Usually by this time of the year, the eight sides who will play finals are set in stone with just the finishing order to be resolved. 2014 however is a different story. The sides in the top six at the moment will all be involved in September action but seventh and eighth remain up for grabs, with Collingwood, Gold Coast, Essendon and Adelaide set to fight it out for the final two spots.
Gold Coast’s chances took a hit on Saturday evening as they fell to the Bulldogs in Cairns. Suffering a lapse after last week’s exhausting game in which they made no rotations in the final quarter can be stomached, but if the Suns go down to the Lions next week, they will face an uphill battle to take part in their first finals series in 2014.
Adelaide showed plenty on Friday night against the reigning premiers Hawthorn, but in the end just weren’t good enough and fell four points behind Collingwood, Gold Coast and Essendon.
Speaking of Essendon, the Bombers bought the intense pressure that saw them cause an upset over Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval last week to the MCG and embarrassed Collingwood. The Pies now find themselves clinging onto a finals spot after spending much of the season in the company of Sydney, Fremantle, Hawthorn, Geelong and Port, going down to their arch-rivals to the tune of 64 points.
If you were still arguing that any side other than Sydney is the best in the AFL at the moment, Saturday night’s second half should have taught you otherwise. Leading Carlton by seven points at half time, the Swans put the foot down and kicked 12 goals to two in the second half, 10 of which came unanswered in the third quarter.
Richmond continued its late season resurgence by toppling the horribly out of form Port Adelaide to show they are still a top six side on their day, in the process sparking Tigers’ fans hopes for 2015. Port Adelaide, on the other hand, are yet to recover from the tailspin they have been in since cross-town rivals Adelaide upset the Power in round 15. Port now find themselves fifth after spending much of the season comfortably on top of the ladder.
Geelong, North Melbourne and Fremantle were all clinical in comprehensive wins against lowly opponents, while West Coast saved some face by getting over Brisbane by 10 points.
Here’s the Team of the Week for round 17.
B: Angus Litherland, Alex Rance, Mark Baguley
HB: Jarrad McVeigh, Cale Hooker, Bachar Houli
C: Patrick Dangerfield, Jackson Macrae (C), Brent Harvey
HF: Paul Chapman, Jake Carlisle, Steven Motlop
F: Jack Riewoldt, Lance Franklin, Hayden Ballantyne
Foll: Todd Goldstein, Josh P Kennedy, Joel Selwood
Int: David Armitage, Josh Jenkins, Travis Boak
Sub: Anthony Morabito
Angus Litherland: It was the 200th game of Eddie Betts’ career. An entire bay at Adelaide Oval had donned yellow ‘Eddie’s pocket’ t-shirts in the pocket where he kicked a goal of the year contender against North Melbourne in round 13, and Eddie had been in terrific form leading into the game. The stage was set, then, for Betts to launch his new side right into the midst of the finals race. Angus Litherland had other ideas, however, and kept the small forward to a meagre seven touches and one goal as Hawthorn triumphed by two goals.
Alex Rance: After keeping Daniel Merrett goalless last week and Nick Riewoldt to one goal the week before, Rance continued his late run at a spot in the All-Australian team by foiling Coleman Medal leader and former Tiger Jay Schulz for much of Sunday afternoon’s game.
Mark Baguley: Baguley played on Dane Swan, who has often torn Essendon apart, and kept the Collingwood champion to 20 touches at 55% efficiency while having 23 disposals, 11 marks and five rebound 50s of his own.
Jarrad McVeigh: There are few more consistent footballers in the league than Jarrad McVeigh. Only three times this year has McVeigh had fewer than 20 disposals and Saturday night was no exception to his consistency, gathering 29 possessions on the Swans’ way to their 12th consecutive win.
Cale Hooker: He took on Travis Cloke and didn’t allow the key forward into the game when the result was still up in the air, and didn’t relent late in the contest either when it could have been excused. He was a constant thorn in Cloke’s side until the final siren.
Bachar Houli: Houli bounced back from a lean two weeks by his 2014 standards with 23 disposals at an outstanding 91% efficiency, along with six inside 50s and seven rebound 50s.
Patrick Dangerfield: Dangerfield quickly dispelled any talk that he’s carrying a knock with 41 disposals (27 contested), six tackles, nine clearances and seven inside 50s in a best on ground performance.
Jackson Macrae (C): He’s alright, this kid. Having 43 disposals, kicking two goals and leading his side to a big win in Cairns against the Suns in just his 29th game would suggest that’s quite the understatement. With all the talk about the expansion sides the Dogs have gone under the radar: they’re young, exciting and have stars in Macrae and Tom Liberatore waiting in the wings to take the leadership reigns from Ryan Griffen and Matthew Boyd.
Brent Harvey: Another three votes for Boomer as he continues to defy age and press towards a prospective top five finish come Brownlow night. On Saturday the 36 year old had 27 disposals at 89% efficiency, kicked two goals and assisted four scores.
Paul Chapman: The veteran set an example with his tackling pressure two weeks in a row now, and both times his teammates have stood up to the task. On Sunday he laid eight tackles in addition to kicking three goals and accumulating 20 disposals.
Jake Carlisle: Easily the best game of 2014 for ‘Buckets’ who showed why he earned the nickname with his massive hands grabbing 19 marks – a competition season-high – of which eight were contested. Carlisle also had career-highs in disposals (26) and goals (four).
Steven Motlop: Motlop’s was another whose game went somewhat under the radar because of the low interest in the match. Motlop was stellar against Melbourne with 26 possessions, eight inside 50s, four score assists and a goal.
Jack Riewoldt: He kicked 11 goals against GWS a few weeks back but Sunday was his best game of the year in Richmond’s best game of the year. Jack had 22 touches (a season-high), grabbed six marks – four of which were contested and five inside 50 – along with kicking three goals and having four score assists.
Lance Franklin: Having been held goalless in the first half by Carlton, the second half couldn’t have been any more different. ‘Buddy’ led the Swans charge with six second half goals, including five in the third quarter blitz of the Blues.
Hayden Ballantyne: Other than the strike on Tomas Bugg which will see him serve a week suspension, Ballantyne was once again at his best on Sunday evening. He booted another five goals, making it 22 in his last five games, and will be primed to go for finals after having the next two weeks off footy with round 18 being the split round.
Todd Goldstein: An outstanding performance from Goldstein was somewhat overlooked thanks to Harvey and the poor quality of the game but with 20 disposals, two goals and 39 hit-outs (14 of which were to advantage), Goldstein dominated the St Kilda rucks.
Josh P Kennedy: Kennedy set a new record for contested possessions with 29 surpassing the mark of 28 set by Chris Judd and Jude Bolton in 2006 and 2010 respectively. It was only a matter of time until Kennedy – one of the best winners of the ball at the coalface ever – broke the record, and on Saturday night, the stars aligned. He also had 12 uncontested touches and 12 clearances.
Joel Selwood: Along with a few teammates, he dismantled the Melbourne midfield and prevented the Dees from getting possession, never allowing them to slow the tempo of the game down. Individually, he had 31 disposals, six tackles and seven clearances.
David Armitage: At times he looked to be the only St Kilda player trying to withstand North Melbourne. He was also one of St Kilda’s two goal kickers and the only one with multiple majors in addition to 29 touches, 11 tackles, ten clearances, eight inside 50s and four score assists.
Josh Jenkins: It was Jenkins who lit up Adelaide Oval on Friday night with a career-high five goals to three quarter-time. Had he not rolled his ankle in the third quarter, Jenkins could’ve been the difference for the Crows if he was at 100% in the final term.
Travis Boak: Judged best on ground by the coaches with nine votes in the AFLCA, the Port skipper was tremendous with his 39 disposals in a losing side.
Anthony Morabito (sub): There’s no better story in the AFL at the moment than Anthony Morabito. He’s had his left knee reconstructed three times since 2010 and has played just 25 games since being picked number four overall in the 2009 National Draft. Playing as the sub for the second consecutive game since coming back, Morabito came on midway through the third quarter and proceeded to have 15 touches and showed plenty of the class that made him such a highly rated prospect five years ago.