Parity Continues to Reign in the AFL After Surprising Results of Rounds 8 and 9

Through 9 rounds the 2017 AFL Season has been defined by parity, as no true frontrunning team has emerged, and sides that struggled at the start of the season such as Hawthorn and Sydney are back sitting on three wins and within striking distance of the top 8, where the cutoff is just a 5-4 record.

Starting at the top of the ladder, the Adelaide Crows suffered a massive second half letdown to drop their second game of the season in round 8, losing to Melbourne 107-66 in round 8 at the MCG. The Demons made it nine straight goals at one point in the second half as the Crows were dominated with their opposition creating a relentless number of scoring chances just like the debacle against North Melbourne earlier on in the season. Not having a ruckmen didn’t matter that much for the Demons as Cam Pederson and Mitch Hannan combined for five goals while Michael Hibberd, perhaps the Dees best player, Clayton Oliver, and Nathan Jones were key ball winners. The Crows had just six goal scorers, with no player scoring more than 2, Rory Sloane had just 11 disposals as he was bothered by a tag.

The Crows could come back in round 9 to thump the clear leaders for the wooden spoon, the Brisbane Lions, 140-60, as they had the opposite second half in round 9 as they had in round 8, crushing the Lions over the final two terms. Outside of a big performance from Dayne Beams, and two goal showings for Dayne Zorko and young Jake Barrett, the Lions looked lost again. Rory Sloane shook his tag in round 9, notching 31 disposals, while the Crows had nine different goal scorers, including big games from Charlie Cameron, Eddie Betts, Tex Walker, and Tom Lynch. Hugh Greenwood also deserves kudos, the former basketballer kicked three goals in his debut, while the Crows backline kept their opposition quiet. the Crows controlling time in the forward half.

Melbourne followed up their victory against the Crows with a defeat at the hands of North Melbourne. Exposed by a rising Sydney Swans side in round 8, the Kangaroos knew they had to do something different against the Dees. They took an early lead and never surrendered it, prevailing 104-90, despite Melbourne making multiple pushes for the lead in  a very physical contest. Ben Cunnington (26 disposals) was key in the North midfield, while Ben Brown, Mason Wood, and Taylor Garner had multi-goal outings, and both Kayne Turner and ruckman Todd Goldstein were pivotal in the victory. Only Mitch Hannan and Cam Pederson had multiple goals for the Demons, while Hibberd and Jones against led the disposal counts. North won with the formula that has worked for them this season, relentless pressure and great tackling.

The Sydney Swans are sitting at 3-6, having won three straight contests, they beat North in round 8 120-78 as their midfield, led by Dan Hannebery, and Luke Parker roared back to life. The Swans dominated the disposal count in that matchup, with Josh P. Kennedy leading them with 37. Forward Isaac Heeney found form with two goals, and North was not near as effective going forward as Callum Mills and Jake Lloyd were key in the Swans backline. Cunnington led the Kangaroos, who needed better showings from their forward line.

Against a St. Kilda Saints side that had won three straight, including an 85-66 round 8 win over Carlton where Jack Billings (5 goals, 30 disposals), and Jack Steven (32 disposals) were key, and they fought off the Blues led by Patrick Cripps (30 disposals) over the final term. The Swans were even better in round 9, They started pulling away in the second term and won 118-68 as the Saints were sloppy and struggled with the Swans aggressive pressure. Jack Newnes was knocked out early in his 100th game, and it was left to Seb Ross (37 disposals) and Billings to try to lead the Saints back, something they were unable to do. Kennedy, Lloyd, Hannebery, Parker, and young Nic Newman were again excellent and veteran Buddy Franklin roared, kicking four goals.

Carlton joins Sydney at 3-6, as they lost to the surprising team of the season, the 6-3 Fremantle Dockers 86-51. Fremantle fell behind against the Blues early but controlled the score and the rest of the statistical categories the rest of the game as Ross Lyon has shown his strategic masterclass through nine rounds this season. Michael Walters had 27 disposals and 3 goals playing forward, Lachie Neal (37 disposals), and Connor Blakely (33 disposals) were both great Hayden Crozier kicked three goals, and the defensively sound Dockers shut down the Blues forward line. Carlton got disposals, but only Levi Casboult had a multi-goal game, and they were poor with their chances, going 7.9, while Fremantle went 13.8.

In round 8 Fremantle won by beating Richmond at the siren 72-70 in a sloppy, but close game, where they staved off a Richmond comeback after taking a 5 goal lead into the final term. David Mundy kicked two goals, his final goal coming after the siren from the forward side pocket, while Shane Kersten and Matt Taberner also had multi-goal outings, Michael Walters notching 38 disposals and being a danger in the forward half of the ground.

Only Josh Caddy and Jack Riewoldt had multi-goal games in a defensive round 8 contest, and the Tigers missed their chance to avoid defeat thanks to poor kicking in front of goal. Shaun Grigg and Dustin Martin led their disposal count, but they couldn’t lock the Dockers down when it mattered.

Richmond suffered another heart break in round 9, leading GWS Giants through all three quarters by more than 20 points, and most of the final quarter, they ended up losing 78-75 as Jeremy Cameron kicked the match winner, his third of the game, with seconds left to play. The Tigers dominated inside 50’s and should have been better in front of goal, when the Giants finally sorted themselves out and started pushing forward late, Richmond couldn’t clear the ball as the likes of Tim Taranto, former Fremantle Docker Matt De Boer, and Toby Greene were huge in the final term in terms of goals. Josh Kelly and Lachie Whitfield leading the disposal count for the Giants. Martin and Grigg again led the disposal counts, while four players kicked two goals for Richmond including new in Connor Menadue and Captain Trent Cotchin but 10.15 is simply not good enough in the AFL, and just one extra goal would have won it for Richmond, something they lacked in the final term, as even Martin was sloppy when he had a shot on goal.

It was the second straight nailbiting win for the 7-2 Giants, as they beat Collingwood 102-99 in round 8 thanks to a late goal from veteran Stevie J in a game that was back and forth for three quarters. Josh Kelly (36 disposals) led the way, while Jeremy Cameron kicked six goals and both Johnson and the big man Jon Patton booted two. Steele Sidebottom and Jamie Elliot were among best on ground for Collingwood with three goals, while Taylor Adams had 30 disposals, the Pies backline surrendering too many chances in front of goal.

Collingwood rebounded in round 9, defeating Hawthorn 90-72 to join the Hawks at 3-6. In the second term the Pies were down 43 points, but rather than conceding defeat they fought back, eventually exhausting Hawthorn as Elliot kicked three goals, and both Adams and Adam Treloar were over 30 disposals. Hawthorn, a 113-75 winner over Brisbane in round 8 where they had a strong second half and three goals from former Crow Ricky Henderson, were poor in the second half. Tom Mitchell remains best on ground for the Hawks, notching 50 disposals after 36 in round 8, while James Sicily and Luke Breust both kicked three goals. Both Hawthorn and Collingwood have hopes of making the 8, but you’d have to see them on the outside looking in right now.

Sides like the 5-4 Essendon Bombers are standing in the way of other teams hoping to make the 8, as the team in red and black has won two straight thumping inconsistent West Coast Eagles 125-64, and prior to that beating Geelong Cats 110-93 and staving off a Cats comeback effort in round 8. Against the Eagles, the Bombers dominated control of the footy and did more with it, with much more efficient goal kicking. Zach Merrett, David Zaharakis, and veteran Jobe Watson all notched more than 30 disposals, while key Bomber forwards Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia combined for 8 goals. No West Coast Eagle had 30+ disposals, and they had just three goalkickers, led by Josh Kennedy who kicked four.

The Bombers performance against the Cats was a similar story of controlling play. Daniher and Fantasia again combined for 8 goals, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, and James Stewart combining for 6 goals, and Merrett, and Zaharakis leading the disposal counts. Geelong responded to their round 8 defeat with a dominant show of tackling against the Western Bulldogs, winning 104-81. The Bulldogs notched small leads in the first and third term, but Geelong finished strong. The Bulldogs had seven goal scorers and kept it competitive, led by Caleb Daniel’s 28 disposals, but a less than 100% Patrick Dangerfield was huge with 36 disposals and 4 goals, while Mitch Duncan and Joel Selwood also stepped up. Former defender Harry Taylor kicked 5 goals in his best ever showing as a forward player.

It was the second straight defeat for the reigning Premiers, the Bulldogs lost to West Coast Eagles 69-61 in round 8 despite a surprisingly woeful 3.6 goalkicking performance from lead Eagle forward Josh Kennedy. Andrew Gaff, Elliot Yeo, and Sam Mitchell were key to the Eagles winning the disposal count, while Caleb Daniel was again very good for the Bulldogs. Only Jack Redpath and Lukas Webb had a multi-goal game for Western, who seem to be lacking a defining star to help them win close games. Someone will have to step up if they are going to make the top 8.

The AFL’s China experiment was completed in round 8, as Port Adelaide Power went into their bye week with a 110-38 destruction of Gold Coast Suns. At 15th in the ladder, the Suns remain the side most likely to self destruct in a game as 10 different Power players jumped on the Suns to kick a goal, and both Brad Ebert and Travis Boak were key to the disposal count, the footy staying in the Power’s forward half most of the game.

AFL Ladder After Round 9
1: Adelaide (28)
2: GWS (28)
3: Geelong (24)
4: West Coast (24)
5: Fremantle (24)
6: Port Adelaide (20)
7: Richmond (20)
8: Western Bulldogs (20)
9: St. Kilda (20)
10: Essendon (20)
11: Melbourne (16)
12-17: Five teams at 12 points
18: Brisbane (4)

Main Photo: