AFL round-up: West Coast Eagles defy the odds as Port Adelaide hit rock bottom in gripping round four

Round four saw the 2022 season begin to settle down, with morale-boosting wins and stinging losses making it clearer where some clubs really stand. 

Welcome to the AFL round-up, where we digest the week that was.

A logic-defying win

It was a game you could play 100 more times and never get the same result. Just how the West Coast Eagles won that game against Collingwood on Saturday is something that will puzzle historians for centuries to come.

It wasn’t just the Eagles’ well-documented personnel issues that made this result a shock, but the flow of the game itself — even Adam Simpson had to admit that “the numbers” produced by West Coast don’t tend to lead to victories.

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But it turned out to be a win built on intangibles. The sort of spirit, desperation and leadership that has been questioned in this team, and a healthy dose of good luck too.

All of which was personified best by Willie Rioli, whose return to the AFL has been both remarkable and deflating — what a tremendous shame we have been robbed of his footballing talents for the last two years.

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Simpson said the Eagles haven’t been the same since Rioli was whisked away from camp on the eve of the 2019 semi-final against Geelong. He has a point, but if nothing else they’ve been far less watchable.

West Coast’s ceiling and ambition for this year remains uncertain, but as we said in last week’s Round-Up, this has to be a year of preparation for years ahead. To that end, Saturday was a big step forward.

Where to from here?

Few could argue the footy has been pretty damn entertaining so far in 2022, and round four in particular was fast and furious. With one glaring exception.

What on earth was that on Thursday night? A sleepy, meandering, aimless performance from Port Adelaide largely gave Melbourne the night off.

Sad Port Adelaide players leave the Adelaide Oval field together
Port Adelaide are in crisis after four weeks of the season.(Getty Images: James Elsby)

There’s no shame in losing to the Demons, and almost everyone will this year at some point. But like that? After last week? Port Adelaide fans were stunned into silence, shocked that things could have become so bad, so quickly.

Do Charlie Dixon and Aliir Aliir solve all of these issues? Of course not, no two players can turn a team that failed to score in a half of football into the premiership contenders they believed they were.

The Western Bulldogs’ problems are not quite so pronounced, but are certainly growing.

It’s easy to point to inaccuracy in front of goal as the main easily fixed issue, but it has been a consistent issue all season and has now arguably cost them two wins.

Players are huddled around Luke Beveridge as he speaks during a break
Luke Beveridge won’t be panicking, but the Bulldogs have started the season on the back foot.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

But the bigger concern was the Dogs’ inability to stop Richmond’s run, just as they failed to quell Melbourne or Carlton once their tails were up in the first two weeks of the season.

But even at 1-3, the Bulldogs won’t be internally perturbed. This is a team that has never finished in the top four under Luke Beveridge, and has still played in two grand finals.

The fixture will loosen up and a top eight push is still very possible, even probable. Port Adelaide aren’t so lucky though — lose to Carlton next week and go to 0-5, and big calls may need to be made.

Around the grounds

The Saints at top gear are very difficult to stop, and very easy to watch. The Hawks were visibly tired and couldn’t maintain the heat of the first three rounds, and St Kilda seem purpose built to thrive on the sort of open game that followed. They’ve responded well in the last fortnight.

Bradley Hill holds his arm out and smiles as he looks into the crowd
Brad Hill took advantage of the space Hawthorn offered for a career best four goals.(Getty Images: Michael Willson)

What a fantastic game in Geelong on Friday night. The Cats were deserved winners, and look set for another year in and around the top four, but there was little lost from the Lions’ perspective — if the flag is to leave Melbourne’s hands in 2022, Brisbane remain the most likely recipients.

Patrick Cripps’ injury will be the headline from Carlton’s first loss of the year, but just as telling could be Marc Pittonet’s absence. Jarrod Witts dined out on the Blues’ back-up rucks, leading Gold Coast through what is their third very encouraging performance out of four this season.

Sam Switkowski smiles with his mouth open and arms clenched either side of him
Fremantle are still building, but have banked three early wins in the process.(Getty Images: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos)

The Dockers are close. Even at 3-1 you get the feeling we haven’t seen anything near their best, but they outran and outgunned the Giants on Saturday night in their most promising showing of the year. Their platform is well set.

Lance Franklin’s finger injury is an interesting one for Sydney. The Swans haven’t been the same offensive beast since Buddy’s 1,000th, and one hypothesis could be that the added attention Franklin received in that time freed up other Swans forwards. How they fare without him could make or break their season.

Sam Draper has a serious look on his face while teammates are happy around him
Sam Draper brought the energy Essendon needed in the last quarter.(Getty Images: Daniel Pockett)

Essendon simply had to win on Sunday, and in that sense it was mission accomplished. But the ease with which Adelaide was able to score, particularly on transition from defensive 50, was a clear warning sign.

In the clubhouse

Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.

And the Rising Star race that we all turned up for was launched at last this week. Nick Daicos received his nomination last week, and Jason Horne-Francis will surely receive his this.

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One of these two will win the award in 2022, and which you prefer doubles as a weird footy personality test. Are you all for the subtlety, grace and Intelligence of Daicos, or the explosive and raw physicality of Horne-Francis? You’ve got a few months to decide.

Last week we gave Ed Langdon the goal of the year, only for Shai Bolton to swiftly offer an alternative.

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Langdon’s was more freakish but probably unrepeatable, whereas Bolton’s was a more precise demonstration of his insane skill. We’re going to need a week or two to think it over before making a call.

And on a dirty day for Hawthorn, Mitch Lewis’s grab in the closing stages at the MCG stands as not only the best mark of the week, but of the season so far.

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