Four rounds into a new AFL season, teams are announcing themselves to the competition in many different ways.
Team profiles are starting to become more defined and we are learning about every team and the way they play.
But what is fact? And what is fiction?
The Inner Sanctum takes a look at your team and looks at what is true and what is not about the way your team is playing after the first month of the season.
Fact: Adelaide has been so close, yet so far. Adelaide began its season at the Adelaide Oval, and despite trailing Fremantle for much of the afternoon, the Crows hit the front late. However, a brilliant Heath Chapman goal-line save meant Adelaide fell short. The Crows found themselves in a tight encounter against the Power in Round 3, winning after the siren. The Crows rounded out the first month of football with a tight four-point loss to the Bombers in Round 4. Adelaide has given itself a chance in many of its games this season, and having a 3-1 record is not unrealistic.
Fiction: The midfield balance is right. Coming into the 2022 season, Adelaide was bracing for the return of Matt Crouch, however, star midfielder Rory Laird went down just weeks before Round 1. Adelaide fans were expecting youngsters such as Harry Schoenberg and Sam Berry to feature more heavily in the midfield following strong finishes to 2021. However, it has been quite the opposite with the Crows only giving the youngsters limited midfield minutes, sticking to experience for the most part. Adelaide fans are desperate to see its young players see more midfield time as the club continues its list rebuild.
Fact: Lachie Neale is back to his Brownlow winning best and it is paying dividends for the Brisbane midfield across the first month of the season. While Neale himself is ranked first in the league for clearances and fourth for disposals, Brisbane as a team is ranked seventh for clearances and first for goal assists. These numbers point to the work that’s being done in the Lions engine room, led by Neale and the entire midfield group, delivering to a potent forward line who are duly converting.
Fiction: While Brisbane is a side that has a potent forward line with many avenues to goal, accuracy, and smarts in the front half might be the difference come the end of the season when it comes to making the biggest day of all. As it has for a couple of seasons now. While we expect Brisbane to be there when the whips are cracking come finals time, accuracy is still an area in front of goal that needs tidying up.
Fact: Statistically, Carlton has made a positive shift in midfield. The Blues have moved from 13th in the league for disposal differential in 2021 (-16.0), to first in 2022 (+48.2) and they top the league in 2022 for tackle differential (+10.8), compared to 16th best last season (-7.8).
Carlton has also improved in terms of advancing on the field. Inside 50 differential has grown from -1.5 (12th best in 2021) to +5.8 – fifth-best in 2022. Clearances have also paid dividends, rocketing from -3.8 (16th best in 2021) to +3.8 in 2022 – fourth best this season. The Blues also lead the league for scores from clearances (44.7).
Statistics such as these justify how Carlton can go on scoring runs. They turned a 20-point deficit against Richmond into a 25-point win. They also blitzed to 37 and 41 point leads against the Bulldogs and Hawks respectively.
Fiction: The loss of Liam Jones was initially a major hole in the Blues’ defence, but now that issue doesn’t seem so extensive. Jones averaged 8.42 intercepts per game – the best for the Blues and fifth-best in the AFL last year.
The number of intercepts has decreased, with the current leader for the Blues being Sam Docherty – averaging 7.75 per game, so far. Although, this could be down to the Blues simply having substantially more of the ball this year compared to last year. Last season, the Blues conceded a score of over 100 points, 9 out of 23 matches – just under half of the time. So far, the Blues are yet to concede a score over 100 points, the highest being 92.
Sure, Jones played an important role in the Blues’ defence, but the height of his absence may not be as crucial as first thought. The way Carlton plays in 2022, see the ball in its forward half more often – placing less stress on the defence.
Fact– Nick Daicos is going to be a star. Already playing like a seasoned veteran after four games, the number four draft pick shows poise and his kicking skills are already elite. Joining his brother Josh in the midfield, he has helped the Pies exceed expectations this year with wins over the Saints and the Crows. Averaging 26.8 possessions, five marks and three tackles a game, he will be a hot favourite for the Rising Star award having received his nomination in a dominant display against Geelong in their Round 3 clash.
Fiction– Before this season began, many experts and fans thought the Pies would finish near the bottom of the ladder and could finish with the wooden spoon this season. Despite this, Collingwood is sitting with two wins against St Kilda and Adelaide and displayed a dominant performance in their losses against Geelong and West Coast. Currently, in eighth place, a new game style has been implemented into the team under Craig McRae. In his first season as coach, he has helped the Pies average 91.8 points (fifth) a game with 247.8 effective disposals (fifth) and 143.3 (fourth) contested possessions a game.
Ethan Lee Chalk
Fact: The right mix is there for Essendon to dominate games. Peter Wright is in rare marking form and has 12 goals for the season, sitting third in the Coleman Medal race. The side has the second most hit-outs for the season (162), meaning Sam Draper is giving his midfielders first use often enough and the defence has been excellent in large patches against high-quality sides in Melbourne and Brisbane. If the Bombers can tighten up around the contest (17th in tackles and 14th in clearances), they may well dominate matches for longer periods and find themselves competing with teams in the top echelon.
Fiction: Essendon cannot make the top 8. History would suggest that teams that start 0-3 are already too far back, with only two sides since 2012 doing so (GWS in 2021 and Sydney in 2017). But not many Bombers supporters would have expected more than one win against the Preliminary finalist from last year in the Cats, a perennial top-four team and one of the flag favourites in the Lions and reigning premier Demons. Whilst last week’s win against Adelaide was close, it was still a win, and Essendon is on the board and could easily find themselves 3-3 with very winnable games against Fremantle at home and Collingwood on Anzac Day. The season is far from over if you’re a Dons fan!
Fact: Fremantle has been on the rise ever since Justin Longmuir took the reigns as senior coach and has always had the young talent to be a serious team to watch and in time, a contender. Now in Longmuir’s third season, the Dockers, led by their young talent and experienced stars on the periphery, have settled into their system which has seen them become the number one pressure team and number one turnover team in the competition and have set up their season with their brand with some favourable wins at home.
Fiction: Is it sustainable? How long can the young Fremantle players maintain the rage and the level and continue winning the games they should win from here? They already dropped one game against St Kilda in Perth where they were in a strong winning position and got run over. So can they continue to bank the wins they should and perform away from home?
Fact: Geelong has been heavily criticised over recent years for its style of play – the slow chip-and-mark football has fared well in the home and away season, but been brought undone against the elite teams come finals. It seems as though coach Chris Scott may have finally listened to the fans, and perhaps his new assistant coaches also, as there has been a distinct change in-game style so far this season. The Cats have been more daring, moving through the corridor more often and taking the chance by kicking to contests up forward instead of always looking for the open man. This has meant they can be more easily scored against (they are averaging 85 against so far this season, compared to 66 last year), but it has also led to the club leading the league in marks inside 50 (65), inside 50s (235) and third for total points (399). It will be interesting to see if this game style holds on as the season progresses and, more importantly, in the finals.
Fiction: Another year of footy, another year of Geelong being seen as too old and too slow. Whilst its only early on in the season, the age factor does not seem to be an issue. Tom Hawkins (aged 33) leads the Coleman Medal race, Patrick Dangerfield (32) surely has Brownlow votes in two for the four games, Joel Selwood’s (33) efforts in his milestone match were phenomenal and the ever-young Isaac Smith (33) continues to rack up disposals and run up-and-down the wing better than ever before. Perhaps the Cats have found a better mix of experience and youth, with Max Holmes, Tyson Stengle, Sam De Koning, Jack Henry, and Brandan Parfitt all having terrific starts to the year.
Fact: The young Suns are continuing to make huge strides. Noah Anderson continues to show signs that within a couple of years he will be one of the game’s bona fide stars. He leads the Suns’ kick statistics with 17 per match and with each passing year he learns more about creating danger with those kicks. Touk Miller has joined the elite AFL ball winners, averaging 29 disposals per game in 2022 and wasting very few of them. Matt Rowell has started the season with his body in good shape and is reaping the benefits, having shown in the first four rounds exactly why he was rated so highly as Pick 1. On top of this, they have a genuine potent match-winner in Izak Rankine. Rankine is one of those players that won’t collect huge possession numbers, but will make magic happen and can win matches off his boot whilst only touching the ball a dozen times. There is much to look forward to if the Suns can keep this squad together.
Fiction: The Suns are ready to impact this competition now. Whilst there is the basis of a top eight side brewing, it is not ready to go just yet. The loss of Ben King to an ACL injury in the pre-season cost the club its most dangerous attacking threat, and although the cracks are being papered over by the likes of Levi Casboult and Josh Corbett, a surplus of ten inside 50s over their opponents isn’t translating to consistent scoring power. The club needs to answer questions relating to Jack Lukosius’s best position, and the optimum mix in the midfield between inside grunt and outside run. And then, of course, there is still the spectre of Alistair Clarkson hanging over the club, with the rumours that Stuart Dew is on thin ice refusing to completely go away. The Gold Coast of recent years has tended to start the season with a bang, then collapse without a whimper after the first month. Its first task in 2022 is to arrest this trend – to do so would be seen as a positive step.
Fact: The Giants miss Toby Greene. This is not overly surprising given his talents, but the question at the start of the year was always going to be where were their goals going to come from if Jesse Hogan was struggling. Against the Suns, Hogan played well, with 17 disposals, seven marks, two goals and two behinds, and eight score involvements. However, against the Tigers and Dockers, Hogan was less influential, and the avenues to goal seemed to dry up. Harry Himmelberg has bobbed up for a couple of goals but has lacked real presence. Against the Dockers in Round 4, the Giants just couldn’t find an avenue to goal in the last 15 minutes when the Dockers could. Greene is due back in Round 6. The Giants simply need to find another win before he returns.
Fiction: There is a big big sound coming from the west of the town. Unfortunately, the club is not capitalising on its success from the last few years, with crowds still quite poor, and results being not flash to start the season is not helping. Just over 4000 people attended the Giants’ home game at GIANTS Stadium on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Sydney against the Suns. They have been given little help by the league, with their next home game at GIANTS Stadium not until Round 9, against Carlton. The club needs every bit of help to grow the game in western Sydney.
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Fact: If the first four rounds are anything to go by, new coach Sam Mitchell appears to have implemented a game plan designed for fast ball movement and attacking transition football. Hawthorn is currently ranked equal-sixth in the competition for rebound 50s and has shown flare with the football across half-back, utilising the speed and intercept capabilities of Changkuoth Jiath, Jack Scrimshaw, and James Sicily to launch into attack. In its demolition of Port Adelaide in Round 2, Hawthorn scored 55 points from its defensive 50, helping them to its highest score since 2018.
Fiction: It would be naïve to think that Hawthorn’s current midfield crop is the finished product. Ranked 17th across the competition for clearances and 14th for contested possessions, the Hawks midfield brigade certainly has plenty of room for improvement. Despite their convincing victory over the Power, the Hawks lost clearances by 24, centre clearances by 10, and contested possessions by eight. The Hawks coaching staff would be well aware of the differentials and know this is unsustainable moving forward. Whether addressing these issues will involve tinkering with tactics or changes in personnel remains to be seen.
Fact: After the first month of the season, Melbourne looks like the team to beat again. The more frightening thing for the rest of the league is that the Demons have done it without fully firing.
For the first couple of weeks, Melbourne has missed its premiership stars in defence, with Jake Lever, Trent Rivers, Harrison Petty, Michael Hibberd, and Christian Salem all missing time due to injury.
Despite the loss of personnel, the Demons hold the mantel of conceding the least amount of points in the competition, only allowing their opponents to score on average 61.5 points per game.
Melbourne’s defence also ranks first for intercept possessions, with Steven May and Jake Bowey often the ones finding themselves stopping opposition attacks, averaging 7.3 and 7 intercept possessions respectively.
Senior coach Simon Goodwin will be happy with his side’s start to the season, but an area he’d like his team to tidy up would be his midfielders picking up their clearance numbers.
With a star-studded midfield consisting of Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, and Jack Viney, the Demons are ninth for total clearances with 148 through four rounds. They’ve struggled to win the ball from centre clearance particularly, only averaging 10.8 centre clearances per game.
Out of the star quartet of Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, and Max Gawn, only Oliver ranks in the top 10 for total clearances with 33, averaging 8.3 clearances per game. The next closest ranked after the 24-year-old is Gawn with 21 total clearances.
As it’s only early on in the season and as mentioned earlier the Demons are winning without putting their foot on the pedal, there is plenty of time for Goodwin’s midfield group to rectify its clearance total and rise up the rankings.
Fact: North Melbourne is going to continue to have some poor performances, it is just the nature of a side in the rebuilding phase. Despite coach David Noble’s obvious displeasure at its 108-point loss to Brisbane, he certainly would know that a young side such as his is going to have nights like that. What would have pleased him is how competitive they have been in the other three matches. Losing in the last minute to a rampaging Swans in Sydney, beating the Eagles, and a close-fought loss to the Hawks – all these results have shown that the Kangaroos should be far more competitive in season 2022 than many first predicted.
Fiction: Todd Goldstein has normally been only in the side as the sole ruckmen. However, there was much hype around Tristan Xerri following a great pre-season, and it certainly does appear the side is in the midst of a ruck succession plan. In the first four rounds, Xerri has averaged 22.5 hit-outs per game compared to Goldstein’s 15.5. Xerri has started in the ruck most quarters/games. It would be easy for people to think Xerri’s more prominent role means a lack of real opportunity for Goldstein, however, the pair have worked well so far this year, with Goldstein giving the young ruckman more opportunity to rest than other young ruckmen perhaps are afforded. He also has been more of a presence up forward than perhaps anticipated – he has hit the scoreboard with five goals so far this season and taken plenty of contested marks in the forward 50 per game. It appears Goldstein, despite being 33-years-old, still has plenty to offer in this young Kangaroos side.
Fact: Port Adelaide can’t catch a break. Already dealing with injuries that would cripple most sides, especially on the attacking front, Port will be without Ollie Wines for at least the next week, maybe two. With Charlie Dixon, Robbie Gray, and Orazio Fantasia all missing, the Port Adelaide forward line has been non-existent.
Defensively, Port Adelaide against two top-four sides has done remarkably well, keeping the Brisbane Lions to 80 points, and reigning premier Melbourne to just 68. However, going forward, they have looked toothless. Port has caught the injury bug in 2022.
Fiction: With their current squad, there is no doubting Port Adelaide at minimum is a top eight side. Unfortunately, the Power have played nowhere near their potential. Missing key pillars in Aliir Aliir and Charlie Dixon has been detrimental to how the side operates and sets up. The difference without the aforementioned pair on the ground is stark.
Despite much of the squad being retained, aside from Peter Ladhams, Ken Hinkley has Port going in the wrong direction. Slated at the start of the year to be a genuine premiership contender, the boys from Alberton have seen their season go down the drain just a month in. With the talent on the list, Port should be doing far better than sitting at 0-4 on the year.
Fact: The Tigers have had plenty of problems in midfield since last year, and this year their poor performance in the contest has continued. In 2021, they were ranked 17th in contested possessions (129.7 per game) and last in clearances (30 per game). To start this year both those numbers have dropped, with Richmond averaging 127.5 contested possessions (ranked 14th) and 27.8 clearances (ranked last) per game.
Fiction: There was plenty of talk this year that Richmond looked set to jump back up the ladder and play finals once more. However, the start of the season has shown that it could be a rollercoaster of a year for the yellow and black faithful. Whilst the Tigers have picked up impressive wins against two finals sides in the Bulldogs and GWS, they’ve still fallen to risers in the Blues and Saints, sides they would have thought on paper they would be beating. Despite being 2-2 and with some star power still on the sidelines, Richmond might not be set for a quick return to the top.
Fact: Max King is the real deal. Not only is he the equal leader in the Coleman Medal race with 13 goals, but he is averaging five marks per game inside 50. When he times his leap, no defender can stop him, and only now is he truly beginning to realise that he can dominate this league. He kicked three in three minutes against Fremantle to turn the game in his side’s favour and played a big part in St Kilda’s dominant finish to the game against Richmond. With him as a target upfront, the Saints pose a real threat to opponents each week.
Fiction: The Saints are making up the numbers this year. After a Round 1 loss to the Magpies, the critics were lining up, calling the Saints lacklustre and already writing them off for the season. How quickly things can change. Any win in Perth is a good one, this was followed up with a stirring win against the Tigers after being 20 points down and then beating a hot Hawks side by nearly 70 points. The Saints are 3-1 and look imposing, and are much more of a threat than most people predicted.
Fact: The stats confirm it, Sydney has irked the umpires more than any other team in the first four rounds, having had 108 free kicks paid against them at an average of 27 per match. It’s not getting much love from them either, ranked equal third last for free kicks paid with 79. Ill-discipline is something the Swans will want to stamp out soon, with it losing the free kick count in both its recent clashes with the Bulldogs and Kangaroos. With both games decided by under two kicks, a brain fade could make all the difference in the future.
Fiction: With Lance Franklin set to miss the next two to three games due to a fractured finger, all eyes have turned to Sydney’s forward line and its capacity to kick a winning score. The Swans, on the surface, have returned to ‘Buddy or Bust.’. However, the forward line for the Swans has proven to be more than capable of kicking a winning score during the five games he missed in 2021, winning four of them. Players such as Hayden McLean and Will Hayward, who have kicked at least one goal each in the first four games can fill the load, as can the strong form of Isaac Heeney, who is currently leading the Swans goal kicking with 11.
Fact: Predicted to be one of the sides that slide down the ladder in 2022, the first month of footy has shown that the Eagles look destined to be a bottom-four side. Outside of being ravaged by COVID protocols, West Coast has a mounting injury list with Nic Naitanui the latest to be struck down. Fielding a side that’ll be far from full strength, the Eagles are in real trouble.
Fiction: During the offseason for the Eagles, Simpson intended for his side to play a bolder attacking style of football. Having been traditionally a slow-tempo side, the Eagles were going to be revamped, though this is yet to come into fruition. Due to the sizable injury list and COVID running rampant through the Eagles’ camp, Simpson has been forced to field a different side each round. With an ever-changing line-up where even top-up players have been needed to come in, the Eagles have been forced to abandon their attacking game plan to accommodate the current state of their list.
Fact: Currently sitting 14th on the ladder with only one win from four matches, the Western Bulldogs will be lamenting their lack of cohesion inside forward 50 and inaccuracy in front of goal thus far. The Bulldogs have kicked 9.17 and 7.19 respectively in the last two weeks, failing to capitalise on their dominance over inside 50 entries. The last quarter of their Round 2 defeat to the Blues also saw them kick 2.6, squandering an opportunity to steal the win away from the Blues. As it stands, the Bulldogs are ranked 15th for total points scored in the opening four rounds.
Fiction: Despite their current scoring woes, the Bulldogs’ premiership chances for season 2022 are far from over. Ranked seventh in the competition for inside 50s and sixth for clearances, Luke Beveridge’s side is still generating plenty of scoring opportunities. They also boast one of the strongest midfield groups in the competition, capable of giving their side the ascendancy through the middle of the ground. One only needs to look back at last season to see how quickly things can turn for the Bulldogs, having lost their last three home and away games, they were able to spark to life in the final series to reach the Grand Final.
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