Heroes & Villains, R19: Carlton's shining light; more Magpie injuries

Another nine games are in the books, and -- for the first time ever -- nine venues were used in the one round of football. Round 19 certainly was a weird one, as even Carlton managed a win.

Richmond's excitement machine Jack Higgins provided one of the highlights of the round, as did a young Carlton bull, and the West Coast Eagles let slip a golden chance to wrap up a top-two finish.

Special mentions go to Tom Hawkins (who kicked his second straight bag of seven), 200-gamer Shaun Higgins, and the people of Ballarat, who braved frigid conditions to watch the Dogs and Power on Sunday.

Heroes & Villains, Round 19.


Devon Smith: There may still be four rounds plus finals to go but we're calling it now; Devon Smith is the recruit of the season.

The former Giant has been just about Essendon's best and most consistent player in 2018 and is quietly building a strong case for what would be a maiden All-Australian selection. Smith leads the AFL in both tackles and applied pressure, and during his first season at the Bombers is enjoying career-highs in disposals, contested possessions, clearances as well as tackles.

On Friday night Smith was again important as the Bombers kept their season alive by handing the Swans a second straight defeat. Smith finished with 17 disposals, but it was his eight tackles and another two goals which were the standouts in the 43-point win.

Having Smith in the Bombers' midfield has been important for skipper Dyson Heppell, David Zaharakis and ball-magnet Zach Merrett who have all, at times, been freed up by his addition.

The Bombers still have a lot of work to do in order to make finals but should they achieve it there wouldn't be too many sides that would want to face them in the first week.

Jack Higgins: Richmond's feel-good story of 2018 just continues to get better, after enigmatic small forward Jack Higgins again became the showman in kicking arguably the goal of the year in Richmond's 28-point win over the Pies on Saturday.

Higgins -- a cult hero not only for Richmond fans but throughout the AFL in general -- was at his mercurial best in front of the 88,180-strong crowd when he snapped a mind-boggling goal after running over the goal line.

In true Energizer Bunny form, the 19-year old -- who is affectionately known as "Snags" -- burst away from a pack, picked up the loose ball, ran out of room on the goal line and then released the footy before rounding the goalpost and swinging his foot under the ball for a remarkable goal.

The 'snag' didn't come without controversy however, with the footy world somewhat split on whether or not Higgins threw the ball to his foot. However, the officiating umpire did not rule the action a throw at the time, meaning when it was reviewed (possibly out of sheer confusion on the part of the goal umpire) there was no way they could retrospectively call the movement a throw.

Patrick Cripps and the baby Blues: When discussing Carlton and hearing the words "Cripps" and "Charlie" in the same sentence, it's often in reference to the Blues' dynamic duo of Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow. But another Charlie is lurking in the shadows around Ikon Park, after Cripps again put his team on his back on their way to a drought-breaking 35-point win.

It's time the football world started considering Cripps as a genuine Brownlow Medal chance -- in a team which is likely to win just two games in 2018. The 23-year-old was again the standout against the sorry Suns, racking up 37 touches (17 contested), five clearances, six score involvements and a goal.

But unlike most of Carlton's performances in 2018, Cripps had a number of helping hands against Gold Coast -- many of them the future of the football club. First-round draft picks Sam Petrevski-Seton and Paddy Dow played arguably their best games in navy blue, with Petrevski-Seton notching a career-high 26 disposals at 73 percent efficiency in dewy conditions, and Dow kicking two goals and tackling like a man who is not just 18 years of age.

After three-straight 10-goal losses and a drubbing in the media, it's the little bit of nourishment that Carlton's fans, players and staff alike desperately needed in what could be just a two-win season.

A sneaky Brownlow win to Cripps could add extra shine as they start building towards 2019.


Collingwood's injury curse: There's no more suitable description for the situation Pies defender Matt Scharenberg is facing than 'heartbreaking'.

The resurgent Scharenberg, who was putting in a career-best year in terms of raw numbers and simply continuity in his footy, suffered what's sure to be a third ACL rupture in four years after landing awkwardly in a marking contest on Saturday.

Scharenberg was visibly distraught as he walked off the ground with help from trainers, while post-game, coach Nathan Buckley said he was "shattered" for the 22-year-old who had managed 17 straight games in 2018.

While the news is heartbreaking for Scharenberg and the Magpies, credit must be given to Collingwood for their resilience in 2018.

In a year in which injuries could have again been blamed for a sub-par campaign, the Pies are still in the the hunt for a top four spot despite having lost a number of vital cogs. Scharenberg joins Jordan de Goey, Adam Treloar, Lynden Dunn, Daniel Wells and a number of others in having missed chunks of the the year with injury.

Adding insult to injury was the news on Sunday that silky forward Jamie Elliott would likely spend more time on the sideline after injuring his hamstring in the VFL.

Pedestrian Eagles: Faced with an opportunity to sew up a top-two spot and home ground advantage throughout the finals, the Eagles had something to prove going into Sunday's game against the 11th-placed North Melbourne.

Instead of coming out with the desire and work-rate many expect of a second-placed team, the Eagles played a bruise-free brand of footy that left little doubts as to how they lost by 40 points.

Not only was their final score of 41 points their lowest tally since Round 4, 2014 (the year they last missed the finals), they were comprehensively beaten around the ground as well.

Despite being second to the footy and finishing -89 in disposals, bizarrely the Eagles also recorded fewer tackles (-3) than their hungrier opponents. Other telling stats were that despite being +5 in marks (86-81), they could manage just six inside 50 (to North's 11), while the Eagles also managed just ten tackles inside forward 50 to the Roos' 16.

They may still sit in second spot, but they've left the door ajar for another team to swoop in and boot them out of second place -- something which could make a huge difference come their September campaign.

Ballarat's weather: A wise man once said "It's cold up on them thar hills!", and he could easily have been talking about the hill at Mars Stadium in Ballarat on the weekend. At least... we think that's what he said.

With Ballarat hosting just its second game for the year and third AFL game ever, the weather gods in the goldfields region didn't want to play ball when the Bulldogs and Power came to town, instead churning out what can only be described as grim conditions for all involved -- players, umpires and fans standing in the outer.

In Ballarat, morning hail was followed by persistent rain and an icy wind, with the mercury simply refusing to rise above 4 degrees Celsius until just before the first bounce. So cold was it, that terrified punters were posting photos of local weather reports to social media, with some pointing out that the "feels like" temperature was a frigid -2.4 degrees.

All the while, across the country in Perth, the Dockers and the Hawks were playing in brilliant sunshine at Optus Stadium. The top temperature? A glorious 19 degrees.