Defying odds: Nic Naitanui, top, wraps up Hawk Jordan Lewis. Photo: Getty Images
IS THE era of the ''super side'' done and dusted? We're only a month into the new season, but there's already one thing standing out. Namely, the failure of anyone to … well, to stand out.
That was a tag Carlton carried prior to Saturday. But the Blues' disappointing loss to Essendon raised some legitimate queries about their ability to rise to a challenge week in, week out. And the loss of key midfielder Andrew Carrazzo for up to two months might raise a few more about their structure.
You could argue, after an epic slog in Perth on Saturday night, that the stand-out baton has been passed to West Coast. But the Eagles had only beaten three strugglers before Saturday, and only won their first serious test of the year, against Hawthorn, by less than a kick.
Nathan Buckley will be hoping that Wednesday goes to plan. Photo: Pat Scala
The Hawks? They could easily be 4-0 right now. The fact they're 2-2 (and perhaps the memory of last year's preliminary final) instead prompts some issues about their capacity to hang tough enough in the tight finish.
Last year's grand finalists? Just going. Collingwood should get better with players steadily returning from injury, but it's by no means a given. And as Hawthorn could be 4-0, so could Geelong easily be 0-4, hardly intimidating in just doing enough to beat Richmond by 10 points at the Cattery yesterday.
There are two other unbeaten sides besides West Coast, of course. Essendon, which, good as it was against Carlton, had been somewhat underwhelming in its previous three wins, and remains a work in progress.
Carlton's losses included Andrew Carrazzo. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Sydney, meanwhile, continues to do something of a snow job on the experts, but would happily concede it has some tests to pass yet before we start revisiting 2005. And let's not forget Fremantle, whose only loss has come at the hands of the Swans, and which shed a considerable monkey from the back with a great win on the road last Friday evening.
The current top trio has certainly got off to a good start in 2012. But none could rightly call itself a heavyweight. And the contrast to the past few years, when there's been usually a couple or at least one team head and shoulders above the pack, seems stark.
In 2011, Collingwood and Geelong lost a total of just five home-and-away games from a combined 44. The Magpies lost to only one opponent (three times) in the whole year, and still weren't good enough to land the premiership, at least consoled by the fact that opponent did.
The season before, Collingwood had lost two games in a row shortly before the mid-season break, but looked dominant beforehand, and more so after, when it dropped only one of its last 16 on the way to a premiership.
In 2009, St Kilda won 22 of 25 games and still didn't win the flag, the team that did, Geelong, losing only one more. And the year before that, Geelong, Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs occupied the top three spots on the ladder from round two right up until grand final day.
Perhaps it's time to stress this isn't a lament. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even the past few years of dominance have provided twists in the tale, usually right at the critical moment, Geelong's second loss of 2008 on grand final day the obvious example.
But we might be privy to a few more ups and downs in 2012. And we mightn't have to wait until the final game of the season to see them, either. Because it's becoming increasingly apparent that while the bottom teams are a long way off the pack, there's every possibility of a logjam at the top.
Twelve wins have been enough to earn a club a spot in the finals in each of the past five years. Last season, it was only 11-and-a-half. Indeed, in 2009, Essendon got in after losing more games than it won.
This time out, it might require at least 13 to get there. A fair raising of the bar when you consider 14 wins was good enough for a top-four spot in five of the past seven seasons. And with three of the 2011 top four parked in the lower half of the ladder for now, the chase, even before we hit May, is well and truly on.
The super side may indeed be dead. In which case, you can only say long live the pretty good side. Or in 2012, a whole collection of them.