Bula! I’m back from Fiji. It was really nice. I learned to walk really slowly, like I had nowhere in particular to be, because I didn’t. It was like a parallel universe where everything was just fine. I even listened to the start of the Richmond v Sydney game in Nadi Airport and we were 5 or 6 goals up. Then I landed in Melbourne and everything was back to normal.
The real story right now is that the door to Top 4 is wiiide open. There’s a real chance that 14 wins might be enough to break in, and that’s a low number. Last year Adelaide missed out with 16 wins and a percentage of 138%, and West Coast, also with 16 wins, finished 6th. Only once this decade has the 4th-placed team held fewer than 16 wins: Sydney with 15.5 in 2013.
But before then — before the arrival of the expansion easy-beats in Gold Coast and GWS — teams commonly made Top 4 with 15, 14, or even 13 wins. We’re looking at a return to that.
Which means that although the most likely Top 4 remains the same as it’s been for a while — Adelaide, GWS, Geelong, and Port Adelaide — we aren’t far away from a world in which Melbourne squeeze in there, or Richmond, or one of a number of other teams.
The Ladder Predictor tips Port for 4th with 13 wins, but I reckon someone will string together a chain of wins to drive that number a little higher.
Here’s the Tower of Power for the last two weeks, since I missed last week. You can see that there’s no more flattening out at the top, as things have really opened up with the Bulldogs and Port sliding while Melbourne, West Coast and Sydney have pushed up.
It was a huge week for Melbourne, who comprehensively dismantled the Dogs and bounced right up into contention.
To a lesser degree, it was also good for West Coast in beating the Cats, and Carlton in overpowering Gold Coast in Queensland.
The other big change was Carlton vacating a likely bottom-2 spot with wins over GWS and Gold Coast. Hawthorn are most likely to take it, but it could easily go to Fremantle, Gold Coast, or North Melbourne, who have fallen away badly.
Richmond v Sydney was interesting, because they’re two teams the squiggle rates quite differently to public perception: it’s always liked Sydney for finals even when they were 16th, and still doesn’t think too much of Richmond. The game actually played out extremely close to prediction, with squiggle tipping 73-80 and reality coming in at 71-80.
While it’s fascinating to imagine a ladder with Richmond’s close wins reversed, with the Tigers sitting two games clear with 11 wins and 1 loss, the fact is they haven’t been able to beat Fremantle (in Melbourne), a Bulldogs outfit that’s 6-6, and 12th-placed Sydney (also in Melbourne). They also haven’t put anyone away other than Brisbane, North Melbourne, and Carlton. Instead what they’ve mostly done is fight out two- and three- goal wins against middle-ish teams like Collingwood, West Coast (in Melbourne), Melbourne, and Essendon.
To the squiggle’s cold, unfeeling eye, this looks like a mid-tier team with a helpful draw, which has a solid defense but lacks the ability to score freely enough to be a genuine flag threat. If the Tigers can obliterate someone, that will change. But at the moment, it’s too easy to explain their results as within-the-margin-of-error of what you’d expect from a team that’s somewhere around the middle.
And because attack wins flags, the Tigers still look abysmal on flagpole, and the Crows still flap highest: