The mid-week review: Round 22

What got us talking: Ross’ resting plans

Ross Lyon is no stranger to doing whatever it takes to make it to that last Saturday in September.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Lyon formally asked the AFL if he could rest 11 key players this weekend.

After all, Fremantle has first place locked in. It doesn’t matter what happens this weekend: the Dockers will win the minor premiership and will have a home qualifying final.

This intention to bring a B-grade side for the match against Port won’t be a first for the Dockers coach either.

Only two years ago, Lyon rested 11 players in the last round of the season. Third-placed Fremantle had to travel to Etihad Stadium to play sixteenth-placed St Kilda, which saw the Dockers go down by 71 points.

And then in the qualifying final the next week, Lyon brought back 10 of the 12 players who had been omitted the round before.

It proved to be an act of genius. The Dockers travelled down to Geelong’s Simonds Stadium as underdogs and defeated the Cats by 15 points.

The Dockers went on to play in a Grand Final, a first for the club. Although they did lose the premiership to Hawthorn, Lyon’s decision in the last round of the season proved to be an effective one.

But the AFL didn’t like the look of the whole situation.

In October 2013, the AFL Commission altered the integrity rules to prevent clubs from resting a large group of players to improve their finals draw.

And yet the AFL has approved Lyon’s decision.

“Under the AFL Rules, Fremantle is entitled to consider the management of injury and fatigue for its players before the upcoming Toyota AFL Finals series,” an AFL statement said.

And why should they kick up a fuss? The AFL is right in believing Fremantle is “fully complying within the rules”.

Lyon’s decision will have no influence on any ladder positions and subsequent finals matches. The top eight has already been locked in, while a result in favour of Fremantle or Port will not change anything: the game is effectively a dead rubber.

Lyon was also upfront about his plans. He asked the AFL first and he also informed the public of his intentions. As soon as he was transparent, the secretive and criticised notion of ‘tanking’ did not apply.

Ultimately, it is Ross Lyon’s role as a senior coach to make sure his team is in the best possible condition to win a premiership. If he believes resting key players will give him the best opportunity to go deep into finals, then he has every right to do so.

This practice of top-placed teams resting their best side in the last round when there’s nothing at stake has been happening for years. It’s actually refreshing to have a coach be open and honest about it for once.

And, as Ross Lyon said himself, “there will be people ready to criticise if it doesn’t go our way and there’ll be lots of bouquets if it does”.

It could yet prove to be a wasted effort. But just remember: it has worked in the past, so why can’t it work again?

What we learnt from round 22

– Could Adelaide win it from outside the four?

The Crows eight-goal-to-nil opening term was outstanding and left West Coast shocked. While the Eagles did fight back, Adelaide proved just too strong and raised questions about the Crows’ claim as potential premiership contenders, An Adelaide side has won a flag from outside the top four before: could 2015 be the year it happens again?

– The Bulldogs’ bite is bigger than their bark

North was trampled in the second half by the impressive Bulldogs. Possible all-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein was once again dominant around the ground, but the Dogs nullified his positive hitout differential to win clearances 44-35. The Bulldogs have now gained that mental edge over their possible elimination final opponents.

– Season’s end couldn’t come sooner

Brisbane, Carlton, St Kilda and Melbourne all suffered demoralising losses on the weekend. Effort is dwindling down the bottom of the ladder and there are a lot of players who are thinking of their end of season trips rather than match day, which is disappointing all round.

What we can expect from round 23

– Sending off some favourite sons

Like any year, there will be a few retirees playing their final matches in the last round. Geelong will honour a host of veterans in their match against Adelaide while Carlton’s Andrew Carrazzo will also finish up his AFL career. The supporters and clubs will do their best end these players’ careers on a respectful note.

– North Melbourne vs. Richmond

This is the game with the most influence on the finals race. If Richmond loses, they’ll most likely be traveling to Adelaide to play the in-form Crows: definitely not ideal. Expect the Tigers to throw everything at North and come away with a win for that home elimination final.

– Dead rubbers and large losses

Sunday’s fixture will have absolutely no influence on the finals race, with only pride at stake. Meanwhile, a lopsided Saturday fixture will only see more grief for the Blues, Saints, Lions and Suns. We’ll have to wait one more week for hopefully some close and competitive footy.

(First published on Bound For Glory News on the 2nd September 2015)

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