Collingwood and Port Adelaide had contrasting wins but their will to win is undeniable. Pictures: AFL Photos

PREMIERSHIPS in the AFL aren't won with niceness. They are won with edginess, hardness, nastiness.

Think Joel Selwood and Matty Scarlett at Geelong, Steven May and Jack Viney at Melbourne, Dusty Martin at Richmond, Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell at Hawthorn, Damien Hardwick at Essendon and Port Adelaide, Wayne Carey and Glenn Archer at North Melbourne. Players who physically and mentally refuse to deviate on toughness, players prepared to edge the line on every rule in the book.

There is more than enough of the required nastiness in Collingwood and Port Adelaide, the breakaway leaders after 16 rounds of the 2023 season.


Taylor Adams, Brayden Maynard, Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, Charlie Dixon are among those establishing non-negotiable habits at their clubs.

For the Pies in round 16, they simply mentally broke Gold Coast at Carrara. They didn't allow the Suns to kick a goal in the first and last quarters, conceded just one in the second term, and at one stage led 94-10.

And therein lies one of the many problems at Gold Coast, a team which keeps telling the footy world it is on the right track but one which, without realising it itself, has allowed itself to become too comfortable with being ordinary and without edge.

Stuart Dew looks on during the R16 match between Gold Coast and Collingwood at Heritage Bank Stadium, on July 1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

For the Power, they simply willed themselves to a 12th consecutive win. They couldn't be killed even when trailing as the final siren sounded against Essendon, the mind power of Dan Houston even more potent than his leg power to kick accurately from 55 metres with a sodden ball.

Butters and Rozee have regularly been more impactful this year than their performances against the Bombers, but their team again would not have got the win without their willpower and aggression in key moments.

Sam Mitchell is five seasons removed from his playing days, now in his second season as coach of Hawthorn.

Upon accepting his first-ballot entry into the Australian Football Hall Of Fame during the week, he spoke proudly of his renowned ability to always play on the edge.

"I don't think I ever said I wasn't nasty, I hope that I was nasty, within the rules. I mean to me competitiveness is about trying to win in every way within the rules that you possibly can," Mitchell said on Fox Footy.

"And sometimes to achieve the most you can as an individual and as a team you need to have that edge, and I hope the team I coach grows that."


It was no surprise Mitchell installed James Sicily as captain this season. The two have the same competitive gene, though Sicily, already with four matches of AFL suspension this year, is going to need to finetune some of his ways.

That's the danger with the white line fever guys. They can cost their teams at times. The Hawks have been smashed in the three games Sicily has missed with suspension, with one more game to come without him.

It wasn't the fault of Viney that Melbourne was unable to win in Alice Springs on Sunday against GWS. Viney was the main reason the Demons surged late in the game and nearly secured victory.

Equally, Toby Greene, arguably still the main exponent of AFL nastiness and uncompromising on-field values, had a major impact on his team securing another upset win.

The hardness of Tom Liberatore was crucial to the Bulldogs defeating Fremantle on Saturday. In the same game, Caleb Serong, already established as the Docker with the hardest edge, never gave up.

Just three-and-a-half seasons into his AFL life, Serong may soon have no peers in AFL edginess. But he's going to need a few more Dockers to go with him if they are to retrieve their 2023 hopes.

Caleb Serong kicks the ball during the R16 clash between Fremantle and Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on July 1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The 2023 ladder, like seemingly every other ladder for the past 100 years, has again been shaped by the clubs with the right amount of uncompromising nastiness.

Time to start putting into sharp focus the MCG on September 30 with a snarling Maynard wanting to deal with a fire-in-his-eyes Butters, and a forever-looking-for-a-stoush Adams feeling the need to approach Rozee.

The last, and only, time Port Adelaide won a flag, it did so when Hardwick, in the last of his 207 matches at two clubs, roughed up the mighty Brisbane, which was going for a fourth consecutive premiership, before the 2004 Grand Final even started.

The optics of this industry regularly view the nasty players as unnecessary and a throwback to the past. The record books prove they're always crucial.