Kyle Langford celebrates a goal during Essendon's win over Adelaide in round 17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Nine Things We Learned, we discover Jack Ross needs to start for the Tigers every week, Lachie Neale is in the hunt for a second Brownlow plus much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 17 of the 2023 season.


1) The break has done wonders for Jamie Elliott

After kicking just 10 goals across the first 11 rounds of 2023, Jamie Elliott has benefited from a few weeks off to help recover from a lingering shoulder injury. Since returning against Adelaide in round 15, he has kicked 11 goals in three games. The 30-year-old slotted a season-high five against Gold Coast last weekend, but Friday night was just as good, if not better. Elliott kicked 4.2 including three in the first half to keep Collingwood in the game early. The star forward looms as a major wildcard for the Magpies this September given his ability to stand up in big moments. - Josh Gabelich


2) The Dons have plenty of outlets to goal

Essendon's 12-goal first-half blitz on Sunday was a sight to behold, with the Bombers registering 21 scores from 40 inside 50s before half-time in a show of impressive efficiency. After the forward half came under scrutiny in recent weeks, it was a powerful display that showcased the Bombers' attacking weapons, with their multi-faceted threat underlined by 10 individual goalkickers. Early long-range bombs to Mason Redman and Zach Merrett represented their renowned rebounding style while Peter Wright booted three goals after a lean couple of weeks, with the reliable Kyle Langford also kicking three. Industrious small forwards Jye Menzie and Matt Guelfi had a heap of tackles and pressure acts inside 50, managing two goals each along with forward-inclined winger Nic Martin, who had eight score involvements. Jake Stringer was quiet but remains a big X-factor, giving plenty for opposition defences to handle in the run to finals. - Ben Somerford


3) Jack Ross needs to stay in the starting 22

After years of moving in and out of the senior side, Jack Ross had strung together 10 consecutive matches this year for the first first time in his career. But with a host of returning players named to face Sydney on Thursday night, including Dion Prestia and Dustin Martin, Ross was once again forced out of the 22 and into the sub role. Injected into the game in the first quarter after an untimely injury to debutant Jacob Bauer, Ross overcame the late start to have 10 touches and two of the Tigers' five goals to half-time while playing on the wing and was one of his side's best in the tight win. With the Tigers heading towards a transitionary period, they need to be playing 22-year-old as often as possible from the opening bounce. – Sarah Black

Jack Ross celebrates a goal during the R17 match between Richmond and Sydney at the MCG on July 6, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

4) Defence is the key to unlocking Harry

Carlton key forward Harry McKay had laid more than two tackles in a game only once this season before round 14. For the past three weeks, he has laid a total of 12 and his form in front of goal is following. In the first half against Fremantle at Optus Stadium on Sunday, McKay had a team-high three tackles inside 50 as his defensive pressure contributed to a 25-point lead. The resulting confidence was obvious, with the Coleman medallist converting set shots with drop punts and presenting at the ball with purpose, proving a handful for opponent Alex Pearce and finishing the day with three goals. If the Blues are going to make a late charge at finals, McKay's defensive efforts – and his goals – will be important. – Nathan Schmook

Harry McKay celebrates a goal for Carlton against Fremantle in R17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

5) Stengle could help the Cats surge into September

Tyson Stengle's 53-goal 2022 led to All-Australian honours and ended with a premiership, but the Geelong forward has struggled to have the same impact in 2023. His first 11 games of the season yielded just 12 goals, but perhaps Sunday could be a turning point. The former Crow and Tiger kicked five goals in a big win over North Melbourne, while also having 15 disposals and nine score involvements. It was a routine win for the Cats, but it could be the firestarter that Stengle and the Cats have been hoping for. – Dejan Kalinic

Geelong's Tyson Stengle celebrates a goal against North Melbourne in round 17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

6) Lachie Neale can win a second Brownlow

Rightfully, most of the chat this year about the game's most prestigious individual honour has centred on Nick Daicos and Zak Butters, who have both had marvellous seasons for teams that have lost just two games each. However, don't sleep on 2020 winner Lachie Neale to claim a second Brownlow. Just two points behind Daicos on's Brownlow Predictor after 16 rounds, Neale laid claim to another possible three-vote performance on Saturday with his 32 disposals (at 81 per cent efficiency) and game highs in clearances (eight) and score involvements (15). The Lions maestro has topped 30 disposals in six Brisbane wins (and 29 in two others), is the competition's most prolific clearance player and is a proven vote-getter. With seven rounds remaining, the 30-year-old is poised to apply plenty of pressure to the Collingwood and Port Adelaide tyros. – Michael Whiting

Lachie Neale shows off his 2020 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

7) You can't keep Melbourne's interceptors down

Attempting to quell Melbourne's defensive interceptors is like trying to play a game of whack-a-mole - spending too much time trying to limit one defensive Demon only opens the door for another to thrive. In Saturday night's win over St Kilda, the Saints worked hard to shut Jake Lever out of the game, but as a result Steven May was unleashed in a masterful display. May finished the game with 13 intercept possessions, eight intercept marks and 29 disposals to have a big say in the Saints' return of just eight goals from 52 inside 50s. While aided by an early injury to St Kilda key forward Max King, May moved freely in Melbourne's defensive half, reading the ball beautifully and clunking marks. - Gemma Bastiani

Steven May marks the ball during the R17 match between Melbourne and St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on July 8, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

8) Aliir must be stopped to shut off the Power

A plethora of key forwards and the League's hottest young midfielders has Port Adelaide's opponents working furiously on countering tactics, but the way to shut off the Power is to stop arguably their most important player, Aliir Aliir. The former Swan is fifth on the intercept mark leaderboard this year, but it's not a case of numbers, it's a matter of when he goes into action. Against Gold Coast on Saturday, Port started slowly but it was Aliir in the second term who stemmed the Suns' flow and turned the tide, and he even managed another goal-line touch in the dying moments of the half to keep his side within a kick. When the game restarted, it was Aliir who turned defence into attack for the first of nine goals in a third-quarter blitz that was undeniably premiership football. If Port's unbeaten run is to end, it will require a side that can pull out the Power plug before it's too late. – Howard Kimber

Aliir Aliir during Port Adelaide's match against Gold Coast in R17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

9) Centre clearances could cost the Giants finals

With their sights set on a surprise finals appearance, the Giants have one area they must urgently improve if they are to feature in September this season – centre clearances. For the second week in a row, GWS was smashed out of the middle, losing centre clearances 17-6 in its win over Hawthorn. Last week, that number was 14-2 against Melbourne. The Giants were largely in control against the Hawks, but risked giving up the win thanks to Hawthorn's dominance out of the middle. Before their bye, the Giants hammered Fremantle 16-6 out of the middle in a massive win, with the brilliant Stephen Coniglio and Tom Green combining for seven centre clearances. But that duo has had one combined in the two games since. The Giants must recapture the form they showed against the Dockers and quickly if they are to feature in September. – Dejan Kalinic