SADLY for North Melbourne, some of our worst suspicions have been confirmed.
The 9-0 start to the season by the Kangaroos was a bit of a deception and a tad misleading. They took full advantage of a nice draw, with Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs – both at home – the only wins of note.
Seven weeks and six games later, they're mired in eighth place on the ladder with a 10-5 record. It is probably a truer indication of where the Kangas, circa 2016, are truly at.
To be fair, injuries have played a significant part. Shaun Higgins and Ben Jacobs played a big part in the slashing start to the season, but both were gone after eight matches. Daniel Wells provided so much midfield drive, but hasn't played the past two matches. Jarrad Waite hasn't played the past three matches and was hobbled for the three before that.
But the rot started with the loss to the Swans in Sydney and it hasn't stopped. They rebounded well against Richmond in Tasmania, but have since lost to Geelong, Hawthorn, Adelaide and West Coast. Their percentage after nine games was 130.9; now it sits at 112.7.
The problem for North has become their scoring. They kicked 16.11 in beating the Crows in round one, but since then their biggest score against the other top-eight teams was the 11.18 (84) against the Hawks three weeks ago. That was the game that got away because they were the better team for much of the night.
But they need to get busier. Ben Brown has become the lone hand and he needs some help.
North can still get on a roll from here. It is that sort of season with such a logjam at the top of the ladder. But the draw is tough with four more top-eight opponents to close out the season. Port Adelaide and Collingwood in the next fortnight won't be straightforward either, although they're both at Etihad.
Wells is the barometer, while Waite straightens them up. Get them back and they might yet be back in business.
Clarkson v Longmire: Battle of the AFL's best
Great mates John Longmire and Alastair Clarkson have come through plenty together since they started out together as teenagers at North Melbourne.
And within 24 hours of each other late last week, they demonstrated why they are the two best coaches in the AFL.
Clarkson is No.1 by virtue of his four flags as coach of Hawthorn and we'll get to his masterful work on Thursday night shortly.
But let's start with Longmire, who made some big calls at selection. For the Sydney Swans' daunting trip to Geelong he rested Isaac Heeney and dropped the battle-tested veterans, Ben McGlynn and Jeremy Laidler.
He loaded up with even more kids, Aliir Aliir, Tom Papley and Sam Naismith. It marked almost a complete changing of the guard at the Swans, with just eight players from the 2012 premiership side entrusted for a game that was critically important to the club's hopes for a top-four finish.
And they delivered in smashing style, repaying Longmire's faith in spades. The hardheads in the midfield dominated, while the surprise positional move, Ted Richards to the forward line, also came up trumps.
It was brave, brilliant coaching and Longmire deserves all the praise coming his way.
Clarkson's genius has so often been reflected through his tactical nous and his incredible grasp of how the game is being played in the present and the future.
But Hawthorn's 22-point win over Port Adelaide on Thursday had its origins not on Clarkson's whiteboard, but with his "game on" remarks at Melbourne airport the day before.
Clarkson wanted to rile the Power, but in the hope it would spark his team to start games better than they have been, not just this year, but also the previous four times Hawthorn has played Port Adelaide.
And indeed the Power – and their fans – were into it from the start. But this time so was Hawthorn and after a tight opening quarter and a half, depth of talent took over and the Hawks ground their way to a win that keeps them a game clear on top of the ladder.
It was great coaching by Clarkson. This might be his 12th season as coach and a fair sprinkling of the Hawks have been with him through all that time, but he still knows when to pull the right levers and get them going.
It won't be this week against the Swans. A look at the ladder will be all Clarkson needs to prod his team into action.
Quarterback controversies hit Collingwood
Where Mason Cox comes from, they have what are called 'quarterback controversies' which is when a football team can't choose between who should play in the most pivotal position.
The American import now finds himself part of a similar situation on the other side of the world at Collingwood. The tall forward hasn't done a hell of a lot wrong since his spectacular debut on Anzac Day, but he chose the wrong week to sit on the sidelines.
The Magpie forward line clicked into gear in spectacular fashion on Saturday, kicking 19.11 (125) en route to their handsome 32-point win over Greater Western Sydney on Saturday.
Travis Cloke (12 marks, four goals), Jesse White (10 and three) and Darcy Moore (nine marks) commanded the forward line and looked menacing all afternoon.
It was the sort of performance those who had Collingwood in their top four and dare we say it, as the flag favourite in the pre-season, had been expecting on a regular basis.
We can't imagine Nathan Buckley making many changes ahead of the trip to face the Crows on a sell-out Saturday night against the Crows in Adelaide, so Cox will have to miss out. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, as they say, and coming off Cloke's best game of the season and arguably White's best game yet for the club, nor should there be a change.
As for the Giants, they can now notch another milestone in their growth as a bona-fide AFL club. They now have a bogey side.
That's two years in a row Collingwood has marched into town as the underdog and beaten them handily. The manner of the loss, rolling over so meekly after leading by 24 points at quarter-time left Leon Cameron looking bereft for answers, if the TV images from the coaches box mean anything.
What it also shows is that for all the excitement about the Giants, they're at least 12 months away from a serious premiership assault. If the enigmatic Pies can do that to them in July, it doesn't engender great optimism about what would happen if the Hawks, Swans or Cats get hold of them in September when the stakes and the pressure are ramped up considerably.
1. Adelaide's MCG reconnaissance is complete with a pair of wins over the Demons and Carlton in consecutive weeks. Their next trip to Jolimont will be for a final and they'll feel comfortable with two wins and a near-miss in three visits for the year. As for the Blues, the worry now is that their mid-season flourish extracted a big toll and that their competitiveness will wane over the remaining seven weeks of the season. One goal after half-time speaks of a team that might have hit the wall.
2. Three goals each to Sam Jacobs and Eddie Betts. It still has to sting Carlton supporters doesn't it?
3. What a bittersweet win for Gold Coast on Saturday in the QClash. Tom Lynch and Peter Wright kicked five goals each, confirming our thoughts from last week that they have the potential to give opposition defenders the shivers for years to come. Their one-grab marks were a joy to watch. But the likely ACL for the reliable Michael Rischitelli and the potential recurrence of Gary Ablett's shoulder injury took way much off the gloss, even after a win over the hated mob from up the road. Rodney Eade must be wondering what past sins he is now paying the price for.
4. Jake Stringer, Marcus Bontempelli and Easton Wood are arguably the three best players at the Western Bulldogs and they came to the rescue on Saturday night. Richmond was threatening a surprise and damaging win in the final quarter, but up stepped Stringer with three final-quarter goals, Bontempelli with some key touches and Wood with three key intercept marks to save the day. The win elevated the Dogs into the top four, but it was hardly the kill of a mediocre team their fans were hoping for coming off the brilliant win in Sydney.
5. If it's about the future for the Tigers, then Saturday night at Etihad Stadium wasn't too bad. Oleg Markov was great off half-back in his first game, Jason Castagna kicked two goals and Liam McBean presented well up forward. Damien Hardwick needs to give them all a month, which includes games against Hawthorn and GWS as well as a Friday night clash with Collingwood, to see whether they belong at the level.
6. So Paul Roos gets to walk off into the sunset with one last win over his great mate Ross Lyon. All up, Roos won three of 11 over his former Fitzroy teammate in their coaching match-ups and he would have enjoyed Saturday night in Darwin. The Demons jumped out to an early lead and were never really threatened afterwards. It was as stress-free an evening as an AFL coach could hope for.
7. Paddy McCartin's ongoing concussion issues are a problem for St Kilda. But the silver lining up forward has been Tim Membrey, the former Swans forward who has kicked 28 goals in the past 10 matches for the Saints, including five on Sunday against the Bombers, which prevented what would have been a dreadful loss. The Saints and the Bombers put on quite the show for a twilight game and the Bombers would be disappointed to let a handy lead late in the final quarter disappear down the gurgler. Credit to John Worsfold because quite clearly, he gets the Bombers up nearly every week of what has been a trying year.
8. Memo Joe Daniher: If you're going to take the Mark of the Year, you have to kick the goal. Especially in a game like that.