IT'S NO coincidence the mighty Melbourne streak ended in a game in which Steven May played no part beyond the first 15 minutes.
Even less coincidence that Carlton's extraordinary opening to the season encountered a setback on Sunday evening against Collingwood after Jacob Weitering also broke down in the opening quarter.
The unavailability of the key defenders of the Demons and Blues effectively provided obvious answers to the oft-questions at both clubs: who, of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jake Lever, is Melbourne's most important player? And who, of Patrick Cripps, Charlie Curnow and Sam Walsh is Carlton's most important.
For the first time since round 19 last season, Melbourne was unable to work through an opponent, losing to Fremantle at the MCG on Saturday after the Dockers' third-quarter blitz.
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There were reasons outside of May for the unusual lethargy. Petracca was ill, Ed Langdon and Tom McDonald were unavailable. But such setbacks hadn't proved problematic in the 17-match winning sequence. Because, usually, May had been able to lead the way.
May will miss the next match against Sydney on Saturday night. The Swans will be without Lance Franklin, who was suspended for striking Trent Cotchin on Friday night.
Likewise for Carlton, absences of other key Blues also impacted in round 11. Harry McKay, Zac Williams, Marc Pittonet and Jack Martin have been missing recently. But without Weitering, the Blues lost their system, and ultimately, despite a courageous fightback which very nearly stole victory, they lost a game they almost certainly would have won had Weitering completed it.
Blockbusters, big scores, upsets, thrillers... brilliant
The 2022 season needed round 11. Enthralling matches book-ended the weekend, there was an old-fashioned feel to a near-full MCG, big scores were everywhere, and the streak came to an end.
Loved Mason Cox's impact. He had only 11 disposals, but his presence was 2018 preliminary final and 2020 elimination final-like. He's regularly criticised, Cox, but he always gets on with life with a smile. Of course, Jack Crisp was influential, Jordan De Goey, John Noble, Steele Sidebottom all solid. Ollie Henry's seven goals in the past two matches have been the perfect response to the yips of round nine.
At the corresponding stage of 2021, Collingwood was 2-9. One of the great mysteries of the first half of the 2022 season has been the Pies' loss to West Coast in round four.
Five of the nine round 11 matches saw a team reach 100 points, and Friday night's Swans-Tigers had both teams getting the ton. A further two matches had the winning team register 90-plus points.
Naughton v De Koning: The hair up there
Not since Bruce Doull will headbands be so much in vogue.
Aaron Naughton up against Sam De Koning under Friday night lights in round 12 already presents as the main plotline, and certainly the most exciting, in the wider 2022 storylines of the Western Bulldogs and Geelong.
Naughton booted four goals, for 29 for the season, in the Dogs' massive win against West Coast on Saturday, and De Koning, in just his 11th match, looked at home on an AFL venue and was one of the Cats' best against Adelaide on the same day.
Geelong coach Chris Scott's eyes light up and his voice has a distinct bounce when he talks about De Koning, his 21-year-old, 204cm prodigy. Naughton has had the same effect on his coach Luke Beveridge since arriving at Whitten Oval as the No.9 selection from the 2017 NAB AFL Draft.
The high-flying, fearless Naughton is already established as a star, the cool-moving De Koning almost certainly will be. The Marvel Stadium air space in the Dogs' forward line next Friday night will be no place for the faint-hearted next Friday night.
It's time for Fyfe
Having blasted its way past the seemingly unstoppable, premiership-favourite Melbourne at the MCG in round 11, Fremantle returns to Perth for a home game against the second-favoured team Brisbane next Sunday.
And Nat Fyfe may be back for his first game of the season.
The Dockers' picture could not be brighter. After consecutive losses to Gold Coast and Collingwood, an eight-goal third quarter against the Demons helped transform a five-goal deficit into a stunning 38-point win.
Rory Lobb (three goals, nine marks) may have played the best game of his two-club, 129-game career. Andrew Brayshaw should poll more votes in most official awards, James Aish nullified the power of Clayton Oliver in a manner not seen in the past two seasons, and Sean Darcy stood up against Max Gawn.
After Brisbane, Fremantle will play Hawthorn at home in round 13 before a week off. Fyfe is ready to go. He's too good to be subjected to the WAFL. Really, really hope he gets the call-up against the Lions. And what a player to add into this already-premiership possibility mix.
Stuey's steely Suns are different
When Ben King broke down in the off-season, Gold Coast and its coach Stuart Dew would have been excused for giving up before 2022 even started.
The season-long unavailability of their next big thing was demoralising, but only temporarily. A makeshift forward line was invested in, with the unlikely pairing of Mabior Chol and Levi Casboult now emerging as a key part of an impressive system.
There is an impressive predictability about the Suns this season which allows Dew to dream. They fight hard and are rarely blown away. The backline, led by Sam Collins, is on the same page weekly. The midfield, led by Touk Miller, is tough.
If Dew, at the time of King going down, was presented with the scenario that a win against the hapless North Melbourne in round 12 would give his side a balanced win-loss scoreline, he would have taken it in a heartbeat.
The race for the positions in the top eight is wide open. The Suns have never got near such an outcome in their 11 completed AFL seasons. There is something different about the 2022 Suns, though, for there is a steeliness that suggests this group is hellbent on changing their club's largely forgettable story.