Mick McGuane reviews Geelong, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and West Coast

Which players need to improve their output in the second half of the season? Mick McGuane looks at the big names on the bye that aren’t cutting the mustard.

Six more teams have the bye this weekend, which is a good opportunity to assess their campaigns so far.

Leading footy analyst Mick McGuane looks at where Geelong, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and West Coast are at entering the second half of the season.

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Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron have been goal kicking machines for the Cats. Picture: Getty Images
Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron have been goal kicking machines for the Cats. Picture: Getty Images

GEELONG

What they’ve succeeded at:

The Cats’ biggest strength this year has been their adaptability and their foresight to change the way they play. They have looked to play more direct, go-forward football and trust their players in front of the ball. However, they have still maintained elements of their game style of previous years by controlling the tempo of the game and having high uncontested marking and also a boundary line focus coming out of defensive 50. This allows them to set up their defence in case of turnovers so they can defend those turnovers. Having multiple modes that you can go to within matches is a major asset. Geelong has also been able to cover some key injuries while maintaining a strong team defence structure which has seen them continue to be hard to score against. In the past seven rounds they rank second in the competition for points against, conceding an average of just 61 points a game.

Where they’ve failed:

Geelong is a big-bodied team which generally equates to contests won. Think Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Cam Guthrie and even Brandon Parfitt. However, the Cats’ haven’t been at their best at the coal face this season. They were the No. 1 ranked side for contested possession differential last season, but rank 9th in that category this season. They also sit 11th for groundball differential and 10th for clearance differential. Contested possessions in finals is key as uncontested ball goes down and contested ball goes up. These are areas that the Cats would be keen to improve in heading into September. One key challenge will be finding a competitive ruckman who can give them first use of the ball week-in, week-out.

Surprise packet

Every other AFL club had an opportunity to snap up Tyson Stengle for nothing last year. The Cats would have debated long and hard whether to pick him or not, but ultimately backed their culture and environment to turn his career around. The former Adelaide and Richmond small forward is on track to kick over 40 goals this season and is not only in the conversation to make the All-Australian squad of 40 but is firmly in the mix to make the final team. The evolution of Sam De Koning at the other end of the ground has also been remarkable. I love defenders who back their judgment to win the ball back and he does just that. De Koning has taken 22 contested marks this season – second in his side behind only Tom Hawkins.

Who needs to lift?

I’ve been critical of ruckman Rhys Stanley around his competitiveness. Against the Bulldogs last week, that area of his game was better. However, he needs to bring that effort and intensity more often because having a competitive ruckman will greatly help the Cats’ territory game and give them good looks in attack. Patrick Dangerfield has to be do everything he can to get his body right, because his fitness and form could determine whether the Cats taste success or suffer misery this September. This could be his last chance to get his hands on that elusive premiership cup.

Overall grade: 7/10

The Cats are back in the top four. Picture: Getty Images
The Cats are back in the top four. Picture: Getty Images

ADELAIDE

What they’ve succeeded at:

The Crows’ work without the footy in recent weeks has gone unnoticed in some circles, but is something coach Matthew Nicks would be thrilled with. Over the past five rounds, Adelaide has been very hard to move the ball against and its backline has stood up under substantial pressure. Since Round 8, the Crows rank fourth for opposition scores per inside-50, second for opposition defensive 50 to inside 50 conversions and sixth for pressure applied. They are still conceding an average of 92.4 points per game but at least there is a strong desire to improve their work without the footy.

Where they’ve failed:

In the early rounds, Adelaide’s weapon was its points from stoppages. After Round 5, the Crows ranked first in the competition in this category, recording 46.4 points a game from the score source. That’s not a sustainable brand, but neither is the drop off that has followed. Since Round 6, Adelaide is the worst team in the competition for points from stoppages, averaging just 20.7 points per game. In establishing a stronger team defence, they look to have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to their stoppage strength.

Surprise packet

Tom Doedee has taken his game to another level this year and he deserves to be in the same conversation as the competition’s great intercept defenders like Jeremy McGovern, Tom Barrass, Sam Taylor and Jeremy Howe. Doedee is playing consistently well and ranks elite for intercept marks, intercept possessions and spoils. He regularly gets the decision right when to spoil and when to back himself to take a mark.

Who needs to lift?

We all expect a lot more from Darcy Fogarty. He was taken at pick 12 in the 2017 national draft and opposition coaches rate his ability. He just needs to put it on show more often. To be fair, Fogarty has been better since he returned from a five-week spell in the SANFL. However, in his fifth season he should be bumping a 32-year-old Taylor Walker out of the side and making one of the key forward posts his own. Instead, he’s still battling for a spot each week. It’s all about fitness and a willingness to compete strongly when the ball is in his vicinity.

Overall grade: 4/10

Darcy Fogarty has underachieved for the Crows this year. Picture: Getty Images
Darcy Fogarty has underachieved for the Crows this year. Picture: Getty Images

GOLD COAST

What they’ve succeeded at:

The question mark on the Suns has long been whether they put a high value on team defence and hunting and pressuring opposition sides. They have put those questions to bed this season and consequently sit 6-6 with their first ever finals appearance within reach. Gold Coast is hard to score against right now – something we haven’t said before. Since Round 8, they have turned up Geelong-esque defensive numbers, conceding just 60.2 points a game (ranked 2nd) and allowing opposition sides to score from just 39.3 per cent of inside 50s (ranked 2nd). Stuart Dew deserves credit for the buy-in he has got, while defensive interceptors Charlie Ballard and Sam Collins also need some plaudits. Gold Coast is also getting the job done in contest, ranking third in both contested possession differential and clearance differential over that period.

Where they’ve failed:

The Suns are giving themselves plenty of opportunities to put scores on the board with a strong front-half game. They rank third in the competition for time in forward half differential. But, unfortunately, they are not making the most of those opportunities. Across the year, Gold Coast has logged nine less inside 50s than its Queensland rival, Brisbane. However, the Lions have kicked 44 more goals. The Suns rank 16th overall for scores per inside-50. The mid to forward connection is something they will need to tidy up if they want to feature in September this year.

Surprise packet

With Ben King going down with a season-ending knee injury during pre-season, a huge hole was left in the Suns’ forward line. However, two players who were struggling at their previous clubs have stepped up to the plate to fill it. Levi Casboult looked to have limited time left as an AFL player at Carlton and Mabior Chol was not an overly consistent back-up forward at Richmond. However, the pair have combined for 45 goals already this season, which is phenomenal. In terms of combinations, they’re only five goals behind St Kilda’s Max King and Tim Membrey. It’s been a fantastic story of two players grabbing their opportunity with both hands.

Who needs to lift?

I’ve always rated Brayden Fiorini’s ability and game style and believe he compliments the other Suns’ midfielders well. But after a strong second half of last season, he has dropped off the pace a little this year. His disposals, clearances, score involvements, tackles and pressure numbers are all down fairly substantially. When he’s at his best, he is a strong clearance player and finds space with his gut running. Small forward Izak Rankine is an exciting player, but sometimes he bites off more than he can chew. Rankine generates great enthusiasm among the group when he kicks a goal that matters, but he has gone at a goalkicking accuracy of only 38.7 per cent this year, which is poor for his talent.

Overall grade: 5/10

Levi Casboult has been a brilliant for the Suns. Picture: Getty Images
Levi Casboult has been a brilliant for the Suns. Picture: Getty Images

SYDNEY

What they’ve succeeded at:

The Swans are highly efficient once the ball goes inside 50 and are good at manufacturing one-on-ones for the likes of Lance Franklin, Logan McDonald and Isaac Heeney. They rank third in the competition for points for (93 points per game) and sixth for scores per inside 50 (44.9 per cent). But it has been their conversion in front of goal that has been the standout. Sydney has booted 164 goals and 103 behinds this season – the second-most goals behind Brisbane. If you want to make a game into a shootout against the Swans, you are going to need to be similarly efficient and put a high score on the board to stand any chance. Sydney is also the best ‘Money Kick’ team in the competition, retaining 50.8 per cent of kicks inside-50.

Where they’ve failed:

Starts have been a problem for Sydney all season. They are giving up big leads early in games far too often and are relying on their youth to get on their bikes and get them back in the game. The Swans have won only four of their 12 first quarters this year and just five first halves. Their front-half game is also not as strong as it was last year, with their points from forward half intercepts dropping from first in the competition to seventh. John Longmire would be keen to get back to more of the front-half profile of 2021 in the back half of this season.

Surprise packet

Paddy McCartin has been a great story, up there with the return from a second cancer battle of Carlton’s Sam Docherty. I thought his career was done, not due to talent but rather because of the number of concussions he had suffered. But Sydney courageously recruited McCartin and have played him in a position in defence where he has been able to maximise his talent. Alongside his brother Tom, he is competing well in the air and rates elite for both intercept marks and intercept possessions.

Who needs to lift?

Peter Ladhams has had an interesting year. The former Port Adelaide ruckman-forward is an important player for the Swans, but he has still got some room for improvement around his defensive work rate. We know what a damaging offensive player he can be. The defensive side of his game has always been the knock, but that is slowly improving before our eyes within an accountable club like Sydney.

Overall grade: 7/10

Tom and Paddy McCartin celebrate for the Swans. Picture: Getty Images
Tom and Paddy McCartin celebrate for the Swans. Picture: Getty Images

WEST COAST

What they’ve succeeded at:

West Coast’s one wood has long been its centre bounce work and that has held up in some ways this season. In Nic Naitanui’s absence, Bailey Williams has had to shoulder most of the ruck load but the Eagles have still been able to rank fourth in the competition for points from centre clearances, averaging 14.8 points per game. There has been no continuity for a side that has already used 43 different players, but the positive out of that has been that they have got games into young players like Patrick Naish, Connor West, Hugh Dixon, Luke Foley and Jermaine Jones.

Where they’ve failed:

The Eagles have been horrible at hitting the scoreboard. Historically horrible. They are scoring just 57.6 points per game – the second worst of all time behind the 2022 version of North Melbourne. As much as I don’t like saying it, are we witnessing the last 10 games of Josh Kennedy’s decorated career? If so, that rings alarm bells for next year. Jack Darling would need to step up in the No. 1 key forward role and his form is not where it should be. At almost 35 years old, Kennedy has kicked more goals than Darling to this point of the season. That should not be the case. Clearly the Eagles have also missed the injured Oscar Allen dearly at the attacking end.

Surprise packet

Former Brisbane backman Alex Witherden has grabbed his second chance and has been one of the shining lights for the Eagles. He’s not quick, but he does rebound well when he wins the ball and his teammates like to give it to him because of his penetrating kick and sound decision making. Witherden is also reading the game, taking 8.5 marks a game as well as logging 5.8 intercept possessions. He is also a player who works hard up the ground to help squeeze opposition exits.

Who needs to lift?

Jack Darling doesn’t look to be playing with the same urgency and intensity of previous years, even though his disposals and marks are much the same on the stats sheet. But as a key forward, the stats that matter are those related to scoreboard impact. Darling is averaging just 1.4 goals a game among 4.3 score involvements. With the team under serious duress, he needs to stand up and deliver more than that. Elliot Yeo is the other intriguing figure. Where is he at – body and mind? He’s only played two games this year with his groin issues. You would hope Yeo is going above and beyond to get his body right, because the Eagles are a far better team with him fit and firing.

Overall grade: 1/10

It’s been a tough season for Jack Darling. Picture: Getty Images
It’s been a tough season for Jack Darling. Picture: Getty Images

WESTERN BULLDOGS

What they’ve succeeded at:

With the players on their list, it’s hardly surprising that the Bulldogs have again been a dominant force through the midfield. They have averaged 39 points from stoppages (ranked first), have a clearance differential of +6.9 (ranked first) and a groundball differential of +10.3 (ranked second). The ability to win first possession through an improved ruckman in Tim English has helped this, while on-ballers Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae, Adam Treloar, Tom Liberatore and Bailey Smith have all had strong years. The Bulldogs like to get the ball into Aaron Naughton with speed and their ability to chain the ball out of stoppage and hit the scoreboard remains a weapon.

Where they’ve failed:

The biggest issue for coach Luke Beveridge has been his side’s work without the footy. They Dogs were the second-best team at stopping opposition ball movement from defensive 50 to inside 50 last season. This season, they have slipped to 10th. They are also the fourth-worst team in the competition for opposition points from the defensive half. The pressure on the opposition ball carriers has not been there often enough and if you don’t bring that it puts enormous pressure on your defence. That defence has consequently been poor, losing 37 per cent of one-on-one contests this year which ranks them 18th in the league.

Luke Beveridge has some headaches. Picture: Getty Images
Luke Beveridge has some headaches. Picture: Getty Images

Surprise packet

Tim English has taken his game to another level and is arguably the most damaging ruckman in the competition right now. He ranks No. 1 among ruckmen for disposals, uncontested possessions, marks, clearances and score involvements. That’s impressive and not something I saw coming entering the season. His ability to run hard and get around the ground to have an impact, as well as his follow-up work around stoppage has been top-notch. Ed Richards has also lifted with his run and carry out of defensive 50 and complements Bailey Dale and Caleb Daniel very well.

Who needs to lift?

Alex Keath has been quite serviceable in defence, but he needs some support. Beveridge has shown great faith in Ryan Gardner, picking him over Zaine Cordy for last year’s Grand Final. But Gardner – as well as Hawthorn recruit Tim O’Brien – need to step up and repay the faith. Gardner has only taken four contested marks for the season. He needs to back his judgment and try to take more marks. If the Bulldogs are to play finals, they are going to face some monster forwards who can separate games in September, so their backmen need to lift.

Overall grade: 5/10

Originally published as Mick McGuane reviews Geelong, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sydney, Western Bulldogs and West Coast

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