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A quarter of the season has already passed, and one thing remains clear – Richmond are still the team to beat.
The Tigers have adapted well to the pressure of being the reigning premiers, something that eluded the Western Bulldogs last year as they crashed from the top of the summit to missing the finals altogether in 2017, and potentially finishing close to the foot of the ladder this year.
Damien Hardwick’s men will start favourites to beat Fremantle at the MCG this weekend as their premiership defence continues to gain momentum.
After seven straight meetings in Melbourne, the Adelaide Crows will welcome Carlton to the City of Churches for the first time since 2010, in a match sure to have some added spice as this will mark the first time Bryce Gibbs plays against his old club.
And another week of criticism could await Essendon if they fail to get past Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
Here is your full preview to Round 7.
Geelong Cats versus GWS Giants
Round seven kicks off with a potentially intriguing match between the Geelong Cats and GWS Giants at GMHBA Stadium.
The Cats will still be kicking themselves after throwing away a 22-point three-quarter-time lead to go down to the Sydney Swans at home by 17 points, the loss made even more disappointing given their opposition were without Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin due to a foot injury.
Their acquisition of Gary Ablett Jr has not yet paid dividends, with the two-time Brownlow Medallist still in doubt for the clash against the Giants due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Round 3 loss to West Coast in Perth.
His return to the club had the potential to create excitement among Cats fans, joining Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood in a midfield fans of other clubs can only dream of.
But so far this season, the trio have only played in the same team once, in the one-point loss to Hawthorn on Easter Monday last month.
Anyway, Chris Scott’s men will be hoping to get their season back on track when they welcome the GWS Giants to Kardinia Park this Friday night.
The Giants were far from convincing in their 34-point win over the Brisbane Lions at home last Saturday night, with not one of their ten goalkickers managing more than one major.
Poor goalkicking (they kicked only ten goals from twenty-seven scoring shots), and some good defence from the Lions prevented the Giants from what would have been a potentially percentage-boosting victory.
Now they face one of the toughest tasks in football – tackling the Cats at Kardinia Park, where only four visiting teams (Sydney, Fremantle, North Melbourne and Melbourne) have emerged victorious since the start of the 2008 season.
Making their assignment even tougher is the fact they’ll be without full forward Jeremy Cameron and midfielder Brett Deledio after both copped toe and hamstring injuries respectively during their win over the Lions.
Toby Greene, Josh Kelly and Rory Lobb will also miss the trip to Geelong, where the Giants’ (and Steve Johnson’s) last visit ended in a disappointing 44-point loss, which saw them settle for fourth place on the ladder.
The Giants’ injury woes should point to an easy Geelong win this Friday night.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 28 points.
Western Bulldogs versus Gold Coast Suns
Once again, the Gold Coast Suns are on the road as their home ground, Metricon Stadium, continues to be returned to its state as an AFL ground, following the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games last month.
This Saturday they head to Ballarat to face a Western Bulldogs side which will be without captain Easton Wood due to a hamstring injury he suffered in their win over Carlton last Friday night.
In his place, Marcus Bontempelli will act as skipper, having done so in Round 11, 2016, when, at just 20 years and 194 days of age, he led the Bulldogs to an eight-point win over the West Coast Eagles at Etihad Stadium.
To date he remains the youngest man in VFL/AFL history to captain his side to a win, even if it meant he was only acting in the absence of Wood (who was filling in for regular captain Bob Murphy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the said 2016 season).
The Dogs’ win over Carlton was just its second of the season, and they will fancy their chances of back-to-back wins against a Suns side which, despite sitting in 13th place on the ladder with a percentage of 80.7 per cent, has shown some reasonable improvement under coach Stuart Dew.
David Swallow was easily their best-performed player as they went down to the Adelaide Crows by 48 points at the Oval last Saturday night.
After a poor first half, the Suns, to their credit, managed to limit the damage after half-time, kicking four goals to the Crows’ three in the third quarter and eventually losing the second half by just three points.
Even against an injury-ravaged and inconsistent Western Bulldogs side in Ballarat, the Suns cannot afford another slow start, otherwise they will risk crashing to their fourth loss of the season.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by six points.
Essendon versus Hawthorn
After dismal losses to Collingwood and Melbourne in the past week, the blowtorch has without doubt been directed at Windy Hill.
2018 was supposed to be the year that Essendon continued to improve, after rising from wooden spooners to elimination finalists in the space of twelve months.
But so far this year, John Worsfold’s men have performed below expectations, losing four of their six matches and leaving their fans to ask questions as to how soon they will turn their form around.
It could come this week against Hawthorn in what will be their first home game at the MCG for the season.
In the corresponding match last year, thousands of Bombers fans marched to the MCG prior to watching their team win by 25 points; that came after a similar show of support preceded their shock 13-point win over Melbourne, also at the MCG, in 2016.
A similar pre-match march to the ground appears unlikely this time, given the club is well and truly over the supplements saga which threatened to bring the club to its knees earlier this decade.
While Essendon has come under the spotlight after its underwhelming start to the season, Hawthorn, on the flipside, have been impressive, winning four of their six matches to be up there among the contenders for the flag.
The Hawks took care of St Kilda in Launceston last Saturday night, winning by 35 points and claiming a place in the top four in the process.
After having his colours lowered by Ben Jacobs in the Round 5 loss to North Melbourne, Tom Mitchell hit back with 45 disposals, with 27 of them coming before half-time.
Out of a possible 18 votes, it’s fair to say that Mitchell will be in the lead with at most 15 votes when they are made public on Brownlow Medal night on September 24.
Shutting him down will be crucial to Essendon’s chances of victory this Saturday afternoon, but in the end, he and the Hawks will prove to be a handful for the Bombers.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 30 points.
West Coast Eagles versus Port Adelaide
Port Adelaide hits the road again for the second consecutive week when they travel west to face the West Coast Eagles for the first time since last year’s elimination final heartbreak.
The two teams contested quite easily the best finals match of last year, finishing at 60-apiece at the end of four quarters. Thus, for the first time since 2007, extra time would be utilised to decide a finals match.
Ultimately, the Eagles prevailed after Luke Shuey booted the winning goal after the final siren in the second period of extra time after he had been illegally tackled high by Jared Polec in the dying seconds.
That marked the Eagles’ fourth-straight win over the Power in Adelaide, but in Perth, it’s the reverse – Port Adelaide have won their last two against the Eagles in Perth, most recently in Round 16 last year.
After two straight losses, the Power defeated North Melbourne by 33 points at Etihad Stadium, but it came at a cost with Chad Wingard suffering a hamstring injury which will see him miss the trip to Perth.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have proven to be the surprise packets of the season, winning their last five matches after losing to the Sydney Swans at home in Round 1.
Many experts had predicted that Adam Simpson’s men would fall down the ladder this season, due mainly to two rather underwhelming seasons which followed their grand final loss to Hawthorn in 2015, but the club has defied their critics to sit only behind Richmond on the ladder in second place.
A sixth straight win will go a long way towards continuing to prove their critics wrong, especially with a tough away trip against the GWS Giants in Sydney to follow the next week.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 20 points.
Sydney Swans versus North Melbourne
Trailing by 22 points at three-quarter-time at Kardinia Park against the Geelong Cats and missing two of their best players, Lance “Buddy” Franklin and Dan Hannebery, many believed that the Sydney Swans were heading towards a potentially disastrous defeat.
But instead of throwing in the towel like other teams have done when facing the Cats in Geelong, the Swans, somehow, pulled off an amazing seven-goal-to-one final quarter to register what could be their most courageous victory in recent history, winning by 17 points.
The win was masterminded by several of their first-or-second year forwards, with Will Hayward kicking the final goal in a Swans victory at GMHBA Stadium for the second consecutive year.
Captain Josh Kennedy returned to form after a quiet fortnight against the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide Crows, while Ben Ronke may have done enough to retain his place in the side for another week, kicking two goals in his debut match.
This Saturday night they return home to face a North Melbourne side which has also exceeded expectations in 2018, dividing three of their first six matches, including defeating Hawthorn by 28 points in Round 5.
Their other two wins, however, came against poor opposition in St Kilda and Carlton in rounds two and four respectively.
Last week, the Roos went down to Port Adelaide by 33 points at home, and this week face a tough test in facing the Swans at a venue where they have struggled in recent years, with only one win at the SCG in the past decade.
In the end, the class of the Sydney Swans should prove to be the difference.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by 20 points.
Adelaide Crows versus Carlton
After seven straight meetings at either the MCG or Etihad Stadium, the Adelaide Crows will finally welcome Carlton to the City of Churches for the first time since 2010.
It completes the Grand Slam of them facing every team at the Oval, and also means that every club will have faced both the Crows and Port Adelaide at the venue at least once since it became a full-time AFL venue in 2014.
After being embarrassed by Collingwood at home in Round 4, the Crows have hit back in the past fortnight, upsetting the Sydney Swans at the SCG and putting the cleaners through the Gold Coast Suns at home.
While the win over the Suns was highlighted by a solid performance from Matt Crouch, who had missed the past three games due to injury, it was also soured by a hamstring injury from captain Tex Walker, who had answered his critics against the Swans after his quiet outing against the Pies.
This Saturday night’s clash against Carlton is the second of four straight home games the club will enjoy, and it’s a no-brainer to say that they will start favourites to defeat the last-placed Blues comfortably.
The Blues are one of two clubs yet to get off the mark in 2018, and the dismal start to the season has seen criticism aimed at Brendon Bolton, who is in his third and arguably most challenging year as coach of the club.
After a heavy loss to North Melbourne in Round 4, the Blues have lifted in recent weeks, narrowly going down to the West Coast Eagles at the MCG and also taking it up to the Western Bulldogs before losing by 21 points.
Lighting the fuse for this match will be the presence of ex-Blue Bryce Gibbs in Crows colours; twelve months after he gave up on a trade to West Lakes, the former number one draft pick was granted his wish and joined the Crows during last October’s trade period.
Not only that, Blues fans will also be dreading the sight of ex-players Sam Jacobs and Eddie Betts, with both players having become better players since leaving Princes Park at the end of 2010 and 2013 respectively.
As bad as the club’s plight may be, it will be hard seeing them break through for their first win of the season against the Crows on Saturday night, though they can take heart that they did win the most recent time they faced them in the City of Churches, way back in Round 4, 2010.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 40 points.
Richmond versus Fremantle
The first match on Sunday afternoon sees reigning premiers Richmond host an improving Fremantle at the MCG.
The Tigers continue to prove why they are the team to beat in 2018, withstanding a near match-long resistance from Collingwood to win by 43 points and retain their place at the top of the ladder.
Reigning Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin continues to deliver as he bids to become the first man since Robert Harvey in 1997-98 to win the Medal back-to-back.
It is the strongest indication yet that they are revelling in the pressure of being the defending premiers; winning the flag might be hard, but attempting to defend it is even harder when you have 17 other clubs chasing your tail.
Their next opponent, Fremantle, has had a reasonable start to the year, winning three of their first six matches and narrowly losing to the West Coast Eagles by just eight points in the first Western Derby to be played at Optus Stadium.
While facing the reigning premiers at the MCG may be hard, Ross Lyon’s men will take heart from the fact that they did beat the Tigers at the ground last year, courtesy of a goal after the final siren from David Mundy.
In fact, the Dockers have beaten the Tigers at the MCG on four of the past five occasions, also saluting in 2012, 2014 and 2015. They also won both of their two matches at the ground last year, defeating Melbourne in Round 4.
While that will give them confidence, it’ll be the Tigers who will start favourites as they shoot for a 13th straight win at the home of football.
Prediction: Richmond by 23 points.
St Kilda versus Melbourne
To say that it has been an underwhelming start to the season for St Kilda would be a massive understatement.
Things started brightly after they defeated the Brisbane Lions in Round 1, but since then it has been all downhill, with only a draw against the GWS Giants in Round 5 their saving grace from a horror first quarter of 2018.
Last week, inaccurate kicking proved to be their downfall as they went down to Hawthorn by 35 points in Launceston, despite pulling to within a point in the third quarter.
Now, they will attempt to register their second win of the season when it plays a rebounding Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The Dees return to the venue only seven days after coming from six points down at half-time to defeat Essendon by six goals, and get their season back on track after heavy losses to Hawthorn and Richmond in the preceding fortnight.
It is the first time since 2011 that they will play consecutive matches at the Docklands venue, where they had historically struggled in the past, winning just one match there between the start of 2008 and the end of 2016.
Injuries continue to plague the club, with Jesse Hogan in doubt for the clash after suffering a knee injury against the Bombers, however, Jack Viney remains weeks away from returning after being sidelined with a foot injury since Round 21 last year.
Despite the injury toll, the Dees should again get the job done here.
Prediction: Melbourne by 20 points.
Brisbane Lions versus Collingwood
Round seven concludes with a rare Sunday twilight clash between the Brisbane Lions and Collingwood at the Gabba.
While the Pies are traditionally the Lions’ highest-drawing opponent, the club and their fans will be annoyed by the fact that they will host their bitter rivals in what is typically the lowest-drawing timeslot of the round – Sunday twilight.
This will impact on the travel plans of the thousands of Collingwood supporters expected to make the trip up to the sunshine capital, with the majority of them then having to make it back to the airport in time for the last flight to Melbourne ahead of the start of the working week.
Onto on-field matters now, and the Lions will be kicking themselves during the week after managing only five goals from 18 scoring shots in their 34-point loss to the GWS Giants at Spotless Stadium last Saturday night.
Still, coach Chris Fagan would have been impressed by their performance, particularly in defence where they kept the start-studded Giants to only ten goals for the match (by contrast, the Lions booted 12.14 (86) in a ten-goal loss to the same team at the Gabba in Round 14 last season).
While the team hasn’t been getting the results, Fagan says that doing the small things better will eventually lead to a breakthrough win – but it will remain to be seen whether it will come against the Pies on Sunday.
After three straight wins, including a regulation Anzac Day thrashing of Essendon in Round 5, Nathan Buckley’s men were sent crashing back to earth thanks to a 43-point loss to Richmond just four days after.
The Pies took it right up to the reigning premiers for three quarters, and even took the lead after half-time, but capitulated in the final quarter to crash to their heaviest defeat for the season so far.
Despite the final margin, they were far from disgraced, and will be better for the experience. On the road at the Gabba, where they haven’t lost since 2010, they should get their season back into the black with a win over the Lions, to whom they haven’t lost since late-2014.
Prediction: Collingwood by 24 points.