Wednesday 22 May 2024

Standard 'post delayed' notification


It's on the way. Wednesday night?

Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook for a link. Send any thoughts on the game via the usual channels and I'll incorporate/shamelessly steal them.

Saturday 11 May 2024

Five day broke

There's always some knob ready with the fun fact that one point is the most common margin in football, but as it's only happened in Melbourne games 48 times since 1897 I'll stick with treating it being a rare scenario. It's the ninth time we've lost under these circumstances since I got into footy, but one of the few where I didn't want to run away to join the circus and/or commit criminal damage at the final siren. Hooray for nearly climbing out of a cavernous hole to pull off one of the most ludicrous wins ever, next time show up at the first bounce and see how that goes.

Because it will delay having to talk about this fiasco, a brief history of the eight other narrowest possible losses I've been around for:

  • Round 6, 1992 vs Essendon - Traumatised me for life. Never trusted a lead again.
  • Round 7, 1993 vs Fitzroy - NFI. Almost certainly cracked the sads listening on the radio.
  • Round 22, 1996 vs Hawthorn - Already mentally checked out when the club started trying to neck itself and missed an emotional scene
  • Round 12, 1999 vs North Melbourne - Not particularly happy about losing a six point lead to seven consecutive behinds but not yet at the seat punching stage of life...
  • Round 17, 2000 vs North Melbourne - But this is where that stage began, cutting the shit out of my hand on a chair at Docklands. Had a bit going on at the time.
  • Round 9, 2007 vs North Melbourne - Yes, them again. By this point the rest of my life was under control but our tumble down the ladder and eight straight losses sent me a bit bonkers and I stormed out at the final siren yelling various conspiracy theories about Andrew Demetriou.
  • Round 2, 2010 vs Collingwood - Where poor old Ricky Petterd ensured he'd be best remembered for dropping a mark, and I responded in a calm and measured way by stomping a pair of sunglasses into dust.
  • Round 10, 2021 vs Adelaide - After avoiding heartache for years (usually by not being less than a point behind from first minute to final siren), the winning streak that started it all was finished by rank umpiring cowardice. Ultimately, the poltroon who was too afraid of the local crowd set us on the course for a flag so all is forgiven.
On the emotional damage scale, Round 9, 2024 ranks somewhere between the unremembered Fitzroy defeat and the 'unpleasant but not life altering' 1999 North game. I'll accept any sort of gritty, ugly win but it was hard to fully invest in our bonkers comeback after finishing the first quarter as flat as a tack. That's a bit harsh in hindsight considering we were the better team for much of the game, but like players caught fanging lines of gak on matchday we played a game of 'fuck around and find out' and found out. 

After two low-scoring home and away games last year, you'd think Carlton would have been right into our mission to ruin the spectacle of every prime time Channel 7. Instead, in the biggest betrayal since the fall of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, they'd bashed our brains out by quarter time. What followed was better, but is almost more annoying when you consider what could have been if we weren't blown to bits early. If you deleted the first quarter and played a fifth we'd probably have won by 50, but you can't, and we didn't.

Five goals down at quarter time was a long way from what was arguably our best post 25/09/2021 win just days earlier. I'd have thought the traditional reaction to coming off a short break would be to start strongly before fading at the end, but we couldn't have done more to make life difficult for ourselves in the opening quarter. Remember the full-ground defensive performance that was so good it sent Jeremy Cameron to sleep during his run-up? There was none of that here, only some of the worst attempts at keeping the ball at our end. That led to the ball flinging back towards our goal as if fired from a medieval catapult, and even if inside 50s are a bullshit stat on their own, surely somebody's paying attention to the ones that are down the other end in 9.58 seconds. 

Not for the first time our backline, and specifically Steven May, could justifiably ask everyone else what the hell they were doing. Everyone except Sam Mitchell knows we want to hold teams up long enough to prop up a big defensive wall, but instead we fed them rebounds like cake. Even the best defenders on god's green earth will struggle to hold back the tide when they clear the ball, take a couple of deep breaths, then look up to see the play coming straight back towards them. 

Unlike those of us viewing from an angle/on TV, defenders probably have no idea what's happened at the other end, they just say "ahh shit, here we go again" in the style of Grand Theft Auto and go back to trying to keep us afloat. Any chance a few repeat stoppages or ball-ups to give the poor bastards a break? Not on a night when our underperforming forward line couldn't get near it. 

Now that I've decided to go down with Simon Goodwin (or even on if he conjures up another flag), I can't have an unpredictable change of heart and start hanging shit on him now, but did we really need all those tall forwards on a wet night? It wasn't full pissing down, and we've played well in the rain before, but tell me we couldn't have forged a water-induced headache for one of Petty, Turner, or van Rooyen and given somebody else a chance. God knows if Laurie would have done any better, or if Woewodin could have successfully gone forward again after his defensive cameos, but no forward combination could have performed worse than our opening term. Fritsch and Pickett aren't off the hook either, with the latter not registering a touch of football or opponent's guts in the opening term.

Turns out the forward answer was Petracca, but unfortunately we only discovered that after serving  the Blues a huge margin. Halfway through the first quarter when he couldn't get a touch in the midfield I did think "we don't we try to shake the tag by playing him forward?" and wish I'd posted it somewhere to enjoy a rare example of being 100% right. It's great that he got the goals, and it's not like we haven't sent him forward after a couple of ordinary games before, but it did leave our midfield looking even less formidable than it has recently. Oliver has gone off the boil, possibly due to having the same hand mobility as Captain Hook, and coaches have realised they can use this to put all their focus on harassing Trac. And once you're rid of them it's Viney, Sparrow, Pickett for a little bit, and not much else.

Against Geelong it didn't matter because the rest of our plans came together perfectly, but we went to pieces here. The thing is that other than the forward 50 we weren't that bad in the first quarter, but we were so charitable to Carlton that we should be able to claim the first 30 minutes as a tax deduction. I still think we could play them again next week and win, but this was putrid.

It took a few minutes of fruitless attempts at going forward for us to go up in smoke. Just give us one forward who can still change directions, and makes a contest, then try to kick the ball somewhere in his vicinity. Other than Petty being denied a borderline free - and except for one celebrated moment of stupidity at the end, if your key takeaway from this event is the umpiring then remove your eyepatch - and getting in Fritch's way, our forward line may as well have been any randomly selected group of Australian males aged 18-35.

I could handle doing a bunch of early attacking before conceding the first goal, but alarms were going off at full volume the fourth or fifth time a Carlton defender either marked unchallenged, or wandered around in traffic long enough for wide open spaces to appear ahead of him. This usually ended in our beleaguered defenders coming under attack a couple of kicks later. Gawn must have had a sixth sense of where this was heading, because even at one goal down he went troppo directly into the face of Marc Internet. Naturally, this led to Max conceding a free kick to him a couple of minutes later, and after kicking bugger all previous goals in his career, Internet walloped through a set shot like he's their latest Coleman Medalist. When they got another almost straight after it had a bit of the Brisbane 'not up for it' about it, only without the false start of kicking the opening goal.

If you thought Eric Hipwood was the #1 AFL player most likely to be confused with a sullen teenager, in came Ollie Hollands to take the Addam Maric memorial My Chemical Romance CD. And about a thousand possessions as we proved unable to stop them casually passing the ball back and forth as if having a kick in the street on Grand Final Day. We were holding their tall forwards as well as possible under the circumstances, but couldn't keep them out without getting and retaining the ball for a bit.

Expected score should proceed directly to the bin, but related measurements come into their own when a side doesn't have any scoring shots and there's no "but if A happened, then B-Z wouldn't have followed" argument. So I'd love to see the explanation for this:

Has a team ever been in attack that much for no reward? You know what you're getting with our forward line by now, but this was an impressive level of suckitude. Our response to May being great was to try and give him All Australian competition by shovelling the ball down Jacob Weitering's throat at every opportunity. The same tactics might have worked against another side, but Melbourne tried their best to lose like they were playing against Melbourne. It could be written off as an anomaly if we hadn't done similar so many times last year, albeit never to this extreme degree. There's got to be something different we can try. God knows what, but if we carry on like this the rest of the season will be a nerve-shattering hellride and the backline may go take industrial action.

Even when we got close to goal there was usually a line of defenders waiting to whisk it away while our players stood in the middle of a crowd of Blues, not knowing which direction to go in and often choosing neither. We've had impotent quarters, but this was truly flaccid. As it got to the last few minutes I remembered that our last 0.0 opening term was 2008, but was surprised to find out later that the next three came in 1991, 1968 and 1953.

Despite sending out teams that were varying degrees of batshit boring, and in one of their cases mostly intentionally, neither Mark Neeld or Paul Roos ever presided over what was once uncharitably referred to in these parts as a Super Bailey Quarter. Bit harsh when was only in charge for one, but what a one it was. While sensible parts of the world turned a blind eye to various atrocities for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony we did our own version of suffering under a repressive regime by going 53 points down without reply and only scoring after a Geelong player botched a mark close to goal. I'm almost certain they just wanted to practice their kick-ins. On that dark - in all senses of the word - Friday night in 2008, half the crowd left after a private school curtain raiser, and there must have been a few tempted to pull up stumps after a quarter here. I'm almost more upset at nearly winning than I would have been if the margin stayed exactly what it was at quarter time, but it's a big step up from losing by 116.

If this resembled any game, it was the first after the original COVID lockout. That day I made the 'just a little bit outside' prediction that the worst of the global pandemic was over, and in front of a crowd of N/A we led Carlton 42-0 early in the second quarter. Their comeback to lose by a point that day would have been good enough to win Thursday night, but that afternoon was reasonably crap side vs disastrously crap side so you could understand either not showing up for large parts of the game. This was an all-premiership aspirant clash with a finish neutrals would have loved, but nothing to suggest either side is going to romp to September glory. The good news is that nobody else in the competition looks like it either, so as long as we finish with a ticket in the lottery and a reasonably intact list then things could go anywhere. This was a shit start that almost certainly cost us a win (we might have kicked the first three goals and lost by 59 for all I know) but I'm still saving my bundle to heave it out of a top floor window later in the year.

Thanks to that famous North vs Essendon game, any margin up to 69 points has been proven catchable, but adjusted for games where the teams don't score 330 combined, anything after four goals is Hail Mary territory for me. So wasn't it great to give up as good as uncontested mark with 45 seconds left? Any score was going to put it above my psychological trauma limit, but in a karma payback for Geelong kicking for goal as if pissed Carlton got a fifth straight. I didn't have enough faith to look up how often we've come back from this far behind or worse at quarter time. The answer is six, and not since using our home ground advantage at the Gabba to overturn a 37 point deficit in 2002

Historical evidence was not required to know that we were in deep shit. Now it was just a case of avoiding a humiliating low final score and not getting beaten by a massive margin. Then we spent the opening minutes of the second quarter attacking for no reward before turning it over in the middle and handing them a sixth unanswered goal. Jesus H Christ, this was starting to get silly. Forget writing on a whiteboard this week, Goodwin should have thrown the board and texta at somebody. He's usually so relaxed as to be nearly comatose, but I was hoping he'd crack the shits and be the first coach ever to use the tactical sub before his team scored. I assume the pre-set plan was to take Bowey off after not playing any sort of game since Round Nothing but you couldn't have done much worse sending him up there for a rest and subbing out one of the forwards.

We had so many thwarted revivals in this game that Carlton fans would have been inconsolable if they'd lost. See, for instance, PetraccaMania delivering our first 13 points (and at this stage I'd have taken 0.13 as much as 2.1) to crack the window ever so slightly open... only to give both back. One was bad enough, before the second came straight out of the centre to the chest of a leading forward. Anyone who walked out at that point has got nothing to be ashamed of. Then came the sort of luck that was missing in the first quarter, as Turner converted a downfield free after ANB was clobbered post-disposal. 

Neal-Bullen overcame a second belting to play his best game since that brief flirtation with celebrity at the start of the year. Somehow the original assailant escaped with a fine for jumping to bump him in the head, so keep that in mind next time one of ours is rubbed out on frivolous grounds. Turner tried hard but relayed frees were the only way he was going to get a shot, and it is now confirmed that he needs further seasoning as a forward in the VFL. I was happy to take goals from any source at this time, as we clung by our fingernails to the hope of making it interesting. 

The margin was a point worse than quarter time, but we'd stopped turning every attack into an opportunity for Carlton to score. I was satisfied if we just got to the end with our dignity and percentage intact. After a half time break to reflect on our disappointment and come up with an alternative plan we... conceded the first goal after 30 seconds. A video review failed to prove that May had touched it and we were, once again, rooted. Until Pickett got on the end of one of our rare centre clearances for the immediate reply... which Carlton then wiped out with a centre bounce-induced goal of their own. Later Petracca got his third... and we gave it back out of the middle again. After years of doing tremendous things our midfield is in a bit of trouble - Viney and Sparrow had a decent crack but overall we were thrashed around the ball, which is a bit worrying for the future.

It only got interesting with the last two goals of the quarter, including Petracca's career-best equalling fourth. In a likely VFL/AFL first, this was set up by Lever swinging a Carlton player headfirst into his teammate's dick. A 22 point margin at the last change which was simultaneously absurd, offensive and tragic, but offered some hope of a memorable win. Then we conceded 30 seconds in, so that says it all about how much we deserved to win. It would have been hilarious if we did, but would have been the heist of the century.

This setback inspired us to go (relatively) ballistic, and the rest of the game was spent hammering away at Carlton's backline for significantly more benefit than the opening term. Maybe the last quarter against Brisbane wasn't just belated efforts meeting opposition giving up. It was all for nada in the end, but as upset as I am that we were in this position to start with, I'm infinitely more upset about the first quarter than falling short.

Even we managed not to give our next goal back in record time, there was no inkling of a grandstand finish. It looked double unlikely when van Rooyen was done for a BULLSHIT 'dangerous tackle' free, that would have otherwise ended in a play-on goal. It robbed us of one of the great assists, with Pickett doing a Fritsch-esque roller to the man himself for a tap-in. You'll struggle to see a tackle adjudicated worse, but it's hard to argue it cost us the game when we were still plenty behind at the time.

Things got a bit silly when Viney kept a ball in play at full stretch to set up Windsor from the square. It was a bit like the Ricky Petterd (and who'd have bet on him getting two mentions in one post?) assist for Matthew Bate in 2010, seen here on a video where the only comment is me complaining about Dwayne Russell's commentary.

It was all Melbourne now, but even when Petracca's fifth made it seven points with three minutes left I was still being sour and refusing to get involved. There was a momentary bit of excitement when Pickett scooped up the ball, before he kicked it OOF, just like the end of the Collingwood final last year when we were also desperately trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Our score here would have comfortably beaten the Pies that night, but that's all part of the dangerous game of trying to win through defence.

I finally broke down and decided to get excited when Gawn kicked his set shot to make it a one point game. And what a fine shot it was too, especially knowing he had to rush it and give us enough time for another go out of the middle. With 30 seconds left there was plenty of time for any of the three available results. As one of history's greatest cowards I'd have accepted a draw, and when we got the ball out of the middle I was secretly hoping for a long kick to the square, a rushed behind, and some sort of questionable moral victory. Instead it went out of bounds 40 metres from goal, requiring something crazy to happen on par with Jeff White in the same spot against Footscray 2005.

For a millisecond as Petracca ran onto the ball and looked like spelunking through the pack my heart rate elevated, before he crashed straight into a crowd of Carlton players and was caught holding the ball. I'm with you all the way on the van Rooyen rort but sorry to say this should have been a free. It doesn't matter what else they do or don't pay, if you try to barge through a pack your prior opportunity is gone. If he'd won the game with his six goal after bursting through Carlton's entire backline in the final seconds people would have been talking about it for years. But he didn't so let's wrap this up and forget it ever happened.

I couldn't see from my vantage point of not at the ground, but tell me we didn't have anyone behind the centre circle at that throw-in. They should have all been standing on the top of the 50 waiting like the starting grid of a Formula One Grand Prix, then charging into position to either mark a hacked sideways kick, or affect a contest in front of goal. Sadly this didn't become relevant, as we ran out of time to pinch a sleazy but memorable victory. It was our third straight loss to Carlton by under a goal, and I think I speak for everyone in saying can we please revert to the 2018 method and beat them by 110?

In a classic "and what good does that do for us?" moment, stats fans can rejoice in this being the highest score we've ever kicked after being held to nil in the first quarter. The previous record holder was also against the Blues, but in 1942 the handful of fans present a) weren't teased with a miracle win, and b) had peak World War II to worry about. Geelong '21 is still the best back-from-the-dead moment ever, but if last week was declared Piss Funny I'm not sure if this would have been Piss Funnier or Uncomfortably Awkward. Wish we'd found out, because there would have been tremendous laughs at the expense of the losing/not winning fans. At least this time they can't follow up by blowing a five goal lead in the Prelim.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Steven May
3 - Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Max Gawn
1 - Jack Viney

Apologies to Langdon, Sparrow, and Woewodin on the Bailey Laurie impact vs time on ground metric.

Leaderboard
Technically, if you consider Petracca a forward now, the top five is without a midfielder for what must be the first time ever. Which would be a mad thing to do, but don't let me stop you. His return to form has ensured the leaderboard remains an absolute mess, with three of the top four scoring votes, and all remaining within a BOG of each other. Hard to see a winner coming from outside that group now, but Viney and/or Oliver putting in a run for the ages would be nice. In the minors, May breaks away from his platonic sporting partner, while Gawn is inching towards provisional winner status.

22 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
19 - Christian Petracca
18 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Lever
11 - Alex Neal-Bullen
8 - Jack Viney
7 - Judd McVee
5 - Tom McDonald, Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to Viney and Windsor for not winning under the 'team effort' clause, and several of Petracca's goals, but I've got to go with Gawn at the end. It was only a set shot, which pales into insignificance compared to our last goal five days earlier, but was beautifully taken under the circumstances. No change to the top three though.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Usually I'm across the fixture for weeks in advance, but was so focused on this game that I genuinely had to look up the opposition. It's the marquee timeslot of 6.20pm on Sunday against West Coast, who are gradually recovering from their run as a registered charity to the point where this could go tits up if we're not careful. Hopefully returning to the hallowed, flag-touched turf of Fortress Perth will inspire them to greatness.

I'm not taking this game lightly, but regardless of perceived opposition quality it's time to start giving younger players a week off. I'll say now is the time to give Windsor a week to enjoy the TV he won from Channel 7 last week, and will kindly make JVR an emergency so he can score a free trip home. He has a slightly better case to stay in the side than Petty, but I'll give Harrison a chance to prove last week wasn't a fluke. Otherwise, he's got to play VFL until he consistently wrecks a few teams, or McDonald exits the side for whatever reason.

Casey unexpectedly won a game, but by all accounts there's nothing to make you slide off your seat in anticipation for selection night. Ben Brown kicked an uncharacteristic 2.6, while Shane McAdams (who was actually sick last week and not concussed, in further proof that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet) didn't kick any but had a whole bunch of tackles, which might nearly be good enough to get a start at the top level. I'd like another look at Tholstrup, this time allowed to play his natural game instead of being expected to replace Pickett. My original idea was Fullarton for van Rooyen, but I'm so desperate for pressure that I'll reward McAdam for cracking in and having a crack.

Surely we win, but let's not have any discussions about percentage in case we come out looking stupid.

IN: Hunter, Fullarton, Tholstrup
OUT: Billings (omit), Windsor, van Rooyen (managed)
LUCKY: Petty
UNLUCKY: Woewodin (to stay sub)

Final thoughts
The rest of Round 9 and everyone involved in it can FRO.

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Tormenting the animal kingdom

Anyone with the same nervous disposition as me would have spent the week expecting to hold Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins better than any team since they've played together only to lose by kicking a pitifully low, barely defensible score. As somebody who tried to rest Windsor and drop Petty before their best games of the year my footy knowledge is obviously wafer-thin, but at three quarter time on Saturday night we were heading right towards this tragic conclusion. See also *[list of similar losses over the last two years dramatically unfurls, blocking out the sun]*

This was one of the times we got away with it, in a third consecutive Channel 7 primetime appearance that would have bored the tits off neutrals. While there's plenty of recent evidence that you can't get away with this often enough to win a flag/MCG finals, it meant rumbling an unbeaten side and reminding everyone (including ourselves) that we're not dead yet. In September maybe, but after the midweek misery of the Brisbane game, this was our return to respectable company. Long may it last, throughout whatever up and down thrills we're set for in the remaining 28 home and away rounds.

We got a goal in the opening minute again, and my first thought was that the game couldn't possibly turn into the same trench warfare meets Vaudeville first half as last week. Then we reached half time with even less total goals kicked. This was an ink-blot test about your footy philosophies, it was either horrendously boring or an intriguing contest that was still worthwhile because every potential goal mattered so much more. I'm not encouraging nine games a week like this, but regular 150-145 scorelines would be equally tedious.

More importantly, after turning 4.2 million inside 50s into not much this season, we finally got a goal from a wonky, hopeful kick that just happened to fall in the right spot. Enter Bayley Fritsch, mortal enemy of sad middle aged men who complain about things being 'woke' and are jealous that they'll never have another chance at hair like his. He'll be back later for a contribution that even Barry from Facebook Comments couldn't seriously complain about.

If we'd lost it wouldn't have mattered where they got their goals from, but from the safety of knowing the result it's impressive how we forced Geelong to score from obscure angles. It helped that two of the best key forwards of this generation made converting from directly in front look more difficult than digging the Panama Canal with spoons. Which was nice, but don't bet your life on a repeat if we play them again. 

Their first goal came via crumb, and the next through one of their suspiciously high number of Generic Blonde Men who look like the East German brothers in Die Hard. My interest in non-MFC topics is at its lowest point in years, but even if I had NFI who this guy was I could sense a stirring at Kingsley Manor when he kicked one from the boundary line, then lined up from the same spot a few minutes later. He missed, and I can't honestly say if he was seen again because so many of them look the same. The whole recruiting system is set up to stop you cloning players in a laboratory, but if anyone's going to have a crack at a presumably non-fascist Boys From Brazil style breeding program it'll be Geelong. Probably using taxpayer money. 

In the early stages our forward line was a bit *nervous adjustment of collar again*, and Petty was probably one lost contest or dropped mark away from retiring on the spot in frustration, so a big thanks to Another Blonde Man for slipping over at the crucial time and allowing Harrison (never Harry) a lead/mark/goal that instantly refilled his life force gauge. He didn't kick another goal, but spent the night taking massive contested marks up the ground and contesting in a way that makes you wonder if he's had the Ebola virus for several weeks. Maybe we just rushed him back too quickly after injury. Maybe it's a one week thing and he'll still end up feeling unappreciated and leg it to Adelaide for a future third round pick.

The quarter ended with your weekly "Where would we be without Pickett?" reminder, as he electrified the otherwise defensive arm-wrestle by snatching a ball out of thin air for a goal. What a man. Also demonstrated admirable restraint at one point where a Geelong player was wide-open for an Uncle Byron-style shirtfront. No way he's going to miss playing Carlton and either break their heart in the final seconds or biff somebody.

I'm against the dissent rule and think people acting like John McEnroe is good for the game, but if it has to exist (And does it? Any evidence that it's stopped umpires being yelled at by evil parents and/or chased with a lead pipe by ice addicted suburban tradies?) then they need to clarify how much players can sook before being penalised. If we knew it was swearing, threatening gestures etc... it would be easier to judge, but as far as I'm aware they haven't altered the rule from when 50s were being handed out for the merest negative reaction. Every team does it to some degree, but early in this game Geelong players treated every negative decision like the umpire had just insulted their mother. 

Fortunately, they were equally as lax on the stand rule, allowing Tom McDonald to shuffle back and forth like he was doing the Moonwalk, because I'd have blown up if we'd been done for one administrative rule after the other was ignored. And what happened to players being rolled for going running past the mark at the wrong latitude/longitude coordinates? Is that still on the books and just being ignored as well? If so, good. Surprisingly AFL HQ didn't send down secret instructions to generate a goal by any means necessary during the second quarter, but they must have been tempted.

You may have noticed I'm into niche MFC topics, and would like to add Simon Goodwin first quarter texta moments to my resume. There was Round 17, 2020 when he was writing with one, holding another, then paused in shock as we did something incredibly stupid just before the siren...

... and four years later he furiously attacked the whiteboard with maximum determination and the most XL-sized marker on the planet. I think it's the same brand as last time (talk about loyalty), but caught at an angle that really highlights the bulk. Lucky for him we didn't lose via baffling coaching decision or the "what was he writing?" memes would have been unkind. We won both games in thrillers, so I suggest having a pack of these things ready to go at all times. 


For all the piss taken out of learnings and connection, and the odd baffling moment like the Carlton final, I don't think Goodwin gets enough credit. He's hardly Norm Smith but some people treat him like Mark Neeld whenever things go wrong. Feel free to trawl the archives for times where I've done just that, but not as much as people who think we'd be on for a fourth straight flag under anyone else. I've gone all emotional in my old age but whenever they show him talking to the team after a win I feel that he's in a happy place, and may go completely off the rails one way or another outside the club environment.

He had a great night here, assisted by players helping execute the plan to jam the middle of the ground up like a lock shot full of superglue. Whenever Geelong got the ball forward they were met with a collective brick wall of epic proportions. After a shaky game last week, I'm back to crediting McDonald for his late-career defensive revival, but as always the main events were May and Lever. 

On the occasion of May's 100th game for us there's no point hiding how much I love these two, but are they both legitimate contenders for the best senior player we've recruited from another club? With apologies to those who Leoncelli, B. Lovett, A. McDonald, Rigoni and Ward who only played Reserves elsewhere, I think the post-1980 field is Garry Baker, Laurie Fowler, Michael Hibberd, Anthony Ingerson, Jake Melksham, Brent Moloney, Peter Rohde, Bernie Vince, Jeff White and Brian Wilson. Fowler won three B&Fs, Wilson won a Brownlow, but I'd say White is the only one in their way. Your views may vary, but the most important thing is that they're here, they're spectacular, and I can't comprehend ever having another defensive pair as good. It might happen, but while we're doing 60 year gaps between flags it's hard to imagine anyone else turning up and having the same impact.

For me, there's no downside to living through the greatest five year run since early Simpsons except for having to watch half of it on TV, but good luck to any kids who have come along at just the right time to know nothing of the dark times except scarcely believable stories. It's a great time to follow this club, and you'll still be talking about a lot of these players in several decades when you're a gibbering wreck in the nursing home, but the rest of your supporting life is going to be spent hoping for another backline combination like this to come along. We might accidentally stumble upon the regens of John Coleman and Tony Lockett at the other end, but you'll never find another pair of defenders like this in an era so well-suited to defensive play. Now watch them concede 16 each against Carlton, but even if they turn to dust now their legacy is secure.

The second quarter won't have much of a legacy, other than being dredged up as a trivia tidbit the next time nobody kicks a goal. Despite the obvious agony of the commentators it was a fascinating struggle. Not sure I'd have seen it the same way as a neutral. The TL:DR is that the teams combined for 0.13, finding creative ways to keep missing. The only other excitement came from the Jack Viney Injury Scare of the Week. Jack and I only have two things in common, we both like Todd, and cope with pain by acting like we've had the limb torn off in an industrial accident. The difference is he's being battered around in a full-contact sport while I'm usually carrying on after stubbing my toe. For the third time in the last 12 months Viney scared the shit out of everyone by going down clutching his shoulder like it was shattered to pieces, before recovering to play on as if nothing had happened. He's made of iron, but I hope his shoulder isn't slowly weakening before randomly falling apart.

By the last couple of minutes I was right into the novelty of a goalless quarter, thinking that it surely hadn't happened in a full length game for years. Then they revealed that there'd been one two years ago, which was a whole lot less fun. We did our best to get an ad break on, but to the disappointment of people who wanted to see Luke Hodge encourage Australia's stupidest people to take high-interest loans, Geelong was unable to take advantage of Fritsch giving away a pointless 50 or May doing a slapstick turnover in the middle. 

Meanwhile, our shots were going off in more directions than the New Year's fireworks and even the most sensible commentary team you're going to get on free to air TV sounded like they were about to self-harm. I felt bad for Nathan Jones when there was talk about all the close games between these teams in recent years and he was probably hoping they didn't mention him playing in losses to the Cats by 116, 186 and 111. By the end of the year Gawn will have captained us more times than Jones won in his 302 game career, so a friendly reminder that if anyone questions his loyalty or commitment to our club I'll fight them in the street with weapons.

Returning from half time, we can't have been far away from Channel 7 'accidentally' dropping a camera on the ground so they could play five minutes of ads while carefully picking up all the pieces. Eventually, after three more behinds that would have had spectacle lovers reaching for poison, Kade Chandler became 7's best mate by kicking straight. Hope it goes better for them than previous best mates Ben Roberts-Smith and Bruce Lehrmann.

I'm sure that, like me, you expected to follow this by conceding straight from the middle, but I'm pleased to say we held out for a good two minutes. It took a tremendous goal from the boundary line to do it, but if they'd got another straight after I'd have been wishing Chandler had missed and we'd kept playing for a 20-19 win. This makes no sense because they might have gone coast-to-coast from the kick-in, then booted the next nine goals but fear is my default setting.

I was comfortable scoring at 1905 pace, before the game became a relative shootout. In that three players kicked straight in a row. Sadly for Geelong their second one kicked straight but not long enough. 

As it seemingly went through, they showed a grown woman in an MFC scarf, holding up a sign in child's handwriting begging for a Cats' player's boots, and went to the same dreadfully written Youi commercial that we'd been spared in the second quarter. By now I was cursing myself for not being bothered to get off the couch and set up the Megawall to watch without ads, but it led to the pleasant surprise that we were finally on the right side of an unrequested video review. May got a hand to it just before the ball fully crossed the line, and was rewarded by the high-tech cameras making him look like he was in a Playstation 2 game.

Geelong fans who lustily booed that turn of events, despite being presented with the clearest possible evidence, would have gone into cardiac arrest shortly after when one of their defenders took a clear mark that was called play on because we swatted it out of his hands at the last minute. And when I say 'the last minute', I mean 'would usually end in a 50'. It left Windsor taking a shot from the same place he was gifted one against Richmond, but this time he failed to take advantage of the kindness of strangers. It was a slight blip in the best game of his career, ending in a well-deserved Rising Star nomination.

Despite the low scoring, I had no confidence in holding a two goal lead. Which was lucky, because soon we didn't have one. We lost the lead after Gawn was flat out kneed in the head at a ruck contest, which was a throwback to a few years ago when he used to get poked in the eye, kicked in the face, and everything but teabagged at ball-ups without being paid a free. Morally this made up for the unpaid mark at the other end, with the difference that they converted the chance. ANB should have replied ASAP after turning a defender inside out like the Road Runner on Wile E. Coyote, but he did all the hard work then missed.

We nearly gave up another at the end, but narrowly survived to be less than a goal down at the last change. If you still buy into us finishing games well, the narrow margin would be comforting. I was worried that after doing all the hard work to grind them down over three quarters that we wouldn't be able to change gears to try and win it, before the inevitable Alice Springs 2023 style 'lucky kick rolls over the top and beats us' scenario. 

If you didn't know what happened in the first three quarters, you'd have thought the 1989 Grand Final had broken out in the last term. We kicked three belter goals, recaptured the lead, gave it up again, then grabbed it back, sealed the deal via the Goal of the Year, and got an assist from opponents with 1000 career goals before them kicking as if stoned to the bejesus belt. 

I wasn't nearly as ill as King's Birthday last year, but lying in the exact same spot I got the same Thriller Euphoria that made me forget all my troubles for about 30 minutes before going back down the drain. It started with one of Gawn's trademark long range missile set shots, as they foolishly let him open up the angle to full extension and he walloped one. When Fritsch got another shortly after I was open to the idea of running away with it. Next thing you knew we were behind again and hanging on for dear life. 

Enter your friend and mine K. Pickett, who had a glorious run as the Goal of the Week clubhouse leader for about 15 minutes. Perhaps more than anything else, this demonstrated how much he means to our forward line. He was the one who kicked it to the contest, then when JVR couldn't mark, Pickett steamed through, picked it up, and snapped the goal. What a man part two. And when Windsor won a holding the ball free and converted to put us 10 in front again I was stupid enough to think that we'd broken them and would go on with it comfortably. This is where Cameron/Hawkins started kicking relatively easy set shots like the ball was made from concrete.  

As expected, we scaled up for the quality of opposition but there were a couple of "can't play Richmond every week" victims. As Petty returned, Disco faded out like it was the early 1980s. Which is fine two senior games into his key forward career. If Petty's restored joy of life lasts there's cover for him to spend a few weeks learning what it's like to play without the element of surprise. And after one of the better one quarter sub appearances last week, Laurie walked into a red-hot game here and got one touch. Never mind, I'm thrilled that we beat the top side with multiple players under 10 games experience. And a word for Taj Woewodin, who will naturally get the boot when Bowey or Salem return, but has done very well adapting to being parachuted into the backline out of necessity.

It would have been cruel to lose after putting on such a good defensive display, but the margin was still under a goal with three minutes left before something truly wacky happened. Petty ended his big comeback by cutting off their next kick at full stretch, leaving Petracca with the ball and an entire forward line to choose from. Doesn't mean any players were in that line, so kicking it over Fritsch's head towards the boundary line was better than jamming it down Tom Stewart's gob like we'd have done most other times. If it went out we'd probably be calling an airstrike on AFL House after he was pinged for deliberate, but instead something truly ludicrous happened. No explanation can beat the actual footage, so enjoy it with bonus unnecessary TikTok shit on the video:

But in case space flange Elon Musk pulls the plug on Twitter and the above disappeares, let the written record show that Fritsch and opponent were gently tracking the ball on its path to the boundary line, when it did a mysterious leg break straight into his path, allowing him to gather and ran away from unnamed Geelong person. Which was nice, and if he'd turned around to square the kick to somebody 20 metres out directly in front we'd all have been very happy, but instead a did the most deft (deftess?) toepoke you'll ever see, causing it to skid around the corner toward goal, before neatly depositing itself just inside the left goalpost.

Dear reader, I ask where you rate this amongst great recent MFC goals? For quality it may be #1, but while Petracca starting the Mad Minute in Perth didn't have the same agonising journey across the line it's similar enough to win due to the occasion and what came next. It's hard to compare set shots, snaps, game winners, first quarters stunners etc... etc... but some suggestions. Context is important, so apologies to anybody who kicked a ripper when we got beaten.

* Jeff White vs Footscray 2005
* Aaron Davey vs Fremantle 2008
* Cameron Pedersen vs Carlton 2014
* Christian Salem vs Essendon 2014
* Clayton Oliver vs Adelaide 2017 and Footscray 2021
* Tom McDonald vs West Coast 2017
* Jack Watts vs Collingwood 2017
* Dean Kent vs West Coast 2018
* Nathan Jones vs Geelong 2018
* Mitch Hannan vs Geelong 2018
* Jake Melksham vs Hawthorn 2018 or Brisbane 2023
* Kysiah Pickett vs St Kilda 2021, Carlton 2022, and god knows how many others.
* Max Gawn vs Geelong 2021 and Geelong 2021

There's got to be more, even if I'm eliminating enormous swathes of history by only counting games we won. Additional suggestions via the usual channels. 

Because I'm old, broken and most importantly soft, a not-at-all serious illness was enough to stop me from going, costing another great moment in live viewing that I can never get back. Like 25/09/2021 it matters not a shite to the overall result whether I was there live or not. The real distress will come in about 10 years when I've got time to go every week and we're back to sucking pond water.

The good news is that I did get to see a few live junk time goals in the last quarter against Brisbane, and being at home on Saturday meant listening to Jobe Watson's unusual, Wrestlemania VIII-inspired claim that two players resembled Randy Savage and Ric Flair. They didn't, but it's nice to get a wrestling reference on commentary that doesn't go straight for the safety of Hulk Hogan. In a week where the league spoke out about violence against women I take it Jobe never saw the documentaries about the Macho Man locking his wife in a room when he wasn't there and Slick Ric waving his dick at flight attendants.

I'm all about protecting the legacy of great moments - like how Gawn at Kardinia Park wouldn't be as good if we'd lost to Geelong in the Prelim, or why nobody talks about thumping Brisbane at home in the last game of 2022 because of what happened two games later. So when this left Geelong needing two quick goals to beat us I was more frightened than usual, hoping to avoid losing in humiliating circumstances AND not being able to enjoy one of the most exciting goals ever captured on film. So when they went forward and found Jeremy Cameron in acres of space I thought "oh christ, here we go". After being held all night and missing two earlier shots I would have had my house on a goal here. And if he was going to miss I'd have expected more drama off the boot than a shank that went off like he was kicking with an ill-fitting prosthetic leg. 

After previously blaming the gastro and the flu for losing to us, I can't wait for Geelong's big "I don't want to make excuses but..." reveal that he Jezzed it while bravely playing through Mad Cow Disease, but Cameron is another in the long line of great key forwards with an unexpectedly bad record against us. He's kicked 57 career goals against Collingwood, but only 22 against us in one fewer start, and we've held him to fewer goals per game than anyone. Still doesn't explain how badly this regulation set shot went, but thank god it did because I did not need the tension of holding onto a slender lead for the last 90 seconds. Also good news for Ed Langdon, who shouldn't have been expected to guard Cameron in the first place but clearly knew he could have put in more of a contest when he started doing the tell-tale 'point to everything to shift focus' routine post-mark.

There was still time to stuff it up, but it worked in our favour that he barely snuck the kick through for a point and we could bring it back on our terms rather than the ball being handed to whoever was closest as it crossed the line. If anything was going to bring us undone it was short kicks in defence, but we got it far enough away from goal to run the clock down to the point where it would have taken an all-time ludicrous scenario to beat us. They were going forward in the dying seconds, before poor old Jez capped off his dreadful night by hurriedly booting it out on the full. 

Cameron will be back, but not against us in this home and away season. They put us against the second oldest club in the 'Rivalry Round' (which was a marginally better reason than Hawthorn vs Footscray because they came into the league at the same time, and St Kilda vs North because they're most likely to be chased out of Victoria by Eddie McGuire), but the dead giveaway that it's not a real rivalry is that we're not fixtured to play them a second time. If you can't get people fired up over Melbourne vs Sydney, good luck doing it for Melbourne vs Suburb of Melbourne. I'm just happy we don't have to go to Kardinia Park for once, but will be on high alert for their forwards to run riot if we happen to meet again in September.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Jake Lever
4 - Steven May
3 - Caleb Windsor
2 - Harrison Petty
1 - Tom McDonald

Apologies to Fritsch, Gawn, Oliver, Pickett and Viney

Leaderboard
Welcome to the unprecedented (?) scenario of a leaderboard this late in the season without any midfielders on the podium. I can't see it lasting, especially once Oliver regains the use of his hand and Petracca starts busting tags, but if you're somebody who hates mids winning everything then grab a screenshot of this. There's plenty of action in the minors, where the defensive dream team are both within range of the Seecamp/Jakovich double, and Windsor's first career votes see him draw level with Turner in a Rising Star race that is far more exciting than the last couple of years. As for the Stynes, I'm almost certain that Max could stop playing now and not be caught so we're not far from declaring a provisional winner there. 

18 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
16 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year), Jake Lever
14 - Christian Petracca
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
7 - Judd McVee
5 - Tom McDonald, Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom Sparrow
3 - Daniel Turner (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award), Caleb Windsor (JOINT LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Harrison Petty, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Last week Fritsch lost because his goal wasn't unexpected enough, this time it will take winning a final in the last second of extra time with an overhead kick from the defensive goalsquare to beat him. It's a bit unfortunate for Pickett, whose chasedown of his own kick was so good that it makes the podium, but the challenge is on for anyone to do anything more outrageous than Fritsch and snatch his title.

1st - Bayley Fritsch (Q4) vs Geelong
2nd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
3rd - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Geelong

Next week
Speaking of games where scores are low, dangerous opposition forwards are well-held, and the result is decided in dramatic or farcical circumstances it's Carlton again. Last year we scored 61 and beat them comfortably, 56 and lost by under a goal, then blew a final in spectacular own-goal fashion while coach and sub sat on the bench with thumb in fundament. This may have saved us from Preliminary Final humiliation, but I'd loved to have had a crack at finding out. 

Unlike Melbourne 2019, the Blues have mostly gone on with it after their finals breakthrough, and I'm not taking them lightly after losing three in four. Two were close games against good sides, and while they might have had a weird loss against Adelaide, it was followed by beating GWS who are still near the top so this could go in any direction. No doubt a loss will have them back to trying to sack Michael Voss, and I'm happy to help facilitate that.

You won't get much inspiration for changes from Casey, who are heading towards just their third finals miss since our affiliation began. The race is on to beat their 5-13 record in 2014 in a ladder with anomalies including finishing second last but five games ahead of the wooden spooner, and below a side that had less wins but two draws. It wasn't an entirely wasted year, you may recall B&F winner Max Gawn going on with it big time.

I don't think the coaches really care if the Reserves win, lose, or catch fire (well, the Casey coach probably does), as long as the right players are developing/recovering etc... Ben Brown and Hore were late withdrawals in case required on Thursday, and Hunter disappeared after half time for the same reason, so you can see we're giving this half-arse competition the respect it deserves. McAdam got concussed so we won't be seeing him anytime soon, and otherwise I can't see a case for anybody to be promoted. Tomlinson continued to do well while playing a position we don't need any help in, Jefferson seems to be a forward again because he kicked three, and Moniz-Wakefield is plugging away in defence picking up disposals and thinking about how he'd be an established senior player at one of the shit sides.

The problem is we're coming off a short break and have recent history of playing a Thursday night game as if under heavy sedation so is there a risk in not making changes? NFI, but I wouldn't be surprised if Howes or Windsor get rested eventually. I'm desperate to manage somebody so I'll give Laurie a full game and put Billings on ice for a week before his body falls apart again. Spin the wheel for the sub and hope they're not required early. I'll say... Hunter... and admit I have zero qualifications for making selection suggestions.

I'll do the stupidest thing possible, get sucked in by one great result and assume we'll win. See you back for a depression session if it doesn't happen.

IN: Laurie + Hunter (as sub)
OUT: Billings (managed)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Moniz-Wakefield, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
This was a very good win sealed by one of the great MFC goals, but it felt a little less massive once the euphoria died down I realised that we've got 15 more home and away games to go. Maybe it's just because I'm generally fatigued by life but this season already feels like it's been going forever, I can't comprehend that we're barely a third of the way towards finals. It'll be a long, strange, ride until then and I'll do my best to stay upright and alive until the conclusion.

Saturday 27 April 2024

Disco Demolition Night

The natural reaction to a game like this is to fret that we wouldn't have beaten any of the good sides, but think back to all those 'only good because we won' slogs in 2021 and how things went supernova at the end of the year. Try not to think about how many of our 32 wins over the following two seasons required the same level of patience and understanding before things went tits up in September.

Many consider the post-premiership years a waste (not without some justification), but as it took us eight seasons to win that many games from 2007 I'm still graciously accepting victories in any condition from pristine to soiled. Which is fine when it's your club, but after another prime time appearance that would have had neutrals reaching for cyanide pills, we'll be lucky if Channel 7 lets us play on any special occasion beyond Lapland National Day Eve next year. For the second time in a row we did our impression of the old SBS 9:30 Movie, only getting interesting after everyone else went to bed.

In what we hope will be several years, somebody (spoiler: me) will do a list ranking every game of our relative glory era. This one will probably be near the bottom of the wins list, unless you're Daniel Turner and have fond memories of coming from the clouds to play a great game. Turner already had one of the wilder stories for a four game player - a mid-COVID, mid-season draftee who arrived just at the right time to see the premiership run first-hand (P.S - I rewatched the video of the Grand Final post-match to make sure he was in it and almost started crying, so the impact is still as strong as ever), debuting thanks to Steven May punching on in a French restaurant, ending the game concussed, then randomly turning up for games at either end of last season before starting this one injured. 

None of this would have rated a mention if he hadn't put on the most unlikely goalkicking performance since NFI. Even by modern standards three isn't a massive haul, but tell me a time anyone did it more unexpectedly. I was there for Brent Heaver and Sean Charles kicking five on debut, both the Sam Blease/Mark Jamar surprise efforts in otherwise shit losses, and nearly toppled over from a heart attack when Tom McDonald's fifth sank West Coast in 2018, but this was pound-for-pound weirder than any of them. Factor in the occasion, his recent return from injury, a one game/one goal warm-up in the VFL, and the fact that nobody's ever thought about him playing forward and this was truly odd. He may never kick a goal again, but somebody send word that he's only 28 goals off Peter Walsh's record for the most in #42 and not to get seduced into seeking a Hollywood Boulevard number.

Hopefully, he reduces the novelty factor by doing it again, but for now it's one of the all-time great exceedings of expectations. When he came into the side at the expense of Brown, I fully expected them to send McSizzle forward again. I know we were highly likely to beat a side on the downhill slide from glory and with a shitload of injuries (which we did... eventually) but out-of-the-box key position shenanigans still felt risky. Shows what I know. Last year Petty kicked six against Richmond, now this, so it's your guess which defender will be next to exploit their vulnerability to wildcard moves.

The focus on somebody kicking the princely sum of three goals is necessary to avoid talking about a first half so bad that we're lucky Channel 7 didn't switch to the test pattern. Clickbait fanatics sooked up over a headline about Goodwin and the coaches 'laughing' at some of the errors, but how could you not? Imagine spending two weeks preparing your side to go into an important game as favourites, then watching them kick it 20 metres to the left of the target for an hour? Surely these people are familiar with the concept of nervous laughter. 

Maybe the players were distracted thinking about the list of brave war casualties that we stuck on the bottom of our jumper under a Hertz logo. More likely history's only unbeaten MFC men's senior coach Adem Yze came armed with a raft of inside ideas about how to stop us but a team only capable of keeping it up for a half. Which is fine now, but at the end of that half I was about to run off and join the Navy. On a night we were asked to think about wars, this paid tribute to the ones where the more fancied country takes far longer than expected to break through. The result and margin were fair enough in the end, but now before the traditional "oh, we're not going to stuff this up are we?" fear when playing lower sides.

I would give nothing of the last few years back except the narrow finals losses, but while we'll spend the rest of our lives trying to find another Lever/May combination, the only downside to building on defence is the lack of rampant, sadistic thrashings. I just want to tip our balance of 100 point results a bit more towards the middle. Any win is a good win once it's confirmed, but while we're on the topic of odd scenarios it's NQR that the only time we've had back-to-back 10 goal wins in recent memory were a Prelim/Grand Final.

So while I never expect to win big (and haven't been entirely confident about winning at all since 1993), when we fanged straight from the middle for a JVR mark and goal part of me wondered if we might be about to give it the full USA vs Grenada treatment. And from there until half time we were outscored by seven points, had disposal efficiency that was probably in single figures, and generally made the host broadcaster consider selling rights for our games to community TV.

Other than the world's greatest defensive duo having their way with a discount forward line that may have been discovered wandering down Punt Road, pretty much everything we did from here until the long break was shite and I care not to relive it in too much depth. One of the few highlights was Gawn laughing mockingly in the face of a ruck double team, but otherwise this was not a banner night for our midfield superstars. None of previous BOG winners Oliver, Petracca, Viney went close this time. It didn't matter this time, and no doubt they'll all be back in the thick of it soon so good to do it without for once. I'd still punch on in the streets to defend their honour.

I know we'd be better moving the ball if Bowey and Salem were available, but the forwards have some right to argue about how badly the ball was coming towards them. Mainly because it rarely made it that far. van Rooyen likes the place enough to sign a contract extension but he must wonder what it would be like at (insert alternative top eight side). I hate to think how we'd have gone without Pickett hoovering around the ground floor again. This wasn't his best game but it made you realise how badly we've fared without him twice this year. So for god's sake please stop hitting people. Solid advice too for the opposition Pickett, who signed up for a big fat fine by whacking Oliver in the guts. Somehow this translated to Clayts ending the night with two black eyes like he'd gone 10 rounds of bareknuckle boxing with Mike Tyson.

Other highlights of the first half ranged Turner kicking his first career goal despite the corner of his teenage boy moustache being invaded by what looked like an epic cold score, to the siren that ended it. Almost everything in between was like pulling heavy machinery up a hill with your teeth. A day later the world's most boring people were demanding extra time, this needed five minutes each way shaved off. We both deserved to be ahead at the break and further than a point behind. The game itself deserved to be euthanised.

In all senses of the word, the action kicked off after the nervous half time wait. Gawn fired the starters' gun for party time with a mark and goal in the pocket. For me it's not Max from that spot unless being heckled by an Essendon fan who was later arrested for car theft, but even without some peanut yelling in his ear Max kicked it. This, like basic speech and comprehension, came as a surprise to Brian Taylor, who referred to a reasonably straightforward snap around the body as an 'impossible task' just as ball left boot on its way straight through the goals.

Mocking BT's commentary is the next best thing to being at a game live, and he was in full bozo mode here. After an earlier discussion about the origins of the nickname 'General', Professor Taylor did some study during the break and explained that it came from Robert E Lee who "tried to reunite the United States after the Civil War". Which is slightly true in that Robbo caved in easily after the conflict instead of carrying on a guerilla war but somewhat missed the point of him being a top Confederate general in the first place. This was so baffling it was good, unlike the Dwayne Russell-esque setup in asking Nathan Jones about somebody called Dow so he could say 'Dow Jones Index', much to the joy of the commentary box and the bulk switching of TVs around the country to any other station.

The game was effectively over via several strong minutes of the third term. This is where Discomania took flight. His earlier first goal was from a run into the square, but the two that blew the doors off Richmond (via some mass whinging about umpires) were very good set shots. I was baffled by this turn of events, but probably because in the same situation I'd have been overcome by the pressure and shanked them on the full at right angles.

His second goal only narrowly missed being followed by another,  and now we were on the move. The white flag went up with a horrible blunder that allowed Pickett to convert at the second opportunity. I respect that Richmond had a better run than any of our teams since Norm Smith and wish Adem Yze as well as possible under the circumstances but it doesn't look like they'll be joining Geelong and Sydney in staying afloat forever. Thank god Steely Dan wasn't playing this time because you can only imagine the nonsense that would have created on commentary, forcing poor Jones to try and play along with the old farts like he knew who they were.

Just when it looked like we were going to stomp away to a comfortable three quarter time margin, the attacking machine spluttered and came to a halt again. McDonald looked wonkier than any time this year, and helped contribute to one of their rare goals after being pinched holding the ball while being overly ambitious. I'm not sure he cares what anyone thinks at this point of his career, but it can't be hard having to compete against May and Lever for attention. Even adjusted for playing against a zero potency forward line, May did all the Mayish things we've come to know and love, while Lever had more interceptions than the Iron Dome.

In a few years we'll need to replace 66% of our tall defender stocks, so can we please not separate baby from bathwater and run Harrison Petty into the arms of Adelaide for pick 32. The forward experiment has hit the wall with force and velocity but if his foot stays attached he's May's long-term successor. Even in the joyous event of Steven playing until he's 50 then Petty will be a solid part of the package. And next time we're losing a close game via a putrid low score you know he's half a chance of snatching one if sent up front.

The good news is that while we'd stopped kicking goals again, the opposition still made scoring look harder than splitting the atom. All sensible analysis pointed to us running the game out better, but they were still in range of a ridiculous comeback until the dying seconds of the third quarter. Live viewers may recall their hopes ending with a comically failed kick across goal, but if you just went off the media coverage you'd think it came directly from the ball rebounding off a boundary umpire and back into play. Except that happened 30 seconds earlier, helped them clear the ball out of defence, and they still had ball in their hands seconds before the siren before a tremendous cock-up gave Windsor an easy set shot. Sure, if it had gone out of bounds they wouldn't have been in a position to give up a goal in such comic fashion but that's like blaming it on Captain Cook for landing in Australia, Tom Wills for pioneering the game, and Hitler for stuffing up World War II by invading Russia.   

After the slightest of scares from them getting the first goal of the last term, the final quarter was junk time for everyone except Bailey Laurie, who arrived just as Richmond departed and looked better than ever. He got two goals, and when Howes looked like he might kick one too I was right into the novelty of three players kicking their first career goals in the same game. Sadly not, but this was the sort of novelty value that we were reduced to now. The game was well won, Turner set up Fritsch with a handball over his head, and I was already thinking about next week.

No issues with Gawn getting the medal, but I was desperately hoping for Turner to snatch a couple of late ones after Richmond's surrender and make it interesting. Nobody will live up to Jack Viney doing an Australia Day speech last year, but if anyone was ever going to accidentally drop the magic on national TV, in front of a big crowd minus the bit where Richmond fans used to be, it would have been a shock winner who's never done media in his life. Instead it was back to "It's Petracca!!1!" style organisational chaos when Maximum was invited to speak into a microphone set for somebody about two feet shorter. And as I have no further comments we will move on to the administrative portion of the review.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Daniel Turner
2 - Steven May
1 - Kysaiah Pickett

Apologies to Howes, Oliver and Petracca. Special mention to Laurie for performance per minutes played.

Leaderboard
This contest is more interesting than watching us play, with Maximum clawing his way into the lead and Petracca being swamped by more non-midfielders than any time in recent memory. May and Lever go to battle for the Seecamp, and hello after all these years to the 'if they've played four games or less at the start of the season' Rising Star rule. Bit harsh on Howes to lose the lead after being solid all year, but that's the system we're playing under - until it gets changed again on a whim.

16 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
14 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year), Christian Petracca
11 - Jake Lever
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
7 - Judd McVee
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald, Tom Sparrow
3 - Daniel Turner (LEADER: Rising Star Award)
2 - Kade Chandler, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes, Kysaiah Pickett

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
The prettiest one was Fritsch on the run in the last quarter, but for "didn't see that coming" potential, and because the season leaderboard will remain unchanged I'm going for the Turner set shot from an angle.

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Bayley Fritsch (Q3, #2) vs Adelaide

Occasion Watch (Incorporating Cancellation Corner)
Bill Hicks was for the war but against the troops, while I'm for Anzac Day but against Anzac Day Eve. Commemorate the fighting forces for the rest of the round until your bugle falls off, but the full ceremony should be reserved for a standalone game on the day itself. Whether that's played in Victoria, interstate, or the Mogadishu Cricket Ground I care not but coming in early while trying to flog commemorative merch feels crass. And to make sure my brake cables are slashed, enough fawning over New Zealand anthem. There's nothing wrong with it, but for one day a year people act like Leonard Cohen has just teleported in to sing Hallelujah.

Next week
Regardless of my belief in us shapeshifting to match the opposition, it's all gets a bit serious over the next couple of weeks. First Geelong, who just flat-out refuse to the do the polite thing and far cough so somebody else can have a go. Like cockroaches after a nuclear attack, they will never be eradicated and good luck to them for it. Doesn't mean we can't win, but since the epic Preliminary Final mauling they've beaten us twice, and reasonably comfortably. At the risk of being called defeatist I'd be surprised if we won, but maybe they'll all get the alleged shits again? Either way, it should be a good week for replays of Gawn After The Siren and/or Gawn Goes Bananas.

I've got no idea what to suggest for selection. This was far from an inspiring performance, but now that Casey's gone to god after several good years I'm not sure how much is in the tank. I'll give Windsor a week off rather than running him into dust by the end of the year. Petty is playing like he's seen a ghost so give him a week to get some touch in the seconds, and when the Turner experience suffers the natural law of diminishing returns we can wheel him back out. My initial thought was to bring Brown back, but I'm reliably told he didn't go near it in the VFL so bad luck. I'll give Fullarton a go while Shane McAdam warms up in the background. And Laurie is rewarded for one of the better sub games we've ever had by... doing it again.

IN: Fullarton, Hunter
OUT: Petty (omit), Windsor (managed)
LUCKY: Nil
UNLUCKY: Laurie (to stay sub), McAdam, Tomlinson

Final thoughts
God knows how many times I've said this since winning stopped being a novelty, but while it wasn't pretty we did what needed to be done, nobody got hurt, and I don't think Pickett belted anyone so bring on the next challenger.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Rough landing

I'm a subscriber to the 'marathon not sprint' philosophy, but if there's ever a time to nervously tug at your collar it's after seeing your team limp to the bye after six games. I've been terrified about our depth all season, this was a frightening vision of what things could look like by August if we're not lucky.

Retain your bundle for now, generous final margin aside this was our worst performance in Victoria since late 2019 but there's a long way to go. You'll remember beating the Lions by 10 goals at their ground then losing a final to them three weeks later. I'm alert and a bit alarmed, but conserving energy in case the premiership anaesthetic wears off and I need to throw a massive tantrum later in the year. In 2022 we beat the Lions on their ground by 10 goals and lost a final to them three weeks later. I'm alert and maybe a bit alarmed, but conserving materials in case they're needed for a big FO panic bonfire in winter.

I thought our last quarter against the Crows was just natural reaction to a five day break, then we returned from Fortress Adelaide and dropped this steaming turdburger after seven days rest. Maybe they spent the week on an Ivan Drago-style training program, maybe Brisbane just outplayed, outran, outcoached, and outniggled us. No serious harm done if valuable lessons were learnt.

Years ago there was a game against Footscray that we lost by an unfairly slender margin and I floated the idea of a weather report-style "Feels Like" score. Early in the last quarter this was heading towards the extreme upset end of the scale, before the last few minutes were so comically silly that it just drifted back to "you've got to laugh territory". But not for long. Mocking a shit movie doesn't work on repeat viewings.    

If there's any benefit to kicking 1.7 across the middle quarters in front of a national audience it's that Channel 7 will surely blacklist us from Thursday night. Maybe Friday and Saturday too if we carry on like this. I wouldn't have supported the worst timeslot since 4.40pm Sunday if not for the unprecedented scenario of finishing work just at the right time, but against all odds this drew a home and away record between the clubs. This wasn't enough for simpletons, usually followers of too-big-to-fail clubs, who think the rest of us can pull big crowds from our arse for regulation home and away games. The MCG - who never bothered responding to my sour but polite post Round 1 complaint - is guilty of making it look worse by shutting the top of the Ponsford, but if the people who know everything could tell us the ideal crowd for Melbourne vs Brisbane on a Thursday night we'll carpet bomb the city with free tickets next time to make them happy. 

Maybe take inspiration from the ground's ultimate drawcard and play Taylor Swift at full forward. Like Tay Tay I was left thinking about jumping off a very tall something. There's no point wasting too much time on this game so the TL:DR is that Brisbane gently manoeuvred around rapidly disintegrating opposition for three quarters then played a half-arse last term when the points were in the bag. I'm happy to avoid a thrashing, but there's no doubt we were lucky to escape with our dignity intact.

If you fell into a coma at the two minute mark of the first quarter there's no need to catch up because our night never got better. The first goal suggested bigger and better things, with ANB running into goal, realising he didn't have anyone to handball to and doing an outside of the boot slice over the top and through a vacant square. It was delightful, but regrettably reminded Brisbane to turn up and treat us with contempt for the next three quarters. They beat tomato can opposition last week and didn't face much more of a challenge here. We were flatter than a plateful of piss, and no matter how hard they tried the usual suspects couldn't lift the tone.

Our forward line was back to Round Nothing potency, and the common denominator is that Kysaiah Pickett was suspended both times. I don't know if he'd have saved us here, but playing without him is the equivalent of putting your phone on ultra power saving mode. The obvious solution is for him to stop whacking people, and while I'm sure that's the message behind the scenes we still embarrassed ourselves by challenging the suspension on grounds so flimsy Dennis Denuto would have refused to get involved. Remember when we were scrambling to pay the power bill? Now it's several thousand dollars of hard earned up in smoke to do the equivalent of saying "come on man" to a judge. Not surprisingly, the league didn't fall for it, and nobody went home happy except the lawyers.

I don't know if the X-Men's own Koltyn Tholstrup had been thumping on the door for selection (and how could you when the second tier league barely ever plays?), but wasn't against giving him a go. Nobody on our list can do what Pickett does, and there's not much else in the tank so why not. He was in everything early, possibly setting the record for most involvements in play before first disposal. Like the rest of the side he sank once Brisbane got going, but it's got to start somewhere. He becomes the first player to debut in a 50 point loss since Kade Chandler, and I hope he doesn't also go missing for 2.5 years immediately afterwards.

If you were watching live, you would understand exactly what I mean by saying we just looked off. Everything felt like it took Herculean toil, while they were walking out of packs, pulling down marks from end-to-end, and in Cam Rayner's case aiming for the clearance world record by half time. Brisbane has form for blowing big leads, both this year and recently against us, but by quarter time my confidence was shot. The backline was beaten early but credit to them for keeping the score relatively low considering the pace, ease, and volume of ball they were trying to deal with. I have visions of Lever and May sitting on the front porch/at a fancy French restaurant when they're really old laughing at how many times they gave 110% only to lose because no bastard did anything at the other end. 

Fritsch kicked a pearler of a set shot, but otherwise we were always on the back foot. Their forwards were finding all kinds of space, and we were being undone by that old chestnut of quick kicks inside 50. Obviously, Hawthorn is not Brisbane, but it reminded you of how ludicrous it was that they thought the way to crack us open was by doing 800 uncontested possessions first. May and Lever are the greatest double act known to man and Tom McSizzle is having his best season in years but none can help against players on a lead having the ball kicked to their advantage. And thus it briefly looked like we were going to be ripped to shreds by the Hipwood/Daniher combination. They did their bit early before standing back and letting their teammates enjoy the free-for-all atmosphere.

The mood wasn't helped by Salem doing a hammy. We were already playing Oliver with Dr. Hook levels of hand mobility, and bullshit Petracca was 100%, so losing another important player didn't help. In his place came Taj Woewodin, finally allowed to do something other than a fourth quarter cameo, but in an unfamiliar role that didn't do him any favours. I wonder if a player has ever missed their teammate going off hurt, turned around to see the sub on the ground and wondered what they were doing there. Do they ask who got hurt, or just carry on like nothing's out of the ordinary.

Ordinary was the theme of the night, and it was one of the biggest beltings our midfield has had in recent years. The forwards were bad, but everything started with us getting picked apart in the centre of the ground. It got to the point where Gawn had to try and take everything out of the ruck and boot it forward in hope, because he knew hitting it towards the ground was an open invitation for Brisbane to go into attack. The quick kick forward out of the middle has worked before, but this time it was relying on JVR unable to mark over his head, Brown barely mobile, and Petty so far out of the game that he may as well have stayed in Adelaide. 

Surely the only reason Oliver was playing is that there were no other midfielders left, but I'd have preferred to try Salem (pre-injury) or Rivers at the (cliche alert) coalface if it meant the poor bastard could have a rest. It was as painful for everyone involved watching him trying to play one-handed, especially when somebody had the genius idea to put him in defence and expect him to tackle opponents while wearing the Nintendo Power Glove. Given how badly the forwards were going I don't know why we didn't just park him in a pocket and as far out of the action as possible. Now he's gone for surgery on it and we're in ClaytsWatch mode to see if he makes it for the Richmond game. Just let the man rest, I know it went tits up the last time he had time off but surely we're not going through another fiasco like that.

If you're into excuses that prove it wasn't our fault, there was a bit of wacky umpiring. See, for instance, Daniher getting a 50 and goal against May for a tangle of arms. Then later the ball was flat out chucked over Lever's head and the umpire indicated that it was his fault for not sticking his arm far enough in the air. Then there was the sort of absurdly high standard for 'unsufficient intent' that makes commentators suggest the last touch rule, instead of the simpler compromise of the league telling umps they don't have to be such tightarses about it. But we were so useless that it wouldn't have helped if all the contentious calls went our way. 

After blowing a seven goal lead against Carlton, I was open to the Lions forgetting how to play football after quarter time. This did not happen, and we fell victim to bad luck as much as bad planning + everything else when the first goal after the break came via a scuffed kick along the ground bouncing straight up into the hands of a player to snap home. That was the sort of stuff going in Brisbane's favour while we struggled to get the ball down our end in the first place, much less getting in a position where it could be kicked towards a contest and rapidly turned back. This was quite offensive, and I imagine there was a spike on the PTV website as people tried to journey plan the early train home. 

Their second of the quarter came via acting so hammy it deserved to be on the theatre restaurant circuit. I suggest reducing the risk of frees from endless stoppages by not letting the ball get down there so easily in the first place. Optionally try to make some decent contests at the other end and see if you're the ones who get lucky.

By now our backline had regained control and we were less likely to lose by 98 points, but we looked every chance of finishing the evening on 2.8.14. Under usual circumstances you could dream about reeling in a five goal margin at half time, it was never going to happen in a million years here. This was the day to make an outlandish "if we win I'll XYZ" claim and be safe from eating hats/shit/endangered species. It wasn't worth jumping the gun and conceding the season but I was miserable enough to spend $22.70 on food and drink that would have cost them about $1.70. The sensible thing to do when that came up on the register would have been to declare change of mind and depart, but I was too glum to argue. Consider it my equivalent of the religious types who crucify themselves for Easter.

There was faint light at the end of the tunnel when Chandler kicked a delightful goal a couple of minutes after the restart. In isolation all our our goals had been worthy of the highlight of the reel, it's just that there were only three of them. I'd have taken any quantity over quality slop at this point. We would have given it right back if not for a fingertip save by McDonald and I remained sceptical about a heartwarming recovery. Rightly so too, because we only cleared it far enough for them to kick another point, before turning into an eight point play that left us two worse off than before Chandler's goal.

We'd managed to stop conceding goals hand over fist, but as Brisbane steadily ran the margin up we were facing our first genuine low scoring thumping since Port Adelaide at the Gabba in front of 323 people. Somehow it never got that bad, but I don't know how much credit we can take for that. Anyone still holding hope of coming back to win would be popular with telemarketers, but after Oliver's handball was picked off in front of goal it was as close to the Reverse Chris Sullivan Line as we've come since peak COVID.

Respectability was temporarily back on the cards when Brown got on the end of the sort of kick we hadn't gone close to delivering all night. Things were going so badly that Gawn hadn't even left the centre circle before we were giving it back. I didn't expect to fly home and win this but the express return service was insulting. Fortunately the rest of the quarter was played in a free and easy fashion that would have had TV executives slashing their wrists after the bit where people would have been deciding whether to keep watching or go to bed was as boring as batshit. 

The only serious question asked in the final quarter was, 'What's a Noah Answerth?' Just above minimum wage if his career record is anything to go by, but in the same week a player was suspended for actual offensive language can we not fall into the media trap of getting excited about this fringe peanut doing the fake tears routine to Harrison Petty? Petty didn't actually seem to care, so let's not go over the top rushing to defend his honour. He should invite Noah over for a mediation session and show where the premiership medal is kept.

The best bit about "lol u cried once" is that seven games ago the Lions lost a Grand Final in heartbreaking circumstances, and I'm sure a few tears were shed. Either that or all the emotional damage was channelled into a Las Vegas porkfest. In a surprise twist, I feel bad for Dayne Zorko. He comes off as an objectionable character but I've got no doubt he wishes the original incident would go away and wouldn't appreciate being roped into it again. 

Until Petty says he was offended I'm inclined to not care less. He's probably happy for this low-grade nonsense to take focus off a night where he didn't have a touch for 3.5 quarters. The service to our forward line was 100% Fawlty Towers, but even Brown and van Rooyen got a couple of touches while otherwise doing sod all. The MCG scoreboard operator wasn't helping, flashing up his zero disposal total midway through his run-up to goal. I suppose it was their only opportunity. Around the same time we were told that Ben Brown had 29 metres gained, which could have said anything from 1 to 10,000 metres and added nothing to my matchday experience.

I hope Brisbane were just disinterested, and not out of petrol in a way that we could have run them down if several goals closer. At one point we got two goals in a row, and Petracca just missed what would have been the saddest Mad Minute in history. If point shaving was a thing in this competition the AFL Integrity Unit would've fallen off their chair watching this. Brisbane didn't even bother to give their sub a token run, leaving the poor bastard kicking his heels and trying to work out if he'd have to play a full game in the Reserves or if the VFL had another week off for Peru vs Guam. 

By the time Lever kicked a goal from the top of the square after a 50 I was almost enjoying how ludicrous it had become. Then I remembered how we'd ended up there in the first place and felt cheated for showing up again. I'll admit to having a "I wonder if there's enough time left..." hallucination towards the end, before checking the AFL app to discover there was a minute and a half left. Obviously not, and we appear to have benefited from cue and rack being merged more successfully than Brisbane and Lions, but at least there were some cheap, meaningless thrills on a night that was threatening full doom spiral.

A bit of pressure-free scoring in landfill-sized junk time isn't going to fool anyone, we deserved every bit of the moral thrashing dished out. Weird shit happens, and as much as toppling the unbeaten Port didn't instantly mean clearing a space for flag #14, this is not a sign that we're going to float into space never to be seen again. But if we do it'll be a good example to go back to and say "I knew this was going to happen", whether you meant it or not.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Max Gawn
4 - Jake Lever
3 - Tom McDonald
2 - Trent Rivers
1 - Steven May

Apologies to Chandler and nobody else

Leaderboard
It's getting crowded at the top, but even in a rare week where he didn't go near the votes I'd expect Petracca to poll better than a defender and a ruckman if they all play the same number of games by the end of the year. Still, nice to have some drama at the top of the leaderboard. No change in the minors, but 

14 - Christian Petracca
12 - Steven May (LEADER: Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year)
11 - Max Gawn (LEADER: Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year)
8 - Alex Neal-Bullen, Jack Viney
7 - Jake Lever, Judd McVee
5 - Clayton Oliver
4 - Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald, Tom Sparrow
2 - Kade Chandler, Trent Rivers
1 - Jack Billings, Blake Howes (LEADER: Rising Star Award)

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Joke of a contest under the circumstances, but the first three were the best. I'll go for the ANB slice narrowly over Fritsch's set shot and Chandler from the boundary. Lever runs fourth for novelty value. No change to the overall leaderboard. 

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Bayley Fritsch (Q3, #2) vs Adelaide

Crowd watch
If turnout was so disappointing, how come I couldn't get away from people by sitting in the very back row of the Olympic Stand. One of the teenagers sitting a few seats away provided entertainingly over-the-top tantrums as things went from bad to worse, and I thought that at his age it must have seemed a lifetime since we seriously stunk out the MCG, if he remembered it at all. A generation who don't recognise our full legal name as "defeated Melbourne" will be seriously disappointed when we eventually swing back to misery. In a throwback to the good old days of people doing whatever they wanted in level four, one even fired up a random smoke mid-match. At modern tobacco prices that's as big a waste of money as challenging Pickett's suspension.

Next week (+1)
Finally, it's Yze Anzac Day. Not how I'd expected it in early 2021 though. Maybe we should counter by bringing his brother back into the fold? I'm all for remaining calm after this lost, but if we lose to declining years Richmond there will be cause for concern. Against all odds there's no VFL bye, state game, or alien invasion to stop Casey from playing this week. Just to make sure it doesn't come across like a sane and sensible competition they're away to Port Melbourne at Frankston. 

I don't know what this will tell us about changes, but even with a week to reflect on being morally pantsed here we can't just carry on like nothing's changed. Don't know who will cover Salem when our entire fit reserves list with senior experience is Fullarton, Hunter, Laurie, Schache and Tomlinson. Good luck with that. It won't be Woewodin again, but he still should get a full game, and even if it's not a straight swap he can replace Billings, who has played one good game in six. We might be stuffed for depth but this isn't the Make A Wish Foundation. No point making him the sub, so after we chose not to ruin Tholstrup's debut by sitting him on the bench half the night his chance comes in game two. 

One of the tall forwards has to go, and the unlucky victim is Brown. He's welcome to come back later, but we're one tall over. Despite his struggles here I'm saving Petty, because a) he murdered Richmond last time, b) I'm not giving in to media-generated sooking, and c) we need to know if he's worth persisting with forward, because he used to be a shit-hot defender and neither May or McDonald is getting any younger. JVR survives because he's the second ruck and I don't want him to sook up and ask for a trade to West Coast.

I'd like to think we'll win, but my confidence is in the toilet now so I'll revert to the default position of believing we're the better side but waiting for evidence to prove it. I'm never quite sure how many people should be coming in and out when messing with the subs, so if this doesn't balance just add or subtract whoever you like best.

IN: Pickett, Woewodin, Hunter + Tholstrup to sub
OUT: Salem (inj), Billings, B. Brown (omit)
LUCKY: Petty, Tholstrup, van Rooyen, Woewodin
UNLUCKY: Tomlinson for being the best player out of the side but playing the only position we don't need a replacement for. 

Final thoughts
Sometimes they should burn the tapes of a rancid loss and move on. This should be enforced viewing for players and coaches alike over the bye week, even if it involves a Clockwork Orange style aparatus. Take all the excuses in the world and stuff them up your jumper, if this isn't a valuable learning experience for everyone we don't deserve to be in the mix.