Round 5 shapes up as a huge round with Mick Malthouse to break the all-time coaching record, the Swans and Bulldogs to meet in an SCG blockbuster, and the first Showdown to determine which South Australian side is really the contender in 2015.
Carlton versus Collingwood
Having opened their account for season 2015 at the expense of St Kilda in Wellington last weekend, Carlton will be out to ensure coach Mick Malthouse celebrates his record-breaking 715th VFL/AFL game as coach with a win against his old club, traditional rivals Collingwood.
When plotting this year’s fixture late last year, the AFL asked Malthouse which club he would like to break the McHale record against, and not surprisingly he chose the Pies, the side he coached to the 2010 premiership.
While the Blues will be out to ensure the milestone is celebrated with a win, his old mob will be out to ruin it, and there is every chance of it happening given Malthouse has yet to taste victory against the club he left at the end of the 2011 season.
The Pies are coming off an impressive Anzac Day win against Essendon last week and currently sit third on the ladder with three wins and just one loss, that being against the Adelaide Crows by 27 points.
It comes to show that they have moved on from the departure of Dayne Beams, and the long-term knee injury suffered by Brent Macaffer against GWS in the penultimate round of last season.
Accordingly, the Pies will start favourites to defeat Carlton on Friday night, but the Blues will be keen to lift for their coach Mick Malthouse to ensure that he celebrates his record-breaking milestone with their first win over the Pies since 2012 and first since he took over from Brett Ratten at the end of 2012.
Prediction: Collingwood by 18 points.
Richmond versus Geelong Cats
For the first time in a long time, the Geelong Cats are under pressure, and rightly so following their worst start to a season for eleven years.
Last Sunday’s 16-point loss to North Melbourne, their first at Simonds Stadium against a Victorian club for eight years, has left the club with just one win from their opening four games and down at 16th on the ladder.
It’s starting to become obvious that the Cats’ long period of sustained success, which saw the club win three premierships, produce two Brownlow Medallists and multiple All-Australians, as well as a lengthening injury toll, is starting to catch up to the current squad.
Still, Chris Scott’s men should start favourites against Richmond, to whom they have only lost once since 2000, especially with the Tigers coming off a very poor performance against Melbourne in the Anzac Eve match.
Their coach Damien Hardwick slammed the side for not being hard enough and even so it will be hard seeing them bounce back against the Cats, a club that has given them hell since the turn of the millennium, none more so than the humiliating 157-point defeat which kick-started the Cats’ long period of dominance.
With both clubs under the pump, it will be interesting to see which club responds on Saturday afternoon. While the Cats should beat the Tigers, it won’t kick-start another period of long dominance like the aforementioned 157-point win against the same club did eight years ago.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.
Sydney Swans versus Western Bulldogs
Prior to the start of the season the solitary match between the Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs for the year shaped as a likely mismatch.
The Swans were coming off another successful season only tarnished by the grand final loss to Hawthorn, while the Bulldogs lost their captain, coach and CEO in tumultuous circumstances after their third consecutive bottom-five finish.
Oh, and not to mention that the Bulldogs also lost their reigning best-and-fairest, Tom Liberatore, to a season-ending knee injury during the NAB Challenge.
But any fears of a one-sided match have been set aside for now, with both sides on three wins and one loss for the season and playing contrastingly exciting brands of football four rounds into the new season.
The Swans started off with three consecutive wins against Essendon, Port Adelaide and GWS before a poor first half proved to be their downfall against Fremantle.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, thrashed the previously unbeaten Adelaide Crows by 57 points to prove that they are tracking well under rookie coach Luke Beveridge, despite the adversities the club faced at the end of last season.
Their first visit to the SCG since 2012 will provide an acid test of where the Bulldogs are at, and for their multi-million dollar recruit Tom Boyd, it will be his first trip to Sydney since leaving the GWS Giants at the end of last season.
As hyped-up as this match may be, the Swans’ home ground advantage and the fact the Bulldogs haven’t won in Sydney since 2008 should swing the favouritism the way of John Longmire’s men.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by 32 points.
Gold Coast Suns versus Brisbane Lions
The first QClash for 2015 was supposed to be an indicator as to which of the Gold Coast Suns and Brisbane Lions would take the next step up this season, but as the only two clubs yet to taste victory this season, this shapes up as a potential early-season wooden spoon derby instead.
Only inaccurate kicking by the GWS Giants saved the Gold Coast Suns from an even more embarrassing defeat, while the Brisbane Lions were equally as inept in its 53-point loss to the West Coast Eagles last Sunday.
As if things couldn’t already get worse for the Suns, former number one draft pick David Swallow and prized recruit Nick Malceski will both sit out the match due to injuries suffered in the 66-point humiliation by the Giants in Canberra last Saturday.
The pair join Gary Ablett Jr, whose comeback from a shoulder injury backfired in the first two rounds, on the club’s growing injury list and their fortunes on the field don’t appear to be improving anytime soon.
Meanwhile, a lot was also expected from the Brisbane Lions in 2015, given they were able to land the likes of Dayne Beams, Allen Christensen and Mitch Robinson during the off-season.
And despite being the best-performed team during the NAB Challenge, the season has not unfolded the way they would have liked, but a win against the Suns on the Gold Coast could be what they need if they are to get off the mark in 2015.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 24 points.
North Melbourne versus Hawthorn
The corresponding match last year between North Melbourne and Hawthorn was the one match that best illustrates the Roos’ 2014 season – good enough to beat the best, but not good enough against the worst.
That theory will again be put to the test this Saturday night when Brad Scott’s men face Hawthorn in what was shaping as one of the most anticipated matches of the year until Hawks fullback Brian Lake went down with a knee injury last week.
It was in the teams’ last meeting last year when Lake made headlines for all the wrong reasons, tangling with Roos opponent Drew Petrie and was seen placing him in an ugly-looking chokehold.
Both teams sit on 2-2 for the season with the Roos having defeated the Cats at Simonds Stadium while the Hawks are coming off a narrow eight-point loss to Port Adelaide after having fallen 58 points behind in the second quarter.
Lake and almost certainly Paul Puopolo will join prized recruit James Frawley on the sidelines for the Hawks, who simply need to win if they are to get their premiership defence back on track.
Thus, this Saturday night’s showdown against the Kangaroos will provide a challenge and the loser of this match faces the prospect of falling to two wins and three losses for the season.
Prediction: North Melbourne by 16 points.
West Coast Eagles versus GWS Giants
Having won three of their opening four games of a season for the first time since entering the competition in 2012, the GWS Giants should enjoy their status as early-season bolters while they can, because if past history is anything to go by, then they could be in for a tough encounter against the West Coast Eagles this Saturday night.
The corresponding match between the two teams last year saw the Eagles romp to a 111-point victory with Josh Kennedy feasting on the injury-ravaged Giants defence with eleven straight goals.
Statistics have revealed that Kennedy loves to feast on the AFL’s strugglers; on top of the 11 he kicked against GWS last year, he also kicked 15 goals across two matches against the Gold Coast Suns last year, while he also kicked ten goals against a rebuilding Carlton side in Round 2 this year.
His return of 3.5 (23) against the Brisbane Lions was disappointing by his standards, but it didn’t prevent the Eagles from romping to a 53-point win over the bottom-placed Lions at the Gabba last week.
Thus, the Giants’ defence, which was strengthened by the arrival of Joel Patfull during the off-season, will have their hands full trying to prevent a repeat performance from Kennedy, while at the same time ensuring their forwards aim better at goal after kicking more behinds than goals in three of their four matches.
Their inaccuracy prevented them from achieving bigger wins than what they had against St Kilda and the Gold Coast Suns, while they could have beaten the Sydney Swans had they kicked straighter at the SCG in Round 3.
They will also have to overcome their fear of playing at Subiaco Oval, which has lived up to its name as the “House of Pain” for the Giants, with the club having lost on their previous four visits to the ground by an average of just under 100 points.
Whether they can adjust to the dimensions of the AFL’s largest ground will be key to them putting up a good challenge against the Eagles on Saturday night. However, at home the Eagles should prove too strong despite their horror injury toll.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 60 points.
Melbourne versus Fremantle
Fremantle will look to continue its best ever start to a season when they trek to the MCG for only the third time since it lost the grand final to Hawthorn nineteen months ago.
Their 14-point win over the Sydney Swans marked the first time ever they had won four straight matches to start a season, and it followed on from dominant victories against Geelong and West Coast and a narrow Round 1 win over Port Adelaide.
Although many expect them to beat Melbourne this Sunday, it won’t come easy as many think it will.
The Demons have recorded their best start to a season for quite some time, defeating the Gold Coast Suns and Richmond while also suffering losses to the GWS Giants and Adelaide Crows.
It is the first time since 2011 that the club has won two matches by Round 4 and it shows that they are tracking very well under the coaching of Paul Roos as the Dees continue their rise from AFL oblivion.
However, a tough three weeks lie ahead for the club, with their home game against Fremantle to precede a tough pair of matches against last year’s grand finalists, the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn, both at the MCG.
Thus, this Sunday’s match provides the best chance for the club to test itself against one of the competition’s true heavyweights in Fremantle, whom they haven’t beaten since 2011.
While the Dees should play hard, as they have in all but one of their eight halves of football this season, the Dockers should continue their impressive start to a season as they continue to prove that their premiership window has not shut – yet.
Prediction: Fremantle by 40 points.
St Kilda versus Essendon
If Essendon are to prove their worth as finals contenders in 2015, they must not underestimate bottom placed sides like they did last year, when they ended up being the only side to lose to bottom-two sides St Kilda and Melbourne in 2014.
The Bombers have endured a mixed start to the season, with a poor final quarter against the Sydney Swans proving costly in a 12-point loss. That preceded contrasting wins over Hawthorn and Carlton before they fell away in the second half of the Anzac Day clash against Collingwood.
To date the Bombers remain the last Victorian team to be beaten by St Kilda (in Round 5 last year), whose only win for the season came at the expense of the Gold Coast Suns in Round 2.
A poor second half against Carlton in Wellington cost them dearly as they went down by 40 points, and again the club appears likely to be without club veterans Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna for the clash against the Bombers.
Top draft pick Paddy McCartin again struggled against the Blues and was subbed out in the third quarter last week, and appears to have been given no option but to be thrown in the deep end for the third week running.
Just whether the Saints can lift for the match against the Dons remains to be seen.
Prediction: Essendon by 38 points.
Adelaide Crows versus Port Adelaide
The first Showdown of the year brings together two teams that have started the season in contrasting fashion.
The Adelaide Crows were unbeaten until the Western Bulldogs brought them crashing back down to earth last Sunday, while Port Adelaide were slow to get off the mark before defeating North Melbourne and Hawthorn by eight points each in the last fortnight.
Coach Phil Walsh was left fuming after the Crows lost the ground ball differential statistic for the third week running, and threatened to make his players jump off a jetty if it happened – eventually, the players were made to walk themselves into the icy cold water in Glenelg rather than actually jump off the jetty.
The Power, on the other hand, shot out of the blocks against the reigning premiers Hawthorn by kicking the first seven goals then leading by as much as 58 points in the second quarter, before cooling down en route to an eight-point victory.
Everything is starting to come together for Ken Hinkley’s men, who after this match will have completed a brutal opening five rounds of the season which saw them face four top-six teams from last year, as well as the Crows in an away game.
That being said about this game being their home game, the Crows will be expected to respond to last week’s poor effort against the Bulldogs and halt any momentum their cross-town rivals may have after surviving such a brutal opening to their season.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 26 points.