MAYBE, just maybe, we are witnessing Gold Coast’s arrival as a proper AFL club.
And maybe, just maybe, against all the normally overpowering odds and politics, the Suns may choose to reappoint Stuart Dew as coach instead of the supposed messiah Alastair Clarkson.
There’s a lot to play out here, but two really good wins in a row – Sunday against Fremantle at home and round eight against the Swans at the SCG – and an all-ground system which appears capable of holding up in the pressurised moments, has Gold Coast and Dew in a nice position with 13 matches remaining of the 2022 season.
Touk Miller, Jarrod Witts, David Swallow and Sam Collins have led this team superbly for a long time now. No surprise to see them lead the way, again, against the Dockers, taking them to a 4-5 scoreline.
They are getting support in 2022. Mabior Chol’s recruitment as a free agent was brilliant list management. Another four goals on Sunday took his season tally to 19. Levi Casboult booted two, for 20 for the year. Chol-Casboult is not Hawkins-Cameron, Curnow-McKay, Lynch-Riewoldt. But it’s getting the job done. Imagine if Ben King hadn’t ruptured a knee.
NINE THINGS WE LEARNED Mabior's a nightmare match-up
Collins won a best-and-fairest in 2020, finished fourth in the same award last year. He’s so important to this team. Despite his significant achievements, he is still an AFL no-name, and that’s meant as a compliment. He could walk into a Melbourne cafe or bar, and no one would look twice. But opposition coaches spend a lot of time trying to pull apart his skill set.
He is again leading a backline which has benefited greatly from the return after three and a half years of Rory Thompson. Wil Powell was runner-up to Miller in last year’s best-and-fairest count. He’s been good again. Then there’s Connor Budarick, Charlie Ballard, and Sean Lemmens, who, now nine seasons into his career, is still getting better.
Wrote last week after the win against the Suns that I wanted to trust the Suns, but that I couldn’t. As convincing as Sunday’s victory against the Dockers was, I’m still in two minds. One way to remove the doubt – beat Western Bulldogs in Ballarat next Saturday.
Disaster No.1: Turning star power into a Giant mess
AT LEAST a process out of the mire for the Giants has been established.
With the decision made last week to exit coach Leon Cameron, the focus post-round nine, which was another very bad loss, to Carlton, should turn to the players, Josh Kelly and Tom Green excepted. Maybe Isaac Cumming, too.
At 2-7, the Giants’ 2022 season is over. Which will probably be a good thing for the new coach. But the new coach, whoever that may be, will be making decisions on the list right now.
There is still star power at this club. Nowhere near as much as there was in 2016-20, but more than enough to warrant better performances.
I have no idea what’s happened to Lachie Whitfield. If he’s carrying injury, time to declare it publicly. If he’s not, time to read an old-fashioned riot act privately.
The forward line is a mess, the backline couldn’t capitalise on Harry McKay’s absence on Sunday, and the midfield is unexciting, boring even.
Disaster No.2: Roos go from bad to worse
It takes some doing to finish last in a season of footy and to then slip dramatically further in the nine matches to follow it.
And the depths of the problems at North Melbourne have not yet been reached, Saturday’s 69-point loss to Port Adelaide in keeping with this dismal year.
North has won one match, against the stricken West Coast in round two. Its percentage is 53.7. Fitzroy had a percentage of 49.5 in its final year of AFL life, 1996. The comparison is not about the Roos’ longevity place in the national competition, it is a link to performances to this point of 2022. North Melbourne has descended to a historically woeful low, pre-Ron Barassi depths.
Gold Coast in its very first season of AFL life finished with three wins and 56.27 per cent, GWS the year after two wins and 46.2.
North Melbourne wasn’t meant to be screaming up the ladder in 2022. But it wasn’t meant to have lost matches by 108 points (Brisbane), Western Bulldogs (68), Geelong (60), Carlton (50), and Port (69), either.
After nine rounds, there is not one obvious reason that the remaining 13 matches will be any different. And Melbourne is up next.
Disaster No.3: Easybeat Bombers revert to form
Essendon hasn’t been much better in 2022.
Its exciting win against Hawthorn in round eight was clearly a one-off, a fake burst of vibrant, morale-boosting footy in an otherwise embarrassing series of performances.
Saturday night’s 58-point loss to Sydney was soooo Essendon in 2022. No spark, no one able to lead the way through action.
They are as easy to beat, the Bombers, as the lifeless North Melbourne and West Coast. Next up is Richmond in the annual Dreamtime match. Even if they show some fight, it will be too late. At 2-7, yet another season has come and gone without this club playing a meaningful part.
These Blues are different under Michael Voss
No Coleman medallist even before the game started, no worries.
No Zac Williams for most of the game against GWS in Sydney. No problems.
No standout ruck. No issues.
In 2022 under Michael Voss, Carlton just finds a way. The Blues are 7-2 after their controlled win against the Giants.
If he wasn't already before Sunday's win, Sam Docherty is THE story of the year. Multiple cancer episodes and multiple knee injuries can't stop him, so what hope does an opposition player have? Another 28 disposals and a game-sealing goal is becoming his norm this year.
Under Voss, nothing has been impossible to this stage of the season. Charlie Curnow was without Batman, or maybe he was without Robin, either way, it didn't matter. He only managed two goals in Harry McKay's absence but he stood up when it counted most, in the final quarter of a game which was still in the balance.
A lot of footy people have been slow to embrace Jack Silvagni. He is a star. Sam Walsh was very good, Matt Kennedy too. And Patty Cripps, by his 2022 standards, was quiet. And that's a good thing in the big picture.
No Steele, plenty of steel in finals-bound Saints
Go back to the halfway stage of 2020.
Jade Gresham was moving beautifully in a team which was to qualify for the finals, and make it to week two of September.
He wasn't seen after round 11 that year due to a back injury. He played the opening three games of 2021, not seen after that in that year with an Achilles injury ruining his progress.
Fast forward to round nine, 2022. Gresham has become the outstanding player the Saints always knew him to be. Maybe their best. Certainly among their most important.
Gresham was among the best afield for St Kilda against Geelong on Saturday. So too Brad Crouch, who has also been very good in this 6-3 Saints start to the year. Likewise Jack Sinclair.
St Kilda had lost two in a row (Port Adelaide, Melbourne) before the weekend. Its win against the Cats proved it was finals worthy.
In previous seasons, the now-coming absence of captain Jack Steele, who in keeping with his renowned courage played through serious damage to a shoulder on Saturday, would have been a major problem.
But while Steele will be missing, there is a real steel to 2022 St Kilda operations.
And if Gresham isn't its most important player, Paddy Ryder, at 34 and in his 17th season, almost certainly is. Somehow, he is getting better, at his third club and with a heap of injuries behind him.
St Kilda is a genuine top-four contender this year.