Sunday 20 August 2017 / 04:42 AM

HANGERS & CLANGERS: AFL ROUND 12

In another abbreviated round, due to numerous teams enjoying a bye breather, the unpredictable nature of this most beguiling AFL season continued. Surely this is the greatest ever AFL season with virtually every match a tossup.

We are now at the halfway mark of the season and no one can predict with certainty what’s going to happen. Usually at this time of season, the ladder is almost set and the finals makeup has been generally determined. In a welcome contrast, right now, anything is possible.

The AFL, which has long craved parity, must be doing a celebratory dance as other leagues around the world – notably the ‘two-team’ NBA – struggle for competitiveness.

Here are the things I liked and disliked from round 12.

HANGERS 

Brilliant Bolton

Who is Carlton’s best asset? Brendon Bolton. The upstart head honcho is the clear cut coach-of-the-year in my opinion. Amid this crazy season, the beleaguered Blues winning four games and being ultra-competitive on a weekly basis is one of the major surprises.

After the failed Mick Malthouse reign ended in ignominy two years ago, Bolton took over an utter mess and a long rebuild loomed. Part of mastermind Alastair Clarkson’s famed coaching tree, Bolton’s imprint was immediate with the Blues shocking the league last year to win six games by the season’s midway point.

Predictably, the Blues fell away to win just one more game for the season’s remainder but it was clear that Bolton could coach. Carlton’s record isn’t particularly impressive – and they are actually worse off in the wins column than 12 months ago – but are undoubtedly in a better shape overall.

The inexperienced Blues are playing with passion and grit – characteristics instilled by Bolton, who hopes they will become defining features of the Blues. Most thought Carlton would drop off in the second-half of the season much like last year but the Blues produced a major boil over by beating ladder leaders GWS in a one-point thriller on Sunday.

Quite clearly, something good is percolating at Carlton, who may boast the AFL’s next master coach.

Kreuz Dominates  

Matthew Kreuzer hasn’t had the career envisioned when he was drafted No.1 a decade ago. Back then, Kreuzer was foreshadowed as being a mobile ruckman capable of dominating around the ground much like Dean Cox, the best modern ruckman.

However, disappointingly, a plethora of injuries stymied Kreuzer’s impact and there were numerous junctures when his career looked over. Testament to the never-ending ailments, Kreuzer only played his 150th game on the weekend.

Fortunately, it was a memorable milestone with Kreuzer spearheading the Blues to a famous one-point victory over ladder-leaders GWS on Sunday. The big man was outstanding with 21 possessions, 33 hit-outs, six marks and a goal.

With his body holding up – knock on wood! – Kreuzer is enjoying arguably his finest ever season averaging career-high disposals (15.1), clearances (4.2), hit-outs (28.9) and tackles (5.9). We have been robbed of seeing Kreuzer in full flight but, at just 28 years old, he still has time on his side to make a significant impact at the backend of his career.

Upsets Galore

How’s your footy tipping going? This AFL season is drunk and no one would feel good putting money down on these games – actually, perhaps it’s a great time to wager with so many upsets going on. This AFL season is basically a crapshoot, and one should expect anything to happen.

In round 12, the bottom four sides won their respective matches and those upsets weren’t even that surprising considering the unpredictability of this season. Encapsulating all of this was bottom-placed Brisbane snapping a nine-match losing streak with an utter evisceration of the struggling Dockers, who had won 6 from 7 not long ago.

Simply, it’s a season for the ages and ensures almost every game is worth tuning into. Long live the AFL’s parity.

CLANGERS

Dismal Dockers

The Dockers enter their bye at a respectable 6-6, a ratio they probably would have settled for at the start of the season. However, the Dockers’ impressive rebuild has quickly spiralled after three bad losses culminating with a humiliating pounding by the Lions in Brisbane.

The Dockers have been rudderless without giant ruckman Aaron Sandilands dictating in the middle and Freo’s highly-rated midfield has been badly exposed. They haven’t won a game since Sandilands last appeared, testament to the Dockers’ overreliance of their 34-year-old stalwart.

Quite clearly, Sandilands is in the twilight of a great career and Freo’s future looks rather bleak without his towering presence. Backup ruckman Jon Griffin has struggled to make an impact, while veteran Zac Clarke has been on the sidelines due to injury.

It may be time for Freo to unleash Sean Darcy, their first round pick from last year’s draft, in a desperate bid to find a solution to Sandliands’ sizeable absence.

Power’s Out

Are Port Adelaide “flat-track” bullies? Or is that unwanted moniker only eternally reserved for West Coast? For many, the Power are premiership contenders and should finish in the top four. They play a dazzling brand and their firepower simply overwhelms weaker teams as evidenced by a stunning percentage of 134 – the second highest in the league.

However, the Power have lost to the Crows, Giants, West Coast – when they were in top form – and the Cats; so in essence, they haven’t beaten anyone better than them. On the weekend, they got belted in Melbourne by Essendon in a damaging blow for their credibility.

Due to lazy stereotyping, West Coast has been branded with the unwanted slur of being a “flat-track” bully for the past three years despite making the 2015 Grand Final, winning numerously in Adelaide against the Crows and Power, and beating GWS in Sydney last year. Undeniably, West Coast struggle at the MCG and the team is flat-lining right now. But the stereotyping is just inaccurate and indicates the shallow research being done across the board by pundits.

Right now, the Power – not the Eagles – are the ultimate “flat-track” bully.

Middling Champs

The Bulldogs have been in somewhat of a premiership hangover, which wasn’t entirely surprising considering their momentous feats last finals series. The Bulldogs’ first-half of the season was mired by sloppiness and lethargic starts although their famed resilience had reared impressively.

One suspected they were priming themselves for a strong backend to the season. However, in their first match after the bye, the Bulldogs were thumped by the Swans in Sydney to leave the reigning premiers delicately poised at 6-5 and seventh on the ladder.

The Bulldogs only kicked six goals for the entirety and look far removed from the force that captivated the football world last September. It isn’t quite panic stations just yet but the Bulldogs are in a major fight to stay afloat as a premiership contender.

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About the author

Tristan Lavalette

Tristan is a freelance journalist based in Perth. He has written for The Guardian, ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Previously he was a newspaper journalist for almost a decade.

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