Round 10 Preview: Teams are, have been and always will be bad

Brendon Bolton was at the forefront of a media barrage once again this week.

How refreshing and new did it feel to have another week where the football world poured it on Carlton?

Coming off another disastrous effort against the Giants, the Blues remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder with just the solitary victory and exceeded the ineptitude shown two weeks prior against North Melbourne in their 93-point humiliation at Giants Stadium.

As has now become customary in 2019, the media buried coach Brendon Bolton, tore shreds off the playing group and questioned again when or if club administration would act and force changes as their season spirals into a dumpster fire once again.

One quote that caught my attention and was trotted out by Caroline Wilson on both Footy Classified and the Age Real Footy podcast was the advantage teams playing were gaining through percentage boosts and that it would artificially skew the ladder.

Now ignoring the fact that Carlton have been largely competitive in all their games this year – aside from big losses to the Kangaroos and GWS, their biggest loss has been 33-points in Round 1 to Richmond. There is a reality of football, and any sport for that matter, which Caro and indeed the entire football world forgets, some teams aren’t good.

The reality is someone must be at the foot of the ladder, there will never be 18 competitive teams, it’s not possible. Yet we go through this pathetic dance every time Carlton losses a game. It’s mainly a symptom of the oversaturation of coverage, but I think it’s also partly this sudden impatience that rebuilding teams should take no longer than one, maybe two seasons to get back to relevance.

This isn’t surprising that the Blues are struggling again. They’re coming off a two-win season which netted them last year’s wooden spoon and despite some senior additions in the off-season are still young, inexperienced and face plenty of development before they can contend again.

No one, aside from the most optimistic Carlton supporter, could have had the Blues any higher than the bottom six in their preseason ladder predictions (aside from the club themselves ironically, who of course swapped first round picks in the 2019 draft with Adelaide).

Carlton embarked on an all-out rebuild, right as free agency changed the ways teams should regenerate and are still very much near the bottom of the mountain. They will continue to struggle, they will continue to have horrible games and at times, it will continue to seem like all hope is gone, it’s part of rebuilding.

Now I agree that they should be further advanced than where they are, and Sunday was truly horrific. The stagnation in development of the likes of Charlie Curnow, Paddy Dow and Sam Petrevski-Seton is also a concern. But the reality is their list is young, they’re not very good and there will continue to be pain. There’s no need for a forensic microscope every time Carlton lose a game.

As I have unwittingly added to this pile on of Carlton, let’s go the top of the ladder and for the first time this season, the top eight includes the best eight teams. While it is certainly no lock, there is a good chance we’re looking at our final top eight after Round 9.

Stats suggest we should be close as on average 6.5 of the top eight is locked in at this point of the season, so any more than one or two changes would be unexpected.

Right now, at most, there are five premiership contenders and even that can be whittled down. Let’s break down our top eight and where they sit:

Leading the pack – Geelong and Collingwood

These two teams have emerged as we approach the halfway mark and deserve their standing as 1st and 2nd respectively. The Cats have certainly shown more than the Pies, including winning their head-to-head clash in Round 1, however Collingwood haven’t reached anything near their peak and have several gears they can move in to as we approach finals.

Next in line – GWS Giants

Prior to the Hawthorn loss, the Giants deserved to be with the top two, however consistent issues have emerged. While their struggles at the MCG are real and have received far more airtime, their bigger issue in continually failing to mentally show up to games, particularly when they’re seen as strong favourites. Maybe their Round 2 loss against the Eagles saw them walk into a buzzsaw as the reigning premiers enjoyed their first game at home since their September triumph, however their hiccups against Fremantle and the Hawks keep them a step behind.

Stalking but still unproven – Richmond and West Coast

The two most recent premiers are currently unproven for different reasons. The term doesn’t quite fit Richmond, who have shown their depth can hold up despite serious injuries to key players. However, these injuries do keep them behind that top three, especially when you consider their heavy losses they’ve already suffered against Collingwood and GWS. West Coast is a pure form concern. They haven’t really touched the heights of 2018, save for their dismantling of the Giants. They still have to be respected for their feats last season, but they do need to start showing they can replicate that form.

The wildcard – Brisbane

Give respect to the Lions, they’ve come on faster than I expected and although benefiting from a few middle of the road teams falling off from last year, their 6-3 record is legit and it would be surprising if they missed finals. The knock on them is their losses have been bad and they don’t have any major scalps. They did easily account for West Coast, however that was in Round 1 and the Eagles were undermanned. The positive; they’ve largely taken care of business against teams around them on the ladder.

Rounding out the top eight – Adelaide, Port Adelaide

Both South Australians teams are just about where they should be. I haven’t been sold on Adelaide. Their win streak was against a bunch of cupcakes and despite a late charge, fell a point short against the Lions, suggesting they’re a level back from Brisbane and even further behind the top five. Port Adelaide are going to Port Adelaide and once again they smack the teams below them and fall short against anyone above them. Aside from their demolition of the Eagles, their wins have come against Carlton, Melbourne, North Melbourne and Gold Coast. Port are the team most likely to slip out of the finals come September.

Onwards to Round 10, peeps:

Sydney vs Collingwood (-17.5)

Two weeks ago, Sydney’s future looked as bleak as anyone’s, but low and behold they’ve unearthed some young talent. Nick Blakey has come as advertised, Oliver Florent is improving, George Hewett has turned into a very solid tagger and even Ryan Clark got revenge against his old team. However, we can pump the breaks on a mid-season revival until they’ve beaten more than the Bombers and Kangaroos. Collingwood will provide a much sterner test on a ground (or more a city) where they’ve traditionally thrived on.

Hawthorn (3.5) vs Port Adelaide

The term ‘flat-track bullies’ is thrown around a fair bit these days, but somehow, every year it fits perfectly in describing the Power. They beat up on the dregs and never get close to any serious contender. Their current record against fellow top eight teams is 1-4 and as mentioned, their only decent win came against West Coast. Admittedly they have battled through a pretty serious injury toll and need to take care of business against a Hawks side which are around three weeks away from correctly throwing in the towel on their season.

Western Bulldogs (-8.5) vs North Melbourne

I continue to stand by my feeling that with a better coach this Bulldogs team could thrive. Despite falling away late against the Cats, the Dogs played some brilliant football. Their ball movement was crisp, their foot skills were impressive, and their outside run was damaging. They have the makings of a solid list despite deficiencies in the key position department across the ground. Their backline was manhandled by Geelong in giving up 21-goals. Thankfully they won’t face the same offensive force on Saturday.

Adelaide vs West Coast (+8.5)

I’m not ready to give up on the Eagles and I’m equally not ready to believe in the Crows. West Coast are indeed showing some worrying signs and if Melbourne weren’t such a disaster right now, they would have lost comfortably last Friday night. The Eagles feel like a team who will never put it all together this year, but I’ll stick with them for now.

Richmond (-13.5) vs Essendon

Devon Smith and Joe Daniher both done for the year in the one week. Despite being within striking distance of the top eight, this Essendon season feels cooked and they can’t be trusted to make any indents against the top teams. Dreamtime at the ‘G has been fairly one-sided of late and despite Richmond’s injury list continuing to grow, the Tigers feel like they’re hitting another gear, particularly if Dustin Martin can repeat last week’s effort.

Gold Coast (+32.5) vs Geelong

Watching the Suns fall away in the last quarter against the Power last week was annoying, they deserved to be closer and definitely deserved to cover the line. For a team so bereft of talent, Gold Coast are exceptionally coached. They seem to finally be getting genuine output from Jack Bowes and Ben Ainsworth, but you would like to see a little more from Jack Lukosius and Ben King needs some time to get used to the AFL level. The Cats have traditionally used their trip north as an excuse for a holiday and could be minus Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett, who are both due a rest.

Melbourne vs GWS Giants (-9.5)

The dreaded trip to the MCG for the Giants. Melbourne provide them a perfect opportunity to smash that deficiency, while also giving them a chance to get their heads straight and take care of a weaker opponent. Take nothing from their cakewalk last week, that smashing was always on the cards. A team like Melbourne is one they’ve occasionally struggled against, unless they arrive ready to kill.

St Kilda vs Carlton (+17.5)

Whacked in the media ad nauseum again, expect a much more spirited display from the Blues and inevitably fall short once again. Not sure what to make of the Saints this season, their injuries have clouded any sort of proper measurement which makes the handling of Alan Richardson far more difficult. They’re stuck in limbo.

Fremantle (-5.5) vs Brisbane

Fremantle follow a similar pattern where they’ll dish up a few stinkers and have an odd surprise game maybe one a month or so. That game is due up and I don’t like the idea of a young Brisbane team travelling across the country. Their interstate record has been patchy so far, with big losses against Essendon at the MCG and the Bulldogs in Ballarat. Open up the taps a little Ross and let your team score.

Season Record

36/81 (44%)

Geelong can reap the benefits of holding firm on Kelly

Following the 2008 season, former Sydney forward Ryan O’Keefe knocked back Sydney’s three-year contract offer and sought a trade back to his home state of Victoria.

Premiers Hawthorn quickly emerged as the front runners and O’Keefe looked destined to join the Hawks during trade week.

The issue was no deal could be brokered and with the prospect of being vulnerable to the order of the pre-season draft, O’Keefe eventually re-signed with Sydney, played out the rest of his career for the Swans, winning a Norm Smith medal and a premiership.

Prior to 2018, this stood as the last occasion where a high-profile player expressed a desire to leave his club yet was forced to remain with no trade ever eventuating.

With the advent of free agency allowing more fluid player movement once players came out of contract after extended periods at the one club, it also changed the way contracted players were treated with clubs seemingly always willing to accept trade requests from players and complete deals, sometimes at the last minute.

Tim Kelly seemed destined to force his way back to his home state of Western Australia after he finally publicly announced his desire to be traded to West Coast after a year of rumours that he and his family were unhappy living in Geelong.

Despite public pressure, the on-going perception that ‘deals just get done’ and the threat of losing Kelly for less or no compensation in a year, the Cats didn’t buckle and moved on after failing to receive what they viewed as adequate compensation.

It was a change of reputation from the team down the highway, but it’s reaping major benefits and will continue to do so through the season and into this year’s trade period.

Geelong had three key factors in their favour which made it beneficial to hold onto Kelly, all aside from the fact he immediately become one of the club’s and indeed the league’s best midfielders.

The first was having Kelly under contract. While that hasn’t really meant much of late, with the likes of Josh Schache and Gary Ablett forcing trades while under contract, Geelong still held leverage over Kelly and rightfully used it. He’s also on an extremely low contract. It’s worth mentioning the benefits of having a top five player on your list being paid a second-round draft pick salary.

Second was Kelly’s value was only going to go up. Barring a major injury, the on-baller was going to improve, he was entering the prime of his career, had no wear and tear on his body at the top level and had a year within the AFL system under his belt. The Cats were going to be able to come to trade table with a higher prized recruit than the previous year.

The third and potentially most intriguing factor which the Cats benefited from waiting on, was Fremantle entering the picture. Despite protestations from Kelly (and his West Coast-centric manager) against the idea of heading to the Dockers, there was a chance that if Geelong held firm, Kelly would have to relent and open a two-horse race between the WA clubs. Seemingly, that has happened and now Geelong can seek the best deal from two possible destinations.

With the power players currently have over trade negotiations is it hard for clubs to hold firm, they have no ability to seek maximum compensation as the player can veto any trade to a destination that doesn’t suit him.

Hence why players are dealt so easily, even while under contract. But Geelong were right then to hold firm and the decision looks even better now. Kelly is a genuine Brownlow contender whose value has shot past any players dealt in recent trade periods. He’s probably the best player to request a trade since Chris Judd.

Now West Coast maximised Judd’s value through the ability to sort through a bevy of offers from Victorian clubs. As Geelong only has one, maybe two teams in play, they don’t quite have that option, but they are in a stronger position to deal this off-season than last.

West Coast’s reported final offer was their two second-round picks in 2018 (20, 22) and a future second-round selection in this year’s draft (that will presumably fall somewhere in the mid-20’s). Against Steven Wells’ M.O. and the reputation of the Cats as the ‘good guys of trade week’, the Cats held out for a future first-round pick in this year’s draft and never baulked from their demand.

Now Kelly is undoubtedly worth at least two-first round picks and then some, considering he looks more complete than past players who were dealt for that price including Adam Treloar and Dylan Shiel.

Of course, the entirely alternate scenario which could become a reality and was strengthened by Geelong buying time accredited to them through Kelly’s contract, is they convince him to stay.

While it’s highly likely he seeks a trade as soon as Geelong play their final game later this season, the Cats have had another year to work on making Kelly and his family happy in Geelong. They have taken notable steps off field and their 7-1 start and premiership favouritism surely couldn’t hurt their chances either.

It may not exactly set a precedent in future years, but the Cats have shown the benefits of holding players to their contracts and not faulting the second a contracted player wants out. Clubs still have some leverage and Geelong has used that to their effect and will more-than-likely benefit from it, either through a sweeter deal come October, or Kelly signing an extension with the team.

The only thing that hasn’t changed for the Cats appears to be still losing a great player, which Tim Kelly has already become.