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Slow starters: Who needs to pick up their game?

Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones have found it tough going in 2018 - AFL,Adelaide Crows,Brisbane Lions,Carlton Blues,Collingwood Magpies,Essendon Bombers,Fremantle Dockers,Geelong Cats,Gold Coast Suns,GWS Giants,Hawthorn Hawks,Melbourne Demons,North Melbourne Kangaroos,Port Adelaide Power,Richmond Tigers,St Kilda Saints,Sydney Swans,West Coast Eagles,Western Bulldogs
Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones have found it tough going in 2018

Apart from a five-goal haul against Richmond in round two, key forward Josh Jenkins hasn't had much of an impact for the Crows this season. Jenkins has booted eight goals in the opening four rounds of the season, averaging just under 12 disposals and five marks per game. The 29-year-old was criticised for his performance in the Grand Final, but to be fair, he wasn't the only Crows player to be off his game that day. Jenkins showed against the Tigers – when he gave All Australian captain Alex Rance an absolute bath – how destructive he can be when he's clunking contested marks and making it count on the scoreboard. Electric small forward Eddie Betts has also been quiet before injuring his hamstring against Collingwood last weekend. Betts has kicked just three goals for the season – all of those coming in the round three win against St Kilda after finding out earlier in the day his wife Anna had given birth to twins. - Lee Gaskin

Chris Fagan has already swung the axe on Tom Bell, Dan McStay and Ryan Lester for their tardy starts, and defender Sam Mayes can't be far away from joining them. Mayes had a fantastic 2017 season playing at half-back, finishing fifth in the best and fairest, but has been well off his best in the opening month. The Lions need more from a man that has now played 99 career games. He has been caught out defensively on occasions, both one-on-one and in the team's zone, but equally concerning is his attacking game, an area in which the 23-year-old usually thrives in his distributing role from the defensive 50. Mayes has averaged just 16 disposals in the first month, down from 21 last season, and has already coughed up 11 clangers at 2.75 a game, well over his career average of 1.7. Mayes is a confidence player and at his best is definitely in the best 22, but looks down on form at the moment. - Michael Whiting

Sam Mayes trails Jack Riewoldt to the ball in round four. Pictures: AFL Photos


Jacob Weitering finished 2017 on a strong note, but the third-year defender has struggled to make an impact in his four games this season. His composure and decision making, which have been hallmarks of his first two years at the elite level, have been below his usual standards. Even his disposal, usually pinpoint, has been off the mark and he looks a player well down on confidence. He has played mainly in defence, but in round two against the Suns he started in attack with minimal impact before being shifted back late in the game. Liam Jones is another Blues defender down after having a stellar second half of 2017. He is struggling with his positioning and timing in one-on-one contests and the opposition have used the tactic of occasionally rotating smaller opponents on him. Maybe the Blues need to free him up and build some much-needed confidence. - Howard Kotton


The absence of talented forward Alex Fasolo – who has kicked more goals than any Magpie over the past three seasons – has been somewhat surprising given he has been available the whole time. Of course, the 25-year-old’s campaign wasn’t helped by a shoulder problem that interrupted his pre-season. He has been overlooked despite displaying reasonable form in the VFL and achieving the required match fitness. However, it just seems a matter of time before the man they call ‘Faz’ gets a call up. He would have to be some chance for the round six clash with Richmond, given the Pies might require some fresh legs just four days after playing on Anzac Day. Meanwhile, veteran Travis Varcoe was quiet in the opening two rounds but has been better in the past fortnight. Ditto fellow speedster Will Hoskin-Elliott, who has responded with a combined 43 touches and five goals in his past two outings. And big man Mason Cox remains scoreless. - Ben Collins

It hasn't been a scintillating start to the season for Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. The exciting small forward had a brilliant final quarter against Adelaide where he helped turn the game Essendon's way, but over the first four rounds he has averaged just 11 disposals and kicked only three goals. His tackling pressure has remained about the same as last year (averaging around 3.5 a game) but he has yet to have the same influence as he was capable of in 2017, when he kicked 34 goals. McDonald-Tipungwuti has become a vital member of Essendon's front half with his pace, hardness and class, and he brings an important element to the side due to his defensive pressure. They'll be hoping to get a little more out of him in coming weeks. - Callum Twomey

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is brought down by Jason Johannisen. Picture: AFL Photos


Considering Shane Kersten finished top 10 in the Doig Medal last year and almost snatched the goalkicking award from Cam McCarthy, the Dockers would be concerned that the former Cat hasn't hit his straps in 2018. Kersten wasn't picked for the opening JLT Community Series loss to Adelaide but then did enough with two goals in the scratch match against West Coast and last pre-season hit-out against the Eagles to book a round one berth, despite going scoreless from 10 touches at Joondalup. But the 25-year-old was axed after kicking two behinds in the 50-point round one loss to Port Adelaide and has since been sent back to play in defence at Peel with Ross Lyon hoping Kersten can reinvent himself in a similar fashion to Carlton's Liam Jones who, ironically, is now struggling for form after an excellent 2017. - Travis King

For the first time since the premiership season of 2011, Tom Hawkins heads into round five with four or less goals to his name. Apart from 13 minutes of brilliance in the second term against West Coast in round three – where he kicked 2.2 – Hawkins has found the going tough in front of goal. His average of 12 disposals and 1.5 contested marks is down on the previous two seasons, but he's made up for it in other areas. The 29-year-old, who featured in every pre-season fixture, is currently ranked no.2 in the AFL with eight direct goal assists. Often swamped by two or more opponents, Hawkins' lack of scoring has opened up opportunities for Daniel Menzel (14 goals). Zac Smith has failed to earn a recall after being soundly beaten by Max Gawn in round one. After playing 44 of a possible 49 games in the previous two seasons, Smith has been overlooked for Rhys Stanley and Esava Ratugolea. He will need more performances like Sunday's VFL match against Sandringham to force Chris Scott to return to the more traditional ruck set-up, compared to Stanley's athletic profile. - Mitch Cleary

Tom Hawkins hasn't been his usual prolific self in front of goal. Picture: AFL Photos


There was hardly a poor player in the opening fortnight, but after two poor losses, the Suns have struck trouble and perhaps the man struggling most is veteran Michael Rischitelli. Now 32, Rischitelli came back from a ruptured ACL midway through last season and despite playing four senior games, was understandably below his best. The veteran had an excellent pre-season and new coach Stuart Dew decided to move him from the midfield to half-back as a steadying influence in defence. Rischitelli was solid in the opening couple of rounds, but is struggling to get involved offensively, averaging a tick under 12 disposals a game. Not only that, the 59 percent disposal efficiency is also a concern. Rischitelli's on-field leadership is invaluable, but Dew would prefer to see him get more involved and better match with the young opposition forwards. If the veteran can't, Dew might have a difficult decision to make. - Michael Whiting 

With Shane Mumford's retirement and Rory Lobb taking over as the number one ruckman, power forward Jonathon Patton has taken on a new role this season, but while he's performed solidly as Lobb's back-up, Patton's forward potency has suffered. The former No.1 draft pick is averaging career-high numbers in disposals, tackles, hit-outs and clearances, where impressively he's ranked fifth at the Giants. But Patton is most valuable to GWS inside 50 where his contested marking shone last season, and he was the club's equal leading goal scorer alongside Jeremy Cameron and Toby Greene with 45. This year the 24-year-old has booted just three goals and taken one contested mark from his four games. The Giants need 'The General' to start clunking them again, they're an even more dangerous team when he's terrorising backmen close to goal. - Adam Curley

The Hawks have performed above expectations so far this year and it seems almost churlish to single out any players, but Ryan Burton is probably the one player whose form has been below par. The runner-up in the NAB AFL Rising Star Award last year rolled his ankle in the season opener against Collingwood, recovered in time to play against Geelong and Richmond in the next two games, but was quiet in both. Perhaps he was rushed back into the side too early, but he has yet to recapture last year’s slashing form. He was dropped to the VFL last weekend and had 22 touches and kicked two goals in a howling gale down at Frankston. From all reports, his attitude was excellent and he has taken his demotion the right way. Given the injuries to Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo, he is every chance to return this week against North Melbourne. - Ashley Browne

Ryan Burton, pictured tackling Joel Selwood, was dropped for round four. Picture: AFL Photos


Melbourne invested significantly in key defender Jake Lever in last year's NAB AFL Trade Period and, so far, it is clear he is not living up to those expectations. The Demons gave up two first-round draft picks (one in last year's draft and one future pick) for Lever, signing him to a four-year deal worth up to $800,000 a season. Lever, 22, has been unable to settle into his new side, struggling to adapt to the Demons' aggressive high press and the way he has handled himself in one-on-one situations. Opposition teams have gone to school on Lever's aggressive defensive style, with the defender averaging just 7.5 intercept possessions per game. Lever's ball use has also been questionable, with the defender admitting recently that his kicking was not at the level required. Lever needs to get back to playing with the confidence he exuded in his final year in Adelaide – backing his judgment to come off his man and kill the contest in the air. The Demons also need to do a better job of maximising Lever's strengths and putting him in a position where his intercept ability can be used more effectively. - Ben Guthrie

Kayne Turner is the one at the Kangaroos, although there is a disclaimer, because one of the coaches gave him a vote in Saturday's landslide victory over Carlton at Hobart's Blundstone Arena. Turner had six tackles in that game and kept Blues quarterback Kade Simpson to 17 disposals – 11 below his season average. But the small forward's numbers are down across the board. Turner is averaging nine possessions (12.2 in 2017), 3.3 tackles (4.1), 1.3 marks (3.6) and 32 pressure points (35.9), while his tackle efficiency (61.9 per cent to 74.4) and scoring have also gone south. He has kicked 1.3 through four rounds, compared to 7.4 at the same time last year and 17.8 from 15 appearances in total. Skipper Jack Ziebell (six goals) has become a more prominent part of North's attack this season, while Ben Brown (15) and Jarrad Waite (seven) continue to be the focal points. – Marc McGowan

Tom Rockliff was the Power's biggest off-season signing, but the former Brisbane Lions skipper has been below his best so far. It's fair to cut him some slack given a knee injury forced him to miss the Power's pre-season games, but still played in round one. Rockliff has averaged just 12 disposals a game in the first four rounds and injured his calf in the opening quarter of the round four loss to Essendon at Etihad Stadium. Rockliff has spent more time playing across half-forward than he did at the Lions, where he was predominantly in the midfield. The Power's glut of inside midfielders, headed by Ollie Wines, Brad Ebert and Sam Powell-Pepper, also makes it tougher for the ex-Lion. However, the Power remain confident that once Rockliff recovers from his calf complaint and gets used to the team's system, he'll be a valuable addition. - Lee Gaskin

Tom Rockliff has struggled to find the footy at Port Adelaide. Picture: AFL Photos


It's not easy to find a Tiger who has been consistently underwhelming this year, especially when looking at them directly after a 93-point win. If you had to pick one, Kane Lambert would disappointed with his start to the season after being the Tigers' most improved in 2017. His form running into the finals was red-hot, which didn't translate immediately to the opening few rounds. While he was much better in the hefty win over Brisbane with two goals and some hard two-way running, Lambert's overall stats this season are down on last year's – he's failed to take a single mark inside 50 (after 17 across the 2017 season) and has been involved in just two goal assists (after being second overall at the Tigers last year with 23). His tackling average is also down from over 4.5 a game to under three, and while he had his best game on Saturday with five one-percenters (from one a game in the opening three rounds), his first few weeks weren't remarkable. - Jennifer Phelan

There are a few Saints who could be in this category and David Armitage is chief among them. It's a tad harsh because he's effectively coming back after a year out of football, having had groin surgery twice in 2017 and being restricted to just two games, but he trained throughout the pre-season. The Saints needed him to deliver early, particularly since Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna's departures at the end of last season meant the club lost plenty of leadership and experience. The Queenslander started reasonably well but disappointed in the round three loss to Adelaide, picking up only 13 disposals. He has laid five tackles in his three matches, far too low for someone whose aggression is a strength. However, he notched up 34 disposals, 22 contested possessions and seven tackles for Sandringham last Sunday, so his stint in the VFL shouldn't last too long. - Dinny Navaratnam

David Armitage's struggles have mirrord that of St Kilda. Picture: AFL Photos


Star midfielder Dan Hannebery is working his way into some form, but it's been a slow start to the season for one of the competition's elite runners. The 27-year-old is averaging 20.7 disposals per game, his worst numbers since 2011. A pre-season calf injury has definitely played a part and the good news for the Swans is that Hannebery has gotten better in each of his three games this year, so there's little to worry about in terms of his form. A player that thrives on his ability to outrun his opponents is always going to take a few games to find his best footy, and with Sydney's even spread of contributors this year the team is less reliant on stars like Hannebery to carry them to wins. The three-time All Australian will find his best touch over the next month. - Adam Curley

There aren't many Eagles who haven't played their role in an impressive 3-1 start to the year and, while it's a touch harsh, young defender Jackson Nelson hasn't quite kicked on so far this season. The 21-year-old looked a rare find at pick 51 in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft when he burst onto the scene in his debut year and played 11 games, impressing with his dash from defence and hardness at the contest. But Nelson made an inauspicious start to his year with a couple of shaky moments in AFLX and hasn't grabbed his opportunity over the opening four rounds in Tom Cole's absence. Nobody could accuse Nelson of not having a crack, however his decision-making has been questionable at times and he is averaging fewer than nine disposals. A spell at East Perth might be good for his confidence. - Travis King

The Dogs have several players who fit into this category, with premiership star Tom Boyd the most notable. The 22-year-old key forward hasn't played at senior level since round 13 last year due to mental health and form issues, but a five-goal haul in the VFL on the weekend could be his ticket back to seniors. Former Lion Josh Schache struggled in two JLT Community Series appearances and has battled injuries since, so his debut for the club appears at least a few weeks off. Dropped after round one, Shane Biggs was only serviceable when recalled for the loss to Sydney on the weekend. Key defender Fletcher Roberts' career at Whitten Oval has stalled, and it's hard to see where the premiership defender fits into coach Luke Beveridge's plans. Even with injuries to Marcus Adams and Dale Morris over the past 18 months, the 24-year-old, who signed a two-year extension last year, has been largely out of favour. - Ryan Davidson

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs