6 rounds down and we’re over a quarter of the way through the regular season. So what, if anything, have we gleaned from the first 6 weeks of season 2016?
Well, for one – the Hawks are not invincible. They never really have been, especially early in the season, but as we know – if they’re around the mark when the whips are cracking, they’re going to be hard to beat. We know they’ll be welcoming back players later in the season – and I really get the sense that there might be a few Hawks players starting to think that this could be Last Chance Saloon in respects to Premiership Glory. We’re already seeing some contenders start to raise their hands – perennial finalists Sydney and Geelong are sitting 2nd and 3rd respectively, and they’re joined in the top 4 by the Kangas and Doggies – somewhat surprisingly for me to be perfectly honest. I wasn’t expecting either side to feature in the top 4, yet both have made great starts to the year. It will get harder for the Dogs from here on in, with their ever increasing injury list starting to test their depth. This might be a blessing in disguise actually – I don’t think this was going to be their year for ultimate glory anyway – and with their injuries – now they have a chance to really build some squad depth for a crack at the flag next year. The Giants, Eagles, Crows, and Hawks round out the top 8, and all 4 sides have played impressive footy at times this year. Could this be the year someone wins the flag from outside the top 4? Potentially. I feel like at this stage – we’ve got a really even competition, and we’re no closer to knowing which two clubs will be playing off in the last game of the season. I like Sydney and Geelong at this point – both teams have tough, hard midfields, capable key forwards, and solid defenders, but honestly – it’s a futile exercise in round 6.
Having said that – I think the top 8 now will be the same at the end of the season. I don’t think any of the sides outside the 8 are playing well enough to play finals footy – but again, it’s futile trying to predict the 8 at this point. The Dees, the Suns, and the Power are the three sides best placed to make their way in to the top 8, but are playing such inconsistent footy – that it’s almost impossible to make a case for them. The other 7 teams in the competition are probably starting to come to terms with not playing finals. St Kilda, Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond, Brisbane, Essendon, and Fremantle occupy 12th – 18th spots on the ladder. Supporters of three of these teams would be shaking their heads at how things have gone so wrong so quickly. Fremantle more than anyone – they would have been preparing themselves for a shot at the top 4, and then a crack at a flag from there. I wasn’t quite so bullish – I had them finishing 5th – 8th, but I don’t think anybody saw a start like this coming. Richmond are an interesting case. (That’s an understatement…) This is a team that finished 5th last year and elected to add Jacob Townsend and Chris Yarran to their team. Townsend has been solid – but no more than that, and Chris Yarran has yet to be seen in Tigers colours. Brett Deledio has also been injured – but apart from that, I would say the Tigers have been near enough full strength. Now they get to play the “let’s see who we’ve got that can give us something” game for the rest of the year, and it’s probably not a stretch to suggest that there are a few blokes playing for their careers now. There are about 20 players coming out of contract at Richmond at the end of this season, including Vlastuin, Grigg, Batchelor, Astbury, Houli, Hampson, Maric, Chaplin, Vickery, and Ellis. Trade bait anyone? I also thought Collingwood might be better this season than they’re showing – a midfield of Pendlebury, Treloar, Sidebottom and Swan looked good on paper – but then Swan broke his leg, and Pendlebury has been played across half back (perhaps not 100% fit?) leaving the Pies a bit thin. Then of course, Travis Cloke forgot how to play football, and everything went pear shaped for the Pies. I still think they have a chance to climb the ladder – but I think 9th might be their best hope from here. Well, 10th – Richmond will finish 9th.
I haven’t touched on the Saints yet – and I really should – they’re playing some pretty exciting footy in recent weeks, and when you factor in Jake Carlisle next season – they’ve built a pretty good list – particularly in key positions. If Armitage, Ross, Steven and the like continue to improve (and there’s no reason they won’t), then we’ll get some pretty good footy from the Saints for the rest of the year. The other teams we haven’t mentioned yet are Carlton, Brisbane, and Essendon. Of course – judging the Bombers this year is a waste of time, given the 12 suspended players – but Bombers supporters will be pleased to see the likes of Zach Merrett and David Zaharakis stepping up, as well as seeing draftees Darcy Parish and Michael Hartley performing well, along with everybody’s favourite Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. That just leaves Carlton and Brisbane – last year’s cellar dwellers are beginning their climbs up the ladder. The Lions have been playing some pretty exciting footy – and only poor kicking for goal has probably prevented them from adding an extra win or two to their tally. The Blues – well, they’re a long way off the pace – they still have big issues to solve in key positions (though Jacob Weitering looks like he’ll be one of them for the next 10 years), and desperately need more polish through the midfield.
We’re 6 games away from the mid-season bye rounds, and I’ll throw in a mid-season review after those are done – we should be a lot closer to knowing finalists, top 4 chances, and flag favourites then.
As for the weekend just gone – it threw up a few surprises – notably the Giants giving the Hawks a belting, but I was also surprised with the Saints defeating Melbourne (though once Melbourne were favourites they were always going to lose) and Port beating Richmond. My 5 standouts from the round of footy were:
The Giants – there’s a big big sound – and it’s getting bigger. The Giants are coming. Brace yourselves.
Tommy Hawkins – took the Suns apart with 24 possessions, 11 marks, 5 tackles, and 4 goals. This bloke is awesome when he’s on song – and with The Danger putting it down his throat regularly – expect him to have a big season.
Mark LeCras – 27 possessions and 3 goals. Collingwood had no answer for him.
Nic Naitanui – There are only two footballers in the league capable of having such a big influence on the game with less than 15 touches. Cyril Rioli is one – Nic Nat is the other. Gun.
Stevie J – Yeah, I already mentioned the Giants – but how great was it to see Stevie J giving it to the Hawks again. Hello nostalgia, my old friend. 25 possessions, 4 tackles, 5 goals, and pushing the brave and courageous Luke Hodge over was a day out for Stevie.
North Melbourne 9.7.61 def Western Bulldogs 6.9.45
St Kilda 20.15.135 def Melbourne 15.6.96
Adelaide 14.13.97 def Fremantle 8.16.64
GWS 24.14.158 def Hawthorn 12.11.83
Port Adelaide 13.16.94 def Richmond 8.11.59
Geelong 25.18.168 def Gold Coast 7.6.48
Sydney 15.7.97 def Brisbane 14.10.94
Carlton 10.12.72 def Essendon 8.9.57
West Coast 18.16.124 def Collingwood 9.8.62