The depleted, confidence-sapped Eagles are entering record-low territory.
Plus a frantic race to scrape into the eight looms, Justin Longmuir’s “timely spray” and Geelong’s bizarrely quiet announcement.
The big issues from Round 11 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!
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‘GRIM AS IT GETS’: EAGLES ‘NOT ENTITLED TO BE THIS BAD’
The losses have been piling up for weeks. And now the depleted, confidence-sapped Eagles are entering record-low territory.
While lowly teams losing multiple games by 100-plus points in the same season isn’t unusual in the AFL, it’s unfamiliar territory for West Coast, especially on its home deck.
Prior to this season, the Eagles had only suffered one loss by over 100 points in WA. But they’ve just lose two of their past three matches at home by 100-plus points. And overall, they’ve lost their past seven consecutive games at Optus Stadium.
The loss cemented West Coast to the bottom of the AFL ladder at the halfway point of the season with a percentage of 49.7.
ABC Sport broadcaster Corbin Middlemas pointed out that Fitzroy’s percentage in 1996 when the club was on the verge of merging was 49.5 per cent, writing on Twitter: “Right there in the conversation with as-grim-as-it-gets in competition history.
“Level of comprehension here at an all-time low, like their footy team. Take it completely on face value. On-field, WCE are historically bad at present, to the depths of Fitzroy in 1996, who had to deal with a myriad of issues these Eagles don’t. They’re not entitled to be this bad.”
As per stats guru ‘Swamp’, Fitzroy of 1996 and West Coast of 2022 are two of just five teams in the past 26 years that have had a percentage of under 50 per cent at some stage from Round 9 onwards.
Foxfooty.com.au colleague Max Laughton pointed out the Eagles’ percentage over their past seven losses was 39.3 – and the only teams in VFL/AFL history with a full-season percentage under 40 were the St Kilda sides between 1897 and 1901.
At least they’ll have Pick 1 in Wednesday’s mid-season draft. But that’ll give West Coast fans little comfort.
Asked what Adam Simpson would’ve said to his troops after the loss to the Bulldogs, former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley told Fox Footy’s Best On Ground: “Nothing that hasn’t already been said, unfortunately. They’ve really struggled through the year and found it impossible to put five or 10 minutes of good footy together, let alone a whole game.
“There’s not many positives you can find out of a 100-point loss, other than at some point in the next three months it’ll all be over for them and they can take some time to regenerate.”
The fact Eagles fans, coaches and players would now likely be contemplating the relief of this campaign being over – despite half of the team’s games for the season still remaining – is alarming and sad.
Considering the state of the team – and the length of the coach’s tenure – Simpson’s tenure will now undoubtedly be questioned. That’s despite the fact he led the team to a flag only four years ago and despite the club clearly entering a rebuild, or “transition”, phase.
Simpson is in his ninth season as West Coast coach, with the club having the third-oldest and third-most experienced list in the competition. The skewed list demographic has come about by the club’s lack of draft focus in recent years as it’s continued to push for another flag with the current playing group. It’s a list strategy that hasn’t worked out in 2022 – as results clearly indicate. The results, though, aren’t an indication that Simpson has lost his touch.
West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett earlier this month declared there was “no chance” his club would part ways with the premiership coach this season. It means the only way Simpson wouldn’t be coach of the Eagles next season and beyond is if he departed on his own accord.
Simpson earlier this month insisted he was “up for the fight” to coach and lead West Coast through its rebuild. Since then, there’s been four more losses by an average margin of 76 points and a messy situation that saw multiple players break club rules and attend a nightclub that forced some teammates to be sidelined due to entering health and safety protocols.
Is the starting point for this Eagles rebuild so low now that perhaps Simpson is no longer up for the fight and it might be better if it’s done without him?
A FIVE-TEAM RACE FOR ONE FINALS SPOT?
After Round 11, the top nine clubs all have a percentage of 113-plus with Port Adelaide next best at 105. It means some punters would rule a line under Richmond in terms of finals contenders.
But despite percentage often being the best indicator of a team’s credentials and consistency, you sense 12 teams are genuinely in the mix for a top eight that’s still far from set.
There was one tweak to the top eight make-up over the weekend, with the Western Bulldogs leapfrogging Richmond in eighth spot due to the Tigers’ tight loss to Sydney and the Bulldogs’ mammoth 101-point win over West Coast which saw Luke Beveridge’s side gain 11 per cent.
“They’re starting to grind out some of the football we’ve seen make them a really good team over the past few years,” Saints legend Nick Riewoldt told Fox Footy’s Best On Ground. “Their contest work, their midfield – that’s where it’s all getting done at the moment for the Dogs.”
Triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown added on Best On Ground: “They’re dangerous. They’re the most dangerous team coming in from outside the eight now after a slow start to the year. Teams wouldn’t want to play them as they get going.”
Both the Tigers and Bulldogs – established contenders, with at least one of them featuring in five of the past six AFL Grand Finals – have now won four of their past five games as they approach their upcoming byes with decent momentum.
The asterisk is both clubs’ victories were against teams all below them on the ladder. Richmond’s wins came against the Eagles, Magpies, Hawks and Bombers, while the Bulldogs took care of the Bombers, Magpies, Suns and Eagles.
Asked which of the Dogs or Tigers was better placed to finish inside the top eight, Riewoldt said: “Right now I think the Tigers. I think they’ve got more balance across the entire field.
“The Bulldogs we know have a really strong midfield and if they get going, they probably cover the deficiencies behind the ball and up forward. But Richmond are strong behind the ball when all those players are back in and we know their midfield and forward line has stars throughout.”
After losing to the Swans, the Tigers continue their crunch four-game stretch against Port Adelaide (MCG), Carlton (MCG) and Geelong (MCG). If the Tigers are true top-eight – maybe even premiership – threats, they’re winning at least two of those games.
Meanwhile, the Dogs can’t afford many slip-ups over their next three games against the Cats, Giants and Hawks. That’s because their Round 16 to 21 fixture is brutal: Brisbane (Gabba), Sydney (SCG), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), Melbourne (Marvel Stadium), Geelong (GMHBA Stadium) and Fremantle (Marvel Stadium).
But both teams would be wary of the three clubs just below them on the ladder in Collingwood, Gold Coast and Port Adelaide, who would all argue their finals hopes are far from dashed, considering they all have percentages of 100-plus.
The Power, in particular, face several crunch clashes after their Round 12 bye, with three straight matches against finals contenders in Richmond, Sydney and Gold Coast. Notch two or three wins there against sides in a similar range to them and Ken Hinkley’s men can’t be discounted. The Suns, too, have a good run home, with only three more clashes against top-eight sides (Richmond, Brisbane and Geelong) and five games against the bottom-four teams (North Melbourne twice).
“It’s great for the competition,” Riewoldt said. “This sixth to 12th run now on the ladder is going to be competitive on the way home.
“A lot of these sides are playing each other over the next few weeks as well, so it really sets the season up in the back half.”
CATS’ QUIET RE-SIGNING
In case you missed it, Chris Scott will officially remain at Geelong for another two seasons after signing a contract extension that ties him to the club until the end of 2024. And you would be excused for missing it, for such a significant piece of news certainly wasn’t trumpeted by Geelong.
Mind you, the whole Scott-contract extension has been a puzzling stop-start story to follow for months despite all parties, on the surface, remaining calm.
Cats chief executive Steve Hocking flagged a new contract for Scott as early as October last year, telling the Herald Sun the coach “will be extended”.
After no confirmation from the Cats for five months, Caroline Wilson reported on Footy Classified in March this year Scott had signed a new deal, despite his manager Craig Kelly “wanting a longer-term deal”, according to Wilson. Scott told the same TV program he never entertained the idea of coaching elsewhere or not coaching again, revealing he’d held “robust” discussions with Hocking and consulted up to half a dozen Cats players before agreeing to stay on.
Yet days and weeks went by and no deal was confirmed by the club.
In early April, Hocking indicated negotiations around Scott’s contract extension had concluded, telling K-Rock Football: “Details are all sorted. It’ll be done pretty much any week now – any day.”
Still, no confirmed deal, according to the club.
Almost two months later, the Cats put it in writing that Scott would remain at Geelong beyond 2022. Those details, though, were buried seven paragraphs into an eight-paragraph media release on Friday that instead lead with Scott surpassing the legendary Reg Hickey’s record for the most wins as Cats coach – six days earlier.
It appeared strange on the surface for the Cats to confirm Scott’s tenure extension this way. The Cats will say it was a done deal hence the quiet announcement, but it still appeared a bizarre way to announce.
Geelong isn’t the only club in recent years to keep a coach’s extension under wraps, with West Coast last year quietly re-signing Adam Simpson to a new deal that tied him to the club until the end of 2024.
The unique chain of events, though, didn’t bother Scott.
“I’ve been pretty happy in that respect for a long time because as far as I’ve been concerned, Steve Hocking, the board and I were unanimous in our position back in October. So it feels like old news to me,” Scott told Fox Footy before Saturday’s Cats-Crows clash.
The extra two years means Scott will become Geelong’s longest serving coach and surpass Hickey’s long-standing record of 304 total games at the helm.
“When I stand out here and I see the Reg Hickey stand, I am reminded of the history of the Cats and the great people that have gone before us,” Scott said.
“In my time, I’ve always considered it to be that any achievements that we have are just that – it’s a collective.
“I’m just so privileged and humbled that I’ve had so much support over the journey because I think I owe the Geelong Football Club a lot more than it owes me.”
DOCKER’S ‘TIMELY SPRAY’ PART OF ‘MASTERFUL COACHING’
The coach of the year discussion is always a contentious one and many might’ve been writing him off after the last two weeks, but Justin Longmuir has gotten his side to do what no other has been able to for nearly a year: Defeat the Dees.
It was a staggering third-quarter and second half burst that saw Fremantle defeat Narrm, but perhaps the path was paved six days earlier, when Longmuir delivered a scathing assessment of his side following the loss to Collingwood – the club’s second in a row.
“It probably gives us a reality check to be honest. We were riding high and everyone was getting way ahead of themselves,” he declared.
“If you get way ahead of yourself in footy – you don’t even need to get way ahead of yourself – you get marginally ahead of yourself in footy it gives you a reality check.”
Those words surely would’ve echoed through the Fremantle changerooms, let alone what Longmuir would’ve had to say to his charges behind closed doors.
Trailing by 25 points nearing the end of the second term, it looked like Longmuir’s words had fallen on deaf ears.
Then came the third quarter: Eight goals to Narrm’s one. Plus eight in centre clearances. Two goals from centre clearance. Two goals from throw ins. Plus nine inside 50s.
It was eventually a 42-point turnaround as the Dockers defeated the reigning premiers, but that turnaround has to be at least in part attributed to Longmuir.
“I saw that (post-game comments last week) and I thought there’s going to be a response this week,” Kane Cornes told AFL Media’s The Round So Far.
“The win was set up there. Every time a coach fronts the media you’re talking not only to your supporters and the media but you’re talking to your players and there was a response.
“Contested footy, plus 12, they win clearances by 10, they out-tackle Melbourne despite having a lot more of the footy.
“That was where it was won and I can imagine it was pretty ferocious on the training track.
“I thought it was masterful coaching because you don’t hear coaches speak like that directly to their players very often.”
St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt agreed, adding on Fox Footy’s Best On Ground: “It was a timely spray from the coach.”
“Sometimes one loss is just not enough, sometimes you need a couple for the coach to really be able to deliver a stinging message and he did. It felt like a club-wide message and it was awesome.”
The Dockers may’ve gotten too far ahead of themselves before their two straight losses, but if they defeat Brisbane Lions next week, fans could well and truly be forgiven for starting to give ‘Flagmantle’ a run again.
FREO ‘SHAFTED’ BY MCG FIXTURES THAT ARE ‘NEVER FAIR’
AFL commentator Tony Jones believes the AFL should be altering its fixture to allow top-performing clubs like Fremantle to play more games at the home of football.
Barring the Covid-affected 2020 season, the Dockers have managed to get at least two matches per season at the MCG for all but six years since their inception into the competition.
But the club’s 2010 campaign, where they made finals, saw them play just one game at the MCG – a semi final against Geelong, while in their 2013 season – where they made their inaugural grand final – the Dockers didn’t step foot on the MCG until Round 17.
Kane Cornes said the fixture was never fair when it came to the MCG home ground advantage.
“There’s a lot of teams that get shafted when it comes to fixturing at the MCG,” he said on the Sunday Footy Show.
“That’s why the competition is never fair.
“Richmond can have 13 games at the MCG and it’s just accepted and every says it’s because they are a high drawing crowd. Surprise surprise, they have a massive advantage.
“(At Port Adelaide) we cried out for more games at the MCG, could never get it.
“Its just been accepted that Richmond and Collingwood get this free kick by having that many games at the MCG and other clubs get shafted like Freo.”
Speaking after the Dockers’ massive win over reigning premiers Melbourne at the MCG, Jones questioned why Fremantle’s future fixtures at nearby Marvel Stadium couldn’t be adjusted for the big stage.
“That’s their only game at the MCG prior to the finals,” he said on the Sunday Footy Show.
“Surely the AFL, with the floating fixture, can construct it as such whereby matches that are slotted over here at Marvel can be moved to the MCG.
“It has been done before a long, long time ago – it should be done again.
“How hard can it be?”
It’s not just Fremantle getting the raw deal, with interstate clubs like West Coast, Port Adelaide and Adelaide all struggling for MCG time when pushing for grand final berths.
The Eagles played on the MCG just once in 2011 before heading across for two finals at the ‘G.
They played there just once in 2015 before reaching the grand final against the Hawks in 2015.
The Power had just one game at the ‘G in 2014 before heading back to face Hawthorn in a losing preliminary final.
Adelaide had one game at the MCG before playing back to back finals at the venue in 2015.
Remarkably, Brisbane hasn’t stepped foot on the MCG since Round 1 of 2020, before Covid hit.
Since becoming the Brisbane Lions, there has been six seasons where they have played just once on the hallowed MCG turf.
LIONS SUPERSTAR’S TRAIT WE ‘TAKE FOR GRANTED’
Only 15 players in VFL/AFL history have won multiple Brownlow Medals. By season’s end, it could be 16, such is the dominant, eye-catching season Lachie Neale is putting together.
Halfway through the 2022 season and Neale – the 2020 Brownlow Medallist – is now the outright favourite, according to PointsBet, to take out the AFL’s highest individual honour.
The 29-year-old surely polled another three votes on Saturday after a stunning display in his side’s hard-fought win over the Giants, booting two goals from 39 disposals, 19 contested possessions, nine clearances and nine score involvements. He was particularly influential in the second half when the Lions got on a roll, kicking one goal and having three clearances in each quarter.
After a challenging and injury-interrupted 2021 campaign that started with several injury setbacks and ended in a phenomenal trade whirlwind that never eventuated, Neale has not just returned to his Brownlow best, he’s arguably usurped it.
While the Lions superstar is winning more of the ball, his disposals are more damaging compared to 2020. Neale is having a role in a Brisbane score every 3.3 disposals this season – a better score-involvement-per-disposal strike rate than two years ago (4.6).
“I think he’s having a better year than his Brownlow year. He’s more damaging forward of centre,” Lions legend Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy’s Best On Ground.
Brown added Lions people constantly told him Neale was “always striving to get better every single session” – a trait seven-time All-Australian Nathan Buckley said footy fans can “take it for granted a little”.
“There’s very talented players in the competition, but to be a great player you need to continue to improve yourself and work on your game,” Buckley told Best On Ground. “I think a guy like Lachie Neale, from what I’ve heard of him, he just continues to work on his game.
“He needs to be five or 10 per cent better than he was last year to be able to beat the challenges that are going to come his way and to see that happen, you cannot take that for granted.”