Our reporters give you the lowdown on all the action from round 12 of the AFL season. Richmond, Essendon, Carlton, St Kilda, Port Adelaide and GWS had the bye.
Western Bulldogs v Geelong
A genuinely tough win was set up through a blistering start from Geelong where they fought harder than their opponents to win centre clearances and then ran harder than the Bulldogs, who will be cursing themselves for their lack of early intensity. Jeremy Cameron was the difference with three goals in both the first and last quarters. The mobile forward worked in tandem with the strong Tom Hawkins to expose the Bulldogs’ weak defence, which relies on midfield ascendancy to break even. The Dogs’ inability to win ground balls inside 50 means they are too reliant on Aaron Naughton, who had kicked 14 goals in the four games before Sam De Koning put the clamps on him and restricted him to one late goal. Tom Atkins put together a purple patch in the midfield in the absence of Patrick Dangerfield, while Rhys Stanley showed what he is capable of doing in a big last quarter. Geelong managed to overcome Tom Stewart’s absence but only just, so cannot afford to lose him as they did on the eve of the finals last season. – Peter Ryan
Adelaide v West Coast
Four points are worth four points, no matter how you dice them, but neither Rory Laird’s midfield brilliance nor Taylor Walker’s forward masterclass could paper over the cracks that reared in Adelaide’s undistinguished victory over bottom-placed West Coast. The Crows had a rare percentage-booster on their minds when they slammed the first five goals in wet, wintry conditions to waltz to a 31-point quarter-time lead. But the final margin would be just that – 31 points – as Adelaide, for the duration of their indifferent afternoon, found themselves neutralised and dictated to at times. The Eagles, desperate to avoid an outright VFL/AFL record eighth successive hammering by 50-plus points, belatedly displayed the type of grit that has been sorely absent from their play virtually all year. Paced by established engine room occupants Andrew Gaff, Jack Redden and Luke Shuey, they were arguably the better team from the second quarter onwards. But the damage inflicted by that dreadful start, when their reshuffled backline proved no match for Adelaide’s wave of attackers, proved too severe. West Coast will enter next weekend’s bye reasonably buoyed by the honour they showed in defeat, while the Crows should spend their week off getting closer to brokering a deal to retain uncontracted, unrestricted free agent Walker in 2023. – Steve Barrett
Gold Coast v North Melbourne
The Gold Coast Suns took care of business with a seven-goal-to-nil second term that all but ended the contest. They were sluggish early but lifted their workrate at stoppages and around the ground to ensure they head into their mid-season bye with six wins and a legitimate chance to make finals for the first time in the club’s history. This is a significant achievement, for the Suns too often have been in a slump at this point of the season. Skipper Touk Miller again provided much of the drive, while Matt Rowell typically was a contested beast. But their plans have likely taken a hit by a season-ending knee injury to gun defender Lachie Weller. If they can mitigate his absence, there is no reason why they cannot be alive come September, for they have the Crows first up after the bye, and face only two teams currently in the top eight before the end of the season. For North Melbourne, the pain continues, prompting more speculation about the future of coach David Noble. The Kangaroos are on a 10-game losing streak, and have only five wins since Noble took charge heading into the 2021 season. Their list is weak, but the question powerbrokers must answer is whether Noble and his team are maximising the list they have. How many players have improved? No. 1 draft pick Jason Horne-Francis had a moment or two of brilliance but began on the bench in the third term alongside Tarryn Thomas. Horne-Francis’ intensity wasn’t what was required late in the second term, while Thomas should be giving more at this stage of his career. That eight of the 10 defeats have been by 50 points or more means Noble is a man under intense pressure. Will there be a breaking point? – Jon Pierik
Melbourne v Sydney
Steven May’s injury has no doubt unsettled the Demons’ defence, but there are worries at the other end of the ground for the reigning premiers. Ben Brown is in a rut, goalless in his past three games and offering little when he does not have the ball. He is not injured, coach Simon Goodwin said, so the inference is clear. Lift. The Dees do not have the luxury of dumping the former Kangaroo. Tom McDonald is injured, Sam Weideman is not playing big man’s type of footy, Goodwin said, and Mitch Brown has not shown in 14 seasons across three clubs that he is a game changer. There will be nowhere for Brown to hide in the Big Freeze on Queen’s Birthday. For the Swans, Tom Papley is back in town. The goalsneak did not play until round seven after a hamstring injury in the pre-season but after six games he has rediscovered the verve and confidence that has made him one of the best small forwards of the past few years. Papley hits the ball at speed and, in the sign of a gun player, rarely falls over under pressure. His teammates thrive on his energy, so too the fans. His two goals, both at crucial periods, were no gimmes. A forward line with him roving at the feet of Lance Franklin, Logan McDonald and Sam Reid, and with Isaac Heeney ghosting in, will present defences with plenty of headaches. – Andrew Wu
Hawthorn v Collingwood
The Magpies won’t dare to dream about finals yet, but they’re in the top eight after winning three games on the trot for the first time since 2019. Victories over Fremantle and Carlton were inspired, while Sunday’s over Hawthorn – their second nail-biter in as many weeks – saw them move to 7-5 under Craig McRae ahead of next Monday’s Big Freeze blockbuster against Melbourne. On the field, Rising Star prospect Nick Daicos produced his best game in his fledgling career, while the Hawks’ Jai Newcombe – also a leading contender for the Rising Star – did his best to get his side over the line in the second half. But off the field, umpiring again makes the news. Darcy Moore was penalised in the third term for contact below the knees to Sam Butler, which cost the Pies a goal, after the non-officiating umpire guessed – according to Triple M commentator Ross Lyon – from down the field, while at the other end, Jack Ginnivan kicked two first-quarter goals from free kicks before the umpires appeared to put the whistle away whenever the enigmatic small forward got near the ball. Pies coach Craig McRae said his club would seek clarity from the AFL over their interpretation of head-high contact. Jamie Elliott was a late out for the Pies due to illness, but McRae said he expected him to be fine to face the Dees. However, Reef McInnes suffered a dislocated shoulder in his return to the senior side, and looks like he’ll miss a stint of football.
– Damien Ractliffe
Fremantle v Brisbane Lions
Doubts about the Dockers surfaced after losses in heavy weather to the Gold Coast Suns and Collingwood. Those concerns can be put to bed, with Fremantle now having beaten the top two sides in the competition in successive weeks. They are in this premiership race to their ears, not least due to the staggering improvement of the likes of Michael Frederick and Will Brodie, who is surely the recruit of the year. The Lions were dismantled rather than disgraced – other sides will take note of how defensive pillars Harris Andrews and Marcus Adams were taken out of the game. With Melbourne also dropping their match against Sydney, this year’s flag race now looks wide open.
– Andrew Stafford