Euro-Yroke players leave the MCG after their loss to Narrm in R11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Things We Learned, we discover the Saints' scoring woes run deep, Noah Balta needs to stay back and much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 11 of the 2024 season.


1) Captain Cripps is Carlton's barometer

Following three losses from its previous four starts, Carlton needed to flex its muscles early against the travel-vulnerable Gold Coast on Saturday. It was little surprise to see captain Patrick Cripps setting the tone. The 2022 Brownlow medallist taught the Suns midfield a lesson, amassing 10 of his 13 clearances in the first half to establish a physical dominance around the contest that filtered through his team. While Charlie Curnow, Zac Williams, Sam Walsh and others helped separate the teams after the main break, it was Cripps quietening Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and Touk Miller, and in turn re-establishing his team as a legitimate premiership contender this season, that proved to be the difference. – Michael Whiting

Patrick Cripps during Carlton's match against Gold Coast in R11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

2) Jordan Clark is in All-Australian form

With speed, a calm head and an excellent kick, Walyalup backman Jordan Clark has become an elite talent who should be in All-Australian consideration after 11 games. The former Geelong speedster has taken his game to a new level after a standout summer and is a major weapon for the Dockers off half-back. He was the team's best player in a thrilling draw against Collingwood, finishing with a game-high 10 intercepts from his career-best 35 disposals and using the ball at 80 per cent efficiency. When Clark gets the ball and runs, the Dockers look better. Sydney knew it two games ago when they sent James Jordon to tag him. The 23-year-old's excellent and consistent form this season stacks up with the best half-backs and, if it continues, he should be in the discussion for a maiden All-Australian blazer. – Nathan Schmook 


3) Yze needs to keep Balta in defence

Richmond regained only two players from injury for its much-improved performance against Essendon, but it was a personnel switch that arguably had more impact than the returns of Liam Baker and Seth Campbell. Tylar Young was dropped to regain confidence in the VFL – he unfortunately suffered a suspected torn ACL in the process – and Adem Yze finally flicked the switch on returning Noah Balta to the backline. While Samson Ryan didn't set the world on fire as a forward-ruck, Balta provided some much-needed stability and a big body to the defensive unit. Yze joked he needed two Baltas, but for now – especially on the back of Young's injury – he needs to stay put in defence, particularly with Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron next week and the Taylor Walker-Darcy Fogarty combo five days later. - Sarah Black

Noah Balta spoils Nate Caddy during the match between Richmond and Essendon in R11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

4) There's no end in sight to St Kilda's scoring woes

Save for a four-goal final term when the match was all but over as a contest - Ross Lyon called them "late cheapies" - the Saints' struggles in front of goal continued against Narrm at the MCG on Sunday. While Max King is showing signs of getting back to his best form, jumping for marks and crashing packs, the Saints simply lack firepower in front of goal. The shortage of goalscoring opportunities adds even more pressure to the rare shots on goal the Saints do have and there were several key missed chances at crucial moments on Sunday. Ross Lyon's men have cracked the 100-point barrier just once this season, and that has the massive asterisk of having come against the lowly North Melbourne. Just five goals in three quarters, albeit against a strong defensive unit (minus Jake Lever), is never going to be enough to challenge the best sides. - Martin Smith

Euro-Yroke players leave the MCG after their loss to Narrm in R11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

5) Injuries have highlighted the Dogs' depth

Against Sydney on Thursday, despite being down to just two available players on the bench by the final quarter, the Western Bulldogs found a dangerous gear late. Already without powerhouse Tom Liberatore as he battles ongoing concussion concerns, the Dogs lost emerging midfield weapon Ed Richards early in the third term after a head clash and, with Aaron Naughton also injured, opted to shift Marcus Bontempelli into attack. With a dearth of first-choice midfielders available to support Adam Treloar at the contest, coach Luke Beveridge relied on young trio Ryley Sanders, Rhylee West and Riley Garcia to offer a spark, and it was to great effect. With that new mix around the ball, the Bulldogs dominated territory and seriously challenged Sydney's defence to almost snatch a surprise victory. While the return of Liberatore and Richards, when available, will be warmly welcomed, Dogs fans have been given a glance at the depth the side boasts for the long term. – Gemma Bastiani

Ryley Sanders and Braeden Campbell compete for the ball during the Western Bulldogs' clash against Sydney in round 11, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

6) This Hawk is delivering more than expected

Jack Gunston isn't at Hawthorn to kick goals in 2024. But on Sunday against Brisbane, the three-time premiership forward doubled his tally this year, kicking four crucial majors in a match winning performance against the side he left in October, just 12 months after arriving in the sunshine state. Gunston also nullified the influence of dual All-Australian Harris Andrews at Marvel Stadium. In a year where Gunston's role is to help mentor the young forward line at Waverley Park, including Calsher Dear, both during the week and on the weekend, the 32-year-old showed he still has some tricks left, just in time for a week of celebration. Next Saturday, Gunston will play his 250th game, facing another former side in Adelaide at the MCG. - Josh Gabelich

Jack Gunston celebrates a goal for Hawthorn against Brisbane in R11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

7) North has found a key defender for the next 10 years

There's no denying North Melbourne is in dire straits, but there is at least one silver lining: Charlie Comben's transformation into one of the competition's best intercept defenders. Originally drafted as a forward and having endured a torrid run of injuries that saw him play just two matches in his first three years at North before a horrific leg break in 2023, Comben's shift in the backline was originally out of self-preservation. But it has turned out to be a masterstroke. Comben is currently ranked third in the competition for intercept marks with an average of 3.8 per match, behind only Sam Taylor and Harris Andrews (two All-Australians). Yes, North is still conceding 100-plus points every game, but it could be a lot worse if Comben wasn't there. Only 19 games into his career and with only eight played in the backline, Comben is playing like a far more experienced player and will be instrumental in whatever rise North Melbourne manages this year and into the future. – Sophie Welsh

Charlie Comben competes with Todd Marshall during the R11 match between North Melbourne and Yartapuulti (Port Adelaide) at Blundstone Arena on May 25, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

8) The Giants can't afford any more injuries

Heading into the bye off the back of a hard-fought win over Geelong on Saturday evening, the 7-4 Giants will be buoyed but cautious. An ever-growing injury list is causing some headaches for coach Adam Kingsley, who lost both Stephen Coniglio (shoulder) and Harry Perryman (hamstring) in the win, joining an injury list that already includes key players like Jack Buckley, Josh Kelly and Lachie Ash. Callan Ward (illness) and Callum Brown (suspension) are two that will be available for the club's next match, but it is little reprieve. GWS is being forced to rely on its depth with players like James Peatling, Leek Aleer and Toby McMullin each having an important impact in recent weeks. But in order to challenge for that maiden flag, the side will need more of its first-choice 23 consistently available after the bye. – Gemma Bastiani


9) The Crows in full flight are sensational to watch

The first half of Sunday's clash between Kuwarna and Waalitj Marawar saw the Crows at their exhilarating best. Goals flowed freely from forwards and midfielders alike as they racked up their highest opening-term score of the year, playing the brand of football many expected from them in 2024. By half-time they'd outscored seven of their match totals for the year. Round nine's draw against Brisbane and last week's four-point loss to Collingwood could have been two wins with just a little bit of luck, and Kuwarna would be sitting on the edge of the eight despite a 0-4 start to the season. If Matthew Nicks can harness the talent at his disposal, anything could happen with this group, even as early as this year. But, as has often been the case, they need to shake off the tough losses and do it against the best sides. – Howard Kimber