I’m a little late to the writing desk this week, having to juggle work commitments and being delayed in getting to see the vision from last Thursday night’s triumph over Geelong. This does, however, present me with an opportunity to bridge our last win with our upcoming challenge – perhaps the biggest test we’ve had in three weeks – against the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.
In what was another low scoring affair, we managed to once again strangle the opposition whilst putting together a modest yet victorious score of our own. Although our inability to pile on goals is something of a concern, the brilliance of our defence at the moment is resulting in our percentage remaining healthy.
For mine, there seem to be a few factors at play that go some way to explaining our low scoring. We’ve been tinkering with the forward line as some individuals have struggled to fire in the front half, attempting to find the combination that meshes best or enables one or two individuals to get off the chain. Our miserly defence may also go some way to explaining the lack of potency at the other end.
Considering that an overall effective defence begins as much in the middle as it does in our own goal square, our engine room and high half-forwards have been expected to commit to the required two-way running to assist our defenders. Either in getting numbers back to fill space, or to provide outlets for when our defenders win the ball back.
Even with the loss of Howe, it has been a credit to our back line for being able to organise itself in such an effective fashion. The likes of Maynard and Crisp have stood up once more, whilst Moore continues to emerge as a genuine All-Australian key back. This part of our game at the moment has been close to perfect, although we are still switching the magnets from week to week to find the right balance between rebound and control.
We seem to be breaking down somewhat on that last kick into the forward 50, largely due to our forward line not being able to keep shape; or not being present when we do manage to generate a fast transition. I haven’t counted too many times where our forwards have managed to get behind their defenders and benefit from – or even enable – some of those fast transitions.
Our ability to curtail the opposition’s forwards, win the ball back and then escape back to the middle of the ground has been excellent. Turning those situations into goals on the other hand has been something of a battle and is the foremost area where we need to do the most work. We controlled the game against Geelong from start to finish, but despite this they were always in with a show if they could gain momentum for five or ten minutes.
The threat of a repeat of our loss to the GWS seemed to loom constantly, as despite controlling a majority of most games we’ve played this year, we have a tendency to keep the opposition in with a show due to our dominance not being reflected on the scoreboard. We had 46 inside 50’s compared to Geelong’s 31, but only converted 17 of those entries into scores.
Nonetheless, although the game this year hasn’t made for the most impressive of spectacles, I am enjoying the way our team is committing themselves. We’re getting a fairly even spread of contributions across the field, albeit with a few players down on form and confidence. The team is working hard for each other, executing the small things well but also putting together some genuinely good passages of football. We’ve got a bit to work on still, but the important factor is that I feel there genuinely is room for that improvement both as a collective and via various individuals. Importantly, whilst we’ve been cruelled once more via some unfortunate injuries, that improvement does still seem achievable.
We were able to witness once more what De Goey can provide when played predominantly as a forward target. After increasing his midfield minutes this year, he had struggled to have the same sort of impact that he displayed in 2018. When shifted to the goal square, he was able to recapture some of that imposing presence, providing us with a spearhead that has been as rare as that of Longinus for us this year.
Unfortunately, he’s since been sidelined for another 10 weeks after undergoing surgery on his finger. He’s not easily replaced as a forward target, particularly given that we’re struggling for dependable focal points, but we may have to look at trying to isolate Stephenson out of the square once more whilst hoping that someone else can stand up, along with generating some more goals from the midfield.
Whilst the move to the midfield seemed a natural transition for De Goey, heading forward we might be better served maintaining the same 70/30 split that worked well in 2018. De Goey does offer something at stoppages as a player who tends to hit the ball at pace and can break free of congestion, but what he offers closer to goal is a lot more beneficial — particularly given that a player of his ilk, who can enter that rarified match winning zone, has a multiplying effect throughout the entire team when he’s up and about.
Taylor Adams continues to be a soldier at the coal face, being the sort of player who really sets the standard for intensity and commitment. Importantly, he’s making a habit of pushing forward and kicking truly when the opportunity presents itself. Pendlebury remains as dependable as ever, but it has been Treloar who over the past fortnight has really got us going out of the middle.
Treloar won 11 clearances against Geelong, but what really stood out to me was his intensity inside the contest, racking up 6 tackles to go along with his 34 disposals. Jamie Elliott had one of those anomalous sort of games against Geelong, where his modest stats I don’t feel reflected the impact he had on proceedings. His pressure game, commitment in closing down space and a collection of small bits of nous provided a solid contribution through the middle of the ground.
Given the loss of De Goey amid a forward line that doesn’t look too threatening at the moment, there would be some wisdom in letting Elliott spend more time in the front half — assuming he can find some chemistry with Stephenson and Hoskin-Elliott so that they can get some separation from their opponents or one-out opportunities. With Sidebottom also missing however, I expect we’ll still see Elliott rotated through the middle.
Hoskin-Elliott is still yet to capture his best form from 2018, but in the last two weeks he has looked a little more threatening. He’s beginning to really present and jump at the ball again, and although he doesn’t possess the size to be a pack buster, his spring heels do allow him to scramble the contest. There were several instances against both Geelong and Hawthorn where he went up from two or three deep and, without infringing, managed to bring the ball to ground to give our crumbers a look-in.
Such acts aren’t reflected on the stat sheet and can be easily overlooked, but whilst I’d like for him to prove more of a factor, I believe he is at least beginning to get a taste for it once more. If we’re to get over the line against the Eagles – or to turn our forward conversion around on a more permanent basis – we need him to get on the end of and convert more passages.
Whilst not being as eye-catching as the week before, Quaynor did not look at all out place down back in his second game up. There weren’t as many examples of his dash, but he positioned himself well and I don’t recall him ever being too obviously beaten. I mentioned the week before that I wanted to see how he used the ball over short to medium distances and against Geelong, he displayed good decision making and execution in this area.
Finally, his effort to get to a wide kick on the wing late in the game, marking and collecting a chair face first on the sideline, showed excellent commitment. We’ve got a really good prospect in Quaynor and he stands to benefit from the exposure that our injury misfortune has provided.
I felt John Noble was also solid, excluding one poor turnover earlier in the game. He showed a bit of toe but most importantly, was quite clean and sharp in fairly challenging conditions. Maynard was rock solid again, Moore was terrific and Jack Crisp had what might have been his best game for the year so far. The way all three have stood up since the loss of Howe has been a real credit to them.
Unfortunately, Callum Brown continues to struggle and I’m fearful that he might be in the midst of something of a form spiral. When he does find the ball, he has a tendency to try and overcompensate for his form struggles by doing too much with it, which just exacerbates his battle at the moment. He doesn’t have enough weapons to really make it as a small forward and yet, is probably still a preseason or two away from having the physique needed to hold up for long periods in the middle.
The persistence with his selection has surprised, if not disappointed me. I’m not writing Brown off as I still believe he has a future – he showed enough last year to suggest he can play at this level – but at the moment it’s just not happening for him. I’m of the opinion that he’d benefit most from playing predominantly midfield for a few scratch matches to try and break out of the rut he’s in.
Admittedly our cupboard is a little bare at the moment – although the overlooking of Sier once more continues to raise questions – but the recall of Josh Thomas does have me a little concerned ahead of our clash with West Coast. With Brown currently struggling to impact and Josh Thomas having similar struggles prior to being omitted, I fear that we could find ourselves blunt up front if their respective form lines continue.
If ever there was a time for both of these players to fire a shot, it is now. Hopefully one or both of them can sneak under the guard, or at least push up and win some contested ball between the arcs.
The contest between Grundy and Naitanui will be a focal point this Sunday and fortunately we’ve brought Darcy Cameron in to at least give Grundy a chop-out so that we don’t have any repeats of the uncontested ruck work we saw last week. Rupert Wills is really going to have to throw himself around and try to nullify the physical presence of the likes of Yeo and Redden at the coalface, whilst we’ll need Pendlebury, Treloar and Adams to outpoint their counterparts in Shuey, Gaff and Kelly..
The Eagles have battled through some indifferent form this year, but they’ll be looking to start putting their season together now that they’re on their home deck. We’ve at least had a chance to acquaint ourselves with the dimensions of Optus Stadium, but if we’re going to win then we need to get on top in the middle, starve the West Coast forwards of opportunities and deprive the likes of McGovern, Hurn and Barrass of the chance to intercept at will.
We’ve brought back Scharenberg and he’s likely to find himself having to battle out of his weight class, as West Coast have all of Kennedy, Darling and Allen as tall targets. If our pressure through the middle of the ground stands up, we can hopefully prevent them from being able to isolate our defenders. Heading forward, given that Mihocek is undersized and Cameron is yet to prove himself as a contested marking threat within the forward line, we need to try and hit up targets on the lead, or generate chaos ball/stoppage situations. If we bomb it in, I’d bank on the Eagles marking it nine times out of ten.
Given our outs, I’m not at all confident about our prospects against a team who has the key position talent to stretch us and enough quality in the engine room to match us. All the same, it’s a strange sort of year and I’m not going to discount our chances in any contest, particularly if we keep applying ourselves as we have.
I wrote in an earlier piece that the challenges of this year amidst a pandemic were an opportunity for the team to build and display character. Excluding a dismal loss to Essendon and a disappointing failure to capitalise and atone for last year’s finals departure against GWS, I feel the team has given a more than solid account of themselves since hitting the road.
This is a standard which I hope we continue with, as despite being in agreement with those who believe this year’s premiership will sport an asterisk and whilst battling to find the same sort of passionate investment as would come natural during any ordinary season, I still believe the fruits of this year – of this unique situation – may pay dividends in terms of player development and team unity well beyond this season.
Many people are struggling at the moment; for many others, this situation has been downright tragic. Amongst all of the uncertainty, it is hard to judge this season by any previous metric and in some respects it seems a little base to do so.
Nonetheless, there’s character to be built during such times, for the club and each of us alike.
Take care and be safe.