Collingwood veteran Dayne Beams has taken an indefinite break from the AFL to concentrate on his mental health.
The second of three shortened rounds is upon us, and it sees the return of Thursday night football for three weeks, the first of which features the 2017 grand final rematch between the Adelaide Crows and Richmond.
After being humiliated on the biggest day of the football calendar less than two years ago, the Crows struggled in 2018, missing the finals altogether, but they’re now well primed to return to finals football this season and a win over the Tigers would continue their climb up the ladder.
Other matches will see fierce rivals Essendon and Hawthorn face off in a Friday night showdown at Marvel Stadium, while the AFL will break new ground when the Gold Coast Suns and St Kilda play the first match for premiership points in Townsville.
Elsewhere, Carlton and North Melbourne will be looking to make it two and three in a row respectively under caretaker coaches David Teague and Rhyce Shaw when they face the Western Bulldogs and GWS Giants.
Here is your guide to Round 13.
Adelaide Crows vs Richmond
Thursday night football returns for the first time since Round 5, with the Adelaide Crows to play their second consecutive home game inside six days when they welcome Richmond to the Oval to kick off the round.
Don Pyke’s men registered what could have been their most important victory of the season when they defeated the GWS Giants by 21 points at home last Saturday night, with Eddie Betts kicking another serious contender for goal of the year inside the last 90 seconds.
To three-quarter-time they had kicked only six goals, but they doubled that tally in the final quarter alone to rise up to fifth on the ladder ahead of the visit to the city of churches by the Tigers, who are coming off yet another demoralising defeat, this time against the Geelong Cats.
The impact of the absences of fullback Alex Rance, ruckman Toby Nankervis and forward Jack Riewoldt was felt as the Tigers fell to the Cats by 67 points, marking their heaviest defeat in nearly two years.
They had kept the Cats goalless in the first quarter but capitulated in the final three quarters to crash to their fifth defeat for the season and second consecutive loss after losing to North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in Round 11.
For both the Crows and Tigers, this will be their last outing before both clubs enjoy a bye in Round 14, and it will be the home side that will start warm favourites.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 24 points.
Essendon vs Hawthorn
It has been 15 years since the infamous ‘line in the sand’ match and for both Essendon and Hawthorn, both with five wins and six losses and a percentage of just over 100, their showdown at Marvel Stadium shapes as an important match in the context of the season.
Both clubs enjoyed the bye last week, before which the Bombers dealt a 41-point defeat to Carlton while the Hawks capitulated in the final quarter to lose to the Brisbane Lions by 19 points at the Gabba.
The Bombers’ win over the Blues was masterminded by Dylan Clarke, who in just his second ever AFL game completely shut Brownlow Medal contender Patrick Cripps out of the match, restricting him to just 11 disposals.
The victory was all the more important given that had they lost, coach John Worsfold would’ve been under the pump to keep his job after what has been a rather disappointing first half of the season by a side expected to go deep into September.
Meantime, the Hawks aren’t completely out of the race, but a win over their bitter rivals will breathe some life into their stuttering campaign, which has seen coach Alastair Clarkson demote Jarryd Roughead to the VFL for an indefinite period.
They have enjoyed their fair share of wins over quality opposition, defeating top-eight sides the GWS Giants and Port Adelaide in the past month, while they also defeated the Adelaide Crows on the road in Round 1.
While they won both matches against the Bombers last season, I think they’ll be in for another defeat on Friday night.
Prediction: Essendon by ten points.
Gold Coast Suns vs St Kilda
For the first time the north Queensland city of Townsville will play host to an AFL match when the Gold Coast Suns face St Kilda in another important game for both sides.
Both teams started the year strongly after their Round 1 clash, which the Saints won by a solitary point at Marvel Stadium, but both have faltered in the past two months to the point where the Suns and Saints sit in 17th and 13th on the ladder respectively.
The Suns won three matches in a row between rounds two and four, but of the three teams they defeated, the highest-ranked is Fremantle, who are ninth with a percentage of just over 100.
Since then they have lost their last eight matches and have been beaten heavily in most of them, and they were made to pay the price for a poor first quarter against North Melbourne at home last Saturday night.
Meantime, the Saints have had a week to recuperate following a rather disastrous debut in Shanghai where they not only lost to Port Adelaide by 70 points but also lost their captain, Jarryn Geary, to a serious leg injury he is unlikely to return from this season.
Geary had only made his return from a sickening quad injury he suffered in the Round 5 win over Melbourne, at which point the Saints were 4-1.
Their only win since then came against Carlton by 13 points in Round 10, but while they will start favourites to beat the Suns in Townsville on Saturday afternoon, they will surely not want to take their 17th-ranked opponents lightly.
The AFL’s foray into Townsville will come after the city’s premier NRL team, the North Queensland Cowboys, plays the Wests Tigers at Willows Sports Complex the previous evening, giving sports fans in the region reason to enjoy the best of both sports over the weekend.
Prediction: St Kilda by eight points.
Fremantle vs Port Adelaide
After enjoying a well-deserved rest last weekend both Fremantle and Port Adelaide will resume their seasons with a crucial clash at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Dockers have enjoyed a much-improved season this year, but it has come at a cost with several players, including key ruckman Rory Lobb, set to miss the rest of the season due to varying injuries.
Prior to their week off Ross Lyon’s men had enjoyed narrow victories over the Brisbane Lions at home and, most impressively, Collingwood at the MCG, and they also caused a major upset when they defeated the GWS Giants by four goals in Canberra in Round 5.
The trip to Perth will be Port Adelaide’s third consecutive match away from home, before which they suffered a disappointing 31-point loss to Hawthorn in Launceston before thrashing St Kilda by 70 points in Shanghai.
The win over the Saints, their third from as many visits to the Chinese city, was marshalled by a best-on-ground performance from ex-captain Travis Boak as well as three goals each from Robbie Gray and Riley Bonner.
It will be their second trip to Perth inside nine weeks, but they can take heart that they did produce their most methodical performance in their last trip across the Nullarbor when they thrashed reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles by 42 points on Good Friday.
They’ll also be out to buck a trend, having not won a match following the trip to Shanghai in two previous attempts – they lost to Geelong and Hawthorn at Kardinia Park and Launceston in 2017 and last year respectively.
Given Freo’s injury woes, I think the Power will take the chocolates.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 18 points.
Western Bulldogs vs Carlton
Following the sacking of coach Brendon Bolton last week, caretaker coach David Teague pleaded with his players to play with more freedom against the Brisbane Lions, and that’s what they did, coming from 47 points down to pull off a stunning 15-point win at Marvel Stadium.
The comeback win was marshalled by a best-on-ground performance by captain Patrick Cripps, who dedicated the win, just the Blues’ fifth since Round 13, 2017, and third at Docklands in that period, to the departed coach, who no doubt would have been proudly watching from his lounge.
Whether they can back that up against a fresh Western Bulldogs side, whose last outing resulted in a ten-goal loss to the West Coast Eagles in Perth prior to their Round 12 bye, will remain to be seen.
The Dogs are struggling in 15th place on the ladder, but three of their four wins have been against three of the most consistent sides of this decade – the Sydney Swans (Round 1), Hawthorn (Round 2) and Richmond (Round 7), while they also beat the Brisbane Lions by 16 points in Round 8.
It was against the Bulldogs whom the Blues scored their only other win for the season against. In that match a goal at the death from Rising Star contender Sam Walsh saw them crack the ton for the first time since Round 11, 2016.
Now the question remains: can the Blues, who are one of two clubs seeking new coaches for the 2020 season, rack up a third win and, pending the result of the Gold Coast Suns vs St Kilda match earlier in the day, boost their chances of avoiding a sixth wooden spoon?
Prediction: Carlton by 12 points.
North Melbourne vs GWS Giants
The final match of Round 13 sees North Melbourne host the GWS Giants in Hobart for the third consecutive year, with Roos caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw to take on his brother Heath, who has provided the Giants great service on the field since arriving in 2014.
Rhyce has done a tremendous job since taking over from the departed Brad Scott, leading the Roos to an upset victory over Richmond and then the Gold Coast Suns on the holiday strip last Saturday night.
The win over the Suns was the perfect way to toast captain Jack Ziebell’s 200th AFL game, and he’ll want to lead his side by example again when they face a Giants side that is coming off a disappointing 21-point loss to the Adelaide Crows at the Oval last week.
Having barely been forced to sweat in rounds nine to 11, during which they played the bottom three clubs on the ladder, the Giants started poorly against the Crows, conceding the first goal inside the first minute and could never get going in front of a hostile Adelaide crowd.
While they did manage to take the lead at three-quarter-time, they capitulated in the final quarter to crash to their fourth defeat of the season and drop to third place on the ladder as a result.
Coach Leon Cameron will want to ensure his side produces a full four-quarter effort against the Roos on Sunday in what is the second of three consecutive matches away from home, separated only by the bye which both clubs will enjoy next week.
It is also the Giants’ fourth trip to the Apple Isle in three seasons, having played the Roos in the state in the past two seasons for one win and one loss in addition to drawing against Hawthorn at Launceston in mid-2017.
While the seventh-year club would love to bounce back on the road, the Kangaroos’ recent form is hard to go past.
Prediction: North Melbourne by 15 points.
Byes: Brisbane Lions, Collingwood, Geelong Cats, Melbourne, Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles.