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

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.

Sunday 7 April 2024

Holiday Road

Who knows where we're at in the cycle between good and not embarrassingly awful, but I know I'll never come to terms with being certain of beating anybody. This might have been a second away game in a few days, with injury clouds galore, and a full house of opposition fans howling for free kicks, but Adelaide was also winless, scoring at 1921 pace, and with a raft of inclusions who you couldn't pick out of a lineup and I was still worried they'd run down our five goal lead. In a best-of-both-worlds scenario, my paranoia was justified and we still won.

Like Geelong, Sydney, and (until recently) West Coast, Adelaide feels like a club who are never out of the limelight too long. In reality, they haven't played finals since 2017 so apparently it's no Jake Lever, no Crows. I respect their ongoing disdain for him, but it must be disappointing when somebody legs it from your club in controversial circumstances, then adds flag to shitloads of money. Our Carnival of Hate target only got half that, but I reckon it was the half that meant most to him. Unfortunately for upset Crows fans, Jake has won on every metric. And if that's not worth posting this all-purpose reaction shot I'm *consults list of obscure Adelaide players* Myles Poholke.

The opportunity to rumble two South Australian teams in a week came from 'Gather Round', which joins the 'Tasmanian JackJumpers' as proof that you don't need a good name to be successful. Sadly St. Kilda beat us to doing the Adelaide Oval version of the Doomsday Double in 2020, but we're the first to beat both with full crowds, a five day break, and every unaligned malaka in Australia barracking for the upset. You may choose to throw in umpires, but we did pretty well despite them until the final quarter.

We'll never be rid of this round so may as well embrace it, but no matter how much enthusiasm you can muster it will never reach the "look at how much fun we're having, THIS IS SO MUCH FUN" frenzy of Channel 7, who treated a perfect ordinary game like the colonisation of Mars. North Korea puts out more subtle propaganda broadcasts, and I'm not against joining in if somebody slips me a reasonably sized bung by next season. For the right price I'll attend the games, do the stadium roof climb, and roam the Veale Gardens. Send offers via DM.

For now, apologies for not going right over the top for this. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future, like Big Bash League, it's gone so well early that the organisers are preparing to go too far and stuff it up. For now, all the effort is pointed at South Australia, right down to suck-up commentators talking about the Adelaide Oval like it was the first time footy had been played there. Imagine when somebody from Saudi Arabia with unlimited money accidentally stumbles upon the AFL while flicking through his TV channels and they end up selling a round to Riyadh.

Even if you've still got the joy of life, it must have been hard to get into the spirit of things when we were drawn against a side we've played in Adelaide practically every year since 1991. As far as atmosphere goes it was better than losing to Essendon in a half-empty ground last year, but scored 0% for novelty value. As long as we get paid the same I'd rather play North at Norwood Oval, Mt. Barker, or the Rundle Mall at 5.10pm on a Friday next year.

The advantage to playing the locals in succession is that scientists and people who just want to hang shit on South Australians can compare the pair to see if Crows fans did the same sort of mad, anti-social theatrics as Port. We didn't have as many shots from the boundary line, but I saw less vigorous waving of middle finger with teeth hanging precariously. One neckbeard had a go but you could tell he was putting on an act for TV. Maybe Adelaide management is better at directing people who carry on like deros in public away from the cameras. 

A trip that might have turned into National Lampoons Vacation ended in near-universal positivity. The first part was an us against the world experience, including families, and footage of an emotional Goodwin speech that made you appreciate how much this all means to him. This was often-tedious struggle where we did enough in a short burst that the last quarter was the equivalent of winning a test series by blocking for 90 overs of the fifth day. They can't all be classics, so I'm happy to be paid in cold, hard wins.

Had we cocked this up, and we've got form for either losing to or barely beating Adelaide in recent seasons, injury drama would have been the runner-up excuse behind umpiring. Steven May was playing with various cracks, one of Clayton Oliver's hands was basically a prop, and off a short break Ben Brown played like he could have done with a spot of 'managing'. We chose to play them all and got away with it, so happy days. I expected Crows players to go after May before the bounce, revealing his chest protector a'la Jeff Farmer 2000 Grand Final or D-Lo Brown Summerslam '98. Instead Taylor Walker hugged him, sensibly realising that his image rebuild is going well, so best not derail it by punching on with an indigenous player. 

It wasn't just real-life player concerns, I went unexpectedly mystical and fretted that the dormant MFC Media Curse would return to poke Alex Neal-Bullen in both eyes. Now that he's been discovered 150 games in, the Bullet's profile has expanded to where he represented us the pre-match press conference. It helps that he's South Australian, but if that was the criteria they could have invited Chandler, Goodwin, Petty, Pickett or Sparrow. Even Jack Viney qualifies to play internationals for them through his dad. To make it more dramatic they should have staged a run-in from an NWO-style faction including Jace Bode, Alex Georgiou, and the Cockatoo-Collins brothers.

Neal-Bullen has come a long way in the four years since we declined to try and downgrade his over the top suspension for accidentally bouncing an Adelaide player like a basketball. Maybe we couldn't afford it due to COVID, shame our incumbent president couldn't put his legal training towards a heroic, last-ditch effort to save ANB from missing a quarter of the season. To be fair to the alleged curse this wasn't his best game, but considering the publicity it's a step up from the expected total permanent disablement. He did his bit, everyone did. It was the kind of win you wish was more decisive at the time, but come to appreciate once the points are in the bag.

It wouldn't have mattered if this was Gather Round, Pride Round, or United Nations World Peace Round, I was in zero condition for a Thursday night game and just wanted to go to bed. Even worse when the expected 7.20 bounce was actually 7.40. Many would have given up and watched on delay in the morning. Or, more sensibly, woken up, checked the score, gone "as expected" or "christ, that's unfortunate", and moved on with life. I'm not there yet, and likely never will be. Then the last quarter woke me right up, I couldn't sleep, and Friday was a write-off. Thanks for the primetime coverage, back to 1.10pm Sunday thanks.

Because Adelaide came dressed like a right-wing militia, we were back in the disco jumper. It's still got that god-awful monogram but I'll accept that they haven't been home to change it yet. I'd cynically auction them off as 'Fortress Adelaide Oval' commemorative items, stuff any leftovers down the hotel laundry chute, and go back to the old design.

In the grandest MFC tradition, we were easily getting the ball inside 50 in the early minutes for no reward. Windsor became our first deserved Goal of the Year nominee last week, before balancing the ledger by booting one OOF here. It was one of his rare missteps, as he swept around the ground gracefully like a 100 gamer. No rational person expects him to do more than this after five games but he's going to rip a game to bits eventually. 

We finally got some reward when Harrison Petty put on a demo for the team that will soon park a truck full of money outside his house, juggling a mark long enough for the defender to lose control and grab his arms. This is why making a contest inside 50 is so important. We may never be the most efficient attackers in the league, but the more times you make a side defend in the air on the ground, the more you'll get results. Certainly better than just sticking the ball down a defender's throat and relying on him to flub the exit kick. 

This is where Brown comes in handy, if he doesn't have to travel too much distance to the contest. He didn't do a lot here, and is on pace for a world record for 'most times baulked', but plays a part in the overall picture. Somebody else might come along and do it better, or the eventual introduction/reintroduction of McAdam/Melksham might alter the mix, but if we can keep him upright long enough he can contribute in big moments. His bringing of ball to ground won't be any help to Kysaiah Pickett next week, who was rubbed out again for a less-than-subtle bump. There was a bit of Brayden Maynard-related whinging about it being part of a failed smother, but the problem was more the bit where he stopped trying to smother and stuck a shoulder into his opponent's head. It was a silly thing to do, and will look even worse if our forward line reverts to Round 1A style impotence in his absence.

Our forward entries weren't great, but they were light years ahead of the slop Adelaide was dishing up. They kicked more home and away goals than anyone in 2023 (for all the good it did them) but have been comically bad this year. They eventually got lucky by blundering into a spot where our old chum Rankin Wankin' could snap the first. He's the perfect Crows player, because like the club he always threatens to do serious damage but rarely does. I wonder if he thinks fondly back to debuting against us, in front of a suspiciously round figure 250 people at the Sydney Showgrounds? 

Four years is a long time in football, but departed from our team that night are Bennell, Brayshaw, Hannan, Harmes, Hibberd, Jetta, Lockhart, O. McDonald, vandenBerg and Weideman + Melksham. And amongst the departures from Gold Coast's team... Rankin. I'm sure he'll have a long and lucrative career, but it would be Nathan Brown at Richmond level funny if the Suns made finals while he was trying to make shit into salad at the Crows.

Adelaide ended up with a shot directly from the next bounce. It missed, but the rest of the quarter wasn't nearly as fun as the first five minutes. They were stealing our gimmick, making movement of the ball a traumatic ordeal. It took a combination of the top shelf talent to restore the gap, with Petracca fully extending to make the most of an ordinary kick on the boundary line, then Pickett kicking the sort of lovely checkside set shot from an obscure angle that we'll probably be sorely missing next week.

This would have been death for neutrals or anyone expecting us to romp to victory on a five day break. Sorry Channel 7, you can't put us on twice in a week and expect both games to be entertaining. As far as opening ceremonies went, this was on the same level as Diana Ross at the 1994 World Cup. Not that you'd know it from the broadcaster, who paid off Bruce Lehrmann's expenses bill by having the time of several people's lives. The token sensible commentator parked tried hard to keep some gravitas in his contractually obligated excitement while shrieking buffoon BT interchanged 'fun facts' and off-the-cuff shite.

Things never looked like getting away from us, and the Crows were kicking for goal as if drunk, but we were worryingly ordinary at breaking through their lines. Despite this we would have gone into the break at worst level if not for a rotten piece of DemonTime play. Trent Rivers may have had a homesick leg because he spent the first half turning everything over. He obviously missed whatever novelty placard the bench was holding up to indicate that the quarter was nearly over, turning over an excessively ambitious kick, leading to another end of first quarter goal in the same pocket as last week. I still had faith we'd win as long as their forwards didn't get going, but we felt a bit off.

The only post-goal highlight of the opening term was May playing through obvious pain, including a heart-in-mouth collision that left him looking like somebody had gone his ribcage with an icepick. He survived, and overcame the physical handicaps to play another quality game. What a man. We all know about him and Lever as a duo, but how good has McSizzle's second coming as a defender been? And if you've had enough of me fawning over the big defenders, let's have some Judd McVee chat. There wasn't much excitement when he was picked for Round 1 last year, but what a success story. He's ice cold in the contest, and has a level of decision making/disposal skill that nobody expects from us. It's almost at the point where forwards need to defend him.

Any mockery of the Crows for not kicking straight went to pieces when we booted a bunch of behinds to start the second quarter. The worst was Billings running into the most open of goals and missing. After recovering from a shaky start to score votes on his full debut, his last two weeks have been average to shizen. Never mind, I remember Jake Melksham was written off in his early weeks before he returning as a key part of the side, spending a couple of years being written off again, then launching a solid career revival that left people genuinely distressed about his major injury. Probably time to give somebody else a go. Taj Woewodin spent his week in Adelaide coming on for two last quarters and didn't do much, but how are you meant to judge dinky cameo performances like that? Give him a full game and see what happens.  

It looked like we may never kick a goal again, until what I can describe without exaggeration as one of the all-time greatest smothers. It lacked the context of Heath Shaw in a Grand Final, but should be included on the relevant Wikipedia page in place of Jayden Hunt and a frighteningly young Christian Petracca from the day Jack Watts dicked Collingwood. Sparrow might be hoping that once the bank truck is finished with Petty, it will roll back over the border at the end of 2026 when he's free to pursue enormous buckets of cash.

A decade ago the most used terms on this site were "farce", "shambles", and "farceshambles", now it's some variation on "we couldn't get rid of [opposition team]". Just when you thought the breakthrough goal would lift us to bigger and better things Adelaide got two in response. The reply to the response was a beautiful set shot by Chandler, who then offered the retort to the reply to the response by giving away a downfield free that would have led to his own goal being wiped out immediately if a toe-poke from the square hadn't just missed. The marking forwards were nowhere to be seen, but for another two and a bit quarters we had Pickett to chip in.

Don't turn off a Melbourne game in the last couple of minutes of a quarter because somebody will probably kick a goal. This time it was us, when JVR took his first good key forward mark of the night and Baron Von Crow copped a 50 for telling the umpire to watch the replay. There was probably a massive block by Brown, but it's not going to help whinging about it. However, at another point during the game an Adelaide defender grabbed his arm after a goal to indicate he'd been held, which provoked a video review because they thought he was claiming to have touched it.  

I thought he was unlucky to be pinched by the sudden reappearance of the dissent rule, but the Dockers getting done in even more controversial circumstances two days later suggests there's a crackdown on. Next, they'll start paying 50s for moving on the mark again, after five weeks of players tiptoeing through the tulips while on the mark. The Freo fiasco showed me that once you've conceded enough from the 50 that the player can't get any closer to goal, you've got until all clear has been signalled to say whatever you like to the umpire so let's see somebody test that theory. Just keep giving away token 50s until you get reported for time wasting. Teams can't get players to come off the ground at the best of times, imagine them trying to get somebody from goalsquare to bench while he's constantly running over the mark. Then an opposition player gets frustrated, throws him on the ground, the free is reversed, and we have a new greatest moment in the history of footy.

The late goals set up a 17 point lead at the half, and that should have been enough against opposition who'd only scored 3.8.26 in a half. I was fanging for a surprise 12 goal to nil quarter so I could go to bed safely knowing the win was in the back and watch the rest in the morning. This looked half a chance when Fritsch got the first, but after Brown missed his opportunity to lay the boots in, they got one in the other direction via a block on May that was almost as good as the one that provoked dissent. We held our tongue, they kicked the goal anyway, and this was staying competitive too long for my liking. Enter spontaneous goalkicking specialist Fritsch for two more, and if a burst from the middle hadn't narrowly been touched through we might have done enough. Alas no, but not before we got a chance to laugh at their fans for being mid-bronx cheer of a missed set shot when van Rooyen marked for his second. 

Nothing was coming easy, but we dragged the margin beyond five goals on the way to three quarter time. Even after giving one back there were multiple chances to restore a margin that sensible people would have been comfortable with. Gawn spun the ball out of his hands before starting his run-up, Billings won a free kick at close range, but they both missed and we were left defending a 28 point lead at the final change. If I'd known Adelaide had never come back from so far behind the last few minutes would have been even more agonising. Famous last words, but other than the famed Chris Sullivan Line game, the only comparable collapses are 38 points vs Geelong in 1936 and 28 vs Richmond in 1972. None of which had a cracker of relevance to what was happening here, but I still reserved the right to shit my shorts about being run down. Probably helps that for about five decades combined we were too shit to be ahead at three quarter time let, alone by this many points.

I'm still not sure if BurgessBall is a real thing, but with him now at Adelaide I was a bit spooked about them running us down due to the short break, half-fit players, and 'noise of affirmation' from their fans that was louder than a Airbus A380. Enter 30 minutes of us hanging off the ropes while they hit us with the equivalent of rolled-up newspapers. 

Matthew Nicks is on the Brendan Bolton scheme for arriving as a senior coach full of cheer and departing with the haunted look of somebody who has lost their life savings to a pyramid scheme. He gave up on coaching from the sidelines, but you could see why he's avoided the Adelaide coaches' box this long when forced to sit in front of a 'Rite Price Heating Cooling' sign that looked like it was made in MS Paint for the right price of free.

Putting cameras on coaches mid-match is ridiculously intrusive, but if you don't care about making somebody uncomfortable in their workplace it's good for comedy content. Like when they cut to Nicks staring intently at his laptop, causing him to look away when realising everyone was about to Photoshop screenshots of him looking at Fortunately, this happened just before they launched their great revival, stopping it from achieving peak meme status.

It probably only needed one goal to put them away, but we were back to carpet-bombing the goals for no reward. The good news is they were too, and in a red-letter quarter for spectacle, both sides combined for 2.11. Our problem was that they got the two, leaving us holding on for dear life in the final minutes. It never got to 100% panic mode, but it was close. They'd just kicked one, and burst out of the middle for what would surely have reduced the gap to single figures with plenty of time left, only for some hapless fool to get ahead of himself and spoil a kick that was heading directly into the hands of a reigning 70+ goalkicker. They never got another chance, and thanks to more top defence - including May going all out for a spoil despite his skeleton only tenuously holding together - we ran the clock down long enough to make sure of it.

You wouldn't watch the replay - and the season to date probably only qualifies for an extended highlights package - but what needed to happen did. If last week was the big up yours to everyone who is not us, this was a professionally done investment in our future ladder position. There should be more of it. But more accurately, there should be more of having games won so early that you can put your feet up and enjoy them instead of nearly having a spew on the couch.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Judd McVee
3 - Steven May
2 - Tom Sparrow
1 - Max Gawn

Apologies to Chandler, Lever, McDonald, and Windsor

After five games we've got a spread of votes around the ground, for young and old, but sooner or later there will always be a midfielder at the top of the table. And here we are, with Petracca extending the gap. No alterations in the minors, except for Gawn being on the verge of provisional Stynes status by mid-April.

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
It's got to be hat trick hero Fritsch for the mark-turn-goal on the run in the middle of his treble. I liked it enough that it goes beyond one of Viney's and onto the leaderboard but we're still waiting for an absolute ripper to take control of this contest. 

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

Next week
It's Brisbane, fresh off an easy drought-breaking win over tomato can opposition. Here's hoping they get excited at beating nothing, fall out with each other over rogue rooting again, and let us build some more buffer going into the bye. Probably not, even if we have beaten them comfortably a couple of times in recent years. We won't get away with playing like we did against the Crows, but should deservedly start favourites. 

Bad luck if you were thinking about basing your changes on a VFL game, because the competition shut for a week after Round 2 for a state game. Hooray for not letting the Big V down, but if there's anything that drives me to wanting a national reserves competition ASAP it's slamming the brakes on the second tier comp a few weeks in so a bootleg 'Victoria' team, featuring a bunch of Southport players could lose to SA at something called 'Stratarama Stadium'. Get stuffed. Would have been a good opportunity for the no longer injured Lachie Hunter to have a run, instead he's left twiddling his thumbs so the spirit of Ted Whitten can live on through Boyd Woodcock.

With nothing else to go on, I'm landing on Andy Moniz-Wakefield as a random first gamer. Then later Kynan Brown, then Marvel Cinematic Universe's own Koltyn Tholstrup. Any of the above will be fine, I'm ruining their debut by making them sub anyway.  

IN: Woewodin, whoever
OUT: Pickett (susp), Billings (omit)
LUCKY: B. Brown
UNLUCKY: Anyone robbed out of putting themselves in the frame by the bullshit state game

Final thoughts
We're home with pockets full of points and hopes raised of being amongst the best in the league again. Like the Griswolds reaching Wally World, we'll probably go through all the pain and suffering of the trip to the finals and turn up to find them shut, but until then you can only beat who they put in front of you.

Monday 1 April 2024

Testing positive for premiership points

With so many other entertainment options available, the best way to stop people getting bored with a long footy season is to string out scandals all the way until September. Odds are we'll be involved somehow, because just when you thought it was safe to open the window and breathe in after a couple of steadying wins, we were back in the news being made to look like a Mexican cartel.

Forget Colonel Mustard, with the candlestick, in the conservatory, I think Joel Smith + 'alleged drug trafficker' + Federal Parliament takes the cake for the most unusual person/offence/location combination in history. There's an extra level of slapstick farce from his dad contributing to the expose, clearly out of concern for his son but neglecting to request the MP plays the 'trafficking' angle down a bit. Not for the first time, a young man (well, younger than me...) who only stands out from a hundred other players because he racked up at the wrong time, who has probably lost his livelihood and gone through massive public humiliation, ends up as the pawn in everybody else's political game when he probably just wants to curl up in a ball until everyone stops talking about him. I hope the club, and especially his teammates, are supporting him properly.

For as long as it took to click past the foaming headline I thought we'd been busted doing an Essendon-style 'throw the paperwork down a well' conspiracy. Didn't take long to realise that a shifty program to supposedly subvert drug testing standards wouldn't be club specific. We got top billing due to our old doctor snitching on it, but obviously the AFL wasn't going to these lengths just so one club could smash gear with impunity. To the disappointment of dickheads everywhere the league confirmed this when they broke the habit of a lifetime and told the truth.

If was an MFC-only rort I'd be hoping for the story to go away quickly, but now that we're all in this together I want to know everything. Did players have to be tested in person at this Heidelberg clinic, or did they supply a foaming beaker of piss with sparks coming off the sides at the club to be transported for analysis? Surely it's the latter, and they weren't making well-known people drug drive from all points of the compass to get there. And did interstate clubs get their own version? If not, this is going to do more for VicBias allegations than eternal MCG Grand Finals and Port claiming 40 something second division flags.

I'm still too scared to take a position on the Bartlett and Friends vs MFC et al legal extravaganza, but at this rate it's unlikely to be resolved before the earth's surface is swallowed by rising sea levels. The last things to go under will be the tip of Mt. Everest and these court documents. Who am I to tell a lawyer how to run his case, but the slow and strange drip-feed of revelations is getting silly now. It's hard to take any of it seriously now, even if I think a lot of what he's saying might be true. We'll never know for sure. As spicy as the eventual Supreme (Federal?) Court Death Match will be, it's not even officially deciding who got on what, just whether public statements about it ruined Glenn's reputation. I was a bit sad that nobody did a proper book about our run to the premiership (ghostwritten Gawn 'diaries' notwithstanding), but it might end up being woven into the larger tell-all story about this saga once everyone's retired.

These relevations play right into my obsession with 2021 being the biggest Sliding Doors job of all time. If [insert your preferred COVID origin story] doesn't happen, the 2020 season doesn't become a travelling circus and Bartlett doesn't fall out with Goodwin after that pox loss to Port Adelaide. Who knows how far the Prez wants to take the supposed off-field shenanigans if everyone's getting along fine, and any chance to justify booting the coach after a bad start goes out the window when Freo set us up by kicking straight into the Lever/May trap. That sets off a run that removes the prospect of Yze by Anzac Day, Bartlett resigns (?), and we avoid the sort of off-field turmoil that would probably have blown the joint sky high. 

The one thing you can say from this fiasco is that they were extraordinarily polite to keep quiet until the end of 2021. I did wonder why it took them so long to expose the Heidelberg Manouevre, but it turns out the doctor didn't mean for that bit to come out. Don't know if he expected that part of the sworn statement to be put in a time capsule instead of read out in Parliament, but that's what you get for involving yourself with a politician. But what the Doc would like you to know is that at some unclear time in his tenure with the club 1/3 of the list were clean living citizens, 1/3 casual drug users, and 1/3 massive gak heads. Which, if true, isn't great, but is hardly helped by anything that's happened this week. He might have been trying to do the right thing for player welfare, but the end result has been a publicity hungry MP getting his name in the papers, the public enjoying some cheap, non-narcotic thrills at our expense, and stiff shit to the next player who comes down with flu on matchday. Next thing we'll be told that the pandemic was engineered by AFL House so players could withdraw under 'COVID protocols' when actually off their tit on illicit substances?  

Contrary to popular belief we're a football club and not an international smuggling operation so there was footy to be played. In Adelaide, where drugs would probably liven things up. We parted last week in the middle of injury crisis panic that quickly lost steam. May is out for as long as they can hold him back, but Lever's knee injury was downgraded from serious, to not as serious, to not even serious enough to keep him out for a week. This was good for everyone, but enjoy the false hope next time a knee victim walks off on his own and is later found to have a disintegrated ACL.

Because this was not a week for late withdrawals, Clayton Oliver had to play in a Nintendo Power Glove due to a finger injury. Because he has superhuman powers it barely slowed him down. That wasn't close to the most objectionable fashion choice of the evening, because somebody incorrectly deduced that the disco jumper needed an MFC monogram and it looks SHITHOUSE. As you might have noticed I'm right into our past, but this outfit is not compatible with historical markers, it's a throwback to the wild west 1970s and 1980s where players only dreamed of making cocaine money. Please remove it immediately, and make the disco jumper great again.

What ended in one of the better team effort wins of recent times started like the Fall of Saigon. Port is sponsored by MG, KFC, and GFG, and have a long history of treating Max Gawn to UFC but there was no need to clobber him at the first bounce this time. All it took was a subtle block to keep him away from the ball and crack the door open for a goal after 19 seconds. Surely we haven't conceded that quickly since Ablett Jr kicked off 2009's Foregone Conclusion Cup by booting one in in less time than it took Ben Johnson to run 100m doped to the eyeballs. 

If you missed that era, all you need to know is that a week later we let one in after 16 seconds. And if you weren't around, consider yourself lucky. West Coast is trying to do a modern version like a footy version of Common People it's not the same when the club is successful enough to stay afloat even if they're shit for years. Their fans only have to stay alive long enough to see the club turn it around, we spent several years watching roaches climb the wall and waiting to be relocated to Paraguay. 

By a combination of good planning and good fortune we eventually recovered, and via the 2018 false start ended up overcoming our natural self-destructive instincts for one season to win the lot. There's no correct path to success, but once you've got there (no matter how briefly), the traumatic years can be seen as a necessary evil. Alternatively, you can be Port and win 10 games every year for a decade, finish top once, and lose three Prelims. By modern standards it's a long time to keep your dignity intact, but if it comes to nothing in the end you're worse off than Eagles fans watching a glorified WAFL team scoring 30. I put it down to reliance on players like Darcy, Jed, and Willam, who should be playing for Downtown Abbey. Return to the glory days of South Australian football and recruit somebody with a 1970s SANFL name like Wolfgang von Schnitzel.

For now, their inevitable late-season implosion was a long way down the track, and they sure looked to have us sussed. A fleeting chance to get things back on track rapidly went from Chandler hitting the post, to Port's second. The only attack we didn't concede from in the opening minutes was the one where they marked the ball about two metres over the line, but it wouldn't be Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval without some level of dudding by boundary umpires. This decision was in the same spirit as holding the ball being replaced by players swinging around in circles like they were on a carnival ride, Petty being told to stand then dancing around on the mark like Michael Flatley, John McEnroe levels of dissent to officials, and the ball being returned to a player's feet after a free kick.

I wasn't quite ready for panic mode when they got a third unanswered, even if it did come from an old fashioned defensive stuff-up. Petty got the blame for spilling a touched ball in the square, but others might have saved the day with any sort of pressure on the guy who kicked it. The margin wasn't fatal yet, but there was a bit of "you can't play Hawthorn every week" sentiment bubbling up. Also, on the evidence of our last game against a supposed top-four contender, you'd be forgiven for thinking we couldn't kick a big enough score to compete.

It took a bit of luck to get us going, but even though the ball fell through a contest to Fritsch he still had to finish on the run. This was very much against the run of play, but turned the game on its head. We got a further leg up when they went from letting everything go, to paying a 50 for the not-seen-in-years rule about restricting a player's run after they dispose of the ball. This led to Oliver, who has done so much of his best work at this ground that he nearly joined the Crows, kicking a set shot and we'd almost wiped out the early deficit.

Appropriately in his 200th game, Jack Viney was at the heart of the recovery, helping stablise the situation by throwing himself into everything with Kamikaze style reckless abandon. What a man. When the club sought fan suggestions for his career highlights, the big tackle against St Kilda that would probably end in a free against and a week suspension now came out on top. That's tainted by us losing ridiculously so I'll nominate him steaming in to punch on for Jack Watts against Richmond in 2016. As the official #fistedforever decade came to a close, this was a perfect contrast to the complete disinterest of Watts' teammates when he was thumped on debut. You can't defame somebody for doing the right thing, so I'd like to bet heavily that if the 33% clean faction actually exists he would be its chairman.

There's nothing better than fans who regularly deceive umpires via mass-sooking being on the end of contentious frees, and we were in front for the first time when Brown half had his run blocked, half ran straight into an opponent. Not surprisingly, the locals failed to appreciate this minor setback after years of getting an armchair ride and howled like they were being carted off to the electric chair.

I'd rather not rely on comebacks every week, but we've had to climb out of a first quarter hole against every reasonable team we've played this year. For many reasons it didn't take against the Swans, so this was more in the spirit of the opening term against Footscray, except with a collective recovery rather than Steven May lifting spirits with a one-man rampage. I'm not for the 'team won X number of statistical categories so should have won the game' analysis, but there's no way we should have been ahead at quarter time. And we weren't, conceding a classic DemonTime goal after the siren when a set shot fell short, and into the arms of Charlie Dixon. It was his only goal, continuing a proud tradition of doing not as much against us as you'd expect - now only having 13 goals in 11 starts against us, and five of those came in one game. There's always next time.

On the balance of things we probably didn't deserve to be in front at quarter time, and as it turns out we weren't. In a tremendous piece of DemonTime business, a set shot in the dying seconds fell short, but was marked and turned into a goal after the siren. You'd think it would be hard to top that for the worst attempt at killing a ball close to goal, but Port had other ideas.

A win was back on the cards, but that late goal still felt like a waste of the good work getting back in the game. Until Sparrow cannoned forward for the reply at the Instant Scoring End about 15 seconds after the restart. I sensed there that this was a game that would be decided by some really weird shit, and it delivered. Both teams blew chances to kick away, the margin was never more than a few points at the end of any quarter, and on a rare night where we kicked straight, enough chances were taken to carry us over the line.

On a rare night when Channel 7 tried sensible, informative commentary instead of shrieking buffoonery, Alex Neal-Bullen joined the Neville Jetta Foundation for players who will spend the rest of their career being described as 'underrated'. It's not really a revival when he's quietly been going about his business for years without anyone noticing, but at a time where most of us are barracking for chaos, it's wholesome to see somebody who used to hold peak whipping-boy status getting a moment in the spotlight. He was in absolutely everything here, playing a role so well that he should be nominated for the next Academy Awards. I'm as guilty as anyone of not appreciating his contribution, and until last week he had fewer career Jakovich votes than Chris Dawes and Matt Jones, but am thrilled to see the man alternatively known as Anal-Bullet get some national publicity. See you next Thursday when the lead commentator doesn't know who he is.

Like our game against them last year (but without rain or Brodie Grundy going early mocking the crowd), this was full of zany momentum swings. For once I think it was even a prime time game featuring us that neutrals would enjoy. Swallow's goal was followed by two more, to the point where you could nearly have believed we would go on and win comfortably. Good luck with that, after consecutive calm finishes there's no way we were going to win another game without going through toil and struggle first. 

I've paid so little attention to non-Demon news recently that it came as a surprise to turn on the end of the Essendon game and find out that Todd Goldstein played for them. See also, Esava Ratugolea at Port. I remember us facilitating a stress-free, do-as-you-like debut for him on the day of Gawn's famous miss, now he's a defender, apparently on a fat, long-term contract. That gives him plenty of time to get it right, and there was a valuable learning experience (e.g. massive cock-up) here, when was all alone in the square for a kick that dropped short, and allowed it to cross the line by trying to mark it in his guts. The bit where he dropped it anyway made it even funnier. God knows why we didn't have anyone on the line, but we've never done better from complete rejection of fundamentals. As far as people returning to Port with tail between legs, at least he was ahead of Captain Dipshit stacking his boat into the Baltimore bridge. 

As soon as it looked like the game had turned in our favour, it reversed course and we were behind again. When trying to work out what school the umpire's kids go to, the braying lunatics in the crowd might want to consider the goal from a player deliberately crumpling into a high tackle. Some of us will admit that every team does it, some think there's a massive, usually Victorian-driven conspiracy against them. Just as things were looking ropey again, enter your friend and mine Jack Viney, continuing his goalkicking revolution by slicing through their backline like a samurai sword for a much-needed one just before the break.

I refuse to believe anyone could see where the game was heading in the second half. I was ready for anything up to winning/losing by six goals. For somebody who has presided over a shitload of wins in the last few years, Simon Goodwin doesn't get much credit from anyone but it was a ballsy move to send Petty forward again in the second half. He didn't win the game off his own boot, or have a shot on goal, but made important contests. More importantly, it didn't backfire at the other end, where Lever overcame a shaky start to do his best Steven May impression while left in charge of the backline - right down to visibly cracking the shits when beaten in a contest.

Midway through the third quarter, the six goal loss option looked far more likely. Other than ANB kicking a lovely goal, our forward line appeared to have shut down for the night, while they got two in a row late to leave us in deepish shit. Then we got some justice for all the games stuffed up by inexplicably going to sleep at the end of a quarter, with two Reverse DemonTime goals that made it interesting again.

Channel 7 left their most objectionable commentators at home, but were able to easily cover the Nuffy Quota with crowd reaction shots. I've had some remote fondness for Port since the Choke Yourself With A Tie incident, but have seen us play them enough at Adelaide Oval that it's now my non-MFC football dream for the weird units in the front row to suffer eternal torment. How much do these people pay to sit in prime spots yelling stupid shit at players and waving the middle finger? Usually the cameras have to work hard to find a fan blowing their top, at Port games they're going off in the background from first siren to last. All clubs have these people, but the goal is to keep them together in the Facebook page comments, not on display for a national TV audience. Later Port kicked a goal and one of them celebrated by shaking a small child in the air. It was a happening.

There should be a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the humanoids who were carrying on behind Ben Brown as he lined up for his goal. At a minimum get some lip readers to work out what they could possibly say to the nicest man in the competition. And when kicked it anyway they're all "ho ho ho, didn't that backfire on me". These people shouldn't be highlighted on national television, they should be imprisoned on Devil's Island. I've still never met a Port fan in real life, but I'm sure the vast majority of them are normal people who are horrified that this is how their club is perceived.

I've got form for engaging in vendettas against particular opposition players who earn more in one year than I do in several (well, one particular opposition player) but this was a level of sad behaviour that should be looked down upon with pity, not treated like a big old laugh. I'll cop people being caught losing their mind in the moment over umpiring, but as much has these statements may contradict each other - get some manners or get fucked. Especially when they're the same fans who gladly hoist scarves in the air and do community singing before the first bounce. If Essendon fans are conspiracy theorists, and Collingwood fans a Waco-style cult, these people would thrive in a North Korean-style atmosphere of national brainwashing. Sure I'll sing the song, sure I'll clap on command for somebody's 351st game, sure I'll denounce my mother for subversive activities etc... 

Despite the best efforts of impolite dregs, Brown converted, and that would have been bad enough for Port if they didn't follow up by gifting Gawn a free after the siren. It was just in the right spot for him, near enough that he didn't need to run out to build momentum, far enough that he could afford to just kick the cover off it. And that he did straight through the middle. He'll do well to ever beat Kardinia Park 2021 for a famous after the siren goal, but this was the best one with a crowd present. 

All these years after BurgessBall, and against the evidence of the Sydney collapse, I like to think we're going to outrun teams, and for a little bit of the last quarter that looked a live possibility. But, based on the shifts during the game you'll have been mad for getting comfortable any time until we led by 13 with two minutes left. Hilariously, the second goal came after about three players should have been pinched for holding the ball and the crowd was so upset I'd be astounded if a couple of them didn't drop dead on the spot. One day we'll be on the other end of something similar, but this was great because it annoyed so many easily annoyable people. 

When Windsor cropped up for his first career goal I was almost ready to believe that we'd hold on without too much drama, which is the worst thing you can do around here. We conceded a normal one, then a weird, reversal from a holding the ball that would have caused them to set the seats on fire if it happened the other way. Now an embarrassing, face-plant defeat from the jaws of victory was back on the cards. If you knew we got out of it but not how, there's no way you'd guessed that our salvation came from set shots. First Brown again, then Fritsch via another course of advice from some junior mutants over the fence, followed by telling them to F O. No need for moral outrage, I'm sure they've heard worse from their parents. 

Given that we've only ever had two players reach 300 games, and both almost had to be carried over the line, it's wild seeing people going well beyond that mark. still playing well. Pendlebury, Hawkins, Dangerfield etc... and while Travis Boak is on his farewell tour after 350 games I'll never take a fading superstar lightly again after the time we let a 37-year-old Brent Harvey kick six in game 412. Alas, any chance he had of fixing us up here went out the window when he collided with a teammate. At last, after all these years we have the chance to say "I believe it was a Boaking accident", and as there wasn't enough time for them to pretend he wasn't concussed, Boak was not a factor in the finish.

The cowards bailing out of the stadium over a two goal margin were even more contemptible than the humanoids in the front row. Even we were unlikely to lose from that position, but they might have seen their side heroically snatch a draw. Instead, they fled like people abandoning a sinking ship to get a two minute headstart on the traffic.

It was made absolutely safe when Fritsch hit the post to extend the margin beyond two goals, and even though they snagged a late one, and had the ball deep inside 50 when the siren went, it was too late. It was another in a long line of solid, professional wins against decent sides, and a nice reminder that from first to last siren players probably don't give a fat rat's clacker about the media scandal of the week. I don't know if the family atmosphere in the rooms after was natural, Viney milestone-related, or a ripping piece of "what drugs, we're a family club" PR, but they deserved to be happy after this. And anyone who doesn't like it can stick it up their nose. 

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

Large scale apologies to Rivers and McDonald. Regular size to Brown, Chandler, Oliver and Windsor.

ANB was so close to adding a clubhouse Jakovich lead to his career achievements, only to be narrowly pushed out by new top banana Christian Petracca. No change in the minors. 

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
Apologies to ANB in the third quarter, and either Windsor or Fritsch in the fourth, but this year I'm all about Viney carrying on like a lost member of the Pickett family. He replaces himself in the top three, but still fails to dislodge Cousin Kysaiah from top spot.  

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q2) vs Port Adelaide
3rd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney

Next week
It's back to Adelaide Oval on Thursday for the opening ceremony of Gather Round. Nice that we're considered interesting enough to play the Crows in the first game, but if this is going to be a regular thing it would be fun to play one of the weird, off-broadway grounds eventually. I thought Adelaide was going to improve this year, but they've barely fired a shot in three losses. The obvious reaction is to be absolutely terrified of an upset, but I'm hoping that a week away will inspire a Spirit of 2021 style outburst and easy win. Will believe it when it happens.

Unless there's a surprise withdrawal after somebody is visited by the E Bunny, I don't see the need to make any alterations unless May is available. If he is then Hore makes way, otherwise I can persist with JVR and Billings despite them barely turning up here. There's no reason to rush May, but if he doesn't play, I doubt Adelaide will let Lever play like he did on Saturday night.

I know the AFL coaches don't really care if the reserves win, lose, or catch fire but it looks like Casey have gone to shit this year. As they were ahead of the senior side in becoming good, I'm hoping their revision to pumpkin status isn't a sign of things to come. I've barely got time to watch AFL, let alone VFL, but I can't see anything from the stats to suggest doors being beaten off their hinges. Looks like Verrall is rucking ahead of Fullarton, it's nice to know Schache can kick goals just in case we need him, but otherwise, and I assume the Tom Sheridan here is not the one who used to play for Freo. I'm content to roll with mostly the same team again, with Woewodin as sub and hope for the best.

IN: May 
OUT: Hore (omit)
LUCKY: Billings, van Rooyen
UNLUCKY: Hore, Woewodin (remains sub)

Final thoughts
And on the third round, the rock rolled away and our season was reborn. Praise be.

Monday 25 March 2024

Pork A Hawk

NB: Due to the excessive time taken to finish this post, the following scenes of injury-related misery are no longer as relevant. Can't be bothered coming up with a new angle, so enjoy the panic when it was still fresh.

You don't often see a game won by quarter time with the opposition held to five goals and still finish the weekend expecting to be disappointed. There's a first time for everything. In this case, the history books will show a comfortable early season win, but the Veil of Pyrrhic Victory is dangling due to the greatest defensive duo of our lifetime both suffering injuries of TBC severity. At the time of writing, Lever and May could be anywhere between perfectly fine and dead so I encourage you to activate any spiritual beliefs and hope for the best.

Here's to looking back at this alleged crisis in September (preferably post-flag) and laughing at the fear that went through us (me?) when May briefly looked like he'd never walk again, then relaxing just in time for Lever to hobble off with a knee injury. Early indications are that it's not a total blowout, but think of all the times we've been burnt over the years by leg injuries that turned out to be so much worse than they looked.

Ironically, the swathe may have gone through our tall defender ranks about five seconds after we were left unexpectedly flush with big forward options. In addition to the incumbent Brown and van Rooyen, Harrison Petty returned, taking us from the flattest attack in town two weeks ago, to more targets than a Glenn Bartlett lawsuit. It was quite the change to our last meeting with the Hawks, a box-ticking exercise featuring the  Josh Schache for Adam Tomlinson tactical substitution that will have future generations saying "Pardon, what?" End result similar, but this time at the start of the year when trying to get things revved up, not half-arsed end-of-season banana peel avoidance.

Last year Hawthorn had a solid run at the end of the season, causing a lot of people to get sooky towards Leigh Montagna after he claimed months earlier that their rebuild still had a long way to go. We still don't know if this is true, but plenty of teams have perked up at the end of a season, then turned up for the next one looking putrid. Regardless of where they're, and how many injury excuses they've got, I'm not entirely sure we took Hawthorn seriously. See, for instance, picking Marty Hore as the sub. Maybe somebody had a premonition of backline carnage, more likely they thought there was no need for a potential game-changing inclusion late in the piece. 

Bit harsh on Marty, welcomed back with open arms last week, then told to sit on the bench and wait for somebody to fall over. I suppose if it was close they could have opened a spot for him by replacing one of the big forwards with McSizzle, but we all suspected this was unlikely. I never take a win for granted, but while I'd never say it out loud we'd have needed a serious of significant cock-ups to lose.

Considering almost total midfield dominance against depleted opposition, you'd expect the big men to have done all the damage. Only if you were stuck in the David Neitz era. Other than Hogan kicking seven in a loss to St Kilda, every substantial haul (in respect to currently suspended players we will not call them 'bags') has come from a smaller player. That's where the fatal damage came from again, with Fritsch, Pickett, and Chandler combining crumb and set shot for 10 between them. You wonder how we'll go against the good sides, but the required job was done efficiently here.

In a random return of Banner Watch, I enjoyed the complete rewriting of history that suggested "some clubs rebuild, the Dees just reload", when we only recently finished the biggest reconstruction project since Pompeii. I remember half-successful teams using us to make themselves feel superior, so nice to be on the other side of the equation at last. You wouldn't claim it against Geelong, who have been constantly rebuilding for 40 years without collapse. The good news is that you can put anything on a banner at a Hawthorn game and it will never beat their May the Fourth 2019 disaster. 

When we last met, Hawthorn's big tactical idea was clamping an old-school, disruptive tag on Clayton Oliver. Many have tried and failed but they got him one game back from an off-field drama-filled injury absence and had a bit of success. In retrospect, considering what he would have known that nobody else did, you can see why Goodwin went as far off as he ever does about it. 

Sam Mitchell could turn out to be the next Norm Smith for all I know, but even in our saddest years we'd have known the opposition was going to try the same thing. It worked so far as it restricted the  Man Who Made Mooroopna Famous to just a good game instead of BOG, but at the price of clearing the path for Petracca to go right off. It's easy to be casual about routine wins that we'd have jumped off an MCG light tower for a decade ago, but even if the old premiership window eventually slams shut at one and done you'll look back at some of the players who were involved and realise they were 100x more fun than you remember.

This time Slamming Sam had a second idea, trying the AFL equivalent of a non-league side parking 10 men behind the ball in an FA Cup tie against Manchester City and hoping for a nil-all draw. They spent the first quarter racking up uncontested marks and possessions in a game of keepings off that would have thrilled Supercoach fanatics but failed to come to grips with a) still needing to score something, and b) savage punishment of the inevitable turnovers. There would be no repeat of that early-COVID slopfest when Geelong treated us like traffic cones for most of the day. We still nearly came back to win that day, and the gap between Cats 2020 and Hawks 2024 is the equivalent of my house to Jupiter. I'd say we wish them well for the future, but that would be a lie.

Last week we raised the spectre of Ron Barassi's epic "you give me possessions and I'll shut up" rant, but this would have caused him to throttle somebody. There were many handballs, kicks, and marks, and when somebody was standing on his own in acres of space it worked just fine. The problem was that after slowly inching forward to the point where they had to kick inside 50, they found us set up like the Maginot Line. In our premiership year, we were held to a draw by an almost as crocked Hawthorn side when they attacked from different angles, and occasionally just (accidentally?) scuffed the ball along the ground to their forwards. This was frontal attack into a brick wall, and they got what they deserved. 

We've all been there, and if you're watching a rebuilding side it's nearly mandatory to have a few games where you hope to be competitive in defeat then finish the first quarter in fear of a triple figure loss. The Hawks deserve some credit for getting away with half of that, via a brief attempt to keep things interesting in the middle quarters, but after being thrashed so often over the years I'd love to beat the snot out of somebody. Anybody will do.

The ruthlessly efficient clobbering started with a couple of missed set shots, but you got a hint of how it was going to turn out from the first one. You've not seen many better end-to-end transitions that included a dropped mark, finishing with Petracca effortlessly taking up a loose ball and dropping his kick right on Petty's head. After booting them from everywhere in his brief run as Tony Lockett Jr, his return set shot can generously be called 'rusty'. It eventually required Pickett to snatch a mad, loose handball across goal and bounce one through. And bounce it did, taking a massive upward pitch as it crossed the line, vastly improving the visual spectacle for anyone mad enough to be watching a 4.35pm Saturday game.

Petty didn't have much success before being redeployed elsewhere due injury crisis, but he is great at making a contest. This goal never happened without him helping bring the ball to ground, then keeping the defender occupied. If he plays forward again, and once May returns I see no reason he wouldn't, there'll be a game sometime this year where he takes to an opposition like Godzilla in Tokyo. I'd get more emotionally invested if I didn't fully expect him to continue the slow disintegration of the flag club by legging it towards South Australia at the first opportunity.

The best way to eliminate NQR set shots is to boot your goals through an unguarded square, which is where Bayley Fritsch came in. After playing well in a loss, then badly in a win, he realigned the planets with a five goal day. The first was a gift, coming right through the pack and into his arms, but there are years where he'd have turned to play on, tripped over, and watched the ball roll through for a point. 

Another delightful move out of defence saw Pickett go to the other end of the scale, marking on the edge of the centre square, seeing Gawn running towards goal, and realising that a wheeling, long bomb from outside 50 was a better percentage option. He was set up by Neal-Bullen, who had a very good game. ANB is the ultimate middle of the team player, and this is a good thing. He just shows up every week and does his thing within a tightly controlled window of rarely being dominant or playing shockers. He's played 150+ games, would have been a life member this year even without the automatic premiership induction and only gets two paragraphs on Demonwiki. The best compliment is to say he is very much appreciated. Also responsible for a great moment in Australian TV history by spewing on the Gabba.

Speaking of life memberships for premiership players, I note that stopped being talked about once the AFLW team won. They clearly hadn't considered if it would apply to both teams, and there's no way they can't do that without shitloads of bad publicity. If you accept that Daisy Pearce and Paxy would have got one anyway (+ likely foundation players Mithen and L. Pearce in the future), the test case is when Ben Brown retires. There's zero dispute about his contribution to the greatest night of all time, but he probably won't make 50 games and wouldn't get the nod under regular circumstances. 

It's apparently been retrospectively applied to all senior premiership players since 1900 so unless they slip me a bung to go quiet, I'm going to have to call it out for nerd reasons if he goes in (+ eventually James Harmes, Luke Jackson, James Jordon etc..) with Harold Hay from Cumloden (?) College and his seven games, but skip over the likes of Libby Birch, Casey Sherriff and Eliza West who departed well short of 10 years' service. It was a silly corner to paint yourself in to start with, but they're stuck now so start bulk-producing certificates. Can't wait to see how it's handled the first time a player from either team departs in acrimonious circumstances. 

Finally, on this space-wasting topic, I'd like to reboot my idea to restart our Hall of Fame and use that to properly differentiate the greatest on-field contributors (including coaches) from deserving players, administrators, volunteers etc... They should keep getting life memberships, hopefully with many more premiership players to follow, but the Hall of Fame is reserved for the peakest of peak players. On paper we've already got one, but it's been done in such a half-arse way that you could almost start again.

Anyway, as I was saying, by the time we'd gone five goals to nil up at quarter time, Mitchell's tactical masterplan had been blown into so many pieces it was only identifiable by DNA. Surely if there's any team to try possession footy against it's not the one that has spent years trying to stop teams getting the ball inside 50 quickly? The longer teams take the better, and here he was trying to sneak through an unlocked side door. Better luck next time.

Holding them to one point in the opening quarter was a blow to Steven May's insurgent Jakovich campaign. If only that was the worst thing to happen to him on Saturday. This week he was not required to launch a one man war on the opposition, and still ended the day being carted off to hospital. 

After years of being regularly walloped by Hawthorn, it would have been nice to claw one back here. Sadly they switched to playing normally after quarter time, ruining the spectacle for bloodthirsty neutrals. This was a lot like our first game against them in 2023, where we opened an early lead that briefly threatened to challenge our record win against them/anyone, withstood a barely serious challenge, then won comfortably without doing anything amazing.

Much to the joy of bored commentators barracking hard for a storyline, Hawthorn got the first of the second quarter. Which lasted about 19 seconds until cancelled by Pickett's third. That didn't stop them from embarrassingly trying to talk up an unlikely comeback. At least when they weren't going full Rankin' Wankin' over a second gamer who is already called 'The Wizard'. Let's hope he has better luck with nicknames than old 'Beast Mode Barometer' Rhys Mathieson, who is now plying his trade at the elite private school sounding 'Wilston Grange'.

Anthony Hudson and Jason Dunstall should have made up for Dwayne constantly talking out of his ringpiece but treated the occasion like a Round 21 game between bottom four sides. It was disappointing to hear Dunstall come out against fun by accusing Sam Frost of defending too aggressively. If you're just playing for time until the kids get good then what's the point of playing him if it's not to keep spirits up with his ferret up the leg style insanity? Hopefully Hawks fans get as much "everything else is shit, but that was fun" comfort as we got from him in 2019.  

If you didn't think we could lose a second quarter after being 32-1 in front, then you haven't paid enough attention over the years. After plenty of pressure for no result, Hawthorn finally got a second after May was crunched in a marking contest. Nothing unfair about it, and when you put yourself about like he does then this sort of thing is inevitable. It's fine once you know he's relatively fine, but there's nothing like the feeling of first seeing a top player on the ground in pain and not knowing if they're winded, slightly injured, or out for the next 12 months. It looks like a rib injury of some magnitude, and as our luck has changed a bit in recent years I'm confident May won't end up in an Iron Lung. May bounced back from Tom Hawkins elbowing him in the head, played a Grand Final with 6cm of tear in the hamstring and survived Le Belting in a French restaurant, so I'm sure he'll be back in fine form before you know it.

To the disappointment of Captain Bollocks, who screamed the immortal commentary line "They were 32 points down at quarter time, now they're only 30 points down!" no miracle recovery was forthcoming. The final margin was up in the air, but even with the gap reduced to 26 points at the half you knew we weren't going to lose to anything but outright corruption or surprise injury crisis. I could take losing May, but when Lever also hobbled off and was shown having a really shit time of it on the bench I was in full disarray over him doing another knee. Doesn't seem to be going that way, but I'm bracing for the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Any lingering resistance was put away when Chandler extended his coveted #37 goalkicking record with a lovely set shot, then Fritsch snapped one mid-bump and any remote chance of the Hawks making it interesting had gone up in smoke. Good. The heartwarming Ben Brown renaissance didn't carry into a second week, but he did pull off a military grade deception in going back for a set shot, then passing to Chandler for another. Then Petracca burst out of the middle to finish a play that began with Gawn being eye-poked Three Stooges style for no reward. Max should have got some back by booting the guy in the shins, but the best revenge is living well. 

I'm all for punting home the underdog, but the talking up Hawthorn still being in it when they were six goals down at the last change was uncouth. "That might get them started!" shouted the usually sensible Hudson when they reached 5.6.36 in the opening minutes of the final term, only to concede the last four goals of the game. It took eight seconds to set up the reply, with Petracca charging through the middle and laying it as well on the leading van Rooyen as he's ever going to get.

Both Hawthorn games last year were so boring they could have been used for general anaesthetic, and this was heading the same way before Bailey Fritsch tried to launch a one man Mad Minute. He pulled down a juggling mark for the first, and was fed another A+++ pass by Petracca for the second, before sadly failing the NBA Jam "He's on fire" test by spraying the third. 

This was all being done on James Sicily, who somehow got to play after challenging a suspension for kicking on the basis that he did it but not very hard. By now he was probably wishing he'd just hauled off and kicked the Essendon player in the dick so he didn't have to be involved in this, but apparently in an era where the league has gone responsible/soft/'woke' (delete as applicable depending on your political affiliations) on everything else, we've got precedent that you can toe-poke somebody in the shins if upset. Meanwhile, last year Lachie Hunter was fined $1500 for gesturing at a passing opposition player while standing over the boundary line, so work that out.

Once that excitement was over, it was back to some of the junkiest, junk time you're ever likely to see. Unless you're Christian Petracca, who pissbolted to the defensive square to put on an ultra-late spoil that saved a near-certain goal when the game was already enormously well won. He celebrated like he'd kicked a goal at the other end, and if there was an election held today I'd write his name on the ballot.

And... err... that was it. I wonder if Petty and McDonald got bored at the end and started discussing whose career high six goal haul was better. The answer is Petty, but more accurately they were both winners because 23 Hawthorn players only got five between them here. It could have been more savage and demoralising to the opposition, but like Fritsch in the fourth quarter we're just heating up so I'm willing to take it without complaint.

2024 Allen Jakovich Medal votes
5 - Christian Petracca
4 - Bayley Fritsch
3 - Alex Neal-Bullen
2 - Kade Chandler
1 - Tom McDonald

Big old apologies to Salem, Oliver, Pickett and Rivers

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

Aaron Davey Medal for Goal of the Year
I didn't mind Fritsch's mid-bump snap, but it's got to be the Pickett party starter from outside 50 in the first quarter. But not enough to vault him into the top three again.

1st - Kysaiah Pickett (Q4) vs Footscray
2nd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Sydney
3rd - Jack Viney (Q1) vs Footscray

Next week
Party like it's 2020 and you're not allowed more than 5km from your house, because we're playing two games within a few days in South Australia. This time it's Locals 1 and Locals 2, instead of weird opposition like North, Brisbane and Essendon. First Port Adelaide, who usually go off like spoiled milk late in the year but will probably be 100% up for it here.

With no injury/suspension returns, changes have to be judged against our Reserves being easily beaten. The AFL website had to come up with positives from each state league side, and other than an alleged BOG from Tomlinson the best they could do was:

Other big Demons in consideration to fill the hole expected to open through injuries to Steven May and Jake Lever included Tom Fullarton (12 disposals) and Josh Schache (nine disposals, one goal).

Which seems wildly optimistic, and only possible if Petty goes forward again. If both Lever and May are out, then Tomlinson can play, but otherwise I'm happy to leave Petty, Hore, and McDonald together until it goes up in flames. Making somebody a sub first up is putrid, but with apologies I'd like to go for double Brown and pick Kynan. Or Tholstrup, or Moniz-Wakefield. Now that players debuted in 'Opening Round', all bets are off on ruining the experience for first gamers.

IN: Hore, Tomlinson, K. Brown (sub)
OUT: Lever, May (inj)
LUCKY: B. Brown
UNLUCKY: Woewodin + all the potential debutantes.

Final thoughts
We're unbeaten in games with a proper round number, so that's pointing to a 23-1 season followed by the traditional straight sets exit.