AFL 2020: Round Nine – Learned, Liked, and Disliked.

The first round of the Festival Footy is complete, what did we learn, like and dislike from the first five days of 20 football days in a row?

This is Nic Nat’s World. We’re just living in it.

Nobody has summed up the effect Nic Natanui can have on a game better than Chris Scott did post game on Saturday. “The problem with kicking goals against West Coast is the ball goes back to the middle,” Scott joked.  “They’re certainly not disparaging remarks to the guys who competed against him [Natanui] in the hoops tonight. “I’m not saying you can’t compete with him, but we’ve just got great respect for the champion he is. 

The Crows might not win a game.

Given that it hasn’t happened since 1964, the odds are stacked against it but the Crows are just bad enough that could fail to win a game this season. They were horrible against North Melbourne in a game that was nominally their best chance for a win to date.

They do play Melbourne in Adelaide next up though, which is the perfect opportunity for them to make a fool of columnists that suggest they won’t win a game.

“I think the shortened games really help him (and) the centre-bounce rules help him but it’s hard not to be mesmerised with some of the stuff he can do.” One example resulted in a Josh Kennedy goal in the final quarter. At a ball up in the Eagles attacking 50, Naitanui put a charging Kennedy into acres of space with a deftly weighted hit out to his advantage.

Put the line through Melbourne (if you hadn’t done so already).

For a glorious four week period in 2018, the Melbourne Football Club performed like an elite team. Closing out the regular season with victories over fellow finalists West Coast and GWS, they would qualify for the Preliminary Final after two cut-throat finals victories.

They would be ruthlessly dispatched in the Prelim by West Coast and Simon Goodwin famously suggested the game wasn’t worth reviewing. The football world felt similarly and on the weight of the four wins proceeding it, have continued to throw the Demons into discussions about premiership contenders.

Unfortunately for Demons fans, and those who continue to expect them to rise from their mire, this logic was flawed. From the start of the 2018 season through to their defeat against Port Adelaide, they remain their only victories against Top Eight opposition from 24 attempts.

That four game winning streak against quality opposition in 2018 was nothing more than a mirage. A false dawn. A cruel joke. The Preliminary Final, rather than the hiccup many thought it to be, was in fact a return to normal transmission.

Put it through Carlton and The Bulldogs too.

Coming into Round Nine, the Bulldogs had just their Round Seven win over the Bombers to show for their encounters with top eight opposition. If not for this win, their placement in the top half of the ladder was owed mostly to wins over bottom six opposition.

It is for this reason, and for their failings against the better teams that we are putting the line through them in 2020. Whenever they are put under genuine pressure, as they were by Collingwood, St Kilda, Carlton and Richmond, they cannot produce the kinds of free wheeling performances they do against the weaker teams.

Just like Melbourne and the Bulldogs before them in Round Nine, Carlton missed an opportunity to elevate themselves in the minds of the football public. After slow starts to the season they were presented with an opportunity to reestablish themselves amid finals contention against quality opposition. Unfortunately like Melbourne and the Bulldogs before them, they proved to be ‘Not Good Enough’ instead.

Majak Daw.

There won’t be a better footy story in 2020 than the return to the game of Majak Daw. In a year filled with constant negativity, the giant Kangaroo’s story is about as uplifting as there is. The emotion surrounding it on full display when he was swarmed by his teammates upon kicking a fourth quarter goal. Regardless of what happens next in his footballing life, it can take nothing away from the extraordinary battle he has had to win to get back on the park.

The Saints continue to excite.

With his second goal on Saturday night, Josh Battle helped the Saints to their highest game total of 2020 and to first place in the competition for points scored this season. While we understand that not all points are created equal when it comes to judging excitement it provides an insight into the volume at which they are scoring relative to other teams.

Dangers exist for their opposition all over the ground. While some teams are struggling to kick eight goals across two weekends, the Saints are averaging nearly eight individual goal scorers every game. With options aplenty up forward, they are playing with a freedom that is thrilling to watch.

What becomes of them this season is yet to be determined but their sharp rise from bottom six to top four contender looks set to be an enthralling journey. If they aren’t the most exciting team in the 2020 competition, we haven’t seen the team that is across the nine games we are watching each weekend.

The Dockers.

Justin Longmuir had a testing start to his AFL coaching career with his young Dockers losing their first six of their first eight games. Along the way though, they have shown an unwavering desire to fight. This was at the centre of their comeback victory over the Saints in Round Six and was again on show against Collingwood on Sunday.

It prompted praise from Nathan Buckley postmatch. “Around the ball they were hungrier to win it and hungrier to attack us when we won it,” he told reporters. “We got smacked in contested ball and out tackled.

While the AFL ladder says they are 16th, they are young and improving quickly. We don’t expect them to be there come finals time but they may well shape who is in the run home.

The Hawks let their football do the talking.

For 20 minutes, Carlton were as electrifying as any team has been in 2020 as they kicked the first five goals of the match. Then as if they forgot that games went for closer to 100 minutes than 20, the clocked off and watched Hawthorn take over every aspect of the contest.

As comebacks go, this one was completed relatively quickly and seamlessly. While they were scoreless and trailing by 31-points at the 20 minute mark of the first quarter, by half-time they led by 13-points. It would surprise nobody to learn that, during the second quarter, the Hawks completely dominated disposals (+38), clearances (+3), contested possessions (+9) and inside 50s (+7). As if the genie was out of the bottle, no matter what the Blues tried from this time on they could do little to halt the changed momentum.

Bombers Misfire.

It is almost impossible to believe that four weeks ago Essendon beat Collingwood. Since doing so they have barely looked like a football team. If not for the ineptitude of Adelaide and North Melbourne, who are both guilty of pretending to be football teams, the would have nothing to show for their efforts since.

As bad as they were prior to Friday night, nothing prepared you for their eye-openingly horrible effort against the Lions. So bad were the Bombers, it could be argued that Brisbane encountered more problems getting in and out of Metricon Stadium than they did on the ground.

Fans can rightly argue that they will finish the round in, or around, the eight with a game in hand and up to their eyeballs in the race for a finals berth. To argue that they will challenge anybody if they got there is a completely different story altogether. A team that kicks three goals in a game is not going to win the flag.

A spot of tennis.

What on earth is going on between the ears of those living in the AFL hubs set up around the country at the moment. After a series of embarrassing breaches of their strict COVID-19 Protocols, the League has issued what feels like their 150th final notice to those in the hubs.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this weekend we were treated to the sight of Eddie McGuire once again demanding serious action be taken against those that next breach the protocols. To the great surprise of nobody, the next to transgress where from his club when Nathan Buckley and Brenton Sanderson had a hit of tennis with Alicia Molik.

Equally predictable was the way in which McGuire failed to heed his own pleas when it came time to dole out punishment to Buckley and Sanderson. All that is left now is for him to howl down those that accuse him of hypocrisy on Breakfast Radio Monday morning and on Footy Classified on Monday night. Then our Groundhog Day experience will be complete.

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