Round-by-round: Race to the bottom of the top

AFL Round 18, 2013Adelaide beats Geelong, Brisbane beats Melbourne, Gold Coast beats Collingwood, and Richmond beats Fremantle. If last weekend is anything to go by, there is still nothing certain about who will fill the lower reaches of the eight come September.Of the nine matches this weekend, only Collingwood vs GWS and Geelong vs St. Kilda had no impact on the finals race. All other matches are either pseudo-finals games between clubs already there (Essendon vs Hawthorn, Sydney vs Richmond), titanic struggles in which both teams play for their season (Port Adelaide vs Brisbane, Adelaide vs Fremantle), or games that middle-rung teams simply must win (Gold Coast vs Carlton, Melbourne vs North Melbourne, West Coast vs Western Bulldogs). This is probably how each round will be analysed for the rest of the home-and-away season. Essendon vs Hawthorn (Friday, July 26)Essendon chairman David Evans had to deflect allegations he was resigning this week, after it was alleged he’d been called by AFL boss Andrew Demetriou about scrutiny over Essendon’s supplements program, the night before Essendon contacted ASADA (he’d resign on Saturday). Hawthorn looked, by contrast, as unshakeable as ever, welcoming Franklin back into a forward line that already sported Gunston, Hale, Roughead, Rioli and Breust. The stage was set for another top-of-the-tables clash late in the season, and for the occasion the teams didn’t disappoint. Essendon started by playing high-risk football and were rewarded with three of the first four goals. But then Franklin made his presence known, kicking three first-quarter goals to lift Hawthorn to a 10-point lead at quarter time.Essendon only scored one goal in the second quarter.The centre bounce that followed was snaffled by Rioli, who then whizzed away from Essendon players and unloaded a 50 metre drop punt that sailed through for a goal. This 15-second passage of play summed up the second term perfectly: Hawthorn had all the answers to Essendon’s decreasing challenges, and led by 32 points at half-time.The third term was played out in the same fashion. Although Essendon showed trademark pluckiness and a never-say-die attitude, Hawthorn had too much class. By three-quarter time, they had a 46-point lead and doubled Essendon’s Inside 50 count.With the game over, the last quarter gave Hawthorn the chance to further flaunt their ominous talent. And again, Franklin stepped up to the plate. With three last-quarter goals, he brought his total for the match to eight, and when considering that Hawthorn won by nine goals you can see just how crucial “Buddy” can be to his team’s success.Hodge also deserves credit for Hawthorn’s win. With 30 touches the captain continues to lead Hawthorn by example. Goddard, Stanton and Heppell all tried their hardest for Essendon, but had little support and few options up forward.Hawthorn 22.11.143 def Essendon 13.9.87 Gold Coast vs Carlton (Saturday, July 27)This time last year, Gold Coast ended Carlton’s finals hopes with only their third win of the season. Not wanting history to repeat, Carlton slammed on the first four goals in quick succession, but the Suns lifted and kicked the next three to come within seven points of Carlton at quarter time.The Suns remained within striking distance of Carlton in the second, and though Carlton’s lead was only 11 at half-time, they began to get on top in the Inside 50’s.They were well and truly on top by the second half, but only two goals from nine shots prevented them from making the most of their dominance. Carlton were 17 points ahead at three-quarter time.In the last quarter Carlton finally capitalised on their superiority, outscoring the Suns with six goals to two. The final margin was 43 points, keeping Carlton in finals contention.Kreuzer was superb for Carlton with 41 hit outs, many to advantage. He was supported by Scotland with 32 disposals and Henderson with four goals. Two games short of his 250th game, Ablett continued his consistent brilliance with 32 touches.Carlton 16.24.120 def Gold Coast 11.11.77 Melbourne vs North MelbourneDuring the week, North coach Brad Scott said North wouldn’t knock back a finals spot if Essendon were eventually penalised for the drug scandal. North clearly have their eye on ninth place, with their first step to achieving this being to beat the lowly Melbourne. They started slowly, with Melbourne’s late replacement Tapscott scoring the first goal. The next three went to North securing them a 17-point lead at quarter time.Melbourne continued to stay in touch of their northern opponents in the second term, getting within 13 points after Dawes goaled in the 19th minute. But then all hell broke loose, and ironically — and not for the first time — the team called the Demons were the ones to suffer. Over the next 10 minutes and two quarters, North bombarded the goal face, kicking 18 of the 19 goals scored. Melbourne’s one goal went to Byrnes late in the third term, which took their score to 28. They would not score for the rest of the match, and with the ball locked in their forward half, North players were practically forming a line to have a shot at goal by the last quarter. The final margin was 122 points, a boost to North’s percentage and yet another morale-destroying defeat for Melbourne.Though North’s win was slightly soured by a suspected ruptured achilles to captain Swallow, the young midfielder proved a positive with 34 touches and two goals. Goldstein (49 hit outs), Black and Bastinac (four goals each) also impressed for the winners. Jones and Sylvia were again the two Melbourne players able to retain some respect from a crippling loss.North Melbourne 22.18.150 def Melbourne 4.4.28 Collingwood vs GWSCameron is the next big thing in the AFL — it was re-emphasised during the week — and in the first term the man himself showed us why. With all of GWS’s four first quarter goals, he single-handedly kept a determined Collingwood five points at bay at quarter time. Buoyed by Cameron’s efforts, the winless Giants continued to challenge the seventh-placed Collingwood. They had all the run in the second term, and with three goals to one they extended their lead to 16 points at half-time. This was no mean feat considering pre-game predictions had Collingwood tipped to win by around 100 points.Collingwood charged back to start the third term, with four goals inside the first five minutes. The burst put them nine points in front and was enough to ensure they led by two points at three-quarter time following a GWS revival.GWS did what many had thought they’d do in the first term: fall off the pace. Collingwood kicked the only six goals of the quarter to win by 40 points, though the margin was still slim given GWS’s average losing margin has been over 100 points on many occasions this year.Swan and Beams again topped Collingwood’s disposal count with 39 and 37 respectively, while Cloke kicked three goals. Cameron finished with seven, while captain Ward had 32 touches for GWS.Collingwood 15.16.106 def GWS 10.6.66 Geelong vs St. KildaSt. Kilda challenged Geelong early with three consecutive goals in the first term, and by quarter time, the scores were dead level at 25 points each. Saints captain Reiwoldt kicked his second goal halfway through the second term to keep his side within seven points of Geelong. It would be St. Kilda’s last goal for the game.As the Demons had before them, the Saints went through two and a half quarters of utter hell. Cats forward Podsiadly took probably the mark of the year in the second term, while another six goals to Geelong took their total to eight for the quarter, and gave them a 46-point lead at half-time.It only got worse for St. Kilda after the break, with Reiwoldt coming off with a leg injury and Geelong refusing to lay off on pressure. Geelong kicked four goals in the third term and six in the last, and by the final siren Geelong had more than twice St. Kilda’s Inside 50 count and were in front by 101 points, their biggest winning margin of the season.Geelong showed just how ruthless they can be against struggling opponents, and yet again the most ruthless of them all was captain Joel Selwood with 32 touches and three goals, while Hawkins kicked five goals on his undersized opponent Gwilt. Steven remains the only positive for St. Kilda’s season, racking up a best-on-ground 36 possessions.Geelong 21.11.137 def St. Kilda 5.6.36 Fremantle vs AdelaideComing off an unlikely win against Geelong last week, Adelaide picked up right where they left off, kicking the first two goals of the match and leading their superior opponents by 15 points. But three goals to Fremantle in the final five minutes of the term ended the fairy tale, and the home side led by four points at quarter time. Fremantle’s defensive press was well and truly implemented by the second term, and while Adelaide couldn’t break through, Fremantle were able to score off the turnovers by playing coast to coast footy. Another three goals without reply in the term stretched Fremantle’s lead to 23 for half-time.The third term was like a replay of the first. Adelaide had an early purple patch — scoring three goals to get within a kick of Fremantle — before the team wearing purple steadied with three unanswered goals. Each team scored 21 points for the term, and so Fremantle’s 23 point lead remained for the final break.By full time, it was still there, as both teams kicked two goals in the final term. It only goes to show the effectiveness of Fremantle’s grinding defensive tactics; not for the first time this year, Freo have beaten a side who have matched them for significant patches of the game by a comfortable margin. This time, they beat Adelaide, ending any chance the Crows had of making the finals.Fremantle’s Fyfe was clearly best afield with 29 touches and four crucial goals. Like Franklin on Friday night, Fyfe proved the difference between the two sides. Sloane (30 touches) and Vince (25 touches) tried their best for Adelaide.Fremantle 11.9.75 def Adelaide 7.11.53 Port Adelaide vs Brisbane (Sunday, July 28)Though Brisbane scored the first goal through Bewick, Port looked to have all the skill early, and kicked the next three goals to lead by 12 points at quarter time.Some great team plays spurred Brisbane to kick the first three goals of the term and take the lead. But Port snatched it back with the next two goals, and their margin was 10 points at half-time.Brisbane started the third quarter as well as they had the previous two, kicking two goals, but this time their ascendancy lasted the entire term. With some brilliant long range goals, Brisbane again stole a slim lead nearing the end of the term, before Schulz slotted a beauty to keep Port four points ahead at the last change. With the margin under a goal, scores became crucial in the last term. They also became infrequent, with nothing scored until the 16th minute. Brisbane’s Merret marked a nothing kick into Port’s forward 50, before a contentious play on decision saw him being worried off the ball by Monfries. Wingard kicked the last term’s only goal soon after, and there’ll be some grumpy Brisbane fans this week given the goal delivered Port a nine-point win and ended their hopes of making the finals.Port captain Boak had a lazy 27 possessions, while Schulz played courageously with two goals. Rockliff finished with 28 for Brisbane.Port Adelaide 9.17.71 def Brisbane 9.8.62 Western Bulldogs vs West CoastWest Coast got the early break on the back of some great coast-to-coast goals, and held on to a seven-point lead at quarter time.Two passages of play defined the second term. West Coast’s Kennedy ran down the exciting Dalhaus with a great tackle, but West Coast failed to goal in the play following the free kick. Ten minutes later, the Dogs’ Grant threw caution to the wind and ploughed head first into a contest. The impact brought both he and the ball to ground, after which Dalhaus pounced on it and soccer-ed through a goal to get the Dogs in front. The Dogs generally made more of their opportunities, and were one point in front at half-time.The Dogs still had all the confidence in the second half, extending their lead to 14 points by three-quarter time, with five goals to three. Another four goals to start the final term was enough for the Dogs to stave a mini West Coast comeback, and with their fifth and most promising win of the season, the Dogs also ensured West Coast was the third team this round to be eliminated from finals contention.Good things are now being said about the Dogs, and their best players today may well lead the team to future success. With 29 touches and four goals, Dalhaus was compared to a young Ablett (Jnr), while favourite son Liberatore also had 29 and Grant answered his critics with three goals. Gaff had 31 possessions for West Coast.Western Bulldogs 16.15.111 def West Coast 13.11.89 Sydney vs RichmondRichmond proved they were a top eight side with last week’s win over Fremantle; in this match they sought to prove that they’re also a top four side taking on the reigning premiers. There were positive signs early, with White driving home the first goal from outside 50, but Sydney gradually worked their way back into the game. The scores were level on five goals each at quarter time.The game was less free flowing in the second term, to the benefit of Sydney. The Swans outscored Richmond by three goals to one and by half-time were 15 points in front and ahead in both tackles and contested possessions.Richmond worked their way back to within 10 points in the third term, before Sydney showed just how much better they were. They kicked the next six goals with ease to lead by 45 points in the early stages of the last term, and this margin remained for the final siren. Suffice to say, Richmond — who consistently said they weren’t getting their hopes up about their finals prospects — were vindicated by the heavy loss at the hands of a top four team. O Keefe (30 touches) and captain Jack (26) were best for Sydney, while White kicked four goals. Reiwoldt only managed three for Richmond, though Martin and Cotchin were again solid with 30 touches each.Sydney 16.14.110 def Richmond 9.9.63by Alexander Darling

July 29th 2013
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