GWS changing things up, Carlton's midfield dominance and Jai Newcombe

Carlton are legit and their midfield set ups are damaging, Jai Newcombe has arrived and what can we expect from GWS and their new coach?

Lachie Neale, Jake Bowey

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What to expect from GWS?

Leon Cameron’s gone. Mark McVeigh is in. Change was necessary, as I hinted in my piece here. I just didn’t expect it to come nine rounds in.

Nevertheless, there was a clear shift in how GWS played on the weekend. Granted, performances against West Coast have to come with an asterisk. The Eagles are decimated with injuries and their reliable veterans are fading into retirement. But GWS finally played with some dare and risk. The results were impressive - 87 points at half time, the second highest first half score in the teams history.

So take the below with a grain of salt, but GWS made some clear alterations offensively. They played keeping offs with West Coast, controlling possession of the ball via marks (121 marks - average 92 for 2022).

An increased risk tolerance out of the back half was evident. There was less hesitancy with their ball movement and they took calculated risks when they presented. This was a big pain point under Cameron in 2022. McVeigh would have identified how restrictions in GWS’s scoring potential due to the team ranking last for defensive half scoring chains. Halfway through the 3rd quarter, they had scored 36 points from defensive half chains which is an impressive clip.

Some passages were breath taking to watch:

I have no doubt GWS will continue to pursue this game style. They have too much top end talent at each line to play the dour, slow football we've seen in 2022 in general play. It goes without saying - it won’t be easy against better sides. I expect the intent to remain - they'll be challenged on their execution against the better sides in the AFL, who will make them pay on turnover.

GWS are the team to watch in the second half of 2022. Don't be surprised if they eventually rise into finals calculations.

Carlton’s midfield dominance

For those that aren’t believers, it’s time. I know… it’s hard. Even if it pains you to admit it.

Carlton are legit.

They have made important inroads both defensively and offensively under Voss. We detailed the defensive philosophy that Voss has instilled into Carlton early days. The performance against the Swans proved their method stands up against top teams. They defended the corridor with discipline and hedged Sydney into playing a boundary line game, something that suits Carlton. Carlton use the boundary line to attack more than any other club in the AFL.

A common theme in Carlton’s season is that they are taking maximum advantage of their momentum. Carlton were devastating in the second quarter as Sydney had no answer, kicking 6 goals in a row.

What was clear during this purple patch was how on top Carlton’s midfield were and the depth of contested possession ball winners they have going through there.

The group of Cripps, Walsh, Hewett, Cerra and Kennedy all pride themselves on being able to win their own footy. Each player averages over 25 disposals but amazingly also averages 10+ contested possessions a game. The only other midfield group that averages the 10+ CP a game is the Western Bulldogs (Macrae, Liberatore, Dunkley, Bont, Smith).

To have that depth of contested ball winners means they continually put pressure on opposition teams. If opposition teams don't bat deep with their midfield or there is a weakness on the inside, Carlton makes you pay.

They dominated Sydney in this period, winning clearance and owning the game post clearance. They won won the contested possession count +29.

One thing stood out to me in their second quarter blitz:

Carlton’s strategy of coming through the back of centre clearances to launch forward. Carlton rank 1st for centre clearance wins in the AFL and were dominant with the momentum in the second.

The following clips were all in the second quarter, where they won the clearance battle loading up from the back of a stoppage. Notice how involved De Koning gets in a couple of these post clearance - he's developing nicely.

This combined with Voss’s strategy of using Walsh as a high half forward who sprints into the centre bounce (forcing the high defender to respect Walsh and go with him, creating space in their forward 50) generated high value inside 50 entries for Carlton that Sydney couldn’t defend.

At one point in the second quarter, Carlton recorded ten inside 50’s for six goals.

Carlton will regress at some point. They have to. Their odd forward line make up currently works because the ball gets to ground consistently and a number of their smalls are willing to compete in the air. Yet, it doesn't feel sustainable. Opposition teams will likely start to double team Curnow and force Carlton to find goals from other avenues.

Regardless, Carlton have made me a believer. Their midfield is easily top 3 and the variety of inside/outside balance will be important come finals. That alone gives them a legitimate chance.

Jai Newcombe’s arrived

Newcombe has received his plaudits in the AFL media this week and deservedly so. His improvement this year has been drastic:

23 disposals (+12), 5 marks (+2), 4 tackles (-2), 4 clearances (+2) and 4 inside 50’s (+3)

This is due to an expansion in his role (increased CBA’s and more midfield minutes) and his added impact on the outside of the contest.

On the surface, Newcombe’s strengths are evident. He’s a big midfielder with size (85 kg) who can win his own ball in the contest and can break tackles when he gets on the move. He is a very willing tackler and tackles to hurt. He consistently creates live ball turnovers for Hawthorn due to his ferociousness with his tackling.

There's subtlety in Newcombe’s game that you don't necessarily notice at first glance. It shocked me looking at the statistics that Newcombe actually wins far uncontested possessions then contested (68%). It’s what has allowed him to have such a strong impact on games. It’s the use of his legs to break the lines out of congested areas and generate damaging forward momentum for Hawthorn.

Newcombe ranks 13th in the AFL for metres gained (498 MG) per game. He showed little of this in 2021 (148 MG).

Mitchell clearly rates Newcombe. As the Box Hill head coach, he would have been a driving force behind picking up Newcombe in the mid season draft last year. He’s quickly becoming Hawthorn’s most damaging midfielder. It’s early days but Hawthorn may have just unearthed a future star from nowhere.

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