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RoCo’s Wrap: Team trumps talent on both sides of town

Let’s dance! Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt and Dan Butler celebrate the final siren while the Giants’ Harry Perryman ponders another loss. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

RoCo’s Wrap: Team trumps talent on both sides of town

The best 22 or the 22 best? If you wanted a case study for a philosophical debate about team versus talent, Sunday’s Richmond-GWS clash was the perfect vehicle.

It was also one which ultimately delivered a pretty emphatic verdict, too. And a finding as disturbing for the Giants as it was encouraging for the Tigers.

And if that was disturbing, what would you call what happened to West Coast across town at Etihad Stadium only a couple of hours later? Here again was a case of team versus talent, and the latter emerging with tail between legs.

Collingwood had no Scott Pendlebury, in the Pies’ current circumstances a disastrous blow. The Pies dug in manfully, won those hard-nosed indicators, yet still trailed by four goals five minutes into the final term.

At that point, West Coast not only had more talent, and more motivation, a spot in the top eight theirs for the taking, but a more than healthy lead. And not for the first time this season, the Eagles still blew it, in the finish out-desired by a less capable but more committed and cohesive opponent.

Neither GWS nor West Coast can have the slightest complaint should they end up missing out on the top four and top eight respectively. Because both have lost several games this year talent dictated they shouldn’t have.

It would be hard to find a person in the football world who wouldn’t agree that GWS has by some margin the most talented list in the AFL. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to argue that the Giants as a result have the best team in the competition, even by the most fundamental measure.

Sunday’s 19-point loss to Richmond means GWS has now won just one of its last six games, and that sole success against the bottom team of the ladder.

Sure, injuries have played havoc with the line-up all season. But they’re not the sole reason the Giants are proving to be far from the dominant force many tipped when they fell just a goal short of a grand final spot last year.

The current injury list is still long. But of the 13 casualties officially listed during the week, only four players – Jeremy Cameron, Stephen Coniglio, Brett Deledio and Ryan Griffen – would be walk-up starts in the Giants’ best 22.

And after Coniglio and Deledio’s games in the NEAFL on Saturday, and with Cameron expected back for the round 19 game against Fremantle, that may be just one by next week. The Giants haven’t had their best line-up on the park. But selection hasn’t been a merry-go-round, either. In fact, only five teams have used fewer players thus far than the Giants’ 35.

What are the issues, then? Well, opponents have certainly privately held the view that Leon Cameron’s team might be short of a few “role players”, and can be a bit too individualistic at times. That’s not as harsh a call as “selfish” or “arrogant”, terms which understandably make the Giants bristle.

But it is an antonym of “co-operative”. And that is something the Tigers were far better at than GWS after quarter-time at the MCG, significantly, when the turn in the weather made that need even more pressing.

At quarter-time, when GWS led by 20 points and was doing it on the bit, the Giants had doubled Richmond for clearance wins, had racked up a dozen more contested possessions, led the tackle count and had had a mammoth 19 inside 50 entries to just seven.

As the rain descended and the Tigers got on top over the next two terms, it was they who led the hard ball gets, had a dozen more tackles despite winning more of the ball, and went inside 50 on 42 occasions to only 15. Little wonder they slammed on eight goals to only one.

Team? It’s hard to argue Toby Greene was doing much for his when he indulged another silly little burst of temper, a jumper punch on Alex Rance likely to earn him another week, if not two, on the sidelines courtesy of the MRP. They’re exactly the sort of petulant acts that have people doubting the team ethic of the Giants.

So what of the Tigers? Like many, I still find it hard to see them as a potential premier. Perhaps, though, that’s investing too much stock in sheer talent. Because as a combination which gets the best out of themselves, they have few peers.

Sure, the big guns Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin and Alex Rance again led the way. But a team which structurally still has its weaknesses, the lack of tall support for Jack Riewoldt the most glaring example, continues to find a way.

It’s the seemingly little things that help the Tigers get over the line, the forward pressure of the likes of Dan Butler and Jason Castagna, the tackling of Kane Lambert, Nick Vlastuin and Shaun Grigg, the unrefined but whole-hearted efforts of players like ruckman Toby Nankervis.

The result is a hard-earned top-four spot. And with only one of their remaining five games against a fellow top-eight team, the Tigers are every chance of hanging on to it, too.

The ideal place to be, obviously, is to have the talent and the team. And right now, that’s as good reason as any to fancy either Sydney or Adelaide for flag honours.

The Swans’ credentials on the “team” score need little re-stating. That’s been an inherent part of Sydney’s culture for more than two decades now. These days, the talent speaks for itself, too. Franklin. Kennedy. Hannebery. Parker.

No side has even made finals after a 0-6 start, let alone win a flag. But who’d seriously argue they can’t create history after 10 wins from their last 11 games?

Adelaide? I reckon the Crows have been getting a bum rap most of the season. Like just about everyone this year, they too have had a couple of shockers.

But they’ve also played the best football of any team. And their more recent wins, Friday night’s effort against Geelong the latest example, have been just as full of grit as they have glamour.

The Crows are currently No.1 in the AFL for contested possession, third for clearances, sixth for tackles, hardly the rankings of a flighty side that disappears when the going gets tough.

Rory Sloane has worn considerable flack about not being able to cope with a tag in 2017. Against the Cats, he turned the tables individually on Scott Selwood, beat Mark Blicavs for good measure, and less than a week after being knocked into the middle of next week, played a blinder.

Importantly, he also had plenty of support from the somehow still-underrated Crouch brothers, Richard Douglas and Rory Atkins. Their like, plus the contributions of stalwarts like Luke Brown or Andy Otten, will go a long way to determining if Adelaide is to land a first flag in just on two decades.

Right now, I like their chances. The talent pool, via names like Betts, Walker, Sloane, Laird, Lever, Jacobs and Lynch, is considerable. The Crows have a strong team ethic, the same type Richmond and Collingwood displayed yesterday. And the combination of both those attributes could be a marriage made in premiership heaven.