Every season after the drama of the draft and its over-hyped build-up, clubs quietly make their last moves as final list lodgement approaches at the end of November.
Five tips in Round 2 wasn’t the best haul but there were surprises galore – will Round 3 be a repeat of that?
Port Adelaide versus Essendon
Channel Seven will be cringing at the thought of the Damian Hardwick Cup being telecast in prime time. Like the cup’s namesake, Port have promised much but delivered very little with their 2014 form looking like a flash in the pan.
Despite missing Chad Wingard and Hamish Hartlett, the likes of Robbie Gray, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak should be too much for an Essendon side still high from the fumes of their sterling win last weekend.
Actually, that win was against Melbourne so despite the Bombers being crippled as a club this win needs to be put into context. Normal services will return as Port win this game by 53 points.
St Kilda versus Collingwood
The Saints have shown signs of being impressive but are 0-2 while Collingwood made the most of staying close enough to Richmond to expose their total lack of leadership and poise and steal the points last weekend. Both sides enter the Tony Francis Cup keen to notch another win.
Collingwood have won their last seven games against the Saints dating back to the drawn 2010 grand final, and how times have changed since that fateful day. The footy gods decided that Stephen Milne was more disliked than Lenny Hayes was admired, and one of the great contests of our time ended with neither side saluting.
The jumpers are the same but the combatants far different. Alex Fasolo is faced with the opportunity to string together two decent games while the Saints will look to continue their centre square dominance – they rank first in clearances from the bounce through two weeks.
A sizeable crowd will see the Saints break their duck with a thrilling four-point win.
Richmond versus Adelaide
All week the footy world has debated Trent Cotchin’s leadership, but they would be better debating how Damian Hardwick’s Jedi mind tricks scored him a contract extension. His Tigers take on the Crows at Etihad Stadium, a fast track that will suit Adelaide’s slick ball movement.
The Crows are kicking more goals from general play than all but two other teams and average 59 inside 50s per game against the Tigers in their last seven games.
The Crows kicked 22 goals from 55 inside 50s last weekend. If they go close to matching that efficiency they will be too strong for the Tigers in the Chris Knights Cup and win by 17 points.
Sydney versus Greater Western Sydney
After so many years of hype and bluster, this battle may finally be worthy of its stature. Everyone expects Sydney to fall away year after year, but they don’t follow the script – having said that, expectations should be tempered given they have defeated Collingwood and Carlton in the first two rounds.
Lance Franklin has stayed out of trouble and Callum Sinclair has flipped the bird to the West Coast Eagles as the Swans’ ability to make something out of a no-one is yet again realised. Sinclair will have to be on guard for one-man wrecking ball Shane Mumford, who single-handedly intimidated an entire team last weekend and will be prowling his prey again on Saturday as these two teams play for the cup inscribed with his name.
With both sides boasting a strong defence, an arm wrestle is on the cards where Sydney will get over the line by 15 points.
Gold Coast versus Carlton
Before the season, this looked like a wooden spoon battle, but instead the Warnock Cup shapes as an intriguing contest. The culture and feeling on the Gold Coast improved the minute Charlie Dixon and Harley Bennell were shipped out. Gary Ablett is still very good, but he no longer needs to do everything as Aaron Hall and Dion Prestia are on the up and their forward line is lethal.
Carlton will get a free ride this season, with five wins considered a success. They are embracing a more direct, faster-moving game style that comes with teething issues and on a fast track against a high-scoring opponent they are every chance to be dismantled. They will be hoping that Matthew Kreuzer provides more value than a hat rack, while Blaine Boekhorst will be wanting to leave the soccer theatrics in the change-rooms this week.
Carlton will entertain as their kids impress, but the Suns win here by 35 points.
West Coast versus Fremantle
Last year’s top two sides enter this game desperate for a win. The Eagles were diabolical against a Hawthorn side that is inside their head, while Fremantle seems to be a club at the crossroads after a humiliating home loss to the Suns.
Ross Lyon called for the biff to come back, and both sets of fans would love nothing more than a return to 2001 and the Demolition Derby. Nick Suban rates himself as a tough guy, but he is no Josh Carr. And while Leroy Jetta has been known to get a little fiery, he is no Dale Kickett.
The characters have changed and while we wish for the aggro of days past, the most we can hope for now is intensity on both sides. Fremantle are likely to come out and throw everything at the Eagles, but unless they have magically found foot speed, foot skills and a 2016 game plan in the last seven days they won’t be a match for the slick (when they are not playing Hawthorn, that is) Eagles who will win the David Hynes Cup by 29 points.
North Melbourne versus Melbourne
Melbourne were on the verge of being 2-0 last weekend and then remembered who they are. North Melbourne found the going tough against Brisbane but brought home a hard-fought win which sits them at 2-0 with a hard draw ahead.
The Demons were lucky to win in Round 1 and intrigue abounds on whether Simon Goodwin will sit in Paul Roos’ seat this weekend, given the ignominy of the loss to Essendon.
Jesse Hogan came in for much criticism last weekend, but his mind is probably back home in Western Australia where he is likely to return in the next couple of years. For now, he is a Demon and will be eager to rebound, but will find himself matched up to serial pest Scott Thompson and will need to be at his patient best as he has the potential to sway the result of the Alastair Clarkson Cup.
Melbourne have been solid defensively and North unconvincing in attack; those two facts will combine to ensure the margin stays respectable as North win by 31 points.
Western Bulldogs versus Hawthorn
The Hawks reminded those of us stupid enough to doubt them that they remain the team to beat and when they are locked in, it’s not particularly close.
Josh Gibson will probably be manned up this weekend, Sam Mitchell too and Cyril Rioli is likely to get up close and personal with Liam Picken and have to fight for his seven possessions. Marcus Adams will roam around the backline continuing the most assured and remarkable debut season by a 22-year-old key position defender we have ever seen.
On the other side of the field, the Dogs haven’t put a foot wrong and are playing incredible football. They have conceded just 11 goals total in the first fortnight and have averaged 490 possessions, 142 more than their opponents.
Like the Hawks, they like to dominate the football and this will provide a contrast of styles that will give us an insight into how this season may play out. Their game style seems chaotic and they often seem likely to come unstuck, but have an uncanny knack of finding the right option.
The Hawks have dominated recent match-ups between the two teams but this season’s Matt Suckling Cup is a different story. They haven’t faced these Dogs before, who will win by 19 points and have their fans daring to dream. Sixty-two years is such a long time, could this be the year the drought is over?
Geelong versus Brisbane
The Cats were guilty of drinking their own bath water last weekend and paid the price; they were bullied and pushed around by a hungrier team, being well beaten in most statistical categories. They return home for the Damian Bourke Cup to face a Lions team that has lost their first two games but very few admirers, showing an attacking intent but without the skill to win with any regularity.
Joel Selwood has dominated recent games against the Lions and has long been Geelong’s alpha dog, but now has to settle for the role of Robin now that Patrick ‘Batman’ Dangerfield is in town, seeking the limelight and adulation that comes with his arrival.
Batman was brilliant in Round 1, but disappeared into the shadows in Round 2 – expect him to reappear in Round 3 in his Simonds Stadium debut as the Cats win by 31 points.