The bye rounds provide a great chance to reset and refocus.
Following that theme, the Notebook’s next three weeks will be turned over to each of the six teams who have just completed their weekend off.
I’ve picked out one focus area for every team’s second half of the season. For some it’s an area which needs to be fixed, for others it’s merely a personal preference of something I’d like to see.
Today it starts with Carlton, Essendon, GWS, Port Adelaide, Richmond and St Kilda.
After last week’s one-topic deep dive, back to normal service with a multi-topic Notebook this week.
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Carlton: Ball use under pressure
It’s been a semi-recurring theme on here throughout the season. For me, when Carlton are on the wrong end of opposition run-ons, they make it worse for themselves by slowing their ball and player movement to a crawl.
The second halves against the Bulldogs, Hawks, Power and Swans all felt like instant replays. When Carlton had possession, they were stuck in mud and as a consequence they couldn’t take ground. Then the turnovers came in areas hard to defend from, which allowed those four teams to dictate territory and tempo.
Given the absence of Jacob Weitering for at least the next month – where Essendon are the entrée to a Richmond-Fremantle-St Kilda trifecta – this issue takes added importance.
At the moment Carlton’s ball use is either fifth gear or first gear. Finding the balance in between when the situation calls for it will be what propels them to the next level.
Essendon: The midfield mix
Talking about Essendon’s defence would have been cliché, so instead I’ll touch on another topic that intrigues me: Archie Perkins and what his extra midfield time means for teammates.
Of Perkins’ first 31 games, only once did he attend more than half the centre bounces: 57 percent in Round 5, 2021 against Brisbane.
In game 32, against Port Adelaide last week, Perkins attended a whopping 84 percent of centre bounces. It was the most of any player on the field.
Although it’s fashionable to beat up on Essendon – and most of it from an operational point of view is fair enough – I actually think they’ve done a great job developing Perkins thus far. The eventual midfield move was inevitable, and if this is indeed the trigger someone is going to see less time on-ball.
The initial change was Andrew McGrath shifting entirely to half back, which makes sense but also opens up a discussion on how to structure Essendon’s back six.
It looks as if experimentation is going to be the word of choice to finish 2022. If the list can somehow be insulated from everything else that comes with being at Essendon, it may end up being valuable in the long run. Easier said than done though.
For those who have missed any posts/podcast appearances over the last week, here are links to catch up:
Sunday 5th: North’s Round 12 Review
Friday 3rd: What To Watch For: Round 12
Thursday 2nd: On the Hashtag Kangas podcast
Monday 30th: From The Notebook: How Fremantle beat Melbourne
Monday 30th: North’s Round 11 Review
GWS: What is the next step?
Although GWS have been arguably the most disappointing team of the year so far, it’s important to remember they’re still a relatively young side.
Approximately half their minutes this year have been played by those 24 years old or younger, with much of those in crucial positions: Sam Taylor, Tim Taranto, Connor Idun, Tom Green and Lachie Ash, just to name a few.
This is also the Giants’ first real coaching transition where the unknown looms large.
There are a stack of players out of contract this year. How do they approach the second half of 2022?
This part kind of ruins the post’s theme of ‘what I’m looking forward to’, but in this case the unknown is literally the appeal.
Port Adelaide: Settling on a game style
There hasn’t been much aggression from Port Adelaide this year, instead favouring a tempo-controlling, uncontested game.
While the uncontested focus isn’t brand new, the difference between 2022 and previous years is how the Power haven’t found a sustainable method around contest. They’re 13th in contested possession differential after ranking fourth in 2021 and third in 2020.
Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of an inexperienced ruck finding his way and extra on-ball minutes for Zak Butters and Connor Rozee.
Either way, finding the correct balance between inside and outside should be the main focus from here for the Power.
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Richmond: The key defender depth chart
A look at Richmond’s key defender stocks reveals Ben Miller and Bigoa Nyuon out of contract this year, with Noah Balta, Josh Gibcus and Robbie Tarrant’s deals expiring in 2023.
(Apologies to Dylan Grimes for not mentioning him here, although I don’t see him strictly as a key. More towards the ‘can do everything’ category)
Only the wilfully ignorant can’t see Balta and Gibcus as the one-two punch for the next decade, but it’s after that where the fun starts from a list management perspective.
I’d imagine Tarrant’s deal was signed with the understanding it’d be his only one as a Tiger. 2022 is Miller’s fifth year on the list for only four total games, while Nyuon made his debut in Round 9 for his solitary appearance thus far.
Maybe it’s putting two and two together to get five, but how Richmond structure this area of the field up for their future will say a lot about two things: where they see their style going, and AFL trends in the forward line.
The athleticism of Balta and Gibcus allows Richmond more options than most teams. Grimes turning 31 next month adds a touch of urgency into proceedings; when he goes, so too does some of the Tigers’ flexibility.
St Kilda: Mid-tier or upper tier?
I’ll put my hand up and say I’m still unsure how to judge St Kilda 12 rounds in. My pre-season thoughts, when putting them into the mid-table tier, were:
If St Kilda get quality seasons from their line breakers they’ll pop up a tier.
Without it, they’re too easily constrained; one-paced and one-dimensional. For all the questions around teams in Tier 3 and 4, the Saints’ path is probably the easiest to understand.
Brad Hill has been great, likewise Jade Gresham, and Jack Sinclair has taken a leap. Mason Wood is about to equal a career high with his 12th consecutive game, and settling Josh Battle down back – along with the return of Ben Paton from injury – has allowed consistency in St Kilda’s defensive unit, statistically one of the best in the league.
And after all that … I’m still reluctant to push them up in a tier alongside any of the current top four, Sydney, or Carlton (injuries notwithstanding for the Blues).
With Jack Steele missing for approximately the next month, it makes the Saints even trickier to judge. Maybe I’ve pigeon-holed them correctly, or I’ll be the last person to give them credit. By the end of Round 18 – after a four-week stretch of Sydney-Carlton-Fremantle-Western Bulldogs – St Kilda’s level should be clear to all.