Main content

What we learned from the JLT Community Series

The 10: Best moments from the JLT Watch the best highlights from this year's pre season competition

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Rookie-listed forward rockets into round one calculations
Only the most dedicated of Crows supporters would've heard of Lachlan Murphy heading into the JLT Community Series. But after two impressive performances as a small forward, the 19-year-old appears a certain starter in the Charlie Cameron role for the round one clash with Essendon. Murphy booted three goals in the first pre-season game against Fremantle, and also applied plenty of pressure and worked hard against Port Adelaide.

2. Gibbs could be Crows' missing premiership link
When the Bryce Gibbs deal was finally across the line, supporters wondered what might have been if the Crows had given up two first-round draft picks the year before. That's all in the past, but what Gibbs brings to the Crows will certainly affect their future. The former Carlton star was brilliant in the midfield in the first JLT game against Fremantle, and also played a bit across half-back against Port Adelaide. He's a quality addition to a side tipped once again to challenge for the flag.

 

STILL A MYSTERY

JJ can't shake his Grand Final struggles
He's booted at least 40 goals in each of the past four seasons, but key forward Josh Jenkins is in the middle of a lean patch. He kicked 0.1 from four disposals against Fremantle, followed by going scoreless from eight touches against Port Adelaide. It comes after kicking 0.1 from seven disposals in the Grand Final. Opposition teams have stopped Jenkins from getting easy goals, and he gets beaten too easily in one-on-one marking contests. - Lee Gaskin 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Contested footy has improved
Aside from a poor first quarter against Gold Coast, it was clear all the pre-season work on contested footy has paid off. Brisbane matched the Swans in tight, but were burnt on the outside, and then after a horror first term against the Suns, fought back to gain some ascendancy in terrible conditions. Add captain Dayne Beams to the mix, and this area should continue to be competitive come the premiership matches.

2. Cam Rayner fits right in
Big things are always expected of a No.1 draft pick, and although Rayner didn't blow anyone away with crazy highlights, he showed enough to suggest he'll fit in quickly at the top level. His pressure and desire to tackle (he led the team with 10 against Gold Coast) is pronounced for a first-year player and will earn him a spot alone.

STILL A MYSTERY

Who will partner Eric Hipwood in the forward line?
Playing in difficult conditions in both matches, the Lions really struggled to score. Neither were good days to be a key forward, but the question remains: who will help lighten Hipwood's workload? Josh Walker and Dan McStay both spent time in that part of the ground, but Chris Fagan seems unsure who is the best fit. They need another marking presence to create contests for their litany of smaller players to feast on. - Michael Whiting 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Carlton is capable of kicking 100 points again
The Blues just got there in the second game against Hawthorn after falling just short in their win over St Kilda. Their ball movement and inside-50 efficiency in both matches was much better than in the past few years and the challenge is to improve on these areas in the premiership season. Importantly, there appears to be more goal-scoring options in midfield and attack.

2. The Blues’ backline has become a solid, dependable unit
Defence has been the focus since Brendon Bolton arrived at Ikon Park and even with Sam Docherty missing, Carlton’s back half will be tough to score against in 2018. Caleb Marchbank and Lachie Plowman have proved shrewd acquisitions from the Giants, Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering are reliable performers in the key positions and veteran Kade Simpson will provide invaluable experience and nous. 

STILL A MYSTERY

Sam Docherty’s replacement
During the two games the Blues tried several players through the backline including David Cuningham, Aaron Mullett and Cameron O’Shea and it may be that without the All Australian defender they will become less predictable in the movements/exits from the back half. But Ciaran Byrne seems certain to play in round one, with his vision, flair and creativity being huge assets. - Howard Kotton

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. The Pies are going to shake things up this year
Darcy Moore to defence, Ben Reid and Mason Cox in attack, Scott Pendlebury and Taylor Adams across half-back, Sam Murray off the Swans' rookie list and into the Pies' backline. One thing's for sure, be it out of necessity or otherwise, Nathan Buckley isn't going to die wondering this season as he shifts around his chess pieces in a bid to find a winning formula.

2. Moore's move could be the best of them all
Moore's shift from the forward line has been one of the talking points of the pre-season when it comes to the Pies – is it a good idea? An Achilles injury robbed him of a chunk of training, but his combination with Jeremy Howe in their win over the Bulldogs showed Buckley could be on the verge of pulling off a master move, with the high-flying duo doing their best to out-leap each other with some thrilling defensive marks as they took on repeated contests. 

STILL A MYSTERY

Will the Pies' pre-season from hell come back to haunt them?
The hits just kept coming for the Pies this summer. Jamie Elliott, Levi Greenwood and Alex Fasolo had pre-Christmas surgery, with at least the latter two – plus an underdone Daniel Wells, who's had Achilles soreness – to miss the season opener. Throw in James Aish missing a few weeks with a calf, Jordan De Goey getting sent away from the team for a month before pulling his hamstring, and Moore and Howe missing a few weeks in January before the heart-breaking and likely season-ending knee injury sustained by Tyson Goldsack in March, and it's fair to say Buckley would have been pulling his hair out on numerous occasions this pre-season. Just whether they can get the best out of these players – and if they run out of gas later in the year after limited pre-seasons – will be a significant contributor to how the Pies fare in 2018. - Jennifer Phelan 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. James Stewart's development means Cale Hooker can be shifted back
The Bombers got 22 goals from James Stewart last year in his most productive season at AFL level. Stewart booted three goals against the Cats in the JLT Community Series on the weekend, and with the Bombers also getting some more attacking power from recruit Jake Stringer now, Essendon should consider sending Cale Hooker into the backline more. They have shown they can score well, but need to be tighter with their defence.

2. Devon Smith is ready for a full-time midfield spot
Smith found it difficult to get a permanent place in Greater Western Sydney's star-studded midfield in his six seasons with the club, but looks set for a big influence there in his first year at Essendon. Smith gathered 22 disposals and kicked two goals in the Bombers' win over Geelong on Sunday, and was their best player in their first game against Richmond two weeks earlier when he had 25 touches.

STILL A MYSTERY

Can Jake Stringer have an influence in the midfield?
The Bombers have trialled the former Western Bulldog in the midfield, where they hope he can have an influence with his bigger body and bustling style. He received a head knock early against the Tigers and struggled, but was better against the Cats in kicking two goals and having 13 disposals. However, it's yet to be seen if he has the running power to have a regular impact around the ball. - Callum Twomey 

 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Matt Taberner could be on the verge of a breakthrough year
Being sent back to the WAFL midway through last season seems to have worked wonders for Taberner. The 199cm tall forward looked more confident upon his recall for the final three rounds and has carried that into the pre-season, with standout displays against Adelaide and West Coast. Taberner's contested marking has been a feature and he could be ready to reward Freo's patience as the No.1 target who can pinch-hit in the ruck.

2. The swarming Dockers are making a comeback
Fremantle wants to become tough to play against again after the club's high-pressure brand has slipped in recent times. The Dockers showed signs during the 10-point loss to the Crows, who were admittedly well below full strength, but their intent around the contest rattled West Coast on Sunday. It is also helping them lock the ball inside their half and score more. If the best 22 stays healthy this year then Freo won't be a pushover.   

STILL A MYSTERY

How much time will Nat Fyfe spend forward?
Fyfe is keen to test himself by trying to kick 40-plus goals this year but the superstar midfielder will play wherever Ross Lyon needs him most. Fyfe was outstanding against Adelaide as a marking target for lengthy periods, but spent most of his time in the engine room against West Coast. He still booted 1.2 against the Eagles and looks primed for a huge campaign. - Travis King 

 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Wells does it again
Stephen Wells has found another batch of ready-made recruits, should Geelong's injury crisis depend on it. Tim Kelly looks cherry ripe after impressing in both pre-season matches and with injury doubts on Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett, to go with Scott Selwood's ankle, Charlie Constable could be called upon after 22 and 18 disposals in respective matches. Gryan Miers featured in both matches and could fill the void as small forwards Cory Gregson and Lincoln McCarthy come back from long-term injuries.

2. Duncan looks ready
With so much written about the Dangerfield-Ablett-Selwood trio, could it become four men in the elite bracket come season’s end? Mitch Duncan looks set to build on his breakout 2017 campaign. After captaining the Cats against Gold Coast in Townsville, Duncan had a game-high 38 disposals against the Bombers in JLT round two.

STILL A MYSTERY

Who partners Tom?
Tom Hawkins' partner in attack remains in limbo. Rhys Stanley injured his calf in Colac, while Wylie Buzza and Esava Ratugolea failed to grab their opportunities with both hands. Aaron Black had his first hitout in the VFL practice match against the Bombers. Stewart Crameri will get the chance to impress in a VFL practice match against Werribee on Friday night, nine days out from the Cats' season opener against Melbourne. - Mitch Cleary

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Pressure will define the Suns
As a bare minimum, new coach Stuart Dew will demand a high work rate from his players if they want senior games in 2018. After years of Suns players picking and choosing when they wanted to pressure and run hard defensively, the two pre-season games showed these traits were now a baseline. Players such as Nick Holman, Darcy Macpherson, Touk Miller and Alex Sexton are already thriving.

2. The 20-and-unders are ready to demand a spot
One of the biggest questions over the Suns is their depth and development of youth. While Ben Ainsworth showed plenty in his debut season, there wasn't much else to get excited about. But already it's apparent Jack Bowes, Brayden Fiorini and Will Brodie are all fitter, stronger, more confident and ready to demand places previously held by more senior players.

STILL A MYSTERY

How good is the midfield?
Of all the things that were hardest to gauge from their two matches, it was how competitive the Suns' midfield was. They played a Geelong team minus Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett, and a Lions team without Dayne Beams. Gold Coast was exceptional around stoppages though, and will do things by committee through the middle this season. Just how good they are, only time will tell. - Michael Whiting 

Nick Holman (l) and Alex Sexton (c) are thriving under Stuart Dew's coaching. Picture: AFL Photos

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Lachie Whitfield's move to defence was a winner
The gifted runner with quality foot skills has caused plenty of damage on the wing over his 90-game career, and nothing changed with his move to half back. Whitfield gave the Giants enormous drive in his two games, and with Zac Williams (Achilles) and Ryan Griffen (ankle) injured, and Nathan Wilson (Fremantle) no longer at the club, the move might be permanent, at least for 2018.

2. The Giants' forward line pressure has improved
Steve Johnson (retired) and Devon Smith (Essendon) were big losses for GWS but it might be a blessing, with both players unable to bring any real defensive pressure last year mostly due to knee issues. Draftee Zac Langdon, rookie Daniel Lloyd and Lachie Tiziani grabbed their opportunities and showed that tackling pressure and intensity when the opposition had the ball was a big focus for the Giants.

STILL A MYSTERY

Ryan Griffen's short-term future
After a near faultless summer the former Western Bulldogs captain looked set to banish the 2017 nightmares of two significant ankle injuries when he starred in the Giants' scratch match against Sydney last month. However, he was a late withdrawal from the club's first JLT Community Series clash with Collingwood and missed last week's loss to Sydney. He's no chance of playing round one and there's still no time frame on his return. - Adam Curley 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Jarman Impey might have been a shrewd pick-up
The Hawks usually choose wisely when they target players from other clubs, but the early signs are they hit the jackpot with the former Port Adelaide speedster. In both JLT games, the 22-year-old showed some spark accelerating from contests, and last weekend against the Blues hitting the scoreboard. Like many of his new teammates, he only impressed in fits and spurts through the two games, but he shapes as a certain inclusion for round one, likely in the forward half and with a few stints through the midfield.

 

2. Jaeger O'Meara will be fine
Enough with the O'Meara questions already. He finished last season in good touch and he looks even smoother now and had 23 touches against the Blues. His kick-to-handball ratio is not quite where he would like it, but he is getting his hands on the ball and running games out, which is a huge positive. Some of his work in close on the weekend was impressive. There are some bigger question marks over the Hawks than the form of their No.10.

STILL A MYSTERY

Who's going to clunk a mark?
As coach Alastair Clarkson pointed out after the JLT loss to the Blues on the weekend, when the heat was on early the Hawks looked very sharp. But the concerning issue remains delivery into the forward line. Too often the ball was bombed deep into the forward line, whereas other times the kick inside forward 50 went to the wrong option. Had they been better in that area – and kicked straight – they would have beaten Carlton by five goals. There's a reason why the Hawks are keen to get Jonathan Ceglar back into the side – he and Ben McEvoy are the two best contested marks in the side and one needs to play forward. - Ashley Browne 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Melbourne has some genuine firepower up forward
The Demons no longer rely on just Jesse Hogan up forward. In fact, their array of options in attack might be among the best in the League, with Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca, Alex Neal-Bullen, Mitch Hannan, Jeff Garlett, Bayley Fritsch and James Harmes all capable of hitting the scoreboard. The Demons scored 124 points against North Melbourne and then 119 against St Kilda, including 71 in a barnstorming first half.

2. Max Gawn is Melbourne's most important player
Melbourne found a way of not allowing Gawn's absence with a hamstring injury to impact too heavily in 2017, with Cameron Pedersen and Tom McDonald stepping up to play as undersized ruckmen. However, having a healthy Gawn back in the lineup allows Melbourne's midfielders to be more proactive and attacking out of the centre square. Gawn's form in the JLT Series was extremely encouraging.

STILL A MYSTERY

Can Jesse Hogan and Tom McDonald find the chemistry to co-exist in the forward line?
With McDonald limited by an ankle injury up until after Christmas, he and Hogan did not have much chance to train together in match simulation during the pre-season. And with McDonald missing the second JLT Series game against St Kilda with a toe injury, the duo has not had much of a chance to work out each other's tendencies and strengths and weaknesses. This will remain a work in progress when the home and away season starts. - Ben Guthrie 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Davies-Uniacke is ready to go
Luke Davies-Uniacke became North's earliest draft selection since 2006 when it selected him with pick No.4 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, and on what we've seen the Kangaroos made an astute call. At 188cm and 85kg, the 18-year-old midfielder looked at home at senior level during North's two pre-season games, holding his own at stoppages and showing glimpses of his damaging outside game. The former Dandenong Stingray appears set to debut in round one against Gold Coast.    

2. Roos will try to move the ball boldly
The Kangaroos have been renowned for their attacking mindset under coach Brad Scott and that appears likely to continue in 2018. The Roos tried to move the ball quickly through the corridor from half-back during the JLT Series, especially in their second game against Richmond. That strategy came unstuck against the Tigers, who were able to force regular turnovers, but Scott is determined to teach his charges a game style that will, in time, trouble the competition's best teams. 

STILL A MYSTERY

Who fills the third tall role in defence?
Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson are again slated to hold down North's key defensive posts this season, but who plays as the third tall remains up in the air. Majak Daw, Sam Durdin and Ben McKay all played in North's opening JLT game against Melbourne, but none of them did enough to rubber-stamp a round one berth. Fellow contender Daniel Nielson appears further back in the selection race after being overlooked for both pre-season games. North could opt to overlook all four talls for its season-opener against Gold Coast and instead use Ed Vickers-Willis, 190cm, alongside Tarrant and Thompson. - Nick Bowen 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Off-season recruits looking the goods
The early signs are promising for the Power's recycled additions. Jack Watts was outstanding with six goals against Adelaide, Steven Motlop provided pace through the midfield, Trent McKenzie showed some positive signs across half-back and Dom Barry, selected through the draft, looks comfortable in his second time in the AFL system. The only downside was not seeing Tom Rockliff, but the former Brisbane Lions skipper is on track for round one.

2. Howard locks down key defensive post
He started as a forward/ruck, but Dougal Howard's transformation to key defender is just about complete. Howard doesn't shirk a contest, puts his body on the line and reads the play beautifully. The only question mark is on his disposal at times, but it looks like he's got himself ahead of the more experienced Jack Hombsch.

STILL A MYSTERY

Juggling the midfield rotation
It seems like the Power has an endless supply of players who can play through the midfield or in attack. Making sure that balance is right will be one of challenges facing Ken Hinkley and his coaching staff. There's plenty of ball winners, but there also needs to be enough players who provide run on the outside to spread from the contest. - Lee Gaskin 

Jack Watts was outstanding with six goals against Adelaide. Picture: AFL Photos

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Josh Caddy is the Tigers' new weapon 
Caddy had a strong 2017 after crossing from Geelong, but he has the look of a player ready to make a big step up this season. The premiership Tiger was a star in both JLT Community Series games, leading the Tigers for contested possessions (23) and booting four goals. His versatility allows Damien Hardwick to move him between the midfield and forward line seamlessly, even using the powerful 25-year-old off the back of the square.   

2. The small forward line is here to stay
While young tall Callum Moore provided a nice cameo against North Melbourne and should get an opportunity in 2018, the Tigers looked at their best with a small attack packed with pressure players. They added Kane Lambert (four goals) into the mix in the second pre-season game against the Kangaroos and will again rotate midfielders heavily, isolating Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin as a key tactic. Their ability to press up and force turnovers set the benchmark in the JLT Series.

STILL A MYSTERY

Daniel Rioli's replacement for round one
Small forward Shai Bolton is the clear frontrunner, but not a lock for the season opener against Carlton. Hardwick said the Tigers would spend the next week considering whether he had done enough, with defensive pressure a key criteria in his selection. The alternative is prized draftee Jack Higgins, who gave the match committee something to think about with an impressive performance in a VFL practice match. Sam Lloyd is also an option after a strong pre-season, with the ability to join the midfield-forward rotation. - Nathan Schmook 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. St Kilda will likely play three key forwards
There had been some conjecture around whether teams should follow Richmond's model of going smaller in attack after its success last year, but the Saints look set to go with their tall trio of Paddy McCartin, Josh Bruce and Tim Membrey. Coach Alan Richardson felt that setup worked better against Melbourne than the team that faced Carlton the week prior, which was without Bruce.

2. Jack Billings can thrive in the midfield
After a breakout 2017 while playing across half-forward, Billings' proposed move further up the ground can't have been an easy decision to make for the coaching staff. He's excellent at setting up goals and had struggled on the wing in the past. However, if the left-footer's display against the Demons in his comeback from a hamstring injury was anything to go by, there won't be any issues. He picked up 24 disposals and was cleaner with the ball than most of his teammates.

STILL A MYSTERY

Can St Kilda become more consistent?
The Saints' wavering form from week to week was an issue last season and was a reason they missed the finals. Reading too much into the pre-season is dangerous and while it's hard to assess whether they have become a steadier side, their starts have been slow. St Kilda trailed by 27 points at quarter-time against the Blues and conceded eight goals in the first term to the Dees, so that will need to be rectified. - Dinny Navaratnam 

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Lance Franklin isn't slowing down
The superstar forward was managed brilliantly by the Swans over summer after having surgery on both ankles and a knee, and it showed in his two games against Brisbane and the Giants. He kicked four goals against the Lions and had 19 kicks against GWS, to be in ripping touch ahead of round one. He's set to break the 900-goal mark this season and a fifth Coleman Medal beckons.

 

2. John Longmire has options to replace Callum Mills in defence
It seems only a matter of time before Mills follows fellow Swans academy graduate Isaac Heeney into the midfield, and while he played across half-back over the pre-season, a move up the ground might be made early in the season proper. With doubts over Dan Hannebery (calf), and Zak Jones (knee) making his way back last week, Jake Lloyd, Nic Newman, Robbie Fox and Harry Cunningham can cover Mills if Longmire wants to use his class in the midfield.

STILL A MYSTERY

Sydney's ruck combination
The Swans started the year with a stacked group of big men but the sudden retirement of Kurt Tippett and last week's season-ending knee injury for Sam Naismith has significantly hit coach John Longmire's options. Callum Sinclair is likely to be fit for round one, but if he's not the job will be left to youngster Darcy Cameron, who is yet to debut, with Dean Towers and Aliir Aliir providing the back up. Not ideal. - Adam Curley 

The loss of Sam Naismith for the season added to the Swans' ruck puzzle. Picture: AFL Photos

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. The midfield is a work in progress
There is a lack of star power in West Coast's engine room and when Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Elliot Yeo and Jack Redden were down against Freo, the Eagles' midfield was obliterated. It's too early to hit the panic button, but the Eagles need their bigger names to deliver consistently and a lift from their second tier or they will be in trouble. West Coast can't rely solely on Nic Naitanui's return to fix their contested ball and forward 50 supply issues. 

2. Patience will be needed with the kids
Opportunities abound for the Eagles' youngsters but it's unrealistic to expect Daniel Venables, Brayden Ainsworth, Liam Ryan, Willie Rioli, Jake Waterman and Jarrod Brander to become consistent performers straight away. None of that group has made his debut yet and while each showed flashes during the Eagles' three pre-season games they will take time to find their feet at the level. Much will depend on West Coast's senior core.

STILL A MYSTERY

Will Nic Naitanui return in round one?
Josh Kennedy won't be there against Sydney, but the Eagles' star ruckman is still a chance. It seemed Naitanui would be out of contention if he didn't appear during the JLT Series but an encouraging return for East Perth has kept his dream alive. While it might only be 50-50 at best that Naitanui faces the Swans, signs are positive he will be back early in the campaign – a big relief, especially after Nathan Vardy's nasty adductor injury. - Travis King   

TWO THINGS WE LEARNED

1. Aaron Naughton is ready to play senior footy
An impressive pre-season holding his own against more seasoned teammates was complemented by two strong showings in the JLT Community Series. The 18-year-old took five contested and several intercept marks across the club's pre-season hit outs. With Dale Morris sidelined through injury, the No.9 pick in last year's NAB AFL Draft looks set to debut against Greater Western Sydney in round one. Looks tailor-made for coach Luke Beveridge's zone defence.

2. Efficiency is still a problem for the Dogs
The inability to regularly hit a target inside forward 50 has been a problem for a few seasons now, and the stats from the club's two games don't make pretty reading. The Dogs only went at 48 per cent in the win over Hawthorn, and that plummeted to 35 per cent in the loss to Collingwood. The untidy ball use probably contributed to the side taking just 18 marks in attack across both games.

STILL A MYSTERY

Are the Dogs back to their snarling best of 2016?
It remains to be seen in the season proper, but Bulldogs did play in patches with the fervour that took them to the premiership 18 months ago. The first quarter against Collingwood saw them play like a team possessed before dropping off significantly as the game progressed. There are signs out of Whitten Oval that the playing group has rediscovered its hard edge, but only a fierce showing against arch rival Greater Western Sydney in round one will go a long way to proving that. - Ryan Davidson