A review of all the action from Round 21 of the 2023 Smithy’s VFL season.

The Smithy’s VFL finals race is down to 11 teams with one round remaining after a remarkable Round 21 that saw a couple of significant upsets and a couple of statement victories.

Following those results the top six battle is being scrapped out by seven clubs, the top four fight has just five teams left, while the top two is locked away although the two ladder-leaders can switch spots.

Here’s how Round 21 played out.


SYDNEY SWANS 0.1, 3.2, 6.5, 8.6 (54)
SUNS 4.4, 8.4, 12.6, 19.8 (122)

GOLD COAST regained top spot on the ladder and put itself in the box seat for its first minor premiership at any level after slapping down the challenge of an in-form Sydney by 68 points at the SCG on Saturday.

The Swans had come off back-to-back wins by 82 and 78 points but were never in the contest against the slick Suns, who booted the first five goals of the game and won every quarter, including a seven-goal blitz in the final term to give themselves a seven per cent buffer over Werribee heading into the final round.

Brodie McLaughlin put himself in pole position to win his first Frosty Miller Medal by booting five goals to move three ahead of teammate and defending medallist Chris Burgess who finishing with one.

Gold Coast was +98 disposals, +42 marks and +19 inside-50s as it won almost every stat category in its seventh-straight win over Sydney, with Brayden Fiorini being the clear best player on the ground with a brilliant 35 disposals, six marks, seven clearances, nine inside-50s and four goals.

Alex Sexton (18 disposals, eight marks, four goals) also had a field day in attack while Charlie Constable (37 disposals, 10 marks, six rebounds) had his own footy in defence.

Connor Blakely (26 disposals, seven clearances, seven tackles, one goal) also starred, Ned Moyle (21 disposals, 38 hitouts, eight clearances) was terrific in the ruck exciting Academy prospect Ethan Read had 12 touches and five marks on debut but finished with 0.4 in front of the sticks.

Sydney was always under pressure, highlighted by defenders Harry Arnold (26 disposals, seven marks, six rebounds), Jaiden Magor (25 disposals, five rebounds) and Lachie Rankin (21 disposals, five rebounds) getting plenty of the ball.

Acting captain Jake Bartholomaeus (25 disposals, five tackles, one goal) tried to lift his team and Academy pair Caiden Cleary (22 disposals, six clearances) and Indhi Kirk (21 disposals, six marks) also performed well.



BRISBANE LIONS 3.1, 7.1, 10.4, 13.6 (84)
3.1, 6.4, 8.4, 14.6 (90)

WILLIAMSTOWN kicked six last-quarter goals to come from behind and replace Brisbane Lions in the top four with a thrilling six-point upset victory at Brighton Homes Arena.

The Seagulls went into the game as underdogs on the Lions’ home deck but stuck with them in the first quarter before firing the first warning shot with the opening three goals of the second term to grab a 19-point lead.

The Lions responded with the next four to take a narrow lead into half-time and edged two goals clear with 3.3 to 2.0 in the third term.

The sides traded blows early in the last before Noah Gadsby snagged his third and Williamstown took the lead with a couple of behinds as its confidence grew, before Daly Andrews and then Joel Ottavi kicked truly.

A late goal to Kai Lohmann made for a thrilling finish, with the visitors able to hole on across a tense final five minutes.

The home team certainly wasn’t starved of opportunities with Rhys Mathieson (34 disposals, 10 clearances, seven entries, one goal) enacting Beast Mode for the first time since returning from his hamstring injury.

Jarryd Lyons (32 disposals, 10 clearances, seven tackles, six entries), Harry Sharp (30 disposals, seven clearances, five entries, one goal) and James Tunstill (26 disposals, five marks, eight clearances, one goal) were also terrific, while Kai Lohmann starred up front with 16 touches and four goals.

However, the Seagulls were too clean with Tom Downie winning 50 hitouts and Jack Toner (27 disposals, five entries), Corey Preston (21 disposals, five clearances, seven tackles, five entries, one goal) and Andrews (20 disposals, five marks, six clearances, five tackles, six entries, two goals) all starring.

Down back Oscar McDonald, Marty Hore and Fin O’Dwyer pulled in another 29 marks between them for 54 disposals and 15 rebounds.

Gadsby and Ottavi kicked three goals each, as did Mitch Cox, who had 18 touches against the club who discarded him after just one season.



COLLINGWOOD 4.3, 8.5, 15.7, 20.9 (129)
2.1, 3.3, 6.5, 8.7 (55)

COLLINGWOOD all but wrapped up its spot in the Wildcard Round with a 74-point spanking of Geelong at Victoria Park.

The Magpies gradually worked their way on top in the first half, edging out to a 32-point lead with a minimum of fuss before blowing the Cats away with 12 second-half goals to boost their percentage above North Melbourne’s and climb to ninth.

It all started with Mason Cox in the ruck, who turned in his second dominant performance in a row as he tries to earn his AFL spot back, winning 52 hitouts, 17 disposals, five marks and six clearances against inexperienced pair Tylar Watts and Kye Annand.

Magpies co-captain Lachie Tardrew cashed in with 31 disposals, six marks, six entries and a goal, Fin Macrae enjoyed a strong return from injury with 25 disposals, six clearances and seven tackles and Josh Carmichael did the same with 24 disposals, seven clearances, seven entries and three goals in a brilliant performance.

Trent Bianco (23 disposals, five marks, one goal) and Campbell Hustwaite (20 disposals, five tackles, two goals) also provided strong drive, while Reef McInnes played forward and impressed with 16 touches, six marks, six tackles and four goals, with support from Tom G. Wilson (15 disposals, eight marks, three goals).

Geelong was led by second-gamer and draft prospect George Stevens, with the GWV Rebels and Vic Country star on fire in picking up 29 possessions, five marks, four clearances, five inside-50s and four rebounds.

Sam Menegola (27 disposals, six marks, nine clearances, one goal), Mitch Hardie (26 disposals, five clearances, five tackles) and Mitch Knevitt (24 disposals, five tackles, five entries, one goal) wouldn’t be out of place in the AFL team, while Marcus Herbert (24 disposals, five clearances, six rebounds) did well in defence and Osca Riccardi (20 disposals, two goals) shone in attack.



NORTHERN BULLANTS 2.2, 4.4, 5.5, 8.7 (55)
GWS GIANTS 1.4, 8.6, 12.10, 20.11 (131)

NO.1 DRAFT pick Aaron Cadman produced the biggest individual bag of the season, booting eight goals as the GWS Giants overcame an early challenge from Northern Bullants to win by 76 points at Genis Steel Oval.

The beleaguered Bullants put up a gutsy show early to lead by four points at quarter-time in their final game of the season but Cadman’s first goal two minutes into the second quarter sparked the visitors and they kicked five in 13 minutes to gain the upper hand.

The visitors went on to make it seven for the term, including four to the young spearhead.

Northern Bullants didn’t give up, holding the Giants for long periods in the third quarter and kicking three goals in four minutes early in the last, but Cadman exploded again, piling on another four majors as GWS kicked seven after the 15-minute mark to blow the final margin out and keep their season alive – at least until Carlton upset Casey on Sunday.

The Bullants won the disposal count (334-333) and took more marks (98-96) but the Giants won clearances 50-32 and were cleaner with the ball to earn a 58-36 inside-50 advantage.

Cadman finished with 21 disposals, 12 marks, six inside-50s and 8.3 in a blistering display that should earn his AFL spot back, while Matt Flynn was also too powerful in a forward role, kicking four goals from six marks.

James Peatling did as he pleased with 38 touches, 11 clearances, eight tackles and seven entries, Harry Rowston had 25 disposals, seven clearances, seven entries and a goal and Braydon Preuss enjoyed a strong first game of the year with 20 touches, six marks, 26 hitouts and 11 clearances.

Jean-Luc Velissaris completed his breakout season for the Bullants in stunning fashion racking up 40 disposals, six clearances and six entries while kicking 1.2.

The star midfielder finished with season averages of 30.9 touches, 6.4 marks, 6.6 clearances, 4.2 tackles, 4.9 inside-50s and 10 goals to almost have a mortgage on the Bullants best and fairest award.

Patrick Fairlie (34 disposals, nine marks, six clearances, five rebounds) and Spencer Johnson (26 disposals, five marks, seven rebounds) had terrific maiden VFL seasons, while Ethan Mantas (27 disposals, 13 marks, five rebounds and Dylan Clarke (25 disposals, seven clearances) were solid against GWS.



COBURG 1.1, 3.4, 4.5, 4.6 (30)
3.5, 5.9, 8.11, 9.12 (66)

FRANKSTON snapped a 17-year drought and left Coburg on the brink of a 30-year first with a hard-fought 36-point victory over a disappointing Lions outfit at Piranha Park.

The Dolphins had not won at Coburg City Oval since 2006, losing their past eight trips and 11 out of 12, but always had the upper hand as Will Fordham put on a masterclass that yielded 41 disposals, seven marks, nine clearances, five inside-50s and a goal.

Frankston got the opening goal through Trent Mynott in the second minute before a 15-minute stalemate was broken with his second and the visitors went to quarter-time with a 16-point lead that should have been greater but for poor finishing.

The Lions controlled large periods of the second term but couldn’t get any closer than 10 points before the Dolphins kicked away with three goals to one in the third term, holding the home team to just 1.2 in the second half and 4.6 for the game, leaving them one defeat away from their first winless season since 1993.

Fordham found support from the brilliant Mynott (25 disposals, eight marks, five tackles, nine entries, three goals), while Jackson Voss (30 disposals, six marks, six rebounds) starred in defence and Jack Newnes (24 disposals, five marks) continues to prove a valuable late-season pick-up.

Others to perform well included Colby Nayna (24 disposals, six marks), Kai Owens (22 disposals, six marks, six clearances), Connor Riley (21 disposals, five clearances, seven tackles), Seb Quirk (24 disposals) and Justin Davies (three goals).

Flynn Gentile (29 disposals, five clearances, seven tackles), Braedyn Gillard (25 disposals, six clearances) and Luke Bailey (25, eight clearances, eight tackles) worked tirelessly for Coburg, while best-and-fairest favourites Mitch Podhajski (19 disposals, seven marks, three goals), Ben Jepson (24 disposals) and Luke Nelson (22 disposals) could also hold their heads high.



BOX HILL HAWKS 2.2, 4.5, 6.7, 8.8 (56)
4.3, 6.5, 8.8, 11.10 (76)

FOOTSCRAY ended the top two hopes of Box Hill Hawks and kept its own top six aspirations alive by outlasting the home team by 20 points in a terrific contest at Box Hill City Oval.

The Bulldogs surged to their ninth-straight win to loom as the most dangerous team outside the top two and can pinch a home elimination final if the flagging Casey Demons can’t get the job done against Brisbane Lions in Round 22.

Footscray made its intentions clear with the first two goals of the match through Cody Raak and Toby McLean inside eight minutes and answered every challenge the Hawks threw at it.

Box Hill was only once able to kick consecutive goals, when it kicked the last of the third quarter and the first of the last, and even those were 13 minutes apart as the Bulldogs clamped down on their prime movers and got their own ball winners off the chain.

The home team was never out of it, with the margin hovering between one and two goals all day, but at no stage did it look like wresting control, with every other goal being answered almost immediately.

Footscray captain Lachie Sullivan was again magnificent, picking up 30 disposals, seven clearances, five tackles and a goal, while McLean (28 disposals, nine clearances, five tackles, one goal), Ewan Macpherson (27 disposals, eight clearances, nine entries) and Nathan Drummond (23 disposals, five marks, six entries) were just as effective.

Young key defender Jedd Busslinger (22 disposals, nine marks, seven rebounds) and the returning Hayden Crozier (21 disposals, nine marks) were terrific and Jordon Sweet (16 disposals, four marks, seven clearances, 52 hitouts) had the better of Hawk ruckmen Lloyd Meek and Max Ramsden.

Damian Mascitti (24 disposals, eight marks, 10 rebounds) was Box Hill’s best as he returned to his customary defensive post. Lachie Bramble (28 disposals, seven marks, six rebounds) worked hard to get back and help, Ed Phillips (23 disposals, seven marks, five tackles) patrolled his wing well and Fergus Greene (3.3) played a lone hand in attack.

However, the Hawks badly missed the drive of Callum Brown, who was restricted to 19 possessions and Cal Porter, who was held to just 10.



PORT MELBOURNE 1.3, 5.6, 5.7, 7.9 (51)
RICHMOND 1.5, 2.8, 7.10, 10.12 (72)

RICHMOND briefly moved into the top 10 and set up an elimination final come early against North Melbourne in Round 22 with a big third quarter setting up a hard-earned 21-point victory over Port Melbourne at Swinburne Centre.

The Borough was stung by losing its home ground advantage due to surface issues at ETU Stadium and came out firing, before the Tigers came from 16 points down at half-time with a match-winning 5.2 to 0.1 third term burst.

Port showed strong form of its own, fighting out of a tight first-quarter struggle to kick 4.3 to 1.3 in the second quarter despite missing its captain and best player in Harvey Hooper to suspension. The Borough still led by 16 after a scoreless 13 minutes to start the third term.

But a goal to Cam Olden opened the floodgates and the Tigers added five in 12 minutes, as well as the first of the last to open a crucial lead that the Borough couldn’t pull back despite rallying with consecutive goals to Jake Gasper.

Richmond captain Lachlan Street was on fire, racking up 37 possessions, 11 clearances and six inside-50s, with only his 0.3 blotting a perfect copybook, while Tyler Sonsie (31 disposals, eight entries, one goal) thrusted his name back in front of interim AFL coach Andrew McQualter.

Brad Melville (23 disposals, six clearances, five entries, one goal) was in fine fettle, Maurice Rioli (20 disposals, seven clearances, 13 tackles) hunted ball and opponent like a man possessed, Mykelti Lefau (16 disposals, seven clearances, 10 tackles, two goals) was a terrier in attack and Olden finished with three majors.

Former Essendon AFL player Dylan Clarke (36 disposals, five clearances, six tackles, six entries) and Giants VFL recruit Josh Green (36 disposals, six clearances) stepped up in the absence of Hooper for the Borough and Nash Holmes (27 disposals, five clearances, seven tackles, five entries) was his effective self.

Down back, Fothergill-Round-Mitchell medallist Ethan Phillips was at his best with 27 touches and 10 marks, with support coming from Fraser Rosman (22 disposals, six tackles, five entries, five rebounds), while Gasper booted three goals in attack.



CARLTON 2.3, 7.5, 9.11, 11.11 (77)
2.1, 6.2, 8.10, 9.15 (69)

CARLTON led all day to stun Casey Demons by eight points at IKON Park on Sunday in a result that turned the finals race on its head.

The Blues virtually locked up their spot in the top 10, ended the Demons’ hopes of sneaking into the top four while leaving them on the precipice of dropping out of the six.

It also killed off the seasons of 2022 grand finalist Southport, as well as GWS as they watched helplessly from north of the border.

It was all done in a single burst out of quarter-time where the home team booted four goals in 10 minutes – two to Ned Cahill including a volley that did his legendary Socceroos namesake Tim proud – to turn a two-point lead into 26 and leave the reigning premiers shellshocked.

Casey battled back as all good teams do, getting to within nine points at half-time and three when George Gray kicked a goal in the 10th minute, but Carlton defended stoutly knowing its season depended on it with a daunting Round 22 trip to Gold Coast on the horizon and never relinquished the lead.

The Blues’ defensive efforts were even starker given the Demons had 13 more inside-50s and the top five possession winners on the ground, led by Luke Dunstan who amassed 39 disposals, seven marks, eight clearances, seven tackles and a goal.

Bailey Laurie (30 disposals, six tackles, five entries, one goal), James Harmes (30 disposals, nine entries), Charlie Spargo (28 disposals, seven entries, one goal) and Taj Woewodin (25 disposals, five clearances, five tackles) were also lively through the middle, while Adam Tomlinson (29 disposals, eight marks, six entries, nine rebounds) was almost impassable when the ball went in his direction.

But Carlton’s runners were simply too slick with Jordan Boyd returning from an AFL suspension to push for best afield honours with 26 possessions, five marks, seven rebounds and a goal, while Jaxon Binns’ remarkable debut season continued with 26 disposals, 10 marks and five rebounds.

Jack Carroll (24 disposals, eight clearances, five entries) and Lewis Young (22 disposals, seven marks, six rebounds) also shone for the Blues, while Cahill was deadly in attack with six marks and four goals.


BYE: Essendon, North Melbourne, Sandringham, Southport Sharks, Werribee.


Friday, August 18: Frankston vs Box Hill Hawks (7:05pm, Kinetic Stadium). Saturday, August 19: Gold Coast Suns vs Carlton (10:25am, Heritage Bank Stadium – AFL curtain raiser); Geelong Cats vs GWS Giants (11:05am, GMHBA Stadium); Footscray Bulldogs vs Port Melbourne (11:05am, DSV Stadium); Collingwood vs Southport Sharks (12:05pm, AIA Centre); Essendon vs Coburg (4:05pm, DSV Stadium - VFL double header).  Sunday, August 20: Richmond vs North Melbourne (12.00pm, Swinburne Centre); Casey Demons vs Brisbane Lions (12:05pm, Casey Fields), Sydney Swans vs Werribee (1:05pm, Tramway Oval); Sandringham vs Williamstown (2:05pm, Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval). Bye: Northern Bullants.

Click here to view full fixture and ladder.

Broadcast and streaming: All matches in the 2023 Smithy’s VFL season will be live streamed free via the AFL website (AFL.com.au) and AFL Live Official App. Smithy’s VFL broadcast partner, the Seven Network, will continue to show one weekly game live and free on the Seven Network in Victoria and on 7Plus nationally. Casey Radio 97.7FM and 3WBC 94.1FM are also broadcasting matches.

Live scoring and stats: Live scoring and stats will be available via both the AFL Live Official App and VFL App. Download the VFL App from the Apple or Google Play stores.

Ticketing: Where Smithy’s VFL matches are ticketed, entry is $10 for adults, $5 for concession holders and kids under 15 are free. Some venues don't charge for entry. AFL ticketing prices will apply for VFL matches played as curtain-raisers and curtain-closers to AFL matches at AFL venues.