For the last few weeks, the consensus of opinion has been that this year’s competition is down to the Hawks, Cats and Swans. Last week’s hiccup from the top two might have some rethinking, seeing Freo dissect the Blues should have also raised questions. Get Stuffed Lyon (GSL) might not have his team play a brand of footy that is universally admired, but he did take the Saints to the edge of glory twice only to be denied by a toe poke and a bounce. (I still maintain Milne had to have a crack at it!) Given the Saints were just shy of a flag, it demands a forensic inspection of the differences between the 2009-10 Saints and his current charges at Freo.
For such a defensive coach it is intriguing that neither of the teams are blessed with a superstar defender, save for Brendon Goddard who was nominally named at Half Back. Overall though I would rank the Fremantle defense the better and the more brilliant with the quality of Luke McPharlin and Michael Johnson, notwithstanding the efforts of Sam Fisher. The constant between them is Zac the Hack. He more than any player epitomises GSL’s coaching. Playing within his limits but executing his role with aplomb – but he still a hack. Then of course GSL’s defense is much more about the team defense and organisation rather than just the back six.
Up forward there are similarities with the use of sharp, nuisance midgets. By any measure Milne has been a terrific player over the journey, but the one question mark (apart from the bounce) has been his output and reliability in the “matches that matter”. His partner was the talented but often injured and often unpredictable Adam Schneider. Comparing those with the Freo pair in Ballantyne and Walters. Ballantyne maybe a serial pest, but his talent and work rate can’t be denied. Walters is all that without the pest and is a serious player – importantly they are both reliable shots for goal. Then for the main men up forward and the comparison between the captains Reiwoldt and Pavlich. Nick has been outstanding as a forward over the journey, his work rate incomparable with anyone else. However whether it is his work rate or just poor technique his conversion rate has always been an issue. Pav has not played much this year but will be important in September. An excellent kick for goal but maybe not as good in contested situations – took the Cats apart in a final last year. Overall Reiwoldt rates higher, but Pavlich could be decisive next month.
The rucks are clearly in Freo’s favour with Herman if he is fit compared to a worn out Gardiner and immature McEvoy, then Jason Blake as the backup says it all. I reckon they also have it on the tagger front, Crowley is every bit as diligent as Jones and Baker and he does possess a higher skill level.
But what a contest in the midfield. Hayes and Ball providing the grunt work have no peer, however at the time Luke Ball was on the outer. Freo goes well with the likes of Mundy and Barlow, time will tell if they compare with Saints Lenny and Luke. On the outside the comparisons are as interesting Montagna, Dal Santo, Goddard, Ray, Gram up against Pearce, Hill, Fyffe and co. The Saints have stood the test of time, however the Dockers present a lively lot with loads of talent. Calling Fyffe outside is unfair, he is capable in any situation and would be mentioned in hallowed tones if he were at a Melbourne club. He might be the heir apparent to Gazza! Not every player or position is covered here but I reckon GSL has better weaponry at Freo, not just in the midfield but right through the lineup. In fact it is a testament to the Saints of 2009-10 as to how close they went.
So can Freo go one better? At $7.60 in a four horse race they are not bad value, but I maintain that they need another finals series under their belt before they will win one. The other item against them is that they have not defended the width of the MCG enough, it is different to the narrow confines of Subiaco and the Loungeroom. But they do have the talent to do it and if they can maintain their group and even add to it, they will be an even more dangerous proposition in 2014.
Ashes to Ashes
Much gnashing of teeth around the lineup for the encounter at Durham. The reality is Australia needs to field its team from now on with the Brisbane test in mind – The Ashes are gone and winning the next two tests might feel nice but will have little meaning. Not that I am suggesting that the Aussies tank, but they should do some “informed player management”. We already know Ryan Harris can win matches, put him away for the summer. Let’s see how Bird bowls against England, not only with the summer in mind but also his suitability for English decks next time around. As for openers, if Warner is in the team he must open. Has never been a good player of spin, let alone the quality of Swan. Watson has not taken many wickets but has bowled good spells, batting at six makes more sense and a right hander facing Swan is a better proposition. Time to start preparing for Brisbane!
And now the selections
Was sort of putting this off after a disastrous effort last week – I did predict upsets but not the right ones. The odds indicate most of this week’s encounters are lopsided, but some of the team selections make a few interesting.
Toeing the Line ($16.50) vs Angry Birds ($1.05)
Sam Fisher might get his toe ready for next year but that won’t help much against the Hawks who will be smarting after going down again to the Tigers at the G. The Hawks have lost key players in Franklin and Hodge, but should still have too many guns for the Saints who have sent a few off for early surgery.
Rance-id ($1.18) vs Billy ($6.20)
The Lions are Brown-less this week up against the rampaging Tigers. They both have impressive recent records, but there is not much better form than a defeat of Hawthorn. The Lions will be feisty and Dan Merrett up forward will present his share of challenges, but Richmond have been pretty good all year at dealing with teams below them.
Angry Felines ($1.15) vs A Wingarded Moment ($7.20)
Chris Scott has reacted savagely at selection to last week’s effort, not a bad thing to happen a few weeks out from finals. The imprecision of Geelong’s skills was surprising – was it due to North pressure or a touch of smugness that could not be put back in the bottle! A combination of both perhaps! They will need to be on their game against Port Adelaide who again proved they are never beaten. The Cats at their fortress should be good enough to hold out the Power.
Waite a Moment ($1.41) vs Bring on 2014 ($3.25)
What great improvement the Dogs have made this year! They will be looking forward to the encounter against the Blues with great enthusiasm and confidence after a bold showing against the premiers. Carlton bring back Warnock for the injured Kruezer – a great opportunity for him to make a stand against one of the inform ruckmen of the competition. No doubting Warnock’s craftsmanship, but he needs to contribute more. The Blues present a more potent and flexible forward line with the addition of Waite and should be smarting from their effort last week – with that I reckon they will ensure this one does not get away. Nevertheless their penchant to get it all wrong at this time of year makes the Bulldogs a fair proposition if they got out to $3.50.
May Day ($1.14) vs He’s Gawn ($7.20)
The odds on this game are appropriate, the fact that they are is an indictment on the Dees as much as it displays the improvement in the Suns. They should be too good for Melbourne with Gazza controlling the midfield and May and Day patrolling either end of the field.
Heath ($1.50) vs Brodie ($2.92)
The Grundy’s face off at the Olympic stadium, are they both nicknamed Reg? A mouthwatering encounter at any time, even more so after the Pies demolition of Essendon. Meanwhile Sydney continue to leave their opponents a long list of items to rectify. Will it be Collingwood’s turn? Bucks indicated that last week set the standard – very buoyant and justifiably so. However the Pies have not produced that form on a weekly basis. Sydney on the other hand have been nothing but consistent. The inclusion of Beams has certainly improved the Pie midfield and added to the depth, but there is no deeper midfield than Sydney. The key reason I sway to Sydney is the rucking strength of Mumford and Pyke over Grundy and Lynch. The Pies best can win but Sydney are a much safer selection.
Interim Finalists? ($1.44) vs The Corporation ($3.20)
So many questions about Essendon and some of them about the on field performance last week. Was it the opposition, was it the pressure, was it a once off? That is really what this weeks selection comes down to. But West Coast gave up on the season a couple of weeks ago. The Bombers are in the Loungeroom in front of their own, there won’t be nearly the same kind of pressure and I reckon they will get over the Eagles.
Charddy Chokers ($2.16) vs Smells like Spirit ($1.80)
Ahh the mythical Shinboner Spirit shone last week, can it emerge again. On evidence Adelaide are likely to give it every chance. However if there is one thing to say about both of these sides this year it is inconsistency, this should be a flip of the coin game. I reckon the Crows will be keen to show an improved effort after last week and selecting them to win.
GSL ($1.02) vs Could it be two? ($36)
No – Freo easily
A massive weekend of footy for the Friars with the School team playing in the Herald Shield Final on the hallowed turf of the MCG against St Patricks Ballarat at 10:35 on Saturday morning. Meanwhile in Ammo land, the Under 19s handed out a 120 point beating to PEGS to climb back into 2nd place. They are up against Old Xavs this week, but will be missing a number of players who will be playing in the HS final in the morning. The Seniors won a hard fought battle against Old Mentonians who played a very defensive game that was difficult to break down especially given the horrendous weather conditions. They hold on to 4th position on percentage and are up against the Division 2 bound Glen Eira this week.
Go Friars, Go Blues and Go the Schoolboy Friars!