a classy wingman at Melbourne. There is however, one clear standout challenging Stephenson for the award.
Tom Doedee has filled the large boots of former Crow Jake Lever, holding up the Crows defence and providing the intercept marker that is paramount for most sides. Doedee underlined his importance on the weekend with 28 disposals and 8 marks against the Tigers and has averaged 19 disposals and five marks across 15 games in 2018. Stephenson might be the favourite for the award but is certainly no lay down misere as has been suggested by many scribes.