With the halfway mark of the season in our rear view mirror, the finish line is firmly in sight. Due to the structure of the competition, zero (0) (nil) clubs are out of contention for the flag – although there may be a couple of eliminated sides after this weekend. This week, HPN will quickly run the rule over the competition as things get serious.
HPN Team Ratings
There’s quite a bit of movement after round three, most notably with Adelaide leapfrogging and separating slightly from Melbourne and Fremantle at the top of the ladder (behind North, that is).
In the chasing gang-of-six, Brisbane have started their push into form as they attempt to stretch their consecutive appearances in the finals to three. The Dogs are the big sliders this week after that big loss to Brisbane.
Adelaide are only one of two sides that are above average across all three elements of the ground, but this is really all driven by their dominance in the middle. Adelaide lead the competition in inside 50s, centre clearances and are 2nd in total clearances. With Phillips, Marinoff, Hatchard and Foley at the coalface, it is hard to overcome the Crows when the battle becomes tight.
This week’s top-of-the-table clash against the Roos is critical to Adelaide’s finals chances, along with their potential “qualifying final” against Melbourne in round seven. If they lose this week, and beat Melbourne in the final week, it may create a situation where both sides are knocked out.
After notching their second win of the season over the seemingly fading Dogs last week, the Lions suddenly find themselves in the box seat in Conference B. Their crossover schedule is over, and fate firmly rests in their own hands. If they are to squeeze into the top two, it’s their ability to find open targets inside 50 that will be a crucial factor. The Lions sit first in B for their marks inside 50 per entry, but the number of contested marks that they have snatched this year has cratered from 2nd in the comp to 8th.
Carlton, like Brisbane, has fate in their hands for the final stretch. A win over Collingwood will likely get them to their round six match against Brisbane a game down, and a win over Brisbane would place them in the box seat for finals.
A lot of the focus at Carlton goes to either their centrepiece forwards (in Harris and Vescio) or their captain in Davey. One critical player that has firmly joined those three is 2018 number 3 draft pick Maddy Prespakis, who has quickly established herself as the best first year player this year. Prespakis leads the Blues in clearances, inside 50s and disposals, and along with Davey and Loynes, is critical in providing those deadly forwards with some supply of footy.
Despite sitting bottom of the ladder with no wins, Collingwood can only be eliminated this week with a draw between Geelong and Brisbane, and a loss to Carlton. As a result, it is likely that the side bottom on the ladder will go into the final fortnight with a shot at finals.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this season is the surprising competence of the Collingwood forward line, considering their losses during the offseason. In fact, you could pretty accurately say that the first Collingwood forward line is the most effective in the competition (at North) and their replacements are third (at Collingwood).
Part of this has to do with how few forays forward the Pies make. The entries when they do get forward are usually of a good quality and almost universally at ground level. Through four games, Collingwood has just six (6!) marks inside 50. Five other sides average at least six marks inside 50 per game. Whatever they are doing up there, it is sort of working. Sort of. Occasionally.
This is now or never for the Dockers. Due to how the expansion of the competition has unfolded, and their good performance to date (let’s forget last week), this next month shapes as their moment.
If the Roos beat Adelaide this week, a Dockers win over the Bulldogs would see them sitting in the top 2 with two games of footy left. They then meet Conference B Geelong, before facing ladder leaders North. That last matchup might be a lucky break for Fremantle, as North may have sown up the top seed before the last round, leaving little to play for against the Dockers and a chance at resting players.
Much has been said about the Dockers’ health finally turning, bringing Bowers and Gibson into the equation, but another interesting thing about the rise of Freo is how they have ignord the ruck. The Dockers sit last in the competition for hitouts, but are midtable for centre clearances and slightly lower for total clearances. Players like Hooker, Donnellan and Bowers have been able to find ways to shark opposition taps, as long as they have been contested.
In their first year, the Cats sit inside the finals positions in Conference B as the season winds down. Unfortunately, they face tough opposition in Brisbane and Fremantle over the next two weeks – both matches they start underdogs in. There is potential for their Round 7 match against GWS at Manuka Oval to be another “qualifying final”, but at this stage that’s more in the possible camp than the probable.
If they are to play finals, they will need to focus on fixing their ability to win centre clearances. So far, they have just eight centre clearances this season – less than Dana Hooker and Erin Philips have gotten on their own. The return of Cranston may be harnessed to help them in the clearance battle, but that sacrifices her ability to effectively deliver the ball to the Cats forwards or get on the end of entries herself. It will be hard for the Cats to balance her role going forward.
It’s a sign of the strength of Conference B that a single win, in round 4, can catapult a side firmly into the finals mix. From here, it is pretty unlikely that GWS make finals, considering they have two crossover games against strong sides remaining and four points on the ladder to make up. But it is possible, and a Carlton play-off game might happen.
If there’s one thing that GWS need to work on to make finals, it’s their ability to take grabs. No side has less overall marks or contested marks than GWS, and they sit second last for marks inside 50. They, along with fellow mark-averse side Collingwood, also have the worst goal accuracy in the competition – probably partly due to the weather they’ve played in but also likely a function of the inability to get easy, set chances on goal.
There is a fair chance that Melbourne could face a second consecutive year of playing a final round match to determine finals – this time against Adelaide at home. First, they will have to beat GWS and the Dogs – both far from certainties.
As the team ratings above shows, the Dees are pretty solid across the board, with the potential exception of forward line execution (a recurring motif for both Demons sides). If the race to second place involves percentage, the Dees will have to find a way to more effectively hit the scoreboard.
North survived a scare from the Dees in their closest game to date. North like to control the footy by using space and free players, they have the second most kicks per game and the most marks, but are only 6th for contested marks.
Against the Dees they had their fewest marks in a game so far (40), showing how Melbourne denied them free use of the ball. North Melbourne’s defence is relatively average, so taking territory looks like it’s vital to challenging them because they are so damaging further upfield.
The Kangaroos can nearly cement top spot in Conference A if they can beat Adelaide, which will put them potentially 2 games and percentage ahead of the Crows with Collingwood and Freo left to play. The Dockers will still be in the frame to jump them if they can keep winning too, but there’s a considerable percentage buffer which may protect North even if they were to lose that round 7 game.
The Dogs get a couple of key players back this weekend for the crunch game against Freo. They’ve been patchy at best this year and haven’t stood out or excelled in any part of the ground, but Lochland and Huntington stand to strengthen their struggling forward line, perhaps considerably so.
The Dogs are a game and a lot of percentage shy of 2nd spot on the conference ladder with 3 weeks to go, so a loss here essentially knocks them out. A loss caps them at a maximum of 4 wins if they take the last two, and it’s vanishingly unlikely that two other teams won’t get to 4 wins in this conference given that second and third ranked Freo and Adelaide are on 3 wins currently.