It’s been a year of regeneration for the Tigers, and six wins from 11 feel right. However, they’ll be kicking themselves for dropping the Adelaide and Sydney games. They’ve lost four times to the top eight sides and are still shaky. Lynch aside, they’re approaching full availability and always relish the winter grind. They’re the last side you’d want to face if you finished fifth and copped them in an elimination final.
Best and fairest: Shai Bolton
In the end, Buckley’s Pies were a grim watch. With a new coach and many very promising kids, they now take risks, kick big scores and apply a lot of pressure. They’ve beaten St Kilda, Fremantle, and Carlton and probably let one slip against Geelong. But they completely botched their free hit against West Coast. With so many quality sides hovering around the top eight, it may come back to bite them.
Best and fairest: Jack Crisp
“We’re a good team, we are a good squad, we are young, we are building,” club president David Koch said following last year’s preliminary final. “There’s a lot to look forward to.” But a month into 2022, the football world was ready to give up on Port Adelaide. This columnist certainly was. At half-time of the Carlton game, they were being dismembered. But they were a completely different team after the bell and probably should have pinched it.
They then had their free hit against West Coast, with Simpson calling them the best 0-5 side he’d ever seen. They had their audit down in Geelong, but with Dixon back and the midfield starting to hum, they’re suddenly eyeing off finals. It’s a tough run home, with away fixtures against Fremantle, Richmond, and Melbourne.
Best and fairest: Ollie Wines and Travis Boak
Touk Miller is in action for the Suns. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP
And when Ben King went down over the summer, the assumption down south was that they were screwed. Clarkson was a certainty to come in, punt his old mate Dew, try retaining some talent, and try to ship the joint into shape. But they’ve flipped the script with recent wins over Fremantle and Sydney. In the past seven years, they’ve finished 16-15-17-17-18-14-16. Perhaps the club, coach, and playing list are all in lockstep for the first time.
With 100 more hit-outs than any other player in the competition, Witts’ return has been pivotal, while Chol and Casboult have been excellent acquisitions. They have a sweet run home, and it feels like they’re finally a real club with a pulse, a purpose, and a future.
Best and fairest: Touk Miller
The Hawks have had a rough draw. They throw in absolute shockers like any team with a new coach, game plan, and young list. They were the only side Essendon got a hold of, which Mitchell was furious about. And they didn’t look sufficiently invested in Darwin against the Suns. But they’re deadly on their day. They take you on. They give you a chance. They launch off half-back and attack through the middle. If the Geelong, Adelaide, and Brisbane wins are any indications, they’re on the right track.
Best and fairest: James Sicily and Jai Newcombe
After somehow hanging on in an excruciating cut-throat final played under a pitch-black Tasmanian sky, nothing has gone right for the Giants. Greene’s suspension sucked all the swagger and vim out of them. Leon Cameron accused them of “boring” football and was out the door a fortnight later. They’re a compelling proposition for the incoming coach, however. For now, the interim coach has released the shackles, and they’re the most dangerous floater in the bottom half.
Best and fairest: Josh Kelly
Rory Laird and the Crows face bottom club West Coast this weekend. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
You can see the future in Adelaide. After all, with a pinch of luck in the Fremantle and Essendon games, they could have been 5-1. But the present is a real grind. They certainly have a crack, but they can be very sloppy by foot and in front of the goal. They were dismantled in the blink of an eye by Carlton and GWS, and they’re now on a five-game losing streak, including their 12th loss in a row at Kardinia Park. They should be able to fill their boots this weekend, however.
Best and fairest: Ben Keays, Rory Laird and Tom Doedee
Listening to Ben Rutten in the off-season, you got the sense that they still had a long way to go and exceeded expectations a bit last year. After all, they only beat one top-eight side in 2021.
In 2002, they had a tough draw. They’ve had a lot of injuries. And they have a lot of kids who are still figuring things out. But the Bombers don’t get their hands dirty. They’re unwilling, or incapable, of grinding out ugly wins. And they don’t defend as a team. All year, opposition sides have sliced through them.
Off-field, they’re a real head-scratcher. There were many high fives and slapped backs following the Hawthorn sugar hit. There’d be no review, they insisted. A few weeks later, they announced one. “Review is one of those words that takes on almost mystical significance,” the Chairman said that week. It will be conducted, as is the Essendon way, by three former greats of the club.
Best and fairest: Darcy Parish
There’s nothing sexy about North Melbourne. They get the worst timeslots. Certain people want to flick the problem off to Tasmania when the wins don’t come. There’s often a sense that it’s North against the football world.
They beat wretched West Coast stacked full of WAFL jobbers. They nearly pulled off a stirring win at the SCG. And they weren’t that bad against Melbourne. But that was about it. They’ve lost half a dozen games by more than ten goals. A week out from the mid-season draft, three senior recruiting staff quit on the same day. It was a significant blow for a club pinning its hopes on identifying young talent, though perhaps not the calamity it was made out to be.
Last week, there was a fireside chat with the CEO, the head of football, and the senior coach. They sat, socially distanced, on a couple of tan couches, and responded to a dozen or so Dorothy Dixers. The staff was happy. The board was united. The coach was secure. “I’m not going anywhere,” Noble said. “He’s our man,” the CEO said—stirring words. But a percentage of 53.2 speaks louder.
Best and fairest: Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin
The Eagles are right in the conversation as one of the worst teams we have ever seen. They won a premiership about 75 games ago. Covid has since ravaged them. Their list management is up the spout. The “cupboard is bare”, the coach says. Their average losing margin for the last six weeks has been more than 80 points. They’re at Fitzroy 1996 levels. On the plus side, they drafted a young man to work at a charcoal chicken shop.
Best and fairest: Tim Kelly