We hit the first round of byes (if we forget the horrendous fixturing of earlier this season), with all clubs having played 11 of their 23 games – the last time the ladder will be on an even keel until the end of June. Today, let’s take a look at the top half of the ladder, with a quick opinion on where each team is at.

1. Sydney

The Swans are the clear standout in the competition so far, and there is simply nothing they’re not doing well. They’ve kicked the most goals and conceded the least, and are two games clear on top of the ladder with a percentage more than 30 points higher than their nearest top-eight rival.

You could argue they could be exploited by a quality key forward duo down back, and that the McDonald, Amartey and McLean trio doesn’t exactly scream September glory up forward, but they have all of their mid-size and smaller players absolutely flying and cutting up teams with their precision ball movement.

Chad Warner celebrates a goal.

Chad Warner celebrates a goal. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

2. Essendon

The Bombers talked a big game in the off-season, with a good portion of their list paying their own way for an overseas pre-pre-season boot camp, and also going public with their wish to play with “edge”. To their credit, they have delivered beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, having only tasted defeat twice this season.

What the Dons have done that puts them ahead of those below them, is they have fronted up each week (with one exception). In a season that is so even, where teams have had so many ups and downs, playing with honesty and consistency is not to be undersold – credit to them for delivering that.

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3. Port Adelaide

We’ve all seen this film before, and it doesn’t end in a premiership or even a grand final berth. The Power will win games by 10 goals against the likes of West Coast and North Melbourne, and then not fire a shot in a game of meaning, or drop one to an inferior side.

Port can be summed up by their stretch from Round 8-10 earlier in May – kick five goals for the night when getting thumped by Adelaide at home, kick eight goals in the first quarter against Geelong away, then get 41 points down at home against Hawthorn, only to conjure a last-minute miracle. They’re too flaky to be a legitimate contender, and always will be under Hinkley.

4. Melbourne

The Demons are another side that just keep doing the same thing over and over. There are times when they look like they have the most dysfunctional forward line in the competition, but they are kept in games by an always-stingy defence and a midfield that is always in the game thanks to Gawn, Petracca, Oliver and Viney.

But we’ve seen it’s hard for Melbourne to win games in September when they can’t finish their work, bundled out in straight sets in the last two years. Fritsch is kicking goals but playing for easy kicks too often, Van Rooyen still goes missing for long periods, and Petty has been woeful.

5. GWS

The Giants started the year in a blaze of glory, winning five games to open the season, but since then have gone 2-4. Looking back, their scalps were Collingwood (started the season very slowly), North (winless), West Coast (bottom four), Gold Coast (wildly inconsistent) and St Kilda (minnows that should be sent to Tasmania), so perhaps they weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

Toby Greene GWS Giants Dissapoiinted

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The ball movement of GWS was a feature earlier in the season, and they averaged 107 points per game over the first seven rounds – that has dropped to 63 points in the last month, and they need to take stock over their bye this week. They are at their best when taking risks, and not the safe, boring footy of recent times.

6. Geelong

The Cats were an unconvincing 7-0 to start the season, but have lost their last four to now sit in the middle of the pack that is chasing Sydney. These things have a habit of evening out, and three of their last four losses have been by a single-figure margin.

It’s no coincidence that Geelong have found things harder when Tom Stewart has been getting more attention – after years of being ludicrously allowed to run his own race by opposition coaches, and he is one of the best players in the league when allowed to do so. He is having far less effect in recent times and it has destabilised their defence.

The Cats are also weak through the midfield, and have at times been comprehensively smashed in that part of the ground, while Tom Hawkins is finally showing signs of slowing down. They have their challenges, Chris Scott’s men.

7. Collingwood

The Pies dropped three in a row to open the season, but haven’t lost a game since, while also playing in two draws over the last five weeks. Many a premiership defence has started slowly, with a coach trusting their team to win enough games to make finals and hoping they can peak in September.

How often can Collingwood keep getting out of jail though? They’ve played in five games decided by less than a goal this year, and taken premiership points from all of them, but it’s not a sustainable way of going about things. There are ten teams with a higher percentage than the Pies this season, which might be a truer reflection of where they’re at.

There is a long injury list at the club, no doubt, but how many of them can truly lay claim to be locked in the best 22? Less than a handful, one might suggest.

8. Carlton

The Blues have also battled injury this season, but have had midfield depth to cover Sam Walsh and Adam Cerra, while Adam Saad’s run was welcomed back last week to give Nic Newman a chop-off from being the primary ball-carrier off half-back.

Tom De Koning and Matthew Kennedy celebrate.

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

Carlton’s poorest game was when they were completely out-classed by a rampant Sydney, and they’re not the only team to suffer that fate in the first half of the year, but outside of that they have either won games or put themselves in a position to do so.

Still, they need to find some defensive resilience – they are ranked bottom four for points conceded this year, and are too often easily scored against. Their Round 7 loss to Geelong was the most obvious case in point.

9. Fremantle

As an extra, the Dockers are one team sitting exactly where they deserve to be on the ladder, which is right in the middle. They are yet to beat a team above them on the ladder, and all of their wins have been against those below. The only outlier performance was in Round 6 when they were inept against West Coast and found themselves 11 goals down at three-quarter-time.

Justin Longmuir claims that he wants to play attacking football, but too often the gameplan seems to be set up for Luke Ryan to pad his stats. Great for Supercoach scores, not great for team success. Josh Treacy has been a positive up forward, while Jye Amiss has struggled with set shot rhythm, and Caleb Serong has put himself in the conversation as a top ten player in the game.

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