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Just a cluster fuss: 2009 NAB Week 2 review

NAB Week 2 review

Rolling zones are here to stay in the copycat AFL, with all six sides trialing defensive clusters this week.

If this is the 2009 version of AFL, it’s going to be an interesting season, in the way of the Chinese curse. After an uncompetitive game last week, this week the scores were closer and the tactical trends were more apparent, with each team testing out the Hawthorn-authored “cluster” defensive structure and stacking their backlines with extra numbers. In the Saturday game it lasted until half time from both sides, and on Sunday night it was even more apparent. Both games featured a lot of broken play, long strings of turnovers and domination of the stat sheets by flankers at either end.

On Friday night, we saw the first signs of potential from the young key position forwards at basement prices who are going to be critical to fantasy success this year, particularly in Super Coach. Scott Gumbleton, possibly the best credentialed, managed one goal, as Jarrad Grant did with his supergoal, while Jay Neagle registered 2.2. None of the three managed to get into double figures for possessions, or reached 50 DT points. Gumby impressed me the most with his contesting, with Grant needing to work on a horrible kicking technique that netted him a total of 1.4 – a worse action than Buddy – while Neagle will not get that much ball during a regular season game. This game confirmed what I thought about each of them: Gumby and Grant are bench fodder in SC at best, with DT bench consideration only if you can’t find any other small forwards, while Neagle is only valuable if Matthew Lloyd or Scott Lucas get injured.

The biggest news out of Friday has to be the form of Hayden Skipworth, followed closely by Shaun Higgins. Skipworth didn’t touch the ball at all in the first quarter but ended up topping the DT scores for Essendon, providing a safety valve for the younger Bomber midfielders in a role behind the ball that is fantasy gold. Unfortunately his round 1 game is on the Monday so he may be stuck in an extended bench by the first lockout, but if not then he’s going to be very popular. Higgins, rotating through the midfield off a half forward flank, looked all class when he had the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his healthy SC score. The only question is how many of those midfield rotations he will keep once the Dogs add Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen back into the 22. The two mid-priced fantasy forwards did their prospects no harm at all, and should be strongly considered for every side.

Elsewhere on Friday, there were solid hit outs for most of the premiums in the game, with Brad Johnson showing that his days of knocking up Dream Team 90s and 100s may not be over just yet. Bachar Houli underlined his credentials as a Super Coach specialist in the backline. Daniel Cross did his usual trick of looking ordinary for three quarters and then firing up for the last. Courtenay Dempsey teased us like he always does, though he has more twangs than a Lee Kernaghan album. Tom Bellchambers reminded us that he’s really not much of a backup to David Hille by allowing Will Minson, of all people, to nearly win the game in the last quarter while Hille was resting – proving to me that Hille justly deserves status as the #2 Dream Team ruck (although probably not Super Coach due to Drew Petrie). On the other hand, Adam McPhee called into question his fantasy relevance with a switch-hitting role that meant he never settled at either end. Not even kicking the winning point could rescue his Super Coach score.

On the Gold Coast on Saturday night, both half back lines reigned supreme in the first half with zones in full force. People keep on blaming the Hawks for modern football becoming ugly, but to my eyes it’s the Saints who have been involved in all of the ugliest games in the last couple of years, and this was another one. St Kilda went into the game without Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke and so had predictable problems finding a route to goal, with Steven Milne losing his mojo with no one to feed off. Sam Gilbert, of course, and he didn’t let us down with an eye-catching first quarter. Though his TOG was restricted after that, his in-and-under work was of enough quality to let us all know that he’s worth starting from Round 1 this year, particularly in Super Coach.

Plenty of coaches also would have been tuning in to see the leaner, fitter Brendon Goddard with a view to him contending for leading fantasy back this year as he is rotated through the midfield. His fans were delighted to see that he and Nick Dal Santo had essentially switched roles, with NDS loitering around defensive 50 and BJ trying to push forward from the centre line to deliver the ball inside 50. The good news for BJ buyers is that if this switch continues into the regular season you can expect more goals like the two Goddard kicked this week and a lot of pointscoring potential. The bad news is that he will probably get a lot more tagging attention than he did in 2008. The more likely scenario is that coach Ross Lyon is trying to get both players able to play each others’ roles so that they can switch mid-game when one or the other isn’t doing so well – specifically, when Dal Santo is struggling with a hard tag, as he so often does. Whether BJ will be any better at handling such pressure remains to be seen.

The Lions were leading comfortably at half time, which allowed coach Michael Voss to experiment with his own version of Buddy’s Box. Unfortunately for him he didn’t have anything like the cattle to make such an outlandish structure succeed, with Mitch Clark and Aaron Cornelius being his primary forwards, and Voss’ persistence with the four pillar strategy was one of the main reasons that the Saints got back into the game, with zero defensive pressure being applied out of their backline. Such a structure might work better with Jonathan Brown and Daniel Bradshaw as the other two pillars, though I doubt we’ll see much of it during the home & away season.

The other major talking point out of the game on the Gold Coast was Jared Brennan carrying the ruck almost on his own. With Jamie Charman struggling to get fit for the regular season and Matthew Leuenberger not ready to shoulder the load of a #1 ruck just yet, the Lions might have to face disastrous hit out numbers like the 61-12 ratio they suffered under on Saturday night against the experienced duo of Steven King (30 hit outs) and Michael Gardiner (23). Brennan shapes up as a serious contender for a premium forward spot in your team, and while it’s nice to see him involved in midfield play so much, at a height of 192cm he couldn’t keep this sort of physical load up indefinitely.

AFL Rd 21 - Richmond v Essendon

On Sunday night, in between enjoying myself in the FanFooty chat – those Sunday games always seem to have the best banter – we got to see with our own eyes why Fremantle chose Stephen Hill with pick #3 in the 2008 AFL draft. The kid doesn’t tip the scales at over 70kg yet, but that didn’t stop him throwing himself under packs late in the game, and breaking free for a supergoal late in the game that got everyone shouting their manlove at screens across Australia. The media hype tsunami is likely to carry Hill into the round 1 Docker line up, so I think you had better look at your structure to see if you can afford him as your #7 or #8 back if you hadn’t already penciled him in. The boy is the real deal, no question.

Freo also had some other kids on show, notably fantasy-relevant rookies Greg Broughton, Clancee Pearce and Matt DeBoer. Broughton came out of the game with the best prospects of an early call-up, even though it was his man Jack Riewoldt who was doing a lot of the damage during the middle stages of the game. Pearce did a good job on the Richmond rookie Robin Nahas, while DeBoer did some nice things in his limited TOG… and with a good South African name like that, he has to succeed in Perth!

As this year’s Nick Stevens, most eyes were on Paul Hasleby in this game. Like Higgins on Friday, he didn’t necessarily rack up the touches. The quality of his possessions was most evident, with a fair few inside 50s ending with the ball hitting the breast of an onrushing forward. Crucially, he was very industrious when moved off the half back flank at three quarter time to spend the last quarter in the guts, scoring 27 Dream Team points and a whopping 50 in Super Coach. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Hase will be a SC specialist this year, though his status as a potential “lock” in that competition is probably safer than in Dream Team.

As a right-thinking fantasy coach, I would have loved to have seen Brett Peake have a shocker and get dropped. Come on, we all think that, don’t we? By three quarter time he had spudded it up to the tune of 27 DT points. Huzzah, said I! Unfortunately, he got into the game in the last quarter for 28 more points, annoying me greatly and possibly saving his skin for round 1. My sincere hope is that he is replaced in the Fremantle 22 sooner rather than later, preferably by one of the aforementioned kids. We didn’t even see Hayden Ballantyne or Nick Suban yet!

Speaking of half back flankers, I have to admit Andrew Raines was very impressive. I had previously thought that he would suffer in a positional battle with Jordan McMahon, but on this evidence his pace and disposal can’t be ignored. Instead of McMahon, I think the player in the gun for the spot in the Richmond best 22 is Jay Schulz, who looked terrible and was subbed off during the game. Quite where this leaves Jake King I don’t know, because with Chris Newman as captain and Joel Bowden still spending a fair bit of time in the backline, the Tigers can’t play five small-to-medium defenders. Or can they? With the zones in full force it seem half the team turns into half back flankers, as coaches try to own the corridor by pumping in huge numbers. Throw in Shane Edwards and Richard Tambling and it’s a party on the Richmond half back line. The big question is whether Richmond can win games of football against good teams playing that way. They have shown that they can contend with Hawthorn, so if everyone starts copying Hawthorn, doesn’t that play into their hands? It’s going to be fun to watch.

And then there’s Matthew Richardson. How could we ever doubt you, Richo? Like Paul Chapman, most are shying away from Richo due to his history of soft tissue injuries and advancing age. Like Chappy, Richo is looking like a spring chicken in summer. Come the depths of a Melbourne winter, however, and the story may well be different. Hmm, or maybe global warming will deliver another mild winter and respite for weary muscles? Ah, the life of a fantasy coach, where the ozone layer over the Antarctic is a valid topic of discussion for the footy tragic.

I’m sure there are other players who you were watching over the weekend, so let me know your opinions on them in the comments. Geez it’s great to have footy back again! ;D



  1. pascoe

    February 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Ballentyne, how long is he out for? Hill will be a certain trade by week 16 at latest as he will have gone up in price and his under 70kg body will have deteriarated by then for sure. I am going at about 3-4 premium backs, 3-4 premium mids, 1 premium ruckman and 2-4 premium forwards. what do you think on this?

  2. CamT

    February 17, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Steve, there isn’t the depth in rookie backs. The mid-priced backs (eg. Nicoski) are just average players who won’t improve. The premium backs are more resilient than the premium forwards.

  3. Dicko

    February 18, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I thought this was interesting. I may rethink Petrie as my 2nd ruck if he is going to spend all his time down back.

  4. Col

    February 18, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Monty: Gameday Live has had them removed from there also…any idea if they will be back up when the season starts?

  5. Rupe

    February 18, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Yep, Scumbag is correct. NVB is on crutches for a week and out of action for longer. He is out for the entire NAB Cup but could possibly return for rd.1. I forget how long we still have until the real stuff.

  6. Raf

    February 18, 2009 at 11:42 am

    You basically want anyone you pick to be either:

    1. A keeper (someone you can rely on to consistently deliver a score worthy of your team, so a premium or someone you think will become one or close)

    2. Someone who will gain as much value as possible so you can downgrade them to a rookie and use the cash to upgrade someone else. If they’re going to be a starting rookie, they also really need to be guys who expect to average at least 60.

    There is a shortage of mid-pricers who may become keepers (Adcock? Raines? Dark horse Ben Ross?) and a shortage of rookies who can be considered as decent starting options (Hill? Dark horse Collier?) but there’s not NONE. I think all premium backs is an unnecessarily conservative strategy.

  7. m0nty

    February 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Col: my guess is that the only place you’ll be able to find them is that Fantasy Freako newsletter. Published by Champion Data. 😉

  8. Cosi

    February 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Col: You could try the herald sun site. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the Ranking Total the players SC Score. Still has the last three games however Collingwood and West Coast is gone.

  9. Col

    February 18, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Cosi: Yeah, that’s right, but I’m more concerned about during the season, I want to get on computer on a Saturday and watch every kick/handball and Supercoach point pile up for my team. Did that with GameDay Live/fanfooty last year….but it is being removed by the sounds of it?

  10. m0nty

    February 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I have restored the SC points to FanFooty. The Herald-Sun has been publishing them on its Web site so they are public domain, as far as I am aware.

  11. Cosi

    February 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    M0nty: Nice work. Hopefully you will be allowed to keep them up.

    Col: I guess we will have to wait until the season starts.

  12. Raf

    February 18, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    That depends monty. Are you copying the scores from the Herald Sun or AFL site or something (I assume they license from Champion Data), or do you work them out yourself?

    There’s a recentish precedent from Channel 9 v IceTV which allows the copying of a compilation of some pretty insignificant factual info (in that case, the time and title information for channel 9 television shows copied from various newspaper/magazine tv guides) to be ruled a copyright infringement. I think the decision was wrong, and it overturned the decision of the original judge… High Court is due to rule any day now on the final appeal. Until then though, I’d be cautious about copying practically anything, even SC scores in the paper.

  13. m0nty

    February 18, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Rest assured I’m watching that case with interest, Raf.

  14. pascoe

    February 18, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    back to footy talk. are you all happy with the first match on a thursday night?

  15. Billy

    February 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Good going Monty! Stick it to the man!

  16. steve

    February 18, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    CamT yeah im leaning towards the all premium back due to lack of depth in this area which you stated.

  17. Macca

    February 18, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Just checked Daniel Jackson stats from last year. Looks good.

  18. Poos

    February 19, 2009 at 1:37 am

    The mid-priced backs (eg. Nicoski) are just average players who won’t improve. The premium backs are more resilient than the premium forwards.

    Totally disagree with your blanket statement about mid price backs.
    And prove that premium backs are more resilient than forwards, yet another blanket statement.

  19. bobby

    February 19, 2009 at 2:36 am

    “the mid-priced backs (eg nicoski) are just average players that wont improve” if your gonna have a successful team, its vital u include these players (eg nicoski). premium backs won’t improve, they are already premium. some mid priced backs will improve, where do u expect the next batch of premium backs to come from? nicoski is currently a lock in my team, im looking for players who were good and had a couple of bad seasons through injury and and have come back with a good preseason.

  20. bitharsh

    February 19, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Nicoski is a spud…

  21. bartman74

    February 19, 2009 at 9:32 am

    agree F*ckofski cost me big time last year. No doubt has good skills, but that is worth bugger all if you can’t find the pill !
    Ellis may be agood pick if he can get up (think he is a back ?)

  22. elliot

    February 19, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Hey monty,

    Shane Tuck’s SC score in the quarter by quarter is a total of 101 but in the fantasy scores section it says 88?

    Can you tell me which one is correct?

  23. Dan

    February 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    bartman: Sometimes people jump on players 1 year too early… 🙂

  24. MiGZ

    February 19, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I can agree and relate to that Dan, Mattner in 07 was a year to early for me.

  25. fryzie

    February 19, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    lol Dan… I was only a few months too early. Had Gibbs last year and traded him out for Kane Cornes just before he started chopping up.

  26. bobby

    February 19, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    3 seasons ago nicoski was in great form, kept an in form aaron davey to under 10 possessions while getting around 20 himself. (davey was averaging around 20 a game and almost 2 goals at the time) he looks to be over his injurys and has had a soild preseason and looks to be west coasts running half back this year. too much upside not to consider. Raines looks to be in a similar position at richmond

  27. Dan

    February 20, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going near Nico.

    If you look at Nico’s score of 84 – it really isn’t out of his normal scoring range.

    Last year, 4 of his scores were 84 or higher.

    I wonder if we should add a loading (20%?) because of the shorter quarters in NAB cup?

    If so, then he would end up with around 100 in the NAB cup match.

    In 2008 round 1, he scored 97 (~100) and never got near that again for the rest of the season. Maybe he likes to peak in round 1 ? 🙂

    The main thing about him though is that he’s never in 5 years played 22 games. You’d be bloody lucky if you picked him this year and you didn’t get a doughnut or two from him.

    Anyway, my point was more that you shouldn’t rule out players just because you got them last year. Keep an open mind.

  28. bitharsh

    February 20, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I can’t believe it is even up for argument

    You are talking about Nicoski being in great form, 3 YEARS AGO..and your support for that is that he closed a very inconsistent player out of a game…which is of absolutely no DT relevance.

  29. dub's$men

    February 22, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Nicoski is rubbish.

    I reckon there is some good value to be had in the backline with Frawley, Raines and Geary all under 200k. Geary might get a bit of time as a backman getting easy kicks if Goddard plays more in the centre this year. Not saying they are def in my team but worth watching I reckon.

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