EVERY stoppage in play begins with ruckmen who try and gain the upper hand for their team and while winning hitouts is an ideal start to a play, for the Geelong Falcons, they have defied the odds to have two huge wins without an influence in the ruck.
The Falcons average just 16 hitouts a game, which is 8.5 less than the second lowest side – Oakleigh Chargers, and a whopping 31 behind the top ruck side, Eastern Ranges. So given that the Falcons have thus far lost the majority of hitouts, what is it that is causing them to control the contest? First off they are a dominant contested ball winning side. The Falcons average 161 contested possessions from their two matches, 10 more than their closest rival, and also lead the league for kicks, kicking efficiency, inside 50s and clearly the most important statistic, goals.
The only other statistic the Falcons trail in is rebound 50s, where they have ranked last overall, but that is the statistic you would not mind tailing the league if it means you are winning all the midfield categories. In the first two rounds, they have conceded 66 inside 50s (only 14 more times than they have rebounded), while going inside 50 112 times themselves.
This weekend the Falcons take on the Bushrangers who are also unbeaten after two rounds. So where does each team have their strengths and weaknesses? Well the Falcons have a superior kicking and disposal efficiency, an area which has let down the Bushrangers so far this season (ranked 11th and ninth in the respective categories across the league). The Bushrangers are more dominant in the hitouts – ranked sixth while they also have a good balance between contested and uncontested work. This weekend will be a huge challenge for the Bushrangers who have won some low scoring dour battles, but the Falcons are quick and make up for height with their speed, so the Bushrangers will need to make the most of their talls and try and use them as best as possible to get the desired result.
Now we can look across the league at this weekend’s match-ups and see what teams are doing right and what they need to improve on:
Bendigo Pioneers vs. Gippsland Power
Both sides have not been overly impressive on the stats sheet, with the Pioneers leading in most areas. One area of concern would be contested ball, where they rank 11th compared to Gippsland Power (sixth). Gippsland is a predominantly kicking side, with a 1.65:1 kick to handball ratio. They have butchered the ball by foot at times however, with just 55.12 efficiency. The Power are a strong defensive side that do not mind tackling and winning the inside ball. This is where they are likely to get on top of the Pioneers, while the Pioneers will look to use their more dominant outside ball users to hit up targets. They too have not set the world on fire with their ball use by foot this season, but are able to cover ground well.
Western Jets vs. Sandringham Dragons
Based on results, Sandringham Dragons look on top of the world, and in most statistical categories, they certainly are. The Dragons lead the league in kicks, disposal efficiency and uncontested possessions. Without even needing to go into much detail, they are an outside running team that plays possession football. Western is the opposite and, in my opinion is unlucky not to be 2-0 this season.
The Jets have a superior kicking efficiency to the Dragons and have averaged an impressive 147 contested possessions a game – ranked fourth – as well as 51.5 inside 50s – again ranked fourth. I think this weekend we could see the Jets standing up to the Dragons and the key to winning is not letting the Dragons find open space. They cover the ground so well and move the ball on when required. They might not have the bigger bodies around the contest that the Jets have, so they will look to exploit them on the outside.
The Jets must make the most of their inside 50s, which is something that had hurt them in round one. The Dragons are remarkably ranked equal eighth for inside 50s, yet second for goals, meaning they certainly make the most of their opportunities. Sandringham will look to use their running game to best advantage their midfielders and find time and space to get the ball inside 50. They are not afraid to use the ball and play “keepings off” if needed just to retain possession.
Dandenong Stingrays vs. GWV Rebels
This will be a tough game for the Rebels, with the Stingrays having a so-so start to the season but still ticking boxes statistically. They will match the Rebels in the hitouts – an area where Lloyd Meek has been very good for the Rebels – and in the tackling department – where the Rebels are ranked second.
Dandenong have more outside ball winners compared to inside in past years despite Luke Davies-Uniacke being a major contested beast in that centre line. Neither team wins a great deal of contested possessions, but Dandenong has been prominent in rebounding – no surprise considering its defence – and disposal efficiency. The stats reveal the Rebels simply do not win enough of the football – ranked last for kicks, handballs and disposals, as well as uncontested possessions. They need to win more of the football because they have had their fair share of marks around the ground and match the Stingrays for inside 50s. The game will come down to whether Dandenong can lift its contested possession rate and win the tight midfield battle. The Rebels will be hoping to just win the football and use their classy ball winners to enter inside 50 effectively.
Northern Knights vs. Eastern Ranges
Looking at these sides head-to-head there is a distinct advantage weighted to each team. For the Knights, they are a possession based side that dominates the outside and will opt for safer possession football. Eastern on the other hand play a more brash, inside crash and bash style to move the ball quickly out of a contest and pump the ball inside 50. Eastern lead the league in hitouts and clearances – showing they are already dominating in the first play, and are also second in inside 50s and contested possessions. For Northern, they have a high disposal efficiency – ranked fifth – which is what has let Eastern down at times with the Ranges ranked 11th.
But the Ranges are much more dominant on the inside and if they can continue to pile on the pressure, it will have an impact on the Knights’ ability to dictate the contest on the outside. The Knights have won plenty of ball in space and chalked up 92 marks to their name, leading the competition. Eastern is ranked 11th in the statistic, again proving they just move the ball as quickly as possible, but it could be more effective. The Ranges are a potential premiership candidate and if they can sharpen up the way they enter inside 50, then they can really dominate. The Knights will look to continue the work they have done and perhaps have a player behind the ball realising they will likely lose the hitouts and subsequent clearances.
Calder Cannons vs. Oakleigh Chargers
Across the board, Oakleigh has been ultra-impressive, while Calder sadly, has not. The Cannons trail the Chargers in every statistic except kicking efficiency and rebound 50s, with a breakeven in hitouts. For the Cannons, they still have a really good solid disposal efficiency, but like the Rebels, have not been able to find enough of the pill. They are the lowest ranked contested ball side, and a little better in uncontested ball. They do well around the ground marking, so it could be a case of slowing the play down at times and maintaining possession. If they can use their foot skills to hit up targets, then they can be really competitive in this game. But Oakleigh have no problems hitting up their own targets around the ground and are able to win in low scoring contests. If Calder can up the pressure on its opponents then the Cannons are a chance.
The stats tell us this is the most cut and dry result of the weekend. Of the 14 statistical categories, Oakleigh leads in 11 of them. A predominant kicking side, Oakleigh is happy to chip the ball around on the outside until the right option is found. They are not overly high in clearances, hitouts or even inside 50s – ranked seventh, but Oakleigh remarkably lead the tackle count despite winning both its games. This shows the Chargers are up for the fight and really well drilled defensively. They have a good balance between inside and outside ball winning capabilities, and will no doubt be focusing more on their stoppage work. If the Chargers can build on that, then they are going to become a more complete side.