Round 8 was billed as one with great bookend games, kicking off with a top-of-the-table clash between Collingwood and Geelong on Friday night at the hallowed MCG, and finishing over in the West with the derby between Fremantle and a surprisingly resurgent West Coast Eagles. Sandwiched in between these blockbusters were the games where Melbourne was meant to stamp it’s authority as a legitimate finals contender and Richmond were meant to spark a changing of the guard against a depleted Western Bulldogs line-up. Let’s start with Friday night’s low-scoring slugfest.
Top-of-the-table clash was brilliant, but there are still many questions left unanswered
In frigid conditions at the MCG on Friday night, these two AFL powerhouses threw everything they had at one another and, although the Cats took the points and top spot on the ladder, we are really no closer to a conclusion on which side should be premiership favourites.
The Cats started tremendously, displaying all their defensive powers that has made them one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the AFL. If t wasn’t for their woeful goalkicking in the first quarter, they could have gone into the break with an insurmountable lead. In the opening quarter of the match, the Cats’ defense was impenetrable. Helped by Collingwood’s surprisingly dysfunctional forward set-ups, the Cats limited them to two scoring opportunities in the first quarter and only 44 inside 50s for the game, 20 below their league-leading average of 64 per game.
Regardless of the fact Collingwood got robbed (more on this later), the Cats were, by far, the more impressing team on the night. Their first and second quarters, if they had have converted opportunities, could have been some of the best quarters we’ve seen all year from any game. They controlled the tempo of the game, dominated the clearances against one of the best midfield groups in the competition and recorded 25 scoring shots against the second stingiest defense in the AFL.
For Collingwood, their lack of structure in this one cost them the game. They rebounded from their defensive 50 as well as they have all season, but their movement up the ground was stagnant for most of the night, with big forward targets Chris Dawes and Travis Cloke not working hard enough on the lead to create opportunities and open space for teammates. There won’t be a great overhaul at the Lexus Centre this week, but they can’t let a forward-line with that much potency suffer any more lapses in concentration in regards to formations and inaccurate kicking into the forward fifty.
Hawks show grit, Saints show zilch
For any coaches out there trying to inspire their teams to play good team football should show them tape of this game. After a dismal first quarter whee they conceded five goals and lost defender Stephen Gilham, the Hawks played some of the most defiant football this season. With Jarryd Roughead stepping into the rucking spot after David Hale’s injury, the Hawks held the Saints to a porous 31 inside 50s for the game, 15 of which were in the first quarter.
Holding a team to 16 I50s in three quarters is an unbelievable effort. Factor in the loss of two important players, limiting rotations and putting strain on the match-ups, and this is a great performance for Hawthorn and could be a watershed moment for the club as they try to rekindle their magical 2008 form. The way the Hawks, especially Roughead, Lance Franklin and Matt Suckling ran relentlessly and moved the ball forward would have been an absolute delight for Hawthorn fans.
On the other hand, the Saints were woeful. After a brilliant start, team leaders like Nick Riewoldt, Brendon Goddard, Stephen Milne and Justin Koschitzke went that far off the boil, it was embarrassing. As a unit, the refused to run into space. They refused to talk, to work hard for possessions and, overall, their performance was putrid. They seemed to have turned the corner in the work ethic department against the Blues in round 7, but their general laziness and body language around the ground signified to all watching that these players have all but given up. They’ve taken their losses hard this season and it has broken them mentally. It will be a long road back for these wearisome Saints.
Five thing I liked from Round 8
Alan Toovey’s courage: Never in the top ten or even top 15 players on the field, Alan Toovey, week in and week out, is one of Collingwood’s most consistent performers. Friday night, the young tagger from Claremont tracked a ball inside Geelong’s 50, only to be cleaned up by a leading Tom Hawkins who had a headful of steam. Replays show Toovey had a quick look at what he was running into, but the young defender stayed disciplined and attacked the footy with reckless abandon. Although he suffered an horrific injury, it was a brilliant display of courage and is inspirational to teammates.
Jude Bolton. Again: Like a fine wine, the Swans midfielder seems to be getting better with age. After going relatively quiet for a fortnight after a great start to the season, the blonde Swan was at it again against Port Adelaide, getting 33 touches and constantly pressuring the Power’s midfielders into sloppy turnovers with 12 tackles. Leading the league in tackles with an average of over 10 per game, the 31-year-old Bolton is playing some of the best football of his 12 year career. Kudos, Jude.
Robin Nahas: On the outer at Tigerland at the end of last season, the diminutive small forward has been electrifying this season. Since Round 5, Nahas has averaged over 28 disposals a game, including 30 against the Dockers in round 7 to go along with 4 matchwinning goals. After being destined to return to the VFL after a short and unfulfilled AFL career, Nahas has taken his second opportunity in the team with both hands and doesn’t seem to be letting it go any time soon.
West Coast’s revival: After being hit extremely hard after the 2006 season, losing Chris Judd, Ben Cousins, Daniel Chick, and a raft of other important players, the Eagles finally seem like they’ve come in from the AFL wilderness. Winners of four games so far this season, they’ve already equalled their total win count from 2010. With Daniel Kerr and Dean Cox returning to the form that helped propel the Eagles to the top of the AFL world in 2006, along with great development from rookie Jack Darling and improvements from Scott Selwood and Nic Naitanui, the Eagles resurgence is great for Western Australia and the AFL in general. As a Sydney Swans supporter, it’s exciting to see our modern-day rivals improving, and I can’t wait until we take them on again.
Gary Ablett’s standout perfomance: The performance of the week goes to Gold Coast skipper, Gary Ablett. Lambasted in the media for going to the Suns for the money and not being fully committed to his football, the Little Master had his best game as a Sun against the Adelaide Crows, and one of the best performances of his highly-decorated career. He had an inspiring 41 touches and four goals against the Crows on Saturday, but it was his defensive pressure and amazing running ability that was most impressive. Silencing the doubters with a massive performance, the Suns, although they still lost by 57 points, are improving greatly under Ablett.
Five things I didn’t
Incorrect call for Scott Pendlebury: Round 8 had been dubbed the ‘Thanks Ump’ round by AFL heavyweights. Well, the Geelong Cats certainly had something to thank them for. The disallowing of the advantage goal kicked Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury late in the last quarter has been the biggest blunder this side of the Jack Trengove suspension so far in Season 2011. Even AFL umpires manager Jeff Gieschen thinks so.
Everything about St. Kilda: They don’t run hard enough. They don’t attack the ball. They don’t play for each other. It’s hard to fathom, but the team that has made back-to-back Grand Finals the last two years is now the worst team in football. I counted Port Adelaide in that, too. The ‘Aints should beat the Power in round 16, but list wise, no team is in a worse situation than the Saints. To record 16 inside 50s in three quarters of play is atrocious football, and massive changes need to be made for the Saints to even remain competitive this year.
Melbourne’s up-and-down form: Terrible performance in the West in Round 6. But they backed it up by dismantling the Crows at the ‘G the following week. But, in sticking with their theme of playing this season’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Demons got embarrassed by North Melbourne Saturday afternoon. Against a team that is no chance of playing finals, the Demons have to step up to the plate and play like they want to make September action. Their defense was sloppy and their attack at the football was undisciplined. Who knows which Melbourne team will turn up next week against the lowly Saints.
Lynden Dunn’s suspension: The suspension was warranted, the two weeks he received was a joke. If teammate Jack Trengove gets three weeks for a near-perfect execution of a tackle, Dunn surely deserves at least the same amount of time on the sidelines. The inconsistent Match Review Panel strikes again!
The end for Daniel Bradshaw: It’s unfortunate for both the Sydney Swans and Daniel Bradshaw that the stellar forward has to go under the knife again for his troublesome knee. The former Lions premiership player started well for the Swans in 2010, but constant knee issues has limited his impact and will spell a sad end to what has been an excellent but underrated career.
That’s all for this week, and remember, cheer, cheer the red and the white!