Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh dissect all of the main talking points ahead of Round 13.
Who claims the wooden spoon?
NS: It's a pretty open 'race' for the spoon but I think Gold Coast are now likely to claim it, as well as the No. 1 draft pick. Percentage is often a strong indicator and the Suns are now at 70, compared to the Blues' 77.3 and Demons' 76.0 - they're the worst team in the league as it stands and there's every chance they don't win another game after notching three from their first four.
JM: I know the Blues had a huge win over the Lions, but I still think they're the favourites to finish on the bottom of the ladder once the new coach boost wears off. Let's look at the facts, they've only won five of their last 44 games and will likely start as outsiders in every remaining game this year. After a fast start, the Suns might just hold on to 17th!
MW: If Gold Coast yet again live up to the reputation of running out of fuel in the second half of the season, then the Blues may well overtake them. Carlton played with pluck on the weekend, and are only one win behind both Melbourne and Gold Coast and with superior percentage. The Suns may end up being the unlucky "winner" of the spoon
Who is the AFL's most improved player?
NS: There's a Hawthorn wingman who is producing a near All-Australian season who has my vote. No, it's not Isaac Smith or Tom Scully, it's the reborn 30-year-old Ricky Henderson. I really love stories of players who find a way to bloom late in their careers, and the former delisted free agent is averaging 30 disposals and the eighth most marks across the league this season. He's suddenly a key component for the Hawks as they chase finals.
JM: I'll give you two names: Travis Boak and Daniel Rich. In my opinion, both players have probably been a little overrated for much of their career, but are putting together two great seasons in 2019. Boak has gone back into the midfield and thrown himself into Brownlow Medal talks while the Lions are simply a far more dangerous side when Rich gets the ball on the half back line.
MW: It has to be Hugh McCluggage doesn't it? Now in his third season, the young Lion has risen to a level which has him in the conversation to be the best player in his (star-studded) draft class. He's averaging career-highs in disposals per game (23 up from 19 in 2018), goals (1.1, up from 0.4), inside 50s (4.6 up from 2.6), tackles (3.6 up from 3.1) and clearances (3.3 up from 2.0). He's a smooth mover and an excellent ball user.
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Ep. 13 of the @ESPNAusNZ #AFL pod:
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If North play finals, does Rhyce Shaw get the job?
NS: He'd have a great argument if he gets the Kangaroos into September but it's no given. I still have a feeling North Melbourne are out to secure a bigger name as coach - I doubt they would have sacked Brad Scott in favour of an untried assistant. I love the way Shaw has rejuvenated the team in such a short period of time but I have a sneaking suspicion the Roos are aiming to land a bigger fish as their next coach.
JM: 100 percent. That would probably mean he has won at least eight games in a little over half a season with a team many thought had to start a rebuild. Shaw's already had an enormous influence on the group and who's to say that can't continue throughout the year. One thing is certain, if they play finals, the players will certainly want him to stick around.
MW: Even if Rhyce Shaw leads the Roos to an improbable finals berth, I can't see him getting the nod for next year. That's nothing against his coaching, but there are (currently) better, more experienced options out there. Without labelling him as a "last resort", it's been a while since a caretaker coach stayed on in the position full time.
Does every club need a tagger?
NS: Yes! What's the difference between tagging and using a defender on a forward? Look at the jobs Matt de Boer and others have done this year - if you can restrict an opponent's premier midfield weapon, then of course it makes sense to tag. The bonus is, you don't necessarily have to use one of your silkiest mids in the role, it can be someone with the running ability and defensive mindset who is happy to sacrifice their role for the team.
JM: I think Ed Curnow answered this question on Saturday afternoon. YES! Curnow effectively took Lachie Neale out of the game in the second half and that coaching move, along with Cripps' epic performance, won the Blues the game. Not every club has a tagger but those that do should look to use them, and their unique skillset each and every week.
MW: The value of the tagger is undeniable, and the only reason I can think of not to employ one is that a team might not have a good enough option. We've seen some huge names get blanketed this season, so why wouldn't coaches want to nullify their opponent's best player? Tag away, teams!