AFL ladder after Round 3, finals verdict, Carlton. Collingwood, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide

Three rounds in and the AFL world is starting to get a grasp on whether a team’s formline is real or not.

Three big Victorian clubs have started superbly — and two look finals-worthy — while two teams many thought would play finals in 2022 are still winless … but only one side’s fortunes appear cooked. analyses the surprising formlines of eight clubs so far this season — and whether fans should buy, hold or sell on their finals chances.

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CARLTON (3rd, 3-0, 115.9%)

So far: Defeated Richmond by 25 points, defeated Western Bulldogs by 12 points, defeated Hawthorn by 1 point

Next five games: Gold Coast Suns (Metricon Stadium), Port Adelaide (MCG), Fremantle (Optus Stadium), North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium), Adelaide Crows (Marvel Stadium)

It already feels like the lid is off among Blues fans – and it’s been brilliant to witness. Most importantly, Carlton supporters have every right to feel optimistic their side’s fortunes have flipped in 2022. Michael Voss’ troops have shown great maturity in different ways across all three games. The Blues turned a 20-point deficit into a 25-point win against Richmond then held off a barnstorming Bulldogs comeback to win by 12 points after leading by as much as 37. On Sunday against the Hawks, Carlton won the game in both styles, skipping out to an early 41-point lead before losing the lead midway through the last quarter then finding another gear deep in the match to hold on for a one-point win. Their brutal stoppage game stacks up too, ranking first in the league for both contested possession and clearance differential off the back of much-improved duo Patrick Cripps and Matthew Kennedy, as well as gun recruit George Hewett. They’re also first in the league for inside 50 differential, indicating their ability to lock the ball in their front half. The caveat is they’ve won just five of 12 quarters so far, while they’ve kicked 277 points from three games – well up on their expected score of 228. Also, these mid-game swings have shown great resilience, but surely they aren’t sustainable for an entire season. David King also said there were some “vulnerabilities” in the Blues’ game in terms of their ball movement and ability to stop teams from scoring. Still, King called the Blues “real” contenders after wins over the Tigers, Dogs and much-improved Hawks. With a list seemingly primed for finals and a juicy five-week fixture block upon them, the Blues can dare to dream.

Verdict: Buy

Blues outlast Hawks to take narrow win | 01:36

HAWTHORN (4th, 2-1, 144.1%)

So far: Defeated North Melbourne by 20 points, defeated Port Adelaide by 64 points, lost to Carlton by 1 point

Next five games: St Kilda (MCG), Geelong Cats (MCG), Sydney Swans (UTAS Stadium), Melbourne (MCG), Essendon (Marvel Stadium)

David King told First Crack on Sunday he’d love to be a Hawthorn player now, saying: “If I could pick a team to play for right now and be able to express yourself if you’re a good kick of the football, you go to the Hawks.” New coach Sam Mitchell has implemented a sound yet exciting gameplan that has made the Hawks one of the most entertaining teams in the competition to watch due to their ability to move the ball. They kicked 11 goals out of their back-half against Port Adelaide in Round 2 then another seven from the same source against Carlton in a game they almost pinched from nowhere. Just as importantly, the Hawks get a huge tick for their defensive output, limiting the Kangaroos, Power and Blues to 58, 56 and 74 points respectively. Albeit, the Roos and Power have arguably been among the worst four sides so far this season, so there’s a question mark on the quality of opposition they Hawks have beaten to date. And, in recent years, the competition’s best sides have been able to lock the ball in their front half – and to date the Hawks rank 16th for inside 50 differential. Hawthorn’s next month is tough too, so most footy fans will have a clear idea of where the team sits come Round 8. Remember this team is still VERY young – and there’s 20 rounds left in the season.

Verdict: Hold

COLLINGWOOD (6th, 2-1, 118.6%)

So far: Defeated St Kilda by 17 points, defeated Adelaide Crows by 42 points, lost to Geelong by 13 points

Next five games: West Coast Eagles (Marvel Stadium), Brisbane Lions (Gabba), Essendon (MCG), Gold Coast Suns (MCG), Richmond (MCG)

While the Blues are clearly the league’s most surprising undefeated team, the Magpies have arguably been the AFL’s biggest surprise packet across the first three rounds. Few expected them to beat St Kilda and Geelong, but they toppled the Saints in a Round 1 statement then almost pulled off a remarkable win over the seasoned Cats on Saturday night. In fact based on expected score, the Pies should’ve beaten Geelong in Round 3 and, therefore, still be undefeated. Offensively, the Pies are thriving under Craig McRae, scoring 102, 100 and 91 points respectively across their first three games to rank third overall for points scored. Their profile is starting to stack up too, ranking among the league’s top five teams for both inside 50 and contested possession differential. All eyes will be on that blockbuster Thursday night clash against Brisbane in Round 5 to see how they fare. But with a good mix of experience and youth and key-position players like Jordan Roughead and Nathan Kreuger to return from injury, the Pies loom as early finals contenders. In fact David King told First Crack on Sunday night: “They’re playing finals. I think they can (sustain their form).”

Verdict: Buy

CHAOS! Pies kick 2-for-1 after big brawl | 01:34

RICHMOND (11th, 1-2, 92.4%)

So far: Lost to Carlton by 25 points, defeated GWS Giants by 36 points, lost to St Kilda by 33 points

Next five games: Western Bulldogs (MCG), Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), Melbourne (MCG), West Coast Eagles (Optus Stadium), Collingwood (MCG)

Many predicted Richmond would jump from the bottom 10 last year into the top four this year. But the early signs aren’t promising, particularly defensively. They conceded over 100 points in their two losses to Carlton and St Kilda – and on both occasions they gave up sizeable leads late in the game. The Tigers were 20 points clear of Carlton in the final term in Round 1 before being overrun, conceding 7.5 to 1.1 in the final term. In Round 3, they were up by 25 points in the third term against St Kilda but went on to lose by 33 points after conceding 7.1 to 1.0 in the fourth quarter. Somewhat alarmingly, they’ve actually kicked well for goal, scoring 269 points in three games – four-and-a-half goals more than their expected score (242). As Leigh Montagna pointed out on First Crack on Sunday night, the Tigers were one of the top two defensive teams in the competition when the ball went inside their back 50 – but this year they’re 15th. With games against the Bulldogs and Demons across the next three weeks – and the club still uncertain about Dustin Martin’s immediate playing future – Richmond’s top four hopes appear very slim.

Verdict: Sell

ST KILDA (9th, 2-1, 110.8%)

So far: Lost to Collingwood by 17 points, defeated Fremantle by 10 points, defeated Richmond by 33 points

Next five games: Hawthorn (MCG), Gold Coast Suns (Marvel Stadium), GWS Giants (Manuka Oval), Port Adelaide (Cazalys Stadium), Melbourne (MCG)

We may need a bigger sample size to get a better read on Brett Ratten’s troops, but you can’t deny their past two wins have been mightily impressive. Their comeback wins over Fremantle and Richmond were scintillating, punctuated by key forward Max King coming of age with four goals in each match. But surely these in-game fightbacks – and King’s forward 50 heroics – aren’t sustainable for an entire season? The Saints trailed by as much as 25 points against the Tigers yet still won on Sunday – seven days after mowing down a 15-point Fremantle lead. Notably, they’ve won just five of 12 quarters so far – and none of those victories have been in a first term. Still, the Saints have shown tremendous fight and spirit – particularly against Richmond – to flip the momentum of their matches, while moving Jade Gresham and Jack Sinclair to more permanent midfield roles has given the side a quicker feel and a more electric dynamic around the ball. In hindsight, perhaps the story was more about how impressive Collingwood was in Round 1 rather than St Kilda’s subpar performance. Beat Hawthorn this Sunday and their next month really opens up for them from a fixture perspective. For now, we’re holding judgment.

Verdict: Hold

‘We’re looking at the next Buddy’ | 01:58

WESTERN BULLDOGS (12th, 1-2, 89.6%)

So far: Lost to Melbourne by 26 points, lost to Carlton by 12 points, defeated Sydney Swans by 11 points

Next five games: Richmond (MCG), North Melbourne (Marvel Stadium), Adelaide Crows (MARS Stadium), Essendon (Marvel Stadium), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)

It’d be easy to hit the panic button on the Bulldogs now, but the fact the Dogs seemed to get their DNA back against the Swans last week suggested there was no need to. Luke Beveridge’s side comprehensively won the contested possession (+24), clearance (+9), tackle (+16) and inside 50 (+10) counts against the Swans in their hard-fought 11-point win – a win that could kick-start the Dogs after a tough opening fortnight. They’ve been a touch unlucky too in their performances so far, conceding 259 points from their three games – well up on their expected conceded score (224) due to the Swans and Blues kicking well. The Bulldogs’ fixture really opens up for them now, with their next five opponents having a combined three wins between them so far. These Bulldogs aren’t sliding anytime soon.

Verdict: Hold

PORT ADELAIDE (16th, 0-3, 73.3%)

So far: Lost to Brisbane Lions by 11 points, lost to Hawthorn by 64 points, lost to Adelaide by 4 points

Next five games: Melbourne (Adelaide Oval), Carlton (MCG), West Coast Eagles (Adelaide Oval), St Kilda (Cazalys Stadium), Western Bulldogs (Adelaide Oval)

There’s alarm bells ringing at the Power – and, not for the first time in his 10-year stint, it seems Ken Hinkley is the most under-pressure coach in the AFL. Hinkley has helped his side escape past ruts, but this slump feels different – a slump that’s come after two home preliminary final losses and has pundits pondering whether Port has officially blown its best chance of winning a flag with this list under this coach. The Power conceded 120 points against the Hawks then, somehow, lost Friday night’s Showdown against Adelaide, which scored 96 points. Granted it took a remarkable post-siren goal from Jordan Dawson for the Crows to win, but really the Power should’ve never let Adelaide get within striking distance of the lead. The positive for Port fans is they’re still in the top-half of the competition for clearances, contested possessions and inside 50s. But the fact is the Power are now 0-3 with matches against undefeated sides Melbourne and Carlton in the next two weeks, meaning a 0-5 record is a real possibility. Heck, even a 1-7 record is a possibility with games against St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs over the next month.

Verdict: Sell

Tex & Gavin share wholesome moment | 00:40

ESSENDON (18th, 0-3, 65%)

So far: Lost to Geelong by 66 points, lost to Brisbane by 22 points, lost to Melbourne by 29 points

Next five games: Adelaide Crows (Marvel Stadium), Fremantle (Marvel Stadium), Collingwood (MCG), Western Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium), Hawthorn (Marvel Stadium)

Following a shock finals appearance in 2021, Essendon fans rightly entered this season with ample hope. But three rounds in and you can’t deny the numbers are grim after three straight losses: The most points conceded – 138 against Geelong, 97 against Brisbane and 99 against Melbourne – the fourth-least points scored, the second-worst percentage and equal-lowest number of quarters won (three of 12). And all while Nik Cox, Michael Hurley, Harry Jones, Kyle Langford, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Zach Merrett have been sidelined due to injury. But be honest: How many of you reading this section genuinely tipped Essendon to win any of their first three games this season? According to the bookies, they weren’t favourites against the Cats, Lions or Demons. So from that perspective, results have gone to script so far. Of course Ben Rutten and his troops would’ve wanted to pinch a win or two – or at least perform much better than what they’ve produced to date. So it seems premature to say the Bombers are in an early-season crisis considering who they’ve played to date and their injury list. Still, those aforementioned numbers are hard to ignore. David King told First Crack: “Are they a good side or not? Are they just finding ways to lose or has their opposition clearly been the best two or three in the competition? I’m not sure.”

Verdict: Hold

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