AFL Heroes & Villains Round 5: Pies forwards need a reality check

Round 5 of the 2020 AFL season saw the Lions enter premiership calculations, Brett Ratten show his coaching class and a highly-talented forward line lack cohesion. Here are this week's Heroes & Villains.


Brett Ratten: Admittedly, the formula may not be such a secret, but the Saints coach implemented a game plan which worked to perfection against the Blues on Friday night: limit the influence of co-captains Patrick Cripps and Sam Docherty.

Docherty's return to the AFL had been almost hard to believe, averaging 26 touches, nine rebound 50s and eight marks per game heading into Round 5. He was leading the league for metres gained, averaging more than 500m per game.

But on Thursday night, Ratten took away the rebounding defender's autonomy, playing St Kilda's own returning skipper Jarryn Geary on Docherty, as a defensive forward, and boy did Geary do the job. He made Docherty accountable by kicking two first-quarter goals (just the second time he'd kicked two goals in a match) in a move which set up the Saints' three-goal win. Docherty ended the match with just 20 touches and only 378 metres gained.

Meanwhile, in the middle, bullocking Saints midfielder Jack Steele arguably had the better of Cripps in the first half, when the game was on the line. The Blues were never able to recover and the St Kilda improved to 3-2 on the year. Well done, Ratts.

The high-flyers: It was a round for the marking men, and boy did two stake their claim for this year's Mark of the Year award.

On Thursday evening, Ben Long soared high above teammate Nick Coffield to take a stunning grab - getting the 'second lift' before holding the ball all the way down to the ground.

But he might not even have clunked the best grab of the round. West Coast's Tom Barrass got some serious hang time on the back of Sydney's Jordan Dawson, who he himself stands 192cm tall.

It was a towering mark, and one you could argue helped propel the Eagles to their first win since the restart; at the time of the grab they were just two points ahead and ended up winning by 34 points.

The crowds might not be in attendance in Victoria, nor in full numbers anywhere else, but fans are still being 'wowed' all the same.

Attacking Lions: They'll continue to hold the title 'darlings of the AFL' after their scintillating, attacking performance against the ladder-leading Power on Saturday night.

So free-flowing and fun to watch were the Lions, that AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan might be on the phone to league's other coaches, pleading with them to adopt a similar mindset and game style.

Brisbane's second quarter was so good, so stunning that you could have been excused for thinking they are premiership favourites. Port was simply outclassed and outrun by a more attacking outfit, with the Lions kicking six goals to one, including five straight to open the term, effectively ending the contest by halftime.

Port's inaccuracy didn't help (they were 1.7 at one stage in the game), and perhaps the fact that a crowd of 10,000 was present at the Gabba to watch the Lions at home was a boost for Chris Fagan's side, but they were good to watch - playing the type of footy league HQ is desperate to showcase.


Collingwood's forward setup: We hate to say it, Pies fans, but it's hard to see your side winning a premiership with the forward line you currently have on the park.

It's been difficult to nail down a focal point - Brody Mihocek (one goal) isn't a top line key forward, Mason Cox is too inconsistent (two disposals, no goals), Jamie Elliott can be a game breaker, but too often goes missing (five disposals, no goals), Jordan De Goey (20 touches, zero goals) seems to be being groomed for a more full-time midfield role, and Jaidyn Stephenson (three goals) is in just his third year of footy.

Is the answer to throw Darcy Moore or Jordan Roughead forward? Is it worth deploying Brodie Grundy up there from time to time? Remember when Will Hoskin-Elliot played off a half forward in 2018 and kicked 42 goals? Seems like a lifetime ago. Tom Phillips has been moved forward at times with little success - his best seasons (those when Collingwood were making preliminary finals) were pushing forward from the wing.

Can a side really challenge for a flag if the biggest man in the forward line is Cox one week and Darcy Cameron the next? There's no stability down there, no killer instinct and the personnel on the sidelines doesn't inspire confidence that there's a quick fix.

Underdone Cunnington: Roos coach Rhyce Shaw admitted it in the post-match press conference: North shouldn't have selected a clearly underdone Ben Cunnington.

The veteran was returning from a back issue, but copped an early knock in his side's shocking loss to the Western Bulldogs, which left him lame and, ultimately, on the bench for most of the match.

He finished with just seven disposals and minimal impact, and given young star Tarryn Thomas was also benched after suffering a concussion, North were left with just two on the pine.

"It possibly was the wrong call but we were really confident, to be honest, on all the evidence we were given," Shaw said after the game. "I was really confident with the way he was going and he warmed up really well, so it's just what it is.

"He copped a knock early and then it just didn't get any better. He wasn't giving us anything from then on in, so it's really disappointing."

Given North was 2-0 with Cunnington in 2020 and 0-2 without him, you can understand the desire to get him on the park, but it was pretty clear he should have sat this game out.

Catastrophic Crows: It's not the first time this season we've branded the Crows villains, but it's well and truly warranted this week.

Adelaide managed just four goals against a fellow winless side in Fremantle, who was missing star player Nat Fyfe. In fact, if you take out a six minute patch late in the third term, they kicked just one goal for the game!

If this doesn't sum up where the Crows are right now, nothing will. No disrespect to the Dockers, who have shown some promising signs in 2020, but you have to be better than that.

The midfielders continue to rack up big numbers, but it often counts for little as the front six struggle week in, week out to have any sort of impact.

The club's fall from grace since the 2017 Grand Final has been well documented, but it seems they have hit a new low and are now the odds-on favourite to take hold of the wooden spoon.