For the first time in club history, West Coast sits 18th on the ladder – and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Plus the Saints sacrifice that again failed to pay off, the enormous gap between rivals and the problem with the VFL right now.
The big issues from Round 7 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!
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GRIM TRADE REALITY THAT PROVES ‘WEAK’ EAGLES WILL REBUILD FROM ‘GROUND ZERO’
Seven rounds in and the brutal reality for West Coast is its 2022 season is over. And for the next five months, the club’s list and key decisions on players will be heavily dissected.
The Eagles on Friday night slumped to 1-6 after copping a 109-point defeat at the hands of Richmond – the club’s fourth loss by over 55 points so far this season – prompting pundits and fans to look towards what the Eagles will do in the off-season.
“They are a weak team at the moment and teams are coming to prey on them – and it’s unfortunate we have a team in that position so early on in the season,” four-time Power best and fairest winner Kane Cornes told AFL Media.
Considering the 18th-placed Eagles’ state and the fact they’ll now miss finals for the second straight season with third-oldest and third-most experienced list in the competition, a complete rebuild is now inevitable.
But the club, at least publicly, refuses to use the term “rebuild”, instead saying the list is in “transition”.
Star midfielder Tim Kelly on Tuesday said last week “we don’t think like that”, telling reporters: “Rebuild is sort of the last thing on our minds right now. The main priority right now is getting back to our best footy and winning games.”
Eagles coach Adam Simpson on Friday night acknowledged his club would face short-term pain, but refuted suggestions the pain could last for several years.
“No one wants to be in the situation that we‘re in right now, but we are,” he told reporters.
“The quicker we can accept what‘s happening and be aware of it and action it, the better we’ll get.
“Regardless of what‘s happened we are in a period of transition, no doubt.”
If the Eagles do opt to conduct a full-blown rebuild, they’d be foolish to ignore the prospect of trading experienced players with currency in the hope of boosting future draft hands.
But the issue for West Coast is there’s not many – and that’s alarming considering the experience and potential of some of their biggest names.
Club greats Josh Kennedy (34 years old) and Shannon Hurn (34) are unlikely to play on beyond this season, while Nic Naitanui (31) is expected to re-sign with West Coast.
Jack Redden (31) is out of contract at season’s end while Jamie Cripps (30) has another year to run on his deal, but both wouldn’t fetch a lot of value in return from a rival club.
Gun goalkicker Jack Darling (29) would attract some value, but is one of several Eagles on a long-term contract and is tied to the club until at least the end of 2024. Andrew Gaff (30) is also contracted to the club until the same year.
For Fox Footy commentator Jonathan Brown, perhaps the Eagles that would bring the most trade value would be skipper Luke Shuey (31) and four-time All-Australian Jeremy McGovern (30). But again there’s obstacles, with Norm Smith Medallist Shuey the club’s captain, while star defenders like McGovern are rare.
“Shuey and McGovern are clearly the two of value, maybe Gaff as well,” Brown told Fox Footy. “But I couldn’t see McGovern or Shuey going.
“There’s not a hell of a lot there you’d trade away or would have value.”
Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph suggested to Brown: “If you’re starting a rebuild, you’re starting from ground zero.”
Brown added: “You’re coming from a fair way back … Clearly they’re in rebuild mode, but how they go about it is a really difficult one.”
West Coast has only used five top-20 draft picks in the past 11 years. Its most recent top-10 selection was Gaff … in 2010.
Collingwood legend Nathan Buckley said the Eagles were in “a really interesting situation with their list management”.
“They’ve gone so heavily for so long with this group, you actually you lose collateral on your on your list itself,” Buckley told Fox Footy.
“So if you‘ve got nothing to trade, you’re not going to get in any earlier. So you’ve got to go to the bottom to get the early picks.”
Cornes said on AFL Media: “Their issues date way back. This has been building and bubbling away. It’s got little to do with Covid and injury. It’s got to the point where their list is ageing, they’ve overpaid players that don’t deserve it and they’ve neglected the draft.”
FRUSTRATED SAINTS LEFT ASKING ‘WHY ARE WE HERE?’
How fitting that it took the world’s slipperiest footy game to send the Saints slipping back towards the pack.
In an ugly slog at Cairns’ Cazalys Stadium, St Kilda’s bid to stay in touch with Melbourne and their fellow one-loss powers came to a crashing halt, as they kicked a woeful 4.18 (42) to lose to Port Adelaide’s similarly-woeful-but-not-quite-as-woeful 5.13 (43).
It was a game the Saints were expected to win, no matter the ground, given their 5-1 start and the Power’s poor 1-5 beginning to the year.
Yet they looked nothing like themselves at a ground that can’t be much of a starker contrast to their usual home, the roofed Marvel Stadium.
Cazalys Stadium isn’t known for pretty footy. It’s the only active AFL ground where teams have kicked more behinds than goals all-time, and it’s especially bad early in the year.
Just three AFL games have been played at the far north Queensland venue before July; a 55-39 slopfest played in a quagmire between Gold Coast and North Melbourne, last year’s 66-60 upset by Adelaide over St Kilda, and this one.
That’s for a good reason. Cairns averages 374mm of rain in March – when the Suns-Roos game was played a few years back – and 182mm in April, but just 35mm in July when almost all games up there have been played.
It’s also less humid (66 per cent relative humidity in March, 57 per cent in July), and slightly less hot (average high 30.9 Celsius in March, 26.2 in July).
All of these issues add up to a reason not to play top-level footy in Cairns this early in the season, yet the Saints have done so, and it’s part of an ongoing trend for one of the smaller Victorian footy clubs.
Due to their financial issues, St Kilda has played home games across the country and indeed the world, from Shanghai to Wellington. This lack of familiarity with the grounds hasn’t helped them win games of footy; they went 0-1 in China, 0-3 in New Zealand and are now 0-2 in Cairns.
Sacrificing home ground advantage for cash is a problem when you’re a bad team; it’s even worse when you’re actually good.
“I’ve got no doubt the Saints would’ve got on the plane last night and, probably their leaders, said ‘why are we playing up here?’”, Richmond triple premiership star Jack Riewoldt said on Fox Footy.
“‘We could’ve driven to Marvel Stadium where we play a brand of football that is suited to our home ground.’
“You only had to watch five minutes of that football last night to know it was slippery, it was wet and it wasn’t the way the Saints wanted to play.
“I have no doubt the Saints got on the plane and had the same conversations we were having when Karmichael Hunt sent that one home (a match-winning goal) for Gold Coast.”
Hawthorn champion Jordan Lewis knows from experience a team can develop a home-away-from-home ground advantage – his Hawks have done it for years in Launceston.
The difference there is Hawthorn played up to five games a year in Tassie, allowing them to acclimatise in a way St Kilda can’t when their deals are for one-off matches.
But Lewis suggested the Saints can’t make excuses for the loss.
“If I was St Kilda, I’d have the attitude – OK. This is what we’ve put in place, we can’t get out of it because financially it’s beneficial to the club,” Lewis said on Fox Footy.
“Nearly every team we play there won’t have played there before, so let’s use that to our advantage and make it a real fortress. Because you can’t go up there and go ‘I wonder if we would’ve played at Marvel Stadium…’, it’s not the case.
“That is what has been put in place, so make it a fortress for your side, and last night they just didn’t turn up to play.”
GAP HAS NEVER BEEN BIGGER BETWEEN TWO GREAT RIVALS
In a two-team town, it’s safe to say West Coast fans have been able to celebrate a bit more often than their Fremantle mates, with four flags across seven Grand Finals compared to the Dockers’ none across one.
But for once, the Purple Army knows it’s clearly the most dominant force in WA footy – and dominating its rival more than ever before.
Fremantle ended Round 7 with a brilliant 6-1 record and percentage of 138.2, proving its credentials as a contender by knocking off Geelong in Geelong.
In contrast, West Coast is anchored to the bottom of the ladder, 1-6 and with a woeful percentage of 55.3 after their 109-point capitulation to Richmond – at home.
When you exclude the opening weeks of the season, when one result can throw things out of whack, this is as far apart as these two clubs have ever been – in terms of Freo’s lead on percentage, that is.
And while the Eagles’ percentage can hardly get much worse, it’s not like their fans have a lot to get excited about. Their older, experienced list has plenty of pain on the horizon with a rebuild likely to come.
In contrast, Freo isn’t just playing fantastic footy, but doing it without superstars like Nat Fyfe and Sean Darcy, thanks to a young core that is emerging together and should be good for a long time to come under a highly-respected coach in Justin Longmuir.
For the first time in a while, Perth is definitively purple.
UNDER-THE-RADAR RESERVES ISSUE HAS ‘GROWN SIGNIFICANTLY’
North Melbourne coach David Noble has warned the gap between AFL and VFL levels has “grown significantly”, making it harder to prepare players for the top level.
The 21-team VFL, which now covers the entire east coast, sees Melbourne as the only unbeaten side (just like at AFL level). Six clubs have a percentage of 134 or better.
At the bottom however, two teams are winless – Essendon’s VFL side and stand-alone club Williamstown – with five clubs having a percentage of 76 or less.
Part of the issue may be having full-time players on AFL lists against part-timers.
As local footy writer Paul Amy tweeted on Sunday evening: “The six Vic VFL stand-alone clubs (Williamstown, Coburg, Northern Bullants, Port Melbourne, Werribee and Frankston) have between them played 30 matches this season – and won seven.
“Some officials think the gap between them and the AFL and aligned teams has widened this year. Let’s hope they can all climb the ladder quickly. We need them strong.”
On Saturday night when asked about the form of young tall Callum Coleman-Jones, who has spent much of his first season at North Melbourne in the state league, Noble suggested the gap between it and the AFL was becoming a bigger problem.
“The step between the AFL and the VFL now has grown. It’s grown significantly,” Noble said in his post-match press conference.
“His second half was probably not too bad, he just needs to get more time under his belt at AFL level because of the speed and intensity of the game.”
Asked a follow-up question on the same topic, Noble conceded: “It’s a bit (of a concern).
“The problem is, particularly for those younger guys, to get the games into them to make sure they’re absolutely ready to go.
“Example, I think Paul Curtis was again better tonight because he actually had the tempo and the understanding from last week, which we know you don’t get until you expose those guys. We talk about playing at AFL speed, sometimes that’s quite hard to do at VFL level.
“The ball’s not as reliable, it doesn’t get delivered as well, the systems are bit slower, the execution’s a bit more off. Trying to get our guys to play with a higher intensity and urgency at a VFL level is tricky, it’s really tricky.”
He added: “At the moment it’s just where the competition is. We’re almost national in the VFL, we took a bunch of top-ups with our AFL guys up to Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, Brisbane had a pretty strong list and we got a bit of a touch-up.
“It’s what it is, you just have to make it work.”
‘BIG HEADS UP’ FOR DUMPED STAR
Essendon made a bold selection statement this week in dropping Dylan Shiel, who was eventually named the medical sub for the club’s clash with the Western Bulldogs,
Shiel, who signed a six-year deal with the Bombers from the 2019 season worth about $4.8 million, has been below his best form over the first six rounds as Essendon has slumped to a 1-5 start.
And speaking on Fox Footy, Collingwood legend Nathan Buckley said dumping him was a “big heads up”.
“At his best, penetrating, breaks the lines, gets in behind defences and is able to give forwards a real good crack at it in quick time — but haven’t seen enough of that,” he said.
“He’s a victim of the form that he’s displayed, but the position Essendon found themselves in.”
Buckley, who coached Shiel in the Vic Country U16s, suggested the Dons move him behind the ball to try and regain form.
“He’s not the most precise short kick, but his run off a half back line would be interesting. I would maybe try him there in the VFL, see how he goes,” he said.
Hawthorn legend Dermott Brereton questioned the Bombers’ bold move, calling it a “really strong statement”.
“For players who have devastating capabilities to split games, that young man Dylan Shiel, he’s in the top 20 in the league,” he told SEN.
“His best football is devastating, and we don’t see it or what he’s been asked to deliver as well.”
Shiel has averaged 22.8 disposals from his five matches across 2022 including 26 possessions against Collingwood on Anzac Day.
But Power great Kane Cornes doesn’t believe his current form is providing enough value to the Bombers.
“The way the game’s played now, you need big-bodied midfielders with elite speed and power who get front half possessions and are capable of hitting the scoreboard,” Cornes said.
“Yes, he’s not a great kick but neither is (Patrick) Dangerfield, neither is (Nat) Fyfe, neither was (Clayton) Oliver, but they have attributes that are just suited to the way the game’s played now.
“What is happening at Essendon where you have a Best and Fairest in Devon Smith, who has fallen off a cliff to the point where he was dropped last week, then you’ve got Dylan Shiel who would be in the top 10 per cent of highly paid players?
“I don’t know what is going on at the Bombers for this to happen and it’s quite shocking.”
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