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Barrett: Superstar Cat playing a dangerous game

The 10: round four's best moments So many highlights to choose from, what will be number one?

IT'S NEVER a good idea to lash out at an opponent behind play. It is a really bad idea to do so a week after Dustin Martin was suspended for doing such. 

Geelong superstar Paddy Dangerfield threw an arm at Matt de Boer's midriff at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday; de Boer slumped to the ground and Dangerfield seemed to throw another wayward arm which whizzed near the GWS tagger's head.

DANGER IN STRIFE? Cat's whack to Giants tagger

Match Review Officer Michael Christian has to look closely at the incident. The AFL keeps telling us it loathes players making contact with opponents, in or behind play. But it constantly sends mixed messages with its actual actions.

If Dangerfield was Lindsay Thomas, who seemed to be cited every time he made contact with an opponent, then he'd be given a week or two on the sidelines. 

But it's Dangerfield, whose status as an all-time great complicates things, despite no one in authority ever admitting to that being the case. Just as it was so very convenient for the AFL system to allow Trent Cotchin to play in the 2017 Grand Final despite his cumulative actions supposedly meaning he shouldn't have, we expect a fine for Dangerfield. 

And no, Chris Scott, we're not trying to hang Danger on this incident, simply trying to get a proper read on what is, and what isn't, allowed on a footy field. The message has never been more muddled. 

How about the form out of Saints v Suns in R1?

When one point separated St Kilda from Gold Coast in round one, no one, ourselves included, thought much of it.

Two struggling outfits, the Saints arguably fortunate to win, the Suns arguably unlucky to lose. But to have dismissed those two teams and that match was clearly disrespectful and unfairly dismissive of what both clubs are about in 2019. 

Incredibly, the Suns haven't lost since, on Sunday securing a win with 14 seconds remaining against the hapless Carlton. 

 

An hour later, the Saints produced more heart to hold off Hawthorn by five points at Marvel Stadium, and had it not been for falling just five points short against Fremantle last weekend, would have somehow been the only unbeaten team in the competition. 

St Kilda's formline is stunning given the unavailability of key players in Jack Steven, Jake Carlisle, Dylan Roberton and captain Jarryn Geary (a late withdrawal yesterday). Jack Billings is becoming the player he was meant to be and Seb Ross is emerging as a genuine leader through example. 

For the Suns, David Swallow continued his sensational start as captain, Touk Miller may have played the best game of his career, Brayden Fiorini is developing beautifully, and the unlikeliest of heroes, Jarrod Witts, is in Max Gawn-type mode.

FOR PETE'S SAKE Wright the most relieved Sun of all

What's that sound?

That might have been the scream of despair from Brendon Bolton, after yet another loss – his 55th from 70 games in charge of Carlton. 

It is a horrific record, which won't be tolerated beyond this season. Sunday's match against the Suns was there to win and now, clearly, Bolton doesn't know how to conjure victory in such desperate circumstances. 

BOLTON'S BELIEF Blues close to breakthrough, coach says

President Mark LoGiudice and chief executive Cain Liddle have made too many public utterances to move on Bolton within the 2019 season; LoGiudice himself would have to stand down if he sacked Bolton, so strong has his support been. 

So nothing will happen to Bolton's tenure soon, but it will happen unless he somehow conjures at least a half-dozen wins before the end of the year. 

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Coaches 1, AFL 0

Another round of footy, another round riddled with aesthetically woeful games controlled by risk averse, defence-first coaches.

This weekend, it was the Perth derby, the North-Crows match, Hawthorn-St Kilda, Gold Coast-Carlton, which as far as footy spectacle goes, were ugly, near-unwatchable slogs. And don't confuse close scores with must-view football. 

WATCH Last two minutes of Suns v Blues

If there's one thing an AFL coach hates, it is the removal or erosion of any form of control. 

And that is what happened when the AFL restricted their use of runners, forced them to keep six players inside the 50m arcs for all centre bounces, and gave them the option of being aggressive in how their players returned the ball to play after an opposition behind.

The AFL was genuine in both its needs for more attacking football, and the methods in which it sought to institute change.

But with up to 10 assistant coaches in some form supporting a senior coach at each club, no matter what headquarters legislates, it is only a matter of time that it is pulled apart. 

The numbers out of the opening four rounds of 2019 are worrying for the AFL.

Coaches are employing keepings-off strategies, not embracing the AFL-gifted licence to attack. Thirty-six players are regularly in one half of the ground, as they regularly were in recent seasons. 

The Collingwood-Bulldogs game was close, and at times gripping. But any risks that were taken were inadvertent, and seemingly not encouraged - tactics not lost on Alastair Clarkson.

"Who would've thought the Pies and the Dogs would have the game that they had? Ninety uncontested marks between them in the first quarter on Friday night, 10 inside-50s to nine, one goal to zero," the Hawthorn coach said following his side’s loss to St Kilda in a low-scoring affair on Sunday night.

'STRANGE GAMES' Clarko bemused by scoring woes

Which is in stark contrast to what allowed the Bulldogs to win the 2016 premiership and took Collingwood all the way to a one-kick Grand Final loss last year. 

The Magpies revealed their intent to play keepings-off in round two this year, when they tallied 174 marks against Richmond.

Most coaches are trying to minimise providing the opposition with scoring opportunities via their own turnovers. 

The key numbers from the opening four rounds aren't drastically down on last year but given the AFL itself felt the game so desperately needed an overhaul that it instituted massive rule changes, the fact there is no increase in scoring is now a 2019 concern. 

In 2018, teams scored an average 83.08 points. After four rounds of 2019, they are averaging 80.89.

There are about nine more kicks per game, 10 fewer handballs. About six more long kicks, three more short kicks. Kick to handball ratio is up: about 1.46 in 2019, 1.32 in 2018. All indicative of attempts at a keepings-off style.

Thank goodness for Essendon and GWS, and at times Geelong. Those clubs are giving the impression they want to run and take risks through the corridor, and not base every move around conservatism.

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Bombers' Daniher dilemma

Having courageously got its season back on track with big wins against Melbourne and Brisbane, Essendon has the bonus of being able to time the recall of key forward Joe Daniher.

DONS ON A ROLL Walla's seven sinks Lions at the 'G

Having not played since round seven last year due to osteitis pubis and calf problems, Daniher is right to resume, but with two massive prime-time matches coming up just six days apart, the Bombers will need to carefully plan his AFL return. 

North Melbourne awaits this Friday (Good Friday), and then Collingwood the following Thursday (Anzac Day). It would be a big ask for an injury-prone big man, after a nearly year on the sidelines, to play both games. It's a nice problem for Essendon, though, which had only bad problems a fortnight ago following two demoralising losses to open the season.

The side's match-winners are back in form, none more so than Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, whose seven goals against the Lions on Saturday took his tally to 11 from his past two games. 

WATCH Career-best seven for McDonald-Tipungwuti

 

North finally got its first win of the year, when it out-gritted the Crows at Marvel Stadium. There's still not much spark to the Roos, and just 17,207 attended.

Given this club's sustained fight to have access to the Good Friday timeslot, it will be interesting to see how much blue-and-white is in the terraces at Marvel Stadium at 4.20pm next Friday. 

Pies riding the bumps nicely

The Magpies would rather a 3-1 scoreline than the 2-2 they have, but there is nothing wrong with what they are doing.

Wins against Richmond and Western Bulldogs, losses to Geelong and West Coast (where both games were in the balance till very late). 

PIES GET IT DONE Last-quarter surge gets Magpies home

Brodie Grundy is back to his All Australian best after a torrid 2018 Grand Final and a few issues in the opening 2019 match against the Cats.

Jordan De Goey is now mesmerising to watch, even when he's not among the best players afield.

As for the Dogs' Marcus Bontempelli, the best player afield against the Pies on Friday night despite his team's loss – he's actually playing better than ever. Bontempelli hasn't finished lower than third in the past four Bulldogs' best-and-fairest counts, and has won it twice. Well on track for a third, and the Brownlow. 

Touched by a Giant's pain 

The Giants' coming-of-age win against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium was unfortunately marred by the season-ending knee damage to co-captain Callan Ward. 

There are many better players in the GWS team than Ward, but there are very few in the entire competition who are more respected.

 
What's that hissing sound?

You can hear that too? That's the bursting of the Port Adelaide bubble. 

The merit of wins against Melbourne and Carlton to open the season are now being questioned after failures against Brisbane in round three and a terribly depleted Richmond on Saturday.

FAMOUS WIN Six-goal Lynch leads Tiger cubs to victory 

Yet again, the Power are looking also-rans, which they have been for three of the four years since nearly reaching a Grand Final in 2014. 

As for their crosstown rivals, the Crows, we're embarrassed right now to have tipped them for the flag. They'll be lucky to make the eight if they play in the dreary manner of Saturday night against North Melbourne. 

Coach Don Pyke made a tough call at selection, axing Bryce Gibbs. He has set a precedent now for selection integrity, and as such, Josh Jenkins could be the next big name to play SANFL. 

FROM THE TWOS Gibbs among big names to fire

The difference a win makes

Stepping up. It's all a coach can ask for in a time of adversity, as this was for Damien Hardwick and his Tigers against Port Adelaide.

Dylan Grimes stood up. Tom Lynch stood up, and now has 16 goals from his four matches as a Richmond player. Josh Caddy's return was crucial too.

Dusty Martin will return this week against Sydney. Jack Riewoldt will be a chance to do so too. Trent Cotchin isn't far away. Things are looking OK again.

THINGS WE LEARNED Tigers still have the AFL's best backman

Dour Dockers resume normal service 

Clearly, round one was an aberration for Fremantle. The Dockers booted 21 goals in their season opener against North Melbourne, and just 26 goals in the three matches since, including an embarrassing tally of seven, after just one at half-time, against West Coast in Saturday night's Derby fizzer.

EIGHT IN A ROW Eagles continue Derby streak

Big-name recruit Jesse Hogan has had more benders than goals kicked (one) in 2019, and the Roos game aside, there is no evidence coach Ross Lyon intends to change his dour strategies. 

The Eagles are doing everything right in their premiership defence. Ambushed by the Lions after quarter-time in round one, they've responded very well with wins full of authority against GWS and Collingwood. Don't be misled by the 13-point margin on the weekend, either – they toyed with the Dockers. 

 

Twitter: @barrettdamian

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