Injury lists, surging teams and staving off failure – nine tales from midseason AFL

Let’s be honest: it’s a tiny bit after the true middle of the season, but we are firmly in the part of the footy year where (in most seasons) most teams have started to sort into their layers amongst the league. This is evidenced in this week’s HPN Team Ratings, which has seen little movement for the teams.

Round 14 ratings

The sole team to move up this week was Hawthorn, at the expense of Carlton and Fremantle. Only one side at present fits the bill of a likely premier according to the ratings, and they lost to Hawthorn last week so let’s just suggest that the next two months will be quite illuminating.

But how about this week? What should we be watching out for in the games to come?

Glad you asked.

Melbourne v Sydney

This match-up pits (arguably) the two most in-form teams of the competition against each other. According to Matter of Stats’ Game Importance Index, this game is potentially critical to both sides – both Melbourne and Sydney’s finals chances will take a significant hit with a loss.

According to the HPN Team Ratings, both sides are relatively evenly matched in the midfield, with opposing strengths (Sydney’s backline and Melbourne’s forwardline) and weaknesses (Melbourne’s backline and Sydney’s forward-line) matched against each other. Digging a little deeper, both the Demons and the Swans are relatively effective at both taking marks inside 50 and stopping their opponents from doing so – both sides are in the top 4 of both categories.

For the Demons, it is their small to mid-sized brigade doing the hard yards, with four of their top five ranked players for marks inside 50 standing under 190cm, with only the Pies leaning as heavily towards the smalls. Sydney are perhaps seeing the Demons at the perfect time as their leading goal kicker in 2016 (Hogan) and their top two in 2017 (Garlett and Watts) all sitting on the sidelines.

For the Swans, Sam Reid has often acted as a barometer for their success. In games that Reid has dragged in more than 8 marks, the Swans sit 4-0; less than this mark they are just 2-7 (the two being blowout wins over the Saints and Lions). Similar results follow Reid’s contested marking performance as well. The performance of Reid is critical to opening up Franklin, and the rest of the Swans forward line, as weapons if he can effectively play the lead up forward role.

Western Bulldogs v West Coast

Both sides, rated by some to be top four chances at the start of the year, are also battling their way for a spot in the eight. The Bulldogs face the same scenario as a year ago, namely that a weak forward line is letting down their efforts around the ground. For the Eagles, their forward line is leading the way in an otherwise average team.

The key issue for both sides is that their strengths are less effective than they were a year ago, and their weaknesses perhaps look a touch weaker as well. This game might be decided between the arcs – if the Eagles can come close to breaking even with inside 50s, they should be able to squeak out a win.

Carlton v Adelaide

After starting the season 6-0, Adelaide has “slumped” to 3-4 over their last seven games. The HPN Team Ratings still likes their performance overall, but they are rapidly coming back to the large pack in the middle. If Carlton has any chance this weekend they have to continue to defend effectively with the “duct tape and toilet paper roll” constructed defence of Liam Jones, Lachie Plowman, Jacob Weitering, Kade Simpson and other spare parts. If Carlton can somehow win the inside 50 battles, and stop the ultra-effective Crows forward line, they might have a chance to put up enough points to win. Might. But it’s not likely.

Gold Coast v North Melbourne

This might be the last chance saloon for both sides – if that hasn’t already come and gone. In order for Gold Coast to win they will have to find a way to stop North’s tall targets from sneaking marks inside 50 – the Kangaroos currently sit 5th in the competition for marks inside 50 per i50 entry.

Gold Coast holds the lowest contested disposal ratio of any side – with contested disposals making up just 34.6% of their disposals. If North can shut down their play around the outside, they should be able to grab the win.

GWS v Geelong

On paper this is the blockbuster match of the round, pitting two potentially top four sides against each other. Unfortunately, what may be more important is who is off the park rather than on it. GWS has twelve players on their injury list (albeit with two named to play this week) – over 25% of their current available players, with their reserves side getting destroyed at every turn by NEAFL club sides and deeper AFL reserve sides. Geelong, however, suddenly has fifteen listed in the injury report (with three named to play this week). If these two sides face off later in the year, it is very likely that it will be two radically different teams on the park.

Port Adelaide v Richmond

Both Richmond and Port Adelaide have relatively strong midfields and defences slightly held back by their forward lines, according to the HPN Team Ratings. However, Port’s midfield has been the strongest in the comp so far this year, and the Richmond defence has been the standard-bearer for the competition. Only one side has a higher contested disposal ratio than the Power this year – namely the Tigers, with 40% of all disposals being contested. If the Tigers are able to turn a likely epic inside battle into effective inside-50s, they might be able to win.

Essendon v Brisbane

Brisbane have been looking better until halftime in the previous few weeks, then falling away late. For a team anchored to the bottom of the ladder they are still able to find the goals when they get the ball up forward (they’re in the upperc echelons – 6th for offense rating); the issue being that they rarely can do so. The Lions actually win the majority of clearances in their games, but the ball clearly gets turned over a kick or two from entering the 50 metre arc. In short, they will continue looking for a way to fix that.

As noted last week the Dons bookends are its strengths (and their midfield rating is climbing), and if the key position players can do their job this week there shouldn’t be room for an upset.

Hawthorn v Collingwood

With both teams’ finals hopes hanging on by a thread, an interesting battle emerges between a decent attack but weak defence (Hawthorn), and a decent defence but inept attack (Collingwood). For the loser the finals might be an afterthought in 2017, so this may be the most willing game of the round, even if a little out of the spotlight. On paper the Collingwood midfield should dominate the Hawks from both a clearances and inside 50s perspective, and it appears that the Hawks’ only path to victory will be to limit the damage in both areas.

Fremantle v St Kilda

Fremantle’s surprising position as a member of the top eight after 11 rounds has been swiftly followed by an unsurprising tumble down the ladder, one that may not be over yet. The HPN rating has Fremantle as the second weakest side in the AFL at present; perhaps a touch harsh but it’s an even year. Three of Fremantle’s wins have come by less than a goal, and some of those results were sloppy at best even if they were on the unlucky side of a close one last week.

By contrast St Kilda has continued to grow as the season has progressed, but issues continue to present themselves. They don’t appear to be settled up forward this year in contrast to years previous, and the integration of Jake Carlisle into their back six has taken some time. But if the Saints can’t knock off the Dockers away from home, they probably don’t merit a spot in September.

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