In what was an arm wrestle north of the border, another opportunity for atonement has gone begging. Disappointing as this was, the true tragedy of our 2 point loss to the Giants is undoubtedly the loss of Jeremy Howe, which will have significant ramifications on our chances heading forward.
The performance itself wasn’t terrible in what was a hotly contested game of football. We did struggle to establish form and function throughout the match, as the ascendancy was wrenched back and forth. The Giants capitalised the most from a purple patch in the third quarter, when they managed to kick away by three goals. The situation was looking a little dire at that point, but to the team’s credit we dragged ourselves back into the contest through a succession of scrappy goals prior to the final change.
It has to be noted that the Giants were left with 2 on the bench and lacking the services of Phil Davis and the man who carved us up in last year’s prelim Zach Williams. Our failure to take advantage of this significant advantage stings, although there were two factors that go some way to explaining this shortcoming: (1) the Giants are a uniquely positioned team owing to their depth of talent to reshape and cover such losses and (2) our forward line is not clicking at the moment, resulting in an inability to stretch defences either aerially or by getting some separation amidst the opposition’s defensive line.
At our best in 2018, our forward line was in constant movement and we were able to isolate one-on-one contests and also hit-up an array of dynamic leading options in the guise of Stephenson, De Goey, Hokin-Elliott and even the talls in Mihocek and Cox. The movement from our forward line, combined with good overlap run and more dare than we’ve seen so far this year also created many opportunities for our midfield and high half-forwards to get behind their opponents in transition.
There seems to be a disconnect up front at the moment, where even last week there were several occasions when players failed to spot one another up. Jamie Elliott has been a regular culprit in this regard recently, as he burned De Goey a few times last week and just doesn’t seem to be seeing the game quite as well as he’s truly capable at the moment, particularly when entering the 50.
This situation isn’t confined to the forward line however, as we’ve struggled for connectivity between all three sections of the ground. Our transition from defence, through the middle and into attack has just been lacking somewhat. Our movement as a result has tended to rely on repeat contests – which we’ve been winning our share of – as we move the ball forward. We are pretty dangerous from stoppages, but we just haven’t been able to regularly piece together clean passages.
To be fair, some of this may be as a result of the restrictions that we – like all clubs – have been operating under on the training track. The time off during the lockdown period and this ‘new normal’ has likely had a negative impact on creating full ground cohesion. When looking around the grounds each week and some of the unexpected results that we’re seeing, there’s no doubt that several teams are battling with this scenario. With that said, we’re faring better than some others from within our bracket of finals aspirants.
Still, we dominated possession and time in the forward half in the final quarter so in many respects we did take advantage of the Giants misfortune. What really made us come unstuck however, which has been a familiar story in seasons past, was our inability to convert very gettable set shot opportunities. Both Mayne and Brown missed excellent chances to put us ahead in the final quarter, with all of Mihocek, Stephenson and De Goey also missing relatively routine set shots earlier in the game.
We kicked 1.5 in the last quarter, with the difference being Jeremy Cameron nailing a 50 metre set shot from a difficult angle whilst our lads couldn’t put the finishing touches on a couple of sodas. The Giants only managed to manufacture two opportunities in the final quarter to our six, but they converted both. One of those was of course the thing of nightmares, a Maynard kicked a divot to half-back and saw it fly back over his head.
We’ve been great defensively this year, but with Howe sustaining what appears to be a significant knee injury it is going to be interesting to see how we adjust. Howe has been terrific as an organiser, rebounder and third-up specialist — he is, in short, irreplaceable at this point. As such, it isn’t going to be a case of filling that void, but mitigating the damage as the rest of the year unfolds.
Of the options available, the return of Madgen appears the most likely given that he has already been blooded in 2020. Another option might be Scharenberg, although he’s coming from a long layoff since his last senior appearance, so there would be questions as to his touch. From exposed form in recent seasons, Scharenberg reads the play well and distributes the ball safely albeit not all that adventurously. He’s a solid one-on-one competitor, but there is admittedly no comparison between what he can offer and what we’ll be missing.
If Madgen does get the nod, it might be worth exploring the idea of freeing up Moore to be a little more freewheeling whilst Magden attempts to play a more conservative lockdown role. Moore has been exceptional so far with his intercept marking, but if ever there was a time for him to stamp himself as the leader that I believe he could become, it is now.
Perhaps we may get more creative rather than taking the conservative route, but I’m struggling to see what that would entail given that an option like Quaynor would be undersized, unless we pondered reinventing Maynard somewhat. Had he not been cruelled so frequently with injury, preventing him from benefiting from the exposure that his early promise warranted, this might have been an opportune time to fast track Nathan Murphy.
We’ll need Crisp, Maynard and Noble to provide even more rebound and they’ll need the midfield to chip in considerably for the remainder of the year to release the pressure valve. What I wouldn’t give for a 2018 model Tom Langdon right now.
On individuals, it pains me to say it but Maynard had an absolute mare opposed to Toby Greene. It was just one of those nights, which all defenders have, where his colours were lowered against a quality opponent. Even James Clement got torched by Nathan Brown back in the day and you would be hard pressed to find a more reliable defender than Jimmy. It doesn’t happen often for Maynard and this one will no doubt sting him, but all he can do is learn from it and aim to redeem himself against Essendon.
Maynard still found plenty of the ball though, so whilst his colours were lowered defensively he still worked hard to get us going in the other direction.
If ever there was a player who may have sold his soul at the crossroads – and perhaps even a portion of his frontal lobe – in return for football ability, then it’s Toby Greene. What’s left is some atavistic throwback: all limbic system, a lizard brained footballing freak with the 360 degree peripheral vision of a dead-eyed chameleon and the reflexes of a threatened gecko — some arcane hybrid, that is just as likely to maim a vulnerable fellow creature or kick a goal like that he conjured in the second quarter.
There’s no shame in getting shown-up by someone of his uncanny ilk, despite how galling it is to witness as an opposition supporter.
Sidebottom was contained once more via a hard tag by De Boer and it’s becoming pretty concerning now how susceptible Sidey is to such attention. More concerning is the fact that when Sidebottom is silenced, we lose a vital bridge through the midfield. Pendlebury stood-up and Adams was his normal combative self, but we just didn’t have the run-and-carry through the middle to place enough pressure on the Giants defence.
Stephenson has been starting games ominously, but as the ball movement slows down he hasn’t been presented with enough opportunities to get separation from his opponent on the lead, or space to work in during chaos plays. Phillips had yet another quiet one save for a few fortuitous hacked snaps from stoppages in the second half. Callum and Tyler Brown were similarly lacking in noteworthy involvement, whereas Daicos had the lowest numbers of the three but held up his end to some extent in the pressure stakes with 7 tackles and a pretty memorable goal of his own in the second quarter.
Still, as mentioned previously until these players manage to develop further physically and find the roles they’re best suited for, they’ll remain periphery developing players who’ll need our more established types to bring them into the game.
I confess that I’m partial to the likes of Rupert Wills, the underdogs who make up what they lack in polish through hard work and commitment. He does his bit defensively around stoppages, and he’s handy to have when it comes to throwing his weight around and dispersing opposition bodies at the coal face, but he’s just lacking another string to his bow once the play opens up. He was second only to Pendlebury in clearances and also landed 8 tackles and the reality is that we need someone of his ilk to be interchangeable with Adams so that we maintain that presence at stoppages.
Ideally, Sier would get his head back to where it needs to be and would be building upon the excellent foundation he established in 2018. He has the physical traits of Wills, but with a few more weapons and a higher ceiling. The difference is that when it comes to application, Wills currently has him pipped.
It is also going to be interesting to see whether it is Wills who makes way for the return of Treloar – which seems the likely rotation – but given the current malaise of Phillips I would consider switching Hoskin-Elliot to half-forward once more, replacing Phillips with Treloar and keeping Wills’ presence inside the contest.
Hoskin-Elliott is still in no man’s land, but I would try and recapture some of the magic we had in 2018 by having a rotation of Stephenson, WHE, De Goey and Elliott being flicked between the goal square and high half-forward, keeping the match-ups in constant flux to put the opposition off-balance.
I’m hopeful that the switch might flick for the likes of De Goey if he just has that one game where he kicks a bag and rekindles his mojo. Having a player – particularly up front – in that vein of form has a flow-on effect, as the opposition get drawn to the hot hand and others sneak under the radar. Stephenson has been threatening in this regard in the opening quarter, so hopefully one or the other will uncork the genie and keep us dangerous for four quarters sooner rather than later.
The return of Mason Cox didn’t solve our issues on the receiving end of the long ball, but it was his first game back. He is a liability at ground level, but that’s to be expected of a 211cm convert — what he needs is to one-grab the opportunities that come his way and convert accordingly. He at least had the decency to do what others couldn’t in the last quarter by kicking straight.
Ultimately, there isn’t much between Cox and Darcy Cameron and our lack of a genuine key position sized spearhead who isn’t undersized or a project is something that needs addressing, but obviously can’t be addressed mid-season. Based on exposed form so far, I would stick with Cox for a couple more weeks.
In the wake of Howe’s PCL injury we are confronted with some serious challenges. We’re going to have to rejig the team and this isn’t going to be confined to the defensive line, as it will take a concerted effort throughout the field to compensate for his loss. It’s a testament to how well Howe has developed at our club after being a flashy yet inconsistent performer at Melbourne, as well as a vindication of his acquisition.
The outcome itself was disappointing, as we had ample opportunity in the last quarter to secure the four points. Whilst I detested the result, I wasn’t necessarily rueful about the team’s actual performance across four quarters — every game has its own unique dynamic.
The Giants are a talented outfit who had quality players returning to the mix; their backs were against the wall and they play a brand of football that’s full of niggle and scragging, but they also have the offensive ability to move quick and dangerously when given the chance. It takes an extreme effort to blanket that for four quarters and aside for a 5 minute patch in the third, we kept them honest.
The quality of our execution is lacking at the moment and the cohesion across four quarters isn’t there, but the work rate and willingness for the contest has been present and we’ve had moments of dominance in most of our games. There’s improvement to be had from within given that we’ve got some quality players currently down on form. Nonetheless, whilst this loss was nowhere near a death knell to our season, it must be acknowledged that in a shortened season we’ve watched 6 premiership points go begging.
We need some tinkering across all lines to improve the chemistry, but the baby should remain whilst the bathwater gets filtered. How we readjust in the wake of Howe’s injury will be the defining element of our season from this point forward.
Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this year and what sort of abnormal form and/or attrition we may see across the league, I suspect we’ll see a lot more twists and turns — many of which may be welcomed, as adversity breeds opportunity.