Monday 19 March 2018 / 08:12 AM


TRISTAN LAVALETTE unpicks the best and worst from another wild weekend of AFL action.


Sam Mitchell’s Renaissance

The Hawthorn legend turned West Coast veteran equalled St Kilda champion Robert Harvey’s record on Friday night with the most games over-30 possessions in AFL/VFL history. In a best afield display to fuel an important victory for West Coast, Mitchell’s 33 touches was the 118th occasion he had passed the coveted 30-possession landmark.

More importantly, it was Mitchell’s best game for the Eagles in what had been a patchy initiation. The acquisition of Mitchell was seen as the final piece West Coast needed to become a legitimate premiership contender. After a spectacular debut in round one against North Melbourne, Mitchell has been quiet exacerbated by a leg injury in round 4.

Against the Bulldogs’ famed midfield, Mitchell rewound the clock in a dominant first half display where he was seemingly everywhere in a total defiance of his advancing age. His value isn’t merely about stuffing the statistics – Mitchell makes it easier for West Coast’s maligned second-tier of midfielders to have a more pronounced impact.

Accordingly, Chris Masten and Dom Sheed were among West Coast’s best contributors and ensured the Eagles were able to match the Bulldogs around the ball and in contested possession. Adding a blue chip player in Mitchell and the subsequent domino effect in the midfield ensures West Coast are a legitimate premiership contender.

Mundy on Sundy

Fremantle veteran David Mundy isn’t a noted goal-kicker. He only averages about 0.5 per game for his career. However, there wouldn’t be many more reliable options with the game on the line. The midfielder’s composure was confirmed when he memorably kicked a goal after the siren to defeat the Tigers at the MCG on Sunday.

Suddenly, the downtrodden Dockers are emerging as a genuine finals team having somehow won 5 from 6 – with three of the victories by under a kick. Mundy, ever calm and measured, basically reenacted his heroics from two years ago when he kicked the match-winning goal against the Tigers on the same ground.

It must have felt very much like déjà vu for the hapless Tigers, watching an ice cool Mundy once again put a dagger through them.

Beyond Boundaries for the AFL

Cynics can scoff at the historic match between Gold Coast and Port Adelaide at Shanghai. Sure, it is very unlikely Aussie Rules will ever catch on in China or anywhere beyond Australia. Nonetheless, seeing this great game in a far-flung glitzy destination was a refreshing sight.

Of course, the exercise wasn’t merely about showcasing the intricacies and theatrics of the sport in the world’s most populous country. It presented a golden opportunity for the clubs and the league to network among the Chinese business community.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a whacky idea and indicative of Port Adelaide president David Koch but he should receive credit for backing a left-field initiative.

Due to our isolation, we tend to think of Australia as a major sports market. Truth be told, it isn’t and there is only so much cash to go around. Simply, some of the battling clubs need to be inventive. It wasn’t too long ago that Port Adelaide was struggling off-field, something Koch clearly hasn’t forgotten.

Unfortunately, the game itself was a flop with the Power routing an alarmingly temperamental Gold Coast. The AFL must have wished the Freo-Tigers concurrent epic was unfolding in Shanghai instead of this one-sided bore.

Still, it was a venture worth taking and one suspects there will be more ambitious expeditions by AFL clubs in the future.


Same old Tigers

Surprisingly, Richmond started the season 5-0 fuelling optimism in Tigerland. Despite the bright start, the beleaguered Tigers faithful were still somewhat hesitant having been continually scarred during a turbulent last 35 years.

The Tigers then suffered predictable losses to powerhouses Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs. Still, there was no reason for panic although their round 8 match against a middling Fremantle at home loomed as season defining.

Almost inevitably, reviving painful apparitions for long-time Richmond supporters, the Tigers stunk against the Dockers and were outplayed for the majority before shaking from their slumber late in the match.

The Tigers hit the front with 20 seconds left and it appeared they had done enough to eke out an important victory. However, it all went downhill for the Tigers in a horrible finale that could trigger the demise of embattled coach Damien Hardwick.

Only needing to lock the ball for victory, the Tigers let Lachie Neale run out of the middle, as if it was a training drill for the Dockers. Neale kicked it deep into the forward line where Mundy led into open space. Bafflingly, the Tigers hadn’t flooded back defensively.

It was an abominable finale for the Tigers, one that was just all too familiar for this tortured club. Undoubtedly, it’s a painful loss that might be hard to come back from.

Josh Kennedy’s Yips

Josh Kennedy is on track to win his third consecutive Coleman Medal but the West Coast spearhead almost cost his team the game on Friday night. For such an expert marksman, it was jarring watching Kennedy miss three consecutive set shots in the final quarter. They were relatively straightforward opportunities and would have effectively ended the match.

Instead, the misses deflated the Eagles and increased anxiety among a nervous home crowd. Sensing the momentum swing, the Bulldogs almost overran the Eagles but fell short by eight points.
There was a period earlier in his career, where he had the stutter steps going, when Kennedy was a shaky goal kick. Having smoothed his Fred Flinstone-esque run-up, Kennedy is now a proud sharp-shooter.

Undoubtedly, Kennedy will be hard at practice this week and one would expect the Eagles’ talisman to be far more accurate next time around.

Cold Cats

Amid such an unpredictable competition, Geelong may be the hardest team to read. After a soft opening to the season, the Cats are tentatively poised at 5-3 and have lost three consecutive matches against teams not expected to figure in finals.

Geelong were seen as part of the ‘big 4’ – along with Adelaide, GSW and the Bulldogs – due to their enviable star power headed by the incomparable duo of skipper Joel Selwood and Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield.

However, footy is not basketball; it is the ultimate team sport. In basketball, if you have two-three superstars then you’re almost certain to be elite. In footy, teams need a far more even spread across the board.

Their top end is brilliant but the Cats drop off after that testing a fragile list. The AFL is far more competitive than anyone expected this season; only Brisbane appear to be fodder. It all means that Geelong can’t merely rely on their superstars to get them over the line.

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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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