Round 18 Review
Another round impacted by absolute carnage on the Covid front - imagine the panic in the Giants v Swans game when the exposure site rules changed at the last minute. Have to feel for the staff and players involved, even though clubs have likely become used to constant change over the past 18 months.
Anyway, we will try and cover the on-field side of things to give us all a break from the ongoing frustration.
Another draw, another few days of everyone offering an opinion on whether we should have a draw. Plenty of better things to talk about. The two points is arguably just as good as a win for the Demons, as well.
Far too many amateur post-match experts going around at the moment. They jumped out of trees after Richmond upset the Lions on Friday night. Not many have stuck their neck out *prior* to the match. Easy to be a genius after the fact (we won't name names as there is no point picking a fight, but it should be called out a lot more)
With a few contenders looking shaky, it might all come down to whoever is in form at the back end of the season who charges through the finals series and onto the Premiership.
Would be interested to see if the next rules crackdown involves players knocking the ball away after a mark. Happening a lot more recently, so the rule might need to be enforced a little more strictly perhaps...
Who Won The Round?
Sydney - they should nearly be everyone's second favourite team. Losing players and staff only hours before the bounce (GWS did too, admittedly), living in hub life for the foreseeable future, and overturned a 34-point deficit in 17 minutes of football. Extraordinary. Holding their form will be a challenge this far out and given the adversity they face, but they could legitimately pinch the flag out of nowhere.
How many had them in the eight at the start of the season? Definitely not us.
Who Lost The Round?
St Kilda - let's face it. They beat themselves. Again. If you count this game and the Round 12 and 13 matches against the Swans and the Crows, they have missed out on 12 Premiership points through a combination of not trusting themselves, skill errors and questionable decision making.
Win two of those three and they are currently 7th. Instead, they remain in the pack chasing 7th and 8th spot with the poorest percentage of all of those teams.
Geelong 100 def Fremantle 31
Expected score: 115 v 45
This was a huge test for Fremantle after a reasonably consistent month. They failed.
The late rain helped Geelong, who are arguably the best wet weather team in the competition. But prior to the drizzle arriving the Cats just completely dominated. No team should take 28 marks inside 50 (the highest number recorded for the season, four clear of the next best), and no team should ever only grab 2 marks of their own up the other end. Only the coaches will know if it was effort, defensive intent or just a lack of class/personnel.
The perceived break-even midfield battle just didn't eventuate. The Cats were +7 clearance, restricted Fremantle to only a single stoppage goal (1.6 didn't help), and turned the game into the kind of turnover style that they love. Eight goals to two from turnover, plus the Cats nailed two from kick-ins. The Dockers just couldn't defend in open play.
Confirmation that the Cats are at least still one of the top three or four teams to beat. Also confirmation that Fremantle might be having a season similar to Sydney last year - ultra competitive in most games, just not winning and hit by significant injury troubles. Next year they are a huge watch, in our opinion.
Richmond 106 def Brisbane 86
Expected score: 103 v 93
The Tigers are back! Well, maybe not now they've lost Dusty and still have a lot of players either injured or out of form. They just won in the way we have expected them to for a while - by their key forwards having a day out.
The absence of Adams was critical. Riewoldt, Lynch and Chol took 10 marks inside 50 between them (Riewoldt responsibly for 7 of them in his 300th game - fair effort), and kicked 12 of Richmond's 16 goals. Brisbane beaten in the air and also at stoppages, which we didn't expect.
The 18th-ranked clearance differential side (yep, Richmond) took on the 4th-ranked side and beat them at their own game. But only through the scoreboard - the Lions still managed +6 at clearance and 17 marks inside 50 themselves. They just fell short at converting them into stoppage scores: 7.4 to 8.2 against a Tigers team not renowned for high clearance numbers and scoring.
So while they do need to lift through the middle given they will face far more powerful stoppage teams through the finals series, we can't completely overreact to the loss. If anything it will give them another four quarters of vision to tweak their setups and prevent any of their stars from getting too far ahead of themselves.
Brisbane find themselves in the perfect bounce back spot against an honest but less potent Suns side next week. Richmond smack straight into Geelong. We will find out a lot about both teams by Sunday night.
Port Adelaide 74 def St Kilda 61
Expected score: 87 v 71
Those who didn't watch all that closely would assume Port Adelaide just did what they had to, taking care of another side beneath them on the ladder.
In reality, this was a great chance for the Saints to knock off Port. The last quarter would have been absolute torture for St Kilda fans - so many skill errors, so many decision making errors. They were up for the fight but ended up not being able to close out the contest. The +10 inside 50 differential should have returned more than 61 points, but Port were able to pressure them into errors: a 184 pressure rating v 170 for the Saints was a fair indication.
Port cement a finals spot and find a few key players returning to try and give themselves the best chance against the better teams. The Saints need some luck to make the finals. Fascinating last five weeks for them.
Western Bulldogs 90 def Gold Coast 79
Expected score: 71 v 83
Well, would you look at that. The Suns win on expected score, the Dogs potentially saved by Jamarra Ugle-Hagan's conversion, among others.
We thought this would be a case of "how far Bulldogs", but the Suns brought the pressure: 191 to 176 including a 205 in the third quarter where they outscored the Dogs and remained in touch. Big effort from a team which looked to have nowhere near the firepower of the Bulldogs prior to the game, or the ability to restrict them to under 100 points in dry conditions.
The Suns are building nicely. The Dogs just keep ticking things off ahead of an enormous finals series for them. They can win it, but every side has their achilles heel. It's just who can deal with it better.
Melbourne 79 drew with Hawthorn 79
Expected score: 84 v 65
A pretty comfortable expected score win turns into a draw against the 17th placed team.
Fox Footy's On The Couch, Garry Lyon in particular, summed it up well. He mentioned the lesser sides tend to try and take something away from the better sides instead of just going head to head with their individual game plans.
Also can't discount to other angles on Melbourne. Firstly, for young teams who have yet to prove themselves in September, there is still an element of panic in-game when you aren't beating an inferior side like you should. The mental aspect of wondering how a close win or an upset loss would be received is actually counter-productive, and you stop playing with freedom or sticking to the plan.
The other aspect is its just natural variance for a side that never blows a team away. When your offence isn't super-potent, you keep every single side in it if they can find a way to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Doesn't matter if you're 2nd or 17th, if you can score against a low-scoring side then you'll find yourself close enough to build belief. Melbourne give you that chance.
If you asked Demons fans if they would have taken top spot after 18 rounds, the answer would be 100% yes. Still a lot of work to do and this next five weeks is tricky, so we will learn if they have enough belief and form going into the finals soon enough.
Essendon 92 def North Melbourne 74
Expected score: 94 v 80
Jake Stringer absolutely the difference in a game with a serious amount of space through the middle of the ground. It just became an exercise in who would capitalise going forward.
The Roos brought their usual first quarter heat which rattled the Bombers a little. Essendon posted a paltry 159 in the same period, allowing North Melbourne to enjoy plenty of the ball and generate eight shots at goal.
Interesting to see the Bombers evolve a little more towards being a stoppage side rather than a turnover side in recent weeks. They beat the Roos at both last weekend but you feel like their great strength is their ability in open space. Looking forward to seeing their last five weeks - they could do anything (including drop right off with a lot of players who might need a fair break).
Carlton 91 def Collingwood 62
Expected score: 96 v 60
Couldn't figure out how these two would fare, and it turned out to be a pretty strange game. A flat opening where the Pies couldn't capitalise on their dominance, and then a final quarter for the ages from Sam Walsh and the Blues - 6.4 to 0.3 is a fair statement.
That might be the end of a competitive Collingwood. Completely ran out of steam when the game was up for grabs, with the Blues looking by far the better side. Interesting to see whether Carlton can bounce off a good performance and beat North Melbourne convincingly next week.
West Coast 98 def Adelaide 56
Expected score: 93 v 53
We knew the Eagles were a better team, but after picking them consistently through this season to play at the level we would expect, we had been burnt far too many times before. Turns out they faced arguably the most out-of-form side in the competition, in a much needed lift for their confidence.
Not much to say about this one, other than the fact the Crows seem to have fallen off a cliff and will become in danger of just dropping every game on the run home like so many sides have done before.
West Coast will continue to be unpredictable, you'd think. Facing the Saints next week minus most of their key defenders at Optus Stadium is another blessing. Just continues to happen for them, funnily enough.
Sydney 98 def GWS 72
Expected score: Not Published
One of the wildest games in recent memory, and not just because of the pre-game drama. Unsurprisingly, one team came out incredibly flat, with the Swans falling 32-points behind. Seventeen minutes of playing time and a half time break later, Sydney were in front.
Defensively they might still have issues, but the Swans are great to watch. Clearly the team outside the top four most likely to win it. The Giants probably had a great chance to go 2-0 against their cross town rival this year and couldn't quite capitalise on their huge first half lead. Finals chances over, or still in it with a sneaky chance? Likely the former, but anything could happen.
Preview to drop Thursday for a few games, then the rest on Friday as teams and venue details are finalised. A huge week of footy, especially the Bulldogs v Demons clash on Saturday night. Can't wait.