The 2019 AFL home-and-away season has been one of the most tightly contested in recent years, and even after 22 rounds it’s difficult to pick a clear favourite for the flag.
We bounced back nicely this week, nailing five out of six and coming oh so close to a perfect round (You let me down Gold Coast! I believed in you!).
Let’s keep it going for the last of the bye rounds.
Thursday 20th June
West Coast vs Essendon
8.10pm at Optus Stadium
Two things are true about West Coast in 2019. The first is that statistically speaking they aren’t a premiership contender.
They check in at an extremely mediocre ninth in percentage, tenth in points scored and seventh in points conceded. Even more damning is their fourth worst inside 50 differential and second worst turnover differential.
The second thing about the Eagles is that despite all the numbers indicating they’re not much more than a middle of the road side, they remain a very good chance to finish in the top four.
With eight wins already in the bank, West Coast will play six more games at Optus Stadium (including their only two against teams currently in the top four), where they are 5-1 so far this season.
Of the other four games away from home, three will be against teams currently 12th or lower on the ladder.
To translate that, the Eagles schedule is such that they should have a pretty clear roadmap to 15 or 16 wins by the end of the year.
Essendon, on the other hand, need a ton of things to go right for them to even make the finals; winning this game would be a huge coup.
The Bombers did beat West Coast at this venue almost exactly one year ago to the day, however this season’s edition will feature some key differences.
For starters, West Coast’s lynchpin forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling missed last year’s game through injury but both are now healthy and inside the top ten for goals kicked.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jake Stringer kicked three goals in the first quarter and was instrumental in Essendon getting the jump on the Eagles, but he won’t play on Thursday night after copping a leg injury last week.
Those key personnel differences (West Coast will also bring back Shannon Hurn and Elliot Yeo, their two best players this season, after they missed the loss against Sydney before the bye) plus the huge home ground advantage factor should put the Eagles over.
The tip: West Coast
Friday 21st June
Sydney vs Hawthorn
7.50pm at SCG
Well, at the very least we know this one should be close. The Hawks have had the proverbial wood on the Swans in recent years, winning four of the past five games, with the average margin of the five being just 6.8 points.
On the positive side for Sydney, they’ve started to turn around their form at the SCG, having won two of their last three at the ground, with the one loss coming against Collingwood by only seven points.
The potential returns of Josh Kennedy, Zak Jones and Will Hayward would be very handy too.
Meanwhile, here are a few things Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has done this year: created a new euphemism for tanking by referring to his team as being in an “exploration phase”; publicly and unapologetically put Jarryd Roughead, one of the best players of his tenure, out to pasture; acknowledging that the Hawks are “middle of the road” and speculated that “it could be ten years, it could be ten months” before they’re a contender again.
Of course, it was in the week immediately following Clarkson dropping Roughead and making those latter statements that the Hawks scored their biggest win of the season, against GWS – a contender.
To me, that match looms as one of the most bizarre results we’ll see this season, and was probably more of a crap-the-bed game from the Giants rather than a meaningful indicator of Hawthorn’s ability.
Instead, I say let’s take Clarkson at his word. I watched them play this week, and guess what? They are middle of the road!
Not that the Swans are much more than that either, but with home ground and the best player on either team (Buddy Franklin, looking healthy again), let’s go with Sydney in another tight game.
The tip: Sydney
Saturday 22nd June
Melbourne vs Fremantle
1.45pm at MCG
I’ve been fading Melbourne for a number of weeks now due primarily to their comical ineptness in front of goal, but this week I think they can win despite that.
For the reason why, let’s look at Fremantle’s numbers away from home this year.
On first glance, it’s not too bad: a 2-3 record with very impressive victories against top three sides Collingwood and GWS.
However, the Dockers are scoring a paltry 66 points per game (ppg) away from the friendly confines of Optus Stadium, a number that would be second worst in the league over the full season.
While we’re on that topic, Melbourne’s full season average of 69.8 ppg is actually second worst in the league.
Everything about this match screams low-scoring and close, so at the risk of being on the wrong side of some Michael Walters magic yet again (it was a thrill being able to root for him while watching last week’s game against Port, he single handedly might change my mind on this one), I think the Demons are the team that comes out just ahead.
The tip: Melbourne
St Kilda vs Brisbane
4.35pm at Marvel Stadium
The Lions just can’t seem to get a firm grip on the finals spot that has been sitting there for them since they started the season with a 5-2 record.
Since then, they’ve gone 2-3 with all three losses on the road, including two huge missed opportunities against non-finals bound teams (Bulldogs, Carlton).
Brisbane should be embarrassed after blowing a six-goal lead against the Blues the week before their bye, but they get a perfect chance for redemption at the same venue this weekend against the struggling St Kilda.
The Saints, in a word, are bad. They’ve managed to scrape together a couple of wins from their last three matches, but those victories came against the literal bottom two teams in the league. Count me less than impressed.
Something else I don’t put much stock into is the possible return of Dan Hannebery. This dude looked absolutely cooked last year and missed the first half of this season as his body seemingly failed during the preseason.
I hope I’m wrong, because I loved watching him in his prime, but he seems far more likely to be a liability than the three-time All Australian he was for Sydney.
To get back to the Lions, they should be treating this as a borderline must-win, considering how tough the rest of their away schedule is (Giants, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn in Tasmania, Richmond).
Reverse their recent form against the Saints (they’ve dropped the last four) and take care of business at the Gabba, where they have five more matches this year (four against non-finals teams, the last against Geelong… we’ll write that one off), and Brisbane should be back in the finals.
The tip: Brisbane
Port Adelaide vs Geelong
7.40pm at Adelaide Oval
To paraphrase professional wrestling legend/Fast and the Furious show stealer The Rock: Finally, the Power have come back to the Adelaide Oval.
Port Adelaide haven’t played a match at their home ground since May 19th; since then they’ve gone 1-2, ceding ascendancy in the race for one of the last positions in the finals. But now, after travelling to China and both ends of Australia over the past month, the Port players can take a break from racking up frequent flyer miles for the next four weeks.
Even better for the Power, it looks like they’re healthy again, with Ollie Wines, Brad Ebert and Charlie Dixon all probable starters this week.
Things are starting to turn around, right? Well, we might have to wait one more week for that, because welcoming Port Adelaide home are the all-conquering Cats. What more can we say about Geelong at this point?
I laid out how dominant they’ve been in multiple key areas a couple of weeks ago (kindly disregard the fact that I was tipping them to be upset that week), until further notice I’ll be picking them every week.
The tip: Geelong
Sunday 23rd June
Western Bulldogs vs Collingwood
3.20pm at Marvel Stadium
Speaking of 2019’s dominant squads, Collingwood should torch the Bulldogs defence this week. The Dogs are leaking a league worst 1.81 points per inside 50 conceded so far this season.
To put that in perspective, GWS are currently scoring 1.83 points per inside 50, second best in the comp.
So basically, when teams play against the Bulldogs this year, they become as offensively potent as a team that employs Jeremy Cameron.
Not that the Pies need that much help, they’re already top four in the league at 1.67 points per inside 50 on the season (losing Jaidyn Stephenson does hurt though, that guy had been awesome this year). This could get ugly for the Dogs.
The tip: Collingwood
Byes: Adelaide, Carlton, Gold Coast, GWS, North Melbourne, Richmond
Last week: 5-1
Overall record: 71-40