A masterclass from Mason Cox sharpens Melbourne’s fears as a returning Fremantle champion raises the Dockers ceiling once again.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.
The many strands from a classic on Queen’s Day
Where do you start with Monday’s game? One of the best of the season, those three hours at the MCG offered more storylines and questions than nearly others this year.
It’s easiest to start with Melbourne, which now officially has a losing streak. The Dees dropping three games all year felt almost impossible a month ago, so for the reigning champions to have lost three is quite an alarming turn of events.
Coupled with what can only be considered turmoil off the field, the demons are at a crossroads. This moment right now is either the death of a dynasty or a recalibration point.
It is suddenly very difficult to choose which path they will take.
As for Collingwood, their entire season is building up to a day like this. Strong performances didn’t always lead to positive results in the opening month or two, but they are now getting a reward for what is clearly top-eight worthy play.
They are one of, if not the best pressure and tackling teams in the league. Their half-back line is an electric offensive force, supported by the constant presence of Jeremy Howe, Darcy Moore and co.
The combination of heat on the coal front and a willingness to counterattack at any cost is hard to beat. Only their own inaccuracy threatened to thwart them against Melbourne.
The story around Collingwood is no longer whether they are good enough to play finals, but how high they can finish at eight. There is now a top three in the league and then at least six teams in a group below that, with the Pies rightfully being one.
And finally, a word to Mason Cox.
There’s something transcendent about a Mason Cox Game, and he’s probably produced three or four in his unique career so far. The lift he gives his teammates and supporters when it all goes his way is palpable and worth far more than points or goals.
Cox played the best game of his career against Melbourne on Monday. Better than the 2018 qualifying round against Richmond. Better than the 2020 final in Perth.
When Cox is like this, it’s a shared experience for anyone who likes footy. He is a confusing player, but he alone has brought more joy to football fans than most.
The simple solution to the Fyfe riddle
Saturday proved to be both a success and a failure for the “Throw Nat Fyfe Forward” movement, which has actually been developing for a number of years despite the recent tidal wave.
The thought that this version of Fyfe Freo could serve best in the front line came well before his back injury, from the recognition that the Dockers’ fledgling midfield group were about to take over but their front line lacked a focal point. .
It wasn’t an idea Fyfe wanted to entertain herself in the preseason, but things have changed quickly and dramatically for our yard friends in Freo. Those young mids have taken the lead and haven’t looked back, and a willing group of small attackers around Rory Lobb has proven to be a capable mix.
Which left many wondering where Fyfe would fit before this weekend. We shouldn’t have been surprised by the answer.
Nat Fyfe fits wherever he wants.
When he played forward, he had an appeal that freed up space for teammates. And despite only spending half his time in the guts, no Docker managed to get more clearances than the two-time Brownlow man.
All this with the rust from a long absence still remarkably solid. Fyfe doesn’t have to be the last piece or icing on the cake, he can just be himself, able to play multiple roles and excel in each of them.
Fyfe may one day establish himself as a more permanent forward, but that day has not yet arrived. Built on such a solid foundation, that kind of flexibility will prove invaluable to a Freo side now waiting to discover if they’re ready for that next step in September.
Around the site
The Bombers’ pre-game celebrations on Friday night were quite something. Essendon’s players reacted to the emotion of the evening, but Carlton successfully doused the flames and won with solid structure and class† As good teams should.
Jason Horne-Francis’s situation is now getting a little worrisome for North† He is clearly frustrated with the way things are going for him and the team, and the contract situation is worrying, but he’s not playing well either. A farewell and suspension might offer a good chance to sit down with the club and sort things out.
Port Adelaide wasn’t terrible at all against Richmond but their 0-5 start meant they had no margin for error for the rest of the season and a few setbacks would be necessary on the flight home. They’re too far back now.
The Lions stumbled a bit to the bye and just had to find a way to beat St Kilda on Saturday night. It was pretty rough, but it was good enough. They now look beautiful on the ladder at the bend.
In the clubhouse
Here we take stock of who leads the race for the season’s individual prizes.
Have seen two wonderful weeks at the trot Nick Daicos push forward in the race for the Rising Star, for people like Nic Martin, Jai Newcombe and Sam De Koning†
And yet Daicos is still capable of more creatively and offensively, and may need to show that towards the end of the season to keep the stiff competition behind him.
Connor Rozee’s fresh feet and neat finish deserve him the goal of the week, but for now Ed Langdon remains the leader in the GOTY race.
And in another pretty lean week for big numbers, Curtis Taylor may have the sign of the week – his teammate Cam Zurhaar’s grabbing in Perth is still the one to beat.