Lay off the Suns, a look at the biggest clanger merchants, Round 9 Preview

The Suns’ list of injured players might be better than the players they have available

Gold Coast are once again in a severe injury crisis and we think the hot take machine (for example this effort by Mick Malthouse) needs to take a bit of a look at just how depleted this Suns team is right now.

In May last year Rodney Eade was calling the Suns’ injury list the worst he’d seen and saying the reserves would likely have had to forfeit if they didn’t have a bye, because only 20 blokes could even train. Shockingly and disturbingly the Suns are headed in the same direction almost exactly a year later with 21 players injured or in doubt this week (from a list of 39 plus 7 rookies). Here’s a look at their list ahead of team selection against Adelaide:

sunsinjuries.PNG

This has crept up reasonably quickly. A fair indicator is the turnaround in three weeks against the Giants’ reserves. On April 23 the Suns reserves beat the Giants by about four goals. Their best players were six senior-listed AFL players. Three weeks later on May 12, they lost by about 12 goals and their best player was an American playing his second game of competitive football (after a game for Labrador in the QAFL), with a 197cm 16-year-old also starring in the ruck.

Right now, the fit version of the Suns’ injury list above looks like it would at least be competitive against the Suns’ available players in an intra-club match:

sunsintra.PNG

A striking feature in the available player list is that it’s overloaded with small and key defenders and lacks any recognised rucks beyond Brooksby, key forwards beyond Lynch, and is missing most of the Suns’ best midfielders. This leaves the Suns with little flexibility and not much hope of fielding a side balanced how they might like it to be.

Suffice it to say, the Suns are running on empty. There is simply no way a team with this much missing should expect to be competitive or be criticised when they’re not. Talk of rebuilds and failures and foldings and mergers need to be dialed the hell back and given some context. We have rarely seen what this list can do with fitness and maturity. In 2015 they were torched by injuries, in 2016 the same thing has happened again. Even in 2014 they were in the frame for finals (9-6 and sitting eighth after 16 rounds) before losing Ablett, Dixon and a few others in the run towards finals.

If there’s questions to be asked, given this exact crisis occurred last year, those questions need to be looking at the Suns’ medical and training staff, the club’s facilities and resources, whether the sorts of players that have been recruited might be a bit fragile. It may just be a wretched run of luck, but sustaining the league’s deepest injury crisis for two years in a row starts to look careless.

The clanger merchants

While disposal efficiency is a popular measure of player ball use, we also feel that clangers maybe don’t get enough of a run. Clangers are more an indicator of actively terrible ball use. They measure silly mistakes and turnovers, and as opposed to disposal efficiency they show clear mistakes rather than sub-optimal use of the ball.

Clangers include free kicks and 50 metre penalties against so to get a truer picture of how often a player truly butchers the footy, we’ve deducted Free Kicks Against from their clanger totals. Below, then, are the best and worst players in terms of clangers per disposal:

clangers

We can see that excluding free kicks, Nathan Grima has in his two games had a clanger rate of about 1 per four possessions. Rhys Stanley leads the league in clangers per disposal at 0.42, but a lot of these are free kicks conceded which we assume includes ruck infringements. Ted Richards, as a key position defender, is showing a rather alarming rate of clangers given that key defenders are expected to be clean and low-risk with the ball.

At the other end of the spectrum are a number of players who have barely made a serious mistake with the ball. GWS and Hawthorn feature heavily on the list and note that Shane Mumford moves from near the top of “clangers per disposal” to best 20 in the league once we remove the large number of free kicks he has conceded.

Things to watch

1. A quiet blockbuster

Our own rating system places currently places the Bulldogs and Giants second and third, presenting their Sunday afternoon match as a much more tantalising prospect than it would have looked pre-season.

R8 ratings

Interestingly, this is the first time the Bulldogs have travelled to the Sydney Showgrounds, having played three matches against the Giants at Manuka instead. If you’re a believer in the impact of ground dimensions, the Showgrounds is 4 metres longer and 1 metre narrower than Etihad.

In terms of team strengths, the Bulldogs have produced an amazingly strong inside-50 differential this year, which we label as midfield strength (although it of course includes non-midfielder contributions such as those by running defender types). However, GWS seem to have the Bulldogs shaded inside both arcs, converting their inside 50s into scores much more efficiently and also defending their opponents’ inside-50s more effectively. Unless the Bulldogs can outperform their record in these areas then we’d expect the game to come down to whether the Dogs’ midfield work gives them enough of a differential in opportunities to overcome the Giants. With the players the Dogs are missing, we’ll be tipping the Giants but this should be a very telling game.

2. A week of mockbusters

With matches between Hawthorn and Sydney, Collingwood and Geelong, Port Adelaide and West Coast and Fremantle and Richmond, the AFL must have been looking at this round pre-season and anticipating a series of spectacular and pivotal matches between teams of similar strength and promise. None of these seem to have quite panned out as such but several still look intriguing.

Rather than the clash between rising teams it would have seemed, Collingwood v Geelong is now widely expected to be a walkover after the Cats’ superb start to the year and Collingwood’s much-storied struggles.

Fremantle v Richmond is looking intruging after the Tigers’s shock upset of the Swans and the Dockers maybe stopping the bleeding a little, but what looked pre-season like a clash of top 4 aspirants instead shapes as a desperate slugfest to assuage two anxious supporter bases.

Hawthorn v Sydney shapes as a game that could go anywhere this weekend. Both teams are 6-2, Sydney looks much stronger in defence but a little weaker in the midfield and forward. Hawthorn we assume are starting to build like they usually do, and Sydney have had two bad performances in a row. The ratings suggest a game where the Swans concede a few more inside 50s but contain Hawthorn to a lower score by virtue of defending them much better. But don’t hold us to that.

 3. Narratives flying high

With high pre-season expectations of Port Adelaide, their fixture vs West Coast would have looked tantalising in March but now the main interest is likely as fodder for any number of yarns and stories about the woes of the Eagles, who still look like a top 8 side pushing for top 4.

Such narratives include:

Port Adelaide meanwhile rate as almost exactly league average in our ratings. They’ve had a mixed bag of performances with their really bad losses to GWS and Geelong looking better with every passing week. There’s nothing about Port that looks particularly threatening, the main difference in our ratings between the Eagles and Power is a stronger midfield strength for the Eagles. That is, the Eagles get more inside-50 opportunities than Port do relative to opponents.

With all that said, if Port Adelaide get in front early and stay there all day, then all three West Coast narratives might be reinforced – they’ll suffer an unexpected loss away from home, they may still look like flat-track bullies after failing to beat a genuinely mid-tier looking side at their own fortress, and they’ll have added more fuel to the “front runners” analysis.

If West Coast win against an average Port Adelaide, they will at least notch an away win but probably won’t manage to shake any of these narratives either, unless it’s a comeback win contra the front-runners tag. Fun times ahead.

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