Mid-season AFL report cards for Richmond Tigers, Carlton Blues, St Kilda Saints, Essendon Bombers, GWS Giants, Port Adelaide Power
What’s working: It’s hard to find too much that is. The Bombers made finals last year in Ben Rutten’s first season in charge and this season had even, in the eyes of Mick Malthouse, been a premiership favourite. But by the mid-point of the season they have fallen to the point president Paul Brasher has instigated an official review. Peter Wright has shown signs of carrying the forward line (team-high 25 goals), while Nic Martin has been an inspired pick-up. Midfielder Darcy Parish is averaging 35 touches and is probably leading the best-and-fairest count – he sits eighth in the AFL Coaches Association voting and was awarded the full 10 votes against the Power last weekend – but he has only one goal. Ruckman Sam Draper has been serviceable.
What’s not: Where do we start? The Bombers averaged 88 points a game last season, but that has dropped to 71 this year. They conceded 81 points a game last year, but that has leapt to 97 per game this season. Where the pressure they exerted on opponents last season was a strength, this year that has plummeted, including for tackle differential. Yes, they have gone back to basics in recent weeks with a game-plan built around contested ball and pressure, a style former skipper Brendon Goddard says is more sustainable long term, but the benefits were only on show in the round eight win against Hawthorn. The Bombers have had all sorts of problems carrying the ball from defensive 50 to attacking 50, while contested possession differential, inside-50 differential, time in forward half differential, scores from stoppages differential and scores from turnover differential have been a headache. Parish’s animated discussion with skipper Dyson Heppell last weekend encapsulated their woes. Injuries and poor form have also hurt. Jake Stringer and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti were key figures last year – Stringer (hamstring) has managed only four games this season, while McDonald-Tipungwuti retired a fortnight ago. Dylan Shiel is not the player the Bombers had hoped he would be, while Devon Smith has had a poor campaign and may no longer be the right fit.
Surprise packet: Nic Martin, 21, moved from Perth for pre-season training with the Bombers, before being picked up in the pre-season supplemental selection period in February. He has 12 goals (behind only Wright) in 10 games, and has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension.
The run home: The Bombers have the Blues first up, and will want to make a splash when they celebrate their 150th anniversary under Friday night lights. It shapes as a tough finish to the year, although the Eagles (in Perth) and Kangaroos are on the agenda. – Jon Pierik
Record: 8 wins, 3 losses
Ladder position: 4th
What’s working: On the eve of the season, with external expectations low, Saints coach Brett Ratten said the team would be a more resilient outfit in 2022 after addressing many issues midway through last season. He has been proved right. The team bounced back from a poor season-opener against Collingwood and then overcame the disappointment of losing to Port Adelaide in Cairns. The Saints found a way to beat Adelaide when challenged and destroyed Geelong in 20 minutes of brilliant football when they looked in trouble. Their back line is not star-studded, but it has gelled with only Melbourne and Fremantle conceding fewer points. St Kilda are ranked third for scores from forward-half intercepts and running defenders Brad Hill and Jack Sinclair have been outstanding. They have also had a reasonable run with injuries after being hammered in 2021. Max King is the one player in the competition most clubs would love to have and their first three draft picks this season can all play.
What’s not: Jack Steele’s shoulder injury was a setback while concussions to Jack Higgins are also of concern. They remain a fair way off Melbourne, having lost to them by 38 points, but they are well and truly in the fight for a top four spot if Paddy Ryder remains fit and continues to support Rowan Marshall. Jack Billings is also battling for a spot, which is a good sign for the Saints in one way, but a player of his talent could add to their midfield mix if they can get him back in form.
Surprise packet: Sinclair and Callum Wilkie have been outstanding, but no Saints supporters are surprised they have continued their good form into this season. Daniel McKenzie deserves credit for his efforts after he looked unlikely to cement a spot in the team while Hill was the whipping boy this time last season but has been the Saints’ best player in the past fortnight. He had a big pre-season and is showing his talent, but the biggest surprise has been former Roo Mason Wood, who has revitalised his career on the wing.
The run home: Eight of their final 11 matches are against teams who sit alongside the Saints in the top eight at the midway point of the season. That means the Saints will have earned a spot if they make the finals and be good enough to compete in September as they meet the Lions and Sydney twice as well as the Western Bulldogs, Carlton, Fremantle and Geelong.
Record: 6 wins, 5 losses
Ladder position: 9th
What’s working: After an inconsistent start, the Tigers posted four straight wins before falling short at the SCG in round 11. Daniel Rioli has embraced his role at half-back, Jayden Short is having a career year, Shai Bolton has had moments of brilliance, Maurice Rioli has provided energy as a small forward, while co-captain Toby Nankervis has been a physical presence. They rank second for points per game (98.1), third for goals and scores per inside-50, and fifth for scores from turnover, the latter a good sign of their pressure-led, premiership DNA. The Tigers rank No.1 for scoring from kick-ins, highlighting why they are so dangerous when able to will the ball forward.
What’s not: Coach Damien Hardwick has bemoaned his team’s ill-discipline, conceding too many free kicks. Key forward Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt have been wayward in front of goal. Injuries have hurt, while Dustin Martin’s absence for seven rounds – to grieve his father’s death, with the blessing of the club – left the Tigers without their lone genuine superstar. Martin’s return corresponded with an on-field lift. Former Kangaroo Robbie Tarrant is still finding his way in a new system. They need to tighten defensively through the midfield, having conceded a score from 45.7 per cent of opposition forward-50 entries.
Surprise packet: The Tigers took Josh Gibcus with the ninth pick in last year’s national draft for a reason – but the key defender has exceeded expectations. The former Greater Western Victoria Rebel has played nine games, and been handed tough assignments, none more so than Lance Franklin.
The run home: The Tigers have been hard to decipher for only one of their six wins – against the Western Bulldogs – has been against a top-eight side. They are a genuine finals contender but will need to make the most of their remaining fixture – they face only four of the current top-eight teams – to secure the double chance. – Jon Pierik
Record: 5 wins, 6 losses
Ladder position: 11th
What’s working: After a horror five-match losing streak start to the season, Port Adelaide have won five of their last six games, although they have played the lowly Bombers, Eagles and Kangaroos in that span. Nevertheless, game plan adjustments to reduce corridor usage after the team’s disappointing start appear to be having an impact. The Power now hug the boundary line more often going forward, with solid wins against St Kilda in Cairns and the Bulldogs at home rewarding this change. Forward Todd Marshall has had some good performances in the absence of key target Charlie Dixon, while youngsters Connor Rozee and Zak Butters have added a positive new midfield dynamic in recent weeks.
What’s not: Fan faith in coach Ken Hinkley was at an all-time low when the Power lost their first five games, with a heartbreaking after-the-siren loss to Adelaide in round three hurting the most. After years near the top of the competition, questions remain regarding their midfield’s ability to reach the next level, with an ageing Travis Boak and 2021 Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines below their best. Injuries have hurt and ruckman Scott Lycett and forward Orazio Fantasia will remain out for an extended period. The Power have also grappled with inconsistency within games, only kicking one goal after half-time in an unconvincing win against Essendon on Sunday.
Surprise packet: Defender Dan Houston has been the club’s most consistent performer since his 36 disposal outing against the Brisbane Lions in round one. The versatile half-back flanker has taken his game to another level this season, ranking 14th in the league for kicks and intercepts per game.
The run home: With Dixon back, Port Adelaide still have a chance to make finals. The Power have winnable games against Gold Coast, GWS, and Essendon to come, but the club is still to play Melbourne and Fremantle away from home. Two matches against Richmond, including one at the MCG next round, will be a good guide of their chances. Despite some key personnel returning, their slow start may be too much to overcome. – Lachlan Abbott
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
Record: 3 wins, 8 losses
Ladder position: 14th
What’s working: In only his third season, Tom Green already looks to be a clearance king the Giants can shape their midfield around for the next decade. Sam Taylor is fast becoming one of the best key defenders in the game, though needs support in what has been an overworked defence. After missing all of last year, Braydon Preuss has stamped himself as the Giants’ No.1 ruckman at his third club. Lachie Ash, Tanner Bruhn and Finn Callaghan are making pleasing progress early in their careers.
What’s not: Leon Cameron’s reign came to an end after a horror start in which the Giants’ senior players failed to deliver. Their season was at the crossroads before Toby Greene played his first game in round six after suspension. Lachie Whitfield is a shell of the player he was. Stephen Coniglio, no longer captain in his own right, has lacked consistency, mirroring his team. All-Australian defender Nick Haynes has not fired a shot. Midfield bull Jacob Hopper has been injured since round one. Jesse Hogan’s form has been patchy. Jeremy Cameron’s departure may well be the moment when the premiership aspirations of the remaining foundation Giants went up in smoke.
Surprise packet: Recruited as a dashing half-back from AFL Sydney’s premier men’s division, James Peatling has impressed as a pressure forward in his two games since Cameron’s departure, booting six goals. With Brent Daniels injured and Bobby Hill taking indefinite leave, Peatling has a golden opportunity to cement a regular place.
The run home: The finals are gone so season 2023 starts now for the Giants, who have been one of the most disappointing teams this year. The change to Mark McVeigh as coach has produced a form spike, but how long will it last? They should be more competitive in the run home but are destined for their lowest finish since 2014. – Andrew Wu
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