Your AFL team’s run home: Part 1

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    Just seven rounds remain in what could go down as the craziest season yet.

    This week I am resting my weekly round previews to provide an analysis of your team’s run to September.

    As always, there will be two parts. Part one will look at the teams currently in the eight, while part two will focus on the teams still in finals contention as well as the battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

    Adelaide Crows (currently first, 11 wins, four losses, 139%, 44 points)
    Matches to play: Melbourne (TIO Stadium), Geelong Cats (Adelaide Oval), Collingwood (MCG), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), Essendon (Etihad Stadium), Sydney Swans (Adelaide Oval), West Coast Eagles (Domain Stadium)

    A crucial month looms for ladder leaders the Adelaide Crows, with all but one of their seven remaining matches coming against sides still in finals contention.

    This weekend the Crows travel up to Darwin to face a Melbourne side which is closing in on its first finals appearance since 2006.

    That is then followed by a potential grand final preview when they host the Geelong Cats in what is expected to be another sellout at home.

    They then make two trips to Melbourne on either side of a home Showdown, before finishing their regular season at home to the Sydney Swans followed by the trip west to face the West Coast Eagles.

    At the rate in which the Crows are performing all year, it’ll be hard seeing them drop another game between now and the end of the season.

    The only genuine challenges they should expect are those from the Geelong Cats, whom the Crows haven’t beaten since 2013, the Sydney Swans, who have emerged as the form team of the past ten weeks, and the West Coast Eagles, who despite their patchy recent form are tough to beat at home.

    The upside for Don Pyke’s men are that the matches against the Cats and Swans are both at home, which should boost their chances of securing the minor premiership and two all-important home finals.

    It would also ease their path to a third premiership, which would be a long-awaited one for their fans who haven’t experienced such glory since 1998.

    Predicted finish: first (17 wins, five losses)

    GWS Giants (currently second, ten wins, three losses, two draws, 117.8%, 44 points)
    Matches to play: Sydney Swans (Spotless Stadium), Richmond (MCG), Fremantle (Spotless Stadium), Melbourne (UNSW Canberra Oval), Western Bulldogs (Etihad Stadium), West Coast Eagles (Spotless Stadium), Geelong Cats (Simonds Stadium)

    Talk about playing to the edge.

    Close matches have become the theme of the GWS Giants’ 2017 season, the club winning four of five matches that have been decided by less than ten points, as well as drawing their last two matches in succession.

    Their draw against Hawthorn in Launceston last week not only cost them top spot on the ladder, but also saw them become the first team since Carlton in 1921 to draw two consecutive matches.

    This Saturday night they face the form team of the past ten weeks, the Sydney Swans, in what looms as yet another massive Sydney Derby at Spotless Stadium.

    That is followed by their only appearance at the MCG this season when they face Richmond, who will be keen to atone for their heartbreaking three-point loss the last time these two sides met.

    After that, they play Fremantle at home, followed by Melbourne in Canberra, the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium and the West Coast Eagles back at home before they head down to Geelong in Round 23 to face the Cats.

    It is possible that the rematch against the Cats at Simonds Stadium could potentially decide who hosts their qualifying final clash, should it come to shape, in the first week of the finals.

    The two sides fought out a thrilling draw back in Round 15 and with the Giants enduring another draw last week, percentage will not matter anymore if the gap between the two sides is half a game come the end of Round 22.

    Predicted finish: third (15 wins, five losses, two draws)

    Geelong Cats (currently third, ten wins, four losses, one draw, 119%, 42 points)
    Matches to play: Hawthorn (MCG), Adelaide Crows (Adelaide Oval), Carlton (Etihad Stadium), Sydney Swans (Simonds Stadium), Richmond (Simonds Stadium), Collingwood (MCG), GWS Giants (Simonds Stadium)

    Like the Adelaide Crows, the Geelong Cats are in for a crucial run home as they look to secure the double chance for the ninth time in eleven years.

    They’ll certainly be relishing Saturday afternoon’s clash against Hawthorn at the MCG, following a fortnight away from home which saw them bank six out of a possible eight premiership points.

    But the biggest test will come in Round 18 when they travel to the Oval to face the ladder-leading Adelaide Crows in what looms as a potential grand final preview.

    Patrick Dangerfield Joel Selwood Geelong Cats AFL 2016 tall

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    If ladder positions hold, then the Cats could travel to the City of Churches with the chance to take top spot on the ladder with five rounds of the season to go after that.

    After their final interstate trip for the season, they will then face Carlton, the Sydney Swans, Richmond and Collingwood before a potential second-place decider against the GWS Giants at home in Round 23.

    Such is the hype around that final clash, which could double as the final time former favourite son Steve Johnson plays in Geelong, that many have called for it to be played on the Monday night.

    It could decide who finishes second and hosts a potential qualifying final two weeks later. For the Cats, that could mean back-to-back meetings against the Giants in their own backyard.

    But of course, the Cats would need to be within half a game of the Giants in either second or third place on the ladder come the end of Round 22 for that potential second-place play-off to eventuate.

    Predicted finish: second (16 wins, five losses, one draw)

    Port Adelaide (currently fourth, nine wins, six losses, 132%, 36 points)
    Matches to play: North Melbourne (Adelaide Oval), Melbourne (MCG), St Kilda (Adelaide Oval), Adelaide Crows (Adelaide Oval), Collingwood (Adelaide Oval), Western Bulldogs (Mars Stadium, Ballarat), Gold Coast Suns (Adelaide Oval)

    Port Adelaide couldn’t have possibly asked for a dream run into September.

    Five of their last seven games are at home, including a stretch of three straight games at the Oval, and they only have to face one higher-ranked team in that stretch (cross-town rivals the Adelaide Crows).

    However, they do have to trek to the MCG one last time to face fifth-placed Melbourne, while they will also take on the Western Bulldogs in the first premiership match to be played in Ballarat.

    Ken Hinkley’s men leapt into the top four following their impressive 32-point win over the West Coast Eagles in Perth, and will start favourites against struggling North Melbourne at the Oval this Saturday afternoon.

    They will receive a sterner test as to where their finals hopes lay against Melbourne the following round, after which they face St Kilda, the Crows, Collingwood and the Bulldogs before finishing against the Suns at home.

    The match against the Dees next week could ultimately decide where the Power finish at season’s end; in their favour is the fact that they have a superior percentage (132% to 110.8%).

    With cross-town rivals the Adelaide Crows likely to claim the minor premiership, wherever the Power finish out of fourth or fifth will not matter, but what will matter though is what privileges they get in September.

    Predicted finish: fifth (13 wins, nine losses)

    Melbourne (currently fifth, nine wins, six losses, 110.8%, 36 points)
    Matches to play: Adelaide Crows (TIO Stadium), Port Adelaide (MCG), North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena), GWS Giants (UNSW Canberra Oval), St Kilda (MCG), Brisbane Lions (MCG), Collingwood (MCG)

    What a perfect time in the season to be a Melbourne fan.

    The Dees are closing in on its long-awaited first finals appearance since 2006, which if achieved will be well deserved given what the club has endured over the past decade.

    Since Neale Daniher last took the club to September 11 years ago, the club has been turned over significantly from the top down, to the point where Nathan Jones remains their only survivor from their most recent final.

    It is exciting times ahead for the club that was once self-branded “an impediment to the industry”.

    But before all that can happen, the Dees face a tough run home, starting with this Saturday night’s trip to Darwin where they will host the top-placed Adelaide Crows.

    That is then followed by matches against Port Adelaide, North Melbourne, the GWS Giants, St Kilda, the Brisbane Lions and Collingwood, with the final three matches at the MCG set to provide the club the perfect finals lead-in.

    Jesse Hogan Melbourne Demons AFL 2016 tall

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    Their showdown against the Power at the MCG next week could ultimately decide where the Dees finish on the ladder. If the club continues on their good form all year, they may achieve their best ladder finish since 2004, when they finished fifth before bowing out to Essendon in an elimination final that year.

    Not helping their cause is a lengthening injury list which includes both their co-captains, Nathan Jones and Jack Viney, while Tomas Bugg is unlikely to play again in 2017 given he is not guaranteed to return once his six-match suspension for striking Sydney’s Callum Mills expires in Round 22.

    It will now remain to be seen how the Dees attack the final seven rounds of the season.

    Richmond (currently sixth, nine wins, six losses, 105.3%, 36 points)
    Matches to play: Brisbane Lions (Etihad Stadium), GWS Giants (MCG), Gold Coast Suns (Metricon Stadium), Hawthorn (MCG), Geelong Cats (Simonds Stadium), Fremantle (Domain Stadium), St Kilda (MCG)

    According to coach Damien Hardwick, “it was good to get a reality check”.

    That’s exactly what happened last week when Richmond were blasted off the park by St Kilda in the annual Maddie’s Match at Etihad Stadium last Saturday night.

    While their percentage took a significant hit after that heavy defeat, they still remain in sixth position and still in prime position to contest its fourth finals series in five years.

    But that defeat, along with many other close defeats, is proof that they still need to bridge the gap between their best and worst football.

    This Sunday’s clash against the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium will provide the club the perfect opportunity to bounce back before they face the GWS Giants at the MCG the following week.

    They also have to make road trips to the Gold Coast and Perth to face the Suns and Fremantle in rounds 19 and 22 respectively, on either side of a pair of matches against Hawthorn and the Geelong Cats.

    All that then leads up to a rematch against the Saints in the final round, this time at the MCG, in a clash which could determine where the Tigers finish on the ladder.

    In the end, the complexity of the Tigers’ final seven matches, as well as their narrow defeats that have shaped their season, will eventually cost them their berth in September.

    Predicted finish: 10th (11 wins, 11 losses)

    Dustin Martin Richmond Tigers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    St Kilda (currently seventh, nine wins, six losses, 104%, 36 points)
    Matches to play: Essendon (Etihad Stadium), Sydney Swans (SCG), Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval), West Coast Eagles (Etihad Stadium), Melbourne (MCG), North Melbourne (Etihad Stadium), Richmond (MCG)

    Not only did last Saturday night’s huge win over Richmond boost St Kilda’s percentage, it also boosted their chances of playing finals for the first time since 2011.

    Currently sitting in seventh place on the ladder, the Saints have the chance to further consolidate their place in the eight when they host Essendon at Etihad Stadium this Friday night.

    After that, though, they will be on the road for two consecutive weeks, first facing the resurgent Sydney Swans at the SCG followed by a second trip to the City of Churches to face Port Adelaide at the Oval.

    Alan Richardson’s men won’t have to travel after that, with their final four matches being split evenly across Etihad Stadium and the MCG.

    Though they have to face the West Coast Eagles, a side they haven’t beaten since mid-2011, the Saints will fancy their chances given that it is their home game, plus the fact that the Eagles have been modest on the road this year.

    It would take only a lapse in form for them to miss out on a berth in September.

    Predicted finish: sixth (13 wins, nine losses)

    Sydney Swans (currently eighth, eight wins, seven losses, 113.3%, 32 points)
    Matches to play: GWS Giants (Spotless Stadium), St Kilda (SCG), Hawthorn (MCG), Geelong Cats (Simonds Stadium), Fremantle (SCG), Adelaide Crows (Adelaide Oval), Carlton (SCG)

    Who would’ve thought that the Sydney Swans would be in the position they are now after such a poor start to the season?

    After being upset by Carlton at the MCG in Round 6, the Swans’ season appeared dead and buried, last on the ladder for the first time since 1999 after enduring its worst start to a season since 1993.

    But somehow, the Swans have turned things around to the point where, following their 67-point thrashing of the Gold Coast Suns last Saturday night (as well as other results going their way), they find themselves in the eight for the first time this season.

    The Swans’ impressive form over the past ten weeks (eight wins from their past nine matches) sets them up well for revenge when they face the GWS Giants in what looms as a massive Sydney Derby this Saturday night.

    John Longmire’s men will have every reason to be confident it can win, given their opponents this weekend are coming off some patchy form, including losing to Carlton by one point and drawing two consecutive matches.

    They’ll also start favourites in each of their remaining home matches, though the first cab off the rank is seventh-placed St Kilda, whom they could meet in the finals if my predictions are anything to go by.

    They also have to contend with back-to-back trips to Victoria, for a second time this season, as well as the always-tough trip to Adelaide to face the ladder-leading Crows on a Friday night in Round 22.

    It could then come down to Round 23, where all the Swans may need to do is beat Carlton at home to ensure their place in September, or risk taking their earliest post-season mortem since 2009.

    Despite some tough road trips, I have the Swans finishing in the eight.

    Predicted finish: seventh (12 wins, ten losses)

    If my predictions hold, then this would be the fixture for the first week of the finals:

    Qualifying finals
    Adelaide Crows versus Melbourne, Adelaide Oval, Thursday September 7 at 7:20pm
    Geelong Cats versus GWS Giants, Simonds Stadium, Saturday September 9 at 3:20pm

    Elimination finals
    Port Adelaide versus West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Oval, Saturday September 9 at 7:20pm
    St Kilda versus Sydney Swans, MCG, Friday, September 8 at 7:50pm

    Part II will look at the sides currently outside the eight.

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