IT'S THE HALFWAY mark of the 2021 AFL season, and time for a report card on how your club is faring. And no, you don't just need to look at the ladder to have your answer.
These are assessments and marks handed out with due consideration for what we expected before this marathon all began. Which means a 5-6 win-loss record might be one team's big tick while a disaster for another.
Don't come complaining to this teacher about a poor grade, either. Your boys' marks reflect their application, ability to learn and to make the most of the gifts they've been given. I suggest you take it up with them. Along with reminding them to keep doing their homework!
All-up, a reasonable showing from the Crows, particularly early when they won three of the first four, including a Grand Finalist of last year, that was topped later when they became the only team to defeat Melbourne. Taylor Walker's renaissance has been the driver, but Lachie Sholl and Harry Schoenberg continue to develop, while Jordon Butts and James Rowe have surprised, and the team is more consistently playing to coach Matthew Nicks' instructions. Fair effort.
Three losses in four games was a very poor start from a preliminary finalist, but the Lions have more than made up for it since, a winning streak now stretched to seven, four of them by 50 points or more. Most of that has been achieved without Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale. Hugh McCluggage has been one of the players of this season, Jarryd Lyons is incredibly consistent, and the forward set-up very potent; Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood already developing good chemistry. Big flag chance.
Another frustrating season, the Blues are always competitive, but never quite good enough to get over the line against the best. Is that a team gradually getting there, or one which isn't destined to measure up? In seven losses, Carlton hasn't gone under by any more than 28 points. Sam Walsh has been outstanding, and key forward Harry McKay is always a threat. The Blues' biggest handicaps remain their poor skills and an inability to halt opposition momentum. Still need lots of work.
A disastrous half-season, let's be honest, not only reflected in just two wins, but a static, lifeless and impotent brand of football which has delivered six goalless quarters. Injuries to the likes of Taylor Adams and Jeremy Howe have hurt, but also underlined the paucity of depth given the gradual decline of the names Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom. This looks like a player group which knows it's miles off the pace and that its coached is cooked.
Has made some big strides in recent weeks with three good wins on the trot, the most recent in Perth seemingly a significant pointer to the growth and future prospects. But for three losses under a goal, the Dons would be pushing for top four. Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett have been outstanding in midfield, Jayden Laverde's move to defence inspired, and the kids Nik Cox, Harry Jones and Archie Perkins have already become significant contributors. Bright future ahead.
There's something frustratingly predictable about the Dockers' first half of this season. Four of five wins coming at home. Just one from six away, a couple of those road defeats particularly insipid, too much dependence on the star class and poor conversion. David Mundy has been tireless, Sean Darcy in the ruck continues to make big strides and Matt Taberner is a steady source of goals, but aside from Andrew Brayshaw and Adam Cerra, there's not enough younger Dockers contributing consistently enough. Still lots of work required.
Typical Cats, really, generally very solid with a couple of hiccups, and form varying from impressive to pedestrian whilst still getting the job done. Ultimately, though, an 8-3 record, top four spot and very much in contention. Midfield has been very good, Cam Guthrie and Mitch Duncan going on with it and skipper Joel Selwood back to his prolific best. Forward line looks better, too, for the introduction of Jeremy Cameron and Gary Rohan's relative consistency. Right in the flag mix, again.
If nothing else, the Suns have broken the recent pattern of bright starts to seasons falling into complete disrepair, their form since half-time of a Round 5 belting against the Western Bulldogs generally pretty solid. That, too, despite the very costly loss, again, of boom youngster Matt Rowell and also lion-hearted ruckman Jarrod Witts. Seasoned midfielder Touk Miller has been outstanding. Big wins over Sydney at home and Collingwood away were the pick, and a big score last start against Hawthorn impressive. Getting there, gradually.
Greater Western Sydney
Disappointing last start, but in the face of a long list of injuries to key players, none more costly than to Toby Greene, the Giants have managed a pretty impressive turnaround after three straight losses to start which could have broken them. Look fresher midfield for the examples of Jacob Hopper and Callan Ward and emergence of Tom Green, Sam Taylor was terrific in defence till injured, and Isaac Cumming, Lachie Ash and Connor Idun very promising. Renewed hope.
Still pretty hard to get one's head around the concept of the Hawks being a poor team, but they clearly are with just two wins from 11 games, and those by an aggregate of only four points. Given a paucity of talent, the long-term losses of Jack Gunston and James Sicily have been particularly damaging. Plusses are the emergence of Changkuoth Jiath in defence and Jacob Koschitzke in attack, but the midfield is thin and replacements for the score of veterans not emerging quickly enough yet. More pain in store.
Couldn't have been any more impressive with 10 wins from 11, and the only defeat by one solitary point. The Demons have discovered balance, the inside ball-winning ability now complemented by some outside run and far more efficient work up forward. Clayton Oliver leads the AFL Coaches award by a street, Max Gawn is a tremendous leader, the Christians, Petracca and Salem, have been superb, Steven May and Jake Lever imposing in defence and Tom McDonald reborn in attack. Best flag chance for 57 years.
The bottom line (and bottom ladder spot) is terrible, but has to be viewed in the context of a long-term rebuild under first-year coach David Noble. The Roos have had better patches for longer of late, and did manage to snatch their sole victory over Hawthorn, a whole team so much better for the return of Ben Cunnington. Aaron Hall's shift to defence has paid off, Tarryn Thomas is maturing fast, and Ben McKay, Cameron Zurhaar and Nick Larkey are all long-term prospects. Still much to be done.
Solid follow-up to a breakout year, though the Power haven't been quite as impressive as in 2020, serious injuries to young stars Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma costing them a bit of zip and excitement. Aliir Aliir has been a critical addition to a backline which was suspect against big, strong forward set-ups, and the midfield continues to fire through Ollie Wines, Travis Boak and an improved Karl Amon. Of concern, though, would remain performances on the road and against top-quality opposition. Need a bit more.
The best and worst AFL guernseys of all time
With the 'prison bars' debate dominating last week, the ESPN Footy Podcast team think back to some of the AFL's worst (and best) guernseys of all time.
Mediocre in win-loss terms, but you'd be foolish indeed to dismiss the flag credentials of these guys, particularly given they were in pretty much the same position two years ago. Again, injuries have been a big factor, names like Trent Cotchin, Dion Prestia and Shai Bolton now back, but with Tom Lynch missing instead. The Tigers have gone loss-win now for eight games, but might just start to find their mojo again with stars contributing and a very handy run home. Not much required to flick a very powerful switch.
Given last year's finish and expectations about 2021, the Saints might be close to the most disappointing team of the first half of the season. A record of 5-6 and 12th is hardly irretrievable, but it's been the manner of several defeats (four by 54 points or more) which have been as concerning as the losses themselves. The influx of senior talent looked a good move last year, but given the lack of on-field leadership and lack of depth exposed by injuries, you have to now ask whether it might prove a spectacular misfired. Big worries.
Terrific start to this season, wobbled ever-so-slightly but has steadied again, and seven wins plus three defeats by a total of 13 points is way above what most expected of the Swans. (Not so humble brag - I put them in my pre-season eight). Sydney plays a much more attractive style now, buoyed by kids like Chad Warner and Justin McInerney, but still gets tremendous consistency from the old hands like Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker and Jake Lloyd, while Callum Mills has been great in midfield. Exciting stuff. No signs of slowing down yet.
Yes, the Eagles have had injuries to key players. So has virtually every other team. But the best sides learn to cope with adversity, and this team is starting to look like one which isn't up for the fight unless things are totally in its favour. The Eagles' efficiency in attack has saved them more than once, but their poor road record (1-4) means they need to make every post a winner at home, which might make last Saturday night's fade-out (another recurring theme) costly indeed. Can't trust them.
Excellent first half of the season, nine wins from 11 (two by more than 100 points) for a percentage of more than 150. Deepest midfield stocks in the competition plus versatility is a huge weapon for coach Luke Beveridge, who continues to rotate plenty of names through the 22. Marcus Bontempelli and Jackson Macrae have led the way, but a more potent forward structure has the Dogs capitalising a lot better on all those scoring opportunities. Big chance of a second flag in six years.
You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY