Each week, ESPN.com.au's Jake Michaels looks at six talking points from the AFL world.
This week's Six Points feature the failed Gawn-Grundy experiment, the charging Blues (and what's changed), why Ollie Wines is no longer playing like a top 100 player, and the Nick Daicos bet I'd love to make.
1. Max Gawn is Batman and he doesn't want (or need) a Robin
I was always skeptical about the Max Gawn-Brodie Grundy experiment. I've never been a fan of playing two fully recognised rucks, particularly when neither of them possess the forward craft to be able to consistently punish their opponent forward of centre. Sharing the ruck load also means a lack of fluency throughout the game and limited opportunity to stamp yourself on it.
There's no doubt my opinion was in the minority but I'm now convinced at least one other person shared my view. And that person is Max himself.
It's no coincidence Gawn's resurgence over the past three weeks has coincided with Grundy's demotion to the Melbourne reserves, and it tells me the Melbourne skipper was never a believer in the methodology. Why do I say that? Well he hasn't just dominated in Grundy's absence and proved he's the unquestioned No. 1 ruck option at the Dees, and in the AFL, he's also made a point of playing more minutes than ever before -- particularly in the second halves of games -- putting to rest the notion that he couldn't do it alone and the ruck duties should be shared.
Gawn produced perhaps his finest performance on Sunday afternoon at the MCG, sparking a second-half comeback against the Tigers to consolidate Melbourne's place inside the top four. After halftime, Gawn won 23 disposals, 17 contested possessions, nine clearances, seven inside 50s, and took four marks. Again, that was in a half! I'd argue it's the best half a ruckman has ever played without kicking a goal.
His output over the previous two weekends were also at a similarly dominant level. In fact, over the last three weeks he's received 27 of a possible 30 coaches votes. In that time he ranks top 10 in the competition for hitouts, contested possessions, ranking points, rating points, clearances, contested marks and hard ball gets.
So where does that leave Grundy? Simon Goodwin might be adamant the former Magpie is still part of Melbourne's plans, but how can he be? If the idea is to keep him on the list as cover in the event of a Gawn injury, then he'd set to be the highest paid back-up in league history. Just admit the mistake and begin making plans to move on from him. Simple.
2. The curious case of the Blues and how they've become the best clearance team ... ever
You've got to feel for Blues fans. They've been through the absolute ringer over the past 18 months. I mean seriously, talk about a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Carlton began last season 8-2 and everyone jumped aboard the bandwagon. Confident bookmakers even paid out on bets for the Blues to play finals before the season had hit the halfway mark. After all, how could they not make it? Well, they found a way. Back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Melbourne and Collingwood in the final two games of the year dumped them out of the top eight on the final day of the home and away season.
This year, the Blues started 4-1-1 and once again looked to be a team to be taken seriously, only to then win one of the next nine games. And just when fans had given up hope they rattle of six straight wins to charge back into the top eight. You just can't make this stuff up.
FUN FACT: Carlton is just the third team in VFL/AFL history to win six straight games immediately after losing six straight games (Bulldogs 1974, Hawks 2010).
So what's changed? What's sparked the stunning turnaround?
The Blues have doubled down on their footy identity, going all in on the contested aspect of their game that Michael Voss introduced last year. They're not just doing it well, they're doing it as effectively as we've ever seen. Carlton's +235 points from scores from clearances over the last six weeks is the best any team has produced in a six-game stretch. Ever. For context, the next best in this period is Sydney at 'just' +97.
The contest, and winning clearance and contested possession is where it all begins for the Blues and, as you'll see, they enjoyed a serious trickle down effect when dominating that aspect of the game:
Can they cause damage in September? Well, they've got to get there first, but the two sides that made last year's Grand Final were the two most in-form teams in Geelong and Sydney. Maybe, just maybe, the Blues are hitting their straps at the right time in 2023.
3. If Nick Daicos' over-under on career Brownlows is 2.5, I'm hammering the over
It's more than likely that in seven weeks' time Nick Daicos will be presented with the 2023 Brownlow Medal. It's also on the board the star Magpie eclipses the record 36-vote mark set by both Dustin Martin (2017) and Ollie Wines (2021). It would be a truly remarkable feat for the 20-year-old prodigy, and, scarily, it could be just the beginning of what's already shaping up to be a legendary AFL career.
Based on what we've seen this year, his age, and the rapid rate of improvement, it's difficult to imagine another player starting next season at a shorter price than Daicos for the league's best and fairest. In fact, if you told me he starts favourite every year until 2030 I'd probably believe you.
So how many of them can he win? In other words, what's realistic for his career?
I'm going to say three. Now in no way is it a failure if he doesn't win three, but if you're giving me a choice between 0-2 and 3+ I think the latter is more likely. The fact that most footy fans would probably agree -- especially if he wins his first this year -- tells you everything you need to know about Daicos' trajectory and potential.
Only three players in league history have won the award on three occasions and nobody has achieved it in the last 50 years. How about two Brownlows? Since 1990, just five players have managed it: Robert Harvey (1997, 1998), Adam Goodes (2003, 2006), Chris Judd (2004, 2010), Gary Ablett (2009, 2013) and Nat Fyfe (2015, 2019). Talk about a Hall of Fame-level quintet.
Daicos has the potential to match and surpass the careers of every one of those players listed above. Think I'm crazy? He's already significantly further ahead of all of them after 44 games. Let's enjoy watching him for the next 15 years.
4. The Ollie Wines fall from grace is as stark as we've ever seen from a star player
Speaking of Brownlows, it's time we had a little chat about Ollie Wines.
Just 22 months ago the Port Adelaide bull was declared the league's best and fairest after a year of exceptional midfield production. Wines polled votes in a record 16 games, including 11 of the final 12, and in doing so well and truly established himself as one of the league's top players.
He was solid enough without living up to the 2021 standard last year but I fully expected a bounce back year in 2023, particularly given his age profile (still just 28) and the lofty expectation I had of Port in pre-season. But what he's produced this year wouldn't have him close to the top 100 players in the league.
Wines has been surpassed by Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, and many would even argue Willem Drew and Jason Horne-Francis in the Port midfield. He looks lethargic and severely lacking the power which made him such a dominant inside beast. Wines has plummeted at an alarming rate in just about every metric, while Champion Data only rates him 'above average' in one area this year (handballs). For everything else he's 'average' or worse.
Is it wrong of me to wonder if he'll ever get back to anything close to his best?
5. Must-win. Do-or-die. Call it what you want, the Cats simply have to win on Saturday night against the Power
The Grand Final curse is usually reserved for the loser of the final game of the year, but both finalists from 2022 are now staring down the barrel of bottom 10 finishes - something few would have picked at the beginning of the season.
With four rounds to play, Geelong finds itself ninth on the ladder and in an uphill battle to play in September. Making things even tougher is their draw. Here's what's to come in the run home:
ROUND 21: vs. Port Adelaide (GMHBA Stadium)
ROUND 22: vs. Collingwood (MCG)
ROUND 23: vs. St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
ROUND 24: vs. Western Bulldogs (GMHBA Stadium)
The good news is the Cats will enjoy a true home ground advantage in two of their last four games. The bad news is they face top eight calibre opposition in ALL of their remaining games. That's rough!
If the Bulldogs beat Richmond on Friday night and the Blues beat the Saints on Sunday afternoon (both results being highly probable), a Cats loss to the Power would have Chris Scott's side two wins outside the top eight with just three games to play. Even taking the horror draw out of the equation, there's simply no coming back from that. So, put simply, Geelong must beat Port on Saturday night.
They're going to have to do it without several important contributors, too. Key forward Tom Hawkins and utility Mark Blicavs both suffered hamstring injuries in the loss to the Dockers and will be on the sidelines.
6. Is the best and fairest award overrated?
Everyone loves to crush the Brownlow Medal, labelling it a 'midfielder's award', but isn't a club best and fairest just the same?
Few would argue Lance Franklin isn't (at the very minimum) one of the three best players to compete in the sport since the turn of the century. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and 'Buddy' will officially hang up his boots at the conclusion of the season. Want to have a guess how many best and fairest awards he's won in his illustrious career?
The answer is one. Franklin's epic 2008, where he booted 100 goals for the season -- the last time someone achieved the ridiculous feat -- earned him the Hawthorn B&F, but that's it! He's come up short in every other season. Though for what it's worth he has two runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes.
Now let's compare that to some of the other modern day greats. Gary Ablett? He's got six. Chris Judd? Five. Adam Goodes? Three. Nathan Buckley? Six. Patrick Dangerfield? Four.
Not to take anything away from those players, but it's criminal Franklin has just the one on his resume. I guess it's just a weird quirk of what's been a legendary career.