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A round of upsets has shaken up the ladder, delivered some stinging blows to would-be contenders, and really sorted the wheat from the chaff in our family tipping competitions.

From the Bombers stunning everyone to knock over Adelaide in a Friday night thriller – with a little help from a gun-shy umpire – to the Eagles and Harley Reid retaking the west with their first Derby win in three long years, it was a round of spectacular highlights, thrilling finishes and some truly captivating footy.

North Melbourne and Hawthorn also played.

From premiership frontrunners to suspension controversy, from woeful Roos to giving umpires a serve, there’s plenty to unpack – let’s get stuck in.

1. The two best wins of 2024

Within four hours of completing a stunning victory over GWS on Saturday afternoon, Carlton very nearly had their status as the most impressive winners of 2024 so far snatched away from them.

I put Geelong’s outstanding win on the road in horrendous conditions over Brisbane on a slightly lower rung than what the Blues did at Marvel Stadium, if for nothing else than the significant personnel absences the latter contended with – but there’s not much in it. And they both clearly sit above all other wins across the first six and a half rounds of the season.

Against an undefeated if slightly off-the-boil Giants, the Blues were utterly magnificent after half time; having seemed as if they were doing little more than gamely hanging on against a superior opponent up until half time, they kicked six goals in 13 minutes in a withering premiership quarter burst to blow the match to smithereens.

Leading from the front were the usual suspects: Patrick Cripps was irrepressible in his attack on the hard ball, Sam Walsh’s speed and smarts cut the Giants’ on-ballers to ribbons, and up forward, the three-headed monster of Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Tom De Koning ran riot when given an overwhelming amount of supply against a Sam Taylor-less Giants backline.

They had 10 inside 50s in that burst, while also dominating contested possessions +11 and disposals +38, on a side that many – and I’ll include myself in that – had down as flag favourites.

With no Adam Saad rebounding from the backline, Matt Kennedy moved into defence and was outstanding, particularly overhead. When Zac Williams went down with an Achilles issue, Jordan Boyd moved to cover Toby Greene and clamped him so well he frustrated the Giants captain into giving up off-the-ball free kicks. And playing for his footy life with De Koning so impressive as solo ruckman to start the season, Marc Pittonet picked a great time to have a career day, winning seven clearances, proving a bullocking presence around contests and comfortably eclipsing a formidable opposition ruckman in Kieren Briggs.

If the Blues were brutal on Saturday afternoon, then Geelong were just as brilliant if not quite as eye-catchingly spectacular.

In conditions that made every contest a slog, the Cats’ footy smarts stood out like a sore thumb: superbly coached by Chris Scott, exceptionally well-drilled and with an incredible knack to adapt to anything a game can throw at them, not even the loss of Tom Stewart after half time, having been typically outstanding up until then, could stop them.

Sure, they had a bit of luck when the dominant Oscar McInerney was ruled out with concussion, having bullied young Toby Conway up until then; but Stewart’s absence should have evened the odds.

Yet when push came to shove in the last quarter, the Cats made better decisions in the wet; from Tom Hawkins’ agricultural torp that found the chest of Tyson Stengle for a crucial early goal, to the positioning of their defenders to cut off every Lions forward foray, to a terrific overhead mark from Conway with a sodden ball at a critical juncture, Geelong won every contest that needed to be won.

Brisbane’s poor start to the season, especially at their one-time fortress of the Gabba, means this win won’t be given the credit it deserves, but this was the sort of ruthless, professional victory over a quality opponent on enemy territory that the Cats have built 16 years of near-constant success around.

There’s a long way to go in season 2024, but amid a whole host of contenders, our two frontrunners have established themselves: and it just so happens that they play each other on Saturday afternoon at the MCG.

Cancel your plans – this is gonna be good.

Tom De Koning and Matthew Kennedy celebrate.

Tom De Koning and Matthew Kennedy celebrate. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. Sorry Adam Kingsley – Toby Greene should count himself lucky

For all Adam Kingsley’s claims that Toby Greene did nothing wrong when he collected Jordan Boyd in mid-air, a suspension was inevitable from the moment GWS’ captain caught his Blues opponent high.

Indeed, I’d argue Greene was, if anything, lucky to only receive a single match’s suspension from Michael Christian.

That he did is once again down to nothing more than plain luck – Boyd was not concussed from the hit and played on, largely due to having the good fortune of not hitting his head on the ground afterwards. Had he done so, then the comparisons to Peter Wright’s hit on Harry Cunningham would have been even more apparent.

As it was, I believe, barring the impact on the player, that Wright and Greene’s hits were about as identical as you can get. Both featured a player arriving to the ball a split-second later than an opponent running back with the flight, that player jumping for the ball and making the split-second decision while in mid-air to brace for contact, and getting the player forcefully in the head with the shoulder.

The only thing that saves Greene from a similar fate to Wright is the fact he’s a smaller, lighter bloke, and that that plus the lack of ground impact meant Boyd was fine to play on.

I’m torn about this; on one hand, I’d like to see incidents graded on actions rather than consequences, and don’t believe what Wright did was four times worse than Greene just because the Swan he hit suffered a nastier injury as a result. I think most people would agree with that.

But on the other hand, I defended Wright, and will for Greene as well, that there was little else he could do in this instance but not go for the contest in the first place. It’s a heavy price to pay for a split-second decision borne of self-preservation.

The Giants will undoubtedly challenge, and run the gauntlet with the Tribunal. There’s every chance he’ll get off – though it’s unlikely it will be via Charlie Cameron’s ‘good bloke’ defence.

Let’s see how it plays out.

Toby Greene and Jordan Boyd collide.

Toby Greene and Jordan Boyd collide. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

3. Freo surrender the West – and plenty of dignity

Not since Josh Kennedy snapped through the winning goal against Richmond in a mid-season game in 2021 have West Coast fans enjoyed themselves at the footy anything like Saturday night’s emphatic Derby win.

Considering the COVID pandemic’s impact on crowds, for a lot of those supporters that 37-point win would have been the first Derby victory they’d attended in four and a half years, and it was certainly worth the wait.

Harley Reid has stolen all the headlines, and fair enough – other recent top draftees have had more impressive stat lines, but I can’t remember a player whose first six games have featured more individual highlights. From his two speccies to his clean set-shot kicking, and of course his repeat centre square breakaways – not to mention putting Nat Fyfe on his backside after the Freo champion tried to do the same to him – he’s somehow exceeding hype that was already up in the stratosphere.

But Glendinning-Allan Medallist Elliot Yeo is having a truly outstanding season; fit and healthy for the first time in pretty much half a decade, he’s surely in the All-Australian team at the moment; up forward, Jake Waterman has suddenly become Wayne Carey, and the prospect of him and Oscar Allen in the same forward line once the latter returns from injury is a scary prospect.

Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern are flying down back, too. All up, after two years of wall to wall misery, the West Coast worm has officially turned.

It’s bad news for Fremantle, not just for their insipid Saturday night defeat, but in ceding the West back to their big brothers.

As woeful as the Eagles were impressive, the only word I can think of to sum up their performance is ‘lifeless’; there was little creativity, precious little run, chipped kicks sideways and backwards to retain possession and a complete powerlessness to stop a fearless, youthful opposition that looked like they were playing for fun.

There’s no reason to panic just yet, because the Dockers are still 3-3, and after two heartbreaking but admirable losses in the preceding fortnight, this was their first proper shocker, if a horrendously timed one.

Still, questions need to be asked. Sean Darcy’s return and Jye Amiss’ injury left Luke Jackson, probably the second-best ruck this year behind Max Gawn, left loss and listless as a key forward in a side getting belted. I wrote a few weeks ago that the Dockers couldn’t afford to not have Jackson as their premier ruckman moving forward, and while Darcy threw his weight around, there was no on-ball spark around stoppages that the quicker, more dynamic former Demon has in spades.

The futures of Jaeger O’Meara and Michael Walters must also now be in jeopardy; unless Freo see themselves as a genuine home final contender, then there’s no point playing two veterans having limited influence over younger players who could offer the sort of raw enthusiasm that powered the Eagles to victory.

It’s a new dawn for West Coast, while Freo find themselves, for the third or fourth time in 12 months, at the crossroads. A statement at home against the Western Bulldogs next week is an absolute must.

4. The horror moment that perfectly summed up Roos’ latest nightmare

I was bullish about North Melbourne to start the season, and even tipped them heading into their clash with Hawthorn on Sunday.

But in the space of 20 minutes in the second quarter, that optimism faded into crushing, depressing clarity: the Roos are rock bottom and heading nowhere fast.

Once again ripped apart in midfield, lacking all stoppage structure and with a backline thrown to the wolves, not to mention having to watch Harley Reid rip it up over in Perth, things are as bleak as ever for Kangaroos supporters who have already endured plenty – and one moment summed it up perfectly.

During the second term, in the middle of the Hawks’ game-breaking burst, Dylan Moore marked 30 metres out and, casually, snapped around the corner on his non-preferred foot.

The ball spun at shoulder height through for a goal, with the Kangaroos having committed a cardinal sin – not a single player was left on the goal line. And they were made to look foolish for it.

It’s stuff like this that is more egregious than the skill errors, or the free kicks against, or the times teams waltz it out of the centre. All those problems will take time and patience to fix; this is a mistake borne of lack of effort and attention to detail.

And it nicely sums up the plight in which the Roos, and Alastair Clarkson, find themselves. Dead last, winless, bereft of confidence and utterly, utterly hopeless.

5. Tex must be fined for ump outburst

Say what you will about THAT non-holding the ball in the dying seconds of Essendon’s win over Adelaide – personally, I thought it was a poor decision, but one borne of our desire as a sport in general to not have matches decided by late free kicks wherever possible.

There was just enough grey in whether Sam Draper had totally dived on the ball or whether Taylor Walker had forced it under him to generate controversy regardless of what decision had been made – it was close enough that the ‘Has the umpire made a bad decision’ X account deemed it fine before retracting on closer inspection.

But what can’t be disputed is that Taylor Walker must be fined, and severely, for his spray of said umpire following the final siren, in which he branded the decision ‘an absolute joke’.

Given the AFL’s push in recent years to clamp down on on-field incidents of umpire dissent, to allow Walker to go unpunished for about the worst example of it we’ve seen since those rules were implemented by virtue of it being after the siren would fly in the face of everything the league, to the displeasure of many, have been trying to eradicate.

It’s not as bad as former NRL player James Tamou calling the referee ‘f–king incompetent’ during a 2022 match, for which he was initially suspended only for it to be overturned; but it’s still beyond the pale from a player experienced enough to know better.

6. Can we cool it with the incessant Anzac Day corporatisation?

I find myself writing every year with depressed resignation about the AFL and its clubs’ continual pushing of Anzac Day memorabilia, corporatising a day to the extent that it’s well and truly on the way to losing its true meaning.

It seems like the commemorative guernseys – always available at your club’s online store, click the link for details – are getting more and more out of hand, too; from GWS going full camouflage to the soldiers’ silhouette across Gold Coast’s jumper, to my personal favourite, Adelaide’s lone bugler on the front of their guernsey, with the added extra of a ‘Lest We Forget’ and row of poppies on the back, right beneath the Hungry Jack’s logo and literally emblazoned across the arse in some pretty poignant if unintentional symbolism.

Other people might have different takes on what Anzac Day represents, but for me it boils down to this: it’s not about glorifying soldiers for their service, but about honouring the lives of those who have fallen, reflecting on the horrors of war, and reaffirming our commitment to stop the bloodshed. Sure, it rings hollow when you consider that wars can and will be going on for as long as we humans are around, but still, it’s nice to, for one day a year, acknowledge atrocities and recognise them for what they are.

I have a hard time believing any digger will feel honoured by their image getting superimposed across the Suns’ jersey; let’s put it that way.

Still, with Anzac corporatisation getting more and more widespread, I’m willing to live with it, provided several key criteria are met.

One: stop hiding behind the deliberately vague ‘a percentage of profits will go to the RSL’, and state outright just how much.

Two, and following on from one: if it’s not 100 per cent, minus production costs, then make it 100 per cent. I have a feeling many more people would turn against these guernseys if we knew, rather than just held deep suspicions, that clubs are using them to turn a profit as much as to fundraise for the RSL.

And third: for one week, just for one week, cease the relentless music after goals and at quarter time breaks during games this coming weekend, dull the LED advertising lights, and allow people to recognise the Anzacs in their own, quiet way. If the AFL are serious about having a whole round devoted to them, then they could at least relieve it from the corporate bastardisation that has infected every other weekend of footy these days.

Random thoughts

– Every top-level footy player has one day in their life where they’re Wayne Carey; Will Hoskin-Elliott’s was on Saturday.

– I hope the people telling Josh Rachele to pull his head in with his goal celebrations aren’t taking the same joy out of Harley Reid being basically the same as the rest of us are.

– Essendon’s ruck situation with Peter Wright in this week will be fascinating. Todd Goldstein has been better than Sam Draper, but off a short break will he be up to rucking 80 per cent of Anzac Day?

– Luke Beveridge can’t win; if Bailey Dale played badly on Thursday night, he’d have wrecked his confidence by naming him sub, and when he played well, it was all about how he shouldn’t have been sub in the first place!





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