Heroes & Villains, R15: Young Dogs show bite; are Melbourne mental minnows?

There might be some nervous executives at AFL House this week, with the formation of the "look of the game" committee looking like a rather silly knee-jerk reaction after what can only be described as a mesmerising and nail-biting round of footy.

From Thursday night's top-two clash between Richmond and Sydney, Friday night's after-the-siren miss by Geelong's Harry Taylor, to Adelaide's resurgence, the Saints' unlikely victory and the Bombers' shootout heroics, there was plenty to love about our great game.

So much to love, that we owe a few apologies ahead of this week's Heroes & Villains. For the second straight week, the Bombers were magnificent (and have now stormed into finals contention), the Giants again pressured their way to a hard-fought win, and the Pies continued their incredibly rich vein of form to catapult into the top two.

Heroes & Villains, Round 15.


Youthful Bulldogs: It would be so easy to label Geelong's Harry Taylor as a villain following his heartbreaking miss after the siren on Friday night but the truth is the game was won by some exciting Bulldogs youngsters, not lost by the veteran Cat.

Ed Richards, in just his 13th game, did something very few players achieve in their career let alone in year one. The 18-year-old booted three goals on the night -- including two in the final term -- but what was so unique was the fact that all three of them regained the lead for the Dogs. It highlights just how composed and clutch he is for a youngster who has impressed enormously since Luke Beveridge sent him forward against Port Adelaide three matches ago.

Josh Dunkley was another major contributor for the Dogs. A 27-disposal, seven-tackle and two-goal effort was just about his best game for the club while Billy Gowers continued his super season with another two important goals. Gowers has now kicked at least one goal in 13 of the 14 matches he's played this season.

Oh and what about Marcus Bontempelli? It might seem like 'the Bont' is part of the older brigade but he is still only 22. Against the Cats he racked up 23 possessions, laid seven tackles and kicked two goals.

One thing is certain, the future is bright at the Bulldogs.

Taylor Walker: Walker, much like the team he captains, has faced fierce criticism for his sub-par season so far and the Crows were again under massive pressure when they trailed West Coast by 27 points late in the third quarter on Saturday evening.

A loss would have basically ended Adelaide's chances of playing finals, but Walker showed exactly why he's twice been voted by his peers as the best captain in the league by taking charge and hauling his team towards a thrilling victory.

Just before the final break, he kicked a crucial toe-poke that delivered a surge of belief for the Crows and their adoring crowd at Adelaide Oval.

That was the catalyst for a final-quarter Crows domination, with Walker delivering a monster goal from 55m out. He followed that up with another goal after a strong contested mark as the Crows kept their season alive with a gutsy 10-point win.

Adelaide's midfield was also massive when the game was on the line, with the lopsided 24-4 inside-50 count in the last quarter the highest differential in that category in any quarter of a game this year.

Walker -- who struggled with a foot issue in the preseason and was then given a month off to work on his fitness before returning in Round 12 -- did the rest.

The seemingly down-and-out Crows are now just one game and 12 percentage points out of the eight ... could they still make it to September?

Lion cubs: Enemies beware: when it all comes together for the Lion cubs, they're going to be the main event.

On the weekend, the Lions gave the AFL and their long-suffering fans a glimpse into the not-too-distant future in a complete and clinical demolition of Fremantle, which many expect will become the norm in the future.

While they were led ably by Dayne Beams and Luke Hodge, it was Lions young guns Cam Rayner (19 touches, 2 goals), Alex Witherden (21 touches, 1 goal), Hugh McLuggage (24 possesions), Tom Cutler (19 disposals, 2 goals) and Daniel McStay (11 touches, 3 goals) who had a significant impact in the 55-point victory -- a surefire sign that the future is bright for Chris Fagan's side.

In addition to the final margin, the victory itself was important; Fremantle's form at home in 2018 had been impressive considering their spot on the ladder, having lost only to cross-town rivals West Coast and North Melbourne.

In fact, much like that shadowy place beyond their kingdom's borders, Perth hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Brisbane; it was the Lions' first win against Freo in Perth since 2009 -- which coincidentally was the last time Brisbane played finals.

With 30 players on their list aged between 18 and 25 (including "veterans" such as Lewy Taylor and Charlie Cameron), it won't be long before the synergy within this group begins to result in more consistent performances.

Be prepared, Brissy fans, and enjoy the ride, because we know they just can't wait to be kings.


An experienced Sydney trio: If Sydney is to be considered a genuine premiership contender, they must get more out of a number of senior players.

While skipper Josh Kennedy was terrific against Richmond with 36 disposals and Lance Franklin's four-goal haul was a game-high, there were three players who offered very little: Gary Rohan, Kieren Jack and Dan Hannebery. The trio's combined lack of impact was a significant factor in Sydney going down by 26 points to the reigning premiers.

What exactly does Rohan bring to the Swans? This year he's averaging 8.5 disposals and 0.6 goals per game and once again failed to fire in one of the poorest individual efforts of 2018. Rohan had six touches at 33 percent efficiency against the Tigers and amazingly finished up as the worst pressure player on the ground. Any other player would be out of the side after that sort of effort but for some reason Rohan seems to enjoy the luxury of a free pass.

Jack, who is beginning to spend more time in the forward line, didn't fare much better than Rohan with eight possessions and while he laid six tackles he wasn't able to take a single shot at goal during the game.

And then there's Hannebery who continues to look down on confidence. He may have found the footy 20 times but the midifielder made so many uncharacteristic mistakes to underline the fact he's nowhere near the standard he set in 2016.

If Sydney are serious in 2018, they can't afford to carry passengers.

Melbourne the mental minnows: We should have seen it coming. And some Demons fans probably did as Melbourne succumbed to a lowly club in a game they were expected to win comfortably.

Just like they have so many times in the past few years, the Dees couldn't get the job done when they needed. Sunday's shock two-point loss to St Kilda again raises question marks about Melbourne's temperament, not to mention game-plan and team balance.

Despite a promising start to the year, the Demons' finals credentials were questioned because of inability to perform against strong teams on big stage. But at least Simon Goodwin's men were able to account for the sides near the foot of the ladder. On Sunday, they couldn't even do that as the Saints secured a stirring victory.

The performance leaves the Dees clinging to a spot just inside the eight by only 1.2 percentage points with a challenging back-end to the season in store. Suddenly a fairytale return to September is now an even-money chance at best.

And what is it about the MCG that is preventing the Demons from playing at their best? They now have a pretty worrying 2-5 win-loss record at the 'G this year -- last year they went 6-6 -- with Melbourne's inside-heavy midfield exposed on the wide expanses of their home ground, which is at the moment offering them no advantage at all.

After Sunday's shock, Melbourne coach Goodwin said he understood why critics and fans would again be questioning his side.

"For the large part of this year, we've played some really strong footy against teams below us on the ladder, so I understand (the fans') feeling," he said.

"We are still building ourselves into the team we want to become and we always said there would be little bumps along the way."

Those so-called "little bumps" in the road will become insurmountable obstacles if Goodwin and his coaching team can't work out a way to capitalise on the Demons' contested dominance, fix a leaky defence that is coughing up mountains of points in Jake Lever's absence, and find a way to win at their home ground.

Overumpiring: Hawthorn's James Frawley summed it up well during his side's 11-point loss to the GWS Giants at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night. He asked umpire Shane McInerny: "Can you just let us play footy, or what?"

It was a frustrating trend in Round 15 (and, not surprisingly, during the AFL's trial of four field umpires) that marking contests especially were over-umpired, with the Giants-Hawks game the most unwatchable of the week due to the constant interference from the men in green.

Overall, the average number of frees paid per team per game is sitting at 21.3 through 14 rounds -- the highest since 1994 and almost three free kicks more than in 2017 (18.8 frees for per team per game).

There were 56 free kicks paid during the Giants' win, while during the trial of four umpires over the bye rounds, all but four games were "over-umpired" when compared to the average number of frees paid so far in 2018.

If the AFL is implementing a "look of the game" committee, the first step would be to look in their own backyard. Fans don't want to see free kicks paid in every second marking contest, they want players to have a fair-dinkum dip and win a 50/50 ball.

Fans don't want players penalised a massive 50 metres for a contrived "protected zone infringement", they want the game to open up organically.

It seems like a simple solution, but let's just put the whistle away. As James Frawley said, let them play footy.