We have the game covered.

Can three much-loved veterans finish with a final fairytale?


(Left to right) Bob Murphy, Jobe Watson, Nick Riewoldt: Can they drag their clubs into finals and shake things up in September? Photos: GETTY IMAGES

Can three much-loved veterans finish with a final fairytale?

Luke Michael    

When Bob Murphy joined the ever-growing list of champions set to retire at the end of this season, he admitted there would be a “hole in the heart” if he didn’t finish as a premiership player.

Despite experiencing the joy of witnessing the Bulldogs’ drought-breaking premiership in 2016, he knows his name will not be among the 22 immortals who played on that incredible day.

Standing on the dais, with one hand on the premiership cup, was all the more heartbreaking for this loyal servant of the club.

Another man who knows all too well about premiership heartbreak is Nick Riewoldt. He has played in three unsuccessful grand finals and finds himself retiring just as the Saints look on an upward curve again.

Jobe Watson conversely, has never experienced much finals success, but this season the Bombers have shown they have the talent to match it with the very best.

The good news for these three champions is they can still end up as premiership heroes. The bad news is they may not even play finals.

Heading into round 22, their clubs sit on the fringes of the top eight, occupying ninth to eleventh position on the AFL ladder.

But do these players have anything left in the tank? Do they still have it in them to drag their club into finals and possibly shake things up in September?

BOB MURPHY

Murphy seems to have lost little of his trademark dash, which is vital given the club’s stagnation in recent months. The captain’s yearning for a flag should inspire his troops, and belief should not be an issue for the players, given the Dogs’ thrilling feats of last September.

But a similar run this season looks increasingly unlikely. Put simply, the Bulldogs have a chronic inability to score.

Jake Stringer and Tory Dickson have been hampered by poor form and injuries, Jack Redpath keeps getting suspended and Tom Boyd has unfortunately been missing since round 13 to deal with mental health issues.

After 20 games, the club’s leading goal kicker is Stringer on 24 goals – which sadly sums up the Dogs’ lack of scoring prowess. They also are plagued by the worst accuracy in the competition, a miserable 42.5%.

Murphy’s own form has actually been quite good, averaging 21 disposals a game this season. His continued ability to turn a game was highlighted by his silky goal against the Giants last week.

But even with his leadership and versatility up forward this season, it would take a brave person to predict that lightening will strike twice and the Dogs can muster another September fairy tale.

They finish the season with clashes against Port Adelaide in Ballarat, and Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium (which will be fellow champion Luke Hodge’s farewell game). Given their poor percentage, they will need to win both to play finals, and they are both 50/50 games.

Low on form and with most writing them off this season, it will be up to Murphy to inspire the Dogs for another push towards September glory.

NICK RIEWOLDT

Riewoldt’s form has steady rather than spectacular – which is quite emblematic of the Saints as a whole this season. He has been used in a number of different roles, including an impressive stint as a defensive forward in round 16, when he curtailed Alex Rance and helped the Saints blow away Richmond.

But as with all older players, the rigours of the game have caught up to him physically, as evidenced by his reduced flexibility this year. Still, he has averaged 17 disposals a game, while kicking 26 goals in 2017 – which means he hasn’t fallen off the cliff by any means.

In fact, he remains one of the Saints most crucial players heading into the home stretch of the regular season. It doesn’t look likely to extend into September unfortunately, given St Kilda is a game outside the top eight with a poor percentage.

Making finals would require the Saints winning their final two games, including a tough round 23 clash with Richmond at the MCG, and hoping other results fall their way. Another 67-point drubbing of the Tigers to mirror their last clash would certainly help their cause.

But perhaps the Saints’ champion can pull out one last bit of Riewoldt magic, to will his team into finals. Anything less than a finals finish would be an ill-befitting end to Riewoldt’s illustrious career.

JOBE WATSON

No-one can blame Jobe Watson for ageing a little bit quicker than other champions, given the well-documented turmoil he has endured in recent seasons. But while Murphy and Riewoldt are still playing quality footy in their mid-30s, Watson’s form has dropped off dramatically, leading to his retirement announcement at 32.

He is still winning plenty of his own ball, averaging a healthy 24 disposals a game this season, but the quality of ball use and decision making is no longer there.

In recent weeks, it is arguable whether he is even in Essendon’s best 22. His last three games have yielded an average of 16 disposals, while he has turned the ball over on numerous occasions.

As for the Bombers themselves, they have a decent chance of making finals, with a soft run home and a healthy percentage. They should account for Gold Coast and Fremantle to end the season, but they still remain a game behind the Dogs and Eagles on the ladder.

If those sides above them stumble, though, Essendon will make their first finals appearance since 2014. Given Essendon’s scoring power and talent, they seem better placed than the Bulldogs or Saints to make a run at finals this season.

It seems Jobe Watson doesn’t have much more in the tank left to give, but there’s nothing like the sniff of a premiership to re-energise a tired veteran.

Indeed, all three of these champions have the experience and determination to create something special out of their career finales.

Given the twists and turns of season 2017, a premiership farewell for one of these champions would not be entirely surprising. And it certainly would be thoroughly deserved.

Leave a Reply

*