Round-by-round: Ooohhhhh, we’re halfway theeere

AFL Round 12, 2013At the start of the season, everyone predicted this year would be, well… unpredictable. In some respects, they were right: Geelong remains a powerhouse when they were expected to fall off the radar; Essendon had an equally great start despite the drug scandal engulfing the club; in its third year Gold Coast is better placed to make the finals than several much older Victorian clubs; and at least half the games involving North Melbourne this year have ended with the other team winning in heart-stopping fashion. But the outcome of the 2013 season is looking much clearer now than it did 12 weeks ago. The Age football writer Rohan Connolly argues that only Sydney, Fremantle, Hawthorn and Geelong are at realistic odds to win the premiership. Other likely finalists Essendon and Collingwood have difficulty beating these four teams and a host of other clubs are struggling to secure their spot in the lower reaches of the eight.So it looks like punters will have less difficulty tipping the second half of the season and the winner of the Grand Final, but don’t get complacent. Australian Rules football is a weird game at the best of times, and now that the umpires are paying less free kicks there’s no way of guaranteeing how matches will be played for the rest of the season.Bye: St. Kilda, West Coast, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong Carlton vs Hawthorn (Friday, June 14)With two Brownlows, a Premiership, a Norm Smith Medal, five club Best and Fairest’s, six All-Australian team selections and now 250 games under his belt, Carlton’s Chris Judd took much of the attention in the lead up to the match. But once proceedings began, it was the rest the Carlton team that garnered attention.Though Hawthorn’s intimidating forward line was dangerous with three early goals, Carlton got on top of Hawthorn thereafter by denying them the ball, smashing them out of the centre clearances and playing superb coast-to-coast football. For their effort, Carlton was down only two points at quarter time and 11 points up at half-time. Mick Malthouse’s men had also shown the league a way of beating Hawthorn, which no-one, bar Geelong, has known how to do this year. The skill and intensity level of the match only escalated further after half-time, as the Hawks began to make the most of what little opportunities they had and Carlton got diminishing returns from their forward forays. Carlton led by as much as 17 points before Hawthorn hit back to restore their two-point lead by three-quarter time and set the match up for a big finish.Carlton regained the lead with a goal to Armfield 35 seconds after play resumed, but then three goals to Hawthorn sealed the match. For the second week in a row, Carlton went down swinging on Friday night, and still haven’t broken the hoodoo whereby they haven’t beaten Hawthorn in eight years. Hawthorn, on the other hand, won their tenth game in a row for the first time since 1975, their scintillating form an ominous sign for the other clubs in premiership contention this year.It was hard to pick good individual players in this one; about half a dozen from each team had arguably their best game of the year. Curnow played a crucial role in Carlton’s defence and Gibbs had 28 touches. Hawthorn were once again buoyed by captain Hodge’s ability to dig deep and find something extra, while Roughead and Franklin had captivating battles with their opponents and each finished with four goals.Hawthorn 15.12.102 def Carlton 13.9.87 Richmond vs Adelaide (Saturday, June 15)Richmond adjusted better to the wet conditions, dominating possession and holding a 19-point lead by quarter time.They continued to storm away from Adelaide when play resumed, leading by 33 halfway through the second term. Adelaide then began applying more pressure to their opponents and forced Richmond errors, giving them a 27-point lead by half’s end.Though they looked comfortable in the second term, Richmond had difficulty putting Adelaide away in the third. Richmond scored 2.3 to Adelaide’s wasteful 1.6 for the term to lead by five goals at the final break.Adelaide came hard at the start of the last term. Playing high-risk football, they scored two goals in the first three minutes of the quarter. But Richmond quickly returned fire with two of their own, sealing their seventh win of the year and a spot in the top eight. By the final siren, and to the joyous roar of the Tigers’ faithful, Richmond were in front by 38 points.Usual suspects Martin and Deledio were Richmond’s best, the former with four goals and the latter 28 touches (22 uncontested). Adelaide’s Dangerfield reasserted himself as one of the best midfielders in the competition with 28 disposals (18 contested), eight clearances, six Inside 50s and two goals four.Richmond 16.14.110 def Adelaide 10.12.72 Fremantle vs Brisbane The first goal of the match — a long range bomb by Lisle — went to Brisbane, but Fremantle then got on top of the tough contest and led by nine points at quarter time.Inaccuracy plagued both sides in the second term, but the first goal to Clarke got the ball rolling for Fremantle, and they had doubled their lead by half-time.The low scoring contest continued in the third, thanks mainly to Fremantle coach Ross Lyon’s defensive style. Fremantle remained in pole position with a four-goal lead at three-quarter time.Though the low scores suggested Brisbane was still in it, Fremantle ended the illusion in the last quarter. With four goals they ended up winning by 40 points, a more accurate indicator of where the two teams are at form-wise.Barlow (32 touches) and Mundy (27 touches and two goals) were Fremantle’s best, while Golby had 29 touches for Brisbane.Fremantle 12.14.86 def Brisbane 6.10.46 Essendon vs Gold CoastEssendon coach James Hird teased the football world this week by suggesting his captain Watson (2012 Brownlow medallist) would play some of the match on Ablett (2009 Brownlow medallist and arguably the best player in the comp). The hope of this dream matchup wasn’t the only thing that kept people interested in the game, however. Gold Coast scored the first goal and the contest was level early with both teams putting multiple players loose in defence. Essendon were then able to outmuscle the still-maturing Suns, and by quarter time had a 19-point lead.Essendon maintained control in the second term, though only extended their half-time lead by three points as Gold Coast got two handy late goals through Brown.Gold Coast came out firing to start the second half. With all the running and the first two goals, they got within 10 points before Essendon put their foot down. With four consecutive goals, Essendon exploited the Sun’s lack of players on the bench and took a 38-point lead into quarter time.Ablett and Watson didn’t end up getting a run together, and Essendon pulled away with increasingly less difficulty throughout the final quarter, the final margin being a run-of-the-mill 43 points.Goddard had another great game for Essendon with 38 touches, while father-son recruit Daniher showed promising signs as a key forward with three first-half goals in only his second game. Ablett had 36 touches and O’Meara 30 for the Gold Coast.Essendon 17.13.115 def Gold Coast 11.6.72 GWS vs Port Adelaide (Sunday, June 16)Having lost five games in a row, Port was desperately in need of a win. The winless GWS then was just what the doctor ordered. And Port needed no encouragement, slamming on six goals to one and earning a 34-point lead by quarter time. With another six goals in the second term to GWS’s three behinds, and their captain Boak on fire, Port’s lead doubled by the half and was at 83 points by the final break.Port very nearly undid all their hard work in the last quarter, three early goals to GWS cutting their margin and threatening their chance to get back into the top eight. Nonetheless, the final margin of 75 points should still be enough to get their season back on track and ward off criticism towards the playing group and first year coach Ken Hinkley.Scully finally seems to be holding up his end of the lucrative contract between him and GWS, amassing 30 possessions. Cornes had 34 touches for Port and Schulz, Monfries and Boak all finished with three goals.Port Adelaide 19.11.125 def GWS 6.14.50 Collingwood vs Western BulldogsLike most others this weekend, the match was effectively over before it began. Collingwood kept the Dogs goalless in the first term to lead by 24 points at quarter time. With star forward Cloke firing, Collingwood drove the boot in further in the second term, tackling ferociously and kicking seven goals to two, establishing a 53-point half-time lead. All the promise that the Dogs showed in their past two matches had evaporated, and their half-time score of 17 points was their lowest against Collingwood in over three decades.Scoring dried up in the third term and Collingwood looked less polished than in the first half. The Dogs ended up winning the quarter by two points, the smallest of victories considering Collingwood’s lead was still 51 points at the final break. Nonetheless, the Dogs were able to build on their third-quarter improvement, kicking five of the seven goals in the last quarter and running out the game far better than Collingwood. Cloke saw out the match with his fifth goal, but he, like Collingwood, had faded out in the second half such that the final margin was only 34 points.Swan and Pendlebury had 38 and 35 touches respectively for Collingwood, but the credit should go to defenders O’Brien and Shaw, who had high possession games and worked tirelessly across half back to set up their teammates. Old Dogs Murphy, Griffen and Boyd were up to their usual tricks, the former with 28 touches and the latter with 32 each.Collingwood 15.9.99 def Western Bulldogs 9.11.65by Alexander Darling 

June 17th 2013
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