It’s been a slow three weeks but the bye rounds are finally behind us.
With every side having had their first rest of the season it’s Port Adelaide who emerge four points clear on top of the ladder with a considerable percentage gap over second and third. With an eight-point gap between Port and pre-season premiership favourites Hawthorn and Sydney, and the former enduring a torrid run of injuries, a top two spot is the Power’s to lose.
Meanwhile, the Suns are going from strength to strength and sit third on the ladder, with only percentage separating them and Geelong. Gold Coast have been blessed with a relatively easy start to the season but with games against Adelaide (away), Sydney, West Coast (away) and Geelong to come in the next month, we will know sooner rather than later if they’re the real deal.
It’s far too early to suggest that the Tigers are back in town but they showed the ruthlessness members have been longing for this year. Games against Essendon and North Melbourne in the next fortnight will ultimately define their season.
Far and away the strangest fact of the round is that Carlton – the early season basket case – could be in the eight this time next week if results go their way. Whether or not they deserve to be there is irrelevant: all Mick and the Blues will be focusing on is that they’re on the edge and they will carry the momentum from holding on for dear life against Adelaide into the second part of the season.
West Coast couldn’t shake their tag of flat track bullies, falling agonisingly short of their first win at the MCG not against Melbourne since 2008, while a poor start cost North Melbourne the chance to claim another scalp in Geelong at Simonds Stadium.
Here’s the last (shortened) Team of the Week for the bye rounds:
B: Simon White, Steven May
HB: Harry Taylor, Kade Simpson
C: Jimmy Bartel (C), Scott Pendlebury, Dustin Martin
HF: Brent Harvey, Chad Wingard
F: Jack Riewoldt, Tom J Lynch
Foll: Dean Cox, Matt Priddis, Travis Boak
Int: Dion Prestia, Levi Greenwood, Liam Picken
Sub: Jonathan Simpkin
Simon White: Adelaide’s Taylor Walker loomed as the game winner in a tight contest but White wouldn’t allow it. White was good for the first three and a half quarters and was excellent at the death, not giving Tex an inch to work with.
Steven May: While May benefits from the lack of small lockdown defenders shining this week, that by no means suggests he doesn’t deserve the spot. He kept the Bulldogs’ most dangerous forward in Stewart Crameri out of the contest, particularly when it was close.
Harry Taylor: Chris Scott paid Aaron Black the ultimate compliment by giving his best defender the job on the mercurial North forward and Taylor did the job as he so often does. He kept Black to six touches and one goal in a game where he could have been the difference.
Kade Simpson: The Carlton faithful have a special place in their heart for ‘Simmo’ and Sunday evening Simpson showed why that is again. He ran harder than anyone else on the ground, and the argument could easily be made that without him the Blues wouldn’t have been able to hold on. His 11 uncontested marks are a testament to his ability to run opponents ragged.
Jimmy Bartel (C): Friday night was one of Jimmy’s very best: it was a virtuoso performance in every sense of the word. He played in the guts, he rebounded off half back and he rested up forward, looking equally dangerous wherever he was. That his numbers – 32 disposals (14 contested), nine marks, seven tackles, five inside 50s and two goals – don’t do his game justice says it all.
Scott Pendlebury: Some players can just flick a switch when their team needs them and Pendlebury is most certainly one of them. For three quarters he was standard Pendlebury – still better than a vast majority of AFL players – but in the fourth he was several cuts above any other player on the ground.
Matt Thomas: Thomas narrowly earns the spot ahead of teammates Dustin Martin and Brandon Ellis. In a 113-point win, 10 tackles is a massive effort, not to mention his 28 disposals at 86%, six clearances and four score assists.
Brent Harvey: ‘Boomer’ stopped the game from becoming a blowout early on and was prominent as North mounted a late comeback of sorts. He’s an All-Australian half forward flanker as it stands.
Chad Wingard: I love this kid, there’s no point in trying to hide it. Angus Monfries kicked more goals and eight Port players had more disposals but nobody got the crowd fired up like Wingard did. It’s a sentiment which is overused but he truly is a once in a generation player.
Jack Riewoldt: Riewoldt cast aside a rough week to have 11 goals to three quarter time. He played unselfish in the fourth when he could have pursued Doug Strang’s Richmond all-time record for goals in a game with 14 in 1931. Remarkably, Jack now leads the Coleman despite his slow start to the year.
Tom Hawkins: There was nothing Scott Thompson could do to stop Hawkins once he got going, Hawkins kicked four goals, three behinds and had four score assists from his 17 disposals.
Dean Cox: In a week where all the talk was about Nic Naitanui’s new contract, Cox sent us a timely reminder that he’s still the Batman of the duo. The veteran took a couple of massive marks in the last quarter that might have proved the difference and controlled the ruck all day with 23 hitouts.
Matt Priddis: Priddis was almost a one man army for West Coast at the coal face and very nearly got his side over the line. 19 of his 35 possessions were contested including seven clearances. Also, it was just the third time in three years he has kicked multiple goals in a game – an area he needs to improve on if he’s going to jump into the top tier of midfielders.
Travis Boak: The Hawks didn’t assign anyone to run with Boak and he made them pay by accumulating the footy all over the ground inside and outside. He finished with 34 touches – 19 contested – seven tackles, 10 clearances, seven inside 50s, four rebound 50s, one goal and a guarantee that he will be on the receiving end of some very close attention in the next few weeks.
Liam Picken: I have heaped praise on Gary Ablett Jr week-in, week-out here so it’s only fair that the first player to tag Ablett effectively this year should make the team. Picken got under Ablett’s skin from the get go, frustrating the little master to the point where he unleashed with an elbow to Picken’s chin behind play, an act which should have seen him rubbed out of Brownlow contention. The Dogs couldn’t get the points but Picken’s blueprint for Ablett will be used as a template by other sides for the rest of the year.
Dion Prestia: That Ablett was tagged out of the game and the Suns still managed to win by 45 points is not good news for 17 AFL teams: Gold Coast are no longer reliant on Ablett. If he is to get injured or suspended or tagged out, another will stand up: this week, it was Prestia. He had 35 disposals and while it wasn’t quite as exciting as when Ablett has 35, it was a great display of leadership qualities by Prestia and more than enough to push the Suns into third on the ladder.
Levi Greenwood: Greenwood was the only North Melbourne inside midfielder who can hold his head up high. Given the run-with role on Selwood and although the Geelong skipper had a good game, Greenwood’s influence was far greater with 33 disposals, eight marks, eight tackles, nine clearances and six inside 50s.
Jonathan Simpkin: Hawthorn are encountering a bit of a problem with their bottom six players in that they’re all playing too well to be put in the green vest. Simpkin should be guaranteed a spot in the starting 21 next week after 18 disposals in 48% time on ground but it will be tough for Al Clarkson to choose someone to replace him in green.