Our experts debate all the hot topics and burning questions ahead of Round 9.
What's wrong with coaches (and players) speaking their mind?
Niall Seewang: This is an extremely frustrating element of the AFL industry. Media and fans bemoan vanilla answers from overly media-trained players and officials but then are so quick to jump on anyone actually speaking their mind -- like Alastair Clarkson did when he labelled Tom Papley a stager for free kicks. But what's wrong with some honesty? If that's what 'Clarko' believes, so what? The industry would be so much better off if more people worried less about what to say and just spoke from the heart.
Jake Michaels: Um, nothing! I honestly don't get why the media is quick to jump on coaches who give their honest thoughts and opinions on the game. What's worse? They are often fined or handed a 'please explain'. We all want AFL coaches and players to have a personality but when someone has one we quickly try to knock them down. Let's encourage coaches and players to speak their mind more often and the game will be better for it.
Matt Walsh: Well if fans, breakfast radio hosts, and columnists didn't overanalyse every word uttered by coaches and players, then I'm sure more would 'speak their mind'. I'd love nothing more for AFL players to engage in NFL-style "I'm the best, he's trash" brouhahas, but it's never going to happen given the rampant tall poppy syndrome in this country.
Jesse Robinson: I don't think anyone has a problem with coaches and players speaking their mind, but we can all live without 'Clarko' just bagging out Papley in a presser. Whether he's right or wrong, it doesn't add anything to the game, particularly when it's already over. Clarkson has so much insight and knowledge about footy that would provide way more value than a throw-away comment about an opposition player. We'll all learn and enjoy footy more if we have genuine football discussions rather than just throw shots and hope for hot takes.
Which current bottom four side has the most upside?
NS: Fremantle. They've been decimated by injuries but have stockpiled some exciting young talent in the past two years -- ESPN's draft expert Chris Doerre gave their 2019 draft efforts a glowing endorsement after they secured Hayden Young, Caleb Serong and Liam Henry -- and I think their future is pretty bright. They just need to find a way to appease the injury gods.
JM: It has to be North. The Roos are the ones who have been worst hit when it comes to injury and they are nowhere near as bad as their ladder position (and recent form) suggests. In fact, when fit, I rate this team among the top eight to 10 sides in the competition. Now that's something you certainly can't say about the other three...
MW: I'm with Niall - the Dockers have a few stars on the sidelines right, and combined with smart moves at the draft table in recent years, Justin Longmuir's club is poised to rise again, and sooner than Adelaide, Hawthorn or North (which may yet have a dead cat bounce!).
JR: It could be a rocky season for them but there's some good young talent at Arden Street. Four Rising Star nominations last season between Bailey Scott, Cam Zurhaar, Nick Larkey and Tarryn Thomas, as well as Curtis Taylor this season, puts them in a good spot. North also have the benefit of a pick swap with Melbourne that will potentially give them two high picks in 2020. There's changes to be made at the top, but the list itself is in okay shape.
Who is the best small forward in the game?
NS: This is such a tough one. Toby Greene, Tom Papley and Charlie Cameron have all been scintillating this season, with St Kilda's Dan Butler one of the recruits of the year. If I had to choose one though, I'm going Greene. He almost singlehandedly dragged the Giants over the line against Richmond last weekend, and it's his match-winning intangibles that make him the most dangerous and damaging small forward in the league.
JM: It's funny how quickly we forget about (and constantly undervalue) Luke Breust. The Hawks are 3-1 with him this year and 0-4 without him. He's kicked 398 games over his 211 game career and is undoubtedly one of the greatest small forward to have ever played the game. He's only 29 so I'm certainly not writing him off yet, but gee, Greene is an absolute freak, and of those currently on the park, has to be top of the pile!
MW: If Tom Papley wasn't in the red and white this season, the Swans might well be winless having scored maybe four or five goals for the season! Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but Papley is a star, and might just be Sydney's most valuable player. If he leaves at the end of the season...
JR: Toby Greene is one of the best players in the competition, he can impact a game more than any of his Giants teammates and can just about win any match through sheer will. In his rookie season he was showing signs of being an elite midfielder before making the switch to the forward line where he took things to another level. After Greene, there's plenty of praise to be had for Tom Papley, but I'd have Charlie Cameron in second.
Will injuries prevent a Collingwood flag assault?
NS: No, but it's making it extremely hard. Like Richmond last year, the Magpies just need to weather the storm during this difficult time and then try to come home with a wet sail. The injury to Scott Pendlebury (and absence of Steele Sidebottom) exposed a soft underbelly in the Pies' midfield, with Jeremy Howe and Jordan De Goey also vital absentees. But I think the Magpies have enough quality and depth to be a flag contender.
JM: I'm certainly not going to write them off because you only have to look back to 2018 to see how the Pies defied all of their injury woes to reach a Grand Final. Having said that, the loss of Pendlebury is HUGE! All of a sudden he's likely going to miss four or five games and I'm not sure the coverage is there, especially with De Goey also sidelined. This next month might really be make or break for Collingwood.
MW: Seems to be a theme ever year with the Pies, that they struggle with injuries, and it didn't hurt their chances in getting to a prelim last year, and to the Grand Final in 2018. Sure, losing the likes on Pendlebury for a few matches hurts - the same with De Goey, but Steele Sidebottom returns this week. All teams will have struggles, and if the Pies make finals and get some key players back, they'll be fine.
JR: It seems we're all in agreeance here, you can't count the Pies out. They'll be good enough to make into finals and then anything can happen. If we've learnt anything since 2016, it's that all you need to do is make it to September (or whenever we see finals this year) and a few good games can see you crowned as premiers.