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Nine things we learned from round 18

Staff writers  July 23, 2017 7:20 PM

The 10: round 18's best moments We countdown the best highlights after a fantastic weekend of footy

1. Dusty a triple threat to Danger's crown
Geelong's Patrick Dangerfield is still widely considered the game's best player, with Dustin Martin one of his biggest challengers. But the superstar Tiger appears to have taken his game to a new level over the past two rounds, impacting games in a wide-ranging way not even Dangerfield is matching. To truly capture Martin's influence, we need to borrow the basketball term 'triple double'. Because that's what Martin has done in racking up 40 possessions, 12 inside 50s and 14 clearances against the Brisbane Lions last round and 31 possessions, 10 inside 50s and 11 clearances against GWS. The Tiger's ability to win the ball so prolifically at clearances and to deliver it inside 50 so often – with foot skills that are more precise than Dangerfield's – makes him almost impossible to shut out of a game. Dangerfield has recorded triple doubles himself, but where Martin has had two in the past two weeks the Cat has had just two in his career (last year against North Melbourne in round 12 and Melbourne in round 23). Best watch your back, Patrick. - Nick Bowen

2. West Coast's problems are deep-seated
Teams with legitimate premiership aspirations don't concede the final five goals of the game to a team that has won just one of its past four games and is down to two fit men on the bench. However, that's just what the Eagles did against Collingwood in one of the more deflating defeats of coach Adam Simpson's tenure. One statistic told the story. In the final quarter, the Eagles lost the contested ball count 16 to 38, with Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Matt Priddis and Dom Sheed not winning a contested possession between them in that time. All four are fine players but the challenge presented to those midfielders is obvious, particularly when they are away from home and have everything to play for. - Peter Ryan

After the siren: Meltdown torches Eagles' credibility

3. The Demons' premiership ambitions are real
Melbourne is as good as any team in the competition when it plays with the ferocity and ruthlessness it exhibited, particularly in the first half, against Port Adelaide on Saturday. The Demons made the Power look second-rate, rediscovering their desire for the contest and bullying their opposition around the ball. A fit-again Max Gawn was central to the Demons' dominance, while Jesse Hogan played his best game since returning from cancer surgery with his aggression in marking contests back for all to see. The returns of walk-up best 22 players Jack Viney, Dom Tyson, Christian Salem and Jack Watts was also significant. Co-skipper Nathan Jones is only a week or two away from returning from a quad strain, while Bernie Vince has one more week of his suspension to serve. After hitting a three-week flat patch as its injury toll mounted, Melbourne is beginning to get its top-line players back and into form. A place in the top four should be well on Melbourne's radar and who knows what sort of damage it can inflict after that? - Ben Guthrie

Around the state leagues: Who starred in your club's twos?

4. It won't be easy, but it's decision time for the Saints
Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna are two of St Kilda's modern day greats, and while the out of contract veterans want to play on next year, the club needs to call time. Riewoldt is a walk up start Hall of Famer but it's hard to watch perhaps the best athlete of his time hobbling around the footy field, his body unable to get on the same page as his mind. On several occasions against the Swans, Riewoldt struggled to his feet after going to ground, and was largely outpointed by his tyro opponent Lewis Melican. Montagna was one of his team's best until his hamstring went on him in the third term, and sure, both might have some decent footy to play, but there's nothing left to gain from playing on. Riewoldt will be rested next week, but if his career finishes in round 23 – with St Kilda looking unlikely to play finals – it gives the fans four games in Melbourne to turn out en masse for a fitting farewell tour. If Montagna does get back, the pair of club favourites could go out with a massive game against Richmond and Nick's cousin Jack at a packed MCG. - Adam Curley

5. Injuries are leaving the Bulldogs with little margin for error
The question marks still remain whether the Dogs have what it takes to defend their premiership crown, but the victory over an undermanned and inexperienced Gold Coast in Cairns produced a few season personal bests. The 54-point margin was the premiers biggest win of the season, eclipsing the 40-point triumph over St Kilda in round 10. Despite a strong record on the road under coach Luke Beveridge, accounting for the Suns was the first time in 2017 the Dogs have won a clash outside Victoria from six attempts. While they were the positives, another serious injury to veteran Dale Morris leaves the backline devoid of continuity this season. With the 34-year-old's broken arm likely to see him miss the rest of the year, and key defender Marcus Adams unlikely to return from a serious foot injury, it leaves vice-captain Easton Wood to hold down the defence with impressive youngsters Zaine Cordy and Lewis Young. With very little room for error in the final five rounds, next week's stern test against an in-form Essendon at Etihad Stadium will give a better indication on whether the Dogs are September bound again. - Ryan Davidson

The run home: Your club's road to September

6. It ain't Joe-or-bust for Dons
Joe Daniher's ascension to the top bracket of key forwards in the AFL has been one of the most exciting developments of the season, but more exciting for Bomber fans is that they don't have an unhealthy reliance on the big left footer. Indeed, the Bombers boast an unpredictable, multi-pronged attack that poses headaches for the best defences. The Dons' win over North Melbourne was a case in point. Daniher mustered just 2.1, one of his goals coming in junk time, but four teammates hit the scoreboard more – matchwinner Cale Hooker (5.2), Orazio Fantasia (4.1), Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (3.0) and James Stewart (2.2). Yep, these Dons are dangerous. - Ben Collins

WATCH: Hooker comes to the fore in the fourth

7. Don Pyke needs to be in the coach of the year discussion
The Crows are 13-4, on top of the ladder and have just beaten Geelong for the first time in four years. Yet coach Don Pyke doesn’t get the kudos he deserves for getting the side where it is. The biggest criticism of Pyke was he didn’t have a Plan B. But what we saw against the Cats, and heard in the post-game press conference, is he’s prepared to adapt and evolve. The Crows have rarely used a tagger, but changed that thinking to put pesky Riley Knight on Cats skipper Joel Selwood, who had 26 touches, but didn’t tear the game apart. The Crows also kicked the ball more often, with 214 kicks (61.8 per cent of their possessions) and just 132 handballs, and went through the corridor as opposed to getting stuck out on the wings and allowing Geelong to push an extra man back in defence. Pyke and his coaching staff identified there was a problem and found a way to fix it, rather than sticking with the same old formula. That’s quality coaching, and should be rewarded when the individual honours are handed out at the end of the season. - Lee Gaskin

Forecast the road to the flag with the AFL Ladder and Finals Predictor

8. You must tag Dayne Zorko – no excuses
After he was tagged twice in the past month and kept to five disposals by GWS's Sam Reid and 11 by Richmond's Dion Prestia, Dayne Zorko would have expected a Blues partner to parade him around the Gabba. But much to everyone's surprise – including Zorko's, surely – he was left to roam free by Brendon Bolton's men, and he made them pay. The first quarter produced 11 touches and two goals, and by half-time he had 17 and three and his team had a 53-point lead. The lesson is clear – if you want to slow down the Lions, running with Zorko is a good place to start. - Michael Whiting

9. The Hawks have unearthed a talented Irishman
Conor Glass arrived at Hawthorn without much fanfare, but the County Derry product made a sizeable impression in his debut game in Saturday night's 52-point thumping of Fremantle. It was difficult to know what to expect from the Gaelic football convert, who only joined the Hawks last year. Glass cooled his jets on the bench to start the clash with Freo but once he replaced Luke Hodge early in the first quarter, it was obvious that he has taken a shine to the foreign game. The 20-year-old immediately pushed himself into Hawthorn’s defensive zone and started shouting directions to instruct his teammates where to position themselves. He then proceeded to throw himself into every contest that came his way and, with his family in attendance at Domain Stadium, picked up 15 composed touches and took five marks in a first game that any AFL newbie would be proud of. We should be seeing plenty more of the flame-haired youngster in coming seasons. - Travis King