Round 4 Review: Cliff-hangers and nail-biters

Round 4 teased to be a thrilling weekend full of close clashes and stunning upsets. It didn’t disappoint – four matches were decided by a margin under a goal.

 

With next week’s matches up in the air, several teams wait with bated breath to see whom they must beat in order to turn their seasons around.

 

Sydney 5.9 (39) defeated by Western Bulldogs 10.7 (67)

 

The Bulldogs may well and truly be back.

 

After two horror losses in the opening rounds, the red, white and blue have rediscovered their form in brutal fashion. Sydney just didn’t turn up – an emotional week was capped off by a disappointing loss that doesn’t truly reflect their potential.

 

The Bulldogs’ midfield is clicking

 

It may not have been the centre group Luke Beveridge had in mind at the start of the season, but he has cobbled together a midfield that is flourishing.

 

Bailey Smith had another wonderful match flying through the centre and bringing an aggressive presence to stoppages, while Jack Macrae has benefited from Smith’s contested ball work to break free on the outside. Marcus Bontempelli had his best game of the year so far – his strength and talent in close was ably combined with his precision in uncontested situations to wreak havoc. Tom Liberatore continued his hard-nosed approach at the footy.

 

Pat Lipinski was a handy inclusion, while Toby McLean and Rhylee West both impressed in their spurts through the centre. Beveridge still has the calibre of Lachie Hunter, Josh Dunkley and Lin Jong on the sidelines; the Bulldogs’ on-ball brigade could become a scary prospect.

 

Papley is paving the way

 

The Swans are missing Buddy Franklin – there’s no doubt about it. Sam Reid’s absence is also leaving a gaping hole in John Longmire’s tall forward stocks. But a much smaller presence is picking up the slack.

 

Tom Papley was electric on Thursday night, and nearly single-handedly dragged his side back into the match with his four goals. He has enough pace to burn off taller opponents, but his positioning and goal-sense make him a daunting opponent to defend due to his strong leading patterns. He temporarily led the Coleman Medal list – if he keeps chipping in with small bags of goals each week, he could be on his way to a breakout season.

 

Verdict: The Bulldogs are now back on track for the top eight. Sydney are doing their best despite the unlucky cards they have been dealt.

 

 

GWS 10.6 (66) defeated Collingwood 9.10 (64)

 

This match lived up to expectations.

 

GWS finally showed up to a match with intensity and grit – they may not have had the polish attached, but it was enough to out-work the Magpies. Collingwood had a rough night. They worked their way back into the match fantastically, yet couldn’t capitalise on their last quarter chances. When Jeremy Howe went down injured, the night turned sour quickly.

 

The grass is always Greene-r

 

GWS needed a spark up forward – it was common knowledge.

 

Many fans looked to 2019 Coleman Medallist Jeremy Cameron for the start of a form turnaround, but he only produced flashes of brilliance in between being well held by Darcy Moore. Instead, it was the returning Toby Greene who bucked the trend against Brayden Maynard.

 

The Collingwood star defender has previously beaten Greene in their direct battles. But on Friday night the Giants’ forward was everywhere. He was out-pointing Maynard in marking battles, using his awareness to judge the ball’s flight to perfection. He was bobbing up in the middle of packs and snapping goals over his head. If he hadn’t of dished off an easy set shot to Cameron, Greene would have slotted four majors. But his influence was enough to rejuvenate GWS’ forward line and crack through Collingwood’s much-vaunted defence.

 

Did Collingwood learn anything from 2019?

 

For Pies fans, Friday night was eerily similar to last year’s Preliminary Final. A decent start gave them an early lead in a low-scoring first half, but a dismal third term saw them get blown away. GWS went harder at the ball, and scrapped for long enough to open up attacking options through the middle of the ground. Leon Cameron out-coached Nathan Buckley, and Collingwood looked out of the contest.

 

But in a mirror-image of last season, the Pies fought back late and had many chances to snatch victory. It was all too little too late – several behinds blew their chance at victory, and the black and white army were left rueing a reactive approach to GWS’ game plan.

 

Verdict: GWS can settle into the season now, while Collingwood should be fine, but they have to change their back line to cover for the irreplaceable Howe.

 

 

Port Adelaide 13.11 (89) defeated West Coast 6.5 (41)

 

In an eagerly anticipated Gold Coast match-up, Port Adelaide proved they were a team full of consistency. West Coast slipped deeper in their well, and must win ASAP if they are to salvage a failing season.

 

Charlie Dixon is currently the best tall forward in the game

 

It’s taken a lot of time for Charlie Dixon to get an uninterrupted pre-season under his belt at Port Adelaide. When fit, he has always promised to explode in a storm of aggression, confidence and goals. He drips with presence, and has the ability to win a game off his own back.

 

With Jeremy McGovern still out for the Eagles, Dixon pounced. He smashed Tom Barrass, taking contested marks with ease and booting six majors. If Dixon is up and about, the Power look to be such a dynamic team. Could he be the key to a deep finals run?

 

Shuey and Ryan are two of only a few brave souls

 

The longer West Coast’s season continues to spiral out of control, the more obvious it is to see who is performing, and who’s not.

 

Nic Naitanui was humbled in the ruck by ex-Eagle Scott Lycett, but new captain Luke Shuey fought through soreness to produce a wonderful effort. He was everywhere in close, and began to rally the rusty Tim Kelly out of his mire. Liam Ryan continued his dangerous form up forward, while Josh Kennedy booted four. Unfortunately, Jack Darling, Dom Sheed and the majority of West Coast’s back line are still woefully out of form.

 

Verdict: Port Adelaide become more of a flag contender by the weeks. West Coast simply must win now to avoid embarrassment.

 

 

St Kilda 15.3 (93) defeated Richmond 10.7 (67)

 

The Saints came out firing at Marvel Stadium, and unleashed a withering burst of fast-paced footy on the hapless Tigers. Many Richmond flag stars looked slow and out of their depth, while St Kilda’s recruits continued to blossom.

 

Dan Butler is making an early case for AA selection

 

It may be very early to be talking All-Australian potential, but ex-Tiger Dan Butler put in another influential performance on Saturday. To remind his old club that they slipped up in shipping him off to the Saints, Butler slotted three majors (including one terrific snap from the boundary) and was listed as the best player on the ground.

 

After dominating the Bulldogs and putting in an admirable effort in a loss to the Pies, Butler is currently one of the best small forwards roaming the AFL. If he continues this form, he may be elevated to AA selection by season’s end.

 

Nankervis was a good call

 

After Ivan Soldo failed to perform in the opening rounds, old-timer Toby Nankervis was recalled back into the Tigers line up.

 

Coming up against young gun Rowan Marshall, Nankervis thrived and was Richmond’s best player. He had 26 hit outs, 17 touches and a goal to mark a successful return to AFL level. The Tigers may have struggled lots over the past few weeks, but this call was spot on.

 

Verdict: St Kilda are good enough to reach the finals. Richmond, like the Eagles, need a win very soon to have any chance of turning their fortunes around.

 

 

Essendon 8.3 (51) defeated by Carlton 7.10 (52)

 

In a dour yet tight match at the ‘G, Carlton just managed to squeak past their old rivals. Jacob Townsend had a chance to be the hero, but his booming set shot fell just short of giving the Bombers another win.

 

McGrath and Parish are the future

 

Young duo Andrew McGrath and Darcy Parish were on fire on Saturday night. McGrath’s breakneck pace was everywhere – he could be seen often bursting out of packs all over the ground.

 

Parish’s goal sense when he pushes forward from the midfield is impressive. He is turning into a versatile gun who play in a similar vein to Jake Stringer. With these two firing, the pressure comes off of getting Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis back and in form.

 

Sam Docherty is a star

 

Many people know this, but Sam Docherty is one of the competition’s best small defenders. He is only a few matches in after returning from multiple ACL injuries, yet he is bounding around the ground and controlling his defence.

 

He amassed 32 touches on Saturday night, and was one of his side’s best in a close finish. His ability to read the play and then rebound with skill is so vital for a young Carlton side thriving off his security and direction.

 

Verdict: Essendon need a more even contribution next week, while Carlton are showing signs of improvement.

 

 

Gold Coast 10.4 (64) defeated Fremantle 8.3 (51)

 

Metricon Stadium is becoming a little fortress for the Suns. They won a third straight game against a defiant Fremantle side. Matt Rowell once again dominated in the midfield, while their other young stars performed well to triumph in a tough contest.

 

Gold Coast have real balance

 

One thing that is being made clear about Gold Coast is their even-spread of contributions. They have so many young kids that it’s hard to name them all, as Rowell and Noah Anderson are taking most of the plaudits. With experienced players in Hugh Greenwood, Brandon Ellis, Alex Sexton, Jarrod Witts, Touk Miller and Sam Day all providing superb support, the Suns have few gaps.

 

Their forward line is ominous when Ben King backs up Day and Sexton, and Jack Lukosius tightens up their defence superbly. Don’t even get me started on their blossoming midfield.

 

Freo have no luck

 

Justin Longmuir has been dealt a tough hand in his first year in charge at the Dockers. He has tried his best, but some games just aren’t meant to be won.

 

The Dockers have fought hard in every match, going down late in the final term. Michael Walters and James Aish continue to perform in the middle, and Matt Taberner is having an influence up forward. But Nat Fyfe’s hamstring injury spells trouble – Freo are so close to breaking through for a win, and don’t deserve to be winless after four rounds.

 

Verdict: The Suns should be confident about beating anyone. Fremantle’s first win is just around the corner.

 

Brisbane 10.23 (83) defeated Adelaide 7.4 (46)

 

It wasn’t pretty, but Brisbane got the job done. Some sloppy kicking at goal restricted what could have been a big win. Adelaide deserved some justice after they showed good signs in an improved third quarter.

 

McCluggage is moving up into the elite category fast

 

Hugh McCluggage was always a highly-touted young kid. His ability to break lines and distribute the ball with precision made him a mouth-watering prospect. He is now starting to deliver.

 

He was Brisbane’s best on Sunday, sprinting through packs and hitting targets regularly. In a side where Lachie Neale and Charlie Cameron are superstars, the rise of McCluggage could provide more depth to an improving Lions’ line-up.

 

Tex and Lynch could be warming up

 

At half-time the writing was on the wall for Adelaide. They were down by over 40 points and were looking at another soul-destroying smashing. Then, leaders Taylor Walker and Tom Lynch resurrected the Crows in the third term.

 

Walker kicked the first two goals of the half and then set up two more to become a livewire. Without Darcy Fogarty, he needed to step up and direct traffic. Lynch returned to his creative best, and the pair saved some face before slipping up in the final term.

 

Verdict: Brisbane are quickly becoming a classy side. Adelaide are still in trouble, but there are some good signs coming out of the Crows camp.

 

 

Melbourne 6.8 (44) defeated by Geelong 7.5 (47)

 

In a dull and lifeless MCG match, the Cats slowly managed to overcome the defiant Dees. Halfway through the last quarter, when Tom Hawkins steered through a cool set shot, Geelong looked home and hosed. But Simon Goodwin’s men had some fight in them – the contest went down to the last minute when an Adam Tomlinson shot flew just wayward.

 

Geelong’s second-string players are critical

 

Chris Scott would be rapt with the way his younger troops played. Brandon Parfitt, Cam Guthrie, Darcy Fort, Sam Menegola and Esava Ratugolea all performed when it mattered in the second half. For the first time in a while, the front liners in Pat Dangerfield, Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood and Tom Hawkins weren’t called upon to deliver the win in the final moments.

 

Scott now needs consistency from these contributors if they are to continue winning. It’s good signs, but they’ll be severely tested when they host the in-form Suns.

 

Melbourne’s big problem is the forward line

 

Simply put – Melbourne lost out when they let Jesse Hogan walk out the door. Sam Weideman and Tom McDonald haven’t been able to fill the void, meaning the Dees’ forward line is woefully undersized.

 

Melbourne’s back line is strengthening due to Jake Lever and Steven May getting a clear run without injury, while Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney are all holding their own in the middle. It’s down forward where they need help – especially in the tall forward area.

 

Verdict: Geelong are improved, but face a big couple of weeks before heading west. Melbourne need to move the ball quicker to help their undermanned attacking six.

 

 

Hawthorn 8.10 (58) defeated North Melbourne 8.6 (54)

 

In a topsy-turvy clash, the Hawks got away early and looked set to take the four points. Well-held all day, North Melbourne’s big names turned up in the last quarter. The game went down to the wire, but it was Hawthorn who held on to secure a tight win.

 

Is Ben McEvoy one of the best key defenders going around?

 

Who would’ve thought after the first two rounds that Ben McEvoy would turn into an elite tall defender?

 

Since losing to Geelong, McEvoy has evolved, claiming two massive scalps in Tom Lynch and Ben Brown in successive weeks. The former ruckman held Brown to one possession at three quarter time – the runner up in last year’s Coleman Medal race finished with three touches and a goal courtesy of a late free kick. In a side full of disciplined performers, McEvoy is one of the best.

 

Higgins breaks the tag

 

Last week Shaun Higgins had his colours lowered courtesy of a Sydney tag. He had little influence and couldn’t find a way to get the ball.

 

Fast forward to Sunday and Higgins had done his homework. Hawthorn’s midfield tried to nullify any potential influence the veteran playmaker could have, but nothing worked. Higgins finished with 30 disposals and orchestrated many last quarter surges. With Ben Cunnington still in doubt with a niggling injury, Higgins must continue firing for his Roos.

 

Verdict: Hawks are sitting pretty in the four after another strong performance. North Melbourne are very close to finding form, but must be more consistent.

 

 

This piece is also on Sean’s personal sports writing website ‘Stuck on the Bench’ – check it out HERE.

 

 

 

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