Richmond won three of its first 13 games this season. The Tigers finals hopes were dead in the water, Damien Hardwick’s job looked to be lost and the yellow and black faithful were lamenting another false dawn. Now, though, just six rounds later the Tigers are just a game outside the top eight with a respectable percentage and on current form deserve finals action more than the sides sitting seventh through 10th on the ladder. Richmond will have to win its last three – including a game against Sydney – to play finals. It’s been one hell of a ride.
Fremantle’s hopes of a home qualifying final are over now after David Mundy’s 50-metre set shot after the siren agonisingly drifted right, and the Dockers will have to do it the hard way again with an away game against Hawthorn or Sydney looking likely in the first weekend in September.
West Coast’s slim top eight hopes remain alive after a win against Collingwood in which they played an incredibly exciting brand of footy, as they did the week prior against Adelaide. West Coast play Essendon next week in a game that will have major repercussions in shaping this year’s finals series.
After looking so dangerous for much of the season, Gold Coast’s ambition of playing its first final in 2014 is dead in the water barring a dramatic late turnaround in form. The late season slump will prove to be a learning experience for Guy McKenna and his young squad and will likely make them stronger in the long run.
The Crows had a much-needed percentage booster at the Gabba on Sunday as the run Brisbane showed in the first quarter was quickly extinguished and Adelaide walked away as 105-point victors, separating them from the chasing pack with significantly better percentage than all except West Coast.
Elsewhere Hawthorn and Sydney continued to bear down on home qualifying finals with solid performances, North Melbourne kept its four-point buffer over the pursuing pack intact and the Bulldogs spoiled Lenny Hayes’ farewell tour with a four-goal win over St Kilda at Etihad on Sunday.
Here’s the Team of the Week for round 20.
B: Corey Enright, Harry Taylor (c), Nick Malceski
HB: Dyson Heppell, Eric Mackenzie, Dale Thomas
C: Brandon Ellis, Ben Cunnington, Travis Boak
HF: Robbie Gray, Jarrad Waite, Adam Cooney
F: Eddie Betts, Taylor Walker, Ben McGlynn
Foll: Sam Jacobs, Josh Kennedy, Tom Rockliff
Int: Toby Greene, Rory Sloane, Scott Lycett
Sub: Max Duffy
Corey Enright: They don’t much like Hayden Ballantyne down at the Cattery and on Saturday night they barely had to worry about him thanks to the defensive effort from Corey Enright on the small forward, keeping him to 10 disposals and one goal.
Harry Taylor (c): Taylor was easily best on ground on Saturday night. He was simply superb down back taking a huge 19 marks. It’s hard to imagine how good the Fremantle defence would be had he accepted the big money to move out west last year.
Nick Malceski: With every week he remains a free agent his value increases as he continues to pump out great performances. This week it was 23 disposals – including 20 kicks – and seven rebound 50s.
Brandon Ellis: Ellis continued his outstanding form of late with a best on ground performance in the biggest game of Richmond’s winning streak thus far gathering 28 disposals, rebounding from the defensive 50 seven times and kicking a goal.
Eric Mackenzie: Mackenzie played on Travis Cloke and kept the key forward to just one goal as the Eagles continued a late finals push.
Dale Thomas: ‘Daisy’ played his best game as a Blue on Saturday and looks to be coming into his own at Carlton with back to back 25+ disposal games for the first time since joining the Blues as a free agent at the end of last year. Of his 27 disposals, 19 were by foot in addition to 11 marks.
Ben Cunnington: Cunnington played his best game of 2014 against GWS on Saturday with 29 disposals, six tackles, seven clearances and a career-high three goals.
Matt Priddis: He was monstrous in the middle of the park with 42 disposals – 22 of which were contested – seven tackles, 12 clearances, four inside 50s and four rebound 50s.
Travis Boak: The Port captain’s ball use in tight on Saturday night was nothing short of great as he managed to go at 87% despite most of his 31 disposals coming at the coal face. He also laid nine tackles and had seven marks.
Robbie Gray: Benefited greatly from Nick Smith being a late out as the Sydney stopper would have been a perfect match-up for Gray as he went on to rack up 37 disposals and 12 clearances.
Jarrad Waite: There’s nothing like the threat of a career being prematurely bought to an end to fire a professional athlete up. On Saturday he made a mockery of the Suns defence with 22 disposals, nine marks and five goals – four of which were in the first half. Waite has guaranteed that he’ll be in the AFL next season with his resurgence – whether it will be with Carlton or a rival club is still up in the air.
Adam Cooney: Cooney was best on ground as the Bulldogs put a dampener on Lenny Hayes’ final game at Etihad Stadium with 25 touches and three goals.
Eddie Betts: There was nothing Brisbane could do to contain Eddie as he collected 17 possessions, kicked three goals and provided six score assists.
Taylor Walker: Walker was another Adelaide forward whom Brisbane could do nothing to contain ‘Tex’ as he booted an equal career-high six goals as well as having 21 disposals.
Ben McGlynn: McGlynn had another belting game with 12 of his 21 disposals being contested, laid six tackles, had five clearances and kicked three goals.
Sam Jacobs: If his spot as the All-Australian ruckman wasn’t already locked down it certainly is after Sunday’s performance in which he had 39 hitouts and 19 disposals.
Josh Kennedy: Kennedy should have picked up another three votes to strengthen his Brownlow case for his 34 disposals and nine inside 50s against Port Adelaide on Saturday night.
Tom Rockliff: Another 40 disposals in another losing side for Rockliff who is now averaging 31 disposals per game in 2014. At just 24 years old he’s still got some improvement left in him and it wouldn’t surprise anyone at this rate if he wins a Brownlow. Not only did he have 40 touches on Sunday he also had 10 tackles.
Toby Greene: He has reminded us all what he can do on the footy field in the last four weeks with four 27+ disposal games and Saturday was the finest of the lot with 35 touches, nine marks, five tackles and four clearances.
Rory Sloane: Speaking of 24-year-old midfielders who still have time to improve, Sloane isn’t quite on the level of Rockliff but with 28-disposal efforts like the one on Sunday, in which he also had 11 tackles and was clearly the best of the Crows midfielders, he showed that he can be on the top level of midfielders.
Jarryd Roughead: No Melbourne defender could cope with Roughead as he took seven marks and kicked five goals.
Max Duffy (sub): Duffy came on in the third quarter and sparked Fremantle into life with two goals and eight touches.