Eleven quick takes from the JLT Community Series week two

Five games were played in the JLT Community Series this week, and now all of the AFL’s eighteen teams have a had a crack at real football. Here’s my quick takes from week two.

Carlton go on the attack
Brendon Bolton has been at the Blues for two years now and has turned them into a well-drilled defensive team that works together well as a unit and seems to have developed a strong club culture.

It’s a great way to help turn a team from being a basket case into something respectable, especially when the list is so very young, but the usual result is that at some point the side graduates towards becoming an attacking force.

If Wednesday night’s win over St Kilda was anything to go by, Carlton may well be ready to do exactly that in 2018. While the Saints served up a starchy dish of diehard defense, Carlton were daring and bold, and it got them the win.

Patrick Cripps, Matthew Kreuzer, Matthew Wright and new kid Paddy Dow all snuck forward to kick multiple goals, and while Carlton didn’t manage to break even with the Saints in the midfield contest, they took enough opportunities up forward that it didn’t matter.

At this stage I’ve got Carlton pencilled in for a very low finish in 2018 simply based on them being a young, developing side and having lost arguably their best two players in Bryce Gibbs and Sam Docherty.

However if Brendon Bolton is telling his young charges that it’s time to take the game on more, I may need to revise that prediction. If nothing else, it will make them ten times more watchable.

Make your own luck: A new hard edge can offset Giant injury woes
The GWS Giants had a golden chance to win their inaugural premiership in 2016 and they missed it – losing a home prelim final to a Bulldogs side that, with all due respect to their achievement, had no business beating them on a pound-for-pound talent basis.

2017 was a bit more forgivable. The Giants fell out at the preliminary final stage again, but they did so at the MCG in front of the most one-sided crowd in VFL/AFL history, and only after limping their way there despite a tidal wave of injuries. It was a reasonable enough effort.

Just a few days ago it looked like injuries might be the bane of their premiership aspirations once again in 2018. Already they’ve lost Zac Williams and Will Setterfield for the season to ACL injuries, and Rory Lobb is racing the clock to be fit for Round 1.

After watching them on Thursday night though, I’m starting to think that the penny may have dropped for the Giants as a team. They look like a side that is ready to stop relying on talent, and make their own luck by doing the little things right every time.

They bettered the Pies at the clearances (+7) and had much more of the ball (+37 disposals) – both already known strengths of theirs, and exactly what you’d expect given the respective quality of the players put on the field.

But they also finished the night +10 in tackles. And comfortably winning both the disposal and tackle count in footy is a rare sight – it indicates some serious effort being put in across the full 22 to keep the pressure on the opposition even when in control of the game.

It’s no surprise that a team who was knocked out of the finals race by Richmond, then saw them go on to win the premiership, should decide it is time to make this one the key features of their game. And if they do, their list is undoubtedly talented enough to balance out any concerns of an excessive focus on defense.

I’ve said that Melbourne are the team who can copy Richmond. And I’ve said that Geelong are my tip to win the premiership. But if the hard edge we saw on Thursday night becomes a regular feature of how the Giants play the game, then – injuries be damned – they just might do both.

Who will kick Hawthorn’s goals?
It’s not a question I thought I’d be asking when looking at the quarter time scoreline on Saturday, but by the end of the match it hangs around – who is going to kick the goals that make a match-winning score for Hawthorn this year?

Last year we saw Alastair Clarkson have a go at turning all three of Ryan Burton, James Sicily and Jack Gunston from forwards into defenders, and all of them did it with a decent level of success.

Based on their first JLT outing, it looks like the Hawks intend to keep both Burton and Sicily in the backline, though Gunston will probably spend 2018 near the goals.

That’s good, but Gunston isn’t a lynchpin key forward and probably never will be – if the Hawks are going to have a forward line spearhead, then it needs to be Jarryd Roughead or Ryan Schoenmakers.

If neither of them can command the No.1 defender, Gunston will get them, and probably find it hard to play the way he wants to as a result.

Roughead’s return to the AFL last year was a great story, but it has to be pointed out that his form wasn’t as good as we’ve seen from him in the past. 38 goals was his lowest total in a full season since 2006.

As for Ryan Schoenmakers, he is 27 and has never kicked more than 15 goals in a year. His three goals on Saturday was a fine display, but if he had it in him to step up and become the No.1 man in a forward line, he probably would’ve already done it by now.

Luke Breust is a proven goalkicker but seemed to play a bit up the ground yesterday – not a bad move as he is a creative player, and still managed five shots on goal, though only converted one of them.

That leaves an aging Paul Puopolo and a Cyril Rioli on the comeback trail from a knee injury that cost him 14 games last year.

New kid on the block Jarman Impey played a bit forward yesterday with mixed results – 15 disposals but five clangers, six inside 50s but three frees against and no scoreboard impact.

One of the Hawks’ biggest strengths at their height was their ability to pile on goals and put serious distance between themselves and the opposition in the space of a few crucial minutes.

But they were 14th for points scored last year and at the moment, it’s not clear how they’re going to improve that in 2018.

Misfiring Saints simply must fix their radar
On Wednesday night when they did battle with Carlton, St Kilda had +8 clearances, +11 inside 50s, +5 contested possessions, and while they were -5 in possessions, made up for it with an overwhelming +18 tackles.

If you were to show me those stats without any hint of what happened on the scoreboard and ask me which team won the match, I’d pick the Saints every time, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

So where did it all go wrong? Although it’s not the only reason, inaccuracy in front of goal is the most glaringly obvious one.

Carlton kicked 13.11.89 but St Kilda could only manage 9.13.67. Granted, they still had less scoring shots overall, but the final margin should have been at the very least a lot closer, if not a win in the Saints’ favour.

It would be easy to write it off as early-season jitters, the sort of thing that happens in pre-season footy but you can recover from it in time for Round 1. But that sort of logic simply doesn’t apply here.

For one thing, most teams in this first round of the JLT Community Series have been accurate on a level with what you’d expect in the regular season, if not even better.

Secondly, we know from watching them in 2017 that accuracy when kicking for goal is a chronic problem for this St Kilda team.

It’s a problem that simply must be fixed. If not, a disappointing season awaits.

Magpie magnet swap has some promise, maybe, just a very little bit
Safe to say that I was sceptical when I first heard about Collingwood’s plans to move Ben Reid to the forward line to work in tandem with Mason Cox, while shifting Darcy Moore to defense.

But after seeing Reid and Cox in action together on Thursday night… well, I still am.

If you wanted to put it in the nicest way possible, you could point out that the Cox and Reid paring kicked forty per cent of Collingwood’s goals. If you wanted to be less nice, you could mention that the Magpies only kicked five goals for the night.

However the two goals from Reid and Cox did come from a combined five shots on the sticks, and perhaps with a bit of a better radar we’d be looking at this pairing with at least one raised eyebrow.

Five scoring shots between a key forward pair is after all a fairly solid return when you consider that Collingwood lost the inside 50 count 32-59.

So maybe – just maybe – there’s something to work with here. It’s not built for the long term, but for a season or two before Reid retires it could give Collingwood something resembling a functional forward line.

Even if neither becomes a top-flight key forward, they both know how to crash packs and bring the ball to ground for the likes of Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo to pounce on.

Of course, Collingwood will be dreaming of phasing out Reid for Tom J Lynch in 2019 – or Tom Hawkins is apparently on their radar also.

As for Moore in defence, we haven’t gotten to see it yet but he did spend a lot of time there as a junior to good effect.

If the swap proves to be a boost to both ends of the ground it could go a long way towards Collingwood turning around their six-year slide down the ladder.

Stu brings some over-Dew shine to the Suns
There were a number of impressive performances in the second week of the JLT Community Series but none moreso than the excellent effort put in by the Gold Coast Suns in the first proper hitout coached by Stuart Dew.

Dew, having spent so much of his assistant coach career at Sydney, carries with him some obvious influences carried down from a pair of premiership coaches in Paul Roos and John Longmire. It’s not hard to understand what appealed to the Suns about him.

That, combined with the fact that defensive footy is in-vogue right now, makes it no surprise that team defence would be the bedrock of Dew’s strategy for the first season in charge at Gold Coast, and it was on display at Townsville.

Equally as impressive though was the efficiency of Gold Coast’s forward line. How much of it can be attributed to an improvement from the Suns versus Geelong’s interest level in the contest (which was decidedly low) remains to be seen, but it was respectable and watchable footy from a franchise that has so often been neither.

Will Brodie gave us a glimpse as to why he was a top-ten draft pick, Lynch looked switched on, Nick Holman did enough to suggest he might be a very smart piece of recycling, Sam Day was back and had an impact. Positives for the Suns were not hard to find.

Of course, Geelong was missing a few guys you might have heard of – Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, and that bald bloke Gary Ablett. And woefully inaccurate kicking on goal didn’t help them.

When the real stuff starts, Gold Coast will come up against sides who are just so good that all the pressure they can muster won’t stifle them. The Suns will have some very hard days in 2018.

But focusing on defense to go forwards can help the Suns build a brand that brings the team together and offers the fans something to take pride in, and as it has done for Carlton under Brendon Bolton in the past two years it might grab them a worthy scalp or two along the way.

Naughton and other new Dogs will strengthen the spine
A lack of consistent and reliable tall players has been a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side for many years. Let’s not forget this a team who (somehow) won a premiership playing Fletcher Roberts at fullback and Zaine Cordy as a key forward.

And when news came through recently that Dale Morris has suffered an ACL tear that will keep him on the bench for most, if not all of the 2018 season, their problems in that area seemed set to get worse and worse in 2018.

However the first appearances in blue, red and white on Saturday of Aaron Naughton, Jackson Trengove and Josh Schache should give Bulldogs fans cause to be optimistic that their spine of tall players will be a strong one again soon enough.

Naughton may not have dominated the stats sheet but as a key defender he’s not expected to. He spent the afternoon matched up on quality opposition and always acquitted himself well when the ball was in the area. A Round 1 debut looks certain.

Trengove, intriguingly, played all over the ground – floating forward to kick a goal, and doing a fair share of the work in the ruck. A lot of his best football has been played as a tall backman though, and I’d expect that when the real stuff gets underway we’ll see him there.

As for Schache, he was kept off the field until the second half (as anyone to have a conversation with Garry Lyon then or since would’ve heard about six or seven times), and only managed two disposals in the time he did spend on ground, but did turn one of them into a goal.

Personally I’m not expecting the Dogs to play finals in 2018 – but they will be a great team again before too many years pass.

Jaeger takes a small step back to being his old self
If you were to take a shallow scan of Jaeger O’Meara’s stats in the six games he managed last year for Hawthorn, you might think they’re not that different to the kind of effort he was putting in at Gold Coast.

He did, after all, average almost the exact same number of disposals and clearances per game at the Hawks in 2017 as he did for the Suns in 2013 and 2014.

But, there are some big discrepancies also, and the most telling one is kicking vs handballing. In 2014 Jaeger managed around 12 kicks and nine handballs per game – at Hawthorn last year he was going at a rate of six kicks, 14 handballs per match.

He averaged almost two less marks in 2017 than his average peformance at the Suns, and more than three and a half less inside 50s than in his 2014 season.

It all speaks of someone who is struggling to find space on the field like they used to, a completely understandable problem to have after spending two straight years on the bench because of a knee injury.

While he certainly didn’t dominate the game on Saturday, you can see some positives in his statline.

An even split of kicks and handballs (eight each), four marks, five inside 50s and a goal assist – it’s an improvement on the type of numbers he was putting forward when fit in 2017.

Take it with a major grain of salt, because finding space is much easier to do in a pre-season knockaround than it will be in the higher intensity of the AFL season, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that Jaeger can get in a full season and remind us of just what a well-rounded talent he is.

Draft stars shine on Wednesday night
We’ve seen several young players make their first appearance in the JLT Community Series but few were as impressive in doing so as the trio of top-ten draft picks we saw on Wednesday night.

Nick Coffield finished the night with 20 disposals (15 kicks) and five marks, five rebounds 50s and four inside 50s. St Kilda need a player who can do some linkwork and he is it.

Arguably more eye-catching though for the Saints was Hunter Clark who had 12 disposals, but kicked two goals and provided a goal assist.

As much as the Saints’ young guns shined, however, it was hard not to be wowed by Paddy Dow.

His stat line was similar to Clark’s – 13 disposals, two goals and a goal assist. He showed courage (which didn’t end well for his two front teeth), and a willingness to kick into dangerous areas. He also had three clearances and four inside 50s to his name.

These are exactly the kind of performances that fans will love to see from their club’s incoming draftess and at this stage I would be very confident that all three will make their debuts in Round 1. Their teams have the room, and they have the talent.

Chris Mayne faces an uphill battle to survive at Collingwood
It’s impossible not to have some sympathy for the situation Chris Mayne finds himself in coming into the 2018 season.

He was for many years an able player, the kind of guy who plays a role and if he gets to work with a coach who really values that role, can look pretty good.

Across the 2012 and 2013 seasons – Ross Lyon’s first two years at Fremantle – he kicked 76 goals and averaged 4.1 tackles per game.

Clearly it was a good working relationship – but the goal numbers declined fairly steadily after that, and when the Dockers hit rock bottom in 2016 they realised they could probably get a handy draft pick by letting Mayne leave the club.

It worked out well for them – they traded the pick they received as compensation for Mayne’s departure for Brad Hill. Mayne played three AFL games and kicked two goals last year, Hill averaged 23 disposals playing every game and won Fremantle’s best-and-fairest.

Whatever good synergy there was for Mayne at Fremantle that allowed him to play his role to at least a passable level, it simply wasn’t there at Collingwood in 2017.

That was made abundantly clear in September when Nathan Buckley publicly said recruiting Mayne had been a ‘mix-up’.

“The director of football was flipping around, and there were a few things that happened in there that weren’t ideal,” said Buckley.

One of the dumbest things I’ve done in my life is get $20 out at the ATM and walk away without actually taking the money, not realising my mistake until about an hour later.

Somehow ‘mixing up’ something enough to sign someone to a four-year, $2 million contract is on quite another level.

At the end of the year Collingwood reorganised their recruiting and list management team and identified the need to restructure their salary cap model.

They also moved Derek Hine out of the list manager position and brought in former player agent Ned Guy to fill that role.

During the trade period, they had a crack at a ‘salary dump’ trade that would’ve seen them give both Mayne and a second-round pick to Fremantle for effectively nothing in return, just to get his salary off the books. Neither the Dockers nor the AFL were willing to give it the thumbs up.

That means Mayne’s salary is still chewing up cap space at Collingwood – and it may prove to be a defining factor in whether or not they can land a big free agent like Lynch at the end of the year.

Mayne’s form at Collingwood just hasn’t justified putting him in the senior side, and his performance on Thursday night was no different.

He played around half the match with a return of two disposals, one of them a clanger, one tackle, and no scoreboard impact to speak of.

Collingwood’s forward line wasn’t a good place to be on the night, to be fair – but even so, there’s no doubting he’s a long way off the pace of AFL selection right now.

I’d really like to think that things can improve for Chris Mayne in 2018. He seems a likable enough bloke and anyone putting the blame on him for this debacle is sorely misdirected. If you were an average performer offered an above-average wage would you say no? I wouldn’t.

It just doesn’t seem likely though. Can the 29-year-old really hang around another three years at the Pies being little other than a spare part in the VFL? Probably not – an early retirement, as we’ve seen from a number of players in recent years, could be on the cards.

Great Daynes crucial to Brisbane’s 2018
Saturday’s match between Sydney and Brisbane was the kind that won’t tell you a whole lot about either team, as the Lions sent a side that was never realistically going to be competitive, and Sydney crushed them in sort of fashion that was only reasonable given the gap between the two teams put on the field.

We got our first glimpse of Cam Rayner, though not nearly enough to pass any kind of judgement on, saw a promising level of involvment from Hugh McCluggage, and were reminded that Lance Franklin is, in case you’d forgotten, quite good at this football caper.

For mine though the biggest thing to take out of the match was about two players who weren’t there, and just how important they are to the Brisbane Lions – the two great Daynes, Beams and Zorko.

The Lions can count themselves an incredibly lucky side to have two mature A-listers ready to spearhead a young midfield. They’re probably the only one of last year’s bottom four sides that can claim to have two All Australian calibre midfielders in the side.

If they miss a preseason match? No big deal. But I’d expect to see them both in action next week, and here’s hoping that Beams in particular can play a full year of footy. If so, the Lions have plenty to work with this year.

Originally published on The Roar.

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