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AFL Anzac Day preview

Roar Guru
21st April, 2015
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To commemorate the 100th anniversary of troops landing at Gallipoli, five matches are scheduled for the biggest day on the AFL calendar outside of the grand final.

It kicks off with St Kilda continuing their fledgling partnership with the Wellington Council in New Zealand, with the club playing host to a Victorian club for the first time as part of the agreement.

That will serve as the entree to the main event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which sees Essendon and Collingwood square off in the 20th anniversary of the day’s showpiece match.

Following that, the Greater Western Sydney Giants will continue their rivalry against the Gold Coast Suns when they clash at Canberra’s StarTrack Oval, the venue of the former club’s first ever win in the AFL.

Then the Adelaide Oval will play host to a rematch of last year’s preliminary final where Port Adelaide, fresh off their first win of the season, will look to exact some revenge on Hawthorn, who went on to win their second consecutive premiership after beating the Power by just three points in the grand final qualifier.

To top it all off, two undefeated sides will go head-to-head when Fremantle and the Sydney Swans square off in their first regular-season meeting at Domain Stadium since 2010.

Let’s preview each match on the biggest day of the AFL regular-season calendar.

St Kilda versus Carlton
11:10am (1:10pm NZST)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Having hosted interstate sides in the first two years of a five-year contract to play at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Anzac Day, this year St Kilda host to a Victorian club in the city for the first time.

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That opponent will be Carlton, whose coach Mick Malthouse is facing increasing pressure to keep his job after overseeing his third consecutive 0-3 start to a season since taking over from Brett Ratten.

Following a poor effort against the West Coast Eagles in the west, the Blues performed much better against Essendon but still lost by 25 points, placing them 17th on the ladder after three rounds.

The Saints, on the other hand, performed well for one quarter against Collingwood before fading badly to lose by 74 points in their only Friday night outing for the season.

Captain Nick Riewoldt is an uncertainty to play after pulling out of the Pies match due to a calf injury, while Paddy McCartin is set to be given another chance after struggling on his AFL debut last week.

Despite the looming possibility that Riewoldt may not play, the Saints will be keen to break their Wellington duck after losing to the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions in 2013 and 2014 respectively. And they won’t get a better chance to do it against Carlton, who have admitted that they are in a rebuilding phase after crashing to 13th place last season.

Prediction: St Kilda by 23 points.

Essendon versus Collingwood
2:40pm
Melbourne Cricket Ground

There have been so many memorable moments in the Anzac Day showpiece match, including the 1995 draw, the breath-taking performance of Andrew Lovett in 2005, and match-winning goals by David Zaharakis (Essendon) and Jarryd Blair (Collingwood) in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

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The Bombers entered this season having had 34 of their past and present players cleared of using a banned drug as part of the club’s controversial supplements program, and could so easily have been 3-0 to start the year.

They led the Sydney Swans by 41 points deep in the third quarter in the opening round before capitulating to lose by 12 points. They went on to upset Hawthorn by two points in Round 2 and then defeat Carlton by 25 in Round 3.

It puts them in good stead ahead of the match against the Pies, who will have the advantage of an eight-day break after having thrashed St Kilda by 74 points last Friday night, bouncing back from a poor showing against Adelaide in Round 2.

The Pies’ only other victory for the season was a 12-point win over the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in Round 1.

In an interesting footnote, Essendon development coach and former Melbourne coach Mark Neeld will once again be involved in the Anzac Day match, having spent four years as an assistant coach at Collingwood between 2008 and 2011.

Prediction: Essendon by 20 points.

GWS Giants versus Gold Coast Suns
5:40pm
StarTrack Oval, Canberra

Despite having their best-ever start to a season put on the skids by the Sydney Swans last week, the GWS Giants will look to continue their early-season form when they welcome the Gold Coast Suns to Canberra for the first time since 2013.

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The clash between the Giants and Suns will be the third consecutive year the two teams have met in the Anzac Day Round, but this will be the first time they have met on the day itself – something the two teams hope will become annual in the years to come.

The Giants wasted their scoring opportunities against the Swans at the SCG last weekend, booting 3.13 from 16 scoring shots in the first half when they could have led by as many as 15 points at half-time.

That poor first half came back to bite them as they dropped their first match of the season by 21 points, following victories over last year’s two worst-performed sides, St Kilda and Melbourne, in the opening two rounds.

The Giants have not beaten the Suns since winning their first AFL game at their expense in 2012 but should fancy their chances this time around given the Suns will be coming off a six-day break and the daunting trip to Geelong.

The Suns may still be winless from three starts under Rodney Eade but their performance against the Cats, made all the more impressive given they were without captain Gary Ablett Jr, could be an indication that they are finally heading in the right direction. They led by 12 points at half-time and threatened to cause a boilover until a late Geelong goal by Mark Blicavs sunk the brave Suns.

Despite the short turnaround, the Suns will be keen to bank their first win for the season against the Giants on what will be a momentous occasion for both clubs.

Prediction: Gold Coast Suns by 14 points.

Port Adelaide versus Hawthorn
7:40pm (7:10pm ACST)
Adelaide Oval

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Although the Power fell agonisingly short in last year’s elimination final, it nearly completed a rags-to-riches resurgence for a club that was in crisis both on-and-off the field, having lost coach Matthew Primus and president Brett Duncanson in 2012 and won just eight matches across the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

This year Ken Hinkley’s men were slow to get off the mark, losing their first two matches of the season before logging their first win at the expense of North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium last week.

By contrast, Hawthorn picked up where they left off from last year, thrashing the Geelong Cats and Western Bulldogs by 62 and 70 points on either side of a heartbreaking two-point loss to Essendon in Round 2.

Despite the Hawks’ imposing form, the Power should not fear their opposition, especially when you also look back to the Round 10 result last year, which the Power won by 14 points.

The Power should also have the full support of the home crowd as they look to win their first home game for the season, having gone down to the Sydney Swans by 48 points in Round 2.

However, the Hawks’ hot form at the moment is expected to be too much for the Power and Alastair Clarkson’s men should bank the four points in this one.

Prediction: Hawthorn by 10 points.

Fremantle versus Sydney Swans
8:40pm (6:40pm AWST)
Domain Stadium

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To wrap up the big day, two undefeated sides meet under the lights of Domain Stadium in the Len Hall Tribute Match.

Many believed that after their straight-sets exit from the finals last year that time had run out for the Dockers to land a maiden flag. However, Ross Lyon’s men have started the season impressively, winning their first three matches and thus equalling their best ever start to a season, following 2010.

Against the West Coast Eagles last week they kicked the first 11 goals of the game and led by 79 points at one stage in the third quarter, before easing off en route to a 30-point victory.

The Swans, who are also unbeaten after three rounds, present a different threat to the one the Dockers faced last Sunday. After coming back from the dead to beat Essendon in Round 1, John Longmire’s men defeated Port Adelaide in Adelaide and GWS at home and currently sit second on the ladder.

It pits them in their second consecutive second versus third match, with the Dockers sitting just one rung below them on the ladder.

Only one of the Swans or Dockers will be undefeated by the end of Saturday night, and that side will take provisional top spot on the ladder, as the Adelaide Crows play their match against the Western Bulldogs on Sunday.

Prediction: Fremantle by 25 points.