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Why this round of footy will be critical for the season

 

 

Footy is back and in full swing. We’re being forced to suffer through shortened quarters, longer breaks and score lines that better resemble an NRL game but I’m glad to have it back nonetheless.

With just two rounds in, the AFL media are back to their creative and delusional best (did anyone else hear Matthew Lloyd call the Suns premiership contenders?). Every which way you look or listen, you’ll hear another media figurehead spouting off some outlandish hot take in an effort to zig while others zag.

In honour of their wild, short-sighted opinions — I’ve decided to join the rat race.

So, to help you over the mid-week football hiatus, here are my top eight (yes, I couldn’t think of ten) unhinged and completely biased opinions on things to watch in Round 4.

1. Redemption Teams

Many of last week’s notable wins can be chalked up as a response to abysmal performances in the previous rounds.

Had I written this article last week I would’ve hung the Dogs out to dry but after their embarrassing round 3 performance, they played with some pride and righted the ship against the Giants.

Sydney also managed to embarrass a North side who were starting to worry me after they topped the Giants. I got concerned that I was going to have to take the Roos seriously this season and I know far too many North supporters to make that concession. Is it just me or is this the most painful fan base to deal with when they get their tails up? Just the slightest chance that they can prolong the AFL from selling them to another state and they become unbearable. Some sort of Napoleon complex, I suppose.

The benefit of seeing these clubs on the positive side of the ledger in round 3 is that it makes for two interesting contests this weekend. What previously looked like it could be a clash of bottom-dwelling sides between the Dogs and the Swans is suddenly worth watching. I was concerned for the Swans to begin the season. It wasn’t until the Lance Franklin went down with an injury days before the round 2 after we’d been told he was fit and firing for weeks that I knew Football was really back from its COVID induced layoff. But even without Buddy, the Swans are one of the top 5 highest-scoring teams in the league and like any good Swans team, they’re also top 5 in clearances and tackles.

The Dog’s performance also makes the Collingwood game a must watch. The AFL media were quick to anoint GWS as their premiership favourites this season — giving them an instant pass for forgetting their plane to Melbourne last September. Before the lockdown, the 2020 season posed an interesting predicament for GWS — either bounce back from their Grand Final performance; or, become Adelaide 2.0. This context makes for a cracking game against the in-form Pies this weekend who could regain ‘Coxzilla’ (so much more demeaning than ‘the American Pie’ — thank you, Pat MacAfee). For the Giants, it could silence the critics — myself included — who say the side’s backbone is as non-existent as its supporter base.

2. Flying not-so High

Boy-oh-boy, things just keep getting worse for the Eagles. This doesn’t look at all like the West Coast we’ve grown used to in recent years. They’re flat, they’re lethargic, they can’t get anything going in the forward line and they look collectively petrified of a hard ball. They’re sitting in the bottom eight for points, disposals, tackles, inside 50’s, goal assists and a whole host of other key markers for a good side. Somehow, I found myself feeling sorry for Andrew Gaff on Saturday night, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write, but at times he honestly looked like the only one trying.

I’m starting to worry about my pre-season punt on the Eagles to win the flag.

After what has been a less than desirable two rounds in the post-lockdown era, the Eagles now take on a no-longer incompetent Port side. They’re sitting atop the ladder after three round and having actually watched the Power play each round this year — it’s no façade. Take virtually every statistical category I listed for the Eagles and flip it. In fact, they’re virtually the top side in the league by any worthwhile metric — that’s how good the Power have been. But Port Adelaide have been the classic talented underachiever now for the past several years. Dismantling a mentally damaged Crow’s side and a slippery-when-wet Freo outfit is a mark in the right direction but if they’re going to prove they’re for real this season, they need to take out this stuttering Eagles side this week.

This game shapes as either a triumphant return to form for an Eagle’s side under siege or confirmation of Port’s competency. The ultimately means more air time for Kane Cornes and on that basis alone, I’m praying for an Eagles win.

3. Maddie’s Match 2020

I always enjoy this match — I think it’s a great cause and the purple Saints Guernsey somehow works. An added bonus this year is this is actually shaping as a contest rather than a Richmond training drill.

Winning two of the last three flags earns you the benefit of the doubt. But for all the excuses being thrown around for Richmond, if they can’t perform this week, then questions may have to be asked. I’m not saying they have to win by 10 goals but there needs to be some showing of intent from a Tiger’s side that have made a living off pressure acts and scoring from turnovers in the past several seasons. The Richmond faithful will accept a loss but not another gutless embarrassment like we saw last week.

For the Saints, last week was perhaps a reality check. Then again, it might simply have been an illustration of just how strong Collingwood are this season (god help us all if so). I have to admit, I haven’t watched many Saints games in the past few years (maybe a decade). There just never seemed much point. But given the number of off-season acquisitions they made, I’ve felt obliged to tune in to watch St. Kilda play this season. Great news — they’re fun to watch. They move the ball quickly and they’ve got exciting players on every line. I can proudly say that for the first time since 2011, I can now name more than 2 St. Kilda players. If you’re like me and haven’t been able to name a Saint’s player since Nick Riewoldt retired, this week could be a good opportunity to get to know the team without turning to the sex offender registry.

4. COVID-19 v Carlton

The events of this past week reminded me just why it is I love the AFL so much and made me proud to be a football fan. After the media spent an entire week telling us that the Bombers were “undefeated” and “in-form”, the footy gods sent us Connor McKenna.

Essendon’s misfortune really is the gift that keeps on giving.

After their controversial week, the Bombers are now playing a suddenly inspired blues side. Eddie looked like a 2018 parody of himself this past weekend, Weitering finally looks like the player Blues fans were promised with the #1 pick back in 2015 and Patrick Cripps continues to run rampant on opposing midfielders. Has anyone noticed he’s a little taller than the other midfielders? Try taking a shot every time the Channel 7 commentary team reminds us — you won’t see halftime.

The familiar proposition this around is that each side is once again trying to convince their supporters that everything will be okay. This year will be different. Despite it being June, the unique circumstances of this season mean that neither is technically incorrect — not yet at least.

In all seriousness, this week is a real acid test for Essendon, especially since they’ll be without a backline. And before you write “we didn’t test positive the first time”, perhaps take that up with ASADA and not the Facebook comments section.

5. The Raging Bull of the MCG

I’m no Carlton fan, but listening to Chris Scott screech about playing at Geelong was all worthwhile after Saturday night. If I were Christ Scott, I’d concentrate on playing four quarters of football, regardless of what ground I’m on.

In recent years, these two teams have produced some classics. And with a vulnerable Geelong on the ropes after their upset loss, anything can happen. But as all Melbourne supporters will tell you, you can’t ever guarantee a win for the Demons.

I for one am just excited to watch Christian Petracca. There’s just something about Petracca — despite him having been in the league for half a decade I still want to believe the Demons when they tell me he’s the future of the club. The constant derailing from injuries and barrel-scraping Melbourne teams he’s experienced means he’s still something of an enigma. If the Bull really is the future of the Demons this is the season he needs to stand up. And so far in 2020, albeit in only two games, the AFL.com says he’s an elite midfielder in every statistical category. But it’s one thing to put up those numbers against the Blues — it’s another to do it in games like these, against a strong and experienced Geelong midfield. If Petracca really is the future of the Demons, these are the games he needs to prove it.

6. The Gold Coast Suns?

I’ve made a lot of jokes at the expense of the Gold Coast Suns over the past several seasons. Since their inception, really. I’ve endorsed virtually every campaign to disband the club and reallocate the AFL’s resources elsewhere (anywhere, really).

So, you can imagine my confusion watching the Suns for the past two weeks. For the first time since 2011, I have to admit, there might be a reason to watch the Gold Coast other than for some comedic relief.

All the talk has been about Matt Rowell and rightfully so. I don’t know what I can write about him that hasn’t already been said and he’s only played three games! He’s so good Sportsbet are already paying out on him to win the Rising Star award — that’s a real thing that’s happening! My favourite stat was that after two games he’d had 26 contested possessions. I haven’t checked but the eye test tells me that’s more than the Suns have had collectively since Ablett jumped ship.

But there are other players at the Suns who are equally worthy of your attention. Noah Answerth, the Second overall pick looked very good against the Eagles in round 2 and I’m a fan of both the King twins — I’m not sure which one is which but they both play with some grunt for lanky full-forwards who are yet to grow into their limbs. The Suns’ twin looked like marking everything that came his way this past weekend and if the Gold Coast can prevent him moving south (see, eg, Charlie Dixon, Tom Lynch etc) and joining his brother, they might finally have a centrepiece for their forward line.

Most of all, I’ve been excited by the game of Touk Miller. I’ve had Touk Miller stock since the day he entered the league. I bought more when he got under Zorko’s skin and I’m buying any that’s available now. Like most players at Gold Coast, he’s slid under the radar for much of his career but if you tune into the Suns game this weekend, keep an eye on Touk Miller. I think you’ll like what you see.

Prepare yourselves, because they’re playing an embattled Nat Fyfe this week (they really could rename the club Fyfe and Co. and no one would bat an eyelid), meaning we could be looking at another Queensland 3-peat.

7. The Pride of South Australia

The Crows are self-destructing and I couldn’t be enjoying it more.

Before the season even re-started we saw Ricciuto and MacLeod clash over the Crow’s culture. The players were fighting amongst themselves at training and apparently wore themselves out for the Showdown on the weekend. Tex Walker is someone losing in his ongoing war of words with Kane Cornes and Mark Bickley is advocating moving Rory Sloane, the clubs best midfielder to half-back (at least he’s not trying to sell him back to Victoria this time).

Things only escalated last week when Mark Ricciuto made the headlines again — this time uttering the words we’ve all been saying in private, to a public audience. He called Lever overrated and overpaid; he said Carlton is getting a poor return on investment for McGovern; he called Greenwood old and slow; and, he said the Crows drove each of them to their airport in favour of matching their contracts.

Things only got more exciting this week when Ricciuto and Hugh Greenwood got into their little twitter battle.

But you can hardly blame Ricciuto for being fired up. The Crows have been woeful this season. They’re last on the ladder and in virtually every meaningful significant statistical category — last in clearance differential, score differential, inside 50’s and combined fantasy points (though they are first in clangers). If Daniel Andrews wasn’t right before last weekend he certainly will be if the Crow’s lose four on the trot.

This has been my favourite news headline of recent weeks — frank and fiery — you’d expect nothing less from Roo. I can’t wait to see how this develops.

8. The General Patton Game

This is one of those ironies of football that I enjoy perhaps a little too much.

In 2011, Jonathon Patton was the number one pick in the draft — the centrepiece of the shiny new GWS franchise. Ben Brown, though a year older, spent the next two seasons at Werribee before finally being taken as a mature-age recruit with the 47th pick in 2013. Flash forward to 2020 and Ben Brown has played 120 games for North and finished top 3 in the Coleman for the past three seasons. Jon Patton has mustered 91 games in nine seasons and is now on his second team.

Ask virtually anyone who’d they rather have for season 2020 and you can bet your bottom dollar they’re taking Big Ben.

I feel like the General’s move to the Hawks has gone under the radar this year. The culprit could be the fact he’s had 13 possessions in two games but who’s counting. I like Jonathon Patton. I’m still buying Jonathon Patton stock, even if he hasn’t got any cartilage left in his knees. You’d have to think if you did his career over 20 times this version has got to be in the bottom few (maybe we can get the Bev Show onto that in his next AFL Evolution simulated season).

His 2016–17 seasons were impressive but his body has failed him ever since. He’s a massive man with strong hands and he’s ordinarily a great set shot. If he can manage another injury-free season, I think Patton will be a good player for Hawthorn, but it needs to start now.

If you’re going to point the finger at one weakness in this upstart North Melbourne outfit it’s undoubtedly their key defenders. A big game from Patton this weekend could be telling as to whether the Hawks are the team who butchered the Tigers or floundered at GMHBA Stadium.

Written and edited by Jack Tammens and Liam Simmons.

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