AFL Tackle: The tactic that has Tigers all at sea
It was a weekend of footy like we've never seen.
A game was called off after a positive COVID-19 test, but around that bombshell eight games were played in Round 3.
Some players stood up when it counted, and some clubs are facing some very serious questions.
Here's what chief football writer Mark Robinson liked, and didn't like.
WHAT I LIKE
1. Eddie Betts
The target of racial abuse again during the week, Betts could either let it swallow him or propel him to inspire. Why aren't we surprised it was the latter? His match-saving final 45 seconds - the kick off the ground, chase-up, the harassment on Harry Taylor, tackle on Jack Henry and mark deep in the pocket - topped a terrific game. He kicked two goals from 12 touches, but it was also the energy he brought to the contest. The next person who racially abuses him, and is caught, should be hauled to Ikon Park to apologise and ask for forgiveness face-to-face. Eddie is a treasure and should be treated as such.
2. Steele Sidebottom
Every year there is a player that embarrasses the Top 50 and this year it is the veteran Pie. It's always a tough one evaluating a veteran's elite consistency versus the expected improvement of up and comers. Sidebottom on Saturday gave the St Kilda midfielders a lesson in ball gathering and delivery. He and Scott Pendlebury, in fact. Maybe it's time opposition teams started tagging Sidebottom as GWS did in the preliminary final last year. This year, with 20 minutes less footy, he's had 26, 27 and 31 possessions. Suspect the Giants won't let Sidebottom waltz around Giants Stadium this weekend.
3. Lachie Neale
The Brisbane Lions midfielder doesn't have the pizzazz of Nat Fyfe, Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield, nor the size and strength of Patty Cripps. What he does have is nous, work ethic and an incredible ability to win the ball. Why doesn't he get tagged? Has team defence, which is devouring the sport anyway, made taggers almost obsolete? In a game that was level until halftime, Neale helped separate the Eagles with 19-second-half possessions, which is close to one every two-and-a-half minutes. His ranking points in the first three games this year are 157, 171 and 166, which is just phenomenal.
4. Touk Miller
The flowers are being thrown at Matt Rowell, Ben King and Gold Coast's band of young men - Rowell is a freak with is power and work ethic - but it's players like Touk Miller who are also excelling in this renaissance of a football club. A long-time run-with midfielder, Miller has become an authentic and offensive mid, and while mostly everyone is declaring Rowell the future captain of the Suns, he might have to wait for his turn. Miller is 24 and played 103 games, and played in only 22 victories. He has done the hard yards. on Sunday, he had a game-high 26 disposals in a team performance which further announced it is a legit finals contender. The AFL could do worse than scheduling the Suns on a Thursday or Friday night. They deserve it.
5. Tom Liberatore
There were better players than Libba on Friday night - Caleb Daniel, Bailey Smith, Alex Keath, maybe Hayden Crozier, maybe even Tim English - but Libba carried the spiritual candle. The Dogs needed it. Coach Luke Beveridge helped explain the impact of Libba on Fox Footy on Saturday. "He's one of those teammates that you love playing with,'' he said. "The boys as soon as they hear he's picked grinned like Cheshire cats. He was really important for us.'' That goal just before the three-quarter time break, after the free-for-all, told us what Libba meant to the team. Now, to keep the body intact.
6. Josh Kennedy
He's symbolic of the Sydney Swans. Has got it done over 10 years and on Saturday against North Melbourne, in a game where you had to stand up and be counted, Kennedy was unrelenting. You don't expect anything less. He might not get maximum votes from the coaches, but his importance can't be measured by votes. He wins hard balls, he doesn't yield to the opposition, and he led Sydney's disposals with 22 and had team highs in tackles and clearances. He was 32 on Saturday and enjoyed a terrific birthday.
7. Isaac Smith
Courage to run and take on the game is not often a decisive factor in the review of games. Not Smith's game on Thursday night. Best afield will go to either Smith or Jaeger O'Meara, and I would probably give it to Smith for his first-half dominance. He finished with 29 disposals (game high), 21 uncontested possessions (game high) and 531m gained (second most) and picked apart the Tigers midfield defence. He's been a good player for a long time.
8. Marc Pittonet
He's 24 and Saturday night's game against Geelong was his 10th game since being drafted in 2016. He didn't crack at Hawthorn but in two games with the Blues has announced himself as one of the finds of the season. The ruck clergy would appreciate him. He's not a huge collector of disposals around the ground, but what he does is compete hard and win hitouts. Against the Cats, he had 15 hitouts to advantage opposed to Rhys Stanley's four. The Blues scored 2.2 from those hitouts to advantage. It's not a huge score, but what he was able to do was help the Blues play momentum footy - get it and move it forward. It will be interesting to see what coach David Teague does when Matthew Kreuzer returns from injury, because if Pittonet continues this form, there's no chance Pittonet is giving up the No. 1 ruck role.
9. Charlie Dixon
He's the larger version of Libba, a player his teammates want to play with. When fit, as he looks right now, he can be in contention for All-Australian selection. On Sunday night in the wet he was dominant, taking marks and competing in contests. He kicked two goals and took five marks, took the ruck in the forward line and along the way displayed all that over-aggression he possesses. Ken Hinkley said at the start of the season: "Charlie gets challenged about what he can't do, but I like to live in the world of what he can do, which is bloody well compete and create passion and energy for his teammates.'' That was Dixon against the Dockers.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE
1. A season compromised?
Of course it is, but them's the breaks it seems. The Eagles are doing their heads in the hub and want to go home, and it's reflective of their performance. The Bombers could be without eight senior players this week and next if they are forced to isolate for 14 days. And then regain match fitness after that. If that happens, Essendon's season would likely be cooked. The Eagles? Well, they've got two weeks to save their season. They need a result and they probably need to park their frustration. Because players will take an out when they can and if the club continues to tell everyone they don't want to be there, it's almost impossible to not have that thinking seep into the playing group.
2. So, what of Conor McKenna?
His health is the No.1 priority, we get that. The consequences of his actions, however, can't be ignored. His disregard for the league's isolation rules has put Essendon and the AFL in a delicate, if not treacherous, position. He can expect a long suspension for breaking the rules, and his actions have brought his club to the brink of crisis - if a large portion of the list players are forced into 14-day isolation. Players have been continually warned and McKenna has seemingly ignored those warnings. Not sure the Bombers handled the situation as best they could on Saturday morning, either. How McKenna was able to enter the club might need a review of protocols.
3. All-time low
There could be a Royal Commission in Adelaide this week after the Crows' mental and physical capitulation against the Suns. One goal to three-quarter time before kicking three goals in the final quarter, but let's chill on praising them for not giving up. This performance was pitiful and tells us the Crows are deep in crisis. Their football is boring, slow and without purpose. Eleven of their 22 players had nine or fewer disposals. Their disposal leaders created little to no damage, and they were slaughtered in clearances (25-38). You've got to feel for coach Matthew Nicks, he inherited a basket case.
4. Is emotion more important than tactics?
It's not a dislike, it's more an observation. What we do know is tactics work far better if effort and intent are bubbling. Look at Hawthorn on Thursday night and the Bulldogs on Friday night. Both teams responded to poor performances the week before. They were different teams, strong at the contest and supportive in numbers. The same with Carlton against Geelong for the first three quarters, in particular their first quarter, which had been dodgy. It works both ways. Geelong coach Chris Scott admitted he didn't immediately have the answer about why his team was so pedestrian before the final-quarter comeback. Above the shoulders, perhaps?
5. So what's the Giants' excuse?
GWS has gone down Bully St which is OK when you're winning, but seemingly misplaced when the toughness on Friday night was judged by effort and intent and head over the ball. The Bulldogs didn't allow the Giants to run with any sort of continuity and long bombs to the forward line were fodder for the Bulldogs defence. There's issues, no doubt. Eight goals last week against North Melbourne at home and only four against the Dogs. Jeremy Cameron can't touch it and Harry Himmelberg has two goals from three matches. It's hardly helpful when their midfield is curtailed, mind you. They play Collingwood at home this week and if it's another loss it's a mini crisis.
6. Where was the mosquito fleet?
Let's not baulk at this, the Saints midfield was put to the sword by Collingwood. Scoring from stoppages is a key component in any game, and while it's not all the midfield's fault, it did come from this source. The Saints scored two points from stoppages on Saturday, their worst return since this score source was recorded. The Pies, meanwhile, were +25 points, which is significant in a 44-point win. It's not the end of season, it's a lesson against one of the high-end midfield groups in the competition. It didn't help the Saints that Grundy made a mess of Ryder and Marshall. The tests keep coming. This week it's Richmond at Marvel.
Until the final game on Sunday night, four of 14 teams - Hawthorn 11.5, Collingwood 12.9, Carlton 12.7 and Gold Coast 12.10 - have kicked more goals than behinds. Rushed behinds and hands off packs played a role, but so, too, did the inadequacy of players to kick straight. The North Melbourne-Swans game was a mess and even the superbly skilled Gary Ablett missed a sitter from 25m, straight in front, late in Saturday night's game. The laborious lack of goals being kicked in matches this season is becoming a major issue for the AFL, the lack of accuracy, meanwhile, is a major issue for coaches.
8. Trouble at Tigerland?
Not in Round 3, but there are concerns. Five goals each in their past two matches tells us that. Jack Riewoldt, Tom Lynch and Dan Rioli need to find the ball, but it's not all their fault. It seems the tactic against the Tigers is to flood their forward line and because the Tigers like to dump the ball long, the opposition is overwhelming them in the air. How much is motivation a factor for the Tigers? They've been up for three years and these early games just might not have them at the energy levels required. If so, it better change quickly.
9. Can any team break down Collingwood?
If Collingwood's defensive strategy can't be unpicked as the season progresses, they Pies will enter the finals as premiership favourites. In their past three matches they have conceded 34, 36 and 37 points. That's five goals across roughly 100 minutes in each game. Other than the Richmond game, they've also kicked 13 and 12 goals respectively. We talk about teams having a No.1 wood, it's arguable Collingwood's strength at reducing opposition scoring is the No.1 weapon in the competition. It starts in their midfield. Against the Saints, they were able to control clearances and control the game, especially in the first half. The Pies finished +42 in disposals, +37 uncontested possessions and +11 in clearances.
Originally published as The Tackle: The tactic that has Tigers all at sea