Lachie Neale gets a kick away during Brisbane's game against Adelaide in R17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Things We Learned, we discover a young Docker has lifted, a veteran could help unlock the Orange Tsunami and much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 17 of the 2024 season.


1) This forgotten Bomber is ready to make an impact

Dylan Shiel has breathed life into not only his season, but his career. The 2017 All-Australian midfielder has been plagued by a foot injury over the past 18 months but after eight VFL appearances and one senior game as the sub, Shiel was recalled on Friday night and showed he can make an impact for Brad Scott on the road to September. The 31-year-old collected 26 disposals – including 12 in the final quarter – 12 contested possessions, eight tackles, six clearances and two goal assists. Spots are hard to secure in this midfield, but Shiel provides Essendon with another edge to its evolving engine room. Plus he has plenty of finals experience, which should be important this year. At 31 years old and having been the subject of trade speculation both last year and this one, the next few months will be pivotal for the former Giant. - Josh Gabelich

Dylan Shiel celebrates Essendon's win over Collingwood in R17, 2024.

2) The Saints have the blueprint to beat the Swans

Opposition pressure has certainly been a factor in Sydney's oft-discussed slow starts, but it's about how long teams can bring that frantic game style against the Swans. The lack of time and space St Kilda allowed the Swans on Sunday was worrisome for the visitors and limited their ability to find composure and clean ball use. But once the Saints ever so slightly dropped their pressure, the Swans found their groove and were back to their destructive, high scoring best. Once the pressure returned, a 30-point lead turned into an eventual two-point loss and Sydney's first goalless fourth quarter of the season. This has been a theme throughout the year, with Fremantle, Richmond and now St Kilda the only sides to find that oppressive pressure for long enough to beat the ladder-leaders. - Gemma Bastiani

Tom Papley is tackled by Jimmy Webster during the round 17 match between St Kilda and Sydney on July 07, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

3) We can't discount a third Brownlow for Lachie Neale

As usual, there's plenty of contenders for the Brownlow Medal, with Patrick Cripps, Isaac Heeney (MRO pending), Nick Daicos, Marcus Bontempelli and Zach Merrett among the frontrunners, but don't discount two-time winner Lachie Neale. The Brisbane champion reminded everyone just how good he is against Adelaide on Sunday with another electric performance that included three goals from 22 disposals in the first half. The Lions didn't win many games early, but have got on a roll and Neale has proven a favourite with the umpires – for good reason – over many years. Often the catalyst in Brisbane wins, he's also had strong outings in a couple of its losses that could sneak a vote or two. Don't be shocked if he wins it again. – Michael Whiting

BROWNLOW PREDICTOR Check out all the votes


4) This Cat could be Geelong's not-so-secret finals weapon

Coach Chris Scott made the tongue-in-cheek point this week that team system is all well and good, but having star players fit and in form makes a difference. The proof is in the pudding when it comes to 34-year-old Patrick Dangerfield, who has once again had an extended mid-season break to deal with a soft-tissue issue. In the premiership year of 2022, he missed rounds 11-15, last year sat out rounds 9-13, and this year was sidelined in rounds 9-15. Given the Cats had the game in the bag against Hawthorn on Saturday night, he was on carefully managed minutes and played just 59 per cent game time in his third match back, but provided a clear difference in the first half. The young Hawks could not match his power around the ball and it's no coincidence that Geelong's resurgence in recent weeks has coincided with Dangerfield's return. – Sarah Black

Patrick Dangerfield in action during the match between Geelong and Hawthorn at GMHBA Stadium in round 17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

5) A young Docker is changing Freo's engine room

Third-year midfielder Matthew Johnson is enjoying the best form of his short career as his courage to continue taking on tacklers is rewarded. Johnson, who has played all but one game this year, had a scratchy start to the season, but his value is emerging after influential roles in his team's past three wins. The 193cm youngster has used his sidestep and ability to shake off tacklers and move through traffic expertly, and the Dockers' faith in him is allowing Hayden Young, Caleb Serong and Andrew Brayshaw to rotate forward and kick goals. With clean hands and a neat kick, Johnson looks to be playing with confidence and is repeatedly involved in scoring chains as his work in traffic pays dividends. – Nathan Schmook 

Matthew Johnson marks the ball during the match between Fremantle and Adelaide at Optus Stadium in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

6) Veteran is the new key to unlocking the Orange Tsunami

Callan Ward has played in just about every position, including the ruck, across his 306 matches but is now proving critical to the Giants' attempts to reignite their season since returning to a wing. The 34-year-old hardly needed to turn back the clock, but Ward has still reminded the Giants of his value as a hard-nosed yet versatile midfielder as they look to improve their spread and ball movement to play more games on their own terms. The Giants' inaugural co-captain gathered 30 disposals and booted two goals in the come-from-behind victory over Carlton on Saturday night to have six majors in the past three matches. He now looms as a pivotal player in the run home, especially with Josh Kelly sidelined for a month with a calf injury. – Martin Pegan

Callan Ward celebrates with teammates after kicking a goal during the match between Greater Western Sydney and Carlton at Engie Stadium in round 17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

7) Melbourne's X-factor could be the difference in finals race

Could Jake Melksham be the difference as Melbourne pushes for a fourth consecutive finals berth? It's no secret the Demons badly missed his presence as they crashed out of finals in straight sets last season. But the 32-year-old has recovered from the ACL injury that brought a premature end to his 2023 campaign and looks like he could be the spark the Demons need as they grapple for a top-eight spot. The Melksham of old was back against West Coast on Sunday, flying for marks, setting up goals for teammates and kicking two goals of his own. Demons coach Simon Goodwin described him as "the leader we need" and Melksham was just that at the MCG, providing direction and experience in an inexperienced forward set-up. – Alison O'Connor


8) This Port gun can lift Power to lofty heights in 2024

It's easy to forget the rollercoaster that has been Connor Rozee's 2024 season. The Port Adelaide captain was one of the form players of the competition through the opening seven weeks, averaging 27.2 disposals and 4.5 clearances through his first six games before multiple injury setbacks. Rozee has taken a few weeks to get his season going again but was back to full flight in Saturday's 48-point win over the Western Bulldogs. He had 18 first-quarter disposals and 36 for the game, to go with eight tackles, seven clearances and a goal. With Zak Butters usually getting attention from the opposition, Rozee in top form can have a big say in how Port's 2024 pans out. – Dejan Kalinic


9) This Sun is so much more than just a back-up ruck

Recently re-signed Gold Coast ruck Ned Moyle has been stuck in the queue behind Jarrod Witts at the Suns, but he got another chance to show his wares against North Melbourne in his co-skipper's absence and he took it with both hands. Moyle finished with 27 hitouts, six clearances, six tackles and 18 touches (13 contested) in a gallant effort against in-form Roos ruck Tristan Xerri. A number of clubs tried to lure Moyle out of Gold Coast, such is the promise he's shown, but he's sticking around for another four years to continue to grow his ruck craft. While Witts still has plenty left in the tank, Moyle is certainly ready if required and could be the No.1 big guy sooner than you think. – Alison O'Connor

Ned Moyle is tackled by Tristan Xerri in the clash between North Melbourne at Gold Coast in R17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos