Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 10, including who the most underappreciated player in the AFL might be, which Indigenous guernsey is our early favourite, and more.
Who is the most underappreciated player in the AFL?
Rohan Connolly: It might go with the territory of being the competition's least-talked-about club, but the first name I thought of was Gold Coast co-captain Jarrod Witts. What a warrior he's been for the Suns after going there as a "reject" of sorts, squeezed out at Collingwood by Brodie Grundy. Not only is he a huge physical presence and technically adept ruckman, his leadership at Gold Coast has been tremendous, and they visibly wilted without it last year when he was out injured. I'm convinced he'd be a much more revered name if he played anywhere else.
Jake Michaels: If we're talking career, it has to be Luke Breust. I'd argue he's the second best small forward of the last decade, behind only Eddie Betts, yet nobody ever seems to include him in such discussions. Breust is one of the most accurate players of the modern era, and at age 31 has already tallied 458 goals and 219 goal assists. Could easily finish up as one of the top five goalkicking small forwards in history. But currently, I'm going with Jack Macrae. He's the only player in the league to rank top seven for uncontested and contested possessions, is an elite ball user and has been ultra consistent for five years now. Still don't think people give him enough credit.
Matt Walsh: Rohan's nomination of Witts is a great one; when fit he's consistently in the top three or four rucks in the league for influence around the contests. Brodie Smith is another player with an injury history that probably doesn't get the plaudits he deserves; he's consistent, a good user and carrier of the footy, and you suspect he will end up playing 250 games for the Crows. Truly underappreciated in wider circles.
Jarryd Barca: There are probably a few from each club that I could name, but the players that I think of straight away are Sam Taylor, Mark Blicavs and Brody Mihocek. Taylor is just a superb defender who commands the air and always competes well at ground level for his size, Blicavs' versatility has seen him almost become Geelong's most important player right now, and Mihocek has spent multiple seasons carrying Collingwood's forward line despite nearly always conceding height to his opponents. Underappreciated to some, but fierce competitors every team would love to have.
With Leon Cameron gone, which coach is most under the pump?
RC: Wouldn't have thought it possible only a few months ago given the advances his team made last year and a finals appearance, but I suspect it might be Essendon's Ben Rutten. The Bombers are a complete rabble right now, devoid of spirit or confidence, and looking completely confused. I'm not sure that's all his fault, either, as I think the issues at The Hangar run a lot deeper than just the coaching, but the Bombers, if nothing else, have proved themselves adept in recent years at finding scapegoats to take the heat others should be facing.
JM: Feels like it has to be Adam Simpson, doesn't it? The Eagles, who are now 1-12 in their past 13 games, look utterly lost and hitting on a draft or a signing another big name isn't enough to turn things around. The club needs to make some significant changes and it starts with the head coach. I'd be shocked if Simpson was still coach at, say, Round 18.
MW: There are a few compelling cases around the league - some fairer than others, but for a second-year coach, eyes are on David Noble. It's now been four straight losses of 50 or more points, and throw in the 108-point loss to the Lions early in the season and things are looking grim. It's a tough slog this rebuild caper, but the effort shown by the players is reflecting really poorly on the coach right now.
JB: Adam Simpson, Ken Hinkley, David Noble... Nah, Stuart Dew is under the most pressure and there's just no doubting that while Alastair Clarkson remains on the market. The AFL has already said earlier this year that they wouldn't influence any decision the Suns make in regards to the coaching position, but if you were a member of the club's hierarchy -- who's intentions need to be about growing the club -- could you really pass up the opportunity to bring in one of the most successful coaches in the game's history? Dew has conducted himself brilliantly and the way he has his side competing must be commended, but even his subconscious mind would know that probably isn't enough when the lure of Clarko is hanging over Gold Coast's head.
Is Geelong's premiership window closed?
RC: People have made this mistake before, but I suspect it really is this time. That doesn't mean the Cats can't keep pushing hard at a spot high in the eight, either, but I really do think they're particularly vulnerable now to teams with a bit more flair, more youthful zip, or both. Their tempo game only seems to work against inferior teams, and when they try to ramp it up themselves they also seem to come unstuck, as was the case against St Kilda last weekend.
JM: Not sure there's a football question I've asked myself more over the past three years, and each time I ask it, I seem to have a different answer. Look, it's open, but certainly not as wide as Melbourne or Brisbane's. My fear with Geelong is that a West Coast-like drop off could occur in a few years when many of their stars -- who are all on the wrong side of 30 -- either begin retiring or stop producing. But right now, they are still a genuine flag chance and have to be taken seriously.
MW: See, I've fallen for this trap, but after all, Cats do have nine lives. The big question is how many are left? Geelong fans are starting to feel despondent about their chances in 2022, and for me, that says a lot for a fanbase usually so confident in their side's ability to be flag contenders year on year. Nine of their best are 30 years of age and older, plus Cam Guthrie, Tom Stewart, and Jeremy Cameron are all 29. There's also just a vacuum of players who have played between 20 and 100 games. These are slightly worrying signs. If it is the end, how will history judge Chris Scott? A flag in his first year in charge, but no ultimate success thereafter. It's a fascinating question, perhaps for a different day.
JB: I mean, technically no because they'll probably still scrape into finals, but there's only a little bit of air coming through the window, and it's been that way for years now. Can they win finals? Sure they can, it comes down to their squad experience, and it's actually what could also prove to be their demise, but if you awarded the flag to the most experienced team each season, the Cats will have claimed the past six premierships. They keep falling short because they're a club that refuses to acknowledge the reality that teams that trust youthful exuberance keep going past them, and Sam De Koning aside, there aren't many under 23s that I'd want my team to steal off Geelong's list. They're lucky to even be 5-4 if you ask me...
Which Indigenous guernsey is your early favourite?
RC: They all look great, but I particularly like Adelaide's, which will be worn by the men's and women's teams. Designed by Eastern Arrente man Pat Caruso, it features the Aboriginal adaptation of the crows in the centre with the Kaurna shield perched on its chest, male and female hands make up the wings and fingerprints on the feathers while a secondary Kaurna shield is at the base surrounded by footprints. It looks absolutely stunning and makes a beautiful statement, too.
This Indigenous guernsey might be North's biggest W for the season.— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshMedia) May 16, 2022
Geez I love these. pic.twitter.com/iZ6gGyhvrd
JM: I really like North Melbourne's jumper and the fact the kangaroo is once again prominent. Designed by Ky-ya Nicholson Ward, this guernsey will be worn by both the men's and women's teams in 2022. I'll give a shout out to Carlton, too. Another great design by Shanai Kellett and it really pops with the iconic Blues logo over the top.
MW: Firstly, they're all great. Secondly, I love the way the AFL and the community has embraced these Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Rounds to turn them into a vibrant and wonderful celebration of the Indigenous contribution to our game and Australia. If I had to pick a favourite? North Melbourne and West Coast's best wins for the year may come off the field. They're a 1-2 for me - in no particular order. Read more about North's here, and the Eagles' here. Rounding out the top three? Port Adelaide. Love it.
JB: I'm a real 'basic is better' kind of guy, so the less the jumper confuses my glancing eye, the more points it gets! I'm a fan of Collingwood's simple but eloquent falling leaves, the decipherable North Melbourne guernsey with a striking Kangaroo on the front, the balance of the Dockers kit, and just as we said last year - that Bulldogs jumper is an absolute beauty! But shoutout to every club and their respective artists - the stories behind all designs and what each of them represent is significant and something they should all be proud of.