1. Ned McHenry
If you had to look for evidence of 'little man syndrome' and were asked to go to the AFL to do your research, you'd undoubtedly find what you're looking for in a Crows player by the name of Ned McHenry (#25). But we mean this in a good way! McHenry is great to watch. His aggression and intensity to attack the ball - whether at ground level or in the air is incredible. He plays at a pace that almost seems reckless given his size… but it works. He constantly beats bigger opponents to the ball.
McHenry also isn't afraid to fly for his size - showing quite a bit in the air.
McHenry is full of aggression to the opposition as well - constantly getting under the skin of opponents through his physicality and standing up for his teammates. Crow's players must love playing with McHenry because he always fly’s the flag for his club. It's clearly infectious as well - a big hit or attack on the football from McHenry gives incentive for his team mates to do the same. He never gives up on a chase either.
Coming into the league in his first year, McHenry was playing quite a lot for a player that really wasn't impacting the game. He was given midfield time in spurts whilst mostly playing a high half forward role (his most used position) but only averaged 11.5 (adjusted for shorter quarters) disposals a game. Putting the fact aside that the Crows were in rebuild mode last year, Nicks stuck with McHenry probably because of this intensity in the way he plays. It's a feature of his game that once he gets stronger will make him a more valuable player. The signs are there this year - his production has lifted (his disposal count is around the same but is impacted by his subbed out game) as he is getting more midfield minutes but is actually impacting the game more with ball in hand. He is showing signs of composure with his kicking.
It's hard sometimes to visually see it because of his manic play style but McHenry is a good decision maker with ball in hand. When he is given the time to assess his options and make a decision, he can make the right one.
This is a really good sign. McHenry sees Walker tick at the kicker at the last second and has the composure to pull his kick. Watching this live it looked like McHenry was going to blast away, either to goal or hoping Walker continued his lead out the back. Part of this was because of how fast McHenry was moving. But he composed himself and pulled his kick (even though it was a bit of a wobbler) which is all he had to do. It didn't have to be a lace out kick because Walker had his defender on the back foot beat. This is the kind of strong situational understanding within games which makes McHenry a much more complete player. The manic ferociousness to his game needed to be balanced with aspects of composure and we are starting to see it. We discussed Keays earlier this year as a young midfielder that has developed into a strong player for Adelaide and McHenry is slowing getting there as well. Adelaide have a number of exciting young pieces that are improving each week - their rebuild is going nicely.
2. Collingwood's unadventurous ball movement
We discussed Collingwood's lack of list depth earlier this year and don't really want to harp on too much about a team discussed in the media constantly but Collingwood's inability to score is a real talking point and a serious issue. They haven’t scored more than 60 points in half the games they’ve played this year! In what was arguably the most boring game of football this year – the Collingwood-Geelong game highlighted the issues surrounding Collingwood's inability to score.
The score conversion hurt and sometimes it's just one of those days when you kick 6.15. But when you're a team that on the weekend couldn't kick a goal until the 3rd quarter and are ranked 17th for scoring this year behind only the rebuilding Kangaroos – this is more than just a one off.
There are two aspects killing Collingwood. Firstly, their supply. They are ranked 17th for average Inside 50's per game at 47.7 a game. For perspective, the Bulldog's average 10 more inside 50's a game than Collingwood. Considering the Bulldogs score on 48.25% of their Inside 50's on average - it is quite a stark difference. The lack of I50's is partly due to their unadventurous ball movement - so many times they fail to understand when they are in a fast play scenario and have 1v1's further up the ground. There's a time to possess the football and allow your forwards to reset and there are other times where you have the defence out of position and it's time to go fast. Collingwood fail to recognise this difference all the time.
De Goey has one on one forwards ahead of the ball and is a long enough kick to take that on. This was in a game where Collingwood were playing defensive and protecting a lead – but they no longer had the lead! This was a rare opportunity to advance forward and get Port on the counter attack but they didn’t go. It wasn’t exactly a riskier option either - chipping it around and playing it conservatively eventually led to a turnover and goal for Port Adelaide. Another similar example by Daicos from the weekend...
Without having any inside knowledge - it seems from the outside looking in that Collingwood are over coached. Playing to a structure and following a method is important but sometimes players just need to play footy and play on instincts. This isn't happening right now.
The second issue hurting Collinwood’s scoring is their score conversion once they are inside 50. They aren't getting valuable shots on goal - on the weekend kicking a goal on only 13.6% of their I50's. They are 17th in the league for goal assists – much of their goals are unassisted. Some of this is a byproduct of the ball movement issue, some of it has to do with their cattle. They have little options forward of the ball barring Mihochek. De Goey has been wildly inconsistent and played more midfield time against the Cats, Elliot injured, Pendlebury playing forward (where he has little experience) whilst carrying an injury, McCreery who has been solid but inexperienced, Hoskin-Elliot out of form... the list goes on. There are little scoring avenues to goal. Injuries have hurt them this year - that's clear. But the same can be said for many other teams - like Richmond and Brisbane. The difference is those teams have a structure that is understood by each player so that when role players come in they know exactly what is expected of them.
Collingwood’s year has been an interesting one. They initially came into this year thinking they were a finals team before losing 5 in a row after Round 2. Their president resigned and they slowly tempered expectations on what phase the football club was in. It now looks like they are pivoting to a mini-rebuild, as they are starting to play youngsters. The Collingwood bashing in the media this week is somewhat unfair given that their average games played was 93 games – far less than Geelong in a game that they likely could have snatched if they had kicked straighter in the first half.
Even so, they look confused and unassured when moving the ball from defence to offence. They have a very interesting match up against the Crows this week – a team that is in the middle of a rebuild but has shown an ability to follow a gameplan (as evidenced in our column last week) but still plays with attacking flair and instinct exemplified by Ned McHenry. It’ll be interesting to see whether Collingwood forgo some of the defensive structure to generate more scoring opportunities.
3. Dyson Heppell in defence
Dyson Heppell's (#21) move back to defence where he first started his career is proving a master stroke by Ben Rutten and the Essendon coaching staff. When you watch Heppell, you see his leadership shine immediately. He is constantly pointing at players to move into the right position - navigating not only his back 6 but his midfield further up the ground.
His numbers as a backman are solid, averaging 25.1 disposals a game (7th among AFL defenders), 7.9 marks, 4 rebound 50's going at 82% DE (career best) and is 4th in the league for total intercepts. Much of the value of having Heppell in the backline for his own play is secondary to the real benefit - it has given opportunities to other teammates to play in the midfield. The young core of Merrett, McGrath and Parish are all now getting reps together in a midfield that is winning games. This is important because Essendon's next premiership contending team will have those 3 players in the prime of their careers - not Heppell. But Heppell is playing an important role.
He provides the drive forward from Essendon's defence, many a times linking up with hands or by foot to his midfielders up the ground. Heppell's not overly quick but he's a smart player - positioning himself in the right area's to either get used on the counter attack or set up defensively. He wins one on ones when he needs to.
Heppell will never be considered an elite player but he's solid in a range of areas. His kicking ranges from OK to good - he can still make costly turnovers at times with little pressure.
It's sometimes hit and miss with Heppell - nailing a kick by weighting it beautifully to a team mate or shanking it and missing it completely. Defensively it's much of the same. He's decent in one on one situations against opponents, strong enough to hold his own and courageous enough to come off his man and impact the contest.
Recently, he is making the right decision and defending strongly more often than not. In the below, he reads the play well. Heppell pushes back to help his teammate with a long 1v1 against Darling but then reads Ryan’s eyes and comes forward just in time to spoil the ball and follows up with a possession. Heppell isn’t done though, he realises it’s a likely turnover and locates a man – the larger Darling. The ball comes back in again and Heppell defends the long ball. It’s amazing commitment.
Praise must be given to Heppell - its commendable to give up your inside midfield role as a captain and swallow your pride and play a different position. Essendon has generated immeasurable value from the move though. It ensures Heppell is less exposed to injuries that have cruelled him recently by playing a less physically taxing role, whilst allowing him to use his smarts and leadership from the backline to set up his team behind the play. Sometimes the best leaders and players are the ones that can see the game in front of them and read the game from the back - directing and leading their team. Essendon in the midst of a mini rebuild but are now pushing for finals. It shows how much bringing in youth can change the life and exuberance of a team. Essendon are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the game and Heppell is a key reason why.
4. AFL Injury Lists
I thought I'd do a little deep dive into each teams injury list and see how it has impacted a team compared to the rest of the league. To measure this, I have calculated a players value to a team based on the AFL Player Ratings metric. This is based on how a team is currently impacted by injuries and gives us a bit of an idea as to how teams should perform moving forward based on their teams injuries. It must be noted that many players, like a Dangerfield or a Coniglio, have missed most of the year so there is an element of this graph that does detail how a team has been impacted throughout the year.
For those who require an explanation on how the AFL player ratings are calculated, a short summary is below:
AFL Player Ratings are measured where players accrue or lose points every time they are involved in a passage of play, and the score awarded to them each time they are in the play. A player's rating is determined by adding together his points tally based on a rolling window of the previous two seasons. Performances are measured using a system called Equity Ratings. The system determines where and how a player influences a contest and whether the player's effort then results in a positive result for his team. Each player involvement is tracked and the data is collated and measured by Champion Data who measure the AFL Player Ratings. For context sake, Dustin Martin has been the top player in the ratings for a long period of time up until recently, where Bontempelli has over taken him. Put simply, it's one of if not the best measure of how impactful players are in games both when they do and do not have the football.
I have used Adelaide's injury list as an example on how I've aggregated the impact of each teams injury list.
Here are the ranking of teams:
A few things that stuck out:
1. It's no surprise that teams with minor injury lists in Melbourne and Sydney are performing well this year. Both have had better years than was initially anticipated and a healthy injury list goes a long way to performance. Outside of Viney, Tomlinson and maybe Sam Reid, very few best 22 players are missing from either list. Melbourne's aggregate score is disproportionately impacted by the absence of Langdon - who will miss just the one week with concussion
2. Very impressive that two of the top teams in Brisbane and the Bulldogs have been able to win games without some of their best players - names including Neale, Berry, Gardiner, Dunkley, Treloar, Wood
3. Carlton are a team that have been underwhelming this year given the expectations on them at the start of the year. Going forward, there isn't too much much to blame on the injury front now that Martin has returned even with the loss of Fisher and McGovern. It must be noted that Curnow's rating is quite low given his absence from the game but it's clear he is quite important to Carlton's performance if and when he is healthy again
4. Collingwood's ranking is quite high and is largely impacted by 3 players which signifies their importance to the team - Grundy, Adams and Howe
5. Another team that has dropped significantly just over the weekend but was much higher prior to Round 11 was Richmond - who were bolstered by the returns from Cotchin, Bolton and Prestia. Richmond had a rating of 2,400 before the weekend and even topped the Giants as the team most impacted by injuries, which showed given the number of recent debutants. The win against the Giants will prove to be super important later in the year given the number of outs Richmond had in that game. The loss to Nankervis is another blow to the side's quest of a 3-peat
6. North Melbourne is another team whose aggregate rating has dropped in recent weeks due to the return of some of their players but has remained high for most of the year
I would love to hear your thoughts - how much do you believe your team has been impacted by injuries so far this year? This graph gives us a good idea on how teams should be performing as we get into the 2nd half of the year based on the availability of their best 22.
5. Quinton Narkle
Quinton Narkle (#19) is one to watch for the Geelong Cats. He’s been given more opportunity this year to play inside midfield and has shown great signs. Narkle is a bull – possessing both the strength and speed to brush tackles aside. It was quite an interesting comparison when Smith said Narkle was a 'bit like Dusty'. Obviously he wasn’t comparing him to the kind of output that a Brownlow Medal winner and 3 time North Smith medalist produces week to week but more so the type of qualities that Narkle possesses. You can kind of see it. Narkle breaks out of tackles and stoppages with ease – look at this passage of play and tell me it doesn't remind you a little of Dusty.
His decision making has also improved out of sight – here holding onto the ball just long enough to fool the Saints defender to the outside option before nailing the inside kick.
Narkle is what many at Geelong thought Nakia Cockatoo could be – an inside midfield bull with great burst out of stoppage. Narkle’s production has increased immensely this year – averaging 19.2 disposals (significant increase from last year even factoring in shorter quarters) and his disposal efficiency has increased. His ToG is worrying at only 60.3% (although impacted by a game where he was the medical sub) - which points to a broader issue potentially regarding Narkle's lack of a tank to run out games (his averages in the last two years hover from 57-64% which is incredibly low).
Regardless, he adds a different dynamic to a midfield of Selwood, Duncan, Menegola and Parfitt but has a lot of like for like qualities to the currently injured Dangerfield.
For a team that has been ridiculed for recruiting older type players and for having one of the more mature sides in the league – it must be rewarding for Cats fans to see a young talent like Narkle start to perform at AFL standard. It's quite surprising he's only played 6 games this year given he has shown both in the St Kilda game and on the weekend what he is capable of. 6 games is the most he has ever played in a season so that will clearly be beaten.
It may be a shock to say this but I believe Narkle will be important to a Cat’s premiership push. Because of his unique qualities it wouldn’t be farfetched to see Narkle step up in a big moment – by kicking a clutch goal or winning an important clearance when the Cats need it most. Narkle is one to watch for the rest of this year.
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