Tough round for me last week. The less said about my results, the better…
The thing about the bye rounds is it doesn’t take much to leave you staring at a distressingly low number of winners. Anyway, let’s try to bounce back this week, on to the thoughts for Round 13.
Adelaide vs Richmond
Thursday, 7:50pm at Adelaide Oval
Richmond’s early season was characterised by a series of steadily mounting injuries that threatened to sink their chances of premiership contention.
After seemingly overcoming the worst of it through a combination of infrastructure, game plan and previously unheralded depth, the injury narrative has returned to haunt the Tigers, resulting in two straight defeats by a combined 104 points.
Already without a few of their big guns (Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt, Toby Nankervis, Jayden Short) and important role players (Kane Lambert, David Astbury), Richmond have now lost another two stars for this game (Trent Cotchin, Shane Edwards).
By contrast, Adelaide currently profile as the healthiest team in the comp, only missing the two Toms: Doedee (done for the season) and Lynch (set to miss his second game in a row). Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked a bit about how crucial this month is for Adelaide. After already banking one win and with the reeling Tigers on deck, everything’s coming up Crows so far.
If there’s one key statistic in this game that may favour Richmond, it’s turnovers. The Tigers thrive when they can force their opponents to give up the ball and struggle when they don’t; their five losses so far have been to the teams currently ranked first, second, fourth, sixth, and eighth in fewest turnovers per game.
The Crows average the fifth most turnovers per game; a fully operational Tigers outfit should eat a team like that alive. But, with at least nine of their best 22 ruled out (and with question marks over Dustin Martin and Nick Vlastuin), this Richmond team is more like the weak husk of Voldemort in Philosopher’s Stone rather than the all-powerful resurrected version at the end of Goblet of Fire.
The tip: Adelaide
Essendon vs Hawthorn
Friday, 7:50pm at Marvel Stadium
In terms of points scored and conceded, there’s not a lot separating these two decidedly middle of the pack teams. The differences lie more in style of play, with Hawthorn making the conscious decision to forego contested possessions and clearances (ranked third last and last, respectively) and focus on winning the turnover battle (ranked first for turnover differential).
Meanwhile, Essendon’s strength is contained in their midfield (seventh in contested possession differential and fourth in clearance differential) but they are often burned by poor disposal or decision-making (fifth worst turnover differential and third-most turnovers per game).
So, which of these contrasting styles is likely to prevail? Well, since turnovers are the major source of scores in the AFL, I would usually tend to lean more towards the Hawks and their four-time premiership winning coach. On top of that, since an early season run of hot form that saw three straight scores of 110 or more, the Bombers have averaged a measly 63.2 points over the following six games – a mark that would rank ahead of only Gold Coast if maintained for the full season.
However, the big swing factor is the likely returns of Jake Stringer, Orazio Fantasia and Dylan Shiel for Essendon. I really can’t overstate the importance of the Bombers getting two of their three most important forwards back. In the six games they’ve both been on the field, Essendon have scored 89.2 points per game. If they play, Essendon should win.
The tip: Essendon
Gold Coast vs St Kilda
Saturday, 1:45pm at Riverway Stadium (Townsville)
The prevailing theme for Gold Coast this year has been their inability to piece together a full game. In the past month, they’ve folded in the final quarter against Port Adelaide, Geelong and GWS but, on the weekend, they reversed the formula by getting blown out in the first quarter before actually outscoring North Melbourne over the remainder of the game.
They’ve predictably lost eight in a row after a surprising 3-1 start to the season, but I think this could be the week that streak is broken.
For starters, they’re up against a St Kilda team still licking its wounds after a disastrous trip to China that saw multiple players and staff get sick, in addition to the devastating broken leg suffered by captain Jarryn Geary.
Secondly, this may be the Suns’ last good chance at a win this season; Carlton at Marvel Stadium in Round 18 is probably the only other one and, suddenly, that doesn’t seem as easy a prospect as it might have a week ago.
Finally, while neither team will be familiar with the ground (this will be the first official AFL game hosted by Riverway Stadium), Gold Coast will at least have the advantage of shorter travel time and similar weather conditions to what they would experience in a typical home game.
Not exactly a hard-hitting mathematical analysis, I know, but sometimes you’ve gotta mix it up a bit.
The tip: Gold Coast
Fremantle vs Port Adelaide
Saturday, 4:35pm at Optus Stadium
At this stage of the season, it looks like the first seven finals spots are probably set (although Brisbane’s loss to Carlton gives them a smaller margin for error than they should be comfortable with), leaving Fremantle and Port Adelaide to fight over that last position.
Therefore, this game, as well as the rematch in Round 23, shape as hugely important for both teams’ chances.
Fremantle have been hit with injuries to the spine of their team in the last few weeks (Matt Taberner, Alex Pearce, Rory Lobb), but it looks like Port will also go into this game without several key players of their own (Oliver Wines, Brad Ebert, Tom Rockliff, Charlie Dixon).
There’s not a whole lot separating these teams statistically – their percentages are very similar – with Port the higher scorer and Freo the stingier defence. It’s a tough one to call, so when in doubt, let’s grab the home team (Fremantle 4-2 at Optus this year) and look forward to what will hopefully be a finals-deciding match in the final round of the regular season.
The tip: Fremantle
Carlton vs Western Bulldogs
Saturday, 7:25pm at Marvel Stadium
Well, the new coach got us again. Next time someone gets fired, do me a favour and don’t let me pick against the interim coach, okay? Good.
Now that we’ve settled that, Carlton surely can’t win two games in a row, right? The Bulldogs have been a classic trick or treat team and already lost to the Blues once earlier in the year, but their midfield should be strong enough to overcome the superhuman Patrick Cripps and whichever teenagers Carlton surround him with in the centre.
The Dogs also look like being back to full health with the probable returns of Hayden Crozier, Mitch Wallis, Taylor Duryea and unbelievably, the indestructible Dale Morris.
If Carlton had lost against Brisbane, I probably would’ve tipped them to break the drought this week, but I’ll wager that they’re still not quite good enough to start a win streak.
The tip: Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne v GWS Giants
Sunday, 3:20pm at Blundstone Arena
In the lead up to Round 9 I talked about North Melbourne’s surprising dominance at Blundstone Arena, it was one of the factors that led me to tip North over Sydney that week. Of course, the Swans promptly won that game, reinforcing their status as one of the only two teams to have beaten the Kangaroos at their Tasmanian home over the last six years.
Remember who the other team was? Yep, it was the Giants, with a 42-point victory in 2017.
Despite their loss to the Crows last week, GWS are still one of our top three squads this year; they should bounce back with a comfortable win and hand everyone’s favourite caretaker coach, Rhyce Shaw, his first loss.
The tip: GWS
Byes: Brisbane, Collingwood, Geelong, Melbourne, Sydney, West Coast
Last week: 2-4
Overall record: 66-39