For the first time ever, we’ve seen a round of AFL footy played without a single game taking place in Victoria. Here are my talking points from a history-making Round 6.
Six rounds in, do we know who’s good yet?
Believe it or not, as of the conclusion of Round 6, we’re officially more than a third of the way through this truncated home-and-away season.
In a regular season with a third of it done you’d like to think we were starting to get a strong understanding of just who is and isn’t any good this year. In 2020, we’re far from it.
It’s not just that we’ve got fewer games from which to make our judgments. The circumstances of their season have been flipped on their head so many teams it’s hard even from those games to draw solid conclusions.
But will the stop me from having a crack? You bet not.
Port Adelaide’s win over GWS this week showed that they are as much of a chance for the top four as any.
They’ve played West Coast, Brisbane and the Giants over the last three weeks and to go 2-1 against that trio is about as well as any side in the competition could be expected to do.
The Cats and Lions both also appear good teams. Both have got genuine scalps, and both have been shown up once or twice. We’ll talk more about their game later on.
If I had to pick an end-of-season top-four with a gun to my head right now, it’d be those three plus Collingwood – but it’s hard to deny that as many as half a dozen teams, some not even currently in the eight, could still sneak in.
Matt who? Izak Rankine is a Rising Star
You’d love to be able to do what the Gold Coast Suns did on Thursday night. When one generational talent in Matt Rowell suffers a shoulder injury and has to be taken out of the team, they plug another, Izak Rankine, in.
In 2018 I happened to be in Melbourne on the final weekend of the U18 championships and dropped by Docklands to watch South Australia take on Vic Metro in a match that would decide the title.
I already knew from hearing the thoughts of more dedicated draft watchers than I that Rankine was a special talent, but if I wasn’t already convinced, fifteen minutes into the match I certainly was.
That was all the time it took for him to slot three goals. He went on to kick five for the match as SA coasted to their first title win in four years.
Since being drafted at pick no.3 to Gold Coast, a handful of injury problems have kept him waiting more than 18 months for his debut. But it proved worth the weight.
He kicked three goals in his first AFL game on Saturday night – an impressive enough feat on its own, but all the moreso when you look at how they came about. Each was the result of creative, dynamic, instinctual play.
Safe to say that this week’s Rising Star nomination is already locked up. And, with Rowell seemingly out of the picture, Rankine is surely one of the leading contenders to make the award his own.
Reilly O’Brien’s big stuff-up enters footy folklore
It was a modern-day piece of footy folklore. Earlier in the week, Reilly O’Brien in his own words “had a mare” when he unintentionally posted his pre-game notes on Nic Naitanui to Twitter.
The Crows ruckman quickly jumped on to Twitter with a video of himself explaining the situation and showing off a malfunctioning phone – and whether or not you bought his explanation, it was certainly amusing.
That added some curiosity factor to a West Coast versus Adelaide matchup that, if we’re being honest, was otherwise sorely lacking it.
Naitanui took the points when it came to hitouts and also gave O’Brien something of a stir up after he kicked a goal on him, but to O’Brien’s credit, his 19 disposals and seven tackles were a very solid contribution.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the match though came well after the final siren when Naitanui shook O’Brien’s hand and gave him a new phone.
A bit of cheek and plenty of class from one of the most respected players in the AFL. Where others might have held a grudge, Naitanui showed he’s a good sport.
Joel Selwood was wasted on the wing
There were several individual performances of note in Geelong’s win over Brisbane on Thursday night, any one of which deserves a bit of recognition.
Sam Simpson for example, a relatively unheralded player up until now, was a star on the wing. In the absence of Mitch Duncan and Quinton Narkle, he really stepped up and has given the Cats something to think about.
Patrick Dangerfield, also, played his best game for the year. The 2016 Brownlow winner didn’t seem to have hit top gear in the first five rounds, but he was a matchwinner on Thursday night.
I watched Joel Selwood though and was again mystified that so much time in 2019 was spent playing him on the wing.
Yes, the Cats had Tim Kelly last year so inside midfield rotations had to be spread between more names – but surely playing the club captain out of position was not the solution to that dilemma.
He has returned to a more dedicated ball-winning role this year and the results speak for themselves. He was one of the best on Thursday night and the Cats are as deep in the premiership race as anyone.
The filming of footy needs an update
Any Roar readers who happen to follow our own Adrian Polykandrites on his Twitter account would know by now that there’s a segment of fans who have for years felt frustration over the way footy is filmed.
If it’s not something you’ve ever thought about before – or even if it is – then I’d highly recommend this long read from Russell Jackson.
The ‘state of the game’ debate has served its annual tour of media outlets (yes, including my own weekday column) over the last few weeks ever since Alastair Clarkson raised the topic in a post-game presser in Round 4.
Jackson suggests in his article that the way footy matches are filmed, which hasn’t really changed since nearly half a century, is as big of a factor in the fanbase’s dissatisfaction with the modern game as any other.
To argue this point, he goes to professional AFL coaches and analysts to task if they feel they could tactically understand the modern game from watching a TV broadcast, and it’s a clear answer: no.
I wrote in my own piece on the matter that the game, simply put, has tactically evolved beyond what many see as the golden era of footy, and no amount of tinkering with the rules and their interpretations are going to take us back.
And I am a big believer in the idea that our very brains are programmed to mostly just remember the highlights of yesteryear and quickly forget all else, which helps to create a lot of false nostalgia.
But when Jackson wrote about “the widening gap of understanding that has opened up between those intimately involved in the game at club level… and the average fan”, I keenly felt that divide and I suspect many others did too.
Hopefully this starts a conversation at AFL House, at broadcasters and in AFL clubs that leads to fans better understanding footy. I’d be lying if I said I felt a great deal of optimism, but we can hope.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-6) – Wins for Freo and Melbourne this week mean they’ve now fallen two games behind the pack to get off the bottom the ladder. I reckon they can start sussing out who they want to take with pick 1.
Brisbane Lions (4-2) – After the first quarter on Thursday night I had plans to write about Lachie Neale’s Brownlow favouritism… perhaps another week. He would still be leading the count right now.
Carlton Blues (3-3) – My biggest worry on their list at the start of the year was midfield depth, but really seen some emerge so far this year. Will Setterfield been good for a while, but Matt Kennedy was a standout back in the team this week. Good win.
Collingwood Magpies (3-2-1) – They might be standing head and shoulders above the rest of the competition if they had another good key forward to partner Brody Mihocek. But they don’t.
Essendon Bombers (4-1) – Didn’t put them in my predicted top four earlier, but it’s hard to ignore the fact they’ve only lost a single game (by a point) and have a game in hand on the competition. A team to keep an eye on.
Fremantle Dockers (2-4) – Andrew Brayshaw’s 2020 is starting to look like a breakout year – I would say he’s won himself some fans over the last two weeks. Justin Longmuir has done the same.
Geelong Cats (4-2) – Another individual Cat worth singling out: Tom Hawkins was brilliant again. Amazingly for a key forward playing in a popular team, he doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. Underrated.
Gold Coast Suns (3-3) – In his six games as a Sun so far, Hugh Greenwood is averaging career-high numbers for clearances, tackles and metres gained. And that’s not even accounting for the shortened game time! Gone to another level.
GWS Giants (3-3) – Kicking 6.10 made this one look a lot worse than it was. They may be finishing the round out of the eight, but still very much a premiership threat.
Hawthorn Hawks (3-3) – Glad to hear that Jon Patton is unlikely to spend too long on the sidelines with his hamstring injury – was hard not to feel for him when seeing the emotion spill over. Crossing my fingers for him.
Melbourne Demons (2-4) – There were some great moments on the weekend, none better than seeing Harley Bennell kick his first goal as a Demon after the siren. Overall, a good win.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-4) – Tom Campbell isn’t a key forward. Tristan Xerri isn’t a key forward. Why not throw Ben McKay forward next week and see if he can morph into Harry? Can’t be any worse.
Port Adelaide Power (5-1) – Nine goals from nine separate goalkickers. That’s good to see from a side that has at times struggled to score without a big forward target.
Richmond Tigers (3-2-1) – Dimma’s not wrong – it was a remarkably bad game of footy. John Longmire wanted to frustate the Tigers and it clearly worked, albeit still alowing them to get the win.
St Kilda Saints (3-3) – It might surprise you, it surprised me, to know that the Saints were fielding a younger and less experienced side than Fremantle this week. Incredibly frustrating after quarter time, but still like the direction they’re going in.
Sydney Swans (2-4) – You know when Callum Mills and Jake Lloyd have 53 touches between them (and only one other Swan has more than 20) that the ball’s spent a lot of time in Sydney’s defence. I liked Dylan Stephens’ debut.
West Coast Eagles (3-3) – Looked to be in crisis two weeks ago, now they’re only one win behind second place on the ladder and have a run of many consecutive games on their home turf to come. Could be about to rise swiftly.
Western Bulldogs (3-3) – Always some debate around whether they should consider returning Aaron Naughton to the backline when he becomes available again – after watching them without him this week, I’ll say a hard no.