Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 13.
Should a 'below the belt' whack be met with more than a one-week suspension?
Rohan Connolly: Yes. Some may argue Nathan Wilson is unlucky to have copped a one-week ban where Sydney's Callum Mills received a fine, but I think they're both lucky they didn't get three or four games. They're strangely lenient penalties for a sporting body which seems to often place a high value on "the look" for the game. And it goes without saying any blow to that area can be both incredibly painful and have serious consequences.
Jake Michaels: I was wincing when I saw Wilson give young Cody Weightman a ... let's just call it a tap! Nathan, you need a spell on the sidelines. We don't see this sort of behaviour often (thank goodness) so why not make sure it doesn't happen at all by dishing out a two, three or even four week ban. There's no place in sport for this sort of rubbish.
MW: Yeah, sack taps have no business in footy, and are a low act - not far behind spitting. If you're going to act like a 14-year-old, have 14 days on the pine.
JB: Not necessarily as a base sanction. Technically -- and forgive me for being political with this -- you still need to weigh up the severity of the impact and whether it was careless or intentional contact, so I can see why Wilson, for example, was handed a one-match ban. In saying that, I am struggling to see the difference between Wilson's brain-fade and Callum Mills' just a week earlier, which was only considered a AU$1,500 fine... Regardless, what a stupid, unnecessary low blow. You can't be doing that.
What's Carlton's biggest issue?
RC: Talent. I get the frustrations of Blues' fans (and the club itself), but what were they honestly expecting with this group? I certainly didn't have them in my pre-season final eight. Sam Walsh, Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay and perhaps Jacob Weitering are the only bona fide stars, and they're mid-table for both age and experience, which indicates too many seasoned types who simply aren't good enough. I don't think they need a rebuild, more a renovation, but that takes several years, not just the 40 games David Teague has had in charge.
JM: Gee, where do I start! I'm not going to slag Teague and the coaching staff too much, because I think the root of the problem is the playing group, who are simply not talented enough to make finals, let alone challenge for a flag. Walsh is a gun, but something isn't quite right when your best and most consistent player is just 20 years old. The Blues need more midfield depth, some players who can actually kick the ball and hit targets, and some help in the forward line for big Harry. At the moment there's far too much dead wood which needs cutting.
MW: There's a lack of buy-in from players at the moment which is the greatest concern. More than a few Blues struggle with their two-way running, accountability to their opponents and resilience when the going gets tough. I bang on about it a fair bit, but the 'bottom six' players selected each week aren't doing enough to secure their spot - but the pressure coming from players in the VFL isn't urgent enough. Teague's coaching isn't the biggest issue, by far.
JB: Well, who actually knows? I've been bullish about them for a while because it's too hard to ignore their strong spine -- McKay, Cripps, Walsh, Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones -- and the sprinkled talent around them such as Zac Williams, Adam Saad and Jack Martin. I'm still looking on-field though - successful teams are filled with devoted players who can instinctively defend like their lives depend on it, but the Blues seem to lack that hard edge. They're a 'nice' football team who were smashed in clearances against a severely undermanned Eagles side and are ranked 15th in the league for average tackles per game.
Where should the AFL's next team be? Tasmania or the Northern Territory?
RC: I reckon it's more likely they'll enter the competition at the same time (an uneven number of teams creates its own set of problems, and no, I don't think anyone is moving there or going under). But if only one came in initially, I think it should be Tasmania. I'm a big fan of the NT concept, too, but Tassie has been preparing for its moment a lot longer, has regular AFL football established there and the logistics of travel are a lot more simple.
JM: If it's out of these two locations, I'm heavily leaning towards Tasmania. As great as a team in the Top End would be, there's just not enough of a fan base up there. The population of Hobart and Launceston is more than twice that of Darwin. Plus, as Rohan pointed out, Tasmania has had its hand up for a team for far longer.
MW: I'd love to see both in the league eventually, but given the AFL is already propping up two expansion sides, which are still loss-making entities, I find it hard to believe they'll rubber stamp two more sides anytime soon. Tasmania is first in line and rightly so; the NT needs to ensure there are suitable facilities and an AFL-standard stadium, because at present, TIO Stadium (in Darwin) is not that, and nor is TIO Traeger Park (in the Alice).
JB: Are you truly a national competition if you don't have a club from every state? I'd like to see teams from both to create a 20-team competition, which will no doubt happen down the track, but I think you need to start with Tasmania, given it's a region with double the population. Plus, they've already got both UTAS Stadium and Blundstone Arena, which play host to multiple AFL games per season. General participation numbers have reportedly been slowly but steadily declining down in Tassie and this will only worsen without the presence of an AFL team in a state filled with footy lovers. The AFL needs to cash-in on Tassie's potential.
Should marquee games (such as Dreamtime and Queen's birthday) be rotated around the country?
RC: No. Half the reason they are marquee games is because they're played at the same venue, ie. the MCG. And the two other major AFL venues in the country, Adelaide Oval and Optus Stadium, already have two marquee games a season in the Showdowns and Derbys. Full credit to the WA footy public for supporting the Dreamtime match in the manner it did, but I think the first duty should always be to home-based fans of the clubs involved.
JM: I'm not a fan of this. Keep the Richmond vs. Essendon Dreamtime game at the MCG, just like we do with Anzac Day between Collingwood and Essendon. But instead, let other states and clubs come up with their own marquee games. Everyone wins this way.
MW: The AFL's obsession with 'traditions' that have been 'traditions' for all of 10, 15, 20 years is funny. Sure, Kevin Sheedy commandeered a lot of these occasions and he wanted the Bombers involved but it's been a crying shame we've had to watch some of the Bombers' side of the last 20 years in matches like Anzac Day, the Country Game, and Dreamtime given some of the performances they've thrown up. And that's not even mentioning Carlton in the season opener the past 10 years (and Richmond in the years before that). Rotate them.
JB: I'm a traditionalist, so, nah. There's merit in suggesting they should be following the success of Saturday night's Dreamtime clash in Perth and we'll get another chance to visit this idea after Monday's Queen's Birthday game at the SCG, but these iconic matches will always be a hit in every state they're played in as long as it's rare. Host clubs will want bang for buck by playing at a packed MCG, anyway.