Sunday 18 March 2018 / 05:14 AM


In another abbreviated round, due to numerous teams enjoying a breather, there were more upsets although amid this most implausible season no result feels particularly shocking anymore. In a more simplistic measure, Carlton – tipped to be a bottom-two side – are just one game behind reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs. That’s all you really need to know about this magnetic AFL season.

Here are the things I liked and disliked from Round 13.


West Coast’s Aggression

The Eagles have been one of the most disappointing teams this season, with the top 4 fancies losing three consecutive matches ahead of their bye. Many pundits, including yours truly, wrote them off after their disastrous loss to the Gold Coast and believed a swift rebuild was needed.

Undoubtedly, there was a scathing review during their bye with the blowtorch set on Adam Simpson for the first time in his tenure. The Eagles didn’t necessarily wield the axe although veterans Chris Masten and Sharrod Wellingham continue to be overlooked.

On Thursday night against third-placed Geelong, the Eagles played a ferocious brand of football in a notable contrast to their perception of having a soft underbelly. From the get go, the Eagles played with fire marked by fierce tackling and a physicality not associated with them.

Impressively, West Coast countered every inevitable Cats comeback in clearly their best win of the season. However, it makes you wonder why they can’t produce that type of passionate effort more often.

It was an impressive response to the naysayers but it remains to be seen if the Eagles can sustain that hostility.

Carlton’s Inspired Leadership

Boasting five wins, the Blues have been arguably the surprise packet of the season. A lot of credit has deservedly gone to Brendon Bolton, who I have trumpeted as being the frontrunner for coach-of-the-year honours.

However, Carlton’s inspired leadership deserves plaudits as they have helped guide their talent-laden group to previously unimaginable heady heights. Against the Suns in the Gold Coast, the Blues clinched an important 10-point victory to keep their finals hopes alive.

The catalyst for the victory was star Bryce Gibbs, who played arguably the finest game of his career with 43 disposals and two crucial goals in the fourth term when the heat was on. Captain Marc Murphy was also sensational with 31 touches, while veteran Kade Simpson was a defensive sage with 33 possessions including several key intercepts in the dying moments.

Right now, Carlton’s leaders coupled with their rich talent stocks are propelling the Blues into a breakout season.

Demons Delight

It has been well documented how horrible the past decade has been for the Melbourne Demons, who have not made finals and been relevant since 2006. During the past three years, Paul Roos helped rebuild the club from the ashes and new coach Simon Goodwin is now reaping the rewards.

After a thrashing of the Bulldogs on Sunday, the Demons sit pretty at 7-5 and fifth on the ladder. From here, it would be a major failure if they didn’t make finals. Long-suffering Demons fans, who have probably become fatalists, would still feel uneasy despite their team looking finals certainties.

After years of stockpiling high draft picks, the Demons have a talent-laden squad and even their macabre past is unlikely to derail them.


Barlow’s Bad Luck

Gold Coast’s Michael Barlow suffered a shocking injury when he broke a left fibula in the last quarter of the Suns’ match against Carlton. He broke the same leg in 2010 while playing for Fremantle and his latest injury has ruled him out of the remainder of the season.  Barlow is expected to miss three months but hopes are high he will be able to start pre-season training.

However, undoubtedly, it is a nasty injury and previously it took Barlow a couple of years to get back to his best. At an advancing age – he’s 29- the injury is a major setback for Barlow and one wonders if, sadly, he’ll be able to make it back.

Innately affable, Barlow was brought to Gold Coast in a desperate bid to help stabilise the Suns’ infamous culture and his presence has been positively felt both on-and-off the field. Hopefully, this is not the last we’ve seen of Michael Barlow in the AFL.

Helpless Hawkins

Geelong are a team with vaunted firepower but lacking somewhat in depth. This was exposed against West Coast when the Cats struggled to score without their spearhead Tom Hawkins, who was rubbed out for a match due to a striking charge against Adelaide.

Coming into the game, it was perceived that the Eagles’ loss of Josh Kennedy was more influential to the outcome of the game but maligned West Coast forward Jack Darling make a physical impact in one of his better games.

In contrast, the Cats were rudderless without their imposing full-forward and could only muster a shoddy two goals in the first-half to effectively play themselves out of the game. Their overreliance on certain players, including Hawkins, is a major worry for coach Chris Scott.

Buddy v Rance

Many traditionalists have a lump in their throat when they recall a bygone era of football dictated by “one-on-one” contests. Jakovich vs Carey; Silvagni vs Lockett are some of the iconic matchups that people basically paid admission for. These days, due to congestion around the ball and ‘position less’ players, beloved one-on-one matchups are becoming increasingly rare.

In a rare throwback, Swans star spearhead Lance Franklin and Richmond ace defender Alex Rance rekindled some nostalgia with a battle for the ages on Saturday. In a matchup of best forward vs best defender, Rance had the better of his opponent keeping Franklin to just 1.1 after the Swan had dominated twice last season.

Frustrated with his opponent’s tight-checking, Franklin’s day soured further when he was reported for rough conduct after delivering a high bump on Connor Menadue. Still, it was a riveting titanic individual contest but, unfortunately, the teams don’t meet again in the home-and-away season.

Here’s hoping for a final between Richmond and Sydney.

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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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