Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions ahead of Round 18.
Which team currently outside the top four is the greatest flag threat?
Rohan Connolly: Can I say none? No? Well, as silly as this probably sounds given they currently sit in 12th spot on, I still think Richmond, if (and it's a massive if) it can scrape into the eight, would have top four teams far more worried than anyone else above it. Yes, it will take an enormous turnaround, but we know the Tigers' best is good enough. I'm not sure the best of any of the others from spots five to 11th on the ladder actually is.
Jake Michaels: Given what they've done over the past two weeks, it's hard to look past the Swans. Huge wins over the Eagles and Bulldogs have kept their top four hopes alive. With a relatively soft run home, they could very well earn the coveted double chance and then who knows? They just have so many match-winners who could take them deep into September, even if they'll be playing mostly on the road.
Matt Walsh: They're an honest side, Port Adelaide, in that they beat the sides below them, but can't quite get it done against the better sides. Remember, they were minor premiers last year and have some big names in line for finals returns (Robbie Gray and Orazio Fantasia among them), so they're a side you probably don't want to face in a cut-throat semifinal.
Jarryd Barca: To be the best you have to beat the best and if I was choosing between Port Adelaide (currently fifth) and Sydney (sixth), only one of those sides are proving their worth against the other top contenders... Seriously, how exciting are the Swans to watch!? Their win over the Dogs puts them right into the double chance mix, and even if they finish in the bottom half of the eight, no top four team would want to meet them in September.
What should the Tigers be doing this coming off-season?
RC: Regardless of my previous response, there's clearly some work to be done at Punt Road. But it's more about refreshing the list than game style or structural deficiencies. Five years of being at the top has seen the Tigers' list depth eroded via the trading out of capable senior players, the result that the players coming into the team to replace injured stars haven't been as seasoned, nor as capable. Richmond had two post No. 40 national draft picks last year. It's time to load up more on the future.
JM: Just the one thing: DON'T PANIC! Does anyone seriously think the Tigers can't rebound next year when they are back to full fitness? If you do, you're kidding yourself. The current squad is essentially the same team which has won back-to-back flags and there's no reason to panic and let go of experience in order to roll the dice on a rebuild. Other sides would kill to be in Richmond's position, even now, so make the most of it while you can and persist for at least another year.
MW: It's an interesting crossroads they find themselves at, isn't it? While Dusty still has a couple of good years in him, and Tom Lynch and Shai Bolton in their prime, do you just reload and go again? Or do you start extracting value out of older players to go to the draft and have another tilt with Lynch, Bolton and co. as veterans? I'm leaning towards hitting the draft again - they've had a magnificent run at the top and it can't last forever.
JB: Not a lot needs to change as they still have a decent spine when fully fit - think Noah Balta, Dylan Grimes, Toby Nankervis, Bolton, Dustin Martin and Lynch. They will enter the offseason and national draft with potentially four selections inside the top 30, which right now includes picks seven and 16, so a decision will need to be made on whether they use their strong draft hand to lure more experience from other clubs and potentially have another flag tilt, or hold onto their selections and get an injection of youth into the list - which is what I think they need before they risk falling off a cliff.
Who currently has the worst haircut in the league?
RC: No, I'm not going after Bailey Smith, a kid from my own stamping ground I've proudly dubbed "East Malvern's finest mullet". I am prepared to pot a teammate of his, though, Aaron Naughton. His flouncier, softer locks at the front and back inspire memories of mid-'80s synth pop band Wa Nee. And for those of us who lived through that terrible time in music, they are memories definitely not required.
JM: Surely it has to be young Sam Draper! That hair-do is beyond bad!
MW: There are so many great (read: bad) haircuts going around right now, it's hard to pick just one. Draper is a prime candidate, but Jake Waterman, Nat Fyfe, and Jack Sinclair are right up there. And Alex Pearce! He's adding a couple of kilos onto his frame with those magnificent long locks!
JB: There are some shockers, some beauties and some really odd choices, but let's pinpoint those that are channelling their inner 1980s with questionable mullets - Draper, Smith and Sinclair are sporting some absolute belters! Honourable mention to Western Bulldogs forward/samurai Josh Bruce.
What does Robert Harvey have to do to land the Collingwood coaching job in 2022?
RC: Keep winning. And even then, to be honest, I think he's still a long shot. I think the Pies see him as the clearest definition of "caretaker coach", and that they need someone with a bigger personality and profile (which I don't necessarily agree with). But if Collingwood does get on a roll, the supporters are energised by the improvement, and a public campaign to give him the job ensues, it will change the equation significantly.
JM: It does sound obvious but every win he can produce can only increase his chances of getting the nod. His relationship with the players will also be crucial. We know Nathan Buckley could be a polarising figure, but if the Pies players enjoy Harvey's style, and the wins continue to come in the final quarter of the year, people will start asking the question - why not Rob?
Footy's weird quirks we've accepted as normal
After Geelong coach Chris Scott tripped over a fan, the ESPN Footy Podcast team discusses what 'footyisms' would seem strange to people watching for the first time.
MW: This is a super tough question because I don't think Harvey will get the gig, even if Collingwood run into solid form in the back end. Unfortunately, where the list is at, they play a negative and somewhat grim style of footy, and unless he's able to harness an exciting brand of footy and avoid being blown out while doing so, it's going to be tough. They desperately need a more solid forward structure and the next generation of mids to come through, and that's not Harvey's fault, but I just don't think he's the guy.
JB: Nothing. He's been at the club for 10 years and it seems increasingly likely they will be looking external to fill the vacancy. What Harvey can do is show off in the next six weeks and attempt to prove himself for any top jobs that may arise in the near future. How can he do this? Encourage an exciting brand, get the best out of his players and cause some upsets against finals contenders to close out the season.