The Early Tackle: All the major talking points in AFL Round 15

Thirteen months ago a Facebook post questioning the Bulldogs’ management of a club great’s son caused quite a commotion. But that seems a lifetime ago now he’s firing on all cylinders.

We’ve hit the business end of the season and there’s already plenty to talk about. Herald Sun football writer Glenn McFarlane gives his take on Round 15 with the Bombers in the gun, the Lions woes at the MCG and some big numbers at the Dogs all making the news.

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Chris Scott comforts Tom Stewart post-match. Picture: Michael Klein.
Chris Scott comforts Tom Stewart post-match. Picture: Michael Klein.
Dion Prestia is helped from the field. Picture: Michael Klein.
Dion Prestia is helped from the field. Picture: Michael Klein.

Tom must go to the tribunal

The AFL’s Match Review Officer Michael Christian needs to send Geelong defender Tom Stewart directly to the tribunal for his sickening late bump on an unsuspecting Dion Prestia.

Stewart crashed into Prestia and the vision of the Tigers’ star in distress and struggling to get to his feet was what the AFL must stamp out of the game.

It was uncharacteristic from Stewart, but his clear remorse shouldn’t alter the fact he needs to miss multiple weeks.

Fox Footy’s David King urged the AFL to finally show it was serious about head-high contact, saying: “That for me is a five or six weeker, it’s as simple as that. We have got to take a stance. We can’t have players being carried off like that when their sole focus is the footy.”

“Let’s be honest the MRO has tip-toed around this situation for 12 to 18 months and we haven’t changed player behaviour.”

Under MRO grading, intentional and high impact would likely sideline Stewart for three weeks, which King says would be too light.

If it is intentional and severe, it would head to the tribunal anyway.

The AFL must also address the fact that the umpires allowed the game to continue while a concussed Prestia was on the ground and requiring assistance. It was a bad look for the game.

Misfiring Dons crash land out West

Losing to bottom side West Coast was as predictable as it was damaging for Essendon. Picture: Getty Images
Losing to bottom side West Coast was as predictable as it was damaging for Essendon. Picture: Getty Images

This was as predictable as it was damaging for Ben Rutten and the Essendon Football Club.

After the high of knocking off a spasmodic St Kilda last week, the Bombers crash-landed back to earth with a thud against a team that hadn’t won a game since April.

Essendon was so defensively poor that they allowed West Coast to kick more than 100 points for the first time since early last season.

Just as damaging was the fact they cost themselves with a poor conversion rate in front of goal, failing to take advantage of 16 extra inside 50s (58 to 42).

Rutten watched helplessly from the bench as his players blazed away in front of goal without taking advantage of their opportunities in what looked like a new chapter on a familiar old story.

The excuse that “these are experiences that our group needs to go through and we’ll be better for it” has been used too often to sate long-suffering, frustrated supporters.

The pressure will be ramped up on Rutten — who is contracted for next season — and the rest of the footy program as well as the players.

But this is not solely about coaching, or game style, or personnel, or intent … the reasons for Essendon’s miserable 2022 are many and varied.

Something seems broken, and it’s not just the hearts of their fans who had expected more in the once proud club’s 150th year.

Dockers and Blues wrestle at three-quarter-time during a willing contest.
Dockers and Blues wrestle at three-quarter-time during a willing contest.

Dockers’ dam wall breaks

Fremantle’s stingy approach in limiting opposition inside 50s has been the key to their success so far in 2022.

But the dam wall has opened alarmingly in the past few games.

They got away with it (just) against Hawthorn. They were never going to get away with it against a resurgent Carlton.

Teams have only been able to average only 47 inside 50s against the Dockers this year, but they coughed up 61 against Hawthorn last week (-14) and 64 against the Blues (-24) on Saturday.

That’s not good enough and the blame needs to be placed firmly on the mids as well as overall team defence.

That needs to be cleaned up as a priority for the Dockers.

Much of the focus of this game will centre on how Nat Fyfe’s umpire touch will be assessed by the MRO, though he would argue he was pushed from behind by Matt Cottrell, pushing him off balance.

It was a tough day for veterans Fyfe, who had only 11 possessions (his equal lowest tally since mid 2020) and David Mundy 13 touches (his equal lowest since Round 18 last year).

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‘G, these Lions have a problem

The last time the Brisbane Lions won at the MCG, Jack Crisp was a Lion and Suns skipper Jarrad Witts was a Pie. Picture: AAP Image
The last time the Brisbane Lions won at the MCG, Jack Crisp was a Lion and Suns skipper Jarrad Witts was a Pie. Picture: AAP Image

The last time a Brisbane team won a game at the MCG was way back in Round 21, 2014.

To put that into context, the Lions coach that day was Justin Leppitsch, a kid called Jack Crisp was a Brisbane player who was four matches into a consecutive games streak that now sits at 176, and on the opposition side Tony Armstong was a Collingwood player, not a Logie Best New Talent winner.

The fact is Brisbane has lost its past 10 matches at the MCG by an average of 44 points,

Friday’s 64-point loss to a revitalised Melbourne was yet another example of why the Lions can’t be trusted when they get to the venue where the AFL Grand Final will finally return this season after the past two editions in Brisbane and Perth.

Still, Chris Fagan’s problems run a lot deeper than just a venue, for while the Lions are still well placed in ladder terms, the gap between their best and worst is just far too big.

Somehow they need to regroup, starting with the Bulldogs on Thursday night. They will get one last crack at the MCG before the finals - in Round 20 against Richmond - to finally break the drought and silence some of the doubters.

65 minutes of Hawk pain

Not even some niggling from James Sicily could save the Hawks on Friday night. Picture: Michael Klein
Not even some niggling from James Sicily could save the Hawks on Friday night. Picture: Michael Klein

Few first-year coaches have articulated as well as Sam Mitchell, who insisted inexperience and youth were no excuse for the fact Hawthorn conceded 13 straight goals to the Western Bulldogs on Friday night.

For much of the year Mitchell’s team has looked a far better side than their four-win return has indicated.

But despite a strong start against the Bulldogs on Friday with their fast-break, coast-to-coast footy, the Hawks collapsed in the contest in the second and third terms.

They failed to kick a goal for the best part of 65 minutes.

Not even some niggling work from James Sicily, who tore Aaron Naughton’s headband off and wrestled with Bont and Libba, could elicit a response from his team.

Was it any wonder that Mitchell pulled his team together to read the riot act at three-quarter-time before the players split up into their line groups. The response was at least seven goals in the final term.

The Hawks are a work in progress and have much to look forward to long term — including a serious forward in Mitch Lewis — but as the coach maintains they must start being stronger for longer.

Saints ‘witches hats’

St Kilda’s finals hopes are teetering on the brink after a third successive defeat, a collapse in confidence and a horror stretch ahead.

The stagnant Saints produced their lowest score of the season against a more polished Sydney, with Channel 7’s Wayne Carey dubbing them ‘witches hats’ during the third term.

It was hard to argue the contrary, as this was the Saints’ worst effort of the 2022 season.

They could manage only four goals for the game — with half of them coming in the final six minutes — as the Swans smashed them around the contest.

The MRO will look at Zak Jones’ collision with Luke Parker.

Coach Brett Ratten, who is close to finalising a new two-year-deal, would be shaking his head at how far his team has fallen since beating Geelong back in Round 9.

He knows the road ahead is tough, with massive games against Carlton, Fremantle and the Bulldogs in the next three weeks.

Lose all three of those, and a year that started so promising is all but over.

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Sam Walsh had 40 disposals in Carlton’s win over Fremantle.
Sam Walsh had 40 disposals in Carlton’s win over Fremantle.

Walsh the king of Blues brothers

Michael Voss put the acid on the Carlton mids in the pre-game planning session leading into the clash with the Dockers.

They showed vision to highlight how the much-vaunted Blues mids had hurt their undermanned defence in losing at the contest against the Tigers last week, coughing up 76 opposition inside 50s.

It got the response Voss wanted, led by Sam Walsh, who joined the 40-possession club for the first time in a clear best-afield role.

The Blues dominated around the ball.

They led clearances by 14, centre clearances by 9 and stoppage clearance by five in a dominant performance that has kept their top four aspirations alive.

Walsh was extraordinary. In his 40-disposals, he had 13 contested possessions, six marks and six scoring involvements assisted by teammates Patrick Cripps, Matt Kennedy and George Hewett.

Charlie Curnow franked his Coleman Medal prospects with four more goals, Sam Docherty and Adam Saad provided outstanding run and rebound, the defence was very solid, and Tom De Koning continued to go from strength to strength in the ruck.

The Blues still have Jacob Weitering, Adam Cerra, Zac Williams, Jack Martin, Marc Pittonet and a handful of others to come back from injury.

Jack Henry pulls down the mark which decided the match of the year.
Jack Henry pulls down the mark which decided the match of the year.

Cats win ‘Super Saturday’ heavyweight clash

It was billed as the ‘Round of the Decade’ and the thrilling Geelong-Richmond clash lived up to every ounce of the hype.

It was tight and tense, spiteful and spine-tingling, with the pressure and atmosphere resembling a final.

It might well prove a season-defining moment for Geelong.

The Cats raced out to a 35-point lead as the wounded Tigers desperately tried to hold on.

Richmond then cranked up a gear and worked their way back into the game, opening up a 17-point lead early in the final term.

But Geelong wasn’t done with. They regained the lead almost in red time before Maurice Rioli Jr. wrested it back for the Tigers with only 126 seconds left on the clock.

Enter Jack Henry, whose strong mark and goal gave the Cats the lead again with 74 seconds left.

Geelong held on to win by three points, a courageous Richmond didn’t lose any admirers, and footy had a new instant classic encounter.

Please footy gods, let these two teams meet again in the finals.

Son of the West

With three ‘snags’, Rhylee West is starting to look at home in the Dogs forward line. Picture: Getty Images
With three ‘snags’, Rhylee West is starting to look at home in the Dogs forward line. Picture: Getty Images

Thirteen months ago Bulldogs great Scott West labelled the club’s management of his son Rhylee as “disgraceful” in a Facebook post.

The post was deleted, but not before it turned into a red, white and blue brouhaha.

All of that seems a million years ago now after West Jr played his sixth consecutive game for the Dogs on Friday — and his 18th overall — to produce the best performance of his AFL career to date.

West kicked three “snags” — as he called them on Channel 7 — from 19 disposals, with his coach Luke Beveridge praising his “outstanding” contribution to his team’s strong victory over Hawthorn.

The soon-to-be 22-year-old is starting to look at home in the Bulldogs’ team, providing relentless forward pressure, good goal sense and some cameo midfield minutes in the absence of Bailey Smith.

Just like his dad, he is clean below his knees and can find the footy.

On Friday, three Dogs each had at least 10 contested possessions, five tackles and 10 score involvements — the first two were the usual suspects in Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore; West was the other one.

He has been a welcome addition to an attack that is starting to look a little less reliant on Aaron Naughton.

Beveridge would have been delighted to see 12 individual goalkickers, with Josh Schache and Jamarra Ugle-Hagen having more of an influence and West and Cody Weightman providing forward pressure.

Multiple hundreds, future challenges

Jack Macrae made it 100 30-plus possession games for the Dogs on Friday night. Picture: Michael Klein
Jack Macrae made it 100 30-plus possession games for the Dogs on Friday night. Picture: Michael Klein

It was a night of hundreds for the Bulldogs on Friday night, but it will be the next six weeks against top eight sides that will determine their fate.

Let’s start with the 100’s.

Luke Beveridge became the first Bulldogs coach in VFL-AFL history to register 100 wins; Jack Macrae made it 100 30-plus possession games from his 199 matches; and the Bulldogs registered three figures on the scoreboard for the fourth time in five weeks.

It was the second week in a row Bevo’s team kicked 19.11 (125), though the coach was frustrated the Hawks scored seven last-term majors.

But let’s cut to what comes next to show us whether this Bulldogs outfit has a chance of a serious tilt at a flag or whether it is a middle-of-the-road side.

The road ahead for the next six weeks is tough, starting with Brisbane at the Gabba on Thursday, then Sydney (SCG), St Kilda (Marvel), Melbourne (Marvel), Geelong (GMHBA) and Fremantle (Marvel).

Let’s see what’s under the hood, Bulldogs!

Eagles win, we’re not joshing

Josh Kennedy turned back the clock with five match winning goals against Essendon on Friday night. Picture: Getty Images
Josh Kennedy turned back the clock with five match winning goals against Essendon on Friday night. Picture: Getty Images

The drought is over, or should we say droughts …

West Coast won its first game since Round 4, ending the longest losing streak in the club’s history with a victory over a wasteful Essendon.

It was the club’s first win at Perth Stadium since Round 19 last year, to the delight of the club’s home fans who had almost forgotten how to chant “Eagles”.

This was also the first time in 26 games that West Coast has scored 100 or more points in a game, which is damning on the Dons. The previous time was Round 9, 2021.

Josh Kennedy kicked a match-winning five goals, his best tally since Round 8, 2020.

Can you believe it, the Eagles are now only a game and percentage behind Essendon.

Was this the quarter the Dees found their Mojo?

Angus Brayshaw continues to remind Melbourne why his contract is as important as Luke Jackson’s. Picture: Getty Images
Angus Brayshaw continues to remind Melbourne why his contract is as important as Luke Jackson’s. Picture: Getty Images

Melbourne dodged a mini-bullet in the opening term on Thursday night with Brisbane failing to capitalise on first quarter ascendancy.

Then something extraordinary happened.

The Demons fired up their midfield engine in a second quarter that was almost as dominant as anything we have seen from Simon Goodwin’s team since last year’s Grand Final.

They kicked 6.6 to 1.0 in the second term to not only wrestle control of the game against Brisbane, but to also serve a warning to the rest of the competition.

After three successive losses and a restaurant altercation between two teammates, Melbourne showed why they are clearly flag favourites.

Steven May was back, which was a bonus for Jake Lever and co; Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney played like men possessed; James Harmes was sacrificing his game to curb Lachie Neale; and Luke Jackson revelled in the responsibility of Max Gawn’s absence.

And soon-to-be out-of-contract Angus Brayshaw showed the club’s bean counters why his contract is as important as Jackson’s, with a raft of rival clubs eyeing off the defender-wingman.

Originally published as The Early Tackle: All the major talking points in AFL Round 15

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