By PETER CORNWALL
This clash for a top-three spot has ‘match of the round’ written all over it. The Eagles could hardly have sent out a clearer warning how deadly serious they are about their premiership defence the way they dispensed with West by 100 points.
You don’t often see maulings of that magnitude these days. Norwood, on the other hand, has been going quietly about its business, winning its past three, including overwhelming the Crows by 6.12 at its last start.
If the Legs had kicked straight it could have been a thumping of the Eagles’ magnitude. Spectacular 18-year-old forward Jackson Callow grabbed 11 marks, including seven contested, but didn’t make the most of his opportunities, finishing with 3.7.
Eagle Daniel Menzel had one less shot at goal against West but booted five goals. The numbers were big in the Eagles’ huge win but none bigger than those of Jimmy Toumpas, who had a field day with 24 kicks and 21 handballs, while ball magnet James Tsitas had 38 touches and seven clearances. The Legs will be making sure they don’t get as much of the ball in this big clash.
A lot has changed in a week. Suddenly there are questions being asked about the Panthers.
At the same time, Central District and coach Paul Thomas have come up with the answers.
That’s what one game – a disappointing loss or a gutsy win – can do for you. South was rightfully being talked up as a challenger for top spot but, certainly far from helped by a couple of injuries, it fell surprisingly well short of SANFL pacesetter Glenelg at home.
Central, which started last round as the only side in the comp with just one win, on the bottom of the ladder, went away to Unley where it hadn’t won for seven years and knocked over Sturt.
Hitting the heights most was Leek Alleer, who showed how athletic he is on debut by soaring for what would have been mark of the year if he had been able to hang on to the ball. The Doggies were inspired by a couple of blue-collar workers who gained the reward they’ve been deserving for effort after five losses in a row.
Leading the way with his own style triple-double – 25 possessions, 11 clearances and 10 tackles – was first-year skipper Jarrod Schiller. No wonder Thomas said he “really stood up in those moments when we needed him”.
And that’s exactly what Fraser Fort did down back, snaring nine game-saving marks. “Fraser’s been in excellent form all year,” Thomas said. “He just loves the footy club.”
While the Doggies fans loved it at Unley, South supporters were kept quiet as the Panthers were overwhelmed by the Bays. But a well-coached side boasting the class and skills of Joel Cross, Bryce Gibbs, Matthew Broadbent and Joseph Haines won’t be down for long. So there’s plenty to look forward to in this match-up after a week that dramatically changed the moods at both clubs.
On the evidence of last week’s footy, this one stacks up as ‘mismatch of the round’.
Despite being challenged on the injury front, Port Adelaide has been claiming some impressive scalps with wins against the Eagles, Adelaide and North in the past three rounds.
At the same time West, which had seemed to have taken a solid step forward with wins against Norwood and Central, has taken two steps back, thumped by 68 points by North and 100 by the Eagles.
Surely the Bloods will arrive at Alberton desperate to show that’s not what they’re about. And there were some positives against the Eagles. Kaine Stevens and Jordon Boyle had plenty of the ball but it was the return to league ranks of big-bodied midfielder Lachie Squire that created most interest.
Back through the reserves after overcoming a hand injury, three tell-tale stats showed just how hard at it Squire was – 19 handballs, nine clearances and 11 tackles.
Port’s Martin Frederick ran the Roosters off their feet in his most emphatic SANFL display, collecting 29 disposals after being demoted from the AFL. It was the best possible response and he was a matchwinner, although Sam Hayes’ continued domination in ruck also was critical, collecting another 35 hit-outs and snaring eight marks.
You’d have to say Glenelg’s centenary year is off to a flier. On top with seven wins and not a single loss across league ranks, reserves and the under-18s and the first side into the women’s grand final shows a club that’s heading in the right direction.
Glenelg’s forward line has been formidable, although it will be without dangerous Lachie Hosie, who injured his hamstring in the Tigers’ outstanding 40-point win against South.
But, more than anything, it’s been the Bays’ rock-solid defence that has set up their sensational start to the season. Chris Curran, an expert reader of play and courageous intercept mark, claimed a well-deserved individual prize, winning the John Schneebichler Medal.
But the whole back seven has been working well together, with the likes of unheralded Alex Martini playing their part.
The Crows slipped to their third loss in a row in a disappointing defeat against Norwood, so there will need to be improvement if they are to challenge the top side. Will Hamill had plenty of the ball against the Legs and Andrew McPherson rebounded strongly from defence but it will take a complete team effort this time.
Now for life after Zane Kirkwood. It’s a sobering prospect for the Blues and their fans and even more so after his side failed to give the dual premiership captain the send-off he deserved, beaten by 10 points by Central.
Kirkwood has been the face of the Blues since he joined them in 2014. Sturt was at one of its lowest ebbs back then and he, more than anyone, turned it around for the club to enjoy one of its most successful eras, claiming back-to-back flags in 2016-17.
But the Blues are at the crossroads again, having missed the finals last year and with a 2-5 record this campaign. James Battersby may be managing a knee concern but he is a genuine midfield gun, while Tom Lewis continues to show what a driving force he can be.
But the Blues need more players having an influence for longer right now or they will be out of the finals race again.
The problem is, they are facing a talented North Adelaide line-up that is in the same boat – two wins out of the five, incredibly the same as all the bottom five sides.
The Roosters bounced back from a poor start against Port to lead for much of the second half but coach Jacob Surjan would have been horrified as they slipped to their fourth loss by less than two goals.
If North doesn’t break through for a close win before long, it could be too late to break into the top five. But there is no question the Roosters have the depth of talent to make the finals and progress further and there was a positive against Port, young 195cm forward Dyson Hilder looking the goods with three goals. Don’t write them off just yet.