Sport AFL Fringe dwellers find finals form
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Fringe dwellers find finals form

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‘Tis the season of the spoiler, and the likes of West Coast, Richmond and Carlton are playing the role with aplomb. A couple of months ago the AFL’s top eight looked settled; that could not be further than the truth through round 19.

Arguably there are several teams who are outside the top eight who are travelling better than several teams who are in.  A photo finish ensues over the next three weeks, with the spectre of the Essendon-ASADA fiasco ever-present. The only certainties are that St Kilda will ‘win’ the mythical wooden spoon, and Gold Coast is spent, on the evidence of the weekend.

• Sanderson slams Gabba scheduling after Crows scheduling
Form shows Judd can play on: Malthouse

The top three looks set after Hawthorn (Melbourne), Sydney (against Port Adelaide) and Geelong (against Fremantle) found their way to four points with differing levels of effort required. Fremantle in fourth is a game back from the top three, but probably in position to extract the double chance, meaning the top four would be the same as 2013.

The bottom half of the eight is a raffle. Port Adelaide is fifth but in freefall. While the Power showed signs of recovery in the defeat by the Swans on Saturday night, the reality is that Ken Hinkley’s team was two games clear on top of the ladder not so long ago, and they have lost six of their past eight matches. The chances go down to Richmond at 12th position, just a game out of the eight.

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West Coast are back in the finals race at Collingwood’s expense. Photo: Getty

Setting in the west

West Coast at 9-10 showed itself to be a finals prospect with a 10-goal win over Collingwood at Subiaco, a devastating result for the Magpies, who tumbled out of the eight.

The Eagles have clicked for the first time under new coach Adam Simpson, and their midfield led by bullocking Matt Priddis (42 disposals and a goal) held sway. With a good percentage and games against Essendon, Melbourne and West Coast, Simpson’s team is not without a chance.

Collingwood has had a poor second half of the season and would not be a threat even if it did reach the finals.

Safety compromised

Adelaide’s thumping of the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba sent the Crows soaring to seventh on the ladder and revived their finals hopes. Coach Brenton Sanderson was unhappy that the scheduling has his team playing again just six days after a game played in 25-degree heat.

“For the AFL to constantly preach player safety with the rules, you can’t have a game in these conditions with a reduced interchange cap, as you saw today,” said Sanderson. “I mean our players, every player’s cramping, every player’s absolutely spent, and you want us to turn up in six days and take on Richmond in a blockbuster game?”

Taylor Walker’s six goals and Aaron Jacobs’ dominant game in the ruck were pivotal to Adelaide’s success; Andrew Ottens’ serious knee injury was not good news.

Close call for Cats

Geelong pipped Fremantle by two points in a classic at Kardinia Park, with Docker David Mundy’s after-the-siren set shot from 50 metres  to win the game sliding a metre to the right. Another shot by captain Matthew Pavlich in the last two minutes hit the post; the Dockers had been outplayed and were four goals down at the last change, but the game was theirs for the taking by the end. Only the execution was missing.

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Andrew Mackie appears pleased to have slotted one between the posts. Photo: Getty

Coach Ross Lyon was scarcely blaming Mundy, one of his finest players. “You don’t want to be kicking to win from 46m out when you are fatigued,” Lyon said. “It’s pretty simple: you’re trying to get it done before then.”

Smooth Harry Taylor’s 19-mark game from centre half-back was a highlight, and Taylor seemed to have brought his own Sherrin. A lowlight was another incident involving Steve Johnson, who will come under match review panel scrutiny for a kick toward the head of Fremantle’s Lachie Neale, a week after he was charged but reprieved of kneeing.

His act was silly rather than malicious, a little Johnsonism on a day when he found himself under the wet blanket of Ryan Crowley. But his only chance of escaping is if it is deemed that no contact was made to Neale’s head, and it is a problem coach Chris Scott and Johnson could do without. “The one thing that Johnno has got to understand, has to, is that he’s a better player than these blokes,” said Scott.

Geelong is not to be trifled with at 15-4. Fremantle, too, can make a run but will miss the again-injured Luke McPharlin.

Sydney’s new sources and Hawthorn’s sore point

Saturday night produced two epics. Sydney held off Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval in an attritional battle worthy of a final, the Swans kicking away late in the rain. Port did a lot right but came up empty, despite the excellence of Robbie Gray and Jack Hombsch’s fine game on Lance Franklin. Sydney continues to draw from new sources and old, with Josh Kennedy a monster at stoppages and Ben McGlynn continuing his best-ever season.

The end of the current points system cannot come soon enough, for it is too complicated for the average fan to understand – a fundamental problem.

The Swans have an easier draw than Hawthorn, meeting St Kilda, Western Bulldogs and Richmond at home, and could yet finish on top of the ladder for the first time since 1996. The Hawks have to confront Fremantle next week and may have to do it without Jarryd Roughead, who was reported for tripping during the win over the Giants. While it is not a serious incident, the points system will likely ensure that he serves a week’s suspension, a less-than-ideal situation for the Hawks given that Jack Gunston is injured.

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Carlton’s Chris Judd. Photo: Getty

The end of the current points system cannot come soon enough, for it is too complicated for the average fan to understand – a fundamental problem.

Blues rally

Carlton continued its late-season surge, defeating the finals aspirant Gold Coast Suns at the Docklands behind Jarrad Waite’s five goals. Waite was in the VFL not so long ago; he has rallied strongly in recent weeks as he contemplates his future as a free agent. In some ways, his performances only add to the frustration, making fans wonder where this type of effort has been.

Chris Judd had another superb game and if this is the farewell march – and many observers believe these are his last few AFL games  – then it has been done in style. The Suns, meanwhile, are suffering from fatigue and the loss of Gary Ablett. They don’t look like finalists in their fourth season, although they have two more home games to create a little piece of history.

Battle of the fringe dwellers

North Melbourne’s strong win over the Greater Western Sydney Giants in Canberra showed the Kangaroos’ bona fides. For all the criticism levelled at the stop-start Roos, they are finals-bound and that can only be a plus after missing last year.

Meanwhile Richmond’s season is alive after the Tigers eclipsed Essendon at the MCG for a sixth consecutive win. Ivan Maric and Brandon Ellis were influential along with the impressive Anthony Miles, while the Bombers are clinging to a thread in the eight. Coach Mark Thompson put it to them in a 45-minute debriefing that the revisited in public later. “When do you take yourself from an average team into a team that consistently plays finals, you can handle the stage and you look the same every week? When? When? When?”

The Bulldogs, too, are making progress after a 23-point win over St Kilda at the Docklands highlighted by high-stepping Adam Cooney’s brilliant game and Jake Stringer’s four goals. The Saints dedicated the game to retiring Lenny Hayes but were jumped at the start and never recovered. Their solace is that as Hayes departs, the No. 1 draft pick is gift-wrapped and on their way.