Over the course of the bye rounds, SEN will be breaking down various categories from the 2018 season.
Today, we’ll be looking at the biggest surprises in the AFL this year.
The unpredictable nature of football throws challenges at all involved with the game, so what are the things you simply couldn’t have predicted prior to the commencement of the season?
After 13 rounds, North Melbourne are sitting eighth on the ladder with seven wins and five losses. The Roos have seemingly been on a downward spiral since announcing the premature retirements of Michael Firrito, Brent Harvey, Nick Dal Santo and Drew Petrie at the end of the 2016 season. Externally, it appeared North Melbourne were set for a lengthy ‘re-build’ after sitting top of the table with nine wins from nine games that year, and losing 27 of its next 36 outings, but 2018 has been a stunning revival for the club. Coming off a 15th place finish last year, many predicted a Roos demise, but Brad Scott has got his troops playing a great brand of football which could see them with an incredible finals berth later in the year.
The 2017 minor premiers have had a season to forget thus far. Lingering off-field issues have haunted the Crows after a mysterious pre-season camp reportedly left many players distressed, and since then, things have gone from bad to worse. Injuries have prevented Adelaide from fielding a full strength side, with Brad Crouch, Mitch McGovern, Rory Sloane and Brodie Smith all still struggling to get fit, while a hamstring strain has rubbed salt into the wounds of Eddie Betts who has dealt with personal issues as well. The Crows sit 11th on the ladder with six wins and seven losses as they head into the bye, and despite their chances of finals still being alive, few would have predicted the club’s significant fall from grace.
The Eagles made a Semi Final in 2017 after a historic ‘over-time’ victory against Port Adelaide in the Elimination Final, yet many thought West Coast would miss the eight this season. With Brownlow Medallists Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis stepping away from the game, the Eagles were left with what seemed to be a shallow midfield in 2018. But with Nic Naitanui returning from injury, the Eagles have risen and exceeded expectations, winning 10 of their 13 matches, with two of their losses coming at the hands of the Swans, and one when slightly undermanned against a rampant Essendon. Sitting comfortably at the top end of the table, 2018 could be a season of triumph for Eagles, when some blind predictions thought otherwise.
In the history of sport, umpires have always been sacred ground. They are there to do a crucial job and they are left to do so in peace. But in 2018, the AFL has seen players touch the men in vivid green more than anyone could have anticipated. There’s no reason behind it and no benefit of doing so, yet players have continuously come under the spotlight for making contact with the umpires, as the AFL looks to stamp it out of the game.
MRO adds to the confusion
A big off-season move from the AFL was to scrap the Match Review Panel and appoint a single Match Review Officer – Michael Christian. This decision was in a bid to make ruling on controversial misconducts in the game more clear and concise, with an increase in consistency when handing out suspensions to players. Yet we have witnessed the opposite. Christian undoubtedly has one of the toughest, most scrutinised roles in the game, but his decisions have left many confused, with the umpire contact issue recently causing havoc throughout the league.
Measures to eradicate congestion
For years, many football fans have complained about the AFL product. Whether it be the low scoring matches, flooding, over handball use or repeated stoppages, the game has had its critics. While congestion has been an issue discussed in recent times, it would have been outlandish to have predicted the leagues current attempts for change in the game. The AFL is slowly but surely taking drastic measures in a bid to eradicate congestion from the game this season. Through private training trials and the temporary implementation of four umpires on the field, the AFL is preparing to enforce major rule changes come season’s end.
Collingwood’s forward line
If the Magpies were to contend for a spot in September this season, they needed to find a new avenue to goal, and that they have. In 2017, Jamie Elliott (34 goals), Alex Fasolo (29 goals) and Darcy Moore (25 goals) led the way for Collingwood inside 50, but the inexperienced forward line struggled to kick a match winning score. With all three of those players currently on the injury list, the Pies had to look elsewhere for goals in 2018, with some unexpected names delivering the goods. Ex-Giant Will Hoskin-Elliott has booted 27 goals in the first 12 games of the season, while Josh Thomas (20 goals) and Jaidyn Stephenson (18 goals) have also contributed more than fans could have dreamed. Jordan de Goey has averaged two goals a game since an interrupted start to the season, but it was Mason Cox’s five-goal haul on Queen’s Birthday which has added another dimension to the forward line which could carry the Pies to the finals.
Brisbane thump Hawthorn
The talent on the Lions’ list is undeniable, but for a side sitting 17th on the ladder with 11 losses from 12 outings, a thumping 56-point win over the Hawks in round nine came as a surprise. Every AFL season consists of upset results, and this may have been the most unpredictable margin of 2018. In a stunning display, Brisbane showcased the young talent on its list as they ran over the finals contenders and recorded a blow-out victory.
Ruckman dominate the league
In years gone by, midfielders have been the talk of the town, but in 2018 it’s the ruckman who are sticking their hand up. Max Gawn, Brodie Grundy, Nic Naitanui and Paddy Ryder are all fighting for the title of number one ruckman, with some dominant individual performances throughout the season. While midfielders rack up the big possession tallies and forwards claim the credit for match winning scores, the ruckman in the league have taken the next step, guiding their sides to victory. Names like Toby Nankervis, Jarrod Witts, Todd Goldstein, Sam Jacobs, Tom Bellchambers, Matthew Kreuzer, Ben McEvoy and Stefan Martin have consistently been in their side’s best players throughout the season. Could this be the year where a ruckman pinches the Brownlow from one of his on-ball beneficiaries?
Coaches slide for MND
On a day where Neale Daniher’s fight against MND was celebrated so broadly, all 18 coaches came together in outlandish costumes to take a stance against the disease. Getting every AFL coach in the same place at the same time is a near-impossible task, but for the betterment of Daniher’s drive, the coaches collaborated and took the slide for MND. Simon Goodwin and Nathan Buckley were dunked in the pool of ice just moments before their sides Queen’s Birthday clash in an incredible gesture of support. Brisbane’s Chris Fagan even tore a hamstring as he exited his icy cold immersion. The contributions from all coaches was unforeseeable, but it was a surprise moment which captured the true essence of the game.
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Pick the total combined possessions for Round 14 of: Jack Martin (GCS), Alex Witherden (BRI), Jeremy Cameron (GWS), Luke Dahlhaus (WB) & Steele Sidebottom (COL). Eg.: 134
Originally published on SEN.com.au