Our AFL experts Niall Seewang, Jake Michaels and Matt Walsh dissect all of the main talking points ahead of Round 22.
Who is the player of the decade?
NS: Lance Franklin. It's harder than ever to be a key forward in this era of congestion, team defence and lower scores, yet he's averaged 64 goals a season since 2010, winning three Coleman Medals in this time. People forget he is six foot six, considering how quick and agile he is and how skilled he is below his knees. He's won seven All Australian nominations this decade and off the field, drives enormous corporate and membership numbers. He's the most electrifying talent I've seen and takes the honours over several other worthy nominees.
JM: Given the fact he has polled 20 more Brownlow Medal votes than anyone else this decade, for a staggering total of 182, I think it's clearly Patrick Dangerfield. He might not have a premiership (at least yet) but he's won a Brownlow, is a six-time All-Australian and three-time club best and fairest winner, not to mention his many other accolades. If every player was playing at their absolute best, I would be picking Dangerfield first. There's no doubt about it.
MW: Considering Gary Ablett Jr is in calculation to be AFL's GOAT, it has to be him, right? It's so easy to forget how good he was even at the Suns ... the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" springs to mind. In 2014, the Suns were flying at 9-6, but then Ablett missed the rest of the year with a shoulder injury and the Suns faltered to a 12th-placed finish. Add in 168 Brownlow votes, and a Brownlow Medal, and 214 goals (at an average of 21.4 goals per year despite some interrupted seasons) and it's hard to argue against him being player of the decade.
What's the most tantalising match-up of Round 22?
NS: This might be the most exciting round of footy I can remember - except for the Hawthorn vs. Gold Coast game, every match looks incredibly juicy. One stands above the others though, that being Sunday's contest between the two premiership favourites Richmond and West Coast. They play such contrasting styles and it will be fascinating to see which one stands up in finals-like intensity. The Tom Lynch/Jack Riewoldt vs. Jeremy McGovern/Tom Barrass will be worth the price of admission alone.
JM: How can it not be first vs. second? I cannot wait to see the Gabba jam-packed for Brisbane and Geelong and this game really could be the best of the season. It's also going to give us a great sample of what finals football in 2019 will be like. Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett, Tim Kelly, Tom Hawkins, Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko, Luke Hodge, Charlie Cameron, the list of stars goes on and on and on. The only frustration I have with this fixture is the fact it's scheduled for Saturday afternoon and not Saturday night.
MW: We all know Richmond, West Coast, Brisbane and Geelong will be there at the pointy end, but the Adelaide vs. Collingwood matchup on Saturday afternoon has a huge bearing on which teams make the finals. The Crows are just about at last-chance saloon, while the Pies can kiss goodbye their slim top four chances if they can't snag the win. There are a number of 'butterfly effect' games this weekend, but this one might have the most riding on it.
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Which non-top four team is the most likely to win the flag?
NS: I've been hot on the Giants all year but have jumped off after Friday night's shocker against the Hawks and I'm now leaning towards Collingwood making a decent fist of it in September. They're not in great form but should be boosted by some significant returns in the next few weeks including Jordan De Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson, Ben Reid and Darcy Moore. If they get those guns back, they could cause some damage.
JM: They've been horribly inconsistent, but I really feel Port Adelaide is the team that can do the most damage in September. We've seen glimpses of their best throughout the season and it's fair to say that on their day they can trouble just about anyone - just look at the impressive wins over West Coast and Geelong. We know they aren't going to snag a home final, but I can certainly see them beating GWS or even an injury-hit Collingwood in the first week of finals.
MW: Are GWS the most frustrating side in the league right now? They smashed the Pies a month ago, then escaped with narrow wins over Port and Sydney before Friday night's capitulation against Hawthorn. At their best, they're dynamic and a scary prospect, but at their worst they throw up dismal displays like that against Hawthorn. If they can click in finals, I expect them to trouble the best sides, but unfortunately we're just never sure which Giants outfit will turn up on any given Sunday.
Should free agency compensation picks be abolished?
NS: No. I understand the argument to get rid of them but free agency has really hurt struggling clubs and compensation picks soften the blow for a star player leaving for greener pastures. Imagine if Gold Coast didn't get strong compensation (pick No. 3) for Tom Lynch! As it stands, they were able to draft Izak Rankine alongside Jack Lukosius and that duo could play key roles in the rebuilding of this broken club.
JM: Absolutely. If a player, who is a free agent, wants to part ways with their club, why should that club receive any sort of compensation? The onus is on the club to retain their talent and if they're unsuccessful then so be it. They shouldn't be rewarded. It's not exactly fair to other sides who are forced to drop down the draft board just to slot in a compensation pick for a team that lost a player through free agency. Get rid of it!
MW: Yes, 100 percent get rid of free agency compensation. Why should other teams be shunted down the draft order as a result of compensation being handed out? The point of free agency is to allow greater freedoms in player movement, and then messing with the draft order (with an arbitrary and bewildering formula) is an awful look.