Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 11, including whether we should be revising our pass marks for Carlton after their hot start, who the recruit of the year is, and more.
Now 8-2, what's Carlton's pass mark for 2022?
Rohan Connolly: Significant difference here between what's achievable and what's acceptable in my view. Clearly now, a top four spot should be the minimum goal for the Blues. But were they to have a slump over the second half of the season, I still think merely a final eight finish would be a very good result. Should that occur, the focus will be on the drop-off, but for a side which won only eight games last season and hasn't won any more than eight for a decade, any finals would be a big win and a massive tick for new coach Michael Voss.
Jake Michaels: It has to be a top four finish. The Blues have a very friendly draw and after such a hot start to the year, anything less than a double chance would have to be considered disappointing, regardless of what many had predicted in the pre-season. My big call for the year was Carlton would make a preliminary final. From what we've seen, that's starting to look more and more like the break even!
Matt Walsh: Why does it change from 'make finals'? Sure, they're 8-2, but the Blues have had a pretty soft draw so far, with a tough stretch towards the back end of the year. If they make finals -- and win one -- surely that's still a pass? They're rolling out one of the youngest sides each week and are exceeding expectations - I don't have them making a Grand Final just yet...
Jarryd Barca: It started as finals, but right now it has to be a top four finish. Their best is as good as anyone's and although they have shown lapses throughout games and are probably yet to sustain a completely convincing four-quarter performance, their potential is simply through the roof. Who are the other top four chances behind the Dees, Lions and Blues? St Kilda, Freo, Sydney, Geelong? Carlton should be finishing ahead of all of them, and they themselves need to expect to, as well.
Who has been the recruit of the year?
RC: I think Mabior Chol has been a great pick-up for Gold Coast, and along with Levi Casboult, has really given the Suns a genuine target in the absence of Ben King, but it's pretty hard to go past George Hewett here. The former Swan was always solid for Sydney, but greater responsibility in Carlton's midfield has pushed him to another level, and his ranking of 10th in the AFL for average disposals (at more than 30 per game) tells the story. Been a major part of the Blues' big improvement.
JM: George Hewett. He's the perfect No. 2 to Blues superstar Patrick Cripps, doing his best work in tight to free up the likes of Sam Walsh and Adam Cerra. Hewett was always a solid player at the Swans, but he has taken his game to an elite level this year, never falling below 28 disposals per game this year and averaging 15 contested possessions and eight clearances per game.
MW: Will Brodie, then daylight. Another 36 touches (20 contested) and a goal on the weekend for the former Sun. He's slotted into that midfield superbly, and may be the catalyst which results in a returning Nat Fyfe having to spend some time in the forward line (and let's be honest, Freo needs to find some pizzazz in that area of the ground). Just an unreal replacement for Adam Cerra.
JB: I'm with Jake here. Hewett was a suave acquisition by Voss and co. due to the aforementioned reasons. He's the number one centre clearance player in the AFL, ranks third for general clearances and contested possessions, and sixth for effective disposals. The former Swan's importance to the Blues cannot go understated.
Who is your left-field AA lock?
RC: St Kilda's Jack Sinclair. His move to defence last season was inspired and his season good enough to earn him second in the Saints' best and fairest, but I think he's been better again in 2022, averaging more than 27 disposals per game (up from 21) and becoming more of an inside player as well as a distributor (he's already won almost as many clearances as he did over the whole of 2021). The AFL has plenty of good running defenders, but can't think of any more consistent or solid than this guy right now.
JM: 'Lock' might be a touch too far but I'd have Ben Keays in my All Australian midfield right now. The hard-working Crow, who is one of the best two-way players in the game, has been sensational through 10 rounds, turning himself into a genuine A-grader. This year, he's averaging 30 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 5.2 inside 50s and 5.5 tackles per game. These are elite numbers for any midfielder.
MW: He's never really had the recognition over the course of his career, but it's Jarrod Witts. He's ranked elite for hitouts and averages the most in the league, has the sixth-best hitout to advantage rate of anyone with at least 100 hitouts (he has by far the most hitouts of anyone above him), and in eight of his ten games this year he's rated 'above average' for AFL Fantasy points. Ultra consistent and ultra competitive, he's my left-field AA ruck this season.
JB: Jack Crisp slots straight onto one of my wings. The durable Pie is equal with Melbourne star and Brownlow fancy Clayton Oliver as the highest rated player in the competition after 10 rounds and probably isn't getting the plaudits he deserves. Crisp is averaging 26.4 disposals, 5.5 tackles, 4.8 clearances, and a career-high 5.8 inside 50s, splitting time between the midfield and defence. He's a player with unparalleled consistency, and one whose magnet never leaves the coach's whiteboard (literally).
Who has the most to lose in Round 11?
RC: Tough call, but I reckon maybe Fremantle. The Dockers are staring at a third straight loss coming up against easily the best side in the competition, and are away from home at a venue where the lost five of their last six appearances. A loss to Melbourne almost certainly tips Freo out of the top four, and a bad loss given defeats already to Gold Coast and Collingwood, would really start to hack away at the Dockers' self-belief.
JM: It has to be the Dockers, even though they're playing the red-hot Demons and will start as a significant outsider to cause the boilover. If Fremantle lose, they will be 0-3 in the last three weeks and could fall to seventh on the ladder. With games to come against Brisbane, Hawthorn and Carlton, it's not crazy to suggest this side (which many had finishing top four a few weeks back) could be in the bottom half of the ladder.
MW: As good as they've been this season, is it Carlton? They've won four straight for the first time in about a million years, but will the goodwill evaporate with a loss to Collingwood? The list of clubs they 'should' beat is growing by the week, meaning each game looms as a danger game and one which can bring a side undone. Look at Freo (who are, admittedly on the cusp of losing a third straight - but against the Demons, everyone's tipped to lose) - two weeks of poor results have the doubters back in force.
JB: Fremantle and Sydney are probably in the same boat here. The Dockers face the toughest assignment in footy right now which is Melbourne at the 'G, but with the Lions in Round 12 and Blues awaiting them two games later, this will be a season-defining stretch for Justin Longmuir's side after two shock losses in a row. As for John Longmire, following the Swans' walk-in-the-park against West Coast, they've only beaten the Hawks (who were allowed a five-goal head start) and an amateurish Bombers outfit, but were soundly beaten by the Lions, Suns and Blues. Their spot in the eight will be in jeopardy if they can't get past the Tigers on Friday night.