AFL 2011 – Half Time Wrap

Filed in AFL, AFL Lines by on June 13, 2011

As little as three weeks ago, the 2011 AFL season landscape looked fairly clear cut – the top eight seemed well entrenched, with debate centring around the order and potential scramble for the final places in the top four. However, one of the great things about sport though is the speed at which things can change.

Essendon and to a lesser extent Fremantle have hit submerged logs. Richmond have not been able to fully capitalise on this. Melbourne and in particular St Kilda, both all but out of the finals picture a couple of weeks ago, have renewed hope. Even North Melbourne has snuck into the background of the finals picture. Right now it appears as the though the top four places are well set, as are the next two, with the remaining two finals spots open for debate.

As with the ‘quarter time wrap’, this column will take the form of a ‘power ranking’ of each club, an assessment of their recent form and some thoughts on the road ahead. As an illustration of why you should never put your thoughts on such matters on the public record, each team will have the previous rankings (pre-season, quarter time, etc.) noted next to their ranking – in some cases this may lead to gloating on my part, in many it will lead to a healthy dose of humble pie.

Teams will be broken up into tiered groupings based on a ‘school grade’, as sometimes the gap between say fifth and sixth place is substantially bigger than the gap between sixth and seventh. Once again, we will start at the bottom and gradually improve the mood as the column goes on.


F-grades – The ‘Gary Buckenara AFL coaching career’ group

17. Port Adelaide (ranked 14th pre-season, 17th at quarter time)

16th place on ladder (2-9, 68%)

Last Six – lost to Haw by 32, lost to Syd by 62, lost to Freo by 52, def Rich by 15, lost to Carl by 62, bye

Three weeks ago in an AFL lines column with Greg Oberscheidt, I said: “I wouldn’t trust the current Port Adelaide side to successfully take my bins out to the front kerb on a Tuesday night, let alone carry my cash”. Despite a win over Richmond in Round 10, nothing has changed my mind.

Seven of their nine losses have come by more than five goals, with five of them being drubbings of more than ten goals – it is a damning statistic. Their next six weeks do offer a slightly easier schedule (at WC, NM, at Bris, St K, at Melb, bye) – to save any face in 2011, the Power need to win at least two (and ideally three or more) of those matches.

16. Brisbane (ranked 16th pre-season, 15th at quarter time)

15th place on ladder (2-9, 78%)

Last Six – lost to GC by 8, lost to Ess by 36, def NM by 14, def Adel by 40, lost to Syd by 65, lost to Carl by 61

There is not a lot can be said about the Lions that can add to my ‘quarter time’ assessment of them. They are having a dip, they missed Jonathan Brown dearly (to the point of his return having a strong placebo effect for the following two weeks), they are at least two years away from being highly competitive and they need to sign their key young guns to long term contracts.

Since I have time and space to kill here, has anyone else heard the French national anthem and started signing the Lions’ team song to the tune? Umm…. me neither….


F-plus grades – The Yazz group (for teams where the only way is up)

15. Gold Coast (ranked 15th pre-season, 16th at quarter time)

17th place on ladder (2-8, 55%)

Last Six – def Bris by 8, lost to Adel by 57, bye, lost to Geel by 66, lost to WC by 18, lost to NM by 59

Despite the shellacking at home on the weekend just gone, the Suns continue to make progress in a year that already exceeded the expectations of many. Their win over Brisbane was impressive (if anything, the final score flattered the Lions) and the first half against Geelong and final three quarters against West Coast showed plenty of mettle. Gary Ablett is back to his scintillating best, attracting even more defensive attention than previously and allowing David Swallow more latitude in the Suns midfield, latitude he is using to good effect.

The next six weeks looks a tough proposition on paper for the Gold Coast – if they pick up another victory during that period and perhaps two more in the final six weeks of the season, 2011 will have been a definitive success for Guy McKenna’s troops.


D-grades – Receiving the ‘full support of the Board’

14. Adelaide (ranked sixth pre-season, tenth at quarter time)

14th place on ladder (3-8, 79%)

Last Six – lost to Melb by 96, def GC by 57, lost to Coll by 43, lost to Bris by 40, lost to NM by 47, lost to WC by 39

This is clearly the most ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ style season to have been submitted by the Crows during the Neil Craig era. A win over Hawthorn and two very brave efforts against Carlton and Collingwood have been overshadowed by some horrendous performances – the ‘efforts’ against Melbourne and Brisbane were particularly lacklustre.

With the finals all but out of reach this season, attention must now turn to the coaching staff and list as Adelaide try to establish who takes the club forward. Much as with poor old Johnny Lang coaching South Sydney in the NRL, from a purely OH&S perspective, it may be for the best if Neil Craig and the Crows part ways at season’s end.

13. Western Bulldogs (ranked eleventh pre-season, ninth at quarter time)

13th place on ladder (3-8, 84%)

Last Six – lost to Syd by 8, def Rich by 35, lost to WC by 123, lost to Haw by 29, lost to Geel by 61, lost to St K by 27

Part of me wants to rank them even lower than this – as 2011 disappointments go, only the Crows could argue a case for being a bigger one. Yet at the end of the day, they have a 3-1 record against bottom nine sides and a 0-7 record against top eight sides. The draw has been unkind to them in some respects, albeit that a finals contender must prove itself by defeating at least a couple of other sides in the top eight.

The more pressing question for the Bulldogs is where to from here. Does Rodney Eade stay on for another term at the helm? Can they continue with Barry Hall? How does Brian Lake reclaim his mojo? My respective answers: No, no and it is unclear, though a fresh coach and fresh structures may enliven Lake. A change of surname didn’t seem to hurt him a couple of years back either – maybe he should do it again – but which name should he adopt? Brian Taylor? Brian Brown? Brian Ferry? (side note: it’s the wrong spelling of Brian to work properly on the last two I know, but just indulge me here). Brian De La Bulldog?


C-grades – Does anyone want to play finals? Anyone? Bueller?

(Important side note: Almost any ordering of teams 8-12 within this group is reasonable – for the sake of finishing the column and little else, I chose this order).

12. Melbourne (ranked seventh pre-season, 11th at quarter time)

Tenth place on ladder (4-6-1, 94%)

Last Six – def Adel by 96, lost to NM by 41, lost to St K by 20, lost to Carl by 47, def Ess by 33, lost to Coll by 88

Weren’t these guys completely out of the running two weeks ago? How did they arrive in tenth place on the ladder, only a game outside the eight? I am thoroughly confused. Five of their six losses have been by 41 points or more, yet they remain in the hunt. It has been that kind of season.

A very interesting run awaits them over the next five weeks as well (Freo at home, Rich, WB, bye, Port at home) – a finals calibre side needs to win three or more of those four matches, particularly as their draw gets very tough for the subsequent month.  The return of one of their best and most influential players in Mark Jamar must be eagerly anticipated by the Demon faithful.

11. Essendon (ranked tenth pre-season, sixth at quarter time)

Eighth place on ladder (5-5-1, 119%)

Last Six – def WC by 16, def Bris by 36, lost to Rich by 16, bye, lost to Melb by 33, lost to Freo by 34

Things were looking terrific as Round 8 was unfolding, but then…. (cue up the ominous tune from MTV’s ‘Behind The Music’)… Jobe Watson was lost to injury and Heath Hocking to suspension. Clearances became substantially harder to come by and the defensive unit left with far more work to do. The results have been telling – the Bombers conceded 100+ points just once (to Collingwood) in the first eight weeks with Watson and Hocking playing, and have conceded 98+ points in all three games since (losing efforts against Richmond, Melbourne and Fremantle).

The upcoming draw is not a friendly one either – Hawthorn and Geelong in Rounds 14 and 15, Carlton and Collingwood in Rounds 18 and 19. The Bombers must take care of business against the lower-ranked sides to maintain their tenuous hold on a spot in the eight. Otherwise, I will be one angry camper come the finals.

10. Richmond (ranked 13th pre-season, 12th at quarter time)

11th place on ladder (4-6-1, 90%)

Last Six – def Freo by 49, lost to WB by 35, def Ess by 16, lost to Port by 15, bye, lost to Syd by 10

When they are up and about, the Tigers are (a) one of the more entertaining sides to watch in the competition with their hard-running style and (b) a legitimate finals team. However, young sides are prone to fatal lapses in concentration such as skipping out to a lead of over two goals in the second quarter against Port Adelaide before fumbling away an important opportunity.

They could peel off eight wins in the second half of the season or eight losses and neither would come as a great shock. I just can’t shake the feeling that September will once again be a rueful, ‘what might have been’ period of reflection down at Punt Road. When Richmond finally reaches 100 such rueful Septembers, will spectators race out onto the Punt Road to congratulate the team? We should have some police officers on horses at the ready to hoard everyone back off the playing arena that year.

9. North Melbourne (ranked twelfth pre-season, 14th at quarter time)

12th place on ladder (4-7, 100%)

Last Six – lost to Geel by 66, def Melb by 41, lost to Bris by 14, lost to Syd by 1, def Adel by 47, def GC by 59

If Adelaide are ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, North Melbourne are ‘Sliding Doors’. Their record stands at 4-7, despite the fact that they have dropped all four matches that were in the balance in the final term (against West Coast, Richmond, Brisbane and Sydney). Suppose for a moment they had split those four matches – their record would stand at 6-5 with games against Port Adelaide, St Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Brisbane coming in the next six weeks.

It continues to feel like they are a better side than given credit for – by no means a guaranteed finals force, but competitive in more weeks than not and capable of spoiling the party for a finals contender or two in the run home – and if the race for eighth continues to be chaotic, who knows?

8. St Kilda (ranked third pre-season, 13th at quarter time)

Ninth place on ladder (4-6-1, 94%)

Last Six – lost to Carl by 3, lost to Haw by 30, def Melb by 20, def Freo by 46, lost to Coll by 57, def WB by 27

This season they have only beaten Brisbane, Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs and a Sandilands-free Fremantle, yet the calamity around the edge of the top eight has kept them well and truly in the hunt. The loss of Lenny Hayes have been pivotal, as have a draw with Richmond and losses to Geelong and Carlton by a combined margin of four points – in a similar vein to North Melbourne, the Saints were only a couple of favourable bounces away from a vastly improved mid season record (conceivably 7-4).

The draw, which has been tough for them so far, also opens up significantly for them from Rounds 15 to 20 (NM, at Port, WC, Adel, at GC, Freo). I feel like St Kilda need five wins from those six matches to see September action, as their closing run is a very tough one.

7. Fremantle (ranked ninth pre-season, fourth at quarter time)

Seventh place on ladder (6-5, 99%)

Last Six – lost to Rich by 49, lost to WC by 33, def Port by 52, lost to St K by 46, lost to Haw by 22, def Ess by 34

I don’t for a second believe that his the best player in the AFL, but is anyone more valuable to their club than Aaron Sandilands? From a pure comparison of win-loss records with and without a given player, I cannot think of another team whose fortunes hinge so heavily on one player.

Moreover, is the 6-5 record of Fremantle in 2011 something of a mirage? Their six wins have come against Brisbane, Adelaide, North Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide and Essendon, who have a combined 2011 record of 19-46-1. Three of their five losses have come against Richmond, West Coast and St Kilda, who have a combined 2011 record of 13-15-2. A pivotal next three weeks awaits them – Melbourne away followed by home games against Brisbane and Gold Coast. Finals-bound sides win those three games. They just do. We will learn a lot about the Dockers during that stretch.


B-grades – Cancelling any September holiday bookings

6. West Coast (ranked 17th pre-season, eighth at quarter time)

Sixth place on ladder (7-4, 123%)

Last Six – lost to Ess by 16, def Freo by 33, def WB by 123, lost to Coll by 52, def GC by 18, def Adel by 39

The size of the loss to Collingwood may have felt like something of a reality check for the Eagles, but on balance, they must be delighted with the season thus far. They have posted a 7-4 record with the losses coming against Sydney (at home) and Hawthorn, Essendon and Collingwood (away). That is an extremely respectable first half of the season by the measurement of many clubs, let alone the ‘defending’ wooden spooners.

Their next six weeks will pose an interesting test, with match-ups against Carlton and Geelong as well as a road trip against St Kilda and the return ‘derby’ clash with Fremantle likely to provide great insight into how much of a threat the Eagles pose come September.

5. Sydney (ranked fourth pre-season, seventh at quarter time)

Fifth place on ladder (7-3-1, 108%)

Last Six – def WB by 8, def Port by 62, lost to Haw by 46, def NM by 1, def Bris by 65, def Rich by 10

The Swans are one of the easiest teams in the competition to asses. Not quite up to the challenge of the top four sides (an 0-3 record so far this season, all matches at home), but good enough to take care of almost everyone else (a 7-0-1 record, with four wins and a draw on the road).

This leaves me conflicted. My wallet and ego are both enjoying the fact that they are playing closer to my expectations than many others (in particular bookmakers) who chose to underrate them, yet I cannot stand the volume of Swans bandwagon supporters that jump on and off when it suits them. These people give Swans fans, including some more ardent/ legitimate ones whom I know and like, a bad name. I’m looking forward to the year where the Swans are overrated and I can spend the season betting against them and wishing ill upon them, though sadly, that time may yet be a while away.


A-grade – The Bachman Turner Overdrive group (for teams who are taking care of business)

4. Hawthorn (ranked second pre-season, third at quarter time)

Fourth place on ladder (8-3, 127%)

Last Six – def Port by 32, def St K by 30, def Syd by 46, def WB by 29, def Freo by 22, lost to Geel by 5

In my ‘quarter time wrap, I said of the Hawks “Their next six matches include a trip to Sydney as well as matches against the Western Bulldogs, Fremantle and Geelong – this period will divulge much about the character of the team.” I think it’s fair to assume that Hawthorn have passed most of the proverbial tests in that period, yet the Hawks remain the most enigmatic of the top four sides.Their ceiling may be the highest of all sides, but their floor is clearly the lowest of the teams within this group.

Nonetheless, they appear well poised to grab a coveted top-4 spot come seasons end and have the firepower to take out any finals competitor on any given day, although the loss of Jarryd Roughead on Saturday night is a bitter pill for the Hawks to swallow. The clash with Collingwood in Round 15 should act as another important litmus test for the potential September fortunes of the boys from Glenferrie.

3. Carlton (ranked eighth pre-season, fifth at quarter time)

Third place on ladder (8-2-1, 138%)

Last Six – def St K by 3, bye, lost to Geel by 2, def Melb by 47, def Port by 62, def Bris by 61

The Blues have stamped themselves as a genuine premiership contender in the past month, taking Geelong right to the limit before putting three consecutive lowly sides to the sword in a manner befitting a quality outfit. They can handle adversity and rally from deficits and their defence is vastly improved. Chris Judd is potentially in the frame for a third Brownlow Medal and Marc Murphy is submitting a career-best season. Mitch Robinson is coming of age and Andrew Walker seems rejuvenated, adding spark to the forward line. 

As an objective  fan, there is an awful lot to like about the way the Blues are playing their footy right now. However, I am not an objective footy fan – between the successes of Carlton and Collingwood and the dramatic lapse in form of my beloved Bombers, it is difficult to resist the urge to find out how far my laptop can be thrown right now.

2. Geelong (ranked fifth pre-season, second at quarter time)

First place on ladder (11-0, 143%)

Last Six – def NM by 66, def Coll by 3, def Carl by 2, def GC by 66, def WB by 61, def Haw by 5

Yes, they are on top of the ladder. Yes, they are undefeated. And yes, they have beaten the sides ranked first, third and fourth (twice) on this list already in 2011. I cannot rank them on top. My rationale is simple – four of their wins have come by one point (St Kilda), two points (Carlton), three points (Collingwood) and five points (Hawthorn). They were a couple of unfortunate bounces away from reaching this point in the season with a 7-4 record.

It is splitting hairs I know, and I really did try to contrive a way to take the Magpies out of top spot on this list, but Collingwood could not have reasonably reached this point of the season with a record worse than their 10-1 standing. The same cannot be said of the Cats. As such, they sit in the number two ranking for now.

1. Collingwood (ranked first pre-season, first quarter time)

Second place on ladder (10-1, 178%)

Last Six – bye, lost to Geel by 3, def Adel by 43, def WC by 52, def St K by 51, def Melb by 88

Can we please stop the ‘Collingwood continues to belt sides’ ride as soon as possible? I’d like to get off please. It is insufferable. Thank goodness Geelong showed that the Pies could be taken down on a given night – had Collingwood won that match by four or five goals, I’d be sporting several contusions as a result of self-inflicted bodily harm.

The highlights of their schedule over the next six weeks are matches against the Hawthorn in Round 15 (‘carn the Hawkers!) and Carlton in Round 17 (no idea what to cheer for there – may have to let my wallet decide). 

The path to premiership glory runs squarely through the Magpies. As someone who doesn’t support Collingwood, let’s just hope that when the critical September moment comes, a challenger actually does run through them.  


Thanks to Mark Nolan/Getty Images AsiaPac for use of the photo


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