HPN’s Round 7 Preview, featuring a lot of GWS talk #AFL

Port Adelaide are keen to cause bounces, but awful at winning them

Usually a team with a dominant ruckman is somewhat keen to get them involved. With a dominant ruckman, a team can get first use of the ball and go back on the attack. So it stands to reason that the worst teams in terms of hitouts usually try to avoid the umpire’s intervention.

Since Matthew Lobbe was dropped and subsequently injured, Port have been horrific in the ruck. Going from winning hitouts at roughly a league average rate with Lobbe, they are now the worst in the competition with respect to hitout ratio:

2016 R6 AFL HOR

Dougal Howard, their first choice ruckman for the last two weeks, has been dropped this week, with part-timer Jackson Trengove leading a hodgepodge attack with Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff. So far this year those three have combined for 31 hitouts, or only eight more than Brisbane ruckman Stef Martin gets per game. One can only think that this will end badly if Port keeps tying up the ball.

Thing about Melbourne is, they always try and walk it in

As pointed out by several people during the week, Melbourne’s scoring shot conversion rate/accuracy is off the charts this year. Right now they convert 66% of all scoring shots, which would be the highest conversion rate this millennium, and by a considerable margin. According to the Footy Live app (which is free, and we aren’t affiliated with), they convert an extremely high number of goals from the goal square (hence the “walking it in”). Right now Fremantle have had 130 scoring shots (excluding rushed behinds), and Melbourne have had 129, yet Melbourne have scored 174 more points from those shots.

Melbourne have also shown the patience to pass up more borderline attempts at goal for chances that have a higher point return, even if they aren’t a direct shot themselves. They are also lucky in the fact that their two KPFs are relatively accurate shots at goal from distance (Hogan and Watts, despite the opinions of a certain former Melbourne forward of the 90s) and a creative forward that can manufacture goals from almost anywhere (Garlett).

Melbourne are seemingly sacrificing shots for certainties, a strategy that almost always can’t be upheld in the long run. It’ll be interesting to see if they can manage to do so this year, and if it leads to success.

Let’s talk about GWS

(Warning – This piece is long. Please skip if you don’t care about GWS and/or are Eddie McGuire. TL;DR potential here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. This is also Hot Take of the Week)

She deleted the tweet but Emma Quayle probably had the right of it here:

There’s been two elements to the hysterical overreaction to GWS being quite good now:

  • They had too many startup concessions
  • Their ability to get (market rate first-refusal) access to players from the Riverina area of NSW will perpetuate that dominance forever

We don’t think either of these are anywhere near the concern or injustice being claimed.

First, let’s look at the startup concessions through the lens of the team GWS fielded in their demolition of Hawthorn. This is the 22 players they fielded, and how they were acquired:

Patton, Jonathon 2011 draft, pick 1
Coniglio, Stephen 2011 draft, pick 2
Buntine, Matt 2011 draft, pick 5
Haynes, Nick 2011 draft, pick 7
Greene, Toby 2011 draft, pick 11
Cameron, Jeremy 2011 Prelisted 17 year old
Shiel, Dylan 2011 Prelisted 17 year old
Wilson, Nathan 2011 Prelisted 17 year old
Kennedy, Adam Preselected in 2011 (had previously nominated and gone undrafted)
Davis, Phil 2011 Uncontracted player signing
Palmer, Rhys 2011 Uncontracted player signing
Scully, Tom 2011 Uncontracted player signing
Ward, Callan 2011 Uncontracted player signing
Williams, Zac 2012 zone pick from Riverina (before zone picks gave away to Academy bidding)
Whitfield, Lachie 2012 draft, pick 1 (earned by sucking)
Kelly, Josh 2013 draft, pick 2 (obtained via Tyson trade who was Pick 3 in 2011)
Lobb, Rory 2013 draft, pick 29 (acquired via pick shuffling in Polec trade)
Steele, Jack 2014 draft, pick 24 (GWS Academy, from Canberra)
Johnson, Steve Traded for nothing (de facto DFA)
Patfull, Joel Traded for pick 21 (which was originally the Brennan compo pick to GC and changed hands several times)
Mumford, Shane Traded for pick 35
Shaw, Heath Traded for Taylor Adams (who was pick 13, 2011 draft)

GWS only have 17 first round picks that they drafted on their list. One of those is Cam McCarthy, who looks unlikely to play for GWS again at this point in time.

The bolded players, 14 of 22, were acquired during GWS’ extremely astute use of nearly the same concessions entry year Gold Coast also got:

  • Picks 1,2,3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 in their first draft.
  • The ability to pull 17 year olds born in January-April out of this same draft pool a year earlier.
  • The ability to sign uncontracted players
  • The ability to sign or trade draft prospects who had previously nominated and gone undrafted
  • Zone picks from the NT and the Giants’ share of NSW
  • Unlike Gold Coast, GWS had mini draft picks to trade (O’Meara and Crouch) which netted them picks 4 and 10 as well

These were all very useful concessions, but the key thing to note is that for GWS to nail most of their draft picks was a massive win for them. They left Wingard, Longer and Docherty on the table among the early picks and two of those guys have since been traded for less than what they were drafted with. GWS also turned their high profile departures into wins (Tyson became Kelly, Adams became Heath Shaw, Boyd became Griffen).

GWS also certainly were lucky that the whole first round looks like it was a strong draft at this stage (especially considering that Treloar, Cameron, Shiel and Wilson were also in this pool). The first true miss might be Josh Bootsma at pick 22.

Cameron and Shiel also turned out better than any of Gold Coast’s prelist 17-year-olds (Matera, McKenzie, Nicholls) although the Suns made better use of their zone to produce Thompson and several tall players who are now at other clubs (Dixon, Hickey and Smith)

In addition, getting their uncontracted player signings (Ward, Davis, Palmer, Scully) right really sets them apart from the Suns as soon as we remember that Campbell Brown was arrested for assaulting teammates and/or drunkenly disgracing himself in three different countries.

To sum up, GWS assembled the core of their team in year one, managed their exiting players very well and have also supplemented themselves very effectively with subsequent general draft picks and signing of older players from other clubs.

They used their entry concessions extremely well but we also question whether the level of concession is excessive for a startup side. It’s certainly not unprecedented. Consider that West Coast and Adelaide had untrammelled access to an entire state’s talent in an era when the draft was a crapshoot and Victoria’s metropolitan area was still zoned. Such access netted the expansion sides four out of ten flags in the 1990s and has to be considered fairly generous in its own right. Port Adelaide also won a flag with heavy influence by players acquired from their entry concessions.

And as for the academy

GWS get access, via their Academy development program, to first-refusal rights to players from a productive football area called the Riverina, but actually encompassing areas usually referred to separately as Murray and Riverina. Maps vary but we’re talking about roughly the two areas of Murray and Riverina depicted here:

 

It’s mostly a core AFL area, although Wagga Wagga and north and east of there are pretty mixed or starting to become Rugby League predominant. There’s maybe 250,000 people in the entire region, so it’s half the size of Tasmania, and it has produced a steady trickle of talent over the years including the Danihers, Wayne Carey, Paul Kelly, Dennis Carroll, John Longmire, Leo Barry, Shane Crawford, Brett Kirk, and Sam Rowe.

People are probably right to be concerned about the level of talent being accessed here but we want to emphasise something that’s been lost in the debate – the opportunity cost of obtaining this talent in a draft system, and how GWS’ ability to exploit this year’s talent is directly linked to how well they used their startup decisions to stockpile surplus talent.

GWS’ successful drafting and recruiting has left them such a surplus of talent that that they were never going to keep it all. As such, GWS have been steadily dispensing it back to the rest of the league. They’ve been conducting what we called in 2014 a “fire sale” to convert that stockpile into useful goods. They’ve been trading many players less than fair value, and there are now an entire team worth of former Giants at other clubs. It’ll keep happening too, as we note that even whingers-in-chief Collingwood are openly discussing who they can get. This is right and natural.

The rationale is simple – as much as GWS started with, they can’t put more than 22 players on the park at one time, they can only pay so many players highly under a salary cap, there’s only 4400 games a year to play at a club.

This year there is by all reports a huge glut of players available to GWS through their academy from the Riverina area. Some are claiming there’s five top-30 calibre picks there at this early stage.

But under the academy bidding system, GWS have to pay for all the players they acquire, by matching bids and paying market value on a points system the AFL and clubs have backed as sound. It won’t be cheap, they’ll have to match whatever any other club is willing to pay for players and given the level of complaining, we assume these clubs have a strong interest in these players.

What it does mean is GWS are playing a different list management game to everyone else right now – they’ve got an unparallelled stockpile of talent they can’t retain or use, and an unparallelled stockpile of talent in the academy portion of the draft this year who they want to bring in for the future.

If they’re going to bring in five blokes, they need to shed others from their list. They’ve already done the preparation work for this in 2015 – trading out Treloar, Hampton, Lamb, Sumner, Phillips and Plowman and getting back Collingwood and Geelong’s first round picks and Adelaide’s second. By our reckoning they’ll need to do more trading or delisting this year to make the space on their list for the players they want, and in terms of points, if clubs genuinely rate players highly and bid for them, then the Giants will likely either need to let kids go or maybe go into points deficit in the 2017 draft.

What GWS are going to do is to launder a lot of their startup material into this glut of academy products this year. They’ve been preparing since last year. But the level of currency they currently have to pay for these players is a onetime bonanza. In future, even if GWS keep this zone, even if it produces another glut year, they simply won’t be able to afford to take as much as they can now.

Even this year, if it’s true there’s ten National Draft level prospects (which would be either a big outlier or such a boom as to suggest the academy is adding to the draft pool like it’s supposed to), they’ll leave very good players on the table. And in future they won’t have the Treloars and the Plowmen and the Tomlinsons and the McCarthys just sitting there to be swapped for the picks needed to pay for new players.

Our point here isn’t to suggest that the system is necessary or equitable. There seems to be no obvious need for talent development in this region, and accessing players who are boarding in Victoria seems contrary to that aim as well. GWS have already lost access to one guy for being insufficiently linked to their academy.

What we do want to stress is that GWS are still trading on their startup talent, and that’s a self-limiting commodity. The academy helps them to use this stockpile better by converting it to younger players, but that’s it.

In future, even assuming the zone is kept with better rules around kids boarding in Victoria and the like, GWS will have to pay much more to meet market value for very good Academy kids. They’ll have tough decisions and tradeoffs like everyone else.

 

 

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