Round 14 Review
That was a much better round of football, with plenty of talking points from most of the games. Aside from the usual sideshow controversies (tribunal pondering, score review cameras in low-tier venues, tagging tactics), most of the discussion was around the on-field action this weekend. Good to see.
Certainly wasn't easy from a tipping perspective - tipsters would've found two games where they genuinely got out of jail. Prior to this round, losing with a 35-point lead was incredibly rare this season. Somehow the Hawks and Bulldogs found a way to fail...wow.
Hawthorn v Essendon
The curtain raiser to the main event later in the night turned out to be a cracker. An incredible first half where the Bombers just weren't anywhere near able to stop Hawthorn from simply marking their way up the field - +27 marks, including 10 contested, is right up there with the biggest differentials for the year.
Judging by Twitter, there were a few Essendon fans a little less than please about what they served up in the first half. I don't think anyone expected what happened next...
In an incredible turnaround reminiscent of the James Hird coaching days when Essendon regularly reeled in sides in the second half with some incredible football, the Bombers went +22 in contested possession (better than any other side last weekend), +15 in marks (not remarkable other than the huge swing against what they delivered in the first two quarters), and kicked 11.5 to 3.1. Enormous.
Importantly, 10 of their 12 forward 50 marks came in the second half, with Big Joe taking 5 of them. Finally they have a target up forward they can be confident with, and now Stringer also has a few games under his belt they might actually be quite a challenge for defences over the last three games.
Did Hawthorn just flat out stop, though? They lost Patton early which clearly didn't help (no Hurley meant the Bombers may have been really stretched down back) and that also allowed the move of Hooker up forward for the first time in a while. A few little things conspiring against the Hawks there, but losing in that fashion is pretty disappointing.
Richmond v West Coast
The preview gave us a glimpse of what to expect, with two distinct game styles up against each other in this one. The Richmond ground game was up against the marking power of the Eagles, and definitely came out on top
In hindsight, was the Giants game a bit more of an indication that the Eagles weren't travelling nearly as well as some thought? They were beaten in contested possession, inside 50 and uncontested marks in that game as well. Richmond would've taken notice and been confident they had the weapons to do the same
With little between them in terms of forward half and midfield turnovers, the game ultimately came down to the team who could convert their chances. 6.3 to 3.5 from winning the ball back through the middle in favour of Richmond tells the story
Worth noting the effort from Richmond in keeping Jeremy McGovern to his lowest mark total for the year, including zero intercept marks a week after dominating GWS with 8 of his own and saving their bacon
There's a fair chance we might see these two face off at some point in the finals series, so Richmond will have gained a lot of confidence on how to beat them, while the Eagles will need a few more tricks if their marking game is shut down once again. The 206 v 190 pressure figures confirm that the Tigers are far more effective in a finals-like, contested game than the Eagles
Western Bulldogs v Geelong
From the Preview:
Sticking the neck out and picking the Western Bulldogs in a tight one. This could easily backfire (their defensive frailties are a worry) but just have to go with our gut here.
Ouch. Just had a feeling the Cats were absolutely ripe for the picking and the Dogs had the tools to get the job done, but they just couldn't sustain it for long enough against the most mature side in the competition. One of those picks where you get it oh so right, but still get it wrong in the end
The ball absolutely lived in the Bulldogs front half in quarter one, but was there a lot less over the following three quarters. When they aren't getting it their own way, the Dogs find it hard to find a different method of winning the ball back and scoring
The incredibly low pressure numbers in the first half suited the Dogs' game style to a tee - 171 to 169 in Q1 is incredibly low (clearly the Dogs just had the ball on a string for that period). As soon as the pressure figures moved up to something a lot more intense, the Cats started coming out on top
It's a good indicator that Geelong should find a finals series pretty comfortable from a pressure perspective, and could easily thrive when the heat comes on. In contrast, a lot of teams would be happy to face the Bulldogs at the pointy end of the season
Port Adelaide v Sydney
Quite an interesting game here. Early on it looked like Port would cruise to victory but the Swans (to their credit) absolutely piled on the pressure to keep the Power working hard right to the finish - an incredible pressure factor of 250 from the Swans in Q2 worth noting
Ultimately the Power ended up with the edge at the stoppage game. And they had to, given they failed to kick a single goal from a turnover through the middle or defensive 50 all-day. Extraordinary. At stoppage, the +20 clearance differential and 9.4 to 2.3 scoreline proved the difference
The intriguing part moving forward will be the forward setup for Port - Dixon is clearly the main man but still finds himself in way too many situations where a teammate is either bringing his opponent into the contest or getting in the way himself. They need to get this right before the finals or it may come back to bite them - can they find the separation and the likes of Marshall and Westhoff (or Georgiades) emerge as a real potent threat themselves, or do the opposition just treat them like a decoy and come over to help nullify Big Charlie?
Fremantle v GWS
The Giants had the perfect start here, with 16 inside 50s to 6 and a 4.2 to 1.1 first quarter giving them all the confidence they needed against a young side that has been "up" for a long time and were probably due for a flat one
The timing is critical, too - offensively, the Giants had to click some time soon or their chances of winning a final (if they even made it) would've been very slim given some of the matchups they were likely to face
Huge watch on GWS from here. The Blues coming up, then a tricky one vs the Demons could seal their fate either way
Melbourne v St Kilda
A cracking game, and a great education in the Expected Score figures. Melbourne managed to win 52-49, but expected score had them losing 34-53. A classic case of one team "shooting the lights out" and the other not generating enough shots of their own to counteract it. Amazing what an early, low-percentage bomb like Christian Petracca's goal in the first quarter can do for the confidence
The Saints will rue the loss but will gain a little bit of confidence at conceding only 4 marks inside 50 for the whole night, their lowest for the season after being incredibly vulnerable in that area for most of the year. Dropping Carlisle looked like a good move from the outside...
From the rest of the numbers, it was a different kind of win for the Demons - they're used to enjoying far more inside 50s than their opposition (the -16 inside 50 differential against the Saints is equal to their terrible game against Port Adelaide several weeks ago), so the real credit has to go to their defence in holding up under seige
Steven May clearly best on ground, saving Melbourne so many times - 6 intercepts marks, 5 of them in the second half. Marks down back just ease the pressure so much if you can get them
No comment on the score review, other than to say that having some tech is clearly better than no tech, so the ridiculous "might as well not have it then" hot-takes are just totally brainless
Carlton v Collingwood
Once again, the Blues just can't find a different gear to drop down to when they need it. For so long we've admired their go-forward style, but against some teams you need to move the ball laterally or find a backwards handball under pressure. Otherwise you end up so predictable that the opposition eventually finds out how to adjust. It's incredible, and a huge question mark on their game style right now
On the flip side, it looks like the Pies are tinkering with their own game a little to try and find some more offensive balance. We know defensively they had been pretty solid for most of the season (aside from a couple of outliers), but offensively they had found scoring a real challenge.
Taylor Adams achieved what a clearly injured Patrick Cripps just couldn't do in the second half - 15 disposals, 10 contested possessions, 4 clearances. 6 score involvements for the game as well. One of the more underrated players in the competition right now helped get the Pies over the line
Gold Coast v North Melbourne
After only 59 points in their last 2 games combined, the Suns were gifted some offensive confidence thanks to the lacklustre Kangaroos. 91 points was just a single point shy of their highest score all season, and importantly the Suns found a whole bunch of avenues to goal rather than just relying on some Ben King brilliance
North can't get to the end of the season fast enough, unfortunately. After a much needed bye, they face both Port Adelaide and West Coast over the last three matches. If they don't find a way to restrict their opposition from scoring, this could be absolute carnage...
Round 14 Burning Question:
Does it look like a Cox Plate/Grand Final Day bonanza?
Still waiting for the announcement on the venue, but it definitely looks to be heading that direction. Maybe a 5:00pm Cox Plate leading into a 5:30pm kick-off for the Grand Final? What a time to be alive...