Each week, ESPN.com.au's Jake Michaels looks at six talking points from the AFL world.
This week's Six Points feature the struggling Tigers, a flag contender emerging from absolutely nowhere, the booing of Jason Horne-Francis and the biggest Anzac Day clash this century.
1. The Tigers have been the biggest disappointment of the first five weeks
I'm usually far from confident when I undertake in the crapshoot that is attempting to pick a premier before Round 1. But this year was different. This year I was convinced I was onto a winner.
I picked the Tigers for a number of reasons, most notably the fact they employ Coleman Medal favourite Tom Lynch and excitement machine Shai Bolton, had added midfield depth in Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, and were welcoming back a healthy Dustin Martin. All of this for a team which was as good as any last year, despite the fact they were bounced in the first week of finals.
Richmond wasn't just the No. 1 scoring team in the league in 2022, averaging 99 points per game, but Champion Data's expected scores would tell you they should have finished on top of the ladder with five extra wins (who can forget that five week period where the Tigers lost by three to the Cats, beat the Eagles and then lost to the Suns and Kangaroos by two and four points, respectively, before drawing against the Dockers?).
After five rounds, Richmond sits 15th with a record of one win, three losses and that season-opening draw against the Blues. They've dropped to 15th in points for, scoring four goals fewer per game compared to last year.
The Richmond model under Damien Hardwick's tenure never centered around winning a large volume of possession. Instead, the Tigers won fewer ball than their opposition in each of their three premiership years, yet were always able to consistently win the inside 50 battle. They backed their system to win the ball back before attacking with efficiency, often through handball. This year, they're winning more ball -- almost at a 50% rate -- yet are losing the inside 50 count for the first time. It's just not the Tigers way.
There's no doubt the loss of key players such as Lynch, Toby Nankervis, Robbie Tarrant and Jayden Short have hurt them, with several youngsters stepping in to take their places still learning the ropes of what it takes to play professional football.
I know it's still very early but it's hard to see this turning around.
Before the season began, and after I'd shared my premier tip, a mad Tigers fan told me they'd do well to play in September. I thought he was crazy. Maybe I was the crazy one...
2. The Crows are a very real contender
If Richmond is on one end of the expectation vs. reality spectrum, then the Crows have to be up the other end, somewhere near the Saints and Bombers.
Moving new skipper Jordan Dawson into the middle has been a stroke of genius. Since Round 3, Dawson ranks second in the competition for inside 50s and first for points created from his entries. Rory Laird leads the league in score involvements. Taylor Walker and Rory Sloane look reinvigorated. And the kids, gee, all of a sudden there seems to be a plethora of talent.
So what is it that makes the Crows a threat in 2023?
The hallmark of Adelaide's game this year is all about offence, with the early signs suggesting they are taking a leaf out of the Lions' playbook. They rank second for points for and first for scores per inside 50, which shows they don't just score in volume but are the most efficient (just ask Blues fans). They are also a well balanced attacking side, ranking in the top five for both scores from forward half and back half. In fact, just about every attacking measure would tell you the Crows are right on track in terms of how recent premiers have fared.
Adelaide is also adopting a philosophy that the Tigers used to great effect during their period of dominance. Lose the clearances but win contested ball. Matthew Nicks' side ranks 17th in total clearances, only ahead of the Eagles, but is No. 2 in contested possession differential.
Now for the bad news.
The attacking shift has taken away from the defensive side of Adelaide's game. They've become an easier team to score against and their pressure has been lacking.
With that said, the Crows demonstrated last year that they can be a strong defensive unit when they were the second hardest team to go end-to-end against (Geelong ranked on top) and were the third-best team for applied pressure. The fact the can play both ways is an encouraging sign, it's just about finiding that balance.
3. How much rope does Stuart Dew have left?
Trivia time! How many coaches in VFL/AFL history have coached 100+ games? Answer: 88.
Which of those coaches has the worst winning percentage? Answer: Stuart Dew at 27.73%.
Gold Coast's disappointing 1-4 start to season 2023 -- after many media pundits finally felt they were close to turning the corner -- should be raising serious questions about Dew's future, but he continues to evade criticism. It turns out far less media and fan scrutiny is one of the lone benefits of coaching the Suns.
I'm a firm believer that talent trumps coaching -- though Ross Lyon's Saints might have something to say about that -- and Dew hasn't had the greatest crop of players to work with. This year, ranking points tells us just four Suns players -- Jarrod Witts, Touk Miller, Jack Lukosius and Ben Ainsworth -- are performing above average for their position.
But at some point the blame either must fall on Dew or the club should be looking for an alternate strategy. When are we going to reach that point?
After another Gold Coast Suns capitulation over the weekend, the @FootyTips Podcast boys discuss whether Stuart Dew is benefitting from being out of the Melbourne footy bubble.— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) April 18, 2023
Catch the full podcast at https://t.co/C4K8hAdAYn pic.twitter.com/JCL5cv2kA2
This football club is yet to play a final in its 13-year existence. It has never had a season with a winning (or even 50-50) record. It's never even played a Friday night game. The rinse and repeat approach is exhausting and something's got to give sooner rather than later.
The blowtorch has to be on Dew over the next month as the Suns look to avoid another meaningless campaign.
4. North fans get a pass, but everyone else MUST stop booing Jason Horne-Francis
Only one supporter base is allowed to have taken issue with Jason Horne-Francis' trade request at the end of last season: North Melbourne. And I've got no issues with Kangaroos fans giving him stick when the two clubs square off in Hobart in Round 9. Side note; can you believe that game is in Tasmania!?
But everyone else booing him? Grow up.
The fact Horne-Francis, a Port Adelaide player, was being booed at a Power home game, is downright embarrassing.
"Jason Horne-Francis is 19. Some part of it's really annoying me, about the way people are treating him."— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 15, 2023
Ken Hinkley talks Jason Horne-Francis - the full presser is available on 7plus: https://t.co/UyfycfWQD6#AFLPowerDogs pic.twitter.com/0uwVCrGCP8
Nobody really understands why the 19-year-old is getting booed mercilessly, and even those doing it can't really offer an acceptable answer. Just like most things in life, the majority can't wait to jump on the bandwagon, pile on and follow the crowd.
I get boos and jeers are a major part of professional sports and if you pay the price of admission, you are entitled to (within reason) verbally demonstrate both your pleasure and displeasure. My question is, do we really need to be doing it to this kid?
5. The AFL needs a proper MVP award, and Jeremy Cameron should win it
I know what you're thinking; the AFL has an MVP award.
Kind of, but not really.
The Leigh Matthews Trophy has been around since 1982 and is supposed to be awarded by the AFLPA to the most valuable player in the competition. However, players are still instructed to vote for the best player of the season, as opposed to the most valuable. It doesn't really make much sense.
As a result, midfielders have won the award each year since 2005 and the results aren't too dissimilar to the Brownlow Medal, the league's best and fairest as judged by the field umpires.
I'm starting a campaign right now to have the MVP awarded to the most valuable player. Crazy idea, huh. And if that's the case, Jeremy Cameron should have won it last season and would be a near-lock to win it again in 2023.
The Cats' spearhead is unquestionably the most valuable player in this league. He's kicked 22 goals through five games; only one other player has passed the 14 goal mark. But it's his work-rate, ability to win the ball up the ground and set up attacking thrusts which make him so dynamic, ranking him second in the competition in total score involvements.
The Cats have (somewhat) got back on track to be 2-3 after a historically poor start to the season -- albeit with their wins coming against the lowly Hawks and Eagles. Cameron has papered over some cracks and without him things could have been far worse.
6. The biggest Anzac Day game this millennium
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, this year's Anzac Day clash is set to be an absolute cracker!
For the first time since 2000, both Collingwood and Essendon will enter the game as top four teams. That year, the Bombers were undefeated at 6-0 and the Magpies were 5-1, but it was Essendon who ran out 140-100 winners in front of 88,390 spectators.
Of course, it's extremely weather dependent, but anything short of 90,000 would feel like unders for this encounter. If the rain stays away, I'm tipping 94,000 - which would be second only to the attendance of the inaugural Anzac Day match in 1995, which saw 94,825 pour through the MCG gates.
Don't underestimate the impact Gather Round will have here. No football in Melbourne last week means Magpie and Bomber fans will be desperate to watch their squads live, particularly Essendon supporters who certainly won't be taking the red-hot start to the season for granted.
It's unfortunate for the spectacle that Bombers skipper Zach Merrett has been suspended for the clash after engaging in rough conduct with Melbourne's Tom Sparrow last week - but he has to cop his fair whack. If he was playing, I reckon I'd be riding with the Dons in this one.
Instead, I'll stick with the Pies who should have a real advantage in the middle. After missing last weekend's game against the Saints with illness, Jordan De Goey will return and claim the Anzac Day medal.