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Hawks v Blues: Tell Kerridge he’s dreamin’…

Hawthorn 8.5.53 defeated Carlton 4.8.32

This is the first of what may be an irregular series of 2016 match musings I will write for FanFooty, under the Talking Points category. I can’t promise to cover every game, but I will try to do my best.

Last night, it was as if the footy had never left. The Hawks were challenged early in a scrappy game, with the Blues testing out new coach Brendan Bolton’s game style, after he was poached from the Hawthorn coaching staff in the offseason. Unsurprisingly, the style is cribbed straight from the Alastair Clarkson playbook: heavy pressure on the ball carrier to win turnovers or affect inside 50 delivery, swarm the fall of the ball with tween-sized defenders zoning off their men to spoil the pack, and if you can’t get a fast break going, stop and try to switch until you find someone open on the fat side for a quality entry… rinse and repeat.

For the first quarter and a half, it worked. The younger Blues got tired and couldn’t keep it up, though, with the rotations ending up 135 to 78. (It’s worth noting that the rotation cap for 2016 home & away is 90.) The stats ended up looking a lot like last year’s Grand Final, with the Blues shading the hit outs +5 and contested possessions +10 but the Hawks killing it everywhere else, including a 109-54 mark differential and +10 on tackles.

Fantasy interest was primarily in Sam Kerridge (88/122), and he didn’t disappoint with 28 touches at a 9:19 kick-to-handball ratio from 86% TOG as a pure midfielder with no tagging role. His game was extremely inside, with no marks at all, and 17 contested possessions. All good, but what happens when Marc Murphy and Patrick Cripps return to that midfield? Carlton already has a designated tagger in Ed Curnow (54/54) and recruited another in Mark Whiley (43/51), albeit they lost Andrew Carrazzo to retirement who played that role in the first half of 2015. Kerridge was noticeably effective in about half of the games where he tagged in 2014 for the Crows, which is not a bad strike rate for that role but not great either.

Dale Thomas (65/101) also had some gaudy numbers, particularly in SC. He also had a fairly inside game based on the stats. The problem with assessing both his performance and that of Kerridge is not just the absence of Murphy and Cripps, but also that it is obvious that Bolton is still in the early stages of teaching the team his game style. First priority for Bolton was always going to be defensive structures, which went some way towards explaining the full-strength premiers only kicking 8 goals against an undermanned spoon team. The Blues could prevent a score by getting enough bodies in the right areas, but to kick a score they need to learn the other parts of the Clarkson-inspired plan: kicking around the arc with precision passes to produce uncontested marks. Now, maybe Carlton’s list doesn’t have enough quality disposal specialists to be able to deliver on that plan, but it’s something they will at least have to try. That two-to-one deficit in marks is something that will change as the Blues settle into the Bolton era. This will mean a different role for Thomas, who started on the wing in this game, as he is suited to a more outside style where he does spread and accumulate uncontested marks. Anyone expecting Daisy’s DT:SC ratio to be anywhere near 65/101 in the home & away will be disappointed, as his career average is 81/83. As for Kerridge, wait until Carlton play a home game with a full strength squad to gauge his role before locking him in.

Also at the Blues, Nick Graham (93/111) stamped his authority on a best 22 spot at the Blues with 2.1 from 18 touches. He almost seems like an upgrade on a HFF for the traded Tom Bell, at least from a goalscoring point of view. He is the sort of player who could thrive in a Clarkson-type system, running in between zones to be a viable target inside 50 for Carlton midfielders who lower their eyes. His tally of five marks in this game was bettered in blue only by Levi Casboult (58/70). Don’t expect him to get anywhere near as much midfield time as in this game, of course, but he could be a decent POD stepping stone in salary cap formats.

On the Hawks side, of course Jordan Lewis (123/123) and Sam Mitchell (109/139) did what they liked in a largely tag-free and bruise-free affair. Lewis is underrepresented in salary cap teams at this stage, with only 4% ownership in AFL Fantasy. Given durability questions with other premium captaincy options like Nat Fyfe, Gary Ablett jnr and Tom Rockliff, that should be higher for a veteran who hasn’t even turned 30 yet. Mitchell is more of an SC specialist, and is a perfectly viable option there.

The Hawks rested James Frawley which meant playing both Kaiden Brand (29/30) and Kurt Heatherley (25/38) as key position defenders. One of those players will come in to replace the retired Brian Lake at full back in 2016, that much is clear. Dismiss any talk of Josh Gibson (99/142) playing key position, as he just earned All-Australian honours for his 2015 role of small defender zoning off in the tradition of Nick Maxwell and the club will want to keep him there. TOG numbers of 41% and 42% respectively for Brand and Heatherley indicate that the fantasy scores for this particular game must be gauged carefully. We will get one or two more chances to take a look at these two, who loom large as bench defender options who will accumulate quietly and provide a warm body if disaster strikes in your starting back six.

The big story for fantasy from the Hawks, though, was Daniel Howe (111/95), who seems like he will slot into the HBF spot recently vacated by the departing Matt Suckling with ease. A K:HB ration of 17:6 is very pleasing, as was the game high 12 marks. His high ratio of uncontested possessions at 17:6 and slightly lower disposal efficiency at 73% indicate he may not be quite as lucrative in SC, but for basic scoring formats he is very much in the frame for your starting squad, as he will most likely be named in round 1. For those hoping Brendan Whitecross (51/51) would take Suckers’ spot, it appears his role is more half forward than half back, though he did float about a bit. If it comes down to a positional battle between these two, Howe would have to be well in front at the moment.

Finally, for those watching to see which of Jack Fitzpatrick (50/62), Tim O’Brien (52/58) and James Sicily (52/54) would put his hand up for the full forward spot opening up in the wake of Jarryd Roughead‘s long term injury, there was no firm resolution. I think Fitzpatrick is not suited to that role, and would be behind Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar in the ruck/forward depth chart. His kicking for goal last night is one of several concerns I have, the other being his positioning. If the spot is a competition between O’Brien and Sicily, personally I would give the nod to O’Brien due to his extra 6cm of height, but it would be understandable if Clarkson favours Sicily’s extra mobility.

That’s enough for today. Hope to write another one for tomorrow.

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