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Two rounds into the new season and while the GWS Giants are up there among the premiership contenders, alarm bells are ringing at some of the other clubs, in particular Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs.
After two rounds, the Giants, Port Adelaide, the Gold Coast Suns and Hawthorn are unbeaten, with the AFL’s newest club (if we can still call them that) sitting pretty on top of the ladder with a percentage of 175.4.
Down at the wrong end of the ladder, two traditional rivals in Carlton and Collingwood, who clash on Friday night, as well as the Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs, are yet to get on the board for season 2018.
And while they suffered a six-goal defeat to the Adelaide Crows at the Oval last Thursday night, there is no cause for concern for reigning premiers Richmond, although a tough clash against Hawthorn this Sunday could put them into the red.
Here is your preview to Round 3.
Carlton versus Collingwood
No matter where they sit on the ladder and no matter how badly they may be faring, matches between Carlton and Collingwood always attracts a large crowd, and expect this Friday night to be no different.
After an encouraging performance against Richmond in Round 1, the Blues took a step or two backward last Saturday against the Suns, falling by 34 points as 2015 number one draft pick Jacob Weitering was severely exposed in defence by Suns forward Tom Lynch, who kicked a career-best eight goals.
This has left many questioning exactly where the Blues are at in their rebuild, which suffered a major setback when All-Australian defender Sam Docherty went down with a serious knee injury before Christmas last year.
But if there ever is a perfect time for the club to bounce back, it’s this Friday night when they face Collingwood at the MCG.
The Pies are coming off a 16-point loss to the GWS Giants but coach Nathan Buckley would have been encouraged by his team’s performance, which came after Tim Broomhead suffered a sickening leg injury in the first quarter.
They had led by more than a goal in the final quarter, but ran out of legs to crash to a 0-2 start to a season for the second consecutive year.
It came after a disappointing first-round loss to Hawthorn in which Tom Mitchell racked up a record 54 disposals for the Hawks, continuing a worrying trend of opposition players racking up big numbers against the Pies.
On the basis of their much-improved performance last week, I’m picking the Pies to get up in this one.
Prediction: Collingwood by 13 points.
Port Adelaide versus Brisbane Lions
The first match on Saturday afternoon will see Port Adelaide start favourites to defeat the Brisbane Lions at the Oval and start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2013.
For the second consecutive year, the Power defied the odds to upset the Sydney Swans at the SCG, which came after they’d thrashed Fremantle by 50 points at home in Round 1.
This puts Ken Hinkley’s men right up there among the premiership contenders, thanks to a strong off-season in which they landed the likes of Steven Motlop, Jack Watts, Lindsay Thomas and Tom Rockliff, who will come up against the side he captained in 2015 and 2016.
On the other hand, the Brisbane Lions will be hoping to register their first win for the season at a venue which has proven to be an unhappy hunting ground for them.
The club has twice lost matches by over 100 points at the Oval, once each to Port Adelaide (by 113 points in 2014) and the Adelaide Crows (by 138 points in 2016), with both losses occurring under the watch of previous coach Justin Leppitsch.
That, combined with disappointing losses to St Kilda and Melbourne in the opening fortnight, do little to suggest that the Lions will break their season duck in the City of Churches this weekend.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 40 points.
Melbourne versus North Melbourne
In their favoured Saturday afternoon timeslot, Melbourne will attempt, yet again, to end a long losing streak against North Melbourne which dates back to Round 9, 2007.
From the current playing list, only current co-captain Nathan Jones remains from their most recent win over the Kangaroos – which was by 50 points in Round 20, 2006.
Their last attempt to end the drought resulted in another narrow defeat by four points, in Round 19 last season – and it was that defeat, among many others, which cost the Dees a coveted place in September.
Despite the dismal record against the Roos, the Dees will start favourites this Saturday afternoon, with both sides having registered their first wins for the season last week.
The Dees bowled over the Brisbane Lions by 26 points on the road, while the Roos kicked seven goals to nil in the final quarter to thrash a disappointing St Kilda side by 52 points in the Good Friday clash at Etihad Stadium.
The lopsided result and the poor standard of the game has prompted the AFL to review the fixture, including deciding which team/s should contest the match and where it should be played.
The Roos have argued that they want to keep the Good Friday clash as a means of building the fixture, but chances are they may not contest it again unless they enjoy a successful season, as seen in 2014 and 2015.
While they will be buoyed by a historically good record against Melbourne dating back over a decade, it won’t mean anything come Saturday afternoon, and the Dees should take the chocolates in this one.
Prediction: Melbourne by 10 points.
Gold Coast Suns versus Fremantle
When is a home game not a home game?
That will certainly be the case when the Gold Coast Suns ‘host’ the Fremantle Dockers at the new Optus Stadium, despite ‘home’ for the Suns being over 4,000km away.
This fixture anomaly has come about as a result of the required use of Metricon Stadium by the Commonwealth Games, which gets underway this week.
It won’t be the first time that a team has had to borrow their opponents’ ground to host a match – in the early noughties, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne took home games against the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions to the SCG and Gabba, respectively.
This effectively granted both the Swans and Lions an extra home game each.
Additionally, both the Bulldogs and Melbourne hosted the Swans in Canberra as a means of bridging the period between the end of North Melbourne’s contract there and the entry of the GWS Giants into the competition in 2012.
Onto on-field matters now, and despite being tipped by many to struggle in 2018, just two rounds into the season and already the Gold Coast Suns have made an impression under new coach Stuart Dew.
Out of contract at the end of this season, forward Tom Lynch kicked a career-best eight goals against Carlton at Etihad Stadium, surpassing his previous-best haul of seven which he achieved in the corresponding match last year.
The Suns’ 34-point victory has them sitting third on the ladder, behind the table-topping GWS Giants and Port Adelaide on percentage.
But the next fortnight presents another mental challenge for the club, playing back-to-back games in Perth with their Round 4 away clash against the West Coast Eagles to follow their “home” game against the Dockers.
Written off by many after a disappointing first-round loss to the Power at the Oval, Fremantle celebrated their first match at the new Optus Stadium with a 16-point win over Essendon last Saturday night.
Typically, both the WA clubs must travel every second week, but the Suns’ generous offer to play their home game against the Dockers in Perth means that Ross Lyon’s men will get to stay home for another week instead.
It will very likely be the only time the Dockers play an away game in their home city against an opponent other than the West Coast Eagles.
At “home”, the Purple Haze should prevail here.
Prediction: Fremantle by eight points.
Sydney Swans versus GWS Giants
Just as everything was starting to come together for the GWS Giants, yet another long-term injury could test their playing list depth.
Their 16-point victory over Collingwood at the MCG, just its second over the Pies and at the home of football, was soured by a serious ankle injury suffered by Tom Scully, which has ruled him out for up to three months.
It was his first game for the season after he sat out the entire pre-season due to a similar injury. Giants coach Leon Cameron will therefore be regretting rushing him back into the side sooner.
However, the club should get Toby Greene back after a hamstring injury prevented him from taking his place against the Pies, and his presence will be crucial to them retaining its place at the top of the ladder and starting a season 3-0 for the first time ever.
Their opponents, the Swans, are coming off a disappointing loss to Port Adelaide at home in which they were overrun in the second half, with Swans coach John Longmire blaming the defeat on wasted opportunities.
Still, Lance Franklin kicked four goals to retain his place at the top of the Coleman Medal leaderboard, meaning Giants captain Phil Davis will have his work cut out trying to negate his impact.
The last time these two teams met, Buddy goalled from a controversial free kick in the last quarter to give the Swans a 13-point win at Spotless Stadium – to date, it remains the smallest margin in a Sydney Derby (the previous smallest being 21 points in Round 3, 2015).
But it was the Giants who took out the corresponding Derby at the SCG last year with an impressive 42-point victory, and it’s a result they’ll be hoping to emulate this Saturday night at the same venue.
In what is their first match in Sydney for the season, Leon Cameron’s men should again get the job done here.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 14 points.
St Kilda versus Adelaide Crows
The biggest test of St Kilda’s character will come when they face the Adelaide Crows at Etihad Stadium this Saturday night.
Following their Good Friday capitulation against North Melbourne, players met for an impromptu meeting the following morning, discussing how they can turn their season around especially with a horror month of fixtures looming.
This period starts with the clash against last year’s beaten grand finalists, who logged their first win for the season by beating Richmond by 36 points at the Oval and extracting some revenge for last year’s grand final flop.
But they will be without reigning best-and-fairest Matt Crouch for at least three weeks after he suffered a hamstring injury in the win over the Tigers, thus joining his brother Brad on the sidelines.
It’s the last thing they need as they venture to Docklands for the second time in three weeks, after going down to Essendon by two goals in Round 1.
As for the Saints, the horrors don’t end there, as they must then face the Geelong Cats in Geelong, premiership contenders GWS at Etihad Stadium and then Hawthorn in Launceston to round out the month.
It is possible that they could be 1-5 after six rounds, and questions will be asked as to where they are at under Alan Richardson, for whom this year is his fifth season as senior coach, if they do fall to that record.
In the end, expect the Crows to show no mercy.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 20 points.
Richmond versus Hawthorn
Although they may have lost to the Adelaide Crows by 36 points at the Oval last week, there appears to be no cause for concern among the Tiger Army – for now.
The Tigers hung in for the first three quarters against the premiership contenders before capitulating in the last to suffer their first defeat since Round 21 last year – and for seven-gamer Jack Graham, this also meant his first career defeat after debuting in Round 22 last year.
This Sunday they have the chance to bounce back when they host Hawthorn at the MCG.
The Hawks have started the season 2-0 after defeating Collingwood and the Geelong Cats in consecutive matches – the latter by just one point after withstanding a furious final quarter comeback from their bitter rivals.
Again, Tom Mitchell was their most prolific ball user with 40 disposals, this coming after he racked up a record 54 against the Pies in Round 1. It’s therefore fair to say that he may have already racked up six (out of a possible six) Brownlow Medal votes after two rounds.
The match-up between him and reigning Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin will be the highlight of the match, as the Tigers look to rebound from last week’s defeat and consign Hawthorn to their first loss of the season.
Damien Hardwick’s men were victorious the last time they met, by 29 points in Round 20 last year, a result which all but eliminated the Hawks from finals calculations for the first time since 2009.
However, this time I think the Hawks will take the points here.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 18 points.
Western Bulldogs versus Essendon
Just over 18 months ago, the Western Bulldogs stood tall on top of the premiership dais.
But flash forward to now and after a failed premiership defence and two heavy defeats to start the 2018 season, the Bulldogs sit last on the ladder and with questions starting to be asked as to where it has all gone wrong.
After copping an 82-point thrashing from the GWS Giants in Round 1, things did not improve when they were beaten by the West Coast Eagles by 51 points at home last week – marking their third straight defeat to the men from the west after their elimination final victory on the road in 2016.
This Sunday will present another test when they face an Essendon side also smarting from a loss to a WA side in Fremantle.
The Bombers’ travel woes continued when it lost to the Dockers by 16 points at the new Optus Stadium, souring what had been an impressive start to the season after they had come from behind to beat the Adelaide Crows by 12 points in Round 1.
The major subplot to this match will be the presence of Jake Stringer in the red and black, after he was traded from the Whitten Oval to Tullamarine at the end of the 2017 season.
This will essentially make him public enemy number one among the Bulldogs faithful as they look to notch up a fourth straight win over the Bombers dating back to 2015.
As much as the Western Bulldogs would love to bounce back after a horror opening fortnight of the season, the Bombers should prove too strong here.
Prediction: Essendon by 28 points.
West Coast Eagles versus Geelong Cats
The final match of Round 3 sees the West Coast Eagles host the Geelong Cats in the second match at Optus Stadium for the weekend.
Twenty-four hours after the Gold Coast Suns play host to Fremantle at the new ground, the Eagles will look to break their duck at home when they host a star-studded Cats side featuring Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett Jr and captain Joel Selwood.
The trio, playing in the same side together for the first time, made a huge impact as they fell short of defeating Hawthorn at the MCG on Easter Monday, going down by just a solitary point.
Still, the Cats remain one of the teams to watch in 2018 with many believing the return of Ablett Jr to the club could prove to be the missing piece in their premiership puzzle.
On Sunday they will face a West Coast Eagles side which impressed in its 51-point thrashing of the Western Bulldogs, achieved without their senior coach Adam Simpson who had to rush home due to a family medical drama.
Former player Jaymie Graham took his place in the coaches box and the players responded to the ordeal quite professionally, burying their poor record in Melbourne in the process.
The Eagles will be keen to break their duck at Optus Stadium, having gone down to the Sydney Swans by five goals in Round 1. But against an all-star Geelong Cats side, and still without forward Josh Kennedy due to an ankle injury, they will have their work cut out in doing so.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 12 points.