The A-Z of Round 20: Who rose to the occasion? Who didn’t?

The photos that captured Round 20. (Source: West Coast Eagles/Twitter, Hawthorn FC/Twitter, Fremantle Dockers/Twitter)

Round 20 saw the race for the top eight and the all important double chance heat up, some rising to the occasion and some failing to capitalise. The Inner Sanctum takes you through the defining highs, lows, and controversies surrounding Round 20 of the 2021 AFL Premiership season, complete from A-Z

A is for Apple Isle Ascendancy. Hawthorn has been known to make Launceston its own, and did so again in Sunday’s win over the Lions. The Hawks now hold a 74 per cent winning record at UTAS Stadium, the best of any team that’s played more than 10 games at the venue. Shaun Burgoyne also equalled Luke Hodge’s record to become the player with the equal most games played at the venue, with 47.

B is for Big Blue Back with a Bang. It was 761 days in the making, and a sight for sore eyes for Blues fans as Charlie Curnow ran out for his first game for the Blues after a number of injury setbacks. While it was a quiet night for Curnow, Blues fans will be buoyed that he got through the game unscathed, and more importantly, showed a flash of his dynamic best with a brilliant first-quarter goal. 

C is for Club debut; slots it through. Nakia Cockatoo may not have been able to enjoy a win in his Brisbane debut, but he was able to kick his first goal for the club with a brilliant little snap early in the second term.

D is for Down to the wire: For the fifth time in succession, Sydney and Essendon have played out a thriller decided by less than 10 points, with Sydney prevailing by seven. Two late goals by Essendon got it close, but Sydney was able to steady the ship and record its second win over Essendon for the year. 

E is for Error ridden goal kicking. Both Fremantle and Richmond had the yips in front of goal in their Sunday evening clash. The Dockers had a conversion rate of 35 per cent, while The Tigers converted at 29 per cent. It’s an alarming trend in the AFL this season, and is a problem that many teams will be searching to fix before 2022.

F is for Fend off. It takes a brave man to attempt to fend off Brisbane’s Mitch Robinson. Returning to the side for just his fourth game of 2021, Conor Nash took on the charging Robinson head on. Playing with confidence through the midfield, Nash finished the day with 23 disposals (12 of those being contested possessions), nine tackles and five score involvements.

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G is for Goal-hungry Sexton finds a nomination. In what should be a nomination for Round 20’s Goal of the Year, Alex Sexton breathed some life into Gold Coast’s game in the first quarter with a brilliant goal off the side of his boot, close to the goalline. When an inbound ball entered Gold Coast’s forward 50, Ed Langdon didn’t get enough of his hands on it to see the ball rushed through. Alex Sexton’s reaction time was better than anyone else’s, acting quickly to get a boot to it for a goal, his seventh consecutive game where he’s scored a major.

H is for Heave-Ho-mage to the past. Fremantle’s heritage jumper was a nice nod to the club’s history. The club’s uniform in Round 20 was designed to mirror the Dockers 1995 guernsey from their inaugural season. Nostalgic fans also were reunited with a pre-game ritual of a time gone by – the anchor which was hauled around Subiaco Oval. 

I is for Incident halts proceedings. A scary incident in the final quarter briefly halted play as medical staff attended to Jacob Hopper after the Giants midfielder copped a nasty stray boot to the face. Hopper was responsive but was stretchered off the field. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery.

J is for James Peatling’s my name. Giants rookie James Peatling became the seventh player from the Mid-Season Rookie Draft to make their AFL debut this season. Earning his opportunity, Peatling turned in a third quarter on debut to remember, collecting 10 disposals, four contested possessions and laying three big tackles in the third term. He finished with 16 disposals in a more than serviceable debut. 

K is for Kicking 14 unanswered. Up by a goal with less than three and a half minutes in the first quarter, Melbourne piled on the goals from there and took the game away from Gold Coast in Round 20. Luke Jackson got the first of 14 unanswered goals in the first quarter for the Demons. It would culminate into a lead of over 100 points after five minutes in the final quarter through Christian Petracca. Ben Brown kicked a new season-high four goals while Luke Jackson kicked a new career-high four goals during the onslaught too.

L is for Leaders stand up. In a year where Collingwood’s experienced players were lacking in games, the clash against West Coast was different. With stand-in captain Steele Sidebottom having one of his best games of the season, notching up 33 disposals and one goal. As well as Jeremy Howe returning and picking up where he left off having 24 disposals. 

M is for Movement – or lack thereof. North Melbourne averaged scoring 60 points a game from opposition turnovers. Against Geelong, they only managed 20 up until three-quarter time. The Roos defended well, particularly through Jack Ziebell and Ben McKay, but the Kangaroos turned the ball over too often in the midfield and at half forward. This was an issue for both sides though, as Geelong struggled to find targets inside 50 and were forced to kick sideways even more than usual. Several times the game threatened to open up, but only five goals were scored between the two teams in the second half.

N is for New heights for Demons’ forward. Luke Jackson kicked a career-high four goals in Melbourne’s Round 20 win against Gold Coast, bettering two occasions where he kicked two majors. Jackson kicked two goals to end the first quarter and had his new best-haul nine minutes into the third term. He had four to half time to cap off a brilliant first half that included 12 disposals and three marks, all the while attending 17 ruck contests in that time too.

O is for Ohhhh Errol. Errol Gulden, the first Rising Star nominee of the year, continues to impress this season. He kicked an amazing goal right when the Swans needed it to put them 13 points ahead deep in the last quarter. 

P is for Pies dominance. It was a dominant display by the Magpies against West Coast, the side getting off to a flier in the first quarter and piling on the goals going into the break with a thirty five point lead. It was the same theme going into the second quarter, entering the main break with a 50 point lead. The Pies finished 45 point winner, with Brody Mihocek, Trent Bianco and Jamie Elliott all kicking two goals.

Q is for Quite the assist for Peter. Peter Ladhams was bobbing up in the first half everywhere for Port Adelaide, kicking three goals before half time. His first one came with the ultimate assist and stroke of luck from the Marvel Stadium turf. When a long ball from beyond the 50 arc was sailing off target, it turned sharply like a good old leg-break and bounced through for a goal.

R is for Rampaging Rowan Rocks in the Ruck The Saints were dealt a late blow ahead of Friday night’s game against the Blues, ruckman Paddy Ryder ruled out of the game with a groin injury. It left Rowan Marshall shouldering the brunt of the Saints’ ruck responsibilities, and he stepped up to the task with aplomb. With Blues ruck counterpart Tom de Koning going down injured in the first quarter, Marshall had a field day, amassing 46 hitouts, to go alongside 22 disposals and a goal. Marshall was arguably best on ground for the Saints as they won the total hit-out count 70-11.

S is for Shannon’s three Hurn-dreth. Premiership captain Shannon Hurn will go down in Eagles folklore, with the defender being the first Eagles player to reach the 300 game milestone. Although the game itself isn’t one that Hurn will look back on too fondly, going down to Collingwood by 45 points in front of an empty MCG, he’ll still be recognised as one of the Eagles’ greats. 

T is for Ten Tackles to Top. In a 49 point demolition, there are few positives the Crows could take from the loss to the Bulldogs. However, there was one statistic to be happy about. Rory Laird finished with a game high 10 tackles, two of which were inside 50, along with 26 disposals and 21 pressure acts. 

U is for Unfamiliar territory. Geelong never plays in Hobart and struggled finding goals at Blundstone Arena. The Cats dominated the majority of the first quarter against North Melbourne but they did not take advantage of their opportunities. Sam Menegola, Luke Dahlhaus and Zach Tuohy all missed early set shots while North Melbourne made the most of its chances up the other end to into the first break ahead by four points at a stadium they know well. At half time Isaac Smith made mention of the “small narrow ground,” highlighting Geelong’s period of adjustment.

V is for Victorious in game 100. Matt Taberner will have much to celebrate as his Dockers secure a four point victory in game 100. He led the scoring for the Dockers in his milestone game with three goals.

W is for Who can catch Harry? After missing last week’s match against North Melbourne, Harry McKay picked up on Friday night against the Saints where he left off, booting 5.2 to power the Blues to a big win. It was McKay’s third five-goal haul in season 2021 and his seventh outing of four or more goals, extending his already commanding lead in the Coleman Medal race. Having missed the equivalent of two whole games this season, and still with a six-goal lead (to which he added five on Friday) heading into the round, it prompts the question – who can catch Harry in the race for the Coleman?

X is for X-plain the Interchanges. Essendon was caught short late against the Swans, reaching the 75 interchange cap with five minutes to go in the match. Dylan Shiel, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Archie Perkins were left stranded on the bench, players Essendon would’ve liked to have had at its disposal in the dying minutes. 

Y is for Young pups with bite. The Bulldogs still hold a solid core from their 2016 premiership team, with stars including Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore and Jason Johannisen still going strong. This experience is balanced with some bright young stars. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is finding some consistency with 2.1, an impressive feat in what is now a stacked forward line. 20-year-old Riley Garcia put on the best performance of his short career with 18 disposals and a goal against the Crows. 

Z is for Zach slots right in. Zach Guthrie is probably not in Geelong’s best 22 but the late inclusion helped the Cats overcome the loss of key players. Before half time, the young Guthrie had six intercept marks and was a solid contributor in a tight contest. Along with debutant Nathan Kreuger, Guthrie’s work in the air helped minimize the absence of Lachie Henderson and his versatility made up for the loss of Tom Atkins.

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