AFL 2018 – the season so far
Congestion is an issue
In 2005, then-AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou infamously described the Sydney Swans’ defensive style of play as ‘unattractive’ and ‘ugly’. One can only imagine what he thinks of the game’s current state, given the emphasis on congestion and inside play which has seen teams averaging more contested possessions than ever. This paradigm shift was perhaps inevitable given the influence of silky outside ball winners such as Sam Mitchell, with coaches desperate for any strategy which slows down play.
It is now the job of the Competition Committee to assess if rule changes are necessary for the game to return to a more aesthetic and free-flowing spectacle Whether potential amendments include the introduction of zoning, reduction of on-field players or less rotations remains to be seen.
The Optus Stadium stimulus
Few predicted Fremantle and West Coast to be serious players in 2018, but from what they have shown the possibility of one or both appearing in finals is very real. The Dockers have added an offensive edge to an already capable defensive unit, whilst the Eagles are piling on the points with an average of 101.5 per game (2nd in the AFL).
Sunday’s derby was an excellent match, with a see-sawing contest decided only by the hardened experience of the Eagles’ stalwarts. Both sides have taken to their new home with aplomb, having only lost a game there each. The rest of the competition has surely taken note; teams previously hoping for an easy four points on the road will be sorely disappointed.
There’s an emergency at Essendon
The Bombers started the year with a resounding come from behind win over Adelaide. Since then their season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, and pre-season hopes of a top four finish now appear to be extinguished.
A shambolic performance on ANZAC Day was followed up with a meek second-half capitulation to Melbourne. Essendon won the disposal count in both games despite having fewer contested possessions, with many now questioning the effectiveness of the team’s keepings-off game style. Joe Daniher has been well below form, and when he does find the ball it is too often up the field where he poses little threat; a 1.2 goal per game return is poor for a player touted to be THE key forward of this generation.
The Bombers have the pieces to resurrect their season, with Brendan Goddard and Michael Hurley in particular playing as well as ever; it is crucial they grind out a win against the old enemy Hawthorn if they are any hope of playing finals.
The score review system needs work
Since its introduction in 2012, the score review system has been plagued by a lack of useful camera angles, poor quality images and just plain old human error. Almost every week heated discussion is had between fans and commentators alike once the umpire moves to signal for the man upstairs.
Confusion remains about the definition of ‘conclusive evidence’ and how it impacts the ‘decision on the board’. The issue was not helped in Round 3 when the wrong outcome was displayed on screen, whilst last week saw indecision about whether it was Sydney’s Isaac Heeney or Will Hayward who (may have) scored a goal.
The review system was brought in with good intentions, but its current state is not befitting of a professional sport. It is embarrassing to watch replays which show the football move half a foot per frame as viewers try to determine if it bent a finger. The AFL must invest in high-FPS cameras and re-train its officials, or the system should be scrapped altogether.
Richmond are the team to beat
In a season where very few teams have put their hand up as premiership contenders, the Tigers have picked up from where they left off last year and reasserted themselves as the best side in the competition. They lead the league in scoring with 105 points per game, whilst ranking third defensively as they concede only 74.
Their brand of high-intensity, forward-pressure focused football is being emulated across the league, and is undoubtedly a contributor to the aforementioned congestion issue. Midfield guns Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin continue to drive the engine room, whilst first-year player Jack Higgins has added offensive flair and creativity to an already potent forward line.
They aren’t unbeatable – the pressure Collingwood maintained for three-quarters, better sides will execute for four – but it will be hard to bet against the Tigers all year when they grace the hallowed MCG turf; and that makes the idea of back-to-back premierships a very real prospect.