Less than two weeks out from the AFL draft and the journos and couch experts are slicing, dicing and dissecting the talent pool on show for 2019.
The last of the reduced rounds sees two grand final rematches from yesteryear, a Thursday night clash in the west and one of Melbourne’s favourite sons returning to the MCG to face his old side.
The West Coast Eagles will have had one week to lick their wounds following their 45-point loss to the Sydney Swans in Sydney in Round 12, which has again exposed their road woes after they’d also been beaten in Brisbane and Geelong earlier this season.
They will face an Essendon side which is starting to get up and about after a poor start to the season. For the Bombers, this will be the first of two consecutive Thursday night clashes as they will also face the GWS Giants at home in Round 15.
Friday night sees the Sydney Swans host Hawthorn for the only time this season, with that match threatening to turn into ‘mockbuster’ status for the first time in many years with both sides currently languishing outside the eight.
Jesse Hogan isn’t expected to receive a warm welcome back to the MCG when his Fremantle side faces a struggling Demons outfit, while the Brisbane Lions will need to buck another hoodoo if they are to knock off the Saints across town on Saturday.
And after a month away from home, Port Adelaide will have the City of Churches to itself when they host the top-of-the-table Geelong Cats at the Oval in what promises to be a Saturday night blockbuster.
Here is your guide to Round 14.
West Coast Eagles vs Essendon
After a week’s break following their disappointing loss to the Sydney Swans at the SCG in Round 12, the West Coast Eagles will be out to rebound and put their premiership defence back on track when it welcomes Essendon to Optus Stadium to kick off Round 14.
Without captain Shannon Hurn and midfielder Elliot Yeo, the Eagles were once again exposed on the road, capitulating after quarter-time to suffer its fourth defeat by 42 points or more this season, and its third outside of Western Australia after losses to the Lions and Cats in Brisbane and Geelong respectively.
The bye came at a much needed time for the reigning premiers, with Hurn and Yeo both expected to return for the clash against the Bombers, while ruckman Nic Naitanui isn’t too far away from returning from the ACL injury he suffered against Collingwood last July.
The Bombers are coming off an impressive win over Hawthorn last Friday night, which was marshaled by a best-on-ground effort from Zach Merrett and two goals from Orazio Fantasia.
However, it came at a cost, with forward Jake Stringer suffering an ankle injury which has him in doubt for the first of two trips west for the club in the second half of the season (they will also cross the Nullarbor to face Fremantle in Round 22).
Recent history will favour John Worsfold’s side, which has won their last two matches against the Eagles by a combined total of 89 points, including by 28 points in the corresponding match last year in which they kept the home side goalless in the first quarter.
But don’t expect a repeat this time around, especially with the Eagles coming off a week’s rest and keen to bounce back from their SCG capitulation the week before.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 25 points.
Sydney Swans vs Hawthorn
While both the Sydney Swans and Hawthorn might be out of the eight, there’s always a guarantee that a clash between two of the most consistent sides this decade will deliver in one way or another.
Both teams traded flags in the first half of this decade, with the Swans pulling off an upset 10-point win in 2012 before the Hawks returned serve with a massive 63-point win two years later, with Luke Hodge winning his second Norm Smith Medal in his 250th AFL game.
In the midst of all this was the controversial transfer of Lance “Buddy” Franklin from the Hawks to the Swans at the end of the 2013 season, and with his old side winning two flags in as many years following his departure, he missed the chance to become a four-time premiership player.
But the glory days are well and truly over for both clubs, with the Hawks sitting in 12th place on the ladder and the Swans three places lower in 15th.
Alastair Clarkson’s side suffered a disappointing loss to Essendon last Friday night, and they will almost certainly be without captain Ben Stratton as he awaits punishment from the judiciary for his actions involving Orazio Fantasia and Shaun McKernan.
Meantime, the Swans enjoyed the bye last week, before which they produced easily their best performance of the year when they thrashed reigning premiers the West Coast Eagles by 45 points at the SCG, with Buddy kicking five majors, including a stunner on the full-time siren.
Making the win all the more impressive was that not only were they without co-captain Josh Kennedy, midfielder Zak Jones, former co-captain Kieren Jack and forward Will Hayward due to injuries, they also had just one fit man on the bench for the entire second half.
They now have a pair of winnable matches in the next fortnight before they play on the MCG for the first (of only two) time in 2019 when they face Essendon in Round 16.
— AFL (@AFL) June 9, 2019
Given the form lines of both clubs so far this season, this is likely to be the only time the two sides face off in 2019.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by 18 points.
Melbourne vs Fremantle
The only match at the MCG this round sees Melbourne, fresh off a bye, try to salvage something from what has been a disappointing season when they host Fremantle in the early Saturday match.
Injuries to key players, the departure of Jesse Hogan and the mental scars caused by the preliminary final humiliation against the West Coast Eagles last September have been factors behind the club’s poor season, whereby they sit in 16th place with three wins.
They were again on the back foot against Collingwood in the Queen’s Birthday match, before which they suffered a heartbreaking two-point loss to the Adelaide Crows after they had led by as much as 31 points minutes into the second half.
Now they face a Fremantle side which is defying expectations so far in 2019 to be sitting in sixth place on the ladder with seven wins and five losses.
Ross Lyon’s side has won their last three matches, including defeating Collingwood by four points at the home of football in round eleven as well as beating Port Adelaide by 21 points on either side of their Round 12 bye.
Hogan, who was one of the Dockers’ best in the win, will be the centre of attention when he faces his old side for the first time since leaving the Dees at the end of last season, his time at the club having been plagued by injuries, poor form and personal issues.
However, the second half of the season could be a testing one for Lyon as far as injuries are concerned, with Rory Lobb and Matt Taberner both sidelined for the rest of the season with foot injuries.
While another win for the Purple Haze will take them a step closer to finals football for the first time since 2015, another loss for the Dees and their fans can just about start booking their holidays for September.
Prediction: Fremantle by 16 points.
St Kilda vs Brisbane Lions
If the Brisbane Lions are to prove that they are indeed the real deal in 2019, then they need to continue beating the teams they should be beating, starting with St Kilda at Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Lions will have had a week to ponder what could’ve been after blowing a 37-point lead to lose to last-placed Carlton by 15 points at the Docklands venue in Round 12.
That result proved that you cannot enter any match thinking that you’ll get the win handed to you, as the GWS Giants can attest when it lost to Hawthorn by 33 points at the MCG in Round 8.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Saints registered their sixth win for the season in thrilling fashion, overcoming a dismal first quarter and a 31-point deficit after half-time to defeat the Gold Coast Suns by less than a goal for the second time this season.
It ensured Alan Richardson would stay safe as coach for at least another week, with speculation over his future continuing to cloud the club as the season progresses.
Recent history favours the Saints, who have won their last four meetings against the Lions, the last three of them at Marvel Stadium, which will be the venue for their fourth consecutive meeting.
Additionally, the Lions haven’t beaten the Saints in Melbourne since 2000, but I think they will buck the trend on Saturday. As a matter of fact, this will be their second straight match at Docklands, after the aforementioned upset loss to the Blues before their Round 13 bye.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 20 points.
Port Adelaide vs Geelong Cats
After over a month away from home, Port Adelaide returns home for what is arguably their biggest, and most important match for the season when they host the Geelong Cats at the Oval on Saturday night.
Following a week off, before which they made it three from three in Shanghai after thrashing St Kilda by 70 points, the Power started positively against Fremantle before completely switching off in the final quarter, failing to score a point as they fell by 21 points.
Things will not get any easier when they face the top-of-the-table Cats, who are fresh off a week’s break after winning eleven of their first twelve matches, the lone defeat being against the GWS Giants at home in Round 4.
Their last match before the bye saw them overcome a goalless first quarter to thrash Richmond by 67 points, with Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett Jr both among the best players on the ground.
With the Adelaide Crows enjoying their week off, the Power will have the City of Churches to itself and there is no reason to believe that the clash against the Cats will not sell out.
It is the last of just two home games against top-drawing Victorian clubs that Ken Hinkley’s side will enjoy in 2019 (the other being against Richmond in Round 4), the club standing to lose money due to having to play more lower-drawing clubs at home this season.
It is also the first in a stretch of four straight games at home, with the Power not due to hop on a plane again until Round 18 for a rematch against the Tigers at the MCG.
While the Power need to make the most of their commercial opportunities, I just can’t see them causing an upset this Saturday night.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.
Western Bulldogs vs Collingwood
The final match in Round 14 sees the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood face off for the second time this season, after the Pies came from behind to down the Dogs by 14 points at the MCG in Round 4.
The Dogs have endured a rollercoaster season to date, knocking off three of the most consistent clubs this decade (the Sydney Swans, Hawthorn and Richmond) but also losing to sides they shouldn’t be losing to (like the Gold Coast Suns and Carlton earlier this season).
Last Saturday night, they held off a furious second half fightback from Carlton to win by just three points, having allowed the Blues to kick the last five goals to set up a grandstand finish in the dying minutes.
Luckily, though, Luke Beveridge’s side received a free kick outside the Blues’ forward 50 at the death, enough to see them win their fifth match for the season.
The margin would’ve been greater had Tom Liberatore not suffered a knee injury during the second quarter.
On the other hand, the Pies have had the week off to relax following their Queen’s Birthday win over Melbourne, which had elevated them to second on the ladder before the GWS Giants overtook them by way of their win over North Melbourne last week.
On the back of reaching the grand final last year, Nathan Buckley’s side are in prime position to again feature at the pointy end of the season, though they will face a major obstacle in consecutive road trips when they face West Coast and GWS in rounds 17 and 18 respectively.
While this will be the first in a pair of matches at Marvel Stadium (they will play North Melbourne next Saturday night as well), the Pies will start favourites to reclaim second place on the ladder and ramp up the pressure on the top-of-the-table Cats.
Prediction: Collingwood by 30 points.
Byes: Adelaide Crows, Carlton, Gold Coast Suns, GWS Giants, North Melbourne, Richmond.