Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh dissect all of the main talking points ahead of Round 5.
Which coach is under the most pressure?
NS: There's growing discontent around Don Pyke after Adelaide's spluttering start to 2019, and while he does appear to be under rising pressure, the answer here has to be Brendon Bolton. The Blues have been spirited so far this year but have zero premiership points to show for it. I don't think he's close to getting a tap on the shoulder from Carlton's infamously impatient power brokers but this is a win-loss industry and he needs results soon. If the L's keep piling up, surely he doesn't see out the year.
JM: It has to be Brendon Bolton, doesn't it? The Blues have zero wins from their opening four games and the stats suggest they have shown little improvement, if any, from their horror two-win season of 2018. I'm sorry, but if any team has only won three of their past 35 games, the coach's role has to be questioned.
MW: Don Pyke has to be right up there. After a pretty lacklustre season last year, many expected the Crows to be pushing for a top four spot again in 2019, but a lethargic forward line and a one-paced midfield is getting exposed by a lot of teams. There are rumblings among Adelaide fans, and if Carlton can finish off the bottom of the ladder, their pick swap from last year's draft may also become an embarrassing backfire.
Who is the most improved player in the league?
NS: With apologies to Jacob Hopper, Hugh McCluggage, Jacob Weitering and Aaron Naughton, my choice is Jack Bowes - and I thought that before his last-gasp match-winner against the Blues! The 2016 No. 10 draft pick is averaging 23 touches, five tackles and three clearances a game but it's his leadership that's also stood out. In a core group of young Suns who are growing before our eyes, Bowes appears to be the leader of the pack.
JM: I'll give you two names: Patrick Cripps and Lachie Whitfield. Generally when we think of improved players we look at the C-graders who have taken a big leap, but these are two genuine A-graders who have reached a whole new level in 2019. Cripps has upped just about every statistical area imaginable, while Whitfield has been a revelation for the Giants off hard forward and arguably the best ball user in the competition.
MW: Zak Jones would have to go close. Having made the move from half back to the midfield, the 24-year-old is averaging 25 touches per games in 2019 (up from 19 in 2018), 3.75 tackles (up from 1.84), 4 clearances (up from 1) and -- remarkably -- the same number of rebound 50s (3.00). He also adds pace to a Sydney midfield which many previously labelled as slow. No wonder some Victorian sides are circling.
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Ep. 6 of the @footytips #AFL podcast:
Can anyone challenge Sam Walsh for the Rising Star?
NS: In a word, no! Unless he gets injured, Walsh has it in the bag. Others, especially Connor Rozee, will produce more exciting highlights packages but Walsh is already playing like a seasoned veteran and has become a key plank in Carlton's midfield. His consistency in four early games has been extraordinary.
JM: I really like Port Adelaide's Connor Rozee but I feel like he's the type of player who might not be as consistent as Walsh. Carlton's No. 1 pick has been hugely impressive with his work rate and ability to find the football. If he can tidy up his ball use I can't really see anyone else challenging him come season's end.
MW: There have been some impressive performances from first-year players this year, but Walsh is in a class of his own for consistency. He averages 26 touches a game (12 contested), 5 clearances, 4 inside 50s and 2.5 rebound 50s - these are A-Grade numbers already! Pre-draft, some said he was 'too vanilla' to be a Pick 1. If Walsh is vanilla, he's an organic Madagascan vanilla bean - not the home brand essence.
The Suns, Lions and Saints are all 3-1: Will any play finals?
NS: I'm probably going against history here but I don't think any of those team will play finals, as impressive as their first four rounds have been. I've loved the Lions' brave ball movement, the Saints' resilience in the face of key injuries and the Suns' defensive accountability but I still consider none to be among the league's best eight sides. They'll drop away as the season progresses.
JM: I know they suffered a big loss to Essendon but I'm sticking with Brisbane. A young list is going to have ups and downs but Chris Fagan's side has shown enough in the first month of football to suggest they can beat most teams on any given day, particularly at home. Gee, this game against Collingwood on Thursday night is HUGE!
MW: It's not beyond the realms to say that all three of these teams will miss out on September action. St Kilda and Gold Coast have both had incredibly fortuitous fixtures so far and have tough upcoming games; St Kilda face Melbourne, Adelaide, GWS, West Coast and Collingwood in their next five weeks, while the Suns have Adelaide, Brisbane, West Coast, Melbourne, Port and Geelong in their next six. The Lions may go close but I expect they'll fade later in the year.