AGAINST the odds and amid personal and team adversity, two seasoned men led their players to desperately needed wins in round seven.
Ken Hinkley and Leon Cameron have reached a lot of highs as players and coaches, but the opening matches of 2022 have seen them immersed in negative headlines and fights for their own futures.
While Hinkley is contracted until the end of 2023, after nine seasons and a 0-5 start to the year, his future as coach of Port Adelaide has been no more certain than that of the off-contract Leon Cameron who, despite winning finals in five separate seasons at GWS, has been under personal siege after losing five of the first six matches.
Hinkley may have privately been having nightmares and feelings of insecurity, but publicly he never failed to talk up his players and their abilities. Cameron, too, may have been boiling internally about needing to publicly debate his own well-established credentials, but externally he had maintained calm and class.
That these two teams have scrounged their ways to 2-5 scorelines doesn't necessarily change the endings of their storylines, but it did prove that tough, good people should never be written off.
Hinkley and Cameron know that an AFL season is a marathon, a race which is never won in March and April. Both managed to tap into the high-end qualities of their playing list in round seven, Hinkley in convincing his players that tough, ugly football with a slimy ball can produce a beautiful result, and Cameron in tinkering with a game plan which allowed his prime players to gel like 2016 (preliminary final finish) and 2019 (Grand Final).
The form of both Port and GWS hasn't been as bad as their poor scorelines suggested. Port seriously challenged Brisbane in round one, lost after the final siren to Adelaide in round three, and lost by three points to Carlton in round five. It will next face the Western Bulldogs under Friday night lights at Adelaide Oval. What an opportunity to prove there is life in its 2022 campaign, by beating the team which humiliated it at the same venue in last year's preliminary final.
Before Saturday's thumping win against the Crows, the Giants had lost three matches in succession to "hot" teams Fremantle, Melbourne and St Kilda. There is no reason they can’t beat Geelong in Canberra next Saturday.
Never put a line through proud football people with proven track records as leaders.
Bad habit is Saints' issue, not 'home' game
It would be both a cop-out and waste of energy for anyone at St Kilda to spend even a minute pondering whether the venue was to blame for Saturday night's loss to Port Adelaide.
The Saints produced more than enough inside 50 scoring opportunities to win this match at Cazalys Stadium in Cairns, a venue in which they were prepared to make their "home" for this match in exchange for a nice cheque.
Taking the dollars is what clubs with big debts must do, and while some will argue that had the game been played at the club's "real" home of Marvel Stadium that a win would have been easier to secure, the only relevant focus which needs to be applied is the poor conversion.
The 4.18 scoreline was far from ideal, and was ultimately one point shy of the Power's 5.13. While the greasy conditions contributed to some of the misses, botched goal attempts have been a semi-regular problem for this club.
Gun forwards Max King (2.2), Jack Higgins (1.3) and Jade Gresham (0.3) all missed attempts which ultimately proved costly. While regularly crucial in Saints' wins, Saturday night certainly wasn't the first time that King and Higgins missed opportunities in a match.
In round six, in a good win against GWS, the Saints' winning score was 10.17. That's 14.35 in the past two weeks. In four of their seven matches, they have registered more behinds than goals. It's got nothing to do with venue.
The one-point loss broke St Kilda's five-match winning sequence. Interesting to see how they go against Melbourne next Sunday. Its best to this point of season would at least challenge aspects of the mighty Demons.
No.1 attack makes Lions a clear No.2
In an unfortunate recent era where defensive mindsets have trumped attacking ones, there is something beautiful about Brisbane in the past two seasons.
The Lions in 2021 were the only team to pass 2000 points in the home-and-away season, and after Sunday night's statement-making win against the Swans at the SCG, they are again way out in front on the points-for rankings after seven rounds of the current season.
Under Chris Fagan, this has become their point of difference, and now quite clearly, the single reason they are the standout contender to end Melbourne's reign.
There are so many scoring options. Add Dayne Zorko to the numerous options, after he managed five shots (2.3) at goal against the Swans. Cam Rayner, Charlie Cameron and Dan McStay each booted three goals. The major concern out of the big win against the Swans was the game-ending shoulder injury to Joe Daniher. He failed to kick a goal on Sunday, has 19 for the season, and it is not yet known how serious his ailment is.
Brisbane's ability to absorb immense pressure from the Swans in the third quarter was defining, that it kicked 10 goals after the main break without Daniher proof it has multiple avenues to a winning score.
Lachie Neale was again extraordinary. Somehow, he is a better player than when he won a Brownlow in 2020. Zorko's leadership is still underrated.
The Lions-Swans game was rightly billed as a contest to prove who deserved status as the Demons' greatest threat. We are just seven matches into a 22-game season, and the Swans are at least a few seasons away from being as seasoned as the Lions, but after Sunday night's game at the SCG, it is Demons a long way out in front, then the Lions a long way in front of the next best, with the Swans and the Dockers next in line.
Great to see that an attacking gameplan is being embraced by Fagan. The Lions are bridging the gap every single week.
Charlie's comeback is the stuff of dreams
Charlie Curnow is going to kick a bag very soon.
His moment should have been Saturday night, but he got the wobbles, ending with 3.4, in another big Blues win, against North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.
The Curnow comeback is one of the great storylines of 2022. It actually started in round 20, 2021, match No.59, two years and five weekends after match No.58.
No matter what this seriously talented 25-year-old footballer does from here, and provided he stays fit, it is going to be one hell of a career, but there will always be the question: what if he didn’t get struck down with serious knee injuries?
Curnow is symbolic of the Blues under new coach Michael Voss. Nothing is impossible.
I was fearful when Curnow returned last year, worried that he'd break down again. But the fact he got four matches into his body allowed him to attack the 2022 pre-season with confidence.
This year, his goal returns have been 0, 5, 3, 1, 5, 2, 3. He sits equal third in the Coleman Medal race, his 19 just three behind Tom Hawkins.
He has always been a point of difference, Curnow, and in 2022, if he stays fit, anyone connected to the 5-2 Blues is entitled to dream as much as they want to.