Every week is a big week in football, to steal a phrase from the now defunct Footy Show, but some weeks are bigger than others. Round 9 shapes as one of those.
It’s easy to think at least six of this weekend’s matches shapes as some sort of fork in the road for the teams involved. Every club has between three and five games before their bye now and, with the ladder taking shape over the last couple of weeks, will have set themselves for a big month.
West Coast versus Melbourne takes place in Perth on Friday night, a rematch of their preliminary final from last season.
The Eagles haven’t impressed in recent times since a couple of earlier games in which they dismantled GWS and then took down their bunnies, Collingwood. They are ahead of the ledger at 5-3, but their percentage needs to start moving north if they want a home final and double chance in Week 1 of September. The form of their opponent this week gives them that chance.
The Demons have won their last two matches but haven’t gained any more fans in doing so. Both wins were by narrow margins in ugly fashion against teams with questionable form and prospects.
Still, sitting 3-4 is actually a positive given how poorly they’ve been playing, and they get to stay in touch with the eight if they can repeat their Round 22 heroics from last season when the beat West Coast on their home deck.
Brisbane host Adelaide, with the two teams sitting fifth and third respectively. It’s been hard to trust anyone outside Geelong and Collingwood this season, and these two teams a proof enough of that despite their lofty ladder positions.
The freewheeling Lions love to score, averaging the third-most points per game, but they have conceded more than any other team currently sitting in the top 14. Their form has turned patchy after a strong first three weeks and they need to prove they can be consistent and that they can defend when the time comes.
The Crows have won four in a row after a plain start to the season, but no-one is buying it. The victories have come against Gold Coast, St Kilda, Fremantle and a very undermanned Port. Mostly they’ve been underwhelming.
Taking down Brisbane at the Gabba would be a much more significant scalp that would see them take a reasonable step toward premiership contention.
Essendon and Fremantle have both shown bright signs and disappointing displays in a season of mixed form. They clash in Melbourne coming off multiple losses in a row, and both need a win to prevent their season from slipping into irrelevance.
The Bombers looked to be off and running after big wins against Brisbane and North followed by a gutsy loss to Collingwood. It was a platform to get back into the season after a poor start, but they’ve squandered it with flat showings against Geelong and Sydney. A loss to the Dockers at home would almost cripple them.
Fremantle took the footy world by storm a little bit when they out-toughed GWS in Sydney in a stake-in-the-ground-type win. It appears to have been a false dawn given they could kick only five goals against Adelaide and then weren’t ready for an ambush from a Richmond side missing six of its best players and down two men by half-time. Can they show some steel on the road once more?
One of Sydney and North Melbourne is going to be sitting in 17th at 2-7 after this round, while the other will maintain a flicker of a finals hope.
Richmond and Hawthorn also square off, coming off the back of underdog wins last Sunday.
The Hawks are a hard team to get a line on but completely dismantled the more favoured GWS by keeping them to 38 points. They do seem destined to float around mid-table all year, but this is how they looked for most of 2018 before landing an improbable top-four berth. A win over the Tigers would greatly enhance their chances of a repeat.
For Richmond, they have performed admirably to keep the wins ticking over as they have lost all of their best players at one point or another. The missing names are a who’s who of top-end quality and leadership at Punt Road, vital cogs in all areas of the ground.
The Tigers may well reach a tipping point, but they are not there yet, and all sets of four points are vital as they try to man the fort until their stars get back. A win over Hawthorn would keep them right in the thick of the top four hunt and further enhance their premiership chances.
Even some of the other games, which seem simple assignments for the favourites, have more to them than meets the eye.
Port and GWS are still flaky, just as they have been for a long time, and can’t afford to take Gold Coast or Carlton lightly. Both sides have caught other teams on the hop a number of times already and have shown they are up for a fight.
The Dogs could prove tricky for Geelong now they have some form and momentum, but that is made harder with the match being played down at Kardinia Park.
Every now and then a round comes along that can shape as season-defining for a number of teams, and Round 9 looks like one.
It’s reasonable to assume we’ll have a better idea of where most teams really are at the conclusion, and that makes for an exciting weekend for football lovers.