Sport AFL How the AFL created a new crop of basket cases
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How the AFL created a new crop of basket cases

This is the method for Al Clarkson's team, which has dangerous players who pop up like sprinkler heads, so that the opposition has no idea club who to cover.
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Another round, another batch of anomalous results – and a few thumpings being dished out by the heavyweights, just for good measure.

The middle of the ladder is dominated by hot-and-cold enigmas, but we can now say with confidence that Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Geelong will be occupying the penthouse come season’s end, with Sydney or Freo filling out the top four.

Meanwhile, it looks like Andrew Demetriou’s expansion teams have crawled out of the cellar for good. Gold Coast’s hard-fought win over North Melbourne has seen them anointed as a Proper Team, and rightly so.

Who will take the prize? Photo: Shutterstock
Who will take the prize? Photo: Shutterstock

GWS have only posted two wins thus far, but they have figured out how to stay competitive for four quarters. Heads are no longer dropping, and the blowouts look to be a thing of the (admittedly near) past. They’ll roll over a few more teams by season’s end.

This is good news for the AFL Empire, but rather terrible news for Brisbane and St Kilda, who are shaping as the clubs most likely to prop up the ladder for the next few years.

The contenders

Speaking of dropping heads, St Kilda’s display against Hawthorn at a rain-lashed MCG was the sort of thing that leaves a club encased in scar tissue.

The Saints were outclassed from the opening bounce. This was anticipated well in advance, but what was alarming to see was just how exposed their kids looked when Riewoldt, Hayes and Montagna were blanketed. With the exception of the Jacks, Billings and Stephen, panic and self-preservation ruled: hospital passes, brain-snap long bombs and an epidemic of buck-passing. The Saints have enjoyed a better-than-expected start, but this is what it looks like when the wheels fall off.

Justin Leppitsch could be in for a lean time as Brisbane coach. Photo: Getty
Justin Leppitsch could be in for a lean time as Brisbane coach. Photo: Getty

Brisbane, meanwhile, have been rolling on their rims for a while now. Their thrashing at the hands of Sydney was as insipid as it was unsurprising. St Kilda looked like a team that will struggle to win another game, but at least they have managed three wins thus far. Brisbane need two more to catch up with St Kilda, and, sadly, they’ve already played St Kilda. It’s morale, not talent, that ‘wins’ wooden spoons, and Brisbane are fresh out of the stuff.

While Gold Coast and GWS were scooping the cream from successive drafts, Brisbane’s and St Kilda’s lists were breaking outright.

Only few weeks ago, ethically-minded footy fans were openly discussing the possibility of euthanising the Dees. One boilover win against a bog-average Adelaide, though, and the talk is suddenly of turning corners and new leafs and the like. Are we that fickle? Sometimes, yes, but there can be little doubt that what we are seeing are the green shoots of regrowth. As bad as Adelaide were, it was plain to see on Saturday that Paul Roos has a plan, a structure, and the belief of his young team. He also has Jack Viney.

Broken lists and compromised drafts

There might just be light at the end of the tunnel for Melbourne, but the news gets worse for our other cellar dwellers. Not only do they find themselves in the midst of a rebuild, they are doing so at least two years too late. Both have been carrying structural flaws caused by ill-advised strategic decisions, and the compromised drafts of 2010–2013 prevented them from addressing those flaws sooner. While Gold Coast and GWS were scooping the cream from successive drafts, Brisbane’s and St Kilda’s lists were breaking outright, and there’s no reason to expect that either side will crawl out from under the stairs for a few years yet.

Alan Richardson has little choice but to perform a mass baptism to find out who will sink and who will swim.

Saints fans will rightly rue the wasted drafts of the Lyon years, in which successive crops of young talent went untested, withering on the vine before being delisted. The dreaded ‘donut list’, comprising veterans and kids and nothing in the middle, is now having its revenge. Instead of graduated exposure to the demands of the big time, Alan Richardson has little choice but to perform a mass baptism to find out who will sink and who will swim. Plenty won’t survive.

Brisbane are still reaping what they sowed in 2009, when Michael Voss traded away draft picks for a swathe of mid-level players in the twilight of their careers. Those players are mostly gone now, and the gap from those wasted drafts remains. Worse still, too many of the young guns that they do have want to leave.

In creating Gold Coast and GWS, the AFL went to great lengths to avoid creating a basket case in frontier territory. Ironically, in doing so they might have made a basket case of Brisbane. For the Lions and for St Kilda – the soap opera from Seaford – it’s going to be a long couple of winters.

The scoreline says it all. The Saints after their loss to Hawthorn. Photo: Getty
The scoreline says it all. The Saints after their loss to Hawthorn. Photo: Getty

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