AFL Round-Up: Essendon stays alive, but Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle have kicked away

Some timely wins have shaken up the race for the finals, but they’re all left chasing the breakaway group of three in 2022.

Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.

The big three pull away

The league’s three best teams all won again this weekend, with a combined average winning margin of a little over 10 goals. At the moment, there’s no doubt there’s a gap between Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle and the rest.

The wins for Brisbane and Fremantle were expected but very professional. Up against the two worst teams in the league in West Coast and North Melbourne, it was important that the job was thoroughly done and the percentage boost was claimed.

Brisbane weren’t expected to be challenged by West Coast, and so it proved.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

But what is now routine for Brisbane is still utterly thrilling for Fremantle. The Dockers fans who kitted up for a rare Friday night outing are still just getting used to this, and are maybe a little fearful that it could all end just as quickly as it has started.

They shouldn’t worry. Freo now have the best percentage in the AFL, thanks largely to the most stingy defense in the league. That’s sustainable, and as the attack continues to improve the blend just gets better.

Jye Amiss jumps and pumps a fist while teammates run towards him
Jye Amiss made a very promising debut on a great night for Fremantle.(Getty Images: Daniel Carson)

The story was a little different for Melbourne who, it should be stressed, are another level above the Lions and Dockers again.

The Dees were pushed by a Saints team that brought impressive physicality and commitment in what was close to their most impressive performance of the year.

Kysaiah Pickett smiles and punches the air after a goal
Kysaiah Pickett played an outrageous first quarter to set up the day for Melbourne.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

And yet Melbourne never really looked like losing the game at any point. Logic suggests they’ll have to drop one at some point, but right now it’s genuinely very hard to imagine how that might happen.

All smiles for Essendon

The heat on the Bombers before Saturday night’s game against Hawthorn was justified. For a team at this stage of its development, and with so much of its talent in a good age bracket, to be keeping company with the likes of North and West Coast was unacceptable.

One win doesn’t undo all that has come before it, and finals are still likely to remain out of reach in 2022, but for the Dons this game could mean so much.

Zach Merrett pumps his fists as he celebrates an Essendon AFL goal.
Essendon caught fire in the last quarter to storm home against Hawthorn.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Dylan Burns)

That last-quarter onslaught was everything that can be good about Essendon. When a bit of physicality was added to what is a very polished team, the sky became the limit.

Speaking of polish, what about Nic Martin? Even after his blazing start in the league, most probably expected a regression by this stage. After all, why else would so many clubs have overlooked him?

A Hawthorn AFL player pushes against an Essendon opponent as they wait to contest the ball.
Sam Draper led the way for Essendon in the physicality stakes.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Dylan Burns)

The answer to that may be that his gifts aren’t immediately obvious in a training environment. It’s in game, with the action whizzing around him, that his now-obvious ability to read the play and make good decisions comes to the fore.

He’s a natural footballer, one who is suddenly key to what remains a promising future for Essendon.

Around the grounds

It was a week for morale-boosting wins across the board. The Gold Coast Suns have been closer than most would have realized this year, and outplayed Sydney from start to finish. Getting the swagger back into Izak Rankine played a big part in that dominance too.

Port Adelaide claimed the most important win of their season so far. Getting a read on the Bulldogs is an impossible task, but the port forwards certainly held sway. Charlie Dixon looms.

A large group of Richmond players gather around Dustin Martin to congratulate him
The Tigers rushed to Dustin Martin’s side after he kicked his first upon his return.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

How much does Dustin Martin’s return impact Richmond’s prospects in 2022? It was a solid return to action for Dusty, though in his terms “solid” means 23 disposals and two goals. Attacking is not Richmond’s issue, but conceding 86 points even in victory might be cause for concern.

Big trouble abounds for GWS. There was hope the Adelaide win was a corner turned, but that showing against Geelong was as dispiriting as anything they’ve put forward this year.

Jeremy Cameron holds his hand in the air while Nick Hayes puts his hands on his head
Jeremy Cameron added insult to injury by making light work of his old club.(Getty Images: Mark Metcalfe)

the Blues now sit alone in fourth place, and on the balance of the season so far that feels about right. Few teams in the league can match the power of a rampaging Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow. Carlton are as entertaining as footy comes right now.

In the clubhouse

Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.

We talked about Nick Martin earlier, and at this stage he ought to be considered ahead of Josh Rachele and Jai Newcombe as the Rising Star front-runner.

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It’s interesting that two of those names are related selections, overlooked in drafts gone by. The non-traditional pathways have never been more fruitful.

Last week we talked about Brodie Smith’s mark and the concussion he suffered as a result of it. Clearly the optics of that concerned the AFL, as somehow Smith’s wasn’t included in the three official nominees for mark of the week.

Luckily for the league, Smith’s is now the second best grab of the year so far. Cam Zurhaar’s mark against Fremantle has so much of what we look for in a hanger, and will be tough to beat.

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Picking a goal of the week is tough, as there were no real standouts. We’re going to give it to Brennan Coxwho put the finishing touches on a fantastic Freo team effort.

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Ed Langdon’s still remains the goal to beat by our measure.

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