At the end of a round in which Melbourne kicked 22 behinds but still won without breaking a sweat, it’s high time to look at who, if anyone, can challenge them in 2022.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.
Gather the chasing pack
The Demons have run roughshod over the first six weeks of this season, leading some to declare the season is as good as over in late April. In fairness, not since the 2008 Cats, 2009 Saints or 2018 Tigers has there been such a sure thing at this point in the season.
But the real action so far has been in the rung below that, which has been vacated by the slow-starting Bulldogs and Power and filled instead by some younger, more exciting teams.
The consensus is Brisbane is the team most prepared to launch a challenge. You will find no argument here.
The Lions are the league’s highest scorers and play with the sort of flair that will make them a popular chaser. Crucially, they do have recent experience in high-stakes finals and, though they have often ended in heartbreak, that’s more than you can say for some of the other current risers.
Sydney too are within striking distance. They are perhaps slightly more flighty than Brisbane, as a serious scare against North Melbourne and their slow start against Hawthorn would indicate, but they are maturing rapidly and are loaded with attacking weapons from back to front.
Then there’s Geelong, who must remain in the conversation. One day, the annually predicted slide will actually come to fruition but, despite the genuine All Australian-calibre talent they have on every line, it’s not going to be this year.
There are few surprises in that list. But hot on their heels are a couple of big movers who are making big noises.
The Dockers couldn’t have been more impressive so far this season and have improved week on week. They play reliable football that is predicated on resolute team defence but which has been invigorated by an injection of pace and front-end flair.
Plus, they’ve got Perth Stadium in their back pocket and the opportunity to turn home games into the sorts of foregone conclusions they were during that 2013-2015 run.
It might be the biggest advantage they currently have over St Kilda, who have responded from a round-one slip-up to light up the last month of footy.
The Saints are a machine going forward and have contest numbers that rank with the best of them. Defensively, they are a step behind the others mentioned, but they are still improving in that area.
On good days you could make cases for Richmond, the Bulldogs, Carlton and hell, maybe even Adelaide, but are any of those genuine threats to the very top end? At this stage, the flag is most likely to be won by Melbourne or one of those next five sides.
All told, at this stage of the season, if you were offered Melbourne or the field, it would be pretty tough to opt against the Dees.
Fork in the road for Suns and Giants
The heat is coming, if it ever left, for Stuart Dew and Leon Cameron.
But it’s not entirely fair to place the two of them in exactly the same boat. Despite both teams finding themselves well outside the eight, Cameron’s Giants are heading backwards while Dew’s Suns take baby steps forward.
There are clubs with longer injury lists, but you could argue no one team has been hurt more by one single injury than the Suns. Losing Ben King on the eve of the season has sadly seen Gold Coast’s ceiling cave in.
Gold Coast would be a hot finals chance if they had a key forward of King’s calibre available. They have been impressive and dangerous in every game this year (aside from, ironically, the one against GWS), but have been consistently unable to turn good work into score.
It leaves the Suns in an interesting spot. Dew is now Gold Coast’s longest-serving coach, but he also has the worst record in charge.
Can the Suns confidently sit through another year of incremental but largely intangible improvement in the hope a King return in 2023 is the long-awaited catalyst? Dew will argue he has earned that right, but another late-season fade might make the Suns’ decision for them.
Around the grounds
The speed of Adelaide’s improvement has been alarming. It’s no longer a flash in the pan and, considering everything good about the Crows is built from impressive contested ball numbers, it feels sustainable.
If there’s a rolling contest on for which Melbourne player is the best in the comp, right now Clayton Oliver has his nose in front. No player makes the hardest, ugliest parts of the game look as easy or good as Clarry.
It was nice to see Port Adelaide and players like Connor Rozee rediscover themselves on Saturday. Granted, the standard of opposition was abysmal, but it’s a start.
In a cracker of an Anzac Day game at the ‘G, Jack Ginnivan made himself the difference. The young man clearly loves the big occasion, clearly loves putting himself at the centre of attention and clearly loves letting the opposition know about it. Add in the fact he’s a damn good player and we might have the AFL’s next great anti-hero on our hands.
In the clubhouse
Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.
It was a quiet week for the Rising Star fancies, but worth watching is Nick Daicos’s ever-increasing midfield minutes. For now, Josh Rachele maintains his lead on the pack.
We’re giving goal of the week to Blake Acres this week, but are sticking by Ed Langdon’s round-three snag as our GOTY leader.
And Jordan Dawson takes mark of the week honours for this tidy little hanger. Mitch Lewis maintains his lead though in what has been a lean year for big marks so far.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC