In this week's Nine things we learned, we discover that the gap between West Coast's best and worst is far too great, the Cats nailed their 2020 off-season and Clarko's a long way from done as a coach. 

1. The Eagles don't deserve to play finals

After winning its previous two games against St Kilda and Adelaide, West Coast looked to be building into some good form at the right time of the season. But against Collingwood on Saturday, we were reminded just how poor the Eagles can be at their worst, with Adam Simpson’s men conceding the first eight goals of the game to go down by 45 points. While the Eagles are still safely in the top eight and are a decent chance to play finals, their performances this year suggest they do not deserve the privilege. The Eagles have shown an unwillingness to defend and apply pressure at times this season, leading to some disastrous losses such as the 97-point drubbing from the Cats and the 92-point defeat at the hands of Sydney. But West Coast still has the opportunity to prove it belongs in September, with games against premiership contenders Melbourne and Brisbane to come in the final rounds. - Luke Michael

03:56 Mins
Published on

The 10: Round 20's best moments

Watch all the best highlights from a thrilling round of football

Published on

2. There's still plenty of coaching left in Clarko

The main catalyst for the Hawks' fast-tracked succession plan was supposedly the difference in coaching direction between head coach Alastair Clarkson and his successor Sam Mitchell, but the Hawthorn that rocked up to University of Tasmania Stadium looked slick, well-organised and united in purpose against Brisbane. With Clarkson still at the helm, the Hawks' performance points to a coach who still knows how to get the best out of his playing group, and who knows how to win. While Clarkson is coy about his future plans, whether he lands at Collingwood, Carlton or somewhere else, any club can rest assured he has plenty left to give. - Sophie Welsh

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson congratulates his players after their win over Brisbane in round 20, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

3. The Cats' 2020 Trade Period looks better by the week

Geelong's dealings in the last Trade and Free Agency Period were a slam dunk the moment they landed Jeremy Cameron from GWS. However, the acquisitions of Isaac Smith (via free agency) and Shaun Higgins (trade) are proving every bit as astute. Despite two or three uncharacteristic errors by foot on Saturday, Smith was terrific against the Kangaroos with his team-high 718m gained from 26 disposals, while Higgins was a handful against his most recent club with 23 touches and a goal. Both fit and full of run, the pair loom as crucial in Geelong's run to September with their outside exploits complementing the hard-nosed midfield. - Michael Whiting

4. The Saints need a style check

Coach Brett Ratten admitted post-game after Friday night's loss to Carlton that the fix for St Kilda in 2022 won't be as simple as plugging key personnel back into the team. St Kilda has had significant injury setbacks throughout its 2021 campaign, including long absences to Jade Gresham, Ben Paton and Dan Hannebery, while many other important players have missed blocks of footy with fitness issues. But Ratten conceded that to lift back up the ladder next season as finals aspirants, the Saints must also make some tweaks to their ball movement and kicking accuracy, which has plagued them throughout the season. Returning players alone aren't going to rocket the Saints into the top four next year after what has been a disappointing season. - Callum Twomey

5. Clarkson was right about Andrew Brayshaw 

Alastair Clarkson sent a tag to Dockers midfielder Andrew Brayshaw in round four, noting he had been among the best handful of midfielders in the AFL up to that point. The master coach had scouted well, and Sunday afternoon's performance from the Fremantle star would have come as no surprise. Brayshaw was magnificent, displaying all the leadership, toughness and class he is now known for at Cockburn. His 39 disposals were a career high, and the last two clearances of his eight in total were match-saving deep in the Dockers' defence. Brayshaw is a future captain, but a present star. - Nathan Schmook

03:12 Mins
Published on

Last two mins: Desperate Brayshaw helps Freo hang on

Finals on the line and it shows for the Dockers and Tigers at Optus Stadium

Published on

6. The Giants can't keep relying on 'Mummy'

Veteran Shane Mumford has been back to his bullocking best this season and the Giants have lost only three of the 11 matches the 35-year-old has played. But the banged-up big man is going to need more support through the final three rounds than should be expected from 191cm onballer Tom Green. The second-year midfielder contested several centre bounces against Port Adelaide when Mumford needed a break but gave up 11cm to Peter Ladhams and looked as out of place as the height difference and his lack of ruck experience suggests. The Giants would be better off recalling young ruck Kieren Briggs or looking to a tall forward like Harry Himmelberg to step into the centre square and offer Mumford some ruck relief. - Martin Pegan

Port Adelaide's Peter Ladhams contests the ruck against GWS' Tom Green in round 20, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

7. Big Ben's a finals lock

Since undergoing knee surgery during the pre-season, it's always felt like a race to see whether Ben Brown could get fit – and find form – to provide the missing piece of Melbourne's forward line puzzle. After being re-inserted in round 17 against Port Adelaide he's competed well and slowly built until finally getting some rewards against the Suns. Brown led well and kicked straight, finishing with 4.1 from 12 disposals and six marks. The debate can now end, with Brown a nice complement to Tom McDonald and Luke Jackson to make up a threatening tall forward trio. - Michael Whiting

Melbourne's Ben Brown celebrates a goal against Gold Coast in round 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

8. Schache can thrive in new role down back

Talented tall Josh Schache has proven over the last fortnight that he can succeed as a key defender and the born-again big man can play a pivotal role in helping the Bulldogs go all the way this season. Schache did a superb job matched up against Taylor Walker on Saturday and even found a way to pull down eight telling marks and make five crucial intercepts during the Dogs' win. With Alex Keath and Ryan Gardner currently out injured and unlikely to feature until the first week of the finals, Schache now gets the chance to cement his spot in the side and make it impossible for Luke Beveridge to drop him. - Jonathan Healy

9. Sydney has the maturity to make a deep September run

Most of the talk about Sydney this year has been around how impressively fast its young players have developed. But with an injection of youth comes the asterisk of standing up under finals pressure. On Sunday, the Swans showed they could tough it out under less than ideal conditions, having hurriedly flown back to Melbourne and facing a never-say-die Essendon. Jordan Dawson was superb, Errol Gulden kicked a crucial fourth-quarter goal and Tom McCartin was unflappable at fullback. - Sarah Black

00:28 Mins
Published on

Absolutely golden from Gulden

Swans young gun Errol Gulden inches the Swans one step closer to victory after a stellar snap

Published on