Round Table: How would you rate the state of the AFL?

Our experts debate all the hot topics and burning questions ahead of Round 5.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the current state of the game?

Jake Michaels: I feel like I'm in the minority here but I really don't think the state of the game is diabolical, so I'll say 7. Sure, scoring could be up a little and congestion could be eased, but on the whole I believe the quality of play and skill continues to rise. No matter what changes the AFL implement, coaches are always going to look for ways to stop their opposition which, in turn, creates stagnant football most people dislike. Sorry to burst your bubble, traditionalist, but we're never going to see the unaccountable, defenceless game style of yesteryear.

Matt Walsh: I might be showing my (lack of) age here, but Jake summed it up - footy from way back was, sorry to say, unaccountable. The fact that coaches let key forwards kick 10 goals a game is bizarre; it's a team game - defend as a team, attack as a team. Naturally, you're going to see a bit more congestion, but that's how you come to appreciate players like Dustin Martin and Patrick Cripps who burst from stoppages. No doubt there were a couple of rank halves of footy this past week, but there were four games decided by four points or fewer. The game is a 7 right now.

Jesse Robinson: I think the state of the game is in constant flux, there's rule changes, player changes and alterations to tactics that mean that we just need to accept what we are given. The game, in it's present form, isn't lending itself to the bruising full-forwards of old, but we are seeing some great work by ruckman relishing the shorter quarters and longer breaks. For me, it's just as exciting to see Charlie Cameron kick four goals from all over the 50 than lead, mark, kick repeat. There may be some congestion issues at present but it will work itself out in time. The game is an 8 for me at the moment.

Will the AFL's added logistical challenges put an asterisk on the 2020 premier?

JM: Initially I was a firm believer that season 2020 would not hold an asterisk of any kind, but the more chopping and changing we're seeing, the more I'm moving into the asterisk camp. Victoria's rise in COVID-19 cases has led to other states implementing strict quarantine rules, which pose a whole new set of challenges for the AFL. This year is already a mess and if we don't get 17 rounds in, where everyone plays each other once, the eventual premier is going to feel cheapened. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

MW: It could. If teams can't play one another once, and the AFL is forced, for example, to schedule St Kilda and Collingwood to play a second time, while the Magpies miss out on playing the Crows due to logistical difficulties, this season will be harder to swallow. For now, the season is going okay. Let's hope things get better and not worse.

JR: This entire year has an asterisk next to it, and that's not limited to footy. The world is in a confusing place at the moment and we're really lucky to have footy, even if that means footy with an asterisk next to it. We don't know how the season will play out, and there will always be some doubts about the legitimacy of the premiership but I don't think that means we treat it as any less important.

Is Matt Rowell already a top 10 player in the competition?

JM: You'd love to see a larger body of work but based on the four games we have seen, gee, it's hard to say no! Rowell, still 18, could very easily have polled nine Brownlow Medal votes in the past three weeks. In that time, the big-bodied Sun is averaging 22 disposals, two goals and seven tackles per outing, elite numbers for any midfielder, let alone a rookie playing in a year with shortened games. I'm not prepared to say he's top 10 just yet, but he's a future No. 1 player in the competition, no doubt about it.

MW: This year? Yes. The AFL Coaches Association votes are a great indicator - and he's sitting outright second, one vote ahead of Travis Boak, but seven votes ahead of fourth placed Chad Wingard. If he can maintain this sort of influence on games for the rest of this season, he'll make a strong case to be a top 10 player heading into 2021, which will be a monumentally good effort.

JR: Rowell has the makings of a top 10 player in the competition but it's way too early to tell. No one doubts his ability or his seemingly boundless potential, but top 10 player is a bit of a stretch. I'm sure all of us have a different idea of who is in the elite category in the competition but it would be way too dismissive to be potentially leaving out a Scott Pendlebury or Marcus Bontempelli based on four games of evidence. Let's have this talk again at the start of next season.

Are umpires not paying Toby Greene free kicks they should be paying?

JM: 100 percent. The umpires have no problem blowing the whistle against Greene but they are very resistant to give him a free kick. I have no idea why. At least once per game you see Greene get his head taken off in a tackle or ridden in the back, yet the closest umpire just shouts "play on". I don't want to make this about the umpires, but I'm confused why he is seemingly treated differently to every other player in the competition.

MW: I was staggered watching Greene get ridden into the turf and taken high last weekend against the Pies, it's rather obvious he isn't paid free kicks that are clearly there. Sure, he's got a track record of giving away a few undisciplined frees himself, but that shouldn't mean he shouldn't be looked after when the time is right. Hopefully Gillon McLachlan has picked up the phone to the umpiring department and said 'play the ball, not the man'.

JR: I'll always argue that being an AFL umpire is one of the hardest jobs going around and will defend them on that basis, but based on the evidence from last week, it's hard to argue that Greene may not be getting a favourable whistle. We know players and positions are umpired differently, so perhaps it's no surprise to see Greene getting a rough go of it. But the Giants have rightfully put the question to the AFL this week, which may balance things out, though we shouldn't be too quick to over analyse every decision surrounding Greene in the coming weeks.