Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh dissect all of the main talking points ahead of Round 15.
Will Alan Richardson see out the year?
NS: Rather unfairly, probably not. I say unfairly because I can't believe the overreaction from Saturday's loss to Brisbane which has many experts predicting the Saints will soon pack Richardson's bags. The defeat to the Lions was a stinker but the Saints are one game out of the top eight! Considering preseason expectations and a horror injury list, I'd argue Richardson has actually coached pretty well this year but it appears his papers are now stamped.
JM: Five rounds in it looked like he'd be receiving a coaching extension, but things have slowed down dramatically in the past two months. The Saints have just two wins from their past eight games and have played some insipid football at times. I'm starting to think that one more shocker could see him pushed out the door as they look to bring in the discarded Brad Scott.
MW: Fairly or otherwise, I don't think Richo will coach out the season, but he won't be booted out. Footy boss Simon Lethlean set impossibly high expectations for the footy club this year, I believe in a move which gives them an 'excuse' when they do want to move Richardson on. I think Richo will read the tea leaves and come to a mutual decision to leave -- Brad Scott style -- to give the Saints time to find a replacement.
What's been the best positional change of 2019?
NS: I have loved Luke Beveridge's courage to move Caleb Daniel behind the ball. He's been a revelation down back and rates elite for disposals, kick rating, contested possessions, uncontested possessions and intercepts. The Bulldogs love to take risks from half-back and more often than not look to use Daniel as they surge the ball forward. It doesn't always work -- he's generated the third most scores from intercepts in the league, but opponents have scored more points from his turnovers than any other player in the AFL -- but considering he's learning a new position from scratch, he should become a long-term weapon for the Dogs.
JM: Easy one - Gary Ablett. Moving from the midfield to the forward line was always going to happen with the ageing superstar, but Ablett has certainly made the most of his new role. Spending 97 percent of game time as a forward, the two-time Brownlow medalist has averaged two goals and 21 disposals per game. Only he and Michael Walters share that stat line and nobody is talking about Ablett in the same breath as Walters right now.
MW: Everyone talks about Darcy Moore to the backline and Levi Casboult to the backline, but defending is inherently easier than being a successful AFL forward. That's why it's so impressive that Giant Jeremy Finlayson has bucked the trend to become an influential forward after spending the early part of his career in defence. Finlayson is 13th in the Coleman race and is equal 5th in the league for scoreboard impact with Ben Brown.
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Ep. 22 of the @ESPNAusNZ #AFL pod.
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Did Jaidyn Stephenson get off lightly?
NS: The penalty was about right. It was obviously one of the AFL's famous negotiated outcomes -- a long ban but one which lets him play footy again come finals time -- but that doesn't mean it's not a fair penalty. One thing I just can't comprehend though is the fact he actually did what he did! Players are educated from the moment they're drafted that they can't bet on footy, so hopefully others can learn from Stephenson's boneheaded mistake.
JM: It was harsh but it was definitely fair. Look, he made a dumb mistake and now he's paying the price. After a very difficult year, the AFL deserves a lot of credit for wasting little time in handing down the verdict. For the integrity of the game, gambling by players in any form cannot be tolerated and it's as simple as that. I believe this penalty is a significant deterrent.
MW: I think the AFL missed the chance to take a zero-tolerance approach and end Stephenson's year. We're not talking about a player betting on the NBA - the integrity of our great game was put at risk. It starts with a $30 bet, but where does it end? With Stephenson (or someone else) kicking for goal with his side down three points when a teammate was wide open in the goal square? The fact he'll just happen to be back for finals also leaves a sour taste in my mouth...
Who's been the most impressive first-year player?
NS: Saw Walsh's consistency and Sydney Stack's impact have been immense but if I had to choose one player from last year's draft pool, it'd be Swans forward Nick Blakey. For a 196cm beanpole, Blakey throws himself at the footy with reckless abandon, takes contested marks with his sticky hands and kicks the ball beautifully. We all know key position players take more time to peak than their midfield counterparts so Blakey's first year has him above all others in my eyes.
JM: I'm surprised everyone is starting to go cold on Sam Walsh. The No. 1 draft pick has slotted straight into Carlton's midfield and is enjoying a tremendous first season, albeit in a team that's only won two games. He's averaging a touch under 25 disposals per game (10 contested) as well as 3.5 clearances and three inside 50s. Not many 18-year-olds can do that. Sorry Sydney and Connor, Walsh will be the 2019 Rising Star winner.
MW: I have to agree with Jake. Sam Walsh would comfortably be top five in Carlton's best and fairest right now, with stat lines that would make most veteran midfielders very happy. Connor Rozee has his moments, Sydney Stack's flashes of brilliance are great and Nick Blakey shows glimpses of stardom, but Walsh has shown Pendlebury-like levels of consistency.