Best and worst of footy: Ben Cunnington and Josh Kennedy share a moment after Sydney's win over North Melbourne at Arden St on Sunday. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos

A HEARTWARMING return and heartbreaking injuries were the order of the weekend as the Smithy’s VFL competition surges quickly towards the business end of the season.

All eyes were on Ben Cunnington’s inspirational return from testicular cancer 379 days after his last game, and the North Melbourne star didn’t disappoint, winning the first clearance and going on to have 18 disposals (six kicks, 12 handballs), four marks, three tackles, three clearances, one inside-50 and one rebound before being rested at three quarter-time.

But as good as Cunnington’s comeback was, it was sadly overshadowed by the devastating sight of seeing Sydney champion Josh Kennedy limping off the ground despondently at the four-minute mark of the second term after injuring his left hamstring in a lunging attempt to tackle a flying Tarryn Thomas.

Eli Templeton was seriously injured playing for his local club Balwyn on Saturday. Picture: Morgan Hancock/AFL Photos

Kennedy, who had dominated the first quarter with 10 disposals, emerged shortly after with heavy ice on his lower hamstring, and he was later seen signing his boots and giving them to a supporter in what was hopefully not a sign of a sad end to a wonderful career.

The other big injury news came from suburban footy, where Port Melbourne star Eli Templeton suffered a fractured skull in a terrifying accident while playing for Balwyn against Doncaster East in the Eastern league.

Port Melbourne reported that Templeton has his family by his side, having flown over from Tasmania, while he has been able to speak to several teammates over the phone, and while doctors will continue to monitor him, he is expected to make a full recovery.

WERRIBEE 9.12 (66)

BRISBANE Lions moved to within percentage of the top two and all-but ended Werribee’s finals aspirations with a hard-fought 12-point win at Moreton Bay’s Red Rooster Park on Saturday.

The Tigers started well with the first four scoring shots in their 500th VFL match but missed three and gave the Lions a chance to get their teeth into the contest in their own 200th NEAFL/VFL game, and the home team led by a point at half-time before making their move with three goals in six minute to open the third term.

Werribee kept fighting for its season, winning disposals (+69), marks (+31), clearances (+5), inside-50s (+2) and tackles (+42) and getting within a kick through Josh Porter 22 minutes into the last quarter, but Mitch Cox responded just two minutes later to put paid to the challenge.

Former Frankston star Cox had his best game for the Lions with 23 possessions, 12 marks and the sealing goal, with Ryan Lester (27, seven marks, six clearances), Darcy Fort (18, five marks, 20 hitouts) and Will Fletcher (17, eight tackles) also impressing.

The Tigers’ stars couldn’t really have done any more, led by midfielders Tom Gribble (38 disposals, five marks, nine clearances), Matt Hanson (27, eight marks, six tackles, one goal, Shaun Mannagh (21, seven marks, eight entries, 10 tackles) and Jack Henderson (22, five marks), centre half-forward Nick Hayes (25, 10 marks, five tackles, three goals), defenders Nick Coughlan (29, 12 marks, nine rebounds) and Bior Malual (20, five marks) and wingman Kye Declase (23, nine marks, one goal).

But their season is effectively over, needing to beat both Essendon and Northern Bullants and two of Carlton, Box Hill Hawks, Richmond and Gold Coast to go winless in the last two rounds to squeeze back into the eight.


GWS 10.9 (69)
ESSENDON 15.9 (99)

ESSENDON’s resurgence continued and GWS’s last finals flicker was officially doused with the Bombers sweeping to a 30-point win in the Giants’ 100th NEAFL/VFL home game at Giants Stadium on Saturday.

The match was tight for the first half, with Noah Casalini putting the home team within three points early in the third term before the Bombers blasted clear with the next five and six of the next seven goals to bank a seventh win from nine matches after starting the season 0-8.

Returning Essendon ruckman Andrew Phillips monstered his former club with 44 hitouts, 18 disposals, seven marks, five clearances, five entries and a goal, allowing Brad Bernacki to star again with 23 touches, 10 clearances, six entries, six tackles and two goals, while Billy Cootee (23, two goals) and Joe Atley (19, seven rebounds) also did their bit and Alec Waterman was a difference maker with four goals.

Xavier O’Halloran (18, six marks, five entries, one goal), Cooper Hamilton (19, seven entries), Callum Brown (18, eight rebounds), Riley Bice (16, six marks) and Billy Clark (16, one goal) did well, while Ryan Hebron (10 marks, five rebounds) worked hard in defence and Jake Stein (eight marks, two goals) and Jacob Conlan (seven marks, one goal) were dangerous in attack.


GEELONG 14.6 (90)
SANDRINGHAM 13.10 (88)

GEELONG finally broke its seven-match losing streak and Sandringham hearts at the same time, clinging on to a thrilling two-point victory at GMHBA Stadium on Sunday.

The Zebras held the upper hand throughout most of the first half, leading by a game-high 18 points after kicking the first two goals of the second quarter before the Cats worked their way back to lead by a point at the main break.

After the visitors kicked the first goal of the third quarter, however, Geelong hit back again, booting five of the next six to push to a 14-point gap of their own, with a desperate late rally from Sandringham falling agonisingly short, hurt by a controversial last-minute free kick against Dean Kent for deliberate out of bounds as the Zebras tried to mount a final surge.

Quinton Narkle was brilliant for the Cats with 29 disposals, nine inside-50s and a goal, Shaun Higgins also put his hand up for an AFL recall with 23 touches, seven clearances and a goal, while Mitch Knevitt (24, five clearances, six entries, six tackles), Jye Chalcraft (25, eight clearances), veteran Oliver Tate (23, nine marks, eight rebounds) also excelled, while fourth-gamer Lachlan Bond was a matchwinner with four goals.

Francis Evans (22, five marks, five rebounds, one goal) and mid-season draft pick Zane Williams (22, five marks) were others to shine, with father-son prospect Osca Riccardi having 13 touches and kicking a goal on debut.

Tom Campbell, however, was clearly the best man on the ground for Sandringham, piling up a telephone number with 28 possessions, eight marks, 34 hitouts, five clearances, six inside-50s, five rebounds and two goals, regularly picking off Geelong attacks.

Jack Bytel (28, five marks, five clearances, five rebounds, six tackles, one goal) also starred for the Zebras, with Kent (21, five marks, six entries, one goal) and Tom Highmore (22, five marks) doing their best to get their team over the line.

Ben Cunnington breaks clear of James Bell and Jacob Edwards to win the first clearance of his comeback game. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos

SYDNEY 13.17 (95)

SYDNEY held off a late rally and a remarkable display of intercept defending from Marty Hore to beat North Melbourne by 20 points at Arden St and hang onto fourth spot ahead of next Sunday’s blockbuster against Collingwood.

The Swans were the dominant team for the majority of the day despite wasting the chance to put the Kangaroos away early by kicking 2.7 to 2.1 in a first term that yielded a 113-77 disposal discrepancy.

Josh Goater soars over the pack, but unfortunately he couldn't hang on to the mark. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos

Sydney gradually extended its lead through the middle two quarters, kicking five goals to two in each to push out by 41 points at the last change, but the Kangaroos bounced into gear in the last, booting four quick majors to cut the deficit to 17 and force the visitors into a rearguard action to hold them off.

Sam Wicks was brilliant for the Swans, racking up 28 disposals, four marks, four inside-50s and six tackles while kicking 3.2, with James Bell (27, nine marks, six clearances, nine entries, six tackles, two goals), Corey Warner (25, six marks, five entries), Nick Shipley (22, five marks, six entries) and Harry Cunningham (23, eight marks) all impressing.

But it was the tall timber that gave North Melbourne the most headaches, with Peter Ladhams (28, seven marks, 17 hitouts, 0.3), Hayden McLean (18, 12 marks, two goals), Joel Amartey (14, six marks, 3.2) and Cal Sinclair (15, eight marks, six entries, 1.1) all creating problems, while Will Gould (24, 10 marks, seven rebounds) was again dominant at the other end.

Hore constantly mopped up any Swans forward forays that didn’t hit their targets, reading the ball beautifully to finish with 35 disposals, 12 marks and a stunning 15 rebounds, with strong support from Josh Goater (24, six marks, five rebounds, one goal), Matt McGuinness (23, 11 marks, five rebounds) and Atu Bosenavulagi (22, 10 marks, five rebounds).

Further up the ground, Harry Jones (26, five marks, seven clearances, two goals) again starred, Dom Tyson (28, six marks, one goal) and Thomas (20, five clearances, six tackles, one goal) impressed in the middle and Charlie Comben had some outstanding moments in attack, plucking eight marks – including several huge contested grabs on Lewis Melican – and kicking 3.4.

Josh Kennedy runs away from Aiden Bonar. Kennedy was on fire early until his hamstring gave way. Picture: AFL Photos

FRANKSTON 8.5 (53)
BOX HILL HAWKS 16.8 (104)

BOX HILL Hawks solidified their spot in the top eight and stayed in the top four mix after brushing Frankston aside by 51 points at Skybus Stadium on Saturday.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged, putting the Dolphins away with six goals in 13 first-quarter minutes and extending their lead at every change, despite losing hitouts (-9), clearances (-7) and marks (-15), with coach Clint Proctor certain to be impressed by the winning tackle count (66-46) in a convincing victory.

Liam Shiels was the catalyst for the Hawks with a best-on-ground display that brought 31 disposals, 11 clearances, 11 tackles, five inside-50s and a goal, while Jackson Callow fired up forward with 19 touches, eight marks and three goals.

Cal Porter (29, five marks, five entries), the Phillips brothers Tom (25, one goal) and Ed (22, one goal), youngster Max Ramsden (21, five marks, one goal) and former Dolphin Ben Cavarra (three goals) again shone and NAB League talent Kai Windsor booted two goals.

Taylin Duman was simply magnificent for Frankston, racking up 38 possessions, 12 marks and six inside-50s, with usual stars Josh Newman (26, eight clearances, five tackles) and Trent Mynott (25, nine clearances) again leading from the front and Bailey Lambert (20, seven marks, one goal), Liam Hiscock (20, six marks) and Jackson Voss (19, seven marks, five rebounds) also worked hard, while Liam Reidy had 28 hitouts and kicked two goals.


COLLINGWOOD 22.8 (140)

COLLINGWOOD closed its percentage deficit to Sydney in the race for fourth spot after thrashing an undermanned Williamstown by 78 points at AIA Centre on Saturday.

The Seagulls lost four players (Fin O’Dwyer, Noah Gown, Lachie Stapleton and Jack Noonan) from the team that stunned Carlton in their best win of the season last week and it showed as they were overwhelmed after Campbell Lane’s goal gave the Magpies an eight-point lead at quarter-time, with the home team piling on 7.1 to 0.1 in the second term, 6.1 to 3.3 in the third and 5.2 to 3.2 in the last.

Jack Madgen was the hero for the Magpies in his newly minted role as a forward, winning 25 disposals, pulling in 12 marks and booting five goals in a powerhouse display, with the opportunistic Sam Glover kicking four goals from just four kicks and Ollie Henry taking seven marks and snagging three majors.

Further up the ground, co-captain Campbell Hustwaite (29, six clearances, six tackles), Fin Macrae (23, five clearances, seven tackles, one goal), Callum Brown (26, six clearances), Lachie Tardrew (23, six clearances, five tackles) and Arlo Draper (19, 10 tackles) all had too much for the Seagulls to handle, while rookie ruckman Tom Roberts had a whopping 42 hitouts opposed to star big man Tom Downie (32, six clearances).

Daly Andrews (31, six marks, six rebounds) and Corey Preston (26, eight marks, five entries) were best for Williamstown, with Nick Mellington (28, eight clearances), Jake Greiser (23, six marks), skipper Cam Polson (23) all performed well and Joel Ottavi (five marks, four goals) was a standout up forward.


RICHMOND 21.10 (136)

RICHMOND slid back into the top eight and gain a much-needed percentage boost, flattening Northern Bullants in the second half to win by 82 points at Genis Steel Oval on Sunday.

The Tigers led by only two points at the first break but edged out to a 20-point gap at half-time before slamming on five goals to one in the third term and eight to two in the last ahead of their last bye this week.

Samson Ryan was terrific for Richmond, kicking five goals from 18 disposals, 12 marks and 14 hitouts, with Jacob Bauer (nine marks, four goals), Sydney Stack (18, three goals) and Ivan Soldo (five marks, 30 hitouts, two goals) finishing off the great work of Riley Collier-Dawkins (30, 12 marks, five inside-50s, five tackles), Jake Aarts (29, six tackles, one goal), Thomson Dow (23, nine clearances, one goal), Biggie Nyuon (22, nine marks six rebounds), Hugo Ralphsmith (21, one goal) and Lachlan Street (20, one goal).

The Bullants lost Mutaz El Nour before the bounce but had plenty of the ball, winning disposals by 35 and taking a whopping 110 marks to 89, with Will Mitchell (36, nine marks, six entries), Jean-Luc Velissaris (24, 12 marks, one goal) and Billy Murphy (24, six clearances, one goal) battling hard in the middle, Liam Mackie (25, seven marks, 10 rebounds) doing well in defence and Matt Gundry (20, seven marks, one goal) and Ben Nikolovski (20, seven marks) able to hold their heads high, but they were always under pressure and only managed 36 inside-50s to 57.


FOOTSCRAY 24.14 (158)
COBURG 5.5 (35)

A WEEK after its best win of the season, Coburg slumped to its worst loss, suffering a crushing 123-point reverse to a Josh Schache-inspired Footscray at Victoria University Whitten Oval on Saturday.

Schache had 23 disposals, nine marks and kicked a brilliant 7.1 as the Bulldogs wasted no time asserting their authority over the game, banging on 6.3 to 0.0 in the first quarter and repeating the dose with another 6.3 to 1.1 in the second, with the Lions not managing to hit the scoreboard until Nathan Boucher kicked truly in the 12th minute of the second term and the home team already having registered 8.5.

Footscray added another 12 goals to four in the second half to power home to its highest score and biggest win over Coburg, with Schache’s masterclass completing a dominance that yielded a massive 433-273 disposal advantage (+80 in both kicks and handballs), plus winning marks 132-71, hitouts 45-18, clearances 54-23 and inside-50s 66-31.

Lachie Hunter will also be hard to keep out of the AFL team after his 31 disposals, seven clearances, seven entries and three goals, father-son Ewan Macpherson (31, six clearances, two goals), Stefan Martin (28, nine marks, 24 hitouts, eight clearances, two goals), Lachie Sullivan (34, five marks, 11 clearances, seven entries), Robbie McComb (30, 10 marks, five clearances, five entries, one goal) all did as they pleased, while Nathan Drummond (23, nine marks), Louis Butler (22, eight marks), Roarke Smith (19, 10 marks, two goals) and 23rd man Ethan Hunt (18, two goals) also starred.

The Lions struggled to get their hands on the ball, but Mitch Podhajski (23, eight marks), Jack Maibaum (18, eight marks) and Jhye Baddeley-Kelly (18, eight rebounds) continued their strong years in defence and the team didn’t give up without the ball winning the tackle count 68-33.


BYE: Carlton, Casey Demons, Gold Coast, Port Melbourne, Southport

Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos bursts from a pack as Matt Roberts turns to give chase. Picture: AFL Photos

SMITHY’S VFL LADDER, ROUND 20 – click here

Swan Harry Morrison looks to clear from Kangaroo Marty Hore. Picture: AFL Photos


ROUND 21: Saturday, August 13: Sandringham v Brisbane Lions (Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval, 11.05am); Gold Coast v Southport (Metricon Stadium, 12.35pm); Coburg v North Melbourne (Piranha Park, 12.35pm); Box Hill Hawks v Geelong (Box Hill City Oval, 2.05pm); Port Melbourne v Frankston (ETU Stadium, 2.05pm). Sunday, August 14: Sydney v Collingwood (SCG, 11.35am); Casey Demons v Carlton (Casey Fields, 12.01pm); Essendon v Werribee (Windy Hill, 12.05pm). Bye: Footscray, GWS, Northern Bullants, Richmond, Williamstown.

NEXT WEEK: ROUND 22: Saturday, August 20: North Melbourne v Gold Coast (Arden St, 9.45am); Brisbane Lions v Casey Demons (Red Rooster Park, Moreton Bay, 11.35am); Southport v Coburg (Fankhauser Reserve, 11.35am); GWS v Footscray (Blacktown International Sports Park (12.05pm), Box Hill Hawks v Sydney (Box Hill City Oval, 12.35pm); Richmond v Frankston (Swinburne Centre, 2.05pm); Werribee v Northern Bullants (Avalon Airport Oval, 2.05pm). Sunday, August 21: Carlton v Collingwood (Ikon Park, 12.01pm); Geelong v Port Melbourne (GMHBA Stadium, 1.05pm); Williamstown v Sandringham (Williamstown Oval, 1.35pm). Bye: Essendon.

THEN: August 27-28: Qualifying Finals: 1v4, 2v3. Elimination Finals: 5v8, 6v7.

Twitter: @BRhodesVFL

Roo Atu Bosenavulagi is tackled by Swan Braeden Campbell. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos

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Sydney's Sam Wicks handballs under pressure from North's Kyron Hayden. Picture: AFL Photos
Hayden McLean takes one of his 12 strong marks under pressure from Aiden Bonar. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos
Peter Ladhams comes over the top of teammate Christian Webster and Kangaroo Charlie Comben to spoil the ball. Picture: AFL Photos
Will Collis handballs under pressure from Matt McGuinness. Picture: Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos












Charlie Comben of the Kangaroos flies over the top of teammate Zach Monkhorst to attempt a mark. Picture: AFL Photos