Excluding the GWS Giants who are currently enjoying the best start to a season in their short history, the AFL ladder after four rounds is interesting more for the clubs outside the top eight than in it. Three clubs in particular have been the standout underperformers: Sydney and Richmond with one win each, and Carlton, who is yet to open its account.
For all the bleating these clubs make about it being “early days” and we should write them off “at our own peril”, the truth is that for these clubs – each of which seen by many pundits as a top four, and therefore a premiership chance – their chances at glory in 2014 are one wrong step away from being completely over.
For Carlton, a loss to the Western Bulldogs this weekend and a 0-5 start to the season will mean the end of its finals aspirations. It will mean the Blues would have lost to three teams pencilled in as wins (they’ve already lost to the Suns and the Demons), and with their next two games against finals aspirants West Coast and Collingwood, their already low confidence will be in danger of hitting minus territory.
For those Blues supporters pinning their hopes on a Chris Judd-led revival, it ain’t gonna happen. He’ll return this week after undergoing Achilles surgery in the pre-season, but the Chris Judd of 2014 is not the same version as the Chris Judd of circa 2011. Sorry, Blues fans, but the next time someone named Judd wins a game off his own boot it will probably be Chris and Twiggers’ son Oscar in 2035.
Expect a desperate Carlton to recall forward Jarrad Waite, who was inexplicably dropped for the Demon game, as well as out-of-favour midfielder Brock McLean.
Last week I claimed responsibility for the Sydney Swans’ poor start to the season, and I’m afraid it’s not going to get better for them any time soon. This week they play Fremantle, who came within a whisker of snatching the equivalent fixture at the SCG last year, and famously out-pressured the Swans in the preliminary final at Subiaco.
Whatever they choose to do at the selection table will be a moot point, given their cursed status, but nevertheless the possible big inclusion for the Swans is Kurt Tippett. Expect him to play given the importance of this game for Sydney. Whereas a 2-3 start would be salvageable, 1-4 would be a massive dent to their top four chances, never mind their finals aspirations.
And finally, to the Tigers, who take on the Brisbane Lions on Thursday night in a must-win game. For a long period now, Richmond hasn’t needed a curse to perform poorly; they’ve been more than capable of bringing it on themselves, and 2014 appears to be another notch in the belt of the perennial underachievers.
With arguably their most important player Brett Delidio still likely to be sidelined with an Achilles injury, they don’t have much to call upon, and as of Wednesday night, their only change was Ricky Petterd coming in for the beleaguered Ty Vickery. Pity they don’t have any players called Heart, Guts or Effort waiting in the wings.
Even if Carlton, Sydney or Richmond did manage to get their act together, it’s hard to find space in the eight for them. Yes, it is “early days”, but the top seven teams (with apologies once again to the eighth-placed team, GWS) appear to be head and shoulders above the rest. Which means there’s probably only one spot for the three early season disappointments, as well as fellow finals aspirants Collingwood and the Gold Coast Suns.
If you think the blowtorch is hot now after only four rounds, it’s nothing compared to what will unfold later in the season as some of the previously highly favoured clubs fall further out of finals contention.
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