Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Cripps-Warner connection; Blues’ missing piece; big fortnight for Pies: Key takeouts from round 11

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It wasn’t Warner’s work in the midfield that broke the game open against the Western Bulldogs, but what he did when moved forward after a quiet first half by his lofty standards. His 15 possessions and three goals, one coming after a towering pack mark, unravelled the undermanned Bulldogs’ brave bid for an upset victory.

In Warner and Isaac Heeney, John Longmire has two gun midfielders he can swing forward confident they can make an impact around goal. Never has Longmire, now coaching a second generation of star Swans to play a contrasting style to his first, had such flexibility on his whiteboard. They are clearly the team to beat.

The unlikely missing piece in Blues’ forward puzzle

With apologies to philosopher Plato, injury is the mother of invention. Zac Williams was a gun defender at Greater Western Sydney who started his career in navy blue as a midfielder. He may well be the unlikeliest missing piece in Carlton’s forward puzzle.

The Blues have suffered a glut of injuries to their small and medium-sized forwards. Lachie Fogarty has just come back from six weeks out. Jesse Motlop played his first game of the year in the VFL. Matthew Cottrell and David Cuningham are injured.

It has robbed Carlton of a classy presence at the feet of Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay. Their forward pressure has also dropped, weakening their team defence. Williams, who booted four goals against the Suns, can be the man to fill that void.

Many Blues fans have questioned why Williams, down on form in defence, has not been dropped, but it made no sense to have a player of his quality in the VFL, especially when Corey Durdin and Orazio Fantasia have struggled.

Zac Williams kicked four goals up forward for the Blues on Saturday.Credit: Getty Images

Though Williams has not played much in attack, he has the knack of knowing where the ball will be, is an excellent kick and has an appetite for the contest. Defenders will be wary of giving him liberties.

Williams’ move forward proved a win-win for coach Michael Voss, allowing him to reward second-year defender Lachie Cowan, who repaid that faith with his best game to date.

In Nic Newman, Adam Saad, the improved Jordan Boyd and Cowan, the Blues have cover for small and running defenders, and need Williams more at the other end.

If Williams can stay fit, which has been his biggest problem at Carlton, he can be their missing link. They are not exactly spoiled for choice.

Why next fortnight is crucial for injury-hit Pies

For all the analysis of game plans, structures and tactics, the biggest factor in this year’s flag race may well be the area clubs (largely) cannot control – injuries.

The final four last year had close to their best teams available. Most teams can cover two or three of their best 23 out, but things get spiky once that number gets out to five, six and beyond, and players ranked in the 30s on the list are needed.

As well as Sydney have played this year, they have been blessed with a healthy list, though Callum Mills, Tom McCartin and Dane Rampe (earlier in the season) have been notable outs. Ravaged by injury last year, they were 15th at round 17, then charged into the finals once their best returned.

Geelong, aided partly by a softer draw, were flying in their first seven games, then they lost Patrick Dangerfield, and lost games. Their thrashing in Darwin last weekend came without Dangerfield, Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron, Mitch Duncan and Sam De Koning. Injuries cruelled their premiership defence last year.

The injury-hit Pies drew with Fremantle.

The injury-hit Pies drew with Fremantle.Credit: AFL Photos

Like the Cats, the Giants jumped brilliantly, but their wobbles began after Sam Taylor and Stephen Coniglio were injured. Calf strains to Josh Kelly, Lachie Ash and Jack Buckley and a suspension to Callum Brown added more stress.

It’s why their win in Geelong was so impressive and significant, but it came at the cost of Harry Perryman and Coniglio (again). Their second bye has come at a good time, while others are still waiting for their first.

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Collingwood will also be tested in the coming weeks. If any of their eight unavailable players from last year’s grand final (six if you exclude the traded Jack Ginnivan and retired Nathan Murphy) had have played in Perth, they would have taken all four points against Fremantle. The Pies team that faced Fremantle featured six players yet to play 10 games.

Add Brody Mihocek, Mason Cox and perhaps Scott Pendlebury to an injury list containing Jamie Elliott, Jordan De Goey, Tom Mitchell and co and the Pies’ depth will be tested as it rarely has under Craig McRae with games against Western Bulldogs and Melbourne in the next fortnight. Watch out if they emerge still around the top four.

Essendon have covered their injuries better than expected, particularly that of Jordan Ridley, but can their midfield stand up without Darcy Parish against stronger opposition having arguably been shaded the last two weeks by bottom two Richmond and North Melbourne?

Can the Suns flip history?

Gold Coast failed another test in Melbourne, this time with more honour, but they provided one of the highlights of the round.

An Indigenous man, Lloyd Johnston’s somersault to celebrate his goal in Sir Doug Nicholls round even drew applause from a partisan Carlton crowd.

The Suns needed more than acrobatics for a coming-of-age victory in Melbourne, but at least the league’s second-youngest club displayed more resilience than previous Gold Coast sides.

Dominated by the Blues in many key areas, the Suns hung on tenaciously until three-quarter-time before the floodgates opened, though three late goals kept the margin respectable.

The next fortnight before their bye will test their maturity in different ways under new coach Damien Hardwick. All eyes at home will be on them against Essendon. They bombed spectacularly on a similar stage against Collingwood at a similar time in the season. Then comes a very winnable game back at Marvel Stadium against the struggling St Kilda. They must seize the moment.

The young key backs who should get long-term deals

The pandemic added another layer of intrigue to the 2021 draft, but three seasons on two exciting key defenders have already emerged.

In just his seventh game, Leek Aleer covered himself in glory with a Leo Barry-type pack mark in defence to save the day for Greater Western Sydney. It was his second clutch grab in the closing stages to deny Geelong the last-gasp goal they were desperately searching for.

It would have been understandable if No.15 pick Aleer did not attack the contest having cost his team a vital goal with a dropped mark earlier in the quarter. The 22-year-old showed maturity beyond his years.

He’s already a hit with the kids, who kept him busy with selfies, the 21st century version of an autograph, after the game – delaying the Giants’ team song. Good on the Giants players as well to have the awareness their game-saver was not among them.

If they haven’t already, rival list managers wanting a key back for the next 10 years should be making immediate enquiries into Aleer, the South Australian-raised son of South Sudanese parents, who comes out of contract at the end of next year.

Another promising backman from the 2021 draft is Gold Coast’s Mac Andrew, who came at pick five. At half-time, he was clearly on top in his duel with back-to-back Coleman medallist Charlie Curnow, who had been held goalless.

Curnow lifted in the second half to finish with four goals but, by this column’s reckoning, only two were against Andrew, who was either in the ruck or on the bench when the damage was done.

Like Aleer, Andrew is out of contract next year. He is another who should at least have the carrot of a long-term deal to prise him out of an expansion club.

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