Midfielders might win the individual accolades but this season has again reinforced that the big fellas up forward are the ones that win games and turn pretenders into contenders.
Collingwood learnt last September that two disengaged and hopelessly out of form key forwards, Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes, meant that they were merely making up the numbers, while, Adelaide nearly overran Hawthorn in the preliminary final largely due to their frightening one-two punch of Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker.
Now, the Crows are quickly evaporating into the irrelevance in 2013 without Tippett, who defected to Sydney, and Walker who succumbed to a saddening season-ending knee injury this past weekend. Whereas, the Magpies who have been wildly inconsistent thus far, remain genuine premiership contenders because of a focused Cloke and the newly acquired Quinten Lynch roaming up forward.
The big men are often the ones who decide whether their team’s season is a tale of woe or of glory, and this year is no different.
Team of the month: Port Adelaide (4-0) flicked off their off-field insecurities and played inspired team football. How Oliver Wines slipped to pick seven in the draft will become another draft mystery.
Team of the weak: West Coast (1-3) yet to win at home and conceded a 41-point lead to the Power.
1. Geelong (+3): Geelong’s opening to the season has been scripted for them with mostly gritty comebacks and gun-blazing shootouts (no not referring to the burglary prank). Chris Scott will expect the Cats’ defence to pick up (ranked seventh in goals against) but they have engaged in plenty of slingshot football. Oh and the corridor is back in vogue down at Kardinia Park.
2. Hawthorn (+4): Since their yearly capitulation against Geelong, the Hawks have swept by three premiership contenders by an average margin of 49 points and then battened down the hatches to deny North Melbourne. Injuries remain the constant theme though, with news that Cyril’s hamstrings will keep him sidelined until at least round 11.
3. Sydney (-3): Geelong is the only team since 2010 to break through the Swans defence and score more than 120 points (achieved three times). While this is a concern for the Swans as Geelong remains a possible match up in September, John Longmire’s group still has the most upside of any team, with Kurt Tippett yet to play.
4. Port Adelaide (+8): Defeating the Gold Coast, GWS and Melbourne came as little surprise but showing fortitude and a killer-instinct in unlikely comebacks against Adelaide and West Coast certainly was. Ken Hinkley is an early coach of the year candidate and Justin Westhoff may be the most improved player in the AFL (20.2 disposals, 8.8 marks and 2.6 goals per game).
5. Essendon (+5): Are Essendon premiership contenders or dreamers? ASADA and the AFL will seemingly have the most to say in this as they deliberate potential punishments. On the field, no team is playing more destructive and beautifully balanced football than Hird’s men. They rank first for goals for and fewest for goals against. Not even the absence of key men Dustin Fletcher and Michael Hurley slowed them down on ANZAC Day.
6. Collingwood (-4): Scott Pendlebury was right to call his teammates out for “cheating” on the defensive side. Collingwood’s renowned tackling and hunting in packs has been nearly non-existent in their two biggest games so far (Hawthorn and Essendon).
7. Fremantle (-3): Fremantle were the beneficiaries of another Richmond late game meltdown. With Matthew Pavlich out, mercurial pest Hayden Ballantyne’s return to goal kicking form (4 majors against Richmond) will be crucial to keeping the Purple Haze above water in the early part of the year.
8. Carlton (+1): Mick proclaimed that the process was more important than the wins. Well, Mick’s Blues must have got his processes right as they have recovered from a 0-3 start and look nicely poised to make a run for the top eight. The longevity of Jarrad Waite’s latest comeback attempt will play the most influential part in Carlton’s climb up the ladder.
9. Richmond (-2): Richmond let slip the classic eight-point game against Fremantle. After a hyped three game winning streak the Tiges are now staring at three straight defeats. Defender Alex Rance’s commitment to the contest cannot be questioned (fourth in the league for one percenters) but his drop in confidence and composure is a huge concern for the Tigers.
10. West Coast (-5): The leading underachievers thus far this season. The Eagles would hope that Nic Natanui’s return will make the decisive difference. Yet, creativity and acrobatics is not what the boys out west necessarily need at the moment. Currently, they rank 16th for disposals per game. Simply, the midfield just isn’t getting their hands on the ball enough.
11. North Melbourne (-3): North isn’t too far behind West Coast in the underachiever list. All bar one game the Roos have been in winning positions and let the moment slip. Even at the age of 34, Boomer Harvey’s absence is most telling, as he remains North’s only proven line breaker and classy match-winner.
12. Gold Coast Suns (+3): The Suns forward line is beginning to take shape with Charlie Dixon (career high six goals against GWS) manning the key forward position with Steven May, Aaron Hall and Brandon Matera providing some spark. The little genius Ablett continues to build his case as the greatest player of this generation.
13. Adelaide (-2): It’s been one knockout blow after another for the Crows as Walker’s season has been declared finished. Adelaide’s run of cruel setbacks has shown that success is never a given, regardless of a previous year’s achievements.
14. Brisbane (+1): Could be Jonathan Brown’s last season so we better sit back and suffer the insufferable Lions so that we can watch Browny’s greatness perhaps for one last time.
15. St Kilda (+1): Nick Riewoldt turned back the clock in New Zealand with a vintage gut busting display (22 disposals, 13 marks, 2 goals and 7 tackles). Riewoldt, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Lenny Hayes still lead in all key statistics. This must change for the transitional period to gather pace.
16. Western Bulldogs (-3): Liam Jones is beginning to flourish up forward with two strong four-goal performances against Richmond and Geelong. Since opening the season with 127 points against the Lions, the Dogs’ scoring woes have come back to haunt them as they averaged just 65 points over the past month.
17. Greater Western Sydney (–): The Giants are showing their youth in last quarters in 2013, being outscored by an average of five goals, whereas, in second quarters they are outscored by just a solitary goal.
18. Melbourne (–): Consider all the great and even all of the terrible (characteristically from this century) Melbourne teams. Then consider that on the 21st of April, Neeld’s dispirited players, who at three-quarter time seemed on the verge of handballing their coach’s head on a platter to their fans and the media, slammed home a club record 12-goal final term. Such is football.