Melbourne stamped their credentials on the 2018 season when they thrashed the Crows by 89 points in the red centre. That made it five in a row for the Demons lifting them up to third on the ladder. They trail the trendsetters of the competition with West Coast and Richmond both eking out hard fought wins to stay clear in the top two. The Magpies got the job done against the Bulldogs, keeping them goalless for a half, to move into the top eight.
North Melbourne proved that their season was no fluke in becoming the first Victorian team to win at Perth Stadium, while on a dour Saturday, Geelong, Sydney and Essendon all recorded wins in low-scoring slogs.
Here are some (possibly outlandish) observations from Round 10:
It’s Time For A Floating Fixture
The chorus over Friday night football is getting louder and louder as the season delivers dull football games on the marquee night, week after week. This week the Magpies took on the Bulldogs with the game not reaching any great heights. The Bulldogs were held goalless in the second half, meaning they haven’t scored a goal in a half in four games this season.
The outlook for Friday night football isn’t rosy either. Two of this season’s strugglers in Essendon and St Kilda feature prominently in the games remaining, while the Blues also get their share of the spotlight despite being rooted to the bottom of the ladder. The problem the AFL faces with their fixturing, is that while they operate off a 6-6-6 system to make the following years fixture as fair as possible, there is no actual way of predicting how the season would pan out.
The Eagles and North Melbourne have defied pundit expectations to be two of the top sides this season but have been shunted into late afternoon fixtures, while the Bombers and Saints – who were two of the most entertaining sides in 2017 – received a higher allocation of Friday night fixtures. Even lowly Brisbane have played the type of football that appeals to the mass audience but receive no Friday night exposure. The games that have been selected in the primetime slot haven’t fulfilled their billing and introduction of a floating fixture would surely allow the best games of the week to reach the largest audiences.
There was nothing inspiring about the Magpies and Bulldogs starting the round, whereas the third and fourth placed Demons and Crows appeared (on paper at least) to be a much more intriguing game, particularly with Jake Lever appearing against his former side. West Coast and Hawthorn ended up being one of the higher quality games and would also have been worth of Friday night stature.
The Score Review System Is A Debacle
Scores reviews in the AFL might be reaching an endpoint after a horror outcome during the Richmond/St Kilda clash. Following Jack Higgins attempt on goal, which was originally called a goal by the goal umpire, the decision was inexplicably overturned on review, despite footage showing CLEARLY that the ball had crossed the line before it was touched by a Saints opponent.
The AFL will say that the technology is there to eradicate the howler, and that in its time, it has done that, but most weeks it tends to create more confusion over scoring decisions. For 120 years the game got by without reviewing scores, and the common fan accepted that human error existed. However, there has to be grave concerns when technological error starts affecting individual scores, which could at some point impact on a final result.
A Grand Final could be saved with the correct finding of a score review, but as confidence within the current system dissipates, the possibility that a Grand Final could be lost because of an incorrect ruling due to technological involvement, is becoming a more real likelihood. This system has lost focus on what its intention was and has become too much of a sideshow to continue.
West Coast and North Melbourne Are Doing Things Their Way
The Eagles and Kangaroos have been the two surprise packets of 2018, with West Coast sitting on top of the ladder on the back of a nine game winning streak and North Melbourne climbing to fifth after being the first Victorian side to win at Perth Stadium.
And unlike the recent trends employed by many sides as they look to emulate the premiership successes of the Bulldogs and Richmond, the Eagles and Kangaroos are winning games against the run of play.
West Coast have employed a high kicking and marking strategy, whereas most teams are looking to break away with handpass, and create offensive run from their back half. In the age of huge pressure around the ball carriers, West Coast have eliminated this problem by controlling the ball with uncontested marks, as the Hawks did several seasons ago in their heyday. The Eagles have also bucked the trend of playing two bona fide ruckmen, which has given them a distinct advantage against most sides who only go with one.
Both the Eagles and Kangaroos have two key forwards that stay close to goal, and while North Melbourne have stuck with Todd Goldstein to singularly lead their ruck, they also have found success in a taller set up that includes veterans Scott Thompson and Jarrad Waite. With Coleman Medal leader Ben Brown up forward to aim at, the Kangaroos have adopted a much more direct game plan, having recorded the fourth least number of disposals in the competition, when most sides look to monopolise the ball.
North Melbourne also have the sixth least number of inside 50’s, meaning that when they do get in there, they make the most of their opportunities. Their overall team defence must be commended, with the Kangaroos the stingiest to score against, and finals is on the cards for both sides in 2018, when many predicted them to sit in the bottom four.
Dustin Martin Is Becoming A Slight Worry For Richmond
The Tigers have had a strong start to their premiership defence with Richmond considered the leading side in the competition with an 8-2 start to the year. The Tigers 2017 breakthrough flag was built around their ‘big four’ – Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewodlt and Alex Rance. Many suggested that any disruption to this quartet would severely hamper their flag hopes.
But so far this year, they have won without Trent Cotchin and were able to get the job done against the Saints despite losing Jack Reiwoldt for the afternoon in the opening minutes of the game. Alex Rance has been questioned during this season, with some suggesting he hasn’t hit the All-Australian heights, although he was one of the Tigers’ best against the Saints.
But while Richmond would be happy with how those three are travelling, there would be some at Punt Road who would be concerned about Dustin Martin’s season. The reigning Brownlow medallist had one of the all-time great seasons in 2017 as he steered the club to a drought-breaking flag. It would be unfair to compare his season to that lofty standard, but Martin has been down in a lot of areas in 2018.
Martin has lacked impact with a drop in possessions and a drop in hitting the scoreboard, but it isn’t the only area that needs work. For a side who won the flag based on manic pressure, Martin’s numbers in this area are alarming and he has also been poor in disposal efficiency. The best is still in him, with his second term against West Coast last week solid proof. And September is still several months away; but the Tigers would be keen to see Dustin Martin circa 2017 again soon.
Geelong Desperately Need To Solve Their Ruck Issues
When Gary Ablett returned to Kardinia Park, the much vaunted midfield of Ablett, Dangerfield and Selwood – the holy trinity – looked set to drive the Cats deep into another September campaign. However, closing in on the midpoint of the season and plenty of questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the Cats centreline.
Geelong have been smashed most weeks in the centre clearances with the Cats trying to find the best midfield balance, with Tim Kelly, Mitch Duncan and Scott Selwood (when fit) all rotating through the middle.
But while Ablett, Dangerfield and Selwood have been criticised for a lack of defensive running and being unable to capitalise on their reputations around the stoppages, the real problem lies in the ruck. Geelong might have three of the best midfielders, but if the ruckman can’t get it to their advantage, then its like having the winning lottery numbers but no money to buy the ticket.
The Cats have tried in vain to find something from either Zac Smith or Rhys Stanley but neither has elevated his game to provide the Cats with a decisive advantage. Mark Blicavs and Esava Ratagulea have also been tried there, as has Patrick Dangerfield at ruck contests around the ground, much to the horror of Geelong fans! Plenty of the big men in the competition are having major influences on their team fortunes this season, and the Cats need to find a way to win the ruck, or risk wasting their best asset.
Injury Lists Are Having Dire Effects
The Crows and Giants have been decimated by injury this year to many of their top players, and the effects of these missing players was never more evident than on the weekend. The Crows were obliterated off the park by the Demons, as they rolled out without Taylor Walker, Rory Sloane, Brad Crouch, Paul Seedsman (who was a late withdrawal), Mitch McGovern, Brodie Smith and Riley Knight. Add to that players who have already missed multiple weeks this season in Eddie Betts, Matt Crouch, Sam Gibson, Tom Lynch and Wayne Milera and the strengths of the squad has been tested dramatically in the opening ten rounds.
The Giants haven’t fared much better with Toby Greene, Josh Kelly, Brett Deledio, Phil Davis, Tom Scully, Will Setterfield, Zac Williams, Matt de Boer and Jeremy Cameron all spending time on the sidelines, while Tim Mohr and Matt Buntine have both returned in recent weeks from year long injuries.
Adelaide and GWS were both expected to feature at the pointy end of the season, but right now both of their seasons are hanging by a thread (or ‘strings in the case of Adelaide) as the season reaches its halfway mark. The Crows sit inside the top eight for the time being by the slightest of percentage, while GWS have dropped to 11th after four straight losses and are two wins out of finals contention.
The AFL season is becoming more and more demanding on players and the need to have deep squads has never been more important. But what GWS and Adelaide have had to deal with has gone beyond the norm and the two clubs face derailment of their seasons. This weeks presents as a climactic moment in their years – when the two sides face off at Adelaide Oval! (How great of a Friday night game would that have been; Sydney and Carlton may not live up to that hype)