We have passed the halfway mark of the 2018 AFL season and it’s now become clear who are the contenders and pretenders and who are simply there to make up the numbers.
Friday night will see a throwback to the classic Sydney-West Coast rivalry when the two teams meet at the SCG on Friday night in what has already been billed a potential finals preview.
Down at the other end of the spectrum the Gold Coast Suns and St Kilda will be eager to bounce back from humiliating losses suffered at the hands of the two Sydney clubs, while the Adelaide Crows will step foot onto the MCG for the first time since last year’s grand final debacle.
And Geelong and Richmond will face off for the first time since last year’s qualifying final, where the Tigers ended an 11-year losing streak against the Cats en route to taking out the premiership.
Here is your full preview to Round 13.
Port Adelaide versus Western Bulldogs
The second in a string of three straight home games for Port Adelaide sees them host the Western Bulldogs to kick off Round 13.
In their first Friday night game for the year last week the Power made the most of the occasion to defeat reigning premiers Richmond by 14 points and prove that they are not flat-track bullies after all.
Many will say that not only were they at home, they were also aided by the fact the Tigers were missing reigning Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin, who was not only nursing a calf injury but was also in New Zealand visiting his father, who is banned from ever stepping foot into Australia ever again.
Ken Hinkley’s men should be in for another percentage boost when they welcome the Western Bulldogs, who are fresh off the bye, to the Oval this Thursday night.
The Dogs have had an ordinary season so far, losing their past three matches, the first of them in wet conditions in their last visit to the city of churches in which they only kicked two goals for the entire match.
Their last outing saw them go down to Melbourne by 49 points, with many fearing their 2016 premiership win may have come too soon in their development under coach Luke Beveridge.
The corresponding match between the two sides last year saw the Power win by 17 points in what was the first premiership match to be played in Ballarat, also killing off the Dogs’ premiership defence in the process.
Back at home, the Power should prevail.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 20 points.
Sydney Swans versus West Coast Eagles
It was one of the greatest rivalries of the modern AFL era.
Back in 2005 and 2006 the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles fought out two of the greatest AFL grand finals to be contested since the turn of the century, with the former remaining the most-watched AFL grand final on television in recent years.
The Swans ended a 72-year premiership drought, at the time the longest in VFL/AFL history, in the former year when Leo Barry took that famous mark in defence in the dying seconds, while the Eagles returned serve by the narrowest of margins 12 months later.
More than a decade on, the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles will face off in what will undoubtedly be their biggest clash since then in what shapes as a genuine Friday night blockbuster at the SCG.
After a modest 4-3 start to the season, the Swans have won their last five matches, including thrashing St Kilda by 71 points at Etihad Stadium last week after kicking the first nine goals of the game in the first quarter.
Now they will gear up for a second meeting with the West Coast Eagles this season after having defeated them by 29 points at Optus Stadium in Round 1 with Buddy Franklin kicking eight majors.
It was after that loss which many believed the Eagles would tumble down the ladder this season, but in fact they are undefeated since then and have won ten matches in a row prior to their bye last week.
Included in that streak were wins over the quality opposition in Geelong, GWS, Richmond and Hawthorn, further highlighting their first half of the season.
But as impressive as Adam Simpson’s men have been, they face two significant matches in the run to September. The first is their trip to the SCG, where they have not won since May 1999, and the other their Round 17 clash against Collingwood at the MCG, where they haven’t beaten the Pies since 1995.
If the Eagles can win both of those matches, then it will confirm their status as legitimate flag contenders in 2018.
But at home I have the Sydney Swans winning a thriller.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by four points.
Carlton versus Fremantle
The first match on Saturday afternoon should present Carlton with a good opportunity to register its second win for the season against a Fremantle side yet to win away from Optus Stadium in 2018.
After being humiliated by Melbourne in Round 9, the Blues have shown signs of competitiveness in the two matches since, taking it right up to the Geelong Cats and Sydney Swans away from home before enjoying the bye last round.
So far their only win came against arch-rivals Essendon in Round 8 in which they came from behind at half-time to register a 13-point victory and extinguish any fears of a winless season for the Bluebaggers.
Their clash against the Dockers, who will regain captain Nat Fyfe from suspension but will lose Michael Walters, will be their first at home since 2013, with the past four clashes having been held at Subiaco Oval.
Ross Lyon’s men overcame the loss of Fyfe, who is now ineligible for this year’s Brownlow Medal, as well as veteran ruckman Aaron Sandilands, to upset the Adelaide Crows by three points at Optus Stadium last Sunday.
It marked a 103-point turnaround from the two teams’ previous meeting, in which the Dockers lost to the eventual grand finalists by 100 points in Indigenous round at the Oval last year.
But the win came at a cost with Walters copping a one-match ban from the judiciary for striking Crow Jake Kelly in the final minutes.
Now the question remains: can the Dockers carry their momentum forward or will the Blues spring a surprise at home?
Prediction: Fremantle by 18 points.
Gold Coast Suns versus St Kilda
In stark contrast to the Friday night blockbuster between the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles, this Saturday night’s contest between the Gold Coast Suns and St Kilda on the Gold Coast threatens to be a stinker for varying reasons.
Both the Suns and Saints are coming off embarrassing losses at the hands of the Sydney clubs, going down to the GWS Giants and Sydney Swans by 108 and 71 points respectively within six hours last Saturday night.
The extensive travel the Suns were forced to make in the first half of the season due to the required use of Metricon Stadium by the Commonwealth Games has taken its toll, and there’s no doubt they’ll want to put in a better performance in front of their home fans this weekend.
The dismal performance against the Giants, in which they did not take a single mark inside forward 50 (the first time since this statistic was first tracked in 1999 that this had happened), has led many to believe that Tom Lynch, who is off contract at season’s end, may leave the club at year’s end.
Stuart Dew’s men will have no better chance to bounce back than when they host the struggling Saints, who have taken one backwards step too many in 2018 and have only one win and a draw to show for their efforts.
Against the Swans last weekend Alan Richardson’s men conceded the first nine goals of the game in the first quarter alone and managed just seven themselves for the whole match.
What was called the ‘pride game’ was an absolute horror show, and perhaps getting out of Melbourne could be what they need if the Saints are to salvage something from what has undoubtedly been a disappointing season to date.
Jack Billings is a strong chance to earn a recall after performing strongly in the VFL, while captain Jarryn Geary shouldn’t be too far from a return after missing the Swans humiliation due to injury.
With both clubs struggling to a degree this season, it will be difficult picking a winner with any real confidence. But at home the Suns will want to perform in front of their home fans for just the second time this year and deliver some joy to their success-starved supporters.
Prediction: Gold Coast Suns by eight points.
Hawthorn versus Adelaide Crows
Later on Saturday night the Adelaide Crows will return to the MCG for the first time since last year’s grand final flop when they face a Hawthorn side fresh off the bye.
After being the form team of the 2017 season by a mile, the Crows entered last year’s decider as hot favourites but produced their worst performance of the year as Dustin Martin and co ran amok in front of over 100,000 fans, the vast majority of them Richmond supporters.
It’s fair to say that the Crows have not yet psychologically recovered from that defeat if their record of 6-6 after 12 rounds is anything to go by. They have also dropped four of their last five matches to drop out of the eight after the halfway mark of the season.
What hasn’t helped their cause has been injuries to key players, including captain Taylor Walker, who made a miraculous return against Fremantle last week, as well as Rory Sloane, Mitch McGovern, Brodie Smith and Brad Crouch, who will not feature again in 2018 after undergoing groin surgery.
They head into the game against the Hawks off a six-day break, and on the road again for the second consecutive week, bouncing back will be very difficult.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are coming off the week’s break, before which they defeated Port Adelaide by five points after Jarryd Roughead kicked the winning goal with less than five minutes left in Launceston.
Before that they had lost three in a row, including those to premiership contenders the Sydney Swans and West Coast Eagles. They sit 11th on the ladder with a percentage of 104.8 but can push back into the eight with a big win on Saturday night.
They should bounce back given the Crows will be feeling the effects of a horror injury toll and a short turnaround after having played in the west on the Sunday.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 14 points.
Geelong Cats versus Richmond
The final match of Round 13 and the only match on Sunday sees the Geelong Cats and Richmond Tigers square off for the first time since last year’s qualifying final, won easily by the Tigers.
After a rather slow start to the year, dividing their first six matches evenly, the Cats have clicked into top gear, winning five of their last six and lifting themselves into the top four in the process.
Gary Ablett Jr has also returned to top form, producing another brilliant individual performance against North Melbourne last week which will almost certainly have pocketed him another three Brownlow Medal votes.
The showdown between him and reigning Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin will also make for an intriguing match if the latter proves his fitness after missing Richmond’s 14-point loss to Port Adelaide last Friday night.
It marked the Tigers’ third loss from as many road trips this year (with two more still to come), but returning to the MCG this weekend should give them the incentive to bounce back.
In fact this Sunday will mark one year to the day since Damien Hardwick’s men last lost at the ground, when they lost to the Sydney Swans by nine points after at one point leading by six goals in the first half.
Their 51-point qualifying final win over the Cats last September ended a horror stretch against the Cats dating back to 2000 during which they defeated the men from Kardinia Park only once, doing so there in 2006.
Even at the MCG, where the Tigers are undefeated since that aforementioned loss to the Swans last June, the reigning premiers will still have their work cut out as they try to keep in touch with the ladder-leading West Coast Eagles.
A heavy loss to the Cats this weekend could see them drop to fourth by the round’s end.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 17 points.
Byes: Brisbane Lions, Collingwood, Essendon, GWS Giants, Melbourne, North Melbourne.