From the outset, the first week of the split round looked to be a dire week of football. Five games – none of which were at the MCG – pitting sixth against 14th, second against 18th, fourth against 15th, fifth against 16th and seventh against 13th.
What we got, however, were five remarkable games of football. There were two upsets which could yield serious ramifications come season’s end, along with the favoured teams escaping with wins by seven points or less in the other three games.
On Friday night, North Melbourne saw an end to its slim top four chances at the hands of the excellent Carlton. In true Kangaroos-under-Brad-Scott fashion, North Melbourne will more than likely beat Geelong in two weeks’ time.
However, their real challenge comes in the final month of the season, where North face four sides outside the top eight in Adelaide, GWS, Melbourne and the Bulldogs.
Saturday evening provided perhaps the biggest upset of the season, with last-placed St Kilda trumping Ross Lyon’s Fremantle to the tune of 58 points.
With the exception of Sydney who are currently head and shoulders above the rest, the result on Saturday is a testament to how close this season is. One loss for the Dockers moved them from second, and looking a certainty to play a home qualifying final, to fourth and no sure thing to have the double chance come September.
Presented with an opportunity to grab second for its own thanks to St Kilda, Geelong almost faltered on Saturday night after a super GWS final quarter. The Giants almost overturned a deficit as big as 36 points in the final quarter into just seven points with a couple of minutes left.
However, the Cats held on and as much as Geelong have looked to be having their worst season on the field since 2006, they still sit second with seven weeks left in the season.
While Sunday didn’t deliver any upsets, both Port Adelaide and Essendon cut it fine. A late Jay Schulz goal saved Port from its fourth consecutive loss and keeping hopes of a top four finish alive.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were super impressive and provided another reminder to how bright their future is, especially if they find the key defender and forward they need. However, Essendon was too good in the end thanks to the brilliance of Jake Carlisle, and they now look to have secured a finals berth.
Here is the (smaller than usual) Team of the Week for the first part of round 18.
B: Michael Hurley, Sam Rowe
HB: Sam Fisher, Harry Taylor
C: Bryce Gibbs, Joel Selwood, Shane Savage
HF: Nick Riewoldt (C), Steve Johnson
F: Jake Carlisle, Robbie Gray
Foll: Patrick Ryder, Luke Dunstan, Dom Tyson
Int: Jarrad Waite, Jason Winderlich, Josh Kelly (sub)
Michael Hurley: It was one of Hurley’s finer games of 2014: he showed how big of a weapon he can be off half back with his penetrating kicking, while also winning most of his contests in the air. He still needs to work on his defending when the ball hits the ground but Hurley is well on the way to becoming an elite defender.
Sam Rowe: Friday night was comfortably Sam Rowe’s best game as a defender – and potentially of his career – on Drew Petrie. Petrie was kept to 11 touches and kicked just the one goal, while Rowe had 13 of his own and constantly beat Petrie in marking contests.
Sam Fisher: It looked at times this year like Sam Fisher would never play a game of AFL again. He has battled injury after injury, but on Saturday in his second game back it was vintage Fisher off half-back. He finished with 21 disposals at 90% efficiency, 11 marks and three score assists in the Saints’ big victory.
Harry Taylor: As we have seen so often, Taylor dictated terms in the back half for the Cats with 30 disposals, nine marks, five rebound 50s and effectively restricting Jonathon Patton’s influence.
Bryce Gibbs: 2014 has been a roller-coaster season for Gibbs. He found himself under fire at the start of the season for not standing up when Carlton needed him, and suffered much speculation about whether he would leave Carlton as a free agent. Now, he finds himself committed to the Blues long-term and a serious chance to earn a spot in the All-Australian team. Friday night was another excellent outing with 27 touches, five tackles, seven clearances and two goals.
Joel Selwood: The Geelong skipper set his new season-high for disposals on Saturday night against GWS, with 39 in addition to five inside 50s and three score assists.
Shane Savage: After a slow start to the season following his trade to St Kilda last year, Savage has had a super month which peaked on Saturday afternoon with 30 disposals at 93% efficiency and seven inside 50s.
Nick Riewoldt (C): He was simply phenomenal in leading St Kilda to its best win of the year. The skipper finished with 30 disposals, 16 marks, six inside 50s, four goals and four score assists.
Steve Johnson: While his captain gathered 39 disposals, it was Johnson who left the biggest mark on the game with 30 touches of his own in addition to 12 marks and three goals.
Jake Carlisle: ‘Buckets’ made it back-to-back outstanding performances on Sunday evening, prompting calls that he could be the next great forward. His 19 disposals, 12 marks and career high eight goals was what got his Bombers over the line.
Robbie Gray: Gray quelled any fitness fears that face him during the week, accumulating 26 disposals, six tackles, eight clearances and five score assists against the Demons.
Patrick Ryder: Ryder was another who had their best game of 2014 on the weekend. Having had a tough year mainly carrying ruck duties by himself as Tom Bellchambers struggles to find form in the VFL, Ryder shone on Sunday with 18 possessions, two goals and 35 hitouts against All-Australian ruckman Will Minson.
Luke Dunstan: In a week that was all about saying farewell to a club legend in Lenny Hayes, Dunstan provided a reminder that he will fill the hole left by Hayes sooner rather than later. On Saturday he had 26 disposals, 11 of which were contested, laid five tackles, had five clearances and kicked two goals.
Dom Tyson: Tyson shone once again on Sunday after a couple of months without setting a game alight. He had 32 touches, kicked two goals and was best on ground in a narrow loss.
Jarrad Waite: Narrowly getting a spot ahead of teammate Lachie Henderson who was outstanding in kicking six goals, the out-of-contract Waite may very well have revived his AFL career. After being was consigned to the VFL and seemingly dead and buried in a footballing sense, Waite finished with 11 marks – six contested – and four goals on Friday night.
Jason Winderlich: Winderlich has been key in setting up for Essendon off half-back since his move and Sunday was no exception, gathering 21 disposals at 90% efficiency.
Josh Kelly (sub): Kelly came on in the third quarter and provided plenty of spark for the Giants as they launched their comeback in the fourth. He had seven touches, three marks, laid two tackles and kicked a goal in a little over 30% game time.