Round 12 Review
Time to take a breath. We've finally got a few footy free days to do a proper review of Round 12 and touch on some talking points from the Festival Of Footy.
Plenty of intriguing angles appearing with only 6 rounds left in the regular season - teams trying to stay fit and healthy despite shortened breaks, others realising their finals chances are slim and turning to youth, and others desperately trying to plug holes and build some sort of momentum to pinch a finals berth.
The last couple of rounds of the regular season might throw up some scenarios we have rarely seen before. Expect the unexpected.
Sydney v GWS
A classic example of one team playing with system and effort, and another filled with a lot of talented players trying to get the job done on their own. When Melbourne lost to Port Adelaide we mentioned they won't be the last team to play without any sense of enthusiasm or cohesion - GWS just became the next victim.
It is worth remembering that the Giants are DEAD LAST for winning the ball back through the midfield, and second last for winning it back in their front half. Those numbers were trending in the right direction prior to last Thursday night, until the Swans kicked 6 of their 10 goals from midfield or D50 turnovers against them.
Where to for the Giants? If it's not panic stations just yet, it's pretty close. You'd think most of the likely finalists wouldn't have a problem facing GWS in the first week at the moment, but with 6 games left they do have an element of time on their side to fix their issues (if they can bank enough wins to get there).
Geelong v Port Adelaide
Geelong had been flying under the radar for a while. Well, not anymore. Since a loss to Collingwood in Round 7 (who were airborne at the time), the Cats have won 4 of their past 5 and lost no admirers when they were reeled in by the Eagles at Optus Stadium.
Against Port Adelaide they just methodically went about their business again and played the game on their terms. Just as they had done against St Kilda the week before. They will obviously become the hunted from here and teams will go to school on their style of play, but it's one thing to plan how to beat them and another thing to actually execute.
The cohesion of the Cats is just incredible - the back six are amazing to watch in how they help each other and stay composed with the ball, they are able to retain possession so well (+42 uncontested marks vs Port, +41 the week prior against St Kilda are two of the biggest differentials in any game so far this season), and they've got the confidence in their forward line to either mark it (Hawkins in career-best form) or keep it in there (Top 5 F50 tackles this year).
Moving forward it will be fascinating to see what tactics the well-coached teams employ against them. And how their style stacks up in finals when the pressure ramps up a notch - will sides let them just chip it around in their back half in a final?
Brisbane v North Melbourne
Funny old game, this one. The whole game just had a practice match feel for most of it - small crowd, lack of intensity from both sides, not a lot of tackling (the Roos laid only 7 tackles in the entire first quarter) and a small crowd who seemed happier just soaking in some sunshine rather than doing much cheering.
The Lions missed some sitters (again) in the first quarter when North's pressure wasn't up to the level. When the Roos lifted their Pressure Factor (190+ in both quarters) after half time they suddenly found a bit of their mojo - a few goals from free kicks helped their cause and the game was far closer than it should have been.
Just get the feeling that Brisbane would be happy to escape with a win here and move on to St Kilda this weekend - Chris Fagan will have them far more switched on back on their home turf.
Melbourne v Collingwood
A classic case of one team who has always threatened to post a big score every now and then (Melbourne) and another who should be posting big scores more regularly given their personnel but for a few reasons just haven't been delivering (Collingwood)
We picked the Pies defence to cause trouble for the Demons. Fair to say we got that one wrong! The Pies were always able to lean on their defence to hold up even if the offence was battling a little - leaking 100 points against Melbourne was a total disaster
One pleasing aspect for Melbourne would've been their ability to force F50 turnovers and score. 4.1 against Collingwood with a slightly different mix than previous weeks ensured the ball didn't slingshot back out of their forward line like it has before. Can they sustain it?
Fremantle v Carlton
What a game - for the final 10 minutes. It's the classic case of a low-scoring affair always giving the trailing team a chance given they spend the whole match within striking distance
We had always thought a downfield free kick couldn't be taken down field if the ball went out of bounds. Well, that's not the case! Good to know. Should the free kick have been paid? Meh, probably not. Should the kick have been taken from a different position? Yeah, it should have. Should Gibbons have taken the kick? Absolutely!
It's very tough to get a read on teams in slippery conditions, in terms of how they might fare the next game. The Dockers are clearly well coached but still in a development phase, while the Blues have a lot more star power yet haven't found the balance between defence and attack. Interesting to see how both sides fare next round...
Western Bulldogs v Adelaide
This game looked like the old school circle work at training. A 10-goal first term might have seemed entertaining on the surface, but it's a great example of what the game can look like when it is "opened up". Careful what you wish for...
Big confidence booster for the Bulldogs after losing their last three, with some extraordinary numbers posted - an expected score of 123, +29 Inside 50 count and a near season-high 17 marks inside 50. Big test for them to back up against a better defence next week
St Kilda v Essendon
The Saints were gifted the perfect game to get back on the winners list after falling to Geelong. As we've said many times before, the Bombers just don't have the personnel or any real tricks to post a big enough score to challenge any side that doesn't have scoring problems of their own
The Bombers conceded 18 Marks inside their D50 - only behind the Lions v Adelaide match in Round 4 as the highest tally this season. Hurley can't hold up the dam wall on his own, particularly given how fast the ball seems to get in there
West Coast v Hawthorn
Did the Eagles get out of 2nd gear in this one? It just felt like they knew they had the Hawks covered (who hasn't, lately?) and they cruised through the match to bank another win and move further towards a critical top 4 spot
Hawthorn enjoyed as much of the ball as the Eagles but are clearly not able to punish the opposition with their personnel up forward. Statistically, Hawthorn didn't really get torched in any particular aspect. It's just that the Eagles are clearly a superior team (especially at home) who got the job done easily and will have quickly moved onto this week
Richmond v Gold Coast
Wouldn't have picked the Tigers to score 2 goals in a half against the Suns, but it shows how careful you need to be when assessing each game - no team will play to their optimum level in a season like this. Have we underestimated the cumulative effect of this condensed period of games?
What was probably predictable was Richmond coming out after half time and stepping it up a gear - 31 inside 50s to 12 is a huge differential (Suns only 4 Inside 50s in Q4!), as is the 14-1 Marks Inside 50 count for the game. From memory, the Suns are the only team to manage just a single F50 mark in a match all season. The Tigers defence is absolutely humming...
Round 12 Burning Question:
Will the Crows win a match this season?
Hard to see it happening. Do they do the unthinkable and rest a few ready to give it their best shot against an undermanned Hawks? Hawthorn are too proud to let that happen, you'd think, but they do seem the Crows best shot at snagging a win before the season is over...
Who Won The Round?
Geelong - clearly they are building towards their best shot at winning a final in some time, and are arguably the most cohesive unit at the moment in a challenging year.
You can often get a guide on a team's chances by the closing betting market. Some would be surprised that the Cats started underdogs against Port. It was close, so either result wouldn't have been unexpected. After their Round 12 performance, Geelong might not start underdogs for the rest of the year.
Who Lost The Round?
Collingwood - their journey from serious contender a couple of months ago to a very non-cohesive, low-scoring unit is remarkable. Yes, they've had injuries to some stars, but they have plenty of talent still running around and shouldn't be losing to a pretty mediocre Melbourne side by nearly 60 points in that scenario.
They could be the most intriguing side for the rest of the year, but at the same time almost irrelevant when talking about serious flag contenders at this stage.
With a bit of clear air we will take a close look at Round 13. Let's try and find a few winners and see if we can spot an upset or two among the matches...