The 2021 AFL season is well and truly underway, and our experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 7.
Is it time we start worrying about the Tigers?
Rohan Connolly: Nope. People don't learn on this one, do they? No team is better at pacing themselves and hitting their best at the perfect point of the season. What if they miss top four? Well, so what? They had to play four finals to win it last year. No doubt Martin, Lambert and Prestia are big absentees, but Richmond doesn't lack depth, and its capacity for players to come in and perform a role is well-documented. The Tigers could limp into the eight with 12 wins and I still wouldn't discount their flag chances.
Jake Michaels: It's definitely nowhere near alarm bells, just yet, but there are a few little things to be concerned with. I expect Richmond will lose this week to the Bulldogs, and that will be four losses from five games, something they have not done since the beginning of 2017. They've got a few injury concerns, as Rohan highlighted, Tom Lynch is out of form and games to come against the Dogs, Cats, Giants and Lions could make things very interesting...
Matt Walsh: The Tigers have a few injury concerns to key players, bust most clubs do. They also have some players out of form, which most clubs do. We've also seen these sorts of slow starts from the Tigers and they've come good. I'm not worried yet - as Damien Hardwick said Richmond is "a forward-looking footy club". They'll be okay.
Jesse Robinson: We can worry all we want but it's still April! We've seen time and time again that as long as the Tigers are there or thereabouts in September they're going to be okay. On the other hand, with three of the last four flags heading to Punt Road, the drop off has to come eventually.
Should Lachie Neale have been suspended for hitting the umpire?
RC: No. I think people get a bit too precious about touching umpires. Surely, it depends on the circumstances. If it's done in an aggressive manner and disputing a decision, fine, suspend them. But this was just Neale trying to get the umpire's attention. It seems like opinion turned on this after the Greg Williams case back in 1997. Prior to that, it was a pretty regular occurrence and I don't remember the umpires themselves being too fussed. Not sure they are that much now either. Isn't that the most important thing?
JM: I've been called the president of the Lachie Neale fan club in the past, but there's absolutely no doubt in my mind he should have received a suspension. We all know you cannot touch an umpire, and what did he do? He didn't just brush him either, he deliberately whacked him on the arm when he didn't receive a free kick for high contact. The free kick was missed but there's absoluteyl no excuse for touching the umpires. He should have been given a week.
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MW: Pretty black and white isn't it? Don't touch the umpires. He should have copped a ban, but given he's out for a couple of months with an ankle, it doesn't matter much. I'd be more perplexed if he was fit to play this week...
JR: Realistically, there's not a lot in it, but this was a very easy opportunity for the AFL to stamp out any grey area around umpire contact. Now we're heading down a path about how heavy the impact is with the umpire rather than the AFL making it plain and clear that they won't tolerate any contact with the umpires no matter the force or intent.
Who has been the best off-season acquisition?
RC: It has to be Aliir Aliir, doesn't it? There was always a good chance it would be, too. The one obvious deficiency in Port Adelaide last year was enough big, strong-bodied defenders, and this guy has filled the breach perfectly. Not only that, he runs and creates offensively as well. The absolute perfect pick-up for them. A seriously good player who I'm still mystified was ever let go by Sydney. Reckon the Swans could use him at the moment.
JM: Yes, Aliir has certainly been impressive, but I'm going to go with Adam Treloar (speaking of players their former club could use!). Treloar was blindsided by the Pies at the end of 2020, moved to the Bulldogs and really hit the ground running in their stacked midfield. Over the past month he's averaging 29 disposals, seven inside 50s, five tackles and 1.5 goals per game. Not too shabby at all!
MW: Aliir Aliir - what a great pickup. He's a very solid defender, he keeps his feet, he's creative and his disposal is getting better. A special mention goes to Stefan Martin who has given the Bulldogs greater flexibility in allowing Tim English to play forward to great success.
JR: The Swans draft haul is right up there, but they've also been massively boosted by the addition of the ultimate journeyman in Tom Hickey. It's easy to see a correlation in the big drop off of the Swans in recent weeks and Hickey being out with a knee injury. Hickey was going at about a goal per game, dominating the hit outs and winning clearances for the young swans mid field.
Should a 12:30pm Sunday game be a permanent fixture?
RC: Have to say I like this idea. It's not really that much earlier than the usual 1.10pm, and the benefit is obvious, we get to see at least two of the three Sunday games in full without having to chop and change and risk not being able to watch any of them properly. I presume people in WA might not be huge fans as it means a 10.30am start for them for a game on the eastern seaboard, but hey, I can think of a lot worse things to spend watching over your Sunday brunch than the footy.
JM: I loved it and would have no problem seeing it every week, as it means no annoying overlap between the first and second game. Although, I would argue players might not be too keen on starting 40 minutes earlier. It's an early wake up call on a Sunday!
MW: Bring it in! With three games scheduled any given Sunday, there should be no overlap to any of them if it can be avoided. The 12.30pm start would avoid it! That game would roll into the 3.20pm start for free-to-air, into the late Fox Footy start. I like it.
JR: It's worth a go! It's easy to get to and gives the fans more time in the afternoon then sure, it is worth considering the West Australian audience though, a 10:30am kick off sounds like a bit of fun for a once off but would be a pretty tough sell long term.