Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca had eight clearances between them. Caleb Serong had that on his own. Few of the stats in a game like this are going to make pretty reading for Melbourne, but they lost clearances 48 to 23, so you can look at Jake Lever being missing, Jacob Van Rooyen being out and Harrison Petty again being quiet.


But the loss began with not getting the ball.

They were beaten for run as Jordan Clark, Caleb Serong, Hayden Young, Sam Switkowski and Andrew Brayshaw sliced through Melbourne. Nat Fyfe was also influential.

The Demons were made to look slow, which happens when you don’t have the ball and are chasing. But there was also an absence of pressure on the Freo players who did have the ball.

Hold on, what about the other rule?

Footy was better this week with players knowing they had to get rid of the ball and not ruminate on options for disposal while being swung around in a pirouette. The AFL is commended for taking action, even mid-season, to correct the extravagant latitude players were given to dispose of the ball. Well done.

Now, can we talk about the push-in-the-back rule again?

Darcy Wilson and Mason Wood celebrate a St Kilda goal against West Coast.

Darcy Wilson and Mason Wood celebrate a St Kilda goal against West Coast.Credit: AFL Photos

Go to the West Coast-Saints game. I know, this is the only reason to do so, but go to the third quarter and the countdown clock will read 18 minutes. A ball comes in long and Jack Williams shoves Rohan Marshall in the back, takes the mark and is praised for it commentary for his wonderful timing.

David King is a good analyst of the game, but he described it thus,“it was really good body work. The timing was spot on … he puts two hands in the back and shifts him.”


This is not raised to criticise King but to point to the idea that pushing someone in the back to take a mark is so commonplace now that the method of doing it is drawing praise. Routinely commentators talk of edging players under the ball and nudging them out when it is a flat-out push in the back.

Williams missed his set shot at goal, the ball from the kick-in went straight to the other end of the ground to a contest and Mitch Owens shoved Jeremy McGovern in the back as he ran to reach the small pack. It sent him sprawling. McGovern might have added to the theatre of the moment, but Owens shoved him and got away with it. The ball spilt free and the Saints goaled. Why did Owens get away with it? Because it is a barely policed rule any more.

Sure there’s a chance the umpires in these instances were unsighted and missed the frees. OK, that sometimes happens, but these moments happen so often they can’t all just be unsighted by the four umpires on the field. It is a pattern.

We don’t want to go back to the hands -in-the-back rule, but it is not a binary choice. Like the commendable correction on holding the ball, the AFL should please now look at tweaking it’s interpretation of push-in-the-back. Just because your hands are on someone’s back doesn’t mean it’s a push, but if your hands are there, your arms extend and the player is pushed forward what else can you you call it?

Port and the Charlie Dixon line

Port Adelaide this week chose Jeremy Finlayson as their sub to play Carlton. Yes, they might have been troubled by Carlton’s tall players. More likely they were troubled by their own.

Charlie Dixon was not at his best for Port Adelaide against Carlton on Thursday and was subbed out of the game.

Charlie Dixon was not at his best for Port Adelaide against Carlton on Thursday and was subbed out of the game.Credit: AFL Photos

There are precious few positions on the field that Finlayson can play – key forward, a bit of ruck, maybe, at a push, key back. He does not present as a versatile choice as the sub. It is not totally unheard of for clubs to play a ruckman as sub. But this was a sub not done for versatility’s sake but in the knowledge he would probably have to come on and replace either Charlie Dixon or Todd Marshall.

They knew they were vulnerable. Charlie Dixon had been rested the previous week and was subbed out this week having had one disposal, a handball, and no marks. He looked terribly slow and cumbersome, unable to turn or get a ball below his knees. And he offered little threat in the air.


Either he is still carrying an injury of some sort, in which case he needs a longer rest than one week, or, at nearly 34 years old, he has hit the wall.

The problem for Port is that his fellow key forward Todd Marshall offered nothing either and has been down for much of the year. Marshall has kicked 18 goals this year, which looks OK. But half of his goals have come against the two bottom teams: five last week against North when he also took a credible 11 marks, and four goals in round two against the Tigers. In the other 10 games he has just nine goals; less than a goal a game.

When Finlayson came on he at least gave Port a more energetic target.

The Hawks are flying

Undersized forward Blake Hardwick making an aerial contest for the Hawks.

Undersized forward Blake Hardwick making an aerial contest for the Hawks.Credit: AFL Photos

Hawthorn at the halfway mark of the season sit above Brisbane on the ladder, and they look a more finals-worthy and finals-capable side than the Lions.

But for that last-minute brain fade against Port, and the last-gasp loss to Collingwood, they could even be in the eight.

Adelaide looked banged up and Hawthorn cut them up. The Hawks’ ball movement and dash and the way they link together by handball off half-back is as impressive as anyone.

Will Day is now deserving of being bracketed with the very best young midfielders in the league. He and James Sicily are now Hawthorn’s two best players. Without Mitch Lewis, Calsher Dear has not had a big impact, but nor has he looked out of his depth. It looks like he will become a valuable player.


And, don’t be distracted by the attributes Blake Hardwick lacks as a lead-up forward; the obvious one being height. He is very clever, tough, has strong hands and knows how to kick a goal. He is not as skilled or dynamic as Robbie Gray, nor as good overhead as Jamie Elliott, but he plays with that same style that makes him a really difficult, deceptive target up forward.

Keep up to date with the best AFL coverage in the country. Sign up for the Real Footy newsletter.