Daniel Wells finished off the Swans at the SCG.

Daniel Wells finished off the Swans at the SCG. Photo: Getty Images

''We were wrong.''

They are the words you read when there has been a grammatical or factual error in a journal that  prides itself on fairness and accuracy.

Three words that aim to engender trust with readers, assuring them that standards are maintained vigilantly.

James Frawley and Chris Dawes  ran amok in the Melbourne forward line against Carlton.

James Frawley and Chris Dawes ran amok in the Melbourne forward line against Carlton. Photo: Pat Scala

Inspired by this humble tradition, I feel obliged to apply such exacting standards to my tips for round four, and a couple of false prejudices I had about AFL season 2014.

I was wrong 1: 'North Melbourne is mediocre'.

I thought North had too many unfulfilled talents, not enough elite midfield talent, and too many frontrunners on its fringes. I thought that all of those narrow losses in 2013 did not necessarily mean the Kangaroos would leap up the ladder in 2014. To me, such results could also have meant that the Roos just lacked the talent and leadership to step up a notch. I also didn’t think the addition of Nick Dal Santo would have a significant impact.

The Crows ran the Saints ragged.

The Crows ran the Saints ragged. Photo: Getty Images

But in the past two weeks, North Melbourne has played at a level superior to 2013. It has finally balanced swift ball use with improved defensive application. In defeating the underrated Port Adelaide, then Sydney on the road, soundly, North has proven it is on the upswing. Big men Drew Petrie, Todd Goldstein, Aaron Black and Scott Thompson have some class. Lesser lights Aaron Mullet, Levi Greenwood, Leigh Adams and Sam Gibson have made telling contributions. Ben Cunnington has emerged from the midfield pack as a ball-winning force. And Daniel Wells, Dal Santo and Brent Harvey have provided polish on the outside of the packs, each dominating a game, all making consistently important contributions. I still have reservations about the Roos' depth, but their current purple patch is being achieved without midfield extractors Andrew Swallow and Jack Ziebell, among their first-picked leaders. North is on the up.

I was wrong 2: 'There is no hope for Melbourne'

After watching Melbourne and its new coach in the opening weeks of the season, I thought the club had erred badly in choosing a coach not committed to more than a two-year stint. The keepings-off game plan looked well beyond the capacities of the playing personnel. The players looked crestfallen, exhausted. Hope seemed wishful folly.

Interchange frenzy.

Interchange frenzy. Photo: Joe Armao

I still feel it is odd that Paul Roos is likely to hand over to another coach after two years, after a brief, highly paid interlude, but long-suffering Demons fans now have reason to look forward to an afternoon at the footy.

On reflection, it was not effort lacking from the Demons in the opening rounds, and they won the ball often enough. They lacked cohesion. They lacked confidence, individually and collectively. But most of all, they lacked forwards. The impact of returning tall target Chris Dawes on their ball movement against Carlton in round four was extraordinary. The hulking big man led hard and often, and though he does not possess the softest hands, his unremitting efforts transformed Melbourne’s ball movement. And it was Roos’ moves that helped them cash in. Jeremy Howe and James Frawley swapped ends of the ground against GWS, the latter becoming a roaming half forward, the former finally freed from the onerous burden of playing as an undersized target. Both played well against the Giants, but Frawley was outstanding against Carlton at the weekend, his footy savvy enabling him to exploit the gaps created by Dawes. Teams in the lower reaches can look uncompetitive if they suffer injuries - just look what happens to the Lions before they regain senior talent. It is important not to rate them when thus handicapped. The Demons will see hard times again this season, but their fans only needed some progress – they know there is a long row to hoe. With forwards to kick to, they now have hope.

I was wrong 3: 'Adelaide is gone'

A nosy work colleague scoffed at my round four Saints tip last Wednesday. And as I justified it to him and myself, I was not convinced by my own words. The Crows were gouged of elite talent and down in the dumps after being overrun in each of their first three matches. And the Saints had proved feisty and surprisingly efficient in the opening rounds. But Adelaide, embarrassed and desperate, had played three high quality teams. St Kilda, content after beating two wooden spoon contenders and pushing West Coast away, lacked experience and quality all over the field, especially in the ruck and backline. Only the extent of the result that followed on Sunday at Etihad Stadium should have proved a surprise. The Saints are still undermanned. The Crows still have a core of exciting, talented running types. They could yet trouble top eight teams when they regain some firepower. Tipping note to self: Beware the apparently underperforming team that needs to win. Especially when it comes up against the apparently overperforming battler. Especially if said combatant has travelled to Perth the previous week and played its guts out in warmer conditions.  Think twice when self-doubt assails your tipping. And be grateful for inquisitive work colleagues.

I was wrong 4: KB and interchange

I am largely an anti-rule change type. Most of the changes seem to create the need for more changes. So often, the original rule, interpreted correctly, is the best outcome, rather than a new regulation. The push-in-the-back rule, correctly applied, for example, is superior to any tweak involving '‘hands in the back'’.  But the game never started out with interchanges. Rotations in the hundreds were never a part of the game. So there is no underlying wisdom to fall back upon.

I do not support the nostalgics who believe footy was better in the '90s, or '80s. They conveniently forget the many awful games of those eras, the haphazard kicking skills. There have been many tactical developments and improvements in skill since those times, which make it impossible to engineer the type of game such would-be reformers supposedly seek. Furthermore, if there is congestion in one part of the ground, there is space elsewhere, often exploited to exciting effect. Lewis Jetta streaming down the ground away from the pack, anyone?

But for all that, a trial of interchange limits is necessary. We need to know what effect a cap of 80 interchanges would have on the game. We need to know what the game would look like if you were only permitted four or six substitutes, who could not go back off the ground. Let’s find out. As Greg Baum points out, the most important feature for Aussie Rules to protect is its spontaneity and free form. To put an end to talk of off-side rules, I would gladly see trials of interchange, a much lesser imposition, before a rule was proposed.

Who knows, if we decide on multiple substitutes, they may be called ''reserves’''