Talking Points Rd 10: AFL’s worst close-game team gets lucky; horrendous Eagles hit Fitzroy-level lows

Port Adelaide has climbed into the top four – partially thanks to its luck turning.

Plus the horrific lows at West Coast and more proof a Tassie team can work.

The big issues from Round 10 of the 2023 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!

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The Round 10 AFL Talking Points are here.Source: FOX SPORTS


Suddenly the conversation around Port Adelaide has changed.

Ken Hinkley’s job isn’t just secure, but some are asking if he should be extended, after the Power recorded a seventh straight win by knocking off Melbourne in a Friday night thriller.

But his team is simply proving, once again, why close game performance is not some predictable skill.

Their four-point win over the Demons was their fourth this year by less than two goals (the commonly accepted marker of a close game) from four attempts, following victories over Essendon (five points), St Kilda (seven points) and Sydney (two points).

But surely this makes no sense? Look how bad they were in close games last year! In 2022, the Power were the worst close-game team in the AFL, going 2-7 in those tight contests.

And surely that made no sense either, because in 2021 they went 5-0 in close games – making them the season’s best close-game team.

Except all of this makes sense in one clear way: close game performance from year-to-year is random. It is, some might say, luck.

(That’s not to take away from what Port are doing. We know that when we say a team is getting lucky, their fans take it as an insult. It’s not; it’s a statement of statistical fact. Would you prefer if we said they’ve been fortunate?)

Port power to the top after thriller win | 03:27

We expected Port Adelaide to rise this year, in large part because they were so unlucky in close games in 2022.

(We also expected Collingwood to fall, and while they’re not going to go 11-1 in close games again, they’ve also just gotten better overall, especially in the midfield. We were clearly wrong to tip them to miss the eight.)

As this graph from Twitter user footycharts shows, there is no correlation between a team’s performance in close games from one season to another. (For those who remember high school maths or are just nerdy, the R2 or coefficient of determination is 0.00042.)

Logically if teams were able to obtain the skill of being good at close games, they would continue to have it the next season.

But there is no evidence this is the case – instead, the evidence shows their performance the next year is effectively random. Some teams were good again; some were bad. There is no discernible pattern.

Hinkley’s job security has been heavily dependent on this randomness. They got all the way to two home preliminary finals in 2020 and 2021, but lost by just a goal to Richmond in the former, and were thumped by the Bulldogs in the latter.

But remember what we said about the Power being the best close-game team in 2021? If they hadn’t gone 5-0 in close games that year, they wouldn’t have finished second; they could’ve been out of the top four, which the Bulldogs missed by just 0.5 per cent.

Those teams were closer than the ladder suggested and the prelim final result, while still an upset, reflected that.

So the Power’s high point, consecutive top-two finishes across 2020 and 2021, was helped by close game performance – and thus it was more disappointing for Hinkley when he couldn’t get them into a Grand Final.

In contrast their low point, the slide down to 11th in 2022, was also ‘helped’ by close game performance. It nearly saw Hinkley sacked.

Now the Power are rising again, again helped by close game performance. Maybe they’re a legitimate top four team; their percentage doesn’t say so, though.

There’s still a long way to go, but as it stands, their ladder position is being inflated by their close game wins. Just like 2021 (and to a lesser extent 2020).

Keep that in mind as the season progresses.

‘Kane Cornes won’t be back after that’ | 02:21


We, the collective media, would like to apologise to fans of Hawthorn and North Melbourne.

Associating your club with West Coast was unfair.

The Eagles look like by far the worst team in the AFL after what was, frankly, an embarrassing 116-point loss to the Hawks on Sunday.

Look, credit to the Hawks for playing well. They took advantage of the Eagles’ injury issues. And the fact the game was in Tassie, where Sam Mitchell’s men always over-perform (and is quite far away from WA), only helped.

But even with those reasons, you simply cannot excuse losing to the team in 18th by THAT much.

It’s just the third time in VFL-AFL history the team last on the ladder has won by 100-plus points, and the second-biggest win by the team in last ever.

The record still belongs to Collingwood’s 178-point demolition of St Kilda in 1979, but it’s worth noting those Magpies went on to make the Grand Final (in the famous Wayne Harmes game). They were last after three rounds but finished 15-7.

So you could argue this is the biggest win ever by a properly bad, bottom-four level team.

The awful records just kept on coming after the final siren. The Eagles’ worst loss in 15 years. Their equal-third lowest score in club history.

They’ve won a wooden spoon before but there’s a case to be made that this is the lowest point in club history.

“This is just a dreadful day for the West Coast Eagles who have been such a proud footy club, which a rich history of success from basically the moment they entered the competition,” Kane Cornes said on AFL Nation.

West Coast Eagles press conference | 04:39

To Cornes’ point – this isn’t one of the smaller AFL clubs struggling, nor an expansion team. This is West Coast. The richest club in the land. The team with the waiting list to be a member. The proudly arrogant side that swaggered into a Victorian league and said watch this, winning two flags before the east knew what hit them.

And now they’re just horrifically awful.

When’s the last time a non-expansion team hit these sorts of repeated lows? The Eagles’ percentage is below 60 again – we’re looking at teams like North Melbourne over 2021-22… and then back to Fitzroy right before they folded.

“Extremely disappointing, not good enough and unacceptable,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said post-game.

“Not a lot to take out of that game at all.”

Not a lot except the wooden spoon is basically locked up.

The Eagles are ‘only’ a win behind Hawthorn and North Melbourne, but they’re also 10.6 per cent behind the Kangaroos, and 18.3 per cent behind the Hawks.

That’s a big enough gap that you’d say the Eagles are realistically two wins behind. Are they really going to win two more games this year?

Keep in mind they play North in Round 20 in the west. So they’re going to need to win that, and win it by a lot, to have any realistic chance of avoiding the second wooden spoon in club history.

But let’s be real. Harley Reid should start looking at the Perth property market.

Harley Reid: 2023’s no.1 AFL draft pick? | 00:48


On Saturday night Essendon coach Brad Scott lauded the ability of unheralded matchwinner Sam Durham and said there are more players like him who could flourish at an AFL club.

Tasmania’s 2028 entry into the AFL competition has seen some experts worry a 19th club would dilute the talent pool.

That is despite the fact the AFL’s population has grown from 18 million when the 16-team era began, to over 26 million with 18 teams now.

Durham stood tall to mark at the top of the goal square and put Essendon ahead in the final minute of just his 37th game, causing Scott to lament the talent of the 2021 mid-season draftee was no longer a Bombers secret.

The 21-year-old was one of his side’s best with two goals and 21 disposals, and is rated elite among midfielders this season for marks and kicking efficiency.

Scott said Durham was an example of how the competition’s talent depth will not suffer when the Tasmanian side joins the league.

Spine-tingling Dreamtime ceremony at MCG | 01:00

“People who say that a Tasmanian team coming in, the talent pool’s not deep enough, all that sort of stuff – there are plenty of good players around the country, it’s just a matter of them being identified and developed well,” Scott said.

“Sam’s got all the attributes of a really, really good player, and to the credit of our development coaches they’ve worked really strongly with him.

“He showed really good signs last year, but he’s taken his game to another level. We were trying to keep him under wraps, but now the wraps are unfortunately off – everyone knows who he is now.”

Durham becomes the latest mid-season draftee to make a legitimate AFL impact, following in the footsteps of Hawthorn’s Jai Newcombe, Collingwood’s Ash Johnson and John Noble and perhaps the most famous (thanks to his Grand Final debut) Richmond’s Marlion Pickett.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin also backed the talent pool’s depth a few weeks ago.

“Tassie is a very proud football state, and I think it’s great for the Tasmanians and I know that it will be a pretty, pretty cool team,” he said. .

“I think you see the game it is now and the talent that continues to walk through our doors … there’s a lot of talent out there in Australia in footy and there‘s a lot of guys that miss out on opportunities and if they are put in the right environment, they can develop into great players.

“So I think that talent won’t be an issue. I think we still have a great game of footy as we have had for the last period of time.

“It’s continued to grow our game and participation rates continue to increase and having another team in our competition is only going to do that again.”

The moment Roos made costly interchange | 01:14


Parting with Pick 1 as part of last year’s four-club mega trade was seen as a significant sacrifice by North Melbourne.

But on Saturday afternoon, Kangaroos fans got a glimpse of the benefit of splitting that pick, with their two top 2022 draftees playing crucial role in almost helping drag their team across the line for a famous win.

As part of last year’s trade that also involved the Eagles, Power and Giants, the Kangaroos essentially turned Pick 1 and Jason Horne-Francis into Picks 2 and 3, with ample sweeteners too. North then used those two picks to select Harry Sheezel from the Sandringham Dragons and George Wardlaw from the Oakleigh Chargers.

The two 18-year-olds on Saturday played their first AFL game together – Sheezel had been playing since Round 1 while Wardlaw had been eased into his first AFL season after an injury-interrupted 2022 campaign – and couldn’t have been more impressive despite North’s heartbreaking loss.

Regarded as the best pure inside midfielder of last year’s draft class, Wardlaw fitted into the Kangaroos’ on-ball brigade with aplomb, finishing with 16 disposals, nine tackles, eight contested possessions, six score involvements and six clearances.

Wardlaw’s toughness and thirst for the contest was personified by an incident late in the second term when he was crunched by Swans opponent Will Hayward but was determined to stay back out on the field.

“He’s tough,” triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy on Saturday night. “He got smashed at one stage and then got up and went into the next centre bounce. Didn’t want to go off.

“I thought ‘geez he’s got the Shinboner Spirit already’.”

Roos fans stand tall for Clarko | 00:28

Sheezel had already established himself as a hot chance to take out this year’s Rising Star award, averaging 27.9 disposals from his first nine games playing predominantly as a rebounding defender.

But Roos fans on Saturday were treated to a midfield-forward Sheezel show, which is where he dazzled recruiters during his draft year.

He delivered on the AFL stage, booting 2.2 from 25 disposals, five inside 50s and 429m gained. He was particularly influential when the Kangaroos surged late, having eight disposals and two clearances in the fourth quarter alone.

“He’s an absolute bona fide star of the competition,” Brown said. “He’d stack up well against his old teammate Will Ashcroft for the Rising Star. He’s a superstar-in-waiting.”

Essendon great Scott Lucas added on SEN’s Crunch Time: “I was really pleased to see Sheezel put forward … He’s been getting good numbers playing with a fair of freedom across half-back. He was drafted as a class forward and I’m glad top see him get back into the real heat where he’s got a small-medium defender of quality locking down on him.

“His goals were fantastic. He has to play in the front half.”

Two other first-round Roos draftees took steps forward on Saturday as well. Will Phillips was a regular centre bounce attendee and thrived, finishing with 16 disposals and five clearances while Tom Powell (1 goal, 12 disposals) was also given a good run.

Elsewhere Bailey Scott had a career-high 33 disposals, while Eddie Ford returned to the AFL line-up to kick a goal from 21 disposals.

While Saturday’s loss would’ve been a bitter pill to swallow, you wouldn’t have excused any Kangaroos supporters for leaving Marvel Stadium with a glass half-full attitude.

“North Melbourne fans have got a lot of excitement there,” Brown said.

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