Nick Blakey during Sydney's match against Richmond in Gather Round, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Nine Things We Learned, we discover Port Adelaide's start has been underrated, a couple of intercepting defenders are in top form, and more.

BARRETT Pivotal month will determine Dew's future

Check out what we learned from round five of the 2023 season.


1) Blakey's versatility is one of Sydney's biggest weapons

The Swans were decimated by injuries in their talls department in the lead up to Friday's clash with Richmond, with key defenders Paddy and Tom McCartin ruled out with concussion issues and Dane Rampe (neck), Lance Franklin (knee), Sam Reid (hamstring) and Tom Hickey (hamstring) all unavailable. It meant a shuffle of roles in Sydney's back half, with more responsibility handed to Nick Blakey in defence. The young Swan lived up to it, gathering 30 disposals in a polished and attacking display. He can play tall and small, quick and slow and makes things happen with the ball in his hands. Blakey's flexibility gives the Swans some real options. – Callum Twomey

Nick Blakey during Sydney's match against Richmond in Gather Round, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

2) Dynamic Draper has solved Essendon's forward line issue

With Peter Wright set to miss most of the season due to a shoulder reconstruction, Brad Scott has been searching for an extra tall target in attack and he's found one in Sam Draper. The South Australian ruckman kicked a career-high three goals against Melbourne on Saturday – all in the first half to help give Essendon a sizeable lead – to go with 18 hitouts, 14 disposals and three contested marks. Andrew Phillips also had another decent impact, slotting two goals of his own to go with 12 disposals and 21 hitouts. With Collingwood to come on Anzac Day, Draper will be licking his lips given the ruck crisis at the Pies right now. - Josh Gabelich


3) Port's start has been underestimated

The fixture gods didn't shine upon Port Adelaide in the first block of the year, with the Power given three of last year's top four, a Showdown (which are historically 50-50 games) and a clash with last year's finalists, the Western Bulldogs, in the first five rounds. But the Power leave that part of the season ahead of the ledger with a 3-2 win-loss record after their gritty, hard-fought victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday night, which followed wins over Sydney and Brisbane. Zak Butters was huge, Jason Horne-Francis was important in the last term and bookends Aliir Aliir and Todd Marshall were pivotal in their own ways. The Power's start means they aren't playing catch-up like last year, when they registered a 0-5 beginning to the season. – Callum Twomey

Todd Marshall celebrates a goal during the round five clash between Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval on April 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

4) New Pie Hill continues to impress 

Bobby Hill hasn't attracted anywhere near the same level of hype as Izak Rankine, but the new Pie has also made a fast start since moving clubs in October. The former Greater Western Sydney small forward added three more goals on Sunday – the most of any player on the ground – to take his tally to 10 for the season. Tom Papley, Charlie Cameron, Jack Higgins and Rankine are the only small forwards with more so far in 2023. Hill didn't play another game for the Giants after recovering from testicular cancer last year, but the West Australian has been an instant hit in black and white, kicking at least a goal in each of his first five appearances. Jack Ginnivan was the story before the bounce after returning for the first time this year, but it was Hill who did the damage against the Saints. - Josh Gabelich


5) Ratugolea the defender was worth fighting for

Much like his team on Sunday, Geelong big man Esava Ratugolea had periods where he was brilliant and others where he faded, but the end result was one worth celebrating. A former ruckman/forward, Ratugolea now looks every bit a long-term tall defender and he underlined his ability to play the role at AFL level with a massive six intercept marks in the first quarter at Adelaide Oval. The flip side was a second half in which he went without a disposal and the Eagles' key forwards got on top. After moving into defence halfway through last year at VFL level, Ratugolea was pursued aggressively by Port Adelaide, which could offer AFL opportunities after the athletic tall was restricted to just four games in 2022. Geelong was not willing to let the 24-year-old go, however, and it is now clear why. – Nathan Schmook

Esava Ratugolea takes a mark against West Coast in Gather Round, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

6) Tom Green will dominate games for years to come

Young Giant Tom Green seems to have racked up 50 games awfully quickly, and such was his impact in the first half at Norwood Oval on Sunday, Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell sent Conor Nash to him for the remainder of the game. While his disposal at times can still be a little off (not an uncommon issue for a contested-heavy midfielder), the 22-year-old is averaging 31.2 touches and 6.8 clearances from his five matches this year, up from 24.3 and 5.0 last year. Given Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto have moved to Richmond, Green - who has just signed a new four-year contract - is set to be the leader of the Giants midfield for the next 10 years – Sarah Black


7) Don't forget Harris Andrews

While the forwards stole the glory in Saturday's runaway win over North Melbourne, co-captain Harris Andrews put together another strong performance to continue a fine start to his 2023. After being outpointed by Charlie Dixon in round one, Andrews has been superb in the past month, in a patch of form – and yes, it's only a patch – equal to his All-Australian years of 2019 and 2020. He has a nice balance of one-on-one defence and zoning off to take intercept marks, with his hands looking as assured as any time in the past few seasons. With Jack Payne getting continuity and slowly settling in as his sidekick, Andrews had a match-high 10 intercept possessions against the Kangaroos as he marshalled the Lions' backline to a second straight win. – Michael Whiting

Harris Andrews outmarks Nick Larkey during the R5 match between Brisbane and North Melbourne at Adelaide Hills on April 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

8) Fremantle needs a party starter

Friday's result showed Fremantle has no trouble finishing out a game, but it also made it clear there are problems at the other end of the contest. The Dockers haven't won an opening quarter this season and have only led at the first break three times in their past 20 starts, with 0.1 quarter-time tallies in both finals last year a particular worry. If Justin Longmuir can find a way to get his men breathing fire from the first bounce, it would make his life a whole lot easier and possibly would have reversed a couple of results this year. – Howard Kimber


9) The Crows may have the AFL's best forward line

It had been on the cards when Adelaide picked up Izak Rankine last summer, adding another genuine match-winner to an attack that already possessed the experience of Taylor Walker, the brute force of Darcy Fogarty, the potential of Riley Thilthorpe and the excitement of Josh Rachele. But now it's official – the Crows have possibly the best forward line in the league. In scoring 18.10 (118) against Carlton on Thursday night, Adelaide notched its fifth straight game this season of recording 26 or more scoring shots. Their 28 scores came from 51 entries at an efficiency of 54.9 per cent and highlighted their incredible potency once again. When this group is up and running, they're nearly impossible to stop. - Riley Beveridge