It is hard to know who should feel the most disappointed with their preliminary final performance: Richmond or Melbourne.
Losses for the Greater Western Sydney Giants and Hawthorn in Round 3 see Port Adelaide sit alone atop the ladder, and while they are faced with an Essendon side determined to bounce back after a dismal fortnight, they will start favourites to go 4-0 for the first time since 2013.
Reigning premiers Richmond will start this round in the all-too-familiar position of ninth on the ladder, though they should break back into the eight when they face the Brisbane Lions at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
And St Kilda could be in for a torrid time when they head down the highway to face the wounded Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park, a venue where the Saints have not saluted since 1999.
Adelaide Crows versus Collingwood
Round 4 kicks off on Friday night with a clash of the birds.
After blowing a 20-point lead to lose to Essendon by two goals in Round 1, the Crows have hit back with big wins over Richmond and St Kilda to shoot up to third place on the ladder, behind Port Adelaide and the Giants.
Now they face a Collingwood side that is coming off a morale-boosting win over Carlton, after consecutive losses to Hawthorn and the Giants to start the season.
But as impressive as they were against the Blues, the Pies need to raise their game if they are to have any chance of registering their first ever win at the Oval, and their first win over the Crows since 2013.
When the teams met at the MCG last year, the Pies led by over 50 points in the third quarter before the Crows came storming back, eventually pegging it back to a draw after Mitch McGovern kicked a goal after the final siren.
That was then, but this is now, and the Crows should start favourites to make it two wins from as many matches at the Oval to start 2018.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 30 points.
GWS Giants versus Fremantle
After impressive wins over the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood to start the season, which saw them top the ladder after two rounds, the Giants went down to the Sydney Swans by 16 points last weekend in the 14th edition of the Sydney Derby.
After trailing by five goals in the second half, GWS pegged the margin back to ten points late in the final quarter before some Buddy Franklin brilliance got the Swans home.
But they could be without ruckman Rory Lobb for the showdown against the Dockers, who have bounced back from their 50-point thrashing by Port to defeat Essendon and the Gold Coast Suns, both at home.
Ross Lyon’s men made the most of an extra home game gifted to them by the Suns, who are temporarily homeless due to the ongoing Commonwealth Games being held on the Gold Coast, to prevail by 29 points.
After the Dockers had won their first four clashes against the Giants, this Saturday the youngest club in the AFL has their chance to square the ledger at four wins apiece, having won the last three meetings, dating back to 2016.
This includes their most recent meeting, in Round 19 last year, when the Giants came from 15 points down at three-quarter-time to win by 12 points in what was their only daytime match at Spotless Stadium for 2017.
That was despite Fremantle players picking up five of the six Brownlow Medal votes on offer in that game, with Dockers captain Nat Fyfe picking up maximum votes.
In the second match in Canberra for the season, the Giants should have no problems bouncing back from their loss to the Swans and notching up their third win for the year.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 20 points.
Richmond versus Brisbane Lions
Things will not get any easier for the winless Brisbane Lions when they face reigning premiers.
On the road for the second consecutive week, due to the ongoing Commonwealth Games being held in their own state, the Lions fell agonisingly short of pulling off the biggest upset of the season, going down to Port Adelaide by just five points at the Oval last Saturday afternoon.
The Lions are cutting down on the uncompetitive losses that they endured under previous coach Justin Leppitsch, but in this competition, getting close is not good enough.
History will be against them as they attempt to break an 11-game losing streak against Richmond, dating back to 2010; in fact, Brisbane have only beaten the Tigers once since 2004.
That most recent win came at the MCG in 2009 – also the year the Lions last played finals football – before Damien Hardwick took the reins of a club that was then on its knees.
The Tigers have started their premiership defence modestly, defeating Carlton and Hawthorn at home on either side of a 36-point loss to the Adelaide Crows at the Oval in which they faded badly in the final quarter.
Despite their inconsistent start to the season, there is no reason for fans to fear that their side may be suffering a premiership hangover, as the Western Bulldogs did last year.
Against a side they have dominated for the most part of the last 14 years, the Tigers should get the win.
Prediction: Richmond by 22 points.
Western Bulldogs versus Sydney Swans
It has been over 18 months since these two teams met in the grand final, and both teams’ fortunes have changed so significantly since then that this clash will be their only meeting for the season.
After two heavy losses, the Bulldogs logged their first win of the season by defeating a disappointing Essendon side by 21 points at home.
It was a committed performance after their pressure proved to be non-existent in their losses to the GWS Giants and West Coast Eagles.
Now, at home for the third straight week, they get the chance to prove that they are not yet a spent force when they face a Swans side that refuses to drop to the bottom of the ladder as a means of rebuilding.
While the Swans won this pair’s most recent meeting, on a Thursday night in Round 12 last year, they lost the previous four clashes against the Bulldogs before that – including the 2016 grand final.
In the favour of John Longmire’s men is the fact they have also built an imposing record at Etihad Stadium in recent years, winning 12 of their last 13 matches, with the only loss in that period coming against the Western Bulldogs in the corresponding match last year.
But they should not be troubled in defeating the Dogs and going 3-1 for the season.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by 30 points.
North Melbourne versus Carlton
After three losses to start the season, many are questioning the direction in which Carlton are heading under third-year coach Brendon Bolton.
After catching reigning premiers Richmond napping for three quarters in Round 1, the Blues were made to look second-rate against the Gold Coast Suns, and arch-rivals Collingwood at the MCG last Friday night.
Their latest Friday night flop has also got many questioning why the struggling club has even been granted several matches in the AFL’s premium timeslot this season.
Things will not get any easier for the Blues when they head down to the Apple Isle to face a North Melbourne side performing well above its weight.
This is despite the fact they are 1-2 for the season, with losses to the Gold Coast Suns and Melbourne coming on either side of its impressive Good Friday thrashing of St Kilda in Round 2.
The Roos kicked the first four goals of the match against the Dees, as they sought their 18th straight win over that club in a streak dating back to 2006, but capitulated after that to go down by 37 points.
This Saturday night, they will start favourites to square their season ledger at 2-2 in Hobart, where they have built a solid record after starting to play secondary home games in the Tasmanian capital in 2012.
They should have no such problems doing so.
Prediction: North Melbourne by 25 points.
West Coast Eagles versus Gold Coast Suns
After suffering their first defeat of the season against Fremantle last week, the Gold Coast Suns stay in Perth this week.
Under new coach Stuart Dew, the Suns have shown signs of improvement as evidenced in their wins over North Melbourne and Carlton, but jetlag appeared to get the better of them as they lost to the Dockers by 29 points.
They will face a West Coast Eagles side which has regained form courtesy of wins over the Western Bulldogs and Geelong Cats in the past fortnight, and have the luxury of staying home for another week.
Full forward Josh Kennedy remains a chance of returning this Sunday after missing the early rounds due to an ankle injury, and his presence would no doubt boost the Eagles as they seek their third straight win.
But even so, it won’t come easy against a side to whom they lost by three points the last time the two teams met, on the Gold Coast in Round 11 last year, in which Kennedy’s absence proved a major factor.
That aside, the Eagles have dominated the head-to-head against the Suns, including winning by 126 points in mid-2012 – but while the Suns side they will face will be much more competitive, the Eagles should get the job done.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 32 points.
Essendon versus Port Adelaide
For Port Adelaide, the only undefeated team in the competition after three rounds, a potentially tricky clash against Essendon looms this Sunday.
One reason for this is because the Power lost the corresponding clash last year by 70 points, which saw Ken Hinkley’s side claim the unwanted tag of ‘flat-track bullies’.
The tag came about because last year, the Power won all twelve matches against non-finalists, yet won just two of nine matches against their fellow September rivals (against the West Coast Eagles and Sydney Swans).
This year’s side, which was bolstered by the arrivals of Tom Rockliff, Jack Watts and Steven Motlop, will be favoured to get the job done when they face the Bombers at Docklands.
John Worsfold’s side are coming off a dismal loss to the Bulldogs last week, in which they were shown up as flag pretenders against the fallen premiership side of 2016.
Just how poor they were was summed up in this piece of play with less than six minutes remaining:
"You're ten metres out!"
— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 8, 2018
While they are home at Etihad Stadium for the third time in the opening four rounds, the Dons will start as underdogs.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 20 points.
Hawthorn versus Melbourne
With both teams on two wins and one loss for the season, the clash between Hawthorn and Melbourne at the MCG is crucial to both sides.
After winning their first two matches, the Hawks went down to reigning premiers Richmond last Sunday, losing by 13 points.
However, they will get James Sicily back from suspension for the game against the Dees, who continues to show signs of improvement and potential under second-year coach Simon Goodwin.
History was thrown out the window when the Dees broke a 17-game winless streak against North Melbourne at the MCG last Saturday, winning by 37 points despite conceding the first four goals of the game.
Goodwin’s men could so easily be undefeated had Max Gawn not missed a set shot at goal in their Round 1 loss to the Cats, which could come back to bite them if they again miss out on September action in 2018.
They’ll also have the three-point loss to the Hawks in the corresponding match last year in their minds when they face a team that they have only beaten once since 2006.
It was one of several losses which ultimately proved costly as they were denied what would have been their first finals berth since 2006, with current co-captain Nathan Jones the only player remaining from their most recent finals match, a semi-final loss to Fremantle at Subiaco Oval.
But while Melbourne have potential, the Hawks will bounce back here.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 12 points.
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Geelong Cats versus St Kilda
The final match on Sunday sees the Geelong Cats return home to the newly-renamed GHMBA Stadium for the first time this season, facing a St Kilda side low on confidence.
But what was supposed to be a happy homecoming for Gary Ablett Jr has been delayed by a few weeks after he suffered a hamstring injury in their 15-point loss to the West Coast Eagles at Optus Stadium last Sunday.
As for the Saints, they defeated the Brisbane Lions in Round 1 but have been dismal in losses to North Melbourne and the Adelaide Crows.
Those efforts in the past two weeks have got many critics questioning the Saints’ direction under fifth-year coach Alan Richardson, under whom the club has yet to reach the finals.
Their loss to the Crows came in front of a crowd of less than 20,000 at Etihad Stadium – a disappointing figure partly attributed to the fact that the Crows are not a consistently high-drawing club in Victoria.
The Saints must also contend with a poor recent record at Kardinia Park – they have not left Geelong with four points since 1999.
Expect the Cats to win in a canter.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 35 points.