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Nine things we learned from round 20

Staff writers  August 6, 2017 7:27 PM

The 10: round 20's best moments Some huge highlights, what will be number one?

1. Jobe's running on empty
It's been hard to watch Jobe Watson over the past two weeks. So long one of the competition's most imposing midfield bulls, the two-time All Australian is losing his arm-wrestle with Father Time. In Essendon's round 19 loss to the Western Bulldogs, Watson made some uncharacteristic blues when the game was on the line and, more concerningly, seemed overwhelmed at times by the pace of the game. The Watson of old bounced back immediately from poor performances. No doubt, the 33-year-old was desperate to redeem himself against old foe Carlton at the MCG on Saturday, but his body can no longer keep up with his indomitable will. Watson had just four touches in the first half against the Blues, his one kick a butchered snap on goal that he would have converted blindfolded in his prime. He had just one more kick for the game and finished with 11 touches – just five Bombers, including the injured Orazio Fantasia, had fewer. As Dons skipper Dyson Heppell was dragging his team across the line against a dogged Carlton, it reminded us of similar Watson heroics in the past. Sadly, we suspect the Essendon great has nothing left to give. - Nick Bowen

2. No Tiger is bigger than the team
The loss of Jack Riewoldt in a forward line already playing small out of necessity was seen as the one omission Richmond could not afford. But in a brilliant 29-point win against Hawthorn, the Tigers proved they were an elite team that could adjust to any hurdle presented in 2017. Without their star goalkicker for the second straight match, the Tigers lowered their eyes and hit up their small forwards with precision. Missing a key focal point made them unpredictable and they seemed to have more options than ever. Hawthorn, in contrast, was missing champion Luke Hodge in defence. His absence proved too much for the Hawks to overcome, with the backline unorganised in a first half that saw them slip 27 points behind. The contrast showed Richmond is a top-four team that relies on no one, and Hawthorn is in development mode and unable to overcome the loss of key players right now. - Nathan Schmook 

After the siren: Come on Tigers, make us believe

3. Geelong is wobbling
The Cats' depth is being tested as it hits the business end of the season, and the answers on how it fills the holes aren't obvious. Even Patrick Dangerfield's return next week will be offset by the loss of Joel Selwood, who is in a race to play finals after undergoing ankle surgery. Injury has obliterated the Cats' forward structure and they were forced to play 10 natural defenders in the 22 on Friday night. However, good teams can prevail if everyone is committed to the system equally and plays his role. Sydney showed that on Friday night, as did the Western Bulldogs a year ago when they won the flag. An over-reliance on Dangerfield and Selwood will not win the flag but complete faith in the plan might. - Peter Ryan

4. Big Sauce shouldn't be discounted in All Australian discussion
Paddy Ryder and Matthew Kreuzer have been considered as the leading ruckmen in the competition this season, but Adelaide's Sam Jacobs keeps on delivering when the Crows need him the most. Jacobs produced one of his best games of the season in getting the points against Ryder as the Crows smashed Port Adelaide in Showdown 43 on Sunday night. Jacobs used his body superbly against Ryder in the ruck contests and also bobbed up with two crucial goals. His ruck work helped the Crows dominate the Power in the midfield as they ran away with the game. Jacobs rarely turns in a bad game, but has really improved his work around the ground in the past couple of seasons. - Lee Gaskin

5. Young Saints ready to step up
Nick Riewoldt is retiring and Leigh Montagna's fate is yet to be determined but Sunday's win over West Coast showed the replacements are willing and able to deliver. Childhood friends Jack Billings and Jack Sinclair created numerous chances in the forward line while Blake Acres was also influential. Koby Stevens had some crucial efforts, Luke Dunstan continued an impressive run of form while Jack Steele was huge, with his goal to put his side in front showcasing enormous strength and composure. In the backline, Dylan Roberton took four contested marks, including a pivotal one against Luke Partington at the end of the third quarter, while third-gamer Brandon White showed he is going to be a valuable player. Consistency has been the issue for this team but if they can nail that, this club's future is in good hands. - Dinny Navaratnam 

Fantasy form watch: First final brings more carnage

6. Melbourne's midfield desperately needs a gifted runner
Simon Goodwin has some outstanding ball winners at his disposal, but until he finds someone to be fed by his onballers on the outside of the contest, the Demons will be a pedestrian midfield unit. Jordan Lewis (13 kicks and 22 handballs), Clayton Oliver (10 and 22), Nathan Jones (11 and 18), Jack Viney (seven and 15), Dom Tyson (five and 16) and Christian Petracca (three and 13) all found the footy against the Giants, but with no running options to get on the end of their handballs, winning more of the footy than the opposition meant little. GWS has Callan Ward, Stephen Coniglio and Jacob Hopper as its hard nuts, but they're complimented by running machines Tom Scully and Lachie Whitfield, while they also have Josh Kelly and Dylan Shiel available to play both roles as required. The Demons beat the Giants in contested possession and disposals, but were easily shut down by the fanatical tackling and pressure of the winners, and unless they find some run and carry, they'll struggle to compete with the best teams in the competition. - Adam Curley

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

7. The Dogs are back in the hunt
A few teams would be starting to get nervous with the defending premier moving back into the top eight. Not that Saturday's 14-point win over the Brisbane Lions was particularly impressive – in fact, they could have easily been upset – but the Dogs have won four matches in succession and have taken another step closer to finals football. Losing Easton Wood will hurt, but it's not the first time they've have faced adversity. Two weeks ago they lost Dale Morris with a broken arm, and Liam Picken stepped up with six goals. Against the Lions, Wood went down and it was the midfield combination of Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Toby McLean and Lachie Hunter that took over. Just remember, they were nobody's fancy when limping into the finals in seventh spot last year, and if they can sneak two wins out of their final three matches, look out. - Michael Whiting

8. Ryan was a draft steal
The Dockers have been firm on their club standards this year, which youngsters Luke Ryan and Brennan Cox learnt the hard way when they were suspended for drinking after the Western Derby. Both players were missed in a thumping home loss to Hawthorn, but the way they have bounced back has shown the value in that lesson. Ryan, in particular, has come back a more determined footballer. The 21-year-old played the best game of his career against GWS in round 19, picking up 25 touches and taking 14 marks but then topped that with a standout performance in Saturday night's win over Gold Coast. He hauled in nine intercept marks amongst his 16 grabs and used his 28 touches at 85.7 per cent efficiency to help Freo to a morale-boosting win. For a player with only eight games under his belt, Ryan rarely gets flustered with ball in hand and his kicking stands out in Freo's backline. The Dockers appear to have found a long-term prospect with pick 66 in last year's draft. - Travis King

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

9. Pies rebounders might help them rebound up the ladder
Collingwood is short on key defenders, forcing them to rely heavily upon Demon discard Lynden Dunn and fellow veteran Tyson Goldsack, both of whom have exceeded expectations given they played just four games each last year. However, the Magpies are well stocked with dashing defenders who can play tall or small, who can mark and intercept, and who can generally deliver the ball well by foot. In their easy win over North Melbourne, All Australian contender Jeremy Howe (24) received superb support from youngsters Tom Langdon (29 possessions), Brayden Maynard (27), the reinvented Jack Crisp (27) and Matt Scharenberg (27). In time, their versatility and developing nous can help cover a glaring shortcoming. - Ben Collins

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