It’s been a year of regeneration for the Tigers, and six wins from 11 feels good. However, they will kick themselves for dropping the Adelaide and Sydney games. They’ve lost to the top eight four times, and they’re still a little shaky in the back. Apart from that, they are starting to approach full availability and are always enjoying the winter grind. They are the last side you would want to face if you finished fifth and defeated them in an elimination final.
Best and fairest: Shai Bolton
In the end, Buckley’s Pies was a grim watch. With a new coach and lots of promising kids, they are now taking risks, scoring high and putting a lot of pressure on them. They defeated St Kilda, Fremantle and Carlton, and probably let one slip against Geelong. But they completely messed up their freestyle against West Coast. With so many quality sides hovering around the top eight, it may come back to bite them.
Best and fairest: Jack Crisp
“We are a good team, we are a good team, we are young, we are building,” said club president David Koch after last year’s preliminary final. “There’s a lot to look forward to.” But a month into 2022, the football world was ready to give up Port Adelaide. This columnist certainly was. During halftime of the Carlton game, they were dismembered. But after the bell they were a completely different team and probably should have squeezed.
They then hit their freestyle against West Coast, with Simpson calling them the best 0-5 side he’d ever seen. They had their audition in Geelong, but with Dixon back and the midfield starting to hum, they are suddenly looking forward to the final. However, it is a difficult home game, with away games against Fremantle, Richmond and Melbourne.
Best and fairest: Ollie Wines and Travis Boak
In the past seven years, they have finished 16-15-17-17-18-14-16. And when Ben King went down in the summer, the assumption in the south was that they were screwed. Clarkson was a certainty to get in, beat his old buddy Dew, try to keep some talent and try to get the joint into shape. But with recent wins over Fremantle and Sydney, they’ve flipped the script. Perhaps for the first time ever, club, coach and playlist are all in lockstep.
With 100 more hits than any other player in the league, Witts’ return was crucial, while Chol and Casboult were outstanding signings. They have a nice run home, and it feels like they are finally a real club, with a heartbeat, a purpose and a future.
Best and fairest: Touk Miller
The Hawks have had a tough draw. Like any team with a new coach, a new game plan and a young roster, they throw in some absolute shockers. They were the only side Essendon really got a hold of, which Mitchell was furious about. And they didn’t seem invested enough in Darwin against the suns. But they are deadly in their day. They really take you in. They give you a chance. They launch half back and attack through the middle. If the wins in Geelong, Adelaide and Brisbane are any indication, they are on the right track.
Best and fairest: James Sicily and Jai Newcombe
After somehow holding on to an excruciating cutthroat final played out under a pitch-black Tasmanian sky, nothing really went right for the Giants. Greene’s suspension sucked all the swagger and vim out of them. Leon Cameron accused them of ‘boring’ football and was kicked out 14 days later. However, they are a tempting proposition to the incoming coach. For the time being, the interim coach has clearly released the shackles and they are the most dangerous float in the bottom half.
Best and fairest: Josh Kelly
You can see the future in Adelaide. With a bit of luck in the Fremantle and Essendon matches it could have been 5-1. But the present is a real grind. They certainly have a tear, but they can be very sloppy on foot and in front of goal. They were dismantled in an instant by Carlton and GWS, and they have now had a run of five losses, including their twelfth consecutive defeat at Kardinia Park. This weekend, however, they could fill their boots.
Best and fairest: Ben Keays, Rory Laird and Tom Doedee
Listening to Ben Rutten off-season, you got the sense that they still had a long way to go and that they slightly exceeded expectations last year. After all, they only beat one top eight in 2021.
In 2002 they had a tough draw. They have had many injuries. And they have a lot of kids who are still figuring things out. But the Bombers don’t get their hands dirty. They are unwilling, or unable, to achieve ugly victories. And they don’t defend as a team. Throughout the year, opposition parties have simply cut them.
Off the field they are a real head scratcher. There were many high fives and back slaps after the Hawthorn sugar hit. There would be no review, they insisted. A few weeks later, they announced one. “Review is one of those words that takes on an almost mystical meaning,” the chairman said that week. It will be run, like the Essendon way, by three former greats of the club.
Best and fairest: Darcy Parish
There is nothing sexy about North Melbourne. They get the worst time slots. If the wins don’t come, certain people want to push the problem to Tasmania. There is often the feeling that the North is against the football world.
They beat the wretched West Coast, piled with WAFL jobbers. They nearly took a thrilling win at the SCG. And they weren’t really that bad against Melbourne. But that was it. They have lost half a dozen games by more than 10 goals. A week after the mid-season draft, three senior recruiters retired on the same day. For a club pinning its hopes on identifying young talent, it was quite a blow, if not the disaster it was envisioned.
Last week there was a candid conversation with the CEO, the head of football and the senior coach. They sat, socially distant, on a pair of brown couches, responding to a dozen Dorothy Dixers. The staff were happy. The board was united. The coach was safe. “I’m not going anywhere,” Noble said. “He’s our man,” said the CEO. Moving words. But a percentage of 53.2 speaks louder.
Best and fairest: Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin
They won a premiership about 75 games ago. They have been ravaged by Covid ever since. Their list management is at the top. The ‘closet is bare’, says the coach. The Eagles are right in the conversation as one of the worst teams we’ve ever seen. Over the last six weeks, their average loss margin has been over 80 points. They’re on Fitzroy 1996 level. On the plus side, they just hired a young man who works at a charcoal chicken shop.
Best and fairest: Tim Kelly
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