Friday 20 October 2017 / 11:28 PM

HANGERS & CLANGERS: AFL ROUND 15

I sound like a broken record but it just has to be repeated – this is the greatest AFL season, with every round throwing up a fusion of upsets and memorable matches. Round 15 was no different with a slew of great encounters highlighted by the AFL’s first draw since 2015.

Here are the things I liked and disliked from round 15.

HANGERS

West Coast’s Inspired Rucks

West Coast has endured a disappointing season with the top 4 fancies enduring a worrying slump in recent times. Without spearhead Josh Kennedy and Nic Naitanui – who is likely to miss the entirety of the season due to a knee reconstruction – the Eagles have looked rather mediocre and, accordingly, they had slumped to 7-6 after round 14.

The loss of their talisman Naitanui has been particularly noticeable with the Eagles losing their usual dominance in the ruck without his trademark athleticism and dynamism. However, the additions of recruits Nathan Vardy and Drew Petrie has helped alleviate Naitanui’s sizeable absence.

Since returning from a finger injury sustained in the opening round, Petrie has been one of West Coast’s best players. The veteran has played an important role as a ruck/forward providing vital flexibility and experience to help offset the dual loss of Kennedy and Naitanui.

Vardy, who endured seven injury-plagued seasons at Geelong, has been serviceable as West Coast’s lead ruckman and became the team’s hero when he sealed a tight seven-point victory over the reigning premiers Western Bulldogs in Melbourne on Saturday.

In the dying minutes, Vardy kicked the final goal of the game out of a stoppage and then took a clutch grab in defence to halt the Bulldogs’ late push. His match-winning efforts were reminiscent of legendary West Coast ruckman Dean Cox, who had a knack of conjuring something special at the death.

Brilliant Brisbane

The lowly Lions have endured a tough season and, accordingly, wins have been few and far between. They have propped up the ladder for the majority of the season – an unwanted position they are likely to be stuck in for the remainder.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel with the Lions being far more competitive in recent times, highlighted by a pulsating comeback victory against the mercurial Bombers in Melbourne on Sunday.

The Lions kicked six of the last seven goals of the game to conjure a miraculous eight-point victory. In a tonic for the beleaguered club – who have tasted finals just once since their golden era ended in 2004 – a slew of talented youngsters are coming through ensuring the future is looking far more optimistic than it appeared just a few months ago.

The standout youngster against the Bombers was second-gamer Alex Witherden, who shone with 29 disposals to help engineer the Lions’ audacious comeback.

Things are finally looking up for the Lions.

Amazing Ablett

Gary Ablett celebrated his 300th game in style as Gold Coast defeated the Kangaroos at home to keep their finals hopes afloat. The 33 year-old was typically superb collecting 37 possessions to be the prime mover for the Suns.

Despite his advancing age, Ablett continues to show no signs of regression and is astoundingly averaging 32 touches a game – which if he maintains that mark would be the third highest of his legendary career.

It’s always tough comparing footy players because it is the ultimate team sport due to the sheer number of players on the ground – basketball, for example, is decidedly easier. However, undoubtedly Ablett is in the conversation of greatest ever players. Perhaps he wasn’t as spectacular as his legendary dad or Chris Judd – whose prime at West Coast is the most spectacular thing I’ve witnessed in the AFL – but Ablett’s longevity and consistency is almost unmatched.

It will always be debatable where Ablett ranks in the pecking order but, more importantly, we should never take for granted watching the ageless wonder.

CLANGERS

No Hawkins Heroics

Tom Hawkins, Geelong’s spearhead, had been in this nerve-wracking situation before. Famously, five years ago, Hawkins converted from outside 50m after the siren to beat arch-nemesis Hawthorn. On Saturday night, with the Cats down by a point, Hawkins had a chance to once again be the hero against league-leaders GSW in Sydney.

With a tough shot from 30m, Hawkins’ badly missed to the right and the behind ensured the first draw in the AFL for two years. Still, it was a gallant effort from the Selwood-less Cats who led for much of the match and showed they are genuine contenders.

Port’s Perception

I wrote recently that Port Adelaide- not West Coast – had become the ultimate “flat-track bully”. Personally, I dislike those cheap and nasty labels but, undoubtedly, the Power deserve a question mark with continual losses against the better teams in the league.

The Power put the boots into middling teams as evidenced by a strong percentage of 132 – the second best in the league. However, the fifth-placed Power just can’t beat anyone around them and that worrying trend continued in a crucial loss to the Tigers at home on Saturday night.

The loss leaves the Power one game behind fourth-placed Richmond and further erodes their credibility as a flag fancy. The Power face another crux match when they travel to Perth to face West Coast on Sunday – the teams are currently separated by percentage.

Low Scoring Games

As gushed repeatedly, the AFL is in the midst of its greatest ever season. The majority of games are tight and there is little separating most teams in the competition. Thus, matches have been close and akin to an arm wrestle.

The one drawback – to some – is that the games have been low-scoring and often mired in congestion indicative of the pressure around the contests. In round 15, only the Suns and Hawthorn – who coincidentally both scored 118 – were the only teams to crack the century mark.

 

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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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