The Roar | Australia's Bi Australia
Expert & fan-submitted sports opinion and video, plus the latest news, scores, live coverage and must-see sports video highlights.
BREAKING: Ned Hanigan returns as Dave Rennie makes four changes to Wallabies team for Bledisloe 2 - The Roar
Dave Rennie has resisted the temptation to name an unchanged side for Bledisloe 2, instead making four changes to his Wallabies team for the Eden Park clash on Sunday. Ned Hanigan is a shock inclusion to the squad, coming straight into the starting team for P…
Dave Rennie has resisted the temptation to name an unchanged side for Bledisloe 2, instead making four changes to his Wallabies team for the Eden Park clash on Sunday. Ned Hanigan is a shock inclusion to the squad, coming straight into the starting team for Pete Samu, who has been dropped. Hanigan hasn’t played Test rugby since late 2018 and was used as a lock during the Waratahs’ Super Rugby campaign, but has been named in the back row at blindside flanker alongside captain Michael Hooper at openside and Harry Wilson at number eight. Folau Fainga’a has, like Samu, been dropped from the starting side out of the matchday squad altogether. The hooker had a wayward first half in Wellington, losing three lineouts and fumbling the ball which almost gifted the All Blacks a try right on halftime. He’s been replaced at no.2 by Brandon Paenga-Amosa, who is one of three Reds brought into the side. Queensland captain Liam Wright has taken Rob Valtini’s place on the bench, and while Hunter Paisami has retained the no.13 jersey, Jordan Petaia will make his return from a hip flexor injury amongst the reserves. Noah Lolesio, who was an unused substitute last week, has dropped out of the side. Petaia’s selection on the bench is the only change amongst the backs in the entire matchday squad, with the run-on backline remaining the same after a strong outing in Wellington and Jake Gordon staying ahead of Tate McDermott in the reserve scrumhalf pecking order. Similarly, the backup front-row of Jordan Uelese, Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio remains unchanged, as does the starting prop pairing of James Slipper and Taniela Tupou, and each of the locks used last week – Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Matt Philip starting, and Rob Simmons on the bench – have kept their places as well. 1. James Slipper2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa3. Taniela Tupou4. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto5. Matt Philip6. Ned Hanigan7. Michael Hooper (c)8. Harry Wilson9. Nic White10. James O’Connor11. Marika Koroibete12. Matt To’omua13. Hunter Paisami14. Filipo Daugunu15. Tom Banks Bench16. Jordan Uelese17. Scott Sio18. Allan Alaalaota19. Rob Simmons20. Liam Wright21. Jake Gordon22. Jordan Petaia23. Reece Hodge
Five talking points from the AFL semi-finals - The Roar
After a remarkably entertaining first week of finals, it’d be fair to say the semis didn’t quite hold up their end of the bargain. Here are my talking points from the weekend. Tom Lynch’s reputation cops another blow It’s telling of the ultimately underwhelmi…
After a remarkably entertaining first week of finals, it’d be fair to say the semis didn’t quite hold up their end of the bargain. Here are my talking points from the weekend. Tom Lynch’s reputation cops another blowIt’s telling of the ultimately underwhelming quality of Friday’s semi-final between Richmond and St Kilda that the biggest talking point to come out of the match was another controversial incident involving Tom Lynch. Lynch appeared to drop his knee into opponent Dougal Howard during the third quarter of the match, and on Saturday he was handed a $750 fine by the MRO for doing so – the incident labelled as “misconduct”, Lynch’s second charge of that nature this year. It’s the sort of incident that was never going to attract a serious penalty, the kind you could find occurring half a dozen times or more if you were to scrutinise the tape of any AFL match. It wouldn’t get a ban in the home-and-away season and certainly not in finals. Some might make the argument that it’s time that changed, time more scrutiny was applied to these incidents, and real penalties handed down whenever they are spotted – even if that means an initial period of MRO carnage before players start to change their ways. I could see myself supporting that line of thinking, but it’s not the sort of initiative we should want or expect to see suddenly taken up halfway through a finals series. Lynch’s action may not have put his chances of playing in a preliminary final in jeopardy. But his on-field conduct this season has put at risk something much less tangible and far more enduring: his reputation. What’s baffling is that Lynch has no lack of talent, no need to compensate for deficiencies with cheap tricks and low blows. And yet he does it anyway – and it’s hurting the opinion that fans, particularly neutral fans, hold of him. Maybe that’s not something that bothers Tom Lynch. But suffice to say he is providing plenty of ammunition to those who’d like to think of him the way Mitch Robinson does – as a bit of w*nker. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Tom Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield rise to the occasionThere was nervousness among Geelong fans going into Saturday night’s semi-final, centred about the fact that the club was going up against a potentially dangerous Collingwood side, and that their generally disappointing record in finals since 2011 might be made worse by a straight-sets exit. As it turned out they needn’t really have worried, and the final we probably expected to be a closer and more unpredictable contest wound up being the genuine blowout of the week, the Cats entering halftime with an incredible 54-point advantage on the scoreboard. Two Cats who would’ve been feeling the heat in particular were Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield, both having been criticised for their performances in finals either recently in the case of Hawkins, or at varying times across their career in the case of Dangerfield. Hawkins had ample opportunities against Port Adelaide but misfired, kicking 0.5, and there was much talk during the week around whether he could bounce back with a strong showing and redeem that disappointing performance. He missed an early shot but then kicked four goals, doing exactly that. Dangerfield on the other hand has never really been a poor finals player but perhaps has been accused of not willing his side over the line in a finals match the way some genuine greats of the game do – but you would find it hard to fault his 19-disposal, four-goal effort on Saturday night. Of course, there’s some debate to have about Hawkins, Dangerfield and more accurately Geelong itself about whether one can truly redeem a missed opportunity such as last week’s qualifying final. They are into a prelim either way, but as the outsiders now. If they can get the Cats through to a grand final next week the critics will be silenced in a far more lasting manner. If not, they’ll find themselves quickly back in the firing line. At least one more game for Gary AblettGary Ablett’s 354th career AFL game could easily have been his last, as the two-time Brownlow winner announced at the end of 2019 that the 2020 season would be his last, and Geelong’s season hovered on the brink of being extinguished if they exited the finals series with a loss to Collingwood. That did not come to pass, not even close, but the week saw many grapple with the reality that now any game of Ablett’s career might be his last, and certainly he doesn’t have any more than two left to go before he walks off the field for the last time. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images) It’s a sobering thought to have about a player who is completing his 19th season of AFL football and for so very many of us is undoubtedly the best we’ve ever seen play the game. Comparing players across eras is a fool’s game, but he has an argument to make for being the best of all time. He has acquired more Brownlow votes across his career than any other player in the history of the game (though it must be noted that his teammate Patrick Dangerfield stands a real chance at taking that record off him sometime in the next couple of years). Ablett’s stats on the night don’t necessarily stand out from the crowd – ten disposals, no goals, one behind. But he had some influential touches particularly early when the game was still ostensibly alive to help Geelong get out to an early advantage, finishing with seven score involvements and two goal assists. The ever-growing army of neutral finals observers will likely lend most of their romantic support to the causes of Port Adelaide and Brisbane in what’s left of the finals series, as we do many of us like to see a new team climb to the top and enjoy their moment in the sun. But for the season to end in the likes of Ablett and Joel Selwood lifting the cup, writing one last rapturous chapter into the history of Geelong’s remarkable dynasty, well, that possesses a certain romantic appeal also. Who can say right now whether or not it will end that way. But if you’d like a stroll down memory lane before the great man’s career finishes up, I’d recommend this thread of great Gary Ablett gifs posted on twitter during the week by Rudi Edsall. We might be two days from his last ever game of footy, so I made a bunch of gifs of my best Gary Ablett moments. Just Geelong, no Gold Coast. First one is obvious – cometh the moment, cometh the man. The son of the man! pic.twitter.com/6KZuLZ8dNs — Rudi (@RudiEdsall) October 8, 2020 What’s next for St Kilda and Collingwood?Recent trends have seen some surprises pop up, but history says that the sides from the lower half of the eight rarely make it beyond the first two weeks of the finals series, and that has proven true once again in 2020. Neither St Kilda or Collingwood will exit season 2020 without some level of satisfaction with their accomplishments – the Saints knowing that they took a big step forward in their development this year, Collingwood disappointed but able to take some pride in last week’s stirring upset win. But, both know also that when put up against the teams at the top of the competition, they were found wanting – they have a gap to make up if they are to go further next year. Collingwood could well argue that (once again) injuries hurt their premiership chances more than anything else. They missed some of their most important players like Jeremy Howe and Jordan de Goey for lengthy patches of the year, and if they get full seasons out of them in 2021 that might be all they need to contend. Still, one can’t help but think that recruiting a genuine key forward would make so much of a difference for this team – but before they even begin to consider that, they must determine where the futures of De Goey, Darcy Moore, Josh Daicos and Brody Mihocek lie. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images) As for the Saints, this offseason looks like it could be one of real optimism. Their success will have caught the eye of many, and footballers looking to return home to Victoria from interstate will be rating highly as a potential destination. Top-quality midfielders is their clearest target and young Giant Jye Caldwell looks to be their biggest target, though they’ve also been linked to Tim Taranto and Ben Brown, and no doubt a host of other names will be thrown up before November is through. Prelim finals promise plentyUsually prelim final weekend has at least one (or even two) matches that look relatively clear cut – but not so in 2020, with both fixtures looking like they could genuinely go either way. Port Adelaide vs Richmond on Friday night is as mouth-watering a match-up as you could really imagine. The minor premiers vs the reigning premiers, and a pair of sides who played out one of the best home-and-away matches of the season at this same venue not that long ago. Meanwhile, Brisbane vs Geelong is an encounter drenched in drama too. In one corner is a young and upcoming side that we expect to be a contender on a regular basis over the next years to come, in the other a powerhouse of yore who seem perennially able to rise for one last run at glory. The new vs the old is a tale as old as time and both of this week’s prelims offer us just that – two home favourites, neither of whom has featured in a grand final in the last 16 years, versus a pair of opponents who’ve played in six and won five in that same time period. I wrote in a column this time last year that the results of semi-finals rarely matter – as we’ve noted already, those teams finishing fifth through eighth are typically just making up numbers in the post-season, and this second weekend of the finals-series is regularly, almost ritualistically a seperating of the wheat from the chaff. Not so in prelim final weekend, the penultimate footballing weekend, in which destinies are decided and some of the most remarkable and storied upsets in the game’s history have occurred. These matches are always must-watch, and 2020’s looks to be just as mouthwatering as ever, if not more so.
Seven talking points from NRL Finals Week 1 - The Roar
Eight teams have become six. Here are my NRL talking points for Week 1 of the finals. The captain’s challenge has an issue I’ve been a fan of the captain’s challenge, and the power it has given referees to tell captains to stop whinging. But a serious flaw in…
Eight teams have become six. Here are my NRL talking points for Week 1 of the finals. The captain’s challenge has an issueI’ve been a fan of the captain’s challenge, and the power it has given referees to tell captains to stop whinging. But a serious flaw in the system was exposed on Saturday in Canberra. When Wade Graham left a yawning gap in the defensive line to challenge a decision at a stoppage of play (as is his right under the current rules), Jack Wighton wasn’t supposed to be allowed to take a quick tap and dart through to score. Referee Grant Atkins was adamant you couldn’t challenge a ruck decision, but if that is the case, then more clarity is needed surrounding the rule, because all rugby league fans have heard is that a challenge can be made at any stoppage in play. There was a stoppage before Wighton’s quick tap, and he took advantage of the gap created by Graham attempting to challenge the referee’s decision. It was a bad look for the sport at the business end of the year, and no wonder the Sharks captain was more than just a little bit agitated. Graham Annesley will more than likely tell us who was right and who was wrong on Monday, and while the Sharks can’t blame that one decision for their loss, the NRL can’t afford a repeat. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images) The Roosters defence must aim up next weekThat the Panthers won on Friday night wasn’t a surprise, nor was it shocking the Roosters couldn’t immediately recover from their 60-point blowout against the Rabbitohs from the week before. Sydney actually started well, given they scored the first two tries, but then they fell apart without the ball and leaked points to the Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary-led opposition, who proved finals jitters won’t stop them this year. It was the Roosters defence which let them down. You can’t concede 28 unanswered points in 35 minutes during the finals against the minor premiers and expect to be in the hunt. It’s not complacency, either, because their efforts without the ball hasn’t been at its best this year. The Chooks have a substantially worse defensive record than the other top-four teams, and while it has made for entertaining footy, all the resulting pressure being heaped on James Tedesco and Luke Keary seemed to show on Friday night. Given the way the Raiders have been attacking in recent times, the Roosters’ defence has to aim up if they want to avoid going out in straight sets. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) Ryan Papenhuyzen continues to amazeWhen Billy Slater retired, you wondered if there would ever be a fullback quite as good again. Ryan Papenhuyzen isn’t in that class yet, but he played another stunning game on Saturday as the Eels took the fight to the Storm for the vast majority of their qualifying final. Given the Storm didn’t know who their first-choice fullback was 12 months ago, it’s remarkable how Papenhuyzen has stamped his authority all over the spot. When he missed the Round 18 clash against the Cowboys, the Storm’s attack was noticeably clunky. Compare that to the way they dissected the Eels, especially late in last night’s game, and it’s chalk and cheese. Papenhuyzen’s stats were off the charts, as he scored a double, ran for 265 metres and caused havok for the Eels defence all night. Melbourne may not have been at their absolute best (and some of that is down to so many players returning from a week off, hence the slow start), but the way Papenhuyzen clicks with the rest of their spine is special. He works with Cameron Smith in much the way Slater used to, and if he can continue performing throughout the finals, there is no reason Melbourne can’t go the journey. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Jack Wighton is Canberra’s keyThere was little doubt who the man of the match was when fulltime was blown in the nation’s capital on Saturday. While the Raiders pack can match it with just about any side, and Tom Starling has done a remarkable job of replacing the injured Josh Hodgson, it’s all about Jack Wighton for Canberra. He has the ability to turn it on with his running game at a moment’s notice and turn the tide of a game, as he did against Cronulla. There is no question the Raiders were struggling for ascendency at halftime, down 14 points to 10. But early in the second half, Wighton changed the game. He chipped in with two crucial tries on the back of his running game, and the way he attempted to make something happen every time he had the ball in hand has been a hallmark of his season. His ability to do the unexpected often has opposition defensive lines reeling. Doing it against the Roosters will be another matter altogether, but given the Tricolours’ issues with defence, Wighton could well prove the difference again next week. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images) Parramatta are going out in straight setsThe Eels might have finished in the top four, but they were in freefall leading up to the finals. For a season that started with so much promise, including being the only team to get over the Panthers, the wheels truly fell off. While they were competitive against the Storm, they were always going to need their second chance. As the other top teams have come good and improved, the blue and gold have gone the opposite way. It could be argued that Saturday was their best performance in many weeks, but even then it was many miles from good enough. With the Rabbitohs defeating the Knights, the Eels have a game which looks almost unwinnable next weekend, particularly if they’re without both Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson. The problem is that expectations for the Eels were high this year. They are no longer a club turning themselves around from a bottom-feeder to a premiership contender. Their squad was more than strong enough to be in the hunt this year, but with a straight-sets exit looking inevitable for the second time in four years, to go with an embarrassing second-round exit last year, Brad Arthur’s position may begin to look a little shaky at the helm of a side who should be doing better. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images) Cameron Murray should be the first player picked for New South WalesCameron Murray has had a lot to deal with this year. A new position, which became his old position in a matter of weeks, all the while playing in an inconsistent team who more or less made the finals because of a late-season charge. It is a recipe to be inconsistent or downright poor for any player, as some of his South Sydney teammates have been. But after coming of age last year in the middle third of the field, one of the smallest but most explosive and agile locks in the competition has continued to play excellent footy for the cardinal and myrtle. His statistics may not say this has been his best season, or even on par with his last, but what they don’t show is Murray’s play the ball speed, the rock-solid defence in the middle third, and the way he backs up in support to create headaches for opposition defensive lines. That was on display when he ran onto a Damien Cook pass for a try in Sunday’s elimination final win over the Knights, but we’ve seen it all season. He is opportunistic as any forward in the competition, and it makes him incredibly hard to contain. What’s more important is that he makes very few errors, which is a factor his Rabbitohs teammates often struggle with. His form as Souths came from the clouds late in the season was outstanding, and he played a huge role in their comeback from 14-0 down against Newcastle this afternoon. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) Cronulla must go back to basics in 2021Cronulla letting in a mountain of points to disintegrate in their elimination final was a case of the script being followed to a T. It’s worth noting that circumstances have worked against the Sharks this year. They struggled enormously with injuries, decided to let Josh Morris go when they shouldn’t have, and had plenty of young players on the field. But in 2020 the club have gone away from what made the Sharks such a competitive outfit. Formerly a team who gritted out every game they played and defended like their lives depended on it, they have been the complete opposite under John Morris. Shaun Johnson’s form might have got them to the finals, but when he went down with injury, that was that for the black, white and blue. They took the fight to the Raiders for a large chunk of Saturday’s game, too. They certainly didn’t throw in the towel, but again, their defence simply wasn’t good enough. With the club now looking ahead to 2021, they must remember their club identity.
Ten talking points from AFL Finals Week 1 - The Roar
The first week of the 2020 AFL finals is complete and two teams have seen their season end while the rest move on to prelims and semi-finals. Here are my talking points from the weekend. How good are finals? Apologies for borrowing a Scott Morrison-ism, but I…
The first week of the 2020 AFL finals is complete and two teams have seen their season end while the rest move on to prelims and semi-finals. Here are my talking points from the weekend. How good are finals?Apologies for borrowing a Scott Morrison-ism, but I think we can all agree: they are bloody good. And the finals matches we saw played this weekend were better than most. We’ve seen a few uncompetitive finals played in the last few years but the fixtures this week all looked like they could be close contests, and proved to be so. We’ll talk more about the rest later but the best of them, and probably the match of the year, has to have been last night’s one-point thriller between Collingwood and West Coast. These teams have met in finals a few times recently, and every time it’s been thrilling must-watch viewing. This was their third final in three years and they’ve been collectively decided by only 22 points. Neither time had ideal preparation, but it was Collingwood who came in as underdogs and held out for a famous win – and you feel they just might have more shots to fire in this finals series. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Power and Lions prove they are contenders, not pretendersPort Adelaide and Brisbane have occupied the top two spots on the ladder for most of the year, but they’ve rarely been talked about as genuine premiership contenders – until now. That’s not necessarily a surprise when you consider that both came into this week suffering from length finals droughts – Port not having tasted a postseason win in five years, Brisbane ten. But for both of these sides, one could sense from early in the game that they were on. Port conceded the first goal of their match against the Cats, but when they kicked two quick ones to take a quarter-time lead, it was hard not to believe. Brisbane’s shining moment came even earlier and was more emphatic, as Daniel Rich booted a long goal from outside the 50m arc in the first minute – the perfect start that the Lions needed. Both of these teams went up against opponents who were older, more experienced, and have a better recent history of finals success. But they knew they were good enough to win, and win they did. Now all of a sudden they are the first two teams into the prelims and in the box seat to qualify for the grand final. Could we see a report of the 2004 decider? That would be a brilliant spectacle. Saints recruits vindicated with ten-year drought brokenNo club was more daring when it came to the trade table at the end of 2019 than St Kilda, who traded for five new players after having landed Dan Hannebery from Sydney the year prior. These decisions were questioned by many. Hannebery’s value has come under constant question ever since he moved to the club, and the broad consensus was that the Saints’ new names would not be enough to make them a finals side in 2020. But all the doubters, including myself, have been proven wrong. St Kilda have a finals win in 2020, breaking a ten-year drought, and so many of those recruits were crucial to the result. Hannebery and Dougal Howard shared the equal-most touches of any player for St Kilda, with 20 disposals apiece. Hannebery’s touches were often crucial and he finished with five score involvements while Howard recorded eight intercepts and 604 metres gained. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images) Zak Jones had five clearances, Dan Butler booted a crucial goal in the third quarter and Brad Hill didn’t start but had five score involvements. But arguably the most influential, and the one I was most sceptical of 12 months ago, was Paddy Ryder, who wound back the clock to dominate in the ruck and kicked two important goals. As if to prove there is no triumph without tragedy, he finished the match in tears on the bench, nursing a hamstring injury. Hawkins’ inaccuracy costs CatsLachie Neale was named the MVP by the AFLPA and AFLCA last week, but after his brilliant Coleman Medal-winning season, Tom Hawkins would’ve been just as deserving – and he loomed as Geelong’s most dangerous weapon on Thursday night. It was the definition of an “almost” game. Hawkins towelled up his opponent Trent McKenzie and had half a dozen shots on the goal, but finished the night with a scoreline of 0.5 and one out on the full. In a match lost by 16 points that’s simply a devastating return from the man who is not just Geelong’s best forward, but arguably the best forward in the comp. With just a little more luck he could have completely changed the game for Geelong. It could be called something of a pattern too after Hawkins kicked 0.4 in last year’s qualifying final against Collingwood, a match Geelong lost by only ten points. He bounced back the next week with an accurate 4.1 to guide Geelong to victory over West Coast, and will now hope to do the same against Collingwood in what shapes as the more interesting of two semi-finals. Neale delivers after slow startSpeaking of Neale and delivering match-winning performances in finals, the Brownlow-Medallist-in-waiting looked like he was going to fall woefully short of one just a quarter into Brisbane’s match against the Tigers, failing to register a disposal in the first quarter. The Lions, luckily, were still firmly in the game at that point despite the lack of influence from their superstar midfielder – and after playing one poor quarter to start the match, Neale was never going to back it up with a second. He picked up eight touches in the second quarter, but perhaps most importantly kicked a crucial goal in the final minute before halftime to give Brisbane a 13-point advantage at the main break. That second quarter was where the game turned for Brisbane, and he was crucial to it. It was a performance that just might be the making of the Lions as a premiership contender for years to come. And if so, this will certainly be remembered as one of the amusing quirks of what was an engaging, entertaining game of footy. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images) Max King makes his mark in finals debutThere was no shortage of St Kilda players playing the first finals game of their careers on Saturday, but the one we all love to follow and watch, Max King, stood figuratively and literally head and shoulders above the rest. We have already seen over the last two seasons what immense talents he and his twin brother Ben are. They could both be all-time greats. But you never know for sure until you see them in finals, and King proved he has what it takes. He wasn’t so prominent in the second half but kicked two impressive goals in the second quarter and helped to set up others throughout the game, recording four score involvements in total. The Saints spread the load well, as they have all year, but he was one of their most crucial contributors. Can he – and the Saints – repeat the same heroics against Richmond next week? You’d have to be sceptical as we all expect the Tigers to bounce back. But regardless of how that turns out, King has confirmed his status as a future superstar, and St Kilda have done the same for theirs as a team to watch. Taylor Adams is a finals specialistSomeone I haven’t given enough credit to throughout talking points and other columns in the year is Collingwood’s Taylor Adams, who has had a career-best year in 2020. One of the competition’s best inside midfielders, he’s taken a step forward this year and was last week rewarded for that with his first All-Australian selection. In particular though, Adams is someone who lifts in finals. He was one of Collingwood’s best in their 2018 campaign and probably would’ve taken home the Norm Smith had they gotten over the line. On Saturday night he had 24 touches, eight tackles and seven score involvements as a key figure in the Magpies’ remarkable upset victory. Having players with the ability to lift in big games like that is simply invaluable. It’s the kind of leadership that could someday make him captain of the club. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) Oh, and on the topic of finals specialists, how about Mason Cox’s first quarter? If you’re only going to blow ’em away every now and then, this guy certainly picks good times to do it. Innacurate Lions find their kicking bootsThe biggest question mark over Brisbane coming into finals was their inaccuracy in front of goal, and whether it might cost them a crucial victory – just as it did (to some degree) in this same fixture last year. The Lions have generated more shots on goal than any other team in the home-and-away season this year (389 total), but were ranked 17th before finals for converting those shots – scoring a goal just 42.4 per cent of the time, better only than the Adelaide Crows. It was one of the most crucial factors in their 41-point loss to Richmond earlier this year, in which they had just one less scoring shot but kicked a heartbreaking 4.17 to 12.10. Given that, you could forgive them for being nervous on Friday night – but if anything it seemed to make the more determined not to let the opportunity slip. When the likes of Rich, Oscar McInerney and Daniel McStay nailed their early chances, it built crucial confidence. That’s not saying there weren’t still some shaky moments. Hugh McCluggage summed it up well – missing an easy chance that could’ve been crucial earlier in the game, only to boot the sealer later in the match. Here’s hoping Brisbane’s demons are now finally behind them. Chris Scott’s finals record cops another blowChris Scott has coached the Geelong Cats through 214 home-and-away matches for 153 wins and two draws – a 72 per cent success rate, the best of anyone in VFL/AFL history to have coached at least 100 games. But Thursday night’s qualifying final loss has seen his record in finals matches slip to seven wins from 19 attempts. If you count it from 2012, after his first-up premiership win, it’s four from 16. For this reason, Scott – and the Cats – cop a lot of flack. They’ve consistently been thereabouts but just seem to fall short with clockwork-like reliability. Ironically, we’d probably view him more favourably as a coach if he was less successful in the regular season – but because he so often takes his team most of the way, criticism comes his way. Rightly or wrongly that will be the case if Geelong allow Thursday night’s win to set them up for another prelim loss, or worse, a straight-sets exit. Can they rewrite history and turn it around? Bevo’s Bulldogs need a change of mindset2020 was Luke Beveridge’s fourth finals campaign in six years at the Western Bulldogs, but for the third time, it has ended with an exit in the first week. We all, of course, know how things ended the one time it didn’t – but if you imagine how his CV would look without that one incredible September, it is a history of frustration. We know the Dogs have A-grade talent, more so than their opponents this week. But they aren’t as complete a team as St Kilda, and that’s where the Saints beat them. Beveridge loves versatility and throwing players into unorthodox positions. Sometimes it’s brilliant, but just as often it leaves them open to get belted. We’ve seen that Beveridge can coach young and inexperienced sides to play maverick footy and punch above their weight. But how about instead turn 22 into one that’s mature and consistent? That’s what I’d like to see.
Five talking points from the Super Rugby AU final - The Roar
The Super Rugby AU final between the Brumbies and Reds was a bonafide thriller. The Brumbies were better for longer periods and deserved their 28-23 win, but a gutsy effort from the Reds made for a superb match which was still in the balance until the final w…
The Super Rugby AU final between the Brumbies and Reds was a bonafide thriller. The Brumbies were better for longer periods and deserved their 28-23 win, but a gutsy effort from the Reds made for a superb match which was still in the balance until the final whistle. The Queensland were able to put together such a challenge despite having to travel to Canberra on the day of the final is mightily impressive, even more so when you consider the Brumbies were far better rested than their opponents. Here are five talking points from the nailbiter of a decider. Super Rugby AU gets the thrilling finish it deservesRemember when all the talk about Super Rugby AU was about its poor quality? Those critics have little to complain about now. The competition got off to a slow start, one unfairly exacerbated by the obscene quality on display in the corresponding Aotearoa competition. But it’s improved each week, and the last month or so has seen some excellent rugby played. It was fitting, then, that the final, the one thing Super Rugby Aotearoa lacked, was such a thriller. The Brumbies threatened to pull away at the halfway point of each period only for the Reds to show real guts and determination – and ample skill – to keep it close and almost snatch the win. With the one exception of a trademark rolling maul try to the Brumbies, all of the five-pointers featured some unreal lead-up play. Andy Muirhead had no right to muscle his way through for his try, Jordan Petaia was at his sublime best in setting up Harry Wilson, while both Tom Banks and Tate McDermott showed their running prowess in the second-half tries. It wasn’t just the scores that were entertaining, with the entire 80 minutes a real treat for the neutral – and ACT – fans. In a year which threatened to prematurely take Super Rugby away, such a decider is well worth celebrating. (Photo by David Gray/AFP via Getty Images) Familiar woes hamper Reds’ chancesWhen these two sides met in Canberra earlier in the competition, two things cost the Reds: periods of ill-discipline, and a shoddy lineout. Sound familiar? While they’d been much, much better in both areas since the Round 5 loss, those two issues came to the fore once again in the decider. The overall penalty count was almost even – 12 conceded by the Reds, 11 by the Brumbies – but Queensland’s habit of conceding them in bunches hurt them, particularly early on. They gave away six in the opening 19 minutes, by which time the hosts had run out to a 10-3 lead before adding another try shortly after. Banks’ second-half try came on the back of a couple of infringements, and Filipo Daugunu’s yellow card, for a clumsy lifting tackle which left Angus Gardner with no choice but to reach for the pocket, gave the Brumbies ten minutes against 14 men during which they added a further three points. In a five-point win, one in which the Reds had to go for touch late instead of being able to take an entirely kickable shot a goal, that was crucial. Speaking of the lineout, it was a mess. As with the ill-discipline, it was an issue early, with the Reds losing their first two throws, a number which would double by full-time. The real killer was the aforementioned play with seven minutes to go. Camped in Brumbies territory and needing a try, a solid lineout from five metres out may very well have been the platform for a game-winning score, whether from a pushover, a Harry Wilson burst off the back of the maul, or sending the ball out wide with the backs in a paddock to work in. Instead, the butchered throw gave the home side a bit of breathing space, and they were able hold the Reds off once the play had moved back towards the 22. You certainly can’t fault the Queenslanders’ effort, particularly given their heavier workload leading into the match and their gameday travel. But they’ll be ruing their ill-discipline and lineout woes for some time. Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) There’s something about NoahPlaying for the first time in two months in a final? No biggie for Noah Lolesio. The young flyhalf showed no signs of rust in his return to the field last night. An easy early penalty helped settle the nerves, and from then on he was excellent, making wise decisions at first receiver throughout the night. He was instrumental in the Brumbies’ second try, first with a high kick which Daugunu knocked on and then by putting on a couple of steps to freeze the line and allow Muirhead to barge over. He kicked well from the tee and in general play. He ran the ball when the opportunity presented itself. He casually dropped over a field goal to give his side a decisive buffer on the scoreboard. It was, in short, a performance deserving of the man of the match award. Dan McKellar deserves some credit for selecting Lolesio (and he was also spot-on in picking Lachie McCaffrey to start, who was firmly among the Brumbies’ best), but the vast majority of the plaudits should and will go to Lolesio for being able to so assuredly step up on the big stage with no recent gametime. I wrote yesterday that “If he can instantly rediscover his pre-injury form, it’ll mark him as a genuine star”. Consider him marked. (Photo by David Gray/AFP via Getty Images) Another cruel injury blow for Jordan PetaiaThe first half of the final was a perfect snapshot of Jordan Petaia’s career: a moment of sheer brilliance followed by an injury. In a crowded field, Petaia is the most exciting of the young players emerging in Australian rugby right now. He’s excellent in attack, and his ability to read the play in defence would be impressive for a veteran, let alone a young man who’s only just hit his 20s. And yet, he’s been incapable of staying injury-free. A lisfranc injury cruelled most of his 2019 season, and had 2020 run on its original schedule he would have missed most of this year due to a busted shoulder. Just last week he failed to play out the full 80 minutes, too. Fortunately, youth is on Petaia’s side. Aged only 20, there’s every chance his injuries are just the result of a young body which is struggling to cope with the physical demands of the professional game. For all of Australian rugby’s sake, let’s hope it’s nothing more serious than that. For the Reds, though, you have to wonder what difference Petaia would have made late in the final. The same goes for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who was a massive loss from the second row (and the lineout) when a sickening head knock forced him off just after halftime. With those two on the field, there’s every chance the trophy would have been headed up to Queensland. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images) What will the Wallabies selectors make of all that?It was mentioned on the Fox Sports commentary that this was a Wallabies selection trial. Just a tad reductionist though that was – the players were there first and foremost to be crowned champions – the match will no doubt heavily impact the first XV named under Dave Rennie’s watch. Though it’d be a risk to thrust him into the Wallabies no.10 jersey, Lolesio showed he doesn’t have a tendency to sink when thrown in the deep end. At the very least, his performance means there’s some healthy competition at flyhalf. Tom Banks’ form will be another highlight in the selectors’ eyes. He started Super Rugby AU slowly but has worked his way into far better form in the closing weeks, even if he’s not quite back to his best. A good outing in the final, including a strong run to the tryline for the Brumbies’ third five-pointer, could help him get the first crack at fullback. Pete Samu continued his excellent campaign and should be an automatic selection in the back row next month, and neither Joe Powell or Tate McDermott did their selection chances any harm. One player who did, though, was Filipo Daugunu. The winger experienced the kind of reality check we see oh so often on the sporting field, going from the best aground last week to having an absolute stinker in the decider. He made two bad knock-ons, one of which led directly to Muirhead’s try, and was penalised for a high shot even before he was shown the yellow card. He’ll be hoping his strong overall season is enough to keep him with a shot of landing a gold jersey, but his were the kind of errors you cannot afford in Test rugby. They were harmful enough last night. Petaia’s injury will also be a red flag, and everyone at Wallabies HQ will hope Salakaia-Loto’s head knock isn’t as bad as it first looked. Overall, though, there were far more positives than negatives in the final for Rennie and his assistants, and we should see a strong, youthful side named for Bledisloe 1.
BREAKING: New Zealand Bledisloe Cup fixtures confirmed for mid-October - The Roar
The first two Bledisloe Cup games of 2020 will be played on consecutive Sunday afternoons after New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia reached an agreement on the fixture details for the two Tests. Wellington will host Game 1 at Sky Stadium on October 11 befor…
The first two Bledisloe Cup games of 2020 will be played on consecutive Sunday afternoons after New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia reached an agreement on the fixture details for the two Tests. Wellington will host Game 1 at Sky Stadium on October 11 before the series moves to Auckland’s Eden Park on the 18th. Both matches will kick off at 1:30pm (AEDT). Confirmation of the Bledisloe Cup fixtures – at least for the first half of the four-game series – is a welcome development after days of Trans-Tasman bickering over the dates for the two matches, and even suggestions the Wallabies would play just one Test in New Zealand before the Rugby Championship begins in Australia. NZR initially proposed holding Game 1 on October 10, a scenario which Wallabies coach Dave Rennie blasted on the grounds of having insufficient time to prepare his side given the quarantine protocols they will have to observe upon arrival. With approval from the New Zealand Government, Rennie will now be able to train his side as a full squad four days after landing in New Zealand. Rugby Australia struck a gratified tone in their announcement of the schedule as a result. “Thank you to New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Government for the flexibility and support over the last week to find a mutually agreeable solution,” interim CEO Rob Clarke said. “Dave (Rennie) and the team are incredibly excited about the prospect of playing in New Zealand and will get straight to work following the Super Rugby AU final on Saturday night in Canberra. “We will now meet with our SANZAAR joint venture partners on Thursday to work on confirming the schedule for the Rugby Championship here in Australia to start in November.” Clarke’s New Zealand counterpart, Mark Robinson, was also full of praise for all parties. “We acknowledge that this has been a complex and challenging puzzle to solve and we’re grateful that both rugby organisations, together with our Government, have come together to get these matches across the line,” he said. “We’re also pleased that the All Blacks team and management now have certainty and can plan accordingly, and we wish them all the very best for the Bledisloe Cup campaign.” The Wallabies’ exact travel plans are yet to be confirmed, however it is expected the 44-man squad will leave for New Zealand within a few days of Saturday’s final. Meanwhile, NZR will reschedule the Mitre 10 Cup draw for both weekends, although the exact details of the fixture change haven’t been announced as yet.
Critics keep coming for NZ Rugby over proposed breakaway comp - The Roar
New Zealand Rugby is coming under increasing fire from its Sanzaar partners over the unilateral move to set up a new franchise competition, with legal action even being mooted by South Africa. The Kiwis sent tremors through southern hemisphere rugby last week…
New Zealand Rugby is coming under increasing fire from its Sanzaar partners over the unilateral move to set up a new franchise competition, with legal action even being mooted by South Africa. The Kiwis sent tremors through southern hemisphere rugby last week when announcing plans for an 8-10 team competition based around a core of the five NZ Super Rugby franchises, effectively dismantling the 25-year Sanzaar model. It sought expressions of interest from Australia to enter up to four teams while provision has also been made for a Pasifika team. Australian media reports suggest early trans-Tasman talks had fallen flat, heightening the possibility of Rugby Australia establishing its own competition from 2021. RA chairman Hamish McLennan said his chief executive Rob Clarke had described negotiations with NZR as “expressions of insolence” and told The Australian the Kiwis had tried to dictate terms. McLennan said NZR boss Mark Robinson had made it clear he doesn’t want all five Super Rugby AU teams in the competition – something the Australians say is imperative. Waratahs chairman Roger Davis followed up with a lashing of NZR for what he described as “appalling” behaviour in sounding out Super Rugby teams directly for their interest, circumventing RA officials. “We’re not going to split or destroy the code by dumping two or three sides. It would do irreparable damage to the game here,” Davis told the Sydney Morning Herald. NZR took another blow from SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux, who said binding Sanzaar agreements had been shunned. “If anybody kicked anyone out of Super Rugby, it was New Zealand kicking themselves out,” Roux told a media conference. “New Zealand has every right to determine their future but in terms of Sanzaar and the joint venture agreement, there is a very legal agreement in place and you’ve got to act within that legal agreement. “The unbundling of Super Rugby can only be a Sanzaar executive decision. Somebody else might make a unilateral decision that forces (a split) but they put themselves at risk of a legal liability by the people who are still part of the joint venture.” COVID-19’s devastating impact on South Africa meant no rugby had been possible there since March. SA Rugby is considering an August launch of a domestic competition – similar to the Super Rugby leagues under way in Australia and New Zealand – and Roux remains hopeful the world champion Springboks can play in a Kiwi-hosted Rugby Championship starting in November. RA is also hopeful of getting New Zealand to agree to two Wallabies-hosted Bledisloe Cup Tests in October before both teams cross the ditch to isolate and then contest the Rugby Championship. © AAP
The weekend that made Super Rugby AU - The Roar
After all the sky-is-falling discussion after the Rebels and Reds played out ‘The Draw We’d Rather Forget’ in Round 2, it was great – nay, bloody fantastic – to see Super Rugby AU dish up two really, really enjoyable games across the weekend for Round 3. Quee…
After all the sky-is-falling discussion after the Rebels and Reds played out ‘The Draw We’d Rather Forget’ in Round 2, it was great – nay, bloody fantastic – to see Super Rugby AU dish up two really, really enjoyable games across the weekend for Round 3. Queensland and the Western Force played a match on Friday night that will easily rate among the top handful of Australian derbies over the four or five seasons, maybe even longer. A stonking try-for-try tussle that produced a point a minute to halftime, yet was built on solid set piece from both sides of the ledger and a breakdown contest where accuracy was required and rewarded in both attack and defence. New South Wales and the Brumbies followed suit with a Hume Highway clash befitting their rivalry, and though the Brumbies have now won their last five ‘Tah Week’ derbies in Sydney, the away team has still only won this match ten times in 25 seasons. Form or favouritism has never really mattered in these days, and so was the case on Saturday night, and the Waratahs were rightly miffed at letting an upset slip away after carrying the ascendency for long periods of the match. It’s this point that might have provided the biggest and best takeaway from the weekend. All four teams had good reason to be satisfied with their performance, yet all four were quick to point out deficiencies that can’t be allowed to continue. All four sides showed a hunger and drive in the immediate reaction that can only help lift the bar higher as the competition progresses. Jack Maddocks of the Waratahs catches a kick (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) With more than a bit of trans-Tasman posturing going on the background, this was absolutely the weekend where Super Rugby AU stood up and showed its quality. And the Melbourne Rebels, watching from afar on the bye weekend will similarly know that they too have plenty of work to maintain pace with their counterparts. The Waratahs are as good a place to start as any, who were visibly hurt on fulltime after Brumbies scrumhalf Issak Fines slipped through some tired defenders three minutes from time. The ‘Tahs had been the better side for upwards of 65 minutes and probably deserved more than the losing bonus point they took away. Brumbies coach Dan McKellar knew it, offering post-match “The Tahs were very good tonight. Good young side, I take my hat off to them. You feel for them a little bit to be honest”. But New South Wales skipper Rob Simmons was having none of it. “We need to find a way. There has to be some resilience there to show up again next week,” he said in the press-conference after the loss. “We’re on that (upward) trajectory, but we’ve got to find a way. We’ve got to win. Can’t just keep saying, ‘oh, that was good’. We lost a game. Do what you can to find it, but we need to get a win.” Simmons’ expression as he spoke the words “that was good” told us everything we need to know about the Waratahs at the moment. They know they’re an inexperienced team. They know they’re littered with exciting talent. But they’re now done with the platitudes and want to get on with winning games. It was genuinely great to see a captain lay down the ‘this is no longer good enough’ benchmark. And the Tahs thought – as most people watching the game did, I suspect – that they’d done enough to beat a Brumbies side that few thought they’d get even remotely close to. The pain they felt in the aftermath of the loss will be of massive benefit going forward. Good luck to the Rebels this Friday night. The Brumbies, too, were quick to admit their set piece failings. A stat sheet of 14 turnovers conceded, eight lineouts lost, and two scrums lost doesn’t read very well in a four-tries-to-two win. Allan Ala’alatoa was quick to praise Simmons and Ned Hanigan’s defensive lineout work, whereby the time Darcy Swain was replaced midway through the second-half, Simmons and Hanigan were just stationing themselves in front of and behind Murray Douglas and competing for everything. To pinch the classic line from Anchorman, “Sixty per cent of the time, it worked every time”. McKellar was pretty blunt: “We know it’s an area we’ve got to get better. It’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on, and yeah, it’s been a little bit rusty.” Rusty and suddenly short on resources. With locks Caderyn Neville and Nick Frost still sidelined, and Blake Enever leaving before the resumption, the Brumbies are left with Douglas and Swain as their only specialist lineout jumpers. And until the repatriated Ben Hyne, Neville, or Frost return to the matchday 23, or more faith is put in calling throws to their numerous backrow options, then Douglas and Swain will continue to be targeted. Simmons and Hanigan delivered the current blueprint to nullifying the Brumbies’ strength. And the Force won’t be short of options to have a crack at this on Saturday night. Former All Black Jeremy Thrush was outstanding against the Reds on Friday night, and knows a thing or two about causing trouble at set piece. Chris Feauia-Sautia of the Reds attempts to offload against the Western Force. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images) The Force scored some outstanding tries in this match, but it was just as impressive the way they fought back in the last ten minutes to bring the margin back to four points. This was the Western Australians putting the rest of the competition on notice; we’re not laying down to anyone. And while their performances have surprised plenty, that doesn’t apply internally. “We’re actually quite disappointed we haven’t come away with the wins. We’ve done enough in patches, but we’ve just got to pull it together for a little bit longer,” Force captain Ian Prior said on Friday night. “We’re here to win games, we’re not here to just compete.” I absolutely agree with Geoff’s point yesterday; I reckon the Force break the drought in the next three games. Which all leads into Queensland, who currently lead the competition after three rounds and yet to drop a game. But in saying that, the acknowledgement comes that they did their best to lose against the Rebels, and made it tougher in the closing stages than perhaps it might’ve been against the Force on Friday. “I just think, they’re Queenslanders, these boys. They just love to fight, simple as that. They love the jersey, love Queensland, and they’ll do anything for it,” Reds skipper Liam Wright proposed. His coach had slightly different ideas, particularly around their late game management. “It’s something that we need to continually learn, and the wisdom of getting through that game and managing that game,” Brad Thorn suggested, in that glass-half-empty outlook coaches use in press conferences. “A couple of years ago, I would’ve been pumped just to get the win. Now in those games, I’m pleased for the lads, and it gives us those points, but there’s a lot to do if we want to challenge for the back end.” It all adds up to really good signs on the domestic front. There’s plenty of discussion, but no-one really knows what form competition or competitions will take next year. But what this weekend just gone has just shown, is that there is plenty of hunger to make the Australian game as good as it can be.
Seven talking points from AFL Round 2 - The Roar
The long wait is over and footy, blessed footy, is back on our TV screens. Here are my talking points from Round 2 of the 2020 AFL season. The Suns also rise Given the introduction of shortened quarters, and where they’re at as a football club, you could have…
The long wait is over and footy, blessed footy, is back on our TV screens. Here are my talking points from Round 2 of the 2020 AFL season. The Suns also riseGiven the introduction of shortened quarters, and where they’re at as a football club, you could have written your own odds for the Gold Coast Suns to beat any team in the AFL by 40+ points this year. That in itself was remarkably impressive and would have been so even against a fellow straggler of the competition. That a win of that magnitude instead came against one of this year’s premiership contenders, well, it defies belief. Every man and his dog knows the young Suns boast potential – but they were lacklustre first up against Port Adelaide, and entered this match on a 19-game losing streak. I’ll admit that I had my doubts over when, if at all, a win this year would come. For a club still trying to put the pieces together, COVID-19 seemed an even more untimely disaster from them than it is for the rest. But they have proven me wrong in emphatic fashion. And the story of the night – beyond the win itself of course – was Matt Rowell, the no.1 draft pick who in just his second game was clearly best on ground with 26 touches and two goals. Deliberations over this week’s Rising Star nomination will last all of two seconds after a performance like that. Rowell went head to head with some premiership midfielders and came out on top. Was it the best win in Gold Coast’s history? Recency bias is hard to overcome in a situation like this. Right now, it feels like the answer is yes. That said, it’s not as if the Suns haven’t had some impressive wins before – but those have faded in our memory because they only led to false starts. And, in Stuart Dew’s tenure at the club, they have been known for firing early in the season and fading out shortly thereafter. If the Suns are still putting in performances like this five, ten, or fifteen weeks down the track, then we’ll know a new era has indeed dawned on the Gold Coast. If that means more of the exciting and watchable footy we saw on Saturday night, then my fingers are crossed it proves to be so. (Photo by Matt Roberts/AFL Photos/Getty Images) One-point winners should still be in panic modeMelbourne may have escaped Marvel Stadium with a one-point victory on Saturday afternoon, but the panic alarm blaring inside the club should not be allowed to grow even one decibel more silent. Let’s track back over a few major events for Melbourne in the past year. In June 2019, after a horrible start to the season, they undergo a radical mid-season revamp of their coaching staff, moving just about everyone on the books to a new assignment. The result: no improvement. At the end of the season, they hire a new fitness boss, change captains, trade their future first-round pick, and bring in four players from opposition clubs. So far, no improvement. After an underwhelming effort in Round 1, they drop no fewer than seven players from the side in an attempt to but some fire in the players’ bellies. It works… for a grand total of 25 minutes, then normal service resumes. I am baffled by the Demons. They’re not perfect but they have a lot of good things in place, and the question vexes me as to why they cannot add up to at least the sum of their parts, if not ideally more than. And I’m beginning to suspect that those making decisions at the club are no less baffled by their performances than those of us watching from the outer. They’ve left no stone unturned and no wheel not reinvented in the past 12 months, they’ve thrown enough darts at the board to blot out the sun. Yet so far, they seem no better than they were in the early rounds of 2019. The club has fuel enough that it could catch alight quickly at any moment – but also enough that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t happened by now, if it’s going to. Is a change of pace coming? For their sake, I hope so. Though speaking as a fan of the club currently holding their first-round pick this next year, I could live with it taking another 12 months. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) North’s Giant victory gives cause for optimismLike a lot of footy fans, I’m eternally torn between the twin emotions of optimism that my side can win any match regardless of the odds, and dread that they could find a way to lose no matter how far ahead they find themselves. For this reason, I spent the lead up to Round 2 trying to keep a lid on what felt like a foolish hope that North Melbourne could upset a powerful GWS Giants side – and then spent the last sixty seconds of the match with my fingers dug into my seat, still certain we could find a way to concede four goals in a minute and blow a golden opportunity. North made a bold decision at the end of last year to offer two veterans in Shaun Higgins and Todd Goldstein lengthy contract extensions when the opportunity was there, if they wanted it, to move them on to other clubs and acquire draft assets for a rebuild. They chose to roll the dice on a belief that this list could be a successful AFL side – and so far in season 2020, that faith is being rewarded. The Roos actually have at present a nice blend between mature veteran talent – such as Higgins, Goldstein, Ben Cunnington and Robbie Tarrant – and rising youngsters – like Cam Zurhaar, Curtis Taylor and Tarryn Thomas. That can be a recipe for success. The most heartening aspect of 2020 has been the improvement in defensive efforts. Players like Luke McDonald and Jamie Macmillan have been whipping boys for years, but both have been outstanding so far in 2020 – not as stars of the game, but as reliable stoppers who bring the pressure when it is needed. Of course it’s always foolish to forecast big gains in a club’s fortunes after only a round or two of football, and that is even more true than usual in 2020 when so much is uncertain. But, here I am, quietly optimistic. And it won’t take much to make me louder. Dockers, Blues must learn to start wellI don’t envy Carlton and Fremantle fans who must be finding it difficult to get their heads around their respective starts to the season. Combined they make up two of only four AFL teams to start the year 0-2, but it would be fair to say that neither has yet put in a truly disgraceful performance. Carlton found themselves five goals behind at quarter-time in Round 1 and in the same position come Round 2. But both times they fought their way back in the game, and this week they very nearly came away with a win. The Blues had so many good chances to take the lead in the final quarter and it’s bizarre they didn’t somehow get across the line. Last year’s Rising Star winner Sam Walsh, in particular, had a few moments he’d like back. But as tempting as it is to think of the game as being lost in this final moments, the reality is it was lost in an uncompetitive start. The Blues will find it much easier to get a win on the board when they don’t have to come from 30 points down to do it. Likewise, Fremantle have twice in a row conceded big leads to their opponents only to rush home but ultimately fall just short of a stunning comeback. The right goal at the right time could’ve gotten them a win in either Round 1 against Essendon or this week against the Brisbane Lions, but it was not to be. Both of these sides are trying to figure out life under a new coach and integrating new names into their team. Fremantle are quite inexperienced, Carlton too if you ignore the significant outliers of Kade Simpson and Eddie Betts. Perhaps now that weekly football games are back on the menu we will get the chance to see what these sides can do if they put together a four-quarter performance. I don’t expect either to make finals this year, but they aren’t without reason to be optimistic. Sam Walsh. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Powerful Port put Ken Hinkley’s sack watch on hiatusIf Ken Hinkley entered the 2020 AFL season under some serious pressure to keep his job – and he did – he could hardly have done more to put some credit in the bank over the first two rounds. Port sit very comfortably on top of the ladder after two rounds, one of only a handful of sides to win both of their opening games, and with a stunning percentage of nearly 300. Short of finals and premierships, there’s surely no better way for a coach in the state of South Australia to ingratiate himself with the club and its fans than to smack around the opposition in a Showdown. Port coughed up the first two goals of Showdown 48, the kicked 17 of the next 20 to run out winners by 75 points. That would be a devastating win in a full-length game, let alone the shortened format. The pessimist approach would, of course, point out that Port Adelaide’s victories so far have both come against sides we probably think could or should be in the bottom four this year. But you can only beat who you’re playing, and the Power have done so with the kind of confidence and authority that you would expect to see from a finals-bound team. Will it translate to consistent and competitive performances against the AFL’s more powerful opponents? Only time will tell, but you could not have asked for more so far. Power coach Ken Hinkley. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images) Do shortened quarters have a long future?If there was ever a match to prove the folly of reading too much into too little, Thursday night’s season re-opener between Collingwood and Richmond was it. The Pies and the Tigers played what I hope will go down as the worst game of 2020, and after months without footy, we all asked if perhaps the shortening of quarters has ruined the game we love. Then the rest of the week happened, and while there were good games and bad, footy mostly returned to normal. Thursday night’s snoozefest proved to be an outlier. And thank goodness for that. It was the lowest-scoring match the AFL has seen since 1999, the lowest-scoring draw since 1991 and only the fifth draw in the history of the game (and the first in 100 years) where no goals were kicked in the final quarter. Ever since shorter quarters were introduced there’s been ongoing debate about just how long they should stay in the game. I’ve been curious for years about what a shortened version of the game would look like. So far, I don’t love it, and I suspect I’m on the same page as the majority of footy fans in that regard. That said, there’s an argument to be made that shortened quarters make for more unpredictable footy, which I think is something we all love. The longer a game goes on, the more likely it is that a quality team will eventually assert themselves. If an underdog manages to shock a superior side early, then a shorter gametime makes it easier for them to hold on for victory. Like many, I was ready to close the book on shortened quarters after Thursday night – but the remaining events have left the door open an inch. Any setup that has North 2-0 must be a good one! (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Everybody gets a turnAdelaide Crows (0-2) – In 30 years of AFL football, the Crows have never recorded fewer than seven wins in a season. The shortened season doesn’t help, but even if we were playing a full 22-gamer I’d doubt they could get to that mark in 2020. Brisbane Lions (1-1) – It was good for Brisbane to get a win on the board after disappointing in Round 1, but I’d say they’re yet to convince us they can maintain their 2019 performances into the new year. Hoping they do, exciting side to watch. Carlton Blues (0-2) – Two rounds in and Jacob Weitering looks like one of the breakout players of 2020. Has shut down Tom Lynch and Tom McDonald in the first two rounds and just looked elite while doing it. Collingwood Magpies (1-0-1) – I know Collingwood have depth, but you can’t tell me someone with the goal-scoring abilities of Jaidyn Stephenson isn’t best 22 in this team. What’s going on there? Essendon Bombers (2-0) – They are one of only three sides to boast a perfect record after two rounds, but those wins are against two of last year’s bottom six by a combined total of two goals. If you know what to make of that, you know more than I do. Fremantle Dockers (0-2) – Fremantle fans would’ve enjoyed an impressive performance from James Aish. Relegated to the backline at Collingwood, he’s proving more than capable of a midfield role at the Dockers now that he has been given the opportunity. Geelong Cats (1-1) – Between Brandan Parfitt’s cornrows, Quinton Narkle’s bleach blond, and Cam Guthrie looking like he should be off screaming at a volleyball somewhere, Geelong are definitely the best haircut side of the AFL. And dreadlocked Gryan Miers (20 disposals, three goals) is a star. Gold Coast Suns (1-1) – The Suns have beaten every opposition team in the competition at least once… except for Adelaide, their opponents in Round 3. And on this week’s form, you’d expect them to win comfortably. GWS Giants (1-1) – The Giants have just about the cleanest bill of health we’ve seen from them in many years, with Tim Taranto the only name of note on the sidelines right now. That just makes this week’s result all the more underwhelming. Hawthorn Hawks (1-1) – Is Tim O’Brien and Jonathon Patton the key forward combination to take Hawthorn to the next level? Colour me thoroughly unconvinced. Melbourne Demons (1-1) – Amidst an unconvincing performance from Melbourne, it was a great day for Christian Petracca, who had 24 touches and two goals. And in a good news story, Harley Bennell made it through his return game without incident – he didn’t star, but looked promising. North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-0) – Already gushed about North enough this week so I’ll spare your more of it here. Except this: I love Tarryn Thomas. Port Adelaide Power (2-0) – No second-year blues from Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma if Saturday night is anything to go by. All three were outstanding, Butters probably should’ve won the Showdown Medal. Richmond Tigers (1-0-1) – Jack Higgins loves kicking controversial goals against Collingwood, and I love watching Jack Higgins kick controversial goals against Collingwood. So, so, so happy to see him fit, well, and celebrating snags. St Kilda Saints (1-1) – They had a lot of time to stew on the Round 1 fadeout, and the response coming back this week could not have been better. New recruits seem to be fitting in well – a team to watch. Sydney Swans (1-1) – Don’t understand why there wasn’t more interest in Lewis Taylor come last year’s trade period. Three goals this week, the Swans may have found themselves a genuine bargain. West Coast Eagles (1-1) – It’s hard to pick the most worrying aspect of this week’s result for the Eagles. It’s probably the fact their star midfield quartet all performed well on the stat sheet, yet it didn’t translate to a competitive performance. Kicking 6.10 in front of goal didn’t help. Western Bulldogs (0-2) – I’ve loved watching the young, exciting Bulldogs for a few years now, but at some point they have to become the mature, reliable Bulldogs. It starts at the selection table.
Eight talking points from NRL Round 4 - The Roar
Just like that, a fifth of the shortened NRL season has passed, and while the first half of Round 4 went as expected, there were more surprise results than you could poke a stick at during the second . Let’s get into this week’s talking points. Are blowouts a…
Just like that, a fifth of the shortened NRL season has passed, and while the first half of Round 4 went as expected, there were more surprise results than you could poke a stick at during the second . Let’s get into this week’s talking points. Are blowouts a cause for concern?One of the storylines out of the first two weeks has been how often blowouts have occurred. A faster game generally means more fatigue for a defending side, and there have been more lopsided scorelines as a result. It’s common logic to suggest that was going to happen, despite the success of the six-again rule in speeding up the game.
|2020 Rd 1-2||2020 Rd 3-4||2019 Rd 1-4||2018 Rd 1-4||2017 Rd 1-4|
|% of games <10||62.50%||25%||40.63%||50%||43.80%|