The Swans have the AFL’s best midfield, and this man might be the best kick in the comp


And their only loss so far was to … Richmond. How did that happen again?

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From bad, to worse – Melbourne’s horror run

For Melbourne, there was nothing positive to take out of their King’s Birthday loss to Collingwood. Asked to respond after last week’s disaster against Fremantle, they managed just six goals, lost arguably their best player Christian Petracca along the way, and looked again like a side that had lost all connection to one another.

But the rest of the competition will be looking on nervously at the reigning premiers. A team missing their two best forwards (Brody Mihocek and Jamie Elliott, plus Dan McStay), key midfielders Scott Pendlebury, Jordan De Goey and Tom Mitchell, plus ruckman Mason Cox and a number of back-up players is somehow just one game off second spot after a 0-3 start.

That’s depth, and a credit to the system drilled by Collingwood coach Craig McRae and his team. The loss of senior personnel has opened up opportunities, and they’ve found some players: Defender Charlie Dean looks more comfortable by the week, and good things happen when Harvey Harrison has the ball.

They’ve got North next week, and then a much-needed bye – by which time they’ll probably have De Goey, Pendlebury, Mitchell and Mihocek back. Look out.

De Koning’s crowning moment

If you missed Sunday’s match between Carlton and Essendon and just looked at the stats, you might come to the conclusion that ruckmen Tom De Koning and Todd Goldstein fought an absorbing battle, and you’d be right: Goldstein 19 possessions, 35 hit-outs and nine clearances to De Koning’s 24, 19 and 11.

But match belonged to De Koning, and so to Carlton. Early in the last quarter, when Essendon were coming hard, it was the big blond who wrenched the game from the Bombers’ grasp with four crucial centre clearances to decisively give the Blues much-needed territory. Goals to Alex Cincotta, Zac Williams and Charlie Curnow followed. Game over.

There was nothing terribly scientific about it. Again, that’s a reflection of Carlton’s straightforward game style.

Goldstein, a master, was the better ruck craftsman. But De Koning took five marks and was the better player when the ball hit the ground, clearing space for his teammates when he didn’t grab the ball and thump it forward himself.

The ruck dual was mirrored by other fascinating internal contests.

Sam Durham – who has this pundit’s vote as the most improved player in the competition – mostly subdued Carlton skipper Patty Cripps, while Cincotta did a superb job of curtailing Zach Merrett.

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Nifty Nic Martin was the only midfielder to really cut loose across the match.

Look at those stats again, and you might have wondered how Carlton won. Essendon were wasteful, with more entries into attack and more scoring opportunities. But Carlton – who had their first taste of finals in a decade last year – were steadier, and their weapons more lethal.

Add De Koning to their considerable arsenal.

The tag really is back

Between Cincotta, Durham, and Alex Neal-Bullen’s job on Nick Daicos at the King’s Birthday game this afternoon, the run-with player is back in vogue. Neal-Bullen held Daicos to eight possessions at half-time, mostly ineffectual. It was the hardest tag the Collingwood prodigy has worn since Hawthorn’s Finn Maginness smothered him last year.

Cincotta might have only won 10 possessions for the Blues. But Merrett wasn’t able to exert any influence with his kicking, and Cincotta’s goal in the last quarter sucked the life from the Bombers. Can a team afford not to have this type of player? Jarrod Berry restricted the Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli; the Bulldogs let Lachie Neale do as he pleased.

Hippy hippy shake

Eric Hipwood has sailed inconsequentially through too many games this season.

Harsher critics might say too many over a career that now spans 164 games and close to nine years. And some have questioned whether he was worth a six-year contract extension that, in theory, ties him to the Brisbane Lions until the end of 2029.

He’s a frustrating player – 204 centimetres, but lightly built, he can look ungainly, and too easily knocked off both the ball, and his game.

The Lions show their appreciation for Eric Hipwood’s stellar game against the Western Bulldogs.

The Lions show their appreciation for Eric Hipwood’s stellar game against the Western Bulldogs.Credit: AFL Photos

But he’s still kicked 246 goals. Tall forwards who go better than a goal a game don’t grow on trees, and Lions coach Chris Fagan is as loyal as they come.

Still, even his patience with Hipwood must have been wearing thin.

Until Friday night, Hipwood had kicked just 11 goals in 10 games so far this year, including four goalless matches.

Whether Fagan gave him a rocket or not, Hipwood responded in the best way possible against the Bulldogs.

It wasn’t just his six goals, though they sure didn’t hurt. It was the way Hipwood attacked every contest for his 20 possessions and 13 marks. And when he fights and scraps and claws, Hipwood’s apparent ungainliness can suddenly be very awkward to counter. He was playing mostly on Liam Jones, too – no slouch in dark defensive arts.

Richmond coach Adem Yze enjoyed a rare win for season 2024, which put the acid on his round-13 opponent, Adelaide’s Matthew Nicks.

Richmond coach Adem Yze enjoyed a rare win for season 2024, which put the acid on his round-13 opponent, Adelaide’s Matthew Nicks.Credit: AFL Photos

Hipwood’s efforts were the highlight of a crucial Lions win in a stop-start season pockmarked by serious injuries. If he can attack the remainder of the year like he attacked this game, it’ll go some way to the Lions managing to squeeze into the final eight, from which they’re still a game-and-a-half adrift.

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A brutal blow for the Crows

It’s been a wretched season for the poor Tigers, sans an early-season outlier victory over the Swans (again, how did that happen?). So, it would take a hard football heart not to smile for beleaguered first-year Richmond coach Adem Yze when his side gritted their teeth and won a victory of considerable merit against Adelaide – and on the Crows’ home deck, no less.

But Yze’s triumph was a hammer blow for his opposite coach, Matthew Nicks.

Winning away from home is something Nicks’ men have long struggled with, and dropping a game at home against the 17th team on the ladder was something the Crows simply could not afford.

Given Richmond’s injury woes, the Crows can’t blame the fact they were without Taylor Walker and Izak Rankine, either.

To the halfway mark of the season, the Crows are undeniably this season’s biggest disappointments.

Forget the comebacks of Carlton and GWS in the second half of season 2023: this side doesn’t have either the level of talent or steel required for that. But peril lies ahead for Nicks if he can’t at least steady the ship.

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