Round 19 wasn’t a tipster’s best friend. With loses to Geelong, Hawthorn and Essendon, as well as the always hard-to-pick Showdown, last week’s results proved that ladder position can still mean next to nothing if a team lacks preparation and underestimates their opposition. Continuing drug investigations don’t help either.
But do some of these shock results really mean anything? Are the top four secured by this time of year? Can team pass these shock losses off a ‘one-offs’? On face value, it seems the ladder wasn’t hugely affected by the round 19 results, but the outcomes further down the track may prove costly. Where some teams are slipping away from their ideal finals run, some have peaked at the right time and are biting at the top four’s heels.
Hawthorn v Richmond
The Hawks’ 41-point loss in round 19 was their heaviest defeat since going down to Richmond by 62 points last season. It was just the second time in the 2013 season that Hawthorn had conceded more than 100 points, with their score of 66 being their lowest since round four last year.
Hawk’s ruckman David Hale dubbed their loss “one out of the box” and not an indicator of the club’s finals chances; if history tells us anything, he is probably right. The last two times Hawthorn has lost to Richmond in their past eight meetings, they have gone on to play in the Grand Final.
Looking at their run home, the Hawks aren’t in any immediate danger of losing the minor premiership, with their round 23 clash against Sydney their only major challenge on paper.
While this match did little to disturb Hawthorn’s finals odds, it just about confirmed Richmond’s. To guarantee a ticket to September, all Richmond need to do is win at least one of their four remaining games; three of which will be played against lower-ranked teams.
The Tigers are just the fourth different team (other than Geelong, Sydney and West Coast) to beat the Hawks since the beginning of the 2012 season and only the third team to have beaten them more than once in the same period.
If (but mostly likely when) Richmond make the finals, it will be their first appearance in 12 years. And no one has had to wait longer to play in September than former captain Chris Newman, who, after playing his 231st game against the Hawks, has now played the most VFL/AFL games without playing a final.
Richmond is peaking at a crucial stage of the season. No doubt it is an exciting time for both the club and their very patient fans.
Essendon v Collingwood
It would be easy to blame Essendon’s two recent heavy losses on their vey public supplements scandal. Coach James Hird was adamant post-match that the players had not hit a mental wall despite the never-ending headlines and daily media queries at Windy Hill.
However, even if Hird is right, the flip side doesn’t look much better. The Bombers haven’t proved they are good enough to beat top sides after consecutive losses to Hawthorn and Collingwood, as well as their loss to Geelong in round seven. After being taught a lesson buy the Pies, a top four berth is no longer a given for the team who won the first 13 of 16 matches this season and looked a sizeable threat earlier in the year. While the Dons are confident they will be allowed to play finals, the crucial double chance could now be out of reach after Freemantle moved into fourth spot.
As a result, facing North Melbourne, Carton and Richmond in their run home could prove more difficult than first imagined. Off-field issues aside, Essendon need to pull themselves together and rediscover their form from earlier in the year. They cannot afford to rely on their early season success to carry them through the next four weeks.
Collingwood on the other hand revived their 2013 season and showed what they are capable of in their win against Essendon. Not only did they remember their manic defensive pressure, but also out-tackled the Bombers 81-51 to notch up their third win in four outings. Coach Nathan Buckley is confident his team is peaking at the right time of the season. With Sydney, Hawthorn, West Coast and North Melbourne left on their calendar, Collingwood will need to continue to dig deep and build on their strong form if they are to win at least one of those games to ultimately qualify for September.
Geelong v North Melbourne
Kangaroo’s fans would have breathed a sigh of relief on the weekend when their team finally delivered a game that looked all too familiar. Leading by only eight points at three-quarter time, North Melbourne were in danger of a Geelong comeback that they experienced in round two – they managed to hold out and win by ten.
Unfortunately for the Kangaroos they look like earning the unwanted tag of the best team out of the finals after falling short in a number of well-played games this season. Still three wins short of eighth-placed Port Adelaide, North Melbourne need to win every game to have any chance of making finals; it looks unlikely.
For Geelong, it was just its fourth loss of the season, but also their third defeat in seven matches. Being knocked off second sport on the ladder, Geelong’s lost to the Kangaroos means it needs to win three of their next four games to secure a strong minor premiership position leading into the finals. Despite Coach Chris Scott saying his team favours a minimalist style of playing, the Roos finished with 99 more disposals, 70 more handball receives, and 23 more contested possessions. You can’t ignore stats like those when you are set to face teams like Hawthorn or Sydney in the finals.