Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 9, including what penalty was fitting for Rhyan Mansell, the team under the most pressure this week and just how good are the 2022 Demons?
Is the 2022 Melbourne team better than the 2018 Richmond team?
Rohan Connolly: This is a loaded question, the catch, of course, that the Tigers, however good they were in 2018, in the end didn't even reach the Grand Final because of one very untimely stumble, a salutary warning for this year's Demons, if ever there was one. That said, I'd rate the 2018 Richmond fractionally ahead, simply because their wins to this same stage were more emphatic, one 90 points-plus, one 70-plus and two 40 plus. Seven of the Demons' eight wins have been by 38 points or fewer, and really only a couple of times have they looked close to 100%. And yet, here they are 8-0, and who's to say they'll drop even one game!
Jake Michaels: Call it recency bias, but I dare say they are! Let's look at a few numbers, shall we? The Tigers were 19-5 in 2018 and the Demons are 20-1-4 over the past 12 months. Four years ago Richmond averaged 96 points per game and 72 against (24 point differential), while this Melbourne side's currently averaging 92 for and 62 against (30 point differential). The forward line may lack ever so slightly, but the numbers suggest Melbourne defence is significantly better. The Dees have the clear ruck advantage and boast two of the five best midfielders in the competition and perhaps the No. 1 winger, something the Tigers could never claim. Melbourne's the better team.
Matt Walsh: They're different styles of play with Melbourne relying on a tight defence and an all-star midfield lineup that bullies in the contest and spread, while Richmond was elite moving the ball by hand and in waves - setting records for 'handball metres gained'. It's really hard to try and pick a more effective style, or more emphatic squad, as the natural evolution of broader styles lends itself to a method of attack and defence at any one time. Complicated answer? Maybe. Who is better? The Dees look more complete everywhere except maybe the forward line, but the Tigers were lauded for their "system".
Jarryd Barca: I think teams in general get better every year with the natural evolution of football, so the best sides of this season are better than a few seasons ago, and a few before that, and so on... Simon Goodwin has the deeper and better overall midfield group, a stingy enough defensive system and several of both ground-level and aerial threats in the forward 50 that would prove a handful for even the Tigers' admittedly strong backline. If their respective best 22 players lined up against each other tomorrow, I'd be backing the Dees.
How many weeks would you have given Rhyan Mansell?
RC: Might not be a popular view, but MRO categories aside, I'd be more inclined to give an incident like that at least two weeks, rather than the one he received. Yes, I know it's low impact, but I'm a big believer in intent trumping consequence, and in this case Mansell was first of all, late to the party, coming in over the top, and then delivered a totally unnecessary cheap shot to the head, the most vulnerable part of the body. Stuff like that needs to be strongly discouraged, and to do that, I don't think one week cuts it.
JM: I think two to three weeks was probably a more appropriate penalty for Mansell. What he did was in no way a football action and if we're serious about protecting a player, especially their head, we need to stamp these gutless and embarrassing cheap shots out of the game once and for all. I believe the AFL missed a golden opportunity to set a harsh but fair precedent.
MW: One week seems like a bit of a joke when you compare it to some of the one-game bans handed down - MRO table (and want to protect the head in 'incidental' clashes) aside. It was an aggressive, silly act against someone's head. Three weeks. Discourage it completely.
JB: At least two. The AFL said the potential to cause injury must be factored into the determination of impact for head-high contact - should that not elevate Mansell's incident to medium if we're serious about stamping this rubbish out of the game? An intentional strike to the back of someone's head when we're trying to minimise concussion in the AFL is outright disgraceful. One week? Maybe the head isn't sacrosanct after all...
What's been the most disappointing aspect of the season to date?
RC: Maybe I'm getting old and cranky (actually, that's been going on a while) but I'm not seeing great quality at the top of the ladder this year, certainly compared to, say, 10 years ago or so. Sure, Melbourne reigns supreme, although even the Dees have been at less than their best in most of their wins. But the rest? Yeah, Brisbane look OK, but really, the jury remains out on them until they can do it finals. Big tick for Fremantle, but are the Dockers really premiership class? I'm not convinced yet. Nor on Carlton as a top four team. And so on. The actual games? They've been OK. But there's plenty of errors, particularly when it comes to conversion. And a shortage of bona fide "classics".
JM: I've been harping on about it this year so it's only fair to stay consistent: fixturing. Whether it's starting the season on a Wednesday night, failing to schedule a Swans-Hawks game early in the season with Buddy's 1,000th goal looming or, more recently, a weird Friday night double-header with massive overlap and then just two games on a Sunday, I think it's been pretty disappointing. The only saving grace is that with the rolling fixture we should get some blockbusters in primetime slots later in the year.
MW: Can we just appreciate that it's been a pretty good season all things considered? Been more than a few cracking matches and plenty of interesting storylines. Sure, fixturing could always be better -- especially given the rolling nature - but big clubs will always get the nod from dollar-obsessed host broadcaster -- and the MRO and tribunal disconnect is concerning, but I've enjoyed season 2022 so far.
JB: I've harped on about it multiple times, but again, the MRO findings and AFL Tribunal have taken inconsistent to a whole new level, particularly when it comes to head-high contact and the supposedly new "potential" that "must" be used to determine the impact grading in the AFL's offences table. I thought we were on the right track during preseason when Collingwood's Nathan Kreuger copped a one-match ban after initiating a hip and shoulder and concussing himself in the process, and not his opponent. To no one's surprise, that precedent hasn't been lived up to, and many players have since got off lightly. The sooner we punish action over outcome in every instance, not just when it's easy, the better the game will be.
Which team is under the most pressure in Round 9?
RC: Might sound a bit strange seeing there was very little expectation about 2022, but I suspect it might be North Melbourne. It's really hard to see just what gains the Roos are making at the moment, and while usually with a bottom team you can talk about at least getting games into kids, really, what is the worth of the beltings the young Roos are being subjected to? Six losses in a row, five of them by 108, 68, 60, 50 and 78 points, is pretty dire. A few more of that nature and the bottom could fall out of any sort of long-term development plan.
JM: I think it's clearly the Bulldogs. Last year's grand finalist is 3-5 and faces a Collingwood side which has shown plenty to suggest this game is basically a coin-flip. If the Doggies were to lose this one, and the Tigers beat the Hawks on Saturday afternoon, Luke Beveridge's side would suddenly be two wins outside the top eight. Sure, we're not yet halfway through the season, but that's a fair bit of ground to make up, and who exactly are they catching and displacing in the eight? Massive stakes here...
MW: It's funny, isn't it, how a win can both reinvigorate a side but also put it under pressure to keep performing, but the Bombers -- after having one nail in the finals coffin -- have risen to keep their season alive - but it's a week-by-week prospect. Are they done for 2022, or still looking at making an impact? With Dyson Heppell playing game 200 this week, I think the pressure should be on to get to the bye in the hunt.
JB: There are plenty of high-stake games with genuine ramifications in the context of how tight the season is (namely St Kilda-Geelong, Sydney-Essendon and Collingwood-Western Bulldogs), but it's clearly Luke Beveridge's side, who would slump to 3-6 and sit two matches out of the eight with a loss to the Pies. With potentially all of Marcus Bontempelli, Alex Keath and Tim English returning, defeat on their home turf could be catastrophic. Pressure's on.