Errol Gulden during Sydney's game against Geelong in R16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Nine Things We Learned, we discover Errol Gulden is the best field kick in the game, St Kilda's September is slipping away plus much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 18 of the 2023 season.


1) The Dees are better with Max rucking solo

Melbourne skipper Max Gawn produced season-high numbers on Friday night playing as the sole recognised ruckman for the first time this year after the omission of big-name recruit Brodie Grundy. Gawn, with young key forward Jacob van Rooyen providing the occasional chop-out, was a genuine match-winner as the Demons came from 26 points down in the final quarter to beat Brisbane. Gawn was supreme as he ran Oscar McInerney off his feet with 39 hitouts, 29 disposals and 10 clearances, topping the latter count for all 46 players on the ground. Grundy, who was signed to a five-year deal less than 12 months ago, is now set for a stint in the VFL to work on his forward craft, despite spending the bulk of his career as a ruckman. Based on how Gawn played on Friday night when he had the ruck division to himself again, the Demons may well decide - at least for now - they are a more dangerous side without Grundy alongside him. – Sarah Black


2) Errol Gulden is the best field kick in the game right now

Arguably taking the mantle as Sydney's best player, 20-year-old Errol Gulden's field kicking is the best in the competition at the moment. As the Swans were up against it and struggling to generate their trademark transition out of defence against the Dogs on Thursday night, Gulden's linking kicks changed the game. When the Swans were being let down by blinkered, Buddy-centric forward 50 kicks, it was Gulden who lowered the eyes and shot through some pinpoint passes to the chest of his forwards. He is a player who has an elite footy brain, and the skills to match. Finishing with 11 inside 50s and 773m gained from his 30 disposals in Thursday's win, he is building an All-Australian worthy season in just his third year in the AFL. - Gemma Bastiani


3) Dusty's form is becoming ominous

Richmond champion Dustin Martin has always saved his absolute top-shelf performances for when it really matters, and his recent showings would suggest he wants those big-stage opportunities again. Martin's form has been significant in the Tigers' 5-1 run since round 12, and he capped an excellent month on Sunday with 23 disposals, four clearances and two goals against West Coast on Sunday. With recent possession tallies of 27, 35 and 29 before Sunday, it has been the triple Norm Smith medallist's best ball-winning month since late 2019. Finals remain within reach for Martin and the Tigers, and we know what he can do there. – Nathan Schmook

Dustin Martin during Richmond's match against West Coast in R18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

4) Harry's diagnosis could make or break Carlton's season

Carlton kicked its second-highest score of the season against Port Adelaide on Saturday night despite losing Harry McKay in the opening minutes. However, Michael Voss will still be sweating on the key forward's return given big Harry holds a chunk of the Blues' finals chances in his dinner-plate hands. It's been an often frustrating year for McKay but he had been returning to his best in recent weeks, not coincidentally at the same time Carlton has started winning. Voss was upbeat about McKay's injury, but if the former Coleman medalist is done for the year, then the Blues just might be too. - Howard Kimber


5) St Kilda's finals dream is slipping away

For the third time in its past four matches, St Kilda could muster just eight goals against Gold Coast on Saturday. There's quite a few problems with the Saints at the moment, as outlined by a frustrated Ross Lyon after their latest loss, but the top of that list has to be their inability to score. Yes, they're without Max King, and hopefully Jack Higgins and Tim Membrey aren't far away, but there's a hesitancy and stagnation to their ball movement that is giving the forwards little chance. Against the Suns, they generated just 13 shots at goal from 48 inside 50s. With their spot in the eight suddenly precarious, Lyon and his team need to find some answers in a hurry, starting with next Sunday's match against North Melbourne. – Michael Whiting

Rowan Marshall looks dejected after St Kilda's round 18 loss to Gold Coast at Heritage Bank Stadium on July 15, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

6) The Magpies only need a quarter to get you

Collingwood is the team to beat in 2023, and its ability to rip a game apart in a single quarter is a big reason why. Fremantle was in the contest early at the MCG on Saturday only for the Magpies to pile on 10 second-quarter goals in an incredible flurry, ripping away any hope the Dockers had in a term. A six-goal third term against the Western Bulldogs in round 17 and seven-goal run in the second quarter on the Gold Coast the week prior were similarly important. Melbourne (round 13) and Adelaide (round 15) managed to somewhat contain the Magpies and the Dees claimed a win while the Crows got close. – Dejan Kalinic


7) Adam Kingsley is building a club, not just a team

While Greater Western Sydney has had its moments of inspired football through its short history, it sometimes seemed to lack something intangible. However, the current run of five wins, and particularly Saturday night's victory over Adelaide and the round 16 win against Melbourne in Alice Springs, has something that wasn't always there - the smell of a club with a proud history. It's one thing to teach a list how it should play, it's another altogether to teach it why it should play. Adam Kingsley didn't need to build a list - it was already there - instead he is building a club. - Howard Kimber

GWS players celebrate their win over Adelaide in R18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

8) The Cats are purring at the right time

Geelong's premiership defence has had its challenges, including a 0-3 start and with personnel being a significant issue. Numerous members of last year's Grand Final side missed stretches of games earlier this year, which saw them exposed with three straight losses from rounds nine to 11. However, Geelong's injury list has cleared up, with Zach Tuohy, Esava Ratugolea (who were both managed against Essendon) and Jed Bews (knee) among those battling to regain their places in a side that is unbeaten in its past four and has booted 38 goals in its past two. With that in mind, tests against top-four teams Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Collingwood in the next month may have come at just the right time for the Cats. - Ben Somerford


9) In-form Hawk is demanding a new deal

James Worpel was dropped twice last year, spent a patch at Box Hill and had his season ended early with a shoulder reconstruction. Entering a contract year with his spot in Hawthorn's best midfield mix questioned, the inside midfielder has consistently reached the levels he hit when he won the Peter Crimmins Medal in 2019. On Sunday, the 24-year-old added another fine performance to another fine season. Worpel amassed 32 disposals, 13 contested possessions, 10 score involvements, nine inside 50s, seven clearances, 702 metres gained and a goal against the Kangaroos. Hawthorn opened talks with Worpel last month but is yet to secure his signature for next year and beyond. The Hawks might have to up its offer if he continues to remain unsigned and perform like he has in 2023. - Josh Gabelich

James Worpel breaks Lachie Young's tackle during round 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos