Main content

Nine things we learned from round 23

The 10: round 23's best moments The final round of the season produced some fantastic highlights
Will Steve Johnson keep his place as the Giants embark on their finals campaign? - AFL,Things we Learned,Steve Johnson,GWS Giants
Will Steve Johnson keep his place as the Giants embark on their finals campaign?

1. Playing Steve Johnson in finals may be too big a risk
The champion Giant turned up for a big game at his old home ground hoping to prove to the Giants he was an X-factor they could not afford to leave out of finals. He failed to present a convincing enough case, picking up just eight touches in the loss to Geelong in a performance that contained none of the brilliance that has made him such a revered figure at Geelong and a vital player in 2016 at the Giants. Battling a wonky knee, he laid two tackles but did not score and his position is under threat as Matt de Boer appears a better option for the Giants in September. Johnson's reputation as a big-game player will give the selectors food for thought, but Leon Cameron needs to make the hard call with a premiership up for grabs. - Peter Ryan

Who plays who in finals week one?

2. Nobody wants to face the Swans before Grand Final day 
It seems strange to say that a team that finished sixth after the regular season is the side that has the rest of the final eight on edge, but it's been that type of year. Sydney won 14 of its last 16 games – with Hawthorn the only team to beat the Swans – and had the perfect month of games leading into the finals, with tough trips to Geelong and Adelaide mixed in with easy home wins over Fremantle and Carlton. Their key midfielders are all in vintage form, they boast the competition's best and most settled defence, and a bloke called Lance Franklin has eased into September with a 10-goal haul, meaning John Longmire's men have all areas covered. It won't be easy but there's little doubt the Swans have the experience, ability and will to make it all the way to the decider. - Adam Curley


3. Players should never give up on winning a spot
Jacob Townsend's extraordinary ascension to Richmond's senior side in the past fortnight is a win for fringe footballers. The 24-year-old kicked six goals in his season debut against Fremantle a week ago, then five more on Sunday against St Kilda in the Tigers' most important win in a long time. Townsend's career is a tale of persistence, after he previously played 28 games in four years at Greater Western Sydney before adding four for Richmond last season. He has been outstanding at VFL level, showing no outward signs of frustration at his plight. Townsend's reward will almost certainly be a spot in the Tigers' final in two weeks' time. - Marc McGowan

After the siren: Who'll write a September fairytale?

4. The Demons just aren't ready
There's no doubt the Demons have made startling inroads this year with 12 wins in entertaining fashion. Players like Jesse Hogan, Christian Petracca and Max Gawn are the type you love to watch even if you don't barrack for them. They have shown a worrying mental fragility that rears its head when the heat is on and it cost them a likely finals berth this year. How else can you explain eight tackles to 14 in the opening quarter, when the Demons had everything to play for and the Magpies just pride? They're simply not ready to play finals if they still can't play with consistent intensity when there's plenty on the line. - Jennifer Phelan 

• Missed the eight? Here's your team's first order of business

5. The Bulldogs missed being the predator
The Western Bulldogs were the best 'hunters' in the business when it mattered in 2016, but when the tables were turned in their premiership defence they were unable to handle being the prey. So it proved on Friday night when a free-spirited Hawthorn relished underdog status and out-hunted the disappointing Dogs. Luke Beveridge's team laid just 10 tackles in the opening quarter and they finished the match with 46 to the Hawks' 73 despite Hawthorn winning the possession count 429-373. There is little doubt teams have set themselves to perform when taking on the reigning premiers, but that shouldn't have resulted in the Bulldogs losing their ability to pressure the opposition when they had the ball. Rediscovering that aspect of their game will be high on the summer checklist if the sons of the west are going to climb the ladder in 2018. – Nathan Schmook   

Around the state leagues: Who pushed their finals case?

6. If Hooker misses a final, Stewart is ready to step up
Essendon needed Stewart to play like he did on Sunday, when he kicked four goals to help steer the Bombers into the finals. With Hooker a late withdrawal due to a calf problem, and Orazio Fantasia and Josh Green already missing with injury, it was a different looking forward line for the Bombers against Fremantle compared to most of the season. But Stewart took the responsibility in his stride, showing his excellent foot skills and goal nous, and presenting well to kick a career-high haul of goals. The former Greater Western Sydney forward has been a good addition at Essendon this year, booting 22 goals in 15 games and playing a pivotal role. That role might become a little more important if Hooker does miss the Bombers' elimination final with injury, but he has shown he is ready for the task. - Callum Twomey


7. Power's key forward is fired up heading into maiden finals campaign
It's taken him 105 games and seven seasons, but Power spearhead Charlie Dixon is about to play in his first finals series. The 26-year-old is in career-best form, booting 46 goals this season, including four majors in the Power's 115-point thumping of his former side, Gold Coast, at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night. Dixon has taken the most contested marks in the competition and is difficult to contain when he's left one-on-one inside the attacking 50m arc. Dixon spent his first five seasons with the Suns from 2011 to 2015 before joining the Power for the start of the 2016 season. - Lee Gaskin


8. West Coast can worry Port Adelaide, even if Josh Kennedy doesn't kick a bag
If there was one team in the top eight that West Coast would want to face in September it would be Port Adelaide. The Eagles have a superb record at Adelaide Oval, winning five of their six appearances at a venue with similarly narrow dimensions to Domain Stadium, which helps their zone defence shut opposition attacks down. Tellingly, West Coast was able to upset the Power on their home deck in round seven this year without star spearhead Josh Kennedy having a huge influence. Kennedy only booted two goals, and on Sunday was limited to just one major by Crows defender Kyle Hartigan. The Eagles have been far too reliant on the dual Coleman medallist since he returned from a calf injury, with Kennedy booting 30 goals in five games before the 29-point victory over Adelaide. But other avenues bobbed up against the Crows and West Coast still managed to hit the 100-point mark. Port will start overwhelming favourites in the elimination final, but West Coast will be quietly confident of springing an ambush. - Travis King

9. The Brisbane Lions need more midfielders
The experienced trio of Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko and Tom Rockliff have had magnificent seasons, but North Melbourne exposed the lack of real depth in the Lions midfield. The Kangaroos easily won the clearance count and contested footy, paving the way for their comfortable win. It's a problem that's popped up more than once in an improving Lions season. Rhys Mathieson, Jarrod Berry, Ryan Lester and Ryan Bastinac have also shown they're capable of midfield minutes, but the genuine depth runs a little dry. Chris Fagan said the club would use its number one draft pick on a hybrid midfielder, one who could win the ball inside and then spread to the outside – and the truth is they need two or three quality players either through the draft or trade to bolster the most important part of the ground. - Michael Whiting

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs