Round 16 Review
A mixed bag on the weekend - one of the all-time upsets with Gold Coast holding off Richmond on Thursday night, a few predictable results and a couple of coin flips that could have easily gone the other way.
Oh, and the match of the round between Sydney and West Coast turned into a fizzer. We learned a valuable lesson there. More below.
Another week where Expected Score "wins" went to a couple of sides who failed to secure the four points - Collingwood could have pinched it against St Kilda, and Fremantle really should have beaten Carlton but decided to play safe in the final term
Wonder how all the second-tier competitions being affected by all the Covid drama has affected some teams and the match fitness of their depth players. Only those in club-land would know, but it's an interesting angle no one has really explored
With Richmond and West Coast failing miserably, is the flag race down to four teams, maybe five? Melbourne are looking shaky because they can't score, and Port are probably a rung below the others, so the Dogs and Lions nearly become current favourites by default
Why is Gerard Healy so grumpy about the score reviews?
Who Won The Round?
Gold Coast - a super average formline coming in, and they somehow performed an incredible reversal to hold off the Tigers, who never really got going and still could have pinched it. Arguably their best ever win, regardless of how well we think the Tigers are travelling right now.
Who Lost The Round?
Give you one guess... West Coast. That was as disinterested and uncommitted we have seen a team for quite some time. Dig out the old missed tackle stat, because the Eagles might have broken the world record. The various footy shows are likely to sink the boots in even further, but the fact is they are underperforming for the list they have.
The game plan has only one method of victory, it doesn't stack up in finals and the playing group don't seem to have the ability to wrestle back momentum at all. They may still make the finals, but it would be an optimistic view to think they could go anywhere past week two.
Gold Coast 77 def Richmond 67
Expected score: 95 v 57
One of the upsets of the season (even though many post-game experts decided to mention how badly the Tigers were going, completely ignoring the fact that the Suns were even worse). Ultimately the Suns should have won by more if not for an inaccurate start to the game - they could have been at least four goals up by quarter time.
As is often the case with an unlikely victory, the win was built around pressure - the Suns' two best wins have been their two highest pressure ratings: 195 against the Swans in Round 6, and 197 against the Tigers on Thursday night. And they did it without Hugh Greenwood, arguably their best pressure player for the season.
Where to for the Tigers? We mentioned on Thursday night that it might be a combination of two things - their bottom six players aren't anywhere near the level we are used to from them, and their back six aren't defending nearly as well as previous years. Dylan Grimes seems the most out of form of that group. Or carrying an injury?
At least it adds some spice to the finals race, even though the bottom two or three spots are likely to be filled with sides lacking much hope of winning the flag.
Geelong 98 def Essendon 57
Expected score: 84 v 56
Strange game, this one. The Bombers burst out of the blocks - 9 more inside 50s and 13 more contested possessions confirms they were up for the fight, but after quarter time the Cats just wore them down. Essendon are fine with a shootout. The problem was they couldn't find a way to score themselves.
Our preview mentioned it was a case of Geelong's bigger bodies having a clear edge in slippery conditions over four quarters. That's pretty much how it played out - the Cats were +16 contested possessions after quarter time, and +13 at stoppages. The young Bombers (many of whom looked like they needed a rest) just couldn't get involved enough, which left too much to the likes of Heppell, Parish and Merrett.
Did they try anything in that last term, Essendon? Hard to tell from the couch (rarely any help from the commentary team either), but would've liked to have seen a few different moves to see if they could generate something when Geelong were clearly on top and cruising to victory. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti managed two disposals in the second half - was there a chance to move him onto a wing or half back for a while?
The Cats lose Cameron for a while, which might force them to put him on ice until a couple of weeks before the finals series. The ladder is so tight that his absence could have a bearing on whether they make the top four.
The Bombers will be fine, it's just not their year. Although it's funny how positive everyone is about Essendon when they are on the same wins as Carlton and sit below St Kilda on the ladder, a team everyone has been very quick to criticise.
GWS 64 def Melbourne 55
Expected score: 67 v 69
The media might direct their blowtorch towards Melbourne (once they're done with West Coast and Collingwood), but the Dees should really just put this down as "one of those days". A win on expected score, held the Giants to only 6 marks inside 50 and managed 18 inside 50s in the final term yet couldn't score.
Have teams worked out the best way to deal with Melbourne is to crowd their forward line? For years they haven't been good at kicking into density (in fairness, not many sides are), so it has dulled their scoring so much that every team will believe they are a chance if they can pinch enough goals the other way.
The Giants found goals from their mids to give them the edge - Taranto, Kelly, Ward and Whitfield all hit the scoreboard. None of the Demons' first-choice midfielders kicked a goal on the weekend - there's the difference. With a fairly blue-collar forward line, the ability for the likes of Oliver, Petracca, Gawn, Jackson and Viney to contribute on the scoreboard becomes critical.
And what do we make of their issues at clearance? Beaten by 15 on the weekend, their equal worst differential for the season and the fourth time they've been behind on the count in the past five matches. Time for them to lift.
GWS are now in the hunt for a finals spot - they could be a little dangerous given their game style. I know who I'd be backing if the Giants faced the Eagles in a neutral final...
Brisbane 111 def Adelaide 59
Expected score: 94 v 72
We expected the Lions to rate a little lower after being in-form for so long. They probably did, but found the Crows without Tex Walker for much of the game a pretty easy hurdle to jump over.
Brisbane still came ready for the fight, though - a 198 pressure rating and a +12 clearance count showed they didn't just rely on their class over four quarters. Would things have been different with Tex out there for long? Maybe, but hard to see how the Crows would have turned around that sort of scoreline, even if it flattered the Lions a little.
Big watch on whether the Lions can hold their form into a finals series, or whether they end up dropping one unexpectedly along the way. We will try and find that outlier before it happens if we can!
Carlton 80 def Fremantle 64
Expected score: 71 v 82
What a game. How did Fremantle not win?
The match resembled a typical Carlton game - a lot of free-flowing football and not a lot of defending through the middle. 180 v 169 pressure rating in Carlton's favour, even though the Blues dipped to 166 in the final term when they really should have been upping the ante. Fitness still a huge question mark. No surprise when the game is so fast due to their lack of defence through the middle.
Ultimately it was some brilliant individual efforts which kept the game away from the Dockers - Weitering was enormous (that incredible one-handed grab), Liam Jones the same after being hung out to dry by his midfielders so many times, Adam Saad (who everyone forgets is among the most highest-rated half backs in the competition) and the likes of Stocker, Silvagni and Paddy Dow chipping in with some critical contests.
And then there's Sam Walsh - his goal to basically seal it was an absolute cracker. Although it's a window into how Carlton are trying to play. So many times they really should have allowed the ball to go out of bounds but desperately tried to keep it in, as if they were the ones down by two scores late in the game. Didn't make much sense but will make for good coaching points in the review, that's for sure.
The Dockers were let down by playing safe in the final term. Not sure if it was a coaching directive or the players were just a little spooked by the pressure and their lack of faith in the forward line, but too many kicks went backwards and sideways when they should have been playing with a lot more dare and aggression. Another great learning game for the group. A crucial win gone begging.
Port Adelaide 87 def Hawthorn 53
Expected score: 92 v 56
No surprise to see this one towards the back of the sports section in the paper. If it wasn't Shaun Burgoyne's 400th game (incredible effort given his knees were threatening to cut his career short before the move to Hawthorn), the match would have barely rated a mention.
Port cruised through the game and gave us no more information as to whether they can really match it with the best teams this season. They play only three top eight sides in the run home (one of them the Giants), so there is a real danger of Port being softened up a little heading into the finals. Even the game against the Dogs in Round 23 might be a dead rubber by then. Interesting setup.
The Hawks need time. At least they have been far more competitive after the bye. Can they maintain this level for the rest of the year and pinch another win or two? Fremantle in Tassie might be a good start.
Sydney 118 def West Coast 26
Expected score: 103 v 47
We learned a valuable lesson on Sunday, after leaning slightly towards West Coast in our preview due to their "talent". In a close two-horse race, always side with the team you can trust to put in maximum effort, even if things aren't going their way. You simply can't do that with the Eagles.
Sydney still have a fair way to go, but they are such an honest side. West Coast are the exact opposite - we have said too many times before that the Eagles only win when the game is on their terms. There is no alternative style, no changes they can make in the run, no fight when the opposition has found their way on top.
40 inside 50s with that playing group is just never enough, and neither is only 7 inside 50s with that sort of forward line. Did their accuracy and conversion paper over the cracks for a while in the past couple of months? They looked a different side to the one that ran over the Tigers in Round 14 - the key point was they were away from home against a pro-Swans crowd. Too hard to overcome and at least be competitive, apparently.
The Swans win wasn't a shock by any stretch. The way the Eagles allowed them to win was the genuine surprise. Sydney don't tend to destroy teams. They looked like a top four side against a West Coast group lacking any sort of workrate in the first two quarters.
We had the Eagles as second favourite for the flag near the start of the season. They are a shadow of that team now.
St Kilda 70 def Collingwood 61
Expected score: 68 v 74
The Pies flipped the script on their usual blueprint this time - couldn't score for the first three quarters and then decided to play with a bit of freedom with nothing to lose in the last term. Usually they burst out of the blocks and then find scoring tricky after quarter time.
The Saints slowly built their lead, but you got the feeling they didn't believe in themselves enough to close this one out like a good side. They did the same against North Melbourne, and we know how the Cairns game against Adelaide ended as well. Is it a mindset thing? A change to their style? Do they just go into their shells trying not to lose instead of trying to win?
The Pies won the expected score, unsurprisingly. It probably won't stop them from facing the blowtorch for another week. At some point in the next few weeks their losses will be expected and the heat will move on to more worthy recipients (like West Coast).
Western Bulldogs 108 def North Melbourne 79
Expected score: 101 v 87
The Dogs didn't get out of second gear. Nor did they really defend much through the middle. 32 marks inside 50 between the two sides suggests the energy to pile on the pressure just wasn't there. And that hunch was confirmed by the 171 to 167 pressure rating. This was not much more than kicking and marking practice for these two teams.
Clearly the Dogs had plenty up their sleeve and the Roos have improved since their enormous loss to the Dogs in Round 3. To see them get so close was a bit of a surprise, but we did flag in the preview that often these games can throw up a much closer scoreline when the favourite just goes through the motions. Definitely the case here.
We get our first look at the Dogs without Naughton next week - Lewis Young didn't look too out of place against the Roos, so he will be an interesting watch. Mitch Wallis looked like his place in the side depended on him kicking goals, he was that pumped to jag a few in the last quarter at the expense of passing it off (Mitch Hannan less than impressed - he seems desperate to hit the scoreboard too and stay in the team).
Dogs to face Sydney in a cracker next week. The poor Roos head over to the West to face an embarrassed Eagles side in front of a home crowd again. Gotta feel for them...
A Thursday preview to land with all the games covered, as long as we know where they are all playing! After a weird couple of rounds it looks like most states are getting back to some sort of "normal", which is positive.
Check back Thursday for a pivotal Round 17 set of games.