The Western Bulldogs are staring down a failed season – but a problem we’ve known about for years is a big reason why.
Plus why the weekend’s biggest losers were unlucky, North Melbourne’s woes and the Lion on the brink of a major breakout.
The big issues from Round 16 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in foxfooty.com.au’sTalking Points!
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NEW FIRST CRACK PODCAST — R16 wrap: Coach’s ‘mixed messaging’ exposed; ‘wholesale problems’ at Dogs
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THE LINGERING PROBLEM DOGS HAVE HAD FOR YEARS… AND STILL HAVEN’T FIXED
From Grand Finalists to missing the eight in the space of 12 months?
That’s the very real possibility now facing the Western Bulldogs, who now sit 10th on the AFL ladder with seven (very tough) weeks left in the home and away season.
The Bulldogs on Thursday night copped a stern reality check courtesy of a ruthless Brisbane Lions outfit, going down by 41 points at The Gabba.
Brisbane conjured 28 scoring shots from just 50 inside 50s – an efficiency rating of 64 per cent.
While that number speaks to the Bulldogs’ lack of pressure up the field, it also again exposed the unreliability of their backline.
The Lions had 62 intercepts for the game compared to the Bulldogs’ 53 – a result that concerned dual premiership Kangaroo David King, especially considering the club’s determination to bolster their intercept defensive stocks at the trade table in recent years.
“They don‘t have an interceptor, the Dogs. They don’t have anyone to win the ball back down back,” King told Fox Footy post-game on Thursday.
“All their problems are coming home to roost. That was the idea of getting Tim O‘Brien was to play that function, Alex Keath when he was originally recruited to the Dogs was to play that role.
“The Dogs won it back 53 times in total in what is a kicking game against them, so that number should be closer to the AFL average, which is 70. They get beaten by what they know. They know their flaws and they‘re so good around the footy, but outside of that there’s problems everywhere.
“It‘s going to be a year to regret in terms of their model, their brand.”
The loss to the Lions, which came after two straight wins, continued the Dogs’ topsy-topsy turvy season in which they’ve dropped several games – think Adelaide in Round 6, Port Adelaide in Round 8 and Geelong in Round 12 – that have disrupted momentum generated by previous victories.
And the Bulldogs’ run home looks mighty tough on paper, with clashes against top-eight teams Sydney (SCG), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), Melbourne (Marvel), Geelong (GMHBA Stadium) and Fremantle (Marvel Stadium) across the next five rounds.
Dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna said the Dogs would need to win at least five of their seven games to play finals this year.
Asked what the consequences would be if the Dogs missed the finals this year after playing the Grand Final last year – a drop that happened to the Dogs from 2016 to 2017 – four-time premiership Hawk Jason Dunstall told Fox Footy: “It‘d be disappointing because after a slow start they actually got their game up and running again.
“I think they‘re starting to build a little bit of momentum – it didn’t happen for them (against Brisbane) – but you look at that run home … I think they’re going to back themselves to win enough games to get themselves into the eight because we have seen at times when they get going, it’s very hard to stop.”
LUCK SHAPES THE LADDER AS BLUES, SWANS CAN FEEL ROBBED
The two biggest upsets of the round weren’t purely about the losers playing poorly.
If anything, Carlton and Sydney deserved to beat St Kilda and Essendon, based on Champion Data’s excellent Expected Score metric. (Clubs respect it, so you should too… here’s a reminder of what it is.)
Both favourites had their chances, with Carlton kicking 10.18 to St Kilda’s 14.9, and Sydney booting 12.14 to Essendon’s 15.5.
When you have that many more scoring shots, you can generally expect to win. But inaccuracy, combined with accuracy from the opponent, can reverse that.
Based on where the Blues and Saints took their shots from, if they’d each kicked to league average, Carlton would’ve won by 20 points (not lost by 15).
Likewise, if the Swans and Bombers had each kicked for goal normally, Sydney would’ve won by 23 points (not lost by nine).
That’s goalkicking creating five-goal swings, and potentially swinging the shape of the top four – with Carlton and Sydney now much less likely to crack it.
Of course, luck can turn quickly. And both Carlton and Sydney were the beneficiaries of luck earlier this season.
The Blues kicked extremely straight back in Round 2 when they beat the Western Bulldogs, turning what should’ve been a 16-point loss into a 12-point win.
And on the same weekend, on the night Buddy kicked his 1000th goal, the Swans were fortunate to knock off Geelong – they should’ve lost by six points, but won by 30. (Sydney also should’ve lost to North Melbourne 75-79 not won 86-75).
So perhaps this was just a weekend of cosmic justice.
NEALE HAILS NEXT AFL STAR – AND PREDICTS ‘MULTIPLE ALL-AUSTRALIANS’ FOR HIM
You’ll struggle to find a greater endorsement for a player from a teammate this season than Lachie Neale’s high praise – and bold predictions – for Brisbane teammate Keidean Coleman on Thursday night.
The 22-year-old produced arguably his best and most influential game of his 33-game career yet in the Lions’ 41-point win over the Bulldogs.
Coleman starred off half-back, finishing with 24 disposals a kicking efficiency of 83 per cent and 553m gained. Most importantly, nine of his 24 touches ended up in a Brisbane score, while he seemed to thrive with extra responsibility after fellow small defender Daniel Rich went down with an injury mid-game.
“What I liked about his game is he embraced the role when Daniel Rich went out of the side,” dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna told Fox Footy.
“He embraced taking on more responsibility, going back and intercepting and standing in front of the key forwards. He’s growing by the week.”
The Lions academy graduate was drafted as a forward but has found his rhythm as an AFL player in defence after playing the final six games of Brisbane’s 2021 campaign across half-back.
The fact the Lions brought him straight back into the senior team earlier this season when he was deemed fit to return from injury suggested how highly they rate him.
And Neale backed that up on Thursday night.
“Kiddy Coleman’s going to be a star of the comp,” Neale told Fox Footy before declaring: “I’ve pencilled him in for multiple All-Australians for the next five to 10 years.
“I can’t wait to see what he can do across half-back over the next decade. He’s an exciting player, he defends first really well and then provides great run and carry and his skills are beautiful on that left foot.”
Neale pointed out that Coleman played a lot of his junior career as a half-back and was only moved into the forward line after showing promising signs for the club’s academy and reserves teams.
“We drafted him more as a forward. But all his junior career he played half-back, so that’s his natural position,” Neale said.
“A couple of people went down last year and he started to play a bit more half-back. He’s really grown into it and become one of our better users and better players.”
NORTH ‘HORRIBLY BROKEN’ AS COACH’S FATE LOOMS LARGE
North Melbourne will once more come under the microscope of the footy world for all the wrong reasons after its worst loss of the season to date.
The Kangaroos’ first match since Geoff Walsh’s appointment in a short-term advisory role could not have been more damning, with the side thumped by Geelong to the tune of 112 points in their biggest loss this season so far.
While David Noble has said publicly he is not concerned by Walsh’s arrival and the change it could signal at the club, there has been plenty of external discussion about what the experienced administrator’s presence could mean.
Ultimately, according to St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt, Walsh’s input could prove vital as well as timely.
“I think it is (good to bring in Walsh) because if you keep doing the same thing, you’re probably going to get the same result,” he said during Best On Ground.
“So bring some fresh eyes in that might be able to provide a different lense and perspective to the group.
“It might not be the best thing for some individuals within the Kangaroos‘ organisation because Geoff Walsh has been an agent for change when he’s been hired in these processes before.
“Whether that’s coach, CEO, whoever it might be, it might cost them. But for the overall benefit of the football club, it’s a good thing.”
If there’s one person who knows the benefits that can come from a Walsh review, it’s Nathan Buckley.
The former Collingwood coach was given the backing by Walsh to continue in the role at the end of 2017 amid searing external criticism and it nearly resulted in a premiership the year after.
He knows as well as anyone that Walsh’s arrival doesn’t necessarily spell the end for a coach’s future prospects.
“We always make it out about the senior coach, but there’s more than that. You bring them in a little bit earlier and outside perspective comes fresh into an environment, you’re seeing things that potentially already in there have long swept under the carpet, so there’s the advantage of having a look in this seven, eight-week period,” he said on Best On Ground.
“It’s been a tough year for North and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better in the short-term, so the whole idea is to work out why they’re not taking the incremental steps that they believe they should be taking.
“Walshy will be there to try and unpack how the football department is working and where the improvement areas are.”
Still, there seems to be an increasing sense of inevitably about Noble’s future at North Melbourne beyond this year.
Club legend Wayne Carey couldn’t have been much more emphatic when asked directly about Noble’s future on Triple M: “He won’t be there.”
AFL Media journalist Damian Barrett labelled them “a horribly broken footy club and historically inept” on the Sunday Footy Show, while co-pannelist and former Carlton player Marc Murphy dubbed the side’s players “witches’ hats” against Geelong.
A priority pick was more than warranted a month ago and remains even more so in the early days of July.
Ask virtually anyone outside of North Melbourne, however, and the prevailing sense is that Noble won’t be there by the time it comes.
WHY BIG DEES ‘RISK’ ON ‘BANKABLE’ STAR WILL BE WORTH EVERY DOLLAR
Offering a player a seven-year contract – and ultimately securing them to that deal – is an almighty show of faith by a footy club. And few players are worthy of such grand faith.
But the “bankable” Clayton Oliver is, according to Nathan Buckley.
The Demons last week locked in midfield superstar Oliver on a massive new deal that will keep him at the club until at least the end of 2030.
He was due to become a free agent at the end of 2023, but penned a new seven-year agreement with the Dees that ties him to the club essentially for the remainder of his career.
Oliver on Saturday showed why the Demons were prepared to invest so much in him, stuffing the stats sheet to finish with 36 disposals, 19 contested possessions, 13 tackles, six clearances and five inside 50s in Melbourne’s 29-point win over Adelaide.
“There’s not many bankable players – players you pretty much know exactly what their output is going to be – but Clayton Oliver has been one of those players,” Buckley told Fox Footy’s Best On Ground.
“He’s 25 years of age, soon to be 26, and very consistent. So it doesn’t surprise me the club sees him as someone they could take a risk with – and it’s still a risk – with a long-term deal.
“He’s the sort of player that ends up just getting it done week after week after week. He will have injuries, but he’s very durable and I reckon he’ll be playing this type of footy for most of those seven years.
“As a midfielder, you play your best football around 29 or 30, so that’s still year five and six potentially (of the contract) so I think it’s a good decision.”
St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt said clubs were more likely to hand a midfielder like Oliver such a long-term deal compared to a bigger body.
“With a midfielder like him, it’s more bankable than a key-position player or a ruckman,” Riewoldt told Best On Ground.
“Key-position players are a bit more of a risky proposition going for that length of contract.
“I can’t really see a weakness in his game that he’s going to lose and cause him to be an average player.”