AFL news 2022: The Tackle, Mark Robinson’s likes and dislikes, Robbo

Sam Walsh had some big moments against Melbourne, but one ‘astonishing’ stat illustrates a problem the rising Blues star has to fix – and soon, writes Mark Robinson. Likes and dislikes.

Is Shai Bolton really the best player in footy?

He might not be the best player at Richmond, News Corp chief football writer Mark Robinson writes in this week’s edition of The Tackle.

Kozzie Pickett’s discipline caught the eye, there’s a young Roo with Dusty-like potential and a young Crow who reminds Robbo of Pav.

There was a big issue with Carlton star Sam Walsh’s game on the weekend, a 19-game Hawk cops a belting and how about that Pies-Swans clash? Good for one, not so good for the other.

See all Robbo’s likes and dislikes from round 22 below.

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1. Spineless again

Last week they were poor against the Giants and on Sunday they were embarrassed by Port Adelaide. This season can’t end quickly enough for Essendon. They remain the most inconsistent team in the competition. They beat St Kilda, Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast in one stretch in the second half of the season, but also lost to the Giants, West Coast and to the Power, which had lost their previous four matches. Who the hell are they as a team? They said they wanted a response after the Giants defeat and they delivered marshmallows, and some of their defensive work on Sunday had to be seen to be believed. Try to review that in a game which saw the Bombers lose by their biggest margin this year. The Bombers feel they are sometimes unfairly targeted for criticism. Well, Sunday was Exhibit A for ineptitude. The review is finished, but you have to wonder if it’s completely finished after a performance such as this. The only good news coming out of Essendon this week is the understanding Michael Hurley will play against Richmond.

2. Welcome to the word tagging Nick Daicos

Finally, a team sent a shutdown player to Collingwood’s most damaging defender. On Sunday, Sydney deployed Ryan Clarke to Daicos and it worked a treat. Daicos is averaging 26 disposals and against the Swans it was 19, and several of them were kick-ins from behinds. The tally was his second-lowest return of the season behind his 16 against Carlton in round 11. Clarke would be a pain to have as an opponent because he’s disciplined enough to ignore the ball, and is always thinking about thwarting his man. That match-up robbed the Pies of a rebound spark and, with Jack Ginnivan (hamstring) off at halftime and Jordan De Goey (hip) missing, the Pies lacked fire starters. What a climax to the home and away season we have coming. It’s a 50-50 game, there will be a minimum of 85,000 in attendance, and the Blues need to win to play finals. How good is football?

3. The foot of Sam Walsh

It might read like it’s Sam Walsh bashing after his 40-possession game against Adelaide two weeks ago was noted for its lack of impact. But, on Saturday, there was another issue. Walsh had 27 disposals which, on the surface, is not a bad game. But of those 27 disposals, nine of them were kicks and those nine kicks went at just 11 per cent efficiency. And his only effective kick went backwards. That’s not good enough from Walsh. Of all players who have had 25 or more disposals in a game this season, Walsh recorded the second-lowest percentage by foot. Drum roll please – the worst was … North Melbourne’s Hugh Greenwood in round 15. Mind you, Walsh had some significant moments on Saturday night, like the super-courageous one-handed mark leaning back, which led to a Jack Martin goal. Still, 11 per cent by foot is an astonishingly low return.

4. What fight?

The couch psychologists mused the Steven May-Jake Melksham punch-on would probably tear the team apart. That hasn’t happened. May was best on ground on Saturday night and, if he wasn’t, it was probably Melksham with his four goals. Clearly, they remain good mates. Only Demons supporters, and eagle-eyed footy fans, would’ve noticed what happened after the Melbourne players linked arms in the circle and sang the song in the rooms in the post-match. When the rousing rendition ended, Melksham and May hugged in jubilation, which even Melbourne officials thought was a significant moment. As Thin Lizzy said, the boys are back in town.

5. Where is DGB’s footy?

Denver Grainger-Barras is recognised as an intercept player, but he’s not that. He’s not anything at the moment. In his third season and, bearing in mind he is a top-10 draft pick for the Hawks, there is a growing impatience about him. He’s played 15 games this season, all in defence, and there’s nothing noteworthy to report. He doesn’t intercept, he doesn’t win a lot of the ball and he’s rated average for one-on-one defender. On Sunday, he had six goals kicked on him, four by the rampaging Tom Lynch and one each by Noah Cumberland and Ben Miller. He collected nine possessions himself. He’s only 20 and he will improve but, to be fair, there’s work to be done.

6, Air Naughton out of gas

Aaron Naughton was in the best 10 in my top 50 at the start of the year, but hasn’t been able to play to those expectations as the season played out. He is ranked ninth overall by Champion Data for key forwards, which is pretty solid, but most pundits would’ve expected him to be closer to the pointy end, with the likes of Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins, Tom Lynch and, the most surprising of all, Charlie Curnow. Four of the Bulldogs’ last five games have been against top eight teams — Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, Fremantle and the Giants on Saturday — and Naughton has averaged 1.7 goals, four marks and 1.2 marks inside the forward line. His average outside of those five games is 2.7 goals, five marks and 2.6 marks inside 50. We’ll give him an out because he’s probably banged up and he needs support but, at the same time, players are judged by how they perform in big games and Naughton has been average at best — at least over the past five games.

7. Matt Rowell on the outside

The boy wonder had nine disposals against Geelong on Saturday night, and his two main opponents were Joel Selwood and Cam Guthrie. In fact, he had nine disposals, nine tackles and four clearances. They are the numbers, albeit low in disposals, of a pure inside midfielder. It’s been spoken of previously this season that Rowell needs to develop his outside game, In other words, his running and spread game. This season, Rowell has won 68 per cent of his possessions in a contested manner, which is the highest percentage of all non-ruckman in the competition. Further pluses is the fact he is No.2 of all midfielders for pressure points and No.5 for tackles. But he is poor for uncontested possessions, marks and is below average for metres gained. Rowell is a good player, and maybe one day will be a great player, but even the best trench-like players had a good outside game. It will be a focus for him over summer.

8. Umpire bashing

Never like it, and right now the umpires are on top of their game, albeit there’s always mistakes made in games. What I like is that they are paying fewer free kicks to players who, after they have gotten rid of the ball in a tackle, flop to the ground with their arms flailing, appealing for a holding free kick. Umpires are not falling for it, so let’s chill on the acting.


1. Out of the woodwork

The Swans are second on the ladder and the last time they sat in that position at this time of the season was in 2016, when they eventually made the grand final. They beat Collingwood on Sunday and, if they beat St Kilda this weekend, they will host a home final at what will be a rollicking SCG. This is John Longmire’s second surge with the Swans. They won the flag in 2012, lost the GF in 2016 and then slowly set upon restocking the team. They lost the first final last year, which hurt them horribly because they finished equal fourth on the ladder and had nothing to show for it. In 2022, they are the No.1 contender to Geelong. And they play similarly to Geelong, too. They defend well, they move the ball extremely well, their contest is getting better and they have a deadly front six, led by you know who. Lance Franklin kicked three of Sydney’s 11 goals on Sunday, and he once again stood up when the pressure was fierce. Are we sure he’s not worth $700,000? Maybe it’s not about money any more. Maybe this might be it — and a flag would be a fitting send-off.

2. Big Jezza

Jeremy Finlayson started the season in a cloud of fear. His partner, Kellie, was battling cancer and at their worst times, their fears were real. Kellie responded to treatment and lived a miracle to be honest, and now the pair are soon to be married. Meanwhile, Finlayson started the season as Port’s No.3 forward, but will finish the year as Port’s No.1 ruck. In what has been a terrific move by coach Ken Hinkley, Finlayson has flourished with the extra responsibility and his agility allows him to be another midfielder. On Sunday he had 25 disposals and kicked two goals and was part of a midfield tsunami which steamrolled the Bombers. The Showdown should be a ripper.

3. Richmond’s best player

All the noise about Shai Bolton being the best player in the league is amusing because Bolton might not be the best player at Richmond. Dion Prestia continues to be among the most consistent elite midfielders in the game and Tom Lynch, as we saw on Sunday, can be devastating and arguably is Richmond’s most important player. Lynch kicked eight goals yesterday and Prestia had 30 possessions, 16 contested possessions, 11 clearances and kicked two goals. He is the leader of Richmond’s midfield, although Trent Cotchin’s role seemingly has changed in the past two weeks. If we can guess, it looks like he’s become a hunter and gatherer again after consecutive games of 30 possessions. That hasn’t happened since 2017. Coincidence? Think not. Bolton by the way had 13 touches and kicked a goal and was shut down by Hawk Finn Maginness.

4. Front and square

Coaches and players bore us with the “process” and “playing your role”, but that’s exactly what Kozzie Pickett did before kicking the winner against Carlton on Saturday night. While wingman teammate Ed Langdon ran to the back of the marking contest anticipating the spillage, Pickett played his role and was ‘front and square’. He missed the ball the first time, roved, but pivoted, turned around and gathered the ball on his second try, then kicked the goal. It was discipline from the small forward — play your role, be front and square. His opponent Jack Newnes was lucky and unlucky. He was several metres behind Pickett on the first swoop, and on the second swoop, was fractionally caught on his haunches, which gave Pickett the narrowest of margins to gather the ball. Newnes recovered to lay the tackle on Pickett but, by then, the game was a wrap. The whole play is reminiscent of Jason Akermanis’ goal in the 2002 Grand Final, and the accompanying words from Leigh Matthews in the coaches box echo loudly. Matthews told his runner to “tell Aker, get in front” of Alastair Lynch and that’s exactly what Aker did. He gathered the spillage and kicked the goal that won the Lions the flag. Both goals were exhilarating.

5, LDU deserves a UDL

North Melbourne supporters know it and most footy media should know it, but for those who don’t tune into Kangaroos games – and why would they, to be honest – be aware of the rise of Luke Davies-Uniacke. The Kangaroos have, in LDU, a player of the quality of Christian Petracca and Shai Bolton and, dare we say it, Dustin Martin, in the midfield. That’s not Dusty in the forward line, because LDU is not the resting forward in the goal square taking marks and kicking goals. Not yet, anyway. But he is everything else. His star is streaking across the football landscape and, when that landscape is as barren as North Melbourne’s, that star is burning bright. He has unbelievable balance. He glides over the ground and around opponents and very few players possess that quality. He is quicker than how Robert Harvey used to do it, but slower than how Chris Judd used to do it. But he has that uncanny side step. He is 23, and this year has averaged 25 disposals and five clearances and five score involvements. His game against the Crows on Saturday was the 11th-highest-rated game by a player this year.

6. The Crows have a potential jet

Again, Adelaide fans will know and footy media should know but, for everyone else, be aware of the arrival of Darcy Fogarty. He’s a different player to Davies-Uniacke, in that he’s a forward and LDU is a midfielder, but Fogarty has some tricks. He’s nimble on his feet and powerful in his play, which is an odd combination, a bit like a younger Matthew Pavlich or a more thickset Jack Riewoldt. Since round 11, he’s equal third in goal kicking behind Jeremy Cameron and Charlie Curnow with 28 goals. What a dramatic transformation for Fogarty. In round 1, he kicked two goals, he was goalless in rounds 2 and 3, was dropped to the SANFL for rounds 4-8, and, back in the AFL, was goalless in rounds 9 and 10. Then the “Fog” lifted. By the way, we’re not saying he will reach the heights of Pavlich or Riewoldt, we’re saying this 22-year-old has the capability of being a powerhouse key forward for a very long time.

7. Tommy gun

And again, West Coast fans will know and footy media should know — and All Australian selectors absolutely will know — but Tom Barrass is a gun defender. It was wet in the west on Saturday night and that might explain Barrass’ opponent Rory Lobb only taking two marks and kicking 0.1. But that doesn’t explain how Barrass can take 12 marks, including nine intercept marks. Since Round 14 — that’s nine games — Barrass has taken 48 intercept marks and the next best is Sydney’s Paddy McCartin on 29. McCartin has a legion of admirers in the media who put his name up for All Australian and deservedly so. But Barrass’ performance this year is even better. He’s played in a team which has won two games, and he’s been far and away the best player at the Eagles. As for the AA team, I’d go Sam Taylor, Barrass, Tom Stewart, James Sicily and then take two picks from Jack Sinclair, Angus Brayshaw, Nick Daicos, Dan Rioli, Brayden Maynard, Bailey Dale, Jordan Dawson, Sam Docherty and Adam Saad.

Originally published as The Tackle: Mark Robinson’s likes and dislikes for round 22 of the 2022 AFL season AFL news 2022: The Tackle, Mark Robinson’s likes and dislikes, Robbo

Nate Jones

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