In this week's Nine things we learned, we discover that talk of Essendon's arrival is premature, Sydney's superstar forward is still good enough to make history this season and the Tigers desperately need Toby Nankervis back. 

1. The Dons are good, but they're not there yet

Essendon was asked to prove it on Saturday night and, for large periods of an enthralling and entertaining 11-point defeat to Melbourne, it nearly did. After coach Ben Rutten laid down the challenge to his baby Bombers to show that their improvement was genuine against a legitimate top-four side, they came oh so close to snatching the most unlikely of victories. But, his point – made after last weekend's victory over Hawthorn – still stands. Essendon has beaten only one team above 12th on the AFL ladder all year. The Bombers have undoubtedly improved – and improved significantly. Even though they couldn't record the upset against the Demons, their display was enough to confirm that a developing group can match it with the best. But beating the best? That's another story. Essendon gets another fantastic opportunity to set a benchmark for its rebuild against Geelong next week. - Riley Beveridge

07:11 Mins
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Highlights: Essendon v Melbourne

The Bombers and Demons clash in round 15

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2. Midfield names alone won't get it done for West Coast  

West Coast boasted a midfield at full strength on Sunday – at least on paper – but the big names were dominated by a harder working group of opponents. Returning from injury were star pair Luke Shuey and Tim Kelly, who shared one clearance in the opening quarter and two tackles for the game, while Elliot Yeo was playing his fourth game back from a long lay-off and was below his best. The Eagles insisted Shuey and Kelly were ready to go, but both were beaten and will clearly now take time to return to top form. It leaves the Eagles in a delicate position if they can't get their midfield firing quickly, having slipped to seventh on the ladder. A repeat against Sydney, regardless of the names in the 22, won't be enough to help West Coast recover ground in its fight to qualify for finals. - Nathan Schmook

3. Buddy is capable of reaching 1000 goals this season 

AFL fans have been wondering for some time if and when Lance Franklin will reach the magical 1000-goal milestone. His injury issues in recent years have complicated things, but Franklin proved on Saturday against the Power that he still has the goalkicking prowess to blow opposition sides away. Buddy kicked three final-term goals to almost secure a remarkable comeback victory at Adelaide Oval. While the Swans just fell short in the end, Buddy's four-goal performance took him to 973 goals – just 27 short of 1000. If he plays every remaining match, Franklin will need to average 3.4 goals a game to hit the milestone by the end of the home and away season. While this would be tricky, reaching the target could be more achievable if the Swans were to make a deep finals run this season. Seeing Buddy kicking his 1000th goal during a do-or-die final this September would certainly be a sight to behold for fans. - Luke Michael

02:25 Mins
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Buddy winds back the clock with vintage display

Lance Franklin surpassed Jack Titus for sixth on the all-time VFL/AFL goalkicking table after this four-goal outing against the Power

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4. The Tigers need 'Nank' back … fast

Richmond has missed Toby Nankervis dearly since he injured his knee at the start of this month. But it wasn’t as obvious until Friday night’s loss to St Kilda, when Saints pair Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder dominated with a ruck masterclass to feed a hungry St Kilda midfield. Nankervis is due back in coming weeks and the Tigers will be desperate for the three-time premiership big man to return, having thrown debutant Samson Ryan in against the Saints while also relying on Mabior Chol more in the ruck. Richmond’s bid for an historic three-peat of premierships is slipping away quickly, and with a suite of other injury concerns, including likely long-term ankle issues for defenders Noah Balta and Nathan Broad, they need their first-choice ruckman back. - Callum Twomey

Richmond's Toby Nankervis after the round eight loss to Geelong at the MCG on May 7, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

5. Brisbane has found its next young bull

Now in his second season, young midfielder Deven Robertson has not only solidified his spot in Brisbane's team, but is quickly emerging as a vital cog in its premiership contention. Against the Cats he began the night running alongside Patrick Dangerfield, before switching to skipper Joel Selwood once 'Danger' drifted forward. Robertson kept Selwood to a miserly 13 disposals, gathering 16 of his own that included two goal assists. Coach Chris Fagan said the West Australian bull had "a big heart and he never stops trying. That's why his teammates love him". Perhaps a Rising Star nomination isn't far away? - Michael Whiting

Deven Robertson lays a tackle on Esava Ratugolea during the round 15 clash, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

6. It might be a good idea to tag Sam Walsh

Last week against Greater Western Sydney, Carlton's young star was held to 'just' 20 disposals when tagged by Giants' stopper Matt de Boer. Against the Crows, Walsh was let run free, and boy, did he make them pay. Walsh got his game going early by standing off the back of stoppages around the ground and gathering loose balls. With his usual phenomenal workrate, he just continued racking up disposals, finishing with 38 for the day and being the Blues' driving force. Opponents can let him run free at their peril. - Michael Whiting

7. Gold Coast needs its prodigal Sun to rise

Former No.1 pick Matt Rowell had another quiet day against the Roos in his third outing since returning from a knee injury. A prodigiously talented midfielder, Rowell managed 14 touches and two clearances against North Melbourne as he slowly works back his way back into the AFL. Promisingly, he amassed seven tackles which is more than he's managed collectively so far this year, while his 21 disposals against Port Adelaide last week is another good sign. However, he's looked a little lost at times on the field, and his efforts are still a fair way off the feats which saw him explode onto the AFL scene in early 2020. While this slow acclimatisation is understandable given the considerable amount of time he's spent on the sidelines with injuries, he is an incredibly important part of the Suns' line-up and the sooner he finds his feet the better. - Sophie Welsh

8. Sean Darcy's strengths are not just aerial

The rising Fremantle ruck was one of his side's best despite coming up against one of the top rucks in the game in Brodie Grundy. Darcy finished with 19 hitouts to Grundy's 27, but it was his work when the ball hit the ground that caught the eye. The 23-year-old used his powerful boot to his advantage, roosting the ball forward from stoppages and finishing with nine clearances, five coming from centre bounces alone. It was a career-high total clearance figure for Darcy, following on from seven in his last match, played against Gold Coast. - Sarah Black

9. Hawks' call to build from the back is paying off

The Hawks rejuvenated their midfield with high-priced trades for experienced onballers but have bolstered the backline through the draft and some shrewd recruitment. Using the club's recent and rare first-round picks on Will Day and debutant Denver Grainger-Barras to add top-end talent to its defence already looks like a masterstroke as they combined for the first time to help the Hawks fight back bravely for an upset win against GWS. After the Giants kicked the first four goals of the game, the Hawks' backline controlled the airways with intercepting marks that ultimately disrupted their opponents' ball movement, and looks on track to settle into a well-balanced defensive group for years to come. - Martin Pegan