No lead was safe in round three of the 2022 AFL season, with stirring comebacks and breathless finishes the order of the day.
As the dust settles, a handful of clubs are left facing tough questions about their immediate futures.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.
You can call it a comeback
All weekend and all over the country, notifications would have been pinging from concerned smart watches alerting their owners to a dangerous spike in their heart rate.
We’ve talked about momentum plenty so far this season, but this was different. These weren’t games of constant ebbs and flows, but of sudden resurrections and desperate resistance.
The Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and Carlton held on in their games. Port Adelaide and Collingwood weren’t so lucky.
The Bulldogs-Swans opener was hardly a classic and had no right to be as close as it was, but it allowed for late moments that could be pivotal for the Dogs’ season.
Tom Liberatore, back in the guts at last, provided telling clearances, and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan’s contest — and that’s really all he needs to provide right now — at the death was a step forward. A loss would have been a disaster for the Dogs, but for now they’re still kicking.
The Demons seemed to have the Bombers at arm’s length all of Friday night, only to be rocked onto their heels by a Dons burst. This was the most short-lived of the comebacks though, and once Ed Langdon’s obscene snap went through the Bombers pretty swiftly packed it all back up.
Meanwhile over in Adelaide, another outrageous Showdown in a long line of outrageous Showdowns.
More on Port later, but it was a joy to watch the Crows throw caution to the wind and reap the rewards as their young talls took over. The celebrations after Jordan Dawson’s megashank were amazing, and the sort of thing that a developing team needs to sustain the rebuild.
Speaking of rebuilds, Collingwood’s looked just about complete as they sat on a five-goal lead at three-quarter-time, only for Geelong to abruptly and decisively flip the script.
It didn’t seem like the Pies did a whole lot wrong in that last quarter, they just got swallowed up by established and decorated superstars of the game. But despite the loss, Collingwood are still ahead of schedule under Craig McRae, and will have taken us much out of the disappointing last quarter as the excellent first three.
Flick forward to Sunday, and Hawthorn’s heist would have been the best of the lot. In the end, despite playing with the sort of dare that would have made Mike Whitney proud, they left themselves a little too much to do.
They only hung on by a point, but there is a chance that as we speak, Carlton are the third best team in the AFL. Watch this space.
Where to next for the winless?
Only three clubs are yet to get off the mark in 2022 after three rounds, but all three now find themselves in very different situations.
Essendon’s finals hopes have taken a significant hit with an 0-3 start, and yet theirs is still a salvageable season.
Aside from the Geelong debacle, the Bombers have sporadically played good football against the two best teams in the league in the Dees and Lions. Patches of excellence aren’t enough to beat those sorts of sides, but they probably will be enough to beat at least 12 other teams in the comp.
They’ve got a three-week opportunity to square the ledger now, with games against Adelaide, Fremantle and Collingwood. None easy, all winnable. At 3-3, anything is still possible.
And then there’s Port Adelaide, who are in serious Boyz II Men territory now — they may well have come to the end of the road.
The loss to Brisbane was uninspiring, the capitulation to Hawthorn embarrassing, but this against Adelaide was seriously concerning.
They mustered some fight and stood up to the occasion physically, but again their defence was weak and their ball-movement timid.
It might not just be something you can put down to attitude and wait to turn around. The roots might go a bit deeper than that. And if that’s the case, the buck stops at one man.
West Coast is a cautionary tale for Port Adelaide. This is what it looks like if you stick fat with a defunct game plan for several years after ignoring the first warning signs.
Now, the Eagles have the legitimate excuse of an unprecedented injury and COVID-absentee list. But West Coast have been pretty close to the worst team in the AFL since the bye last year.
Everything the Eagles now do needs to be with an eye on 2023 and beyond. The problem they face is a lack of quality among the next generation, particularly in midfield.
The next few months can be spent finding out which young players are up to it and politely farewelling some ageing champions. Adam Simpson’s position is certainly not beyond scrutiny either.
Around the grounds
Seems like one of Max King or Dylan Grimes is the most important player in the AFL. The Tigers backline went to water when the co-captain went off, and it was King that for the second week running went on a second-half rampage to win a game from his own boot.
On the great round of comebacks, it was almost a relief for one of the games to blow out into farce. We learned nothing at the Gabba really — Brisbane are a serious contender still waiting a real challenge this year, and North Melbourne are still at step one of the road back to respectability.
The Gold Coast Suns looked a hell of a lot like the Gold Coast Suns again on Saturday, and that’s a worry. This was a chance to mark that the improvement is real, and they were steamrolled by GWS. They’ve got five rough as guts games coming up, and unless they can nick a couple of them things might start moving quickly at Carrara.
In the clubhouse
Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.
First, a quick Round-Up mea culpa — we butchered last week’s nominations. Jake Bowey was a clear Rising Star nominee but slipped through the cracks because he’s a premiership player, was nominated for the Rising Star last year and plays like a five-year veteran.
But that was dumb, and as it stands Bowey is probably the front-runner of the 2022 nominees so far.
Lachie Gallant ought to get the nod this week for his four goals in Adelaide’s win, though Nick Daicos is edging ever closer to his big breakthrough game and Neil Erasmus was great on debut for Fremantle.
Oh, and we saw the goal of the year this weekend. Ed Langdon, swinging one both ways from the third row, to kill off Essendon on Friday night.
Max Gawn said he didn’t mean it, but Langdon was definitely going for goal. Whether he intentionally defied the laws of physics is much of a muchness at this point.
Wasn’t much of a round for hangers though. Jeremy McGovern got up in the derby and there were courageous grabs late in games from Port’s Trent McKenzie and Carlton’s Jacob Weitering, but given only one of those marks contributed to a win we’re giving Weitering the gong this week.
Mitch Hannan’s from last week remains the grab to beat for now.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC