Cats right to play hardball as Kelly tops midfield lot


By keeping Kelly, for this last year of his existing contract at the very minimum, they have kept a player who can help them make top four this year and challenge for the flag. Beyond that, whatever will be will be.

Kelly undoubtedly makes the Cats better this year and they can worry about tomorrow later. But so too do Geelong make him better.

Powering up: Tom Rockliff was a big influence for Port Adelaide against Melbourne.Credit:AAP

Of all the midfielders to play this first round, Kelly’s game was as impressive as any. Tom Rockliff amassed possessions and Travis Boak was brutal, Cam Rayner looks to have advanced on last year and Jack Bowes at the Suns looks potentially elite, but Kelly was better than them. He burst from packs, broke lines, delivered the ball creatively. There were none better than him and he could end this season, just his second in the AFL, in the elite of AFL midfielders.

Regardless of whether he stays or goes home to Perth, he will look back and be thankful that he was not traded and the new contract he pens at the end of this year – wherever that is – will be fatter than the one he signed at the end of last year.

The economics of the decision were never right for either Geelong or Kelly to go at the end of last season. But then the decision was never about economics. It was about family and the difficulties of isolation across the country from family.

Geelong has been doing what they can to help alleviate those problems.

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Chris Scott warned at the weekend that it would be wrong to assume Kelly will want to leave again when he is out of contract at season’s end. It’s a fair assumption, given he asked to leave only a few months ago, but things change, Scott said, and no one should assume that it is still the case. There is a lot of love for Kelly in Geelong and you can see why.

“Anyone that thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that Tim Kelly is going to leave Geelong is mistaken,” Scott said on SEN.

“I’d probably repeat the comments that Tim’s made already publicly, that none of us can predict the future — he’s really driven to win a premiership with Geelong.

“Our list management team will work really hard on getting a good result for the club. I am very, very optimistic that he’ll be a Geelong player for a long time.”

Clubs will be as eagerly waiting to see if Tim Kelly re-signs as they are Josh Kelly.

Round 1 goes rogue

Within one game, six months’ of training and preparation appears to have been validated or wasted.

All the confident assertions of how teams would finish this year, with wide support for Adelaide, Collingwood, Melbourne and West Coast to make top four were made to look foolish given all lost.

Poise: Hawk Jarman Impey controls possession under pressure from Adelaide's Eddie Betts.

Poise: Hawk Jarman Impey controls possession under pressure from Adelaide’s Eddie Betts.Credit:AAP

The annual decision to write off any Alastar Clarkson side has again been rendered a lesson in stupidity. But just calm yourself a little before opening the champagne, or drowning your sorrows.

Here’s a snapshot of this time last year: Gold Coast comfortably beat North and then finished second-bottom. Hawthorn confidently beat Collingwood. The Magpies made the grand final. St Kilda touched up Brisbane – then finished third-bottom. Geelong outlasted Melbourne by a kick. The Demons finished top four. And finally, Sydney wiped West Coast – but the Eagles finished the year up pretty well.

Runs on the slide

When the AFL gets things right it gets the credit … for what it didn’t get right.

The 6-6-6 zone looks good and looks to be working. The extra latitude from the kick-in rule hasn’t had too much of an impact yet.

Saints and sinners: St Kilda's Matthew Parker (far left) tussles with Gold Coast's Charlie Ballard.

Saints and sinners: St Kilda’s Matthew Parker (far left) tussles with Gold Coast’s Charlie Ballard.Credit:Wayne Ludbey

The crackdown on jumper punches and rib ticklers has been effective. Ben Long nearly cost St Kilda the game against the Suns for giving away a free for a meaningless belly punch when the Saints had a shot at goal from close range. Just don’t do it.

What the AFL did not change – and should have – was the rule on sliding below the knees. This is the rule that started out being about dangerously sliding into the legs of the player over the ball to take him out and gather the ball. It was dangerous and caused knee injuries. The rule should be as simple as this: if you arrive second to the contest and slide into the legs of the player there before you it is a free kick. If it is simultaneous and a player falls over it’s play on.

Port derail Gawn

It was Tom Jonas’ first meaningful act as Port co-captain. He sat Max Gawn on his backside. He might be cited for it, as it was a bump off the ball in a way that Gawn wasn’t expecting.

If someone bumps Gawn next week the player will have an alibi: Gawn should be expecting it.

Off to a flyer: Crow Paddy Ryder soars over Demon Max Gawn during a ruck contest.

Off to a flyer: Crow Paddy Ryder soars over Demon Max Gawn during a ruck contest.Credit:AAP

What Port did to Gawn on Saturday was not new, yet it was newly instructive. Port did two things. One they double teamed him with Paddy Ryder and Scott Lycett. Secondly, and while it was more graphic and more apparently effective, they physically targeted Gawn.

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Plainly Gawn went off his game when he stepped out of the way of Paddy Ryder in a disputed ball that will make unpleasant re-watching in Monday reviews. Gawn should now expect physical pressure this week and beyond.

But physical pressure alone was not the key to beating Gawn. The key was that they double-teamed him, and tagged him out of the game.

The new zone rules were supposed to favour rucks, and thus favour the best ruckmen of last year, Grundy and Gawn. Rules or not, the best ruck combination – not individual ruckman – might have the most influence on matches this season.

Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.

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