Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 19.
Who is the current face of the AFL and who will be the next one?
Rohan Connolly: It has to be Dustin Martin. He's not only the most impactful player in the game, but (thanks to the tatts) the most obviously distinctive one. There's a real aura around "Dusty" and an audible buzz from the crowd any time he goes near the football. Even people with no interest in the game know who he is. The next? I think Marcus Bontempelli. Brilliant player, a natural leader and now very high profile given the number of TV ads he seems to be doing.
Jake Michaels: Can you be the face of the league if you never speak to the media and do very little to promote the sport, outside of being brilliant on the field? Of course, I'm referring to Dusty, but I'd still argue he is the face of the AFL. But others are closing in on him fast, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bontempelli was viewed as the new face of the league heading into 2022.
Matt Walsh: Four years ago I'd have said Buddy, but it's got to be the three-time Norm Smith Medallist, Martin. He's instantly recognisable, yet, strangely, not a 'traditional' face of the game in the sense that he doesn't do a lot of media or AFL marketing. Who is next? Well, the Bont is almost there already...
Jarryd Barca: Right now it's 100 percent Dusty, taking over from Buddy and Gary Ablett Jr. before him. Who's next in line? Bontempelli and Christian Petracca for me. Looking even further ahead, Sam Walsh, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and the King brothers have face-of-the-AFL capabilities down the track.
Why shouldn't Geelong-Richmond be played at GMHBA Stadium?
RC: I don't have as big an issue with this as some. The game was originally scheduled for the MCG, and would remain there in normal circumstances given the Cats get nine of their 11 home games at GMHBA and the other two at the "G". The first of those was Easter Monday, this is the second. They do finish with three in a row at the Cattery, so they're hardly getting a rough deal. Obviously, there's a greater advantage to them playing at their true home, but I think the draw should remain as close as possible to what was originally fixtured.
JM: If no fans can be in attendance, surely it shouldn't matter where the game is played and the home team (Geelong) should have somewhat of a say, right? Chris Scott can get on my nerves with his constant lobbying for games at GMHBA Stadium, but I think the Cats have every right to feel a little hard done by here, with the AFL refusing to make the change.
MW: Because it's always been fixtured at the MCG. Yes, stadium and fixture swaps have happened this season but due to border and other issues out of the AFL's control, but given the two stadiums in question are in the same state and it requires no major logistical change, I don't see the reason why is should move.
JB: Well, I mean, where was the game fixtured? We've seen venue changes and fixture flips this season but it's always been needed. If it's just a 'but there are no crowds anyway' argument, then in no way should it be moved or the AFL risks setting an unnecessary precedent. Even disregarding sponsor signage and commercial agreements -- which absolutely come into consideration -- would the Cats not want to maximise every opportunity they get to feature on the traditional home of footy heading into September?
What will be the main storyline out of the Dogs-Dees clash?
RC: I suspect it will have something to do with the Bulldogs heading the AFL ladder and earning outright premiership favouritism. Obviously, you can't ignore the fact the Demons dealt with them pretty efficiently only eight weeks ago, but I think the Dogs' form since then is more solid, the only losses after the siren at Geelong and in a high-standard game to the Swans. Melbourne's form is more wobbly, losses to Collingwood, GWS and a draw with Hawthorn more of a concern.
JM: The Demons continue to win the blockbusters and have the wood over the Bulldogs. I'm picking Melbourne to bounce back from last week's shock draw and get the points against the Dogs, all the while improving their perfect record against the top eight teams.
MW: This week or next? I'm not so sure this round gets underway this week, so we might be contemplating this question again in seven days. For what it's worth, I think the story is "Dees' forward line woes have them outsiders in flag race".
JB: This is going to be a belter! Melbourne is the number one contested possession side but the Dogs lead the league in clearances, while both teams are ranked in the top two for inside 50 efficiency. I think the bulldogs have what it takes to make Simon Goodwin's defensive rocks in Steven May and Jake Lever accountable which will go a long way to flipping the result of Round 11. As for the storyline, how about 'Dogs shake off Dees to claim flag favouritism'.
Who is your All-Australian smoky?
RC: We're not short of candidates, but I think Essendon's Nick Hind is going to go pretty close, at least to a spot in the 40-man squad. Is there a quicker player in the AFL? What a pick-up he's been for the Bombers, not only the perfect replacement for Adam Saad off half-back, but some would argue offering even better returns. It's not just Hind's dash, it's his consistent effort and genuine care for his team. Already a fan favourite.
JM: Get Jack Steele in this team! I know Steele is a relatively big name but few have him ahead of the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Ollie Wines, Jackson Macrae and even Touk Miller for the prized midfield slots. He has arguably been the player of the season in a disappointing side and deserves to get the nod for the second year in succession.
Is this Libba's dead ringer?
The ESPN Footy podcast team has been getting around the Euros this year, and Matt Walsh reckons one Italian defender looks eerily like Bulldogs mid Tom Liberatore.
MW: Can Sean Darcy be a smoky? How many rucks make the team? Max Gawn is probably the obvious choice but Darcy has been sensational for the Dockers. Yes, we've gushed on him for a few weeks now on the podcast so we'd love to see it happen.
JB: After 16 games, he has booted a team-high 35 goals which includes a haul of three or more on seven occasions. With key talls Ben Brown and Sam Weideman failing to fire, it's been Bayley Fritsch holding the fort, and right now, he has to be in blazer calculations. Adelaide wingman Paul Seedsman is another one whose season deserves serious plaudits, averaging 625.3 metres gained playing in a struggling team.