Each week, ESPN.com.au's Jake Michaels looks at six talking points from the AFL world.
This week's Six Points features the Bulldogs' embarrassing two-minute drill, the player who must be first picked in the All-Australian team, what the AFL has got so very wrong, and what it's got so very right.
1. The Bulldogs' utter incompetence against the Hawks is proof they aren't a team to be taken seriously
Two-minute drills. You know, game on the line, one team desperately seeking the go-ahead goal and the other defending for its life. It's what separates winners from losers. It's what decides premierships.
Any coach or player will tell you these scenarios are practised weekly, with the hope that if they find themselves in such a situation on game day they know exactly how to execute.
The Bulldogs' last-gasp attempt at taking the ball the length of the ground to complete an unlikely comeback against the Hawks wasn't just comical in every sense of the word, it proved this team, in its current iteration, cannot contend for a premiership.
How Tim English takes the responsibility of the kick-in -- his first of the year, mind you -- is truly baffling. As was his decision to lope out of the goal square, take three uncertain bounces (the first literally one step out of the square) and blast it wide to the boundary and a contest, effectively losing the game.
Season on the line with 45-seconds left, and this is what the Dogs did from the kick-in... 😱— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) August 13, 2023
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I'm only entertaining two possible explanations for what might be the most embarrassing, incompetent sequence of the season. Reason number one, it was planned. If that's the case, Luke Beveridge has plenty of explaining to do as it's almost indefensible. The other option, and I suspect this is the reality, is the players simply froze in the moment, lost their heads and failed to execute their actual planned two-minute drill. If so, how can you possibly trust this side in a final?
The other worrying sign for the Bulldogs was the way in which the pendulum of momentum swung firmly in favour of the Hawks once Tom Liberatore was subbed out of the game with concussion. The young, inexperienced Hawthorn midfield bullied them in close and, truth be told, really should have won by a greater margin.
Libba was taken from the ground 12 minutes and 20 seconds into the second term and from that point on the Dogs were -15 in contested possession, -14 in ground ball gets, -4 in clearance and -8 in inside 50s. They were also outscored from stoppage 26-4.
These numbers are stunning for a side many believed had one of the most potent midfields in the league. But the reality is players such as Bailey Smith and Jack Macrae have gone backwards at an alarming rate, while the off-season loss of Josh Dunkley has proven to have left a void Beveridge cannot fill. As a result, the reliance on Liberatore and skipper Marcus Bontempelli is far too great.
The Bulldogs face the Eagles this week and will no doubt win handsomely. But all it will do is paper over these cracks before its do-or-die clash against the Cats in Round 24.
2. The first name selected in everyone's All-Australian team for 2023 simply has to be Toby Greene
Literally every position on the football field, outside small to mid-sized forward, has, at the absolute minimum, two candidates vying for the All-Australian team. Some positions have about a dozen players who have made legitimate cases for selection.
Think about it. Who's rucking? Tim English, Max Gawn or maybe even Rowan Marshall? Heck, some are lobbying for Kieren Briggs! How about full forward? Charlie Curnow leads in the Coleman Medal race, but with Taylor Walker to play the Eagles in Round 24 there's no guarantee it stays that way. We've seen a handful of wings put their hands up, including Josh Daicos, Errol Gulden, and Nic Martin. And good luck picking the first key defender in the team.
But Toby Greene has elevated himself to a level where he has no peer. The mercurial Giants skipper is producing a season for the ages, and yet I still feel his career-best production has flown criminally under the radar.
Greene's booted 54 goals for the year and sits fourth in the race for the Coleman Medal, behind Curnow (70), Walker (65) and Nick Larkey (56) - three key forwards. But that doesn't tell the full story. If you extrapolate for the two games he missed with an ankle injury in the first half of the year, he'd be around 60 goals. And unlike Curnow and Walker, Greene only had the joy of facing West Coast once in 2023.
But it's not just his goalkicking. Greene's ability to push higher up the ground and influence the game through the midfield doesn't just makes him arguably the most dynamic player in the sport, but it also separates him from many of the other great small to mid-sized forwards in the game.
FUN FACT: Greene is averaging 2.8 goals and 18 disposals per game in 2023. Only one other player is even averaging two goals and 15 disposals per game (Jeremy Cameron). In fact, since 1999 just five players have averaged those numbers over the course of a full season: Wayne Carey (2000), Brad Johnson (2006 & 2007), Steve Johnson (2010), Lance Franklin (2012) and now Greene.
"It's Greene and Daylight... He is so far ahead of everyone else."@JMichaelsESPN believes that Toby Greene should be the first man picked in this years All-Australian team.— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) August 15, 2023
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This year, Greene ranks first for inside 50 groundball gets and equal-second for score involvements, behind only Christian Petracca. Among forwards, he sits second for Champion Data rating points, while top five in contested possession and disposals.
Pound for pound Greene might be the best player in the league. He deserves to be first picked in this year's All-Australian team (what would be his third blazer) and I certainly wouldn't be against making him captain.
3. Melbourne was robbed by the AFL's embarrassing score review system
If you were to poll 100 people on whether or not Christian Petracca's late shot from outside 50m against Carlton was a goal, I reckon you'd have a perfect 50-50 split. At least that's what the results of my unofficial straw poll told me.
Fortunately for Blues fans, and unfortunately for Dees fans, the goal umpire's 'soft call' of a behind stood and Carlton went on to win an epic contest by four points. No matter your opinion of the play, one aspect is undeniable: the AFL's score review system continues to be an utter farce.
Everything from the ambiguous process to the subpar camera equipment has made the ARC a running joke in Aussie Rules circles. The saddest part? We're now four years on from the review centre's much-needed overhaul, yet we still find ourselves baffled with the league's inability to find conclusive evidence when it comes to the most important part of the sport: scoring.
Saturday night's debacle proved, yet again, something has to give. The AFL is a multi-billion dollar industry yet it refuses to invest in camera technology which would definitively tell us whether or not a kick for goal was touched before crossing the goal line.
The quality of the cameras currently in operation is a total embarrassment. Not only do they have severe limitations, but the head-scratching placement of many of them doesn't make determining scores a simple task.
It's clear both of these issues need addressing. It's also worth asking the question as to why the AFL hasn't followed the lead of other sports and introduced sensors in the ball which would definitively tell us whether it's cross the goal line and/or whether it has been touched.
I know I say it all the time, but just imagine if the Petracca kick occurred late in a Grand Final... Yikes!
4. The Crows would be crazy to move on from Matt Crouch
If 12 months ago you thought Matt Crouch's career was all but done, you weren't alone. Injuries, fitness queries and a significant form slump allowed him to play just 12 games in the space of 29 months following the conclusion of the 2020 season.
But since returning to the Crows' lineup a month ago, Crouch has been one of the highest performing players in the league. In fact, since Round 20, Crouch has polled more Brownlow Medal votes in my predictor than anyone else.
His last three weeks have been especially impressive, averaging 32 disposals, 14 contested possessions, eight clearances, eight score involvements and six tackles per game. In that time, no player has tallied more disposals and no player in the top 50 ball winners has used it more efficiently. Crouch has received coaches votes in all three games, and, most importantly, Adelaide is 2-1, and very easily could have been 3-0.
Crouch's midfield production and ability to win the ball is as good as any player in the league. Per 100 minutes of game time in 2023, Crouch ranks third for disposals (behind Darcy Parish and Adam Treloar), third for clearances (behind Tom Liberatore and Parish) and fifth for ranking points (behind English, Marcus Bontempelli, Liberatore and Adam Cerra).
So what does the future hold for Crouch? Last year the Crows informed him he would not be receiving a new contract beyond 2023. If the club opts to stand firm and move on from him at season's end, and if Crouch continues his output over the next fortnight, it would have to be one of the harshest potential delistings in modern AFL history.
However, as an unrestricted free agent, you wouldn't think he'd have trouble finding a new home.
5. Individual medals and awards should never, ever be shared
I'm going to keep this one short and sweet. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the AFL using a countback method to determine who was best on ground in a particular game. In fact, it's exactly what we should be doing and I don't understand the criticism.
For reference, Fremantle's Lachie Schultz was awarded the Glendinning-Allan Medal for best afield in the Round 22 Derby, while teammate Luke Jackson -- who polled the same amount of votes from the three judges -- went home empty handed. The reason? Schultz won on a countback. In plain English, two of the three judges gave Schultz the maximum three votes and the other gave it to Jackson.
I've never been a fan of 'everybody wins' culture which has crept into society and the last place it should exist is professional sport. If it's an award for best on ground, then give it to the player who was best on ground - not players, plural.
6. The AFL deserves a round of applause for its ticketing move
If it was fair to give the AFL a serve over the diabolical score review system (yes, it was) then it's also fair to commend the league on a decision which will likely go unnoticed by the majority of the footy public.
On Sunday, the league announced a 'price freeze' on entry level tickets was being put in place for the 2023 final series, including in the Grand Final. It's the eighth year in succession that the cheapest ticket prices have remained flat for the first three weeks of finals, and the fifth year they haven't been lifted for the 'Big Dance'.
That means you can attend the first two weeks of finals for as little as $35, a preliminary final for $65, while Grand Final tickets start at $185.
"Our season has so far been nothing short of phenomenal, with a record breaking 1.2 million members and more than 6.6 million fans attending matches around the country - remarkable numbers and a testament to all supporters and members barracking for their clubs," said AFL Executive General Manager Customer and Commercial Kylie Rogers. "Our commitment remains to keep finals footy prices as an affordable option and thank the members and fans who have supported their clubs through thick and thin."
This is an enormous result for footy fans. Given the growth of the league in recent years, the AFL could have easily introduced a stark price rise. Fair play for keeping the best interest of fans front and centre.