2017 AFL season: Anzac Round preview

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    This year’s Anzac Round promises to be the biggest yet, with a Dogs stalwart to finally bring up his 300th game, a Sydney Derby which could make or break both sides’ seasons and an Eagle set to face his old club for the first time since a shock trade sent him west last October.

    Port Adelaide and Carlton kick off the five-day extravaganza at the Oval this Friday night, while much-loved Western Bulldogs stalwart Robert Murphy will finally bring up his 300th game after a serious knee injury last year delayed this milestone by 11 months.

    The GWS Giants have the chance to land the final knock-out blow to the Sydney Swans’ September hopes; likewise, Sam Mitchell will get to do the same when his Eagles face Hawthorn at the MCG on Sunday night.

    It culminates in a massive 24 hours when Richmond and Melbourne light up Anzac Eve on the Monday night, before the big one on Tuesday sees Essendon host Collingwood for Anzac Day honours.

    Port Adelaide versus Carlton
    To kick off a massive round of footy, Port Adelaide will welcome Carlton to the Oval in what will be the only Friday night match for either side this year.

    After starting their season with big wins over the Sydney Swans and Fremantle, the Power have lost their last two matches to be 2-2 after four rounds.

    Though they did lose to some good opposition in the Adelaide Crows and GWS Giants, they were far from disgraced in both defeats and were clearly playing to win in both matches.

    Ken Hinkley’s men will start hot favourites against Carlton, who will be travelling to the City of Churches for the first time since late 2014, when they suffered a 103-point thrashing by the Power.

    After upsetting Essendon by 15 points in Round 3, the Blues, playing away from the MCG for the first time this season, went down to the Gold Coast Suns by 26 points at Etihad Stadium last Saturday night.

    It was their third defeat for the season but coach Brendon Bolton knows exactly where he is at as far as rebuilding the club’s playing list is concerned.

    For some of his players, playing in front of over 40,000 fans at the cathedral of South Australian football will be a whole new experience, and whether they embrace it will remain to be seen.

    However, despite having won their last two matches against the Power, the Blues will be no match here.

    Prediction: Port Adelaide by 34 points.

    AFL PORT ADELAIDE RICHMOND

    Western Bulldogs versus Brisbane Lions
    More than twelve months after a serious knee injury left captain Robert Murphy’s career games total stalled at 295 games, one of the Western Bulldogs’ most-loved sons will finally bring up his 300th game when the reigning premiers face the Brisbane Lions at home this Saturday afternoon.

    With the delisting of Brent Harvey at the end of last season, the 34-year-old is the only player remaining from any drafts before the 2000 season, and is currently the oldest active AFL player.

    To celebrate the milestone, the club has unveiled a guernsey which will feature the words “Bob 300” under the Asics logo as well as an odd collar.

    They’ll want to mark it with a win, which would give them their third consecutive 4-1 start to the year, but against a Brisbane Lions side coached by another Alastair Clarkson protege in Chris Fagan, it will not come easy.

    The Lions are struggling in 15th place on the ladder with a 1-3 record but have been playing much better under Fagan after the string of embarrassing losses they suffered under Justin Leppitsch last year.

    However, they do head to Etihad Stadium for the second time in three weeks on the back of a 52-point loss to Richmond, currently their heaviest defeat for the season.

    Now they are tasked with attempting to spoil what is expected to be an emotional afternoon for the Bulldogs faithful, after their much-loved son missed last year’s premiership victory with the aforementioned knee injury.

    Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 30 points.

    Gold Coast Suns versus Adelaide Crows
    The twilight match will see the undefeated Adelaide Crows take their premiership campaign to the Gold Coast where the in-form Suns await.

    The Crows added Essendon to their list of victims last Saturday night, thumping the Bombers to the tune of 65 points and showing why they are expected to seriously contend for the premiership this year.

    Don Pyke’s men will be hoping to better consolidate their 4-0 start to the season, as the last time they started a season so impressively, in 1996, they went on to miss the finals.

    Further, they had beaten a Sydney team by a huge margin at home that year as well; whereas they beat the Swans by 90 points in the opening round of 1996, this year they dealt the Giants a 56-point thumping.

    As for the Suns, all they can do is embrace themselves for the challenge that lies ahead, and hope that they not only put in a competitive effort against the Crows, but also play to their best as they have done in the fortnight following their 102-point thrashing by the GWS Giants.

    Former captain Gary Ablett Jr and coach Rodney Eade copped all sorts of criticism from the media following the loss to the Giants, and the former responded with impressive performances against Hawthorn and Carlton.

    The Suns will need him firing again if they are to break their duck against the Crows – they are one of three clubs, the others being the West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans, the Suns have yet to beat in their short history.

    But given their overall dismal record against the men from West Lakes, that does not look like changing any time soon.

    Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 40 points.

    Sydney Swans versus GWS Giants
    More than seven months after stunning their big brother in their first ever finals match at ANZ Stadium, the GWS Giants will be out to prove that the tide has indeed turned in Sydney.

    When the Giants entered the AFL in 2012, no club dominated them more than the Swans did in their early history, with the younger brother losing their first four Derbies by an average of 79 points.

    This included a 129-point thrashing on the Giants’ first ever visit to the SCG in 2013, though in the three visits to Moore Park since the margin has dramatically decreased – from 46 in 2014 to 21 in 2015 before they lost the corresponding match by 25 points last season.

    Since that not-so-sunny afternoon four years ago, the Giants have pegged back the rivalry with three significant wins over the Swans, including in last year’s historic qualifying final at the Olympic stadium last September.

    Leon Cameron’s men have started this season well, winning three games on the bounce after being hammered by the Adelaide Crows at the Oval in their season opener last month.

    After being dead last at the end of Round 1, the Giants are now fourth.

    Meanwhile, across town, the injury-hit Swans have suffered their worst start to a season for 24 years, but to their credit have been competitive in their four outings, including last week against the West Coast Eagles in Perth.

    In good news for coach John Longmire, several of his best players including former co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, Kurt Tippett, Gary Rohan and Isaac Heeney are all a chance to return for the twelfth Sydney Derby.

    That will do nothing to turn the pendulum the Swans’ way, with this to be the GWS Giants’ best chance yet to not only break their SCG hoodoo, but also land the final knock-out blow on the red and whites’ finals hopes.

    Prediction: GWS Giants by 23 points.

    Phil Davis GWS Giants Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL 2016

    Fremantle versus North Melbourne
    Many had forecast another long season ahead for Fremantle after they were embarrassed to the tune of 89 points against Port Adelaide at the Oval in Round 2.

    But coach Ross Lyon’s decision to play the kids in the wake of that Adelaide Oval massacre has paid massive dividends, with the club pulling off upset victories over the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, the latter at the MCG, in the past fortnight.

    Still, the Dockers’ percentage remains in the red and if you think they’ll be seeking a boost against North Melbourne in the annual Len Hall Tribute Match this Saturday night, then you’re mistaken.

    Despite the Roos’ winless start to the season, the club has been competitive in all four of their defeats and could so easily have beaten either or both the Geelong Cats and Western Bulldogs in rounds two and four respectively.

    In both of those matches they held substantial leads, including by 29 points over the reigning premiers in the third quarter last week, before eventually falling short by less than a kick.

    But any chance they have of breaking their season duck in Perth may not be forthcoming, with the Dockers keen to continue on their good form over the past fortnight.

    Prediction: Fremantle by 25 points.

    St Kilda versus Geelong Cats
    If the past two matches between St Kilda and the Geelong Cats is anything to go by, then we could be in for another thriller at Etihad Stadium this Sunday afternoon.

    Over seven-and-a-half years have passed since the Saints and Cats met in an intense grand final in 2009, and while most (if not all) of the personnel from that decider have moved on, the two sides fought out two Saturday night thrillers under the Docklands roof, one each in 2015 and 2016.

    In the former year, the sides fought out a 97-all draw while last year Jade Gresham was the hero as the Saints upset the highly-fancied Cats by three points for their first win against them since the 2010 qualifying final.

    Another close match could be on the cards, with the Saints having won their last two matches to get its season up and running rather belatedly, and the Cats having started theirs with four wins from as many outings.

    The Saints overcame a poor opening quarter to overcome Collingwood in a scrappy contest, while the Cats showed no mercy against Hawthorn as they won by 86 points to shoot to the top of the ladder.

    It should make for what should be another exciting contest between the emerging Saints and a Geelong side expected by many to again feature at the pointy end of the season.

    While I have the Cats getting up in this one, it won’t come easy.

    Prediction: Geelong Cats by 14 points.

    Jack Steven St Kilda Saints AFL 2016 2

    Hawthorn versus West Coast Eagles
    After suffering their worst start to a season since 1998, there are signs that the Hawthorn dynasty is just about to come to a crashing halt.

    Not only that, the Hawks have suffered back-to-back 86-point defeats in each of their last two matches, against the Gold Coast Suns and the Geelong Cats.

    For most of the current playing list, which had become accustomed to regular success week in, week out, defeat on a regular basis is something they have rarely ever experienced.

    Last week’s loss to the Cats was their sixth in a row dating back to last year’s finals series, marking their worst losing sequence since early 2010, a time in which Alastair Clarkson came very close to being sacked as coach.

    They will have their best chance yet to break their losing streak against a West Coast Eagles side which regularly struggles to win at the MCG against high-quality opposition.

    That being said, this will be the last chance for Adam Simpson’s men this regular season to prove it can perform at the home of football, after their last visit there resulted in an 11-point loss to Richmond in Round 3.

    The Eagles defeated the Sydney Swans by 26 points in Perth last week, but Sam Mitchell’s participation against his old club is in doubt after he suffered a leg injury early in that match.

    If he does play, then he could prove to be the difference between the two clubs, and with his old side still winless, there is nothing he would love to do than to land the knock-out blow to their September hopes.

    Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 24 points.

    Richmond versus Melbourne
    Monday night football returns for the first time since 2014, with Richmond and Melbourne to contest the Anzac Eve fixture for the third consecutive year after the first two editions proved very successful.

    Since the fixture was launched on a Friday night in 2015, the Dees have emerged victors on both occasions by comparable margins (32 in 2015 and 33 last year).

    The corresponding match last year drew nearly 60,000 fans – the club’s biggest home crowd attendance outside of its annual Queen’s Birthday clash against Collingwood for many years.

    Having started this season with two wins, the club has lost their last two matches, their cause not being helped by the absences of suspended pair Jesse Hogan and Jordan Lewis, as well as injured ruckman Max Gawn.

    Hogan will return but Lewis has one more week of his three-match suspension to serve, while Gawn won’t be sighted until mid-July at the earliest owing to a hamstring injury he suffered against the Geelong Cats at Etihad Stadium in Round 3.

    Richmond, on the other hand, have started the season with four straight wins, marking the first time they’d done so since 1995.

    But their bid to go 5-0 faces its first serious hurdle when they face the Dees, a club which has troubled them in recent times with the Tigers having lost their last three against them dating back to 2014, this Monday night.

    However, with the Dees missing key personnel, here presents a golden chance for Damien Hardwick’s men to end years of misery against the red and blue and notch their first win in the Anzac Eve fixture.

    Prediction: Richmond by 22 points.

    Josh Caddy Richmond Tigers 2017 AFL

    Essendon versus Collingwood
    And finally, the biggest match on the AFL’s regular season calendar – the annual Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood.

    Regardless of where the Bombers and Pies are on the ladder, this match regularly attracts the largest non-finals attendance of the year, and the 2017 edition promises to be interesting for a variety of reasons.

    Having won this fixture in 2005, 2009 and 2013, Bombers fans have every reason to be confident that the pattern of their side winning every four years continues on Tuesday afternoon.

    The club started this year with wins over Hawthorn and the Brisbane Lions but have lost their last two, which coach John Worsfold has put down to a lack of chemistry between the players he developed last year and those returning from season-long doping suspensions.

    The Bombers were no match for the Adelaide Crows at the Oval last Saturday night as they went down by 65 points. On a bright note for the club, however, number one draft pick Andrew McGrath scooped the Rising Star nomination after his 28-disposal display in defence.

    He and a host of other young players will now embrace what’s to come, facing Collingwood in front of over 90,000 fans on Anzac Day.

    As they did last year, the Pies will enter the match with a 1-3 record with its solitary win coming by a single point.

    After defeating the Sydney Swans at the SCG in Round 3 the Pies looked nothing but sloppy in a 14-point defeat to St Kilda at Etihad Stadium, the nadir of the match coming when captain Scott Pendlebury was benched for nearly 15 minutes in the third quarter.

    They’ll be hoping to bounce back against the Bombers, which will pose little resemblance to the side that lost last year’s match by 69 points. However, don’t expect the result to change one bit, except perhaps for the margin.

    Prediction: Collingwood by 27 points.