AFL Round 9 – Pain’s points

Jack Darling...

Jack Darling has been instrumental to his side’s success in 2018. Image: Richard Wainwright/AAP.

1. Eagles are soaring

Following the loss of experienced leaders such as Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell and uncertainty as to how Nic Naitanui would return following 12 months out, most analysts and fans picked the West Coast Eagles to struggle in 2018 and finish in the bottom half of the ladder.

How wrong we all were. The Eagles are flying and after nine rounds sit a win clear at the top of the ladder and have won eight straight games. Nic Nat’s tremendous return has buoyed the Eagles, but the form of Jack Darling, Andrew Gaff, Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn, just to name a few, can’t be understated.

Darling is arguably the form forward in the game, as he is second in the race for the Coleman Medal (28 total), is third in total marks and leads the competition in contested marks.

He booted six goals in West Coast’s 47-point thrashing of reigning premiers Richmond, a game in which the Eagles kicked 13 goals to six in the second half and outclassed the Tigers.

If the Eagles can continue their blistering form then it will be hard to ignore them as premiership contenders come September.

2. The Bombers are back

For at least one week, the Bombers’ high octane and fast-moving game was on show. Gone was the lack of movement and flat-footed players and in came up tempo ball movement and wide-open space to move and operate in.

Essendon’s 34-point win was the type of result many predicted the Bombers to have following big name recruits in the offseason and based off last year’s performances.

Can Essendon back it up in Round 10 against GWS? That’s the big question, as it remains to be seen which Bombers side will turn up. If they can bring the pressure and tenacity as they did against the Cats, the Giants will be in for a long day given their own struggles and injury list.

3. Carlton’s blues

It’s funny how much can change in the space of a week.

On a massive high following their 13-point win against rivals Essendon in Round 8, Carlton entered Round 9 not expected to win but to at least put up a fight and be competitive against Melbourne. They were anything but.

A 15 goal to two second half led to a 109-point belting at the hands of the Demons who put the Blues to the sword.

Patrick Cripps once again looked like a one-man band, recording 31 disposals and a goal. Only Nick Graham had more total touches than Cripps’ 23 contested possessions, in a display that leaves Carlton fans scratching their heads.

It’s hard to see the immediate future getting much better for the Blues as they don’t have many experienced players to come back into the side and provide leadership. Their abundance of young players is hurting the club despite being in a rebuild, as they aren’t able to call upon players who have 50-100 games plus of experience to help steady the ship when the going gets tough.

While the Blues will more than likely end up with another top three pick, another season filled with 100-point losses could hurt the club in the long run. Players such as Cripps and captain Marc Murphy, who is a free agent at the end of the season, may choose to leave and play football elsewhere.

4. The Lions roar

At 0-8, the Brisbane Lions were bound to get a win sooner or later. Several media analysts had called them the ‘best 0-8 team in history’ which sounds ironic, but the Lions had been competitive for most of the games so far, a blowout at the hands of Richmond not included.

The fact that their first win came against Luke Hodge and coach Chris Fagan’s former employer would have made it all the sweeter.

They trailed early and it looked like they could be in for a long day, but the Lions held firm and stood tall. Their effort was outstanding as they turned a five-point deficit at quarter time into a 12-point lead at the main break before blitzing the Hawks and kicking 11 goals to four in the second half.

The Lions’ reward for effort was a long time coming as they showed signs of what their exciting young talent (Eric Hipwood kicked four goals while Hugh McCluggage grabbed 27 possessions) can do when firing.

While they will more than likely finish in the bottom four, Brisbane will be a tough matchup for many sides in season 2018, particularly on the back of their confidence boosting first win. They should grow from Round 9’s result and look to build, so don’t be surprised if they knock off a team contending for the top four.

5. Chinese take away

Port Adelaide defeated Gold Coast by 40 points in their second annual game held in China. It’s part of the AFL’s effort to expand globally and push into other overseas markets.

The football wasn’t a great spectacle, but it was the crowd size that would have AFL executives most worried.

While the official attendance was counted at 10,689, just below a sellout crowd of 11,000, it was hard not to notice large chunks of the seating empty. It could be explained away by the conditions, as it was wet and raining for most of the game, but the attendance number was up from last year’s fixture where 10,118 fans flocked to watch the first AFL game played outside of Australia and New Zealand for points.

Where the AFL goes from here will be interesting, as journalist Jon Ralph spoke on Monday and stated that the fixture will go ahead next season but won’t feature Gold Coast. He mentioned that GWS could be a possible replacement but it remains to be seen who will play the Power in China.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how to draw a big crowd in China, as the game isn’t popular over there as of yet. Clinics featuring teams, preseason practice matches and a local competition featuring Chinese players and teams are all good ideas, but their execution and effectiveness can be debated.

The AFL went bold by scheduling and playing a match in China for premiership points, but it may have been better to start at the grassroots and introduce the game organically, so that fans actually know and understand what they are watching.

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