With the bye rounds over, normal service resumes this weekend.
We have a full roster of nine matches, including the final Thursday night regular season match for 2019, which will pit Essendon up against the GWS Giants, who will be playing in this timeslot for the second time.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the Giants thrashed the Bombers by 72 points in Sydney in Round 1, after which John Worsfold’s side copped plenty of criticism from the media for their dismal performance.
Just how far the Bombers have come since then will be put to the test when they face the third-placed Giants, who have again had to contend with a lengthy injury toll but are right up there among the contenders, at Marvel Stadium.
Among other matches, the Adelaide Crows will be out to put an end to a 16-year hoodoo when they face the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park, while the Sydney Swans will be out to bury the demons of last year’s humiliating defeat to the Gold Coast Suns at home on Saturday night.
Here is your guide to Round 15.
Essendon vs GWS Giants
After starting the season with two losses, including the aforementioned 72-point hiding at Giants Stadium in Round 1, many wondered whether the Bombers would finally live up to their potential, having again loaded their playing list with the best talent from the country.
Since then, John Worsfold’s side have won six of their last eleven matches, but a few of their losses have been concerning – first, the controversial loss to the Sydney Swans at the SCG where David Myers missed a set shot from outside 50 after the final siren, and most recently their 35-point loss to West Coast in Perth last week.
Only the Eagles’ inaccuracy (they managed 14.22 (106)) saved the Bombers from a potentially even more embarrassing defeat, and this is something Worsfold would’ve addressed his side during the review of that match.
Therefore, they’ll want to be switched on from the get-go when they welcome the GWS Giants to Marvel Stadium for just the third time.
Leon Cameron’s side are fresh off a week’s break, before which they recorded a 23-point win over North Melbourne in Hobart eight days after going down to the Adelaide Crows by 21 points at the Oval.
However, their injury list has claimed another name in tagger Matt de Boer, who will miss two months due to a shoulder injury sustained in the win over the Kangaroos.
The Essendon side they will face on Thursday night will be a much improved one from the side that they beat by 72 points three months ago, and so they’ll be on high alert for a side that has vastly improved since.
It will be the Giants’ second Thursday night match ever, after they’d lost to the Adelaide Crows by 36 points in a qualifying final at the Oval in September 2017.
But with the home ground advantage, the Bombers should take the chocolates in this one.
Prediction: Essendon by 15 points.
Geelong Cats vs Adelaide Crows
The Adelaide Crows’ finals credentials will face another test this Friday night when they travel to a ground where they have not won for sixteen years.
Don Pyke’s men will enter the second half of the season with a lot of confidence, having knocked off fellow finals contenders the GWS Giants and Richmond at home in consecutive weeks prior to their bye last week.
However, they will face their biggest test yet, facing a Geelong Cats side which sits on top of the ladder with eleven wins and two losses for the season.
The Cats suffered the second of those two defeats last Saturday night when it lost to Port Adelaide by eleven points at the Oval, just their third against the boys from Alberton since 2004.
It continued their dismal post-bye record whereby they have not won a match following its mid-season bye since reduced rounds were introduced in the 2012 season.
Now the onus will be on Chris Scott’s side to bounce back in front of their fans at Kardinia Park this Friday night, and it’ll be dependent on the trio of Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood leading from the front.
At home, the Cats should prevail.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 20 points.
Hawthorn vs West Coast Eagles
The first match on Saturday sees Hawthorn attempt to keep their finals hopes alive when they host the reigning premiers, the West Coast Eagles, at the MCG.
After recent wins against the GWS Giants and Port Adelaide, the Hawks have been less than impressive since then, losing three consecutive matches by the same margin against the Brisbane Lions, Essendon and the Sydney Swans, all by 19 points.
Even with former captain Jarryd Roughead back in the side, they were kept on the back foot against the Swans, conceding six first quarter goals and never really getting anything going on what was a very cold Sydney night.
They’ll be without captain Ben Stratton for another week as he serves the final match of a two-week suspension incurred from his night of madness against the Bombers, where he repeatedly pinched Orazio Fantasia and also stomped on the foot of Shaun McKernan.
On the other hand, the Eagles rebounded from their heavy loss to the Swans before their Round 13 bye to beat Essendon by 35 points, in the process cracking the ton for just the third time this season.
If it wasn’t for their inaccuracy in front of goal (they managed 14.22 (106) from 36 scoring shots), they could’ve won by a bigger margin and boosted their all-important per centage which will prove crucial in their chase for a top-four spot.
Their run to September is expected to receive a huge boost with Nic Naitanui certain to return to the senior side, nearly twelve months after rupturing his ACL against Collingwood at the MCG.
Coincidentally, his return would also be at the G, where the Eagles have not beaten the Hawks since 2006.
While their recent history at the ground makes for impressive reading, it must be noted their past three wins at the ground all came against the Pies within the last twelve months, while they also had a win against last-placed Carlton in Round 5 last year.
However, I think the Eagles should take this one out.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 14 points.
Sydney Swans vs Gold Coast Suns
If there’s one match in particular that the Sydney Swans have circled on their calendars, it’s this one.
Why, you wonder? Because in the corresponding game last year, the Swans suffered one of their most humiliating defeats in recent history when, from 29 points up at quarter-time and seemingly cruising to victory, they suffered a fatal lapse thereafter to crash to a 24-point loss.
It was one of the most surprising results in recent history and for the Suns, it saw them tick off another task on their “to do” list – that is, beating the Swans for the first time in their existence (they only need to beat the Adelaide Crows to complete their Grand Slam of beating every team in the AFL).
But the more the Swans think about history going into Saturday night’s rematch, the more they’ll be fearing a repeat result, which could cast a huge shadow over the future of coach John Longmire, who is heavily being courted by North Melbourne to be their next coach.
So far this season, the 48-year-old has done his best navigating his side through a torturous first half of the season, which netted a return of just five wins.
Four of them have come in the past month-and-a-half, including an impressive win over reigning premiers West Coast as well as beating bitter rivals Hawthorn by 19 points at home last Friday night, in which Nick Blakey earned himself a Rising Star nomination.
The Suns, on the other hand, have lost their last nine matches since starting the season 3-1, but could fly south with the belief that they can once again knock off the Swans.
Their last match before the bye saw them throw away a golden chance to end that losing streak when they lost to St Kilda by four points in Townsville despite leading by 31 points just after half-time.
It was a case of history repeating for Stuart Dew’s side, which also led the Saints by 31 points at Metricon Stadium in Round 13 last year before also losing by less than a kick.
While the Suns would love to produce a repeat of their stunning win at the SCG last year, I think the Swans will enter this match with a much smarter mindset than what they did eleven months ago.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by 30 points.
Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs
For the second consecutive week, Port Adelaide will have the City of Churches all to itself when they host the Western Bulldogs at the Oval this Saturday night.
After over a month on the road, Ken Hinkley’s side returned home to a crowd of 37,726 last Saturday night, and they rewarded their fans with an eleven-point win over the Geelong Cats, just their third against them since 2004.
But the win has come at a cost with several players set to fall foul of the judiciary, with Dougal Howard and Karl Amon set to be suspended for incidents involving Harry Taylor and Gary Rohan, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Western Bulldogs’ season of unrelenting disappointment continued last Sunday when it lost to Collingwood by nine points at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
It was their eighth defeat of the season and continues their worrying regression since they took out the 2016 flag, with the reality set to loom that they may become the first side in AFL history to win a flag in one year and then not play finals for three consecutive seasons thereafter.
Their record at the Oval also does not make for good reading, as they have only ever won once at the venue, though it was against the Power in their aforementioned premiership year of 2016.
At home, the Power should show no mercy.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 23 points.
St Kilda vs Richmond
The first match on Sunday afternoon sees St Kilda look to redeem themselves against Richmond following a shocking loss to the Brisbane Lions which has coach Alan Richardson under the pump to retain his job.
The Saints had been touted as one of the season’s big improvers, even if the manner of some of their defeats suggest otherwise, but it seems all their hard work has come undone in recent weeks, with heavy losses to the Lions as well as against Port Adelaide in Shanghai.
What hasn’t helped has been the absence of Jarryn Geary, who is almost certain not to return again in 2019 owing to the broken leg he suffered in China earlier this month.
But there’s no doubting the Saints will have reviewed their loss to the Lions thoroughly, in which they conceded nine goals in the third quarter to crash to their first loss against them in Melbourne since 2000.
Bouncing back will not come easy against a Richmond side which, following their Round 14 bye, find themselves in the all-too-familiar position of ninth on the ladder.
The Tigers have lost their last three matches since defeating Essendon in Dreamtime at the G, the most recent of them seeing them fall foul of the Adelaide Crows and Eddie Betts’ magic at the Oval on June 13.
With Trent Cotchin’s absence due to injury, it meant Dustin Martin captained the side for the first time, and while he led by example against the Crows, the absence of their spiritual leader proved to be the telling story.
Forward Jack Riewoldt is also not due back for a few more weeks, so the Tigers’ fleet of small forwards will need to continue to step up in his absence.
In good news for the Tigers, they will only have to hop on a plane once more this season (next week against the Gold Coast Suns), after which they will play their final seven matches at the MCG, which should set them up for another finals run.
But first thing’s first – they need to face St Kilda and win to keep their finals chances alive.
Prediction: Richmond by 24 points.
Brisbane Lions vs Melbourne
On the back of a much-needed win over Fremantle last week, Melbourne will hit the road when they fly north to face the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba on Sunday afternoon.
It has without doubt been a disappointing season for the Dees, which prior to their win over the Dockers had seen them win just three times – against the Sydney Swans, Hawthorn and the Gold Coast Suns.
However, their win last week, which came on the back of good efforts from Max Gawn and Jack Viney, could be the firestarter they need if they are to make an unlikely late run for the finals, which would be similar to what Richmond did five years ago.
They will face a tough task facing a much-improved Brisbane Lions side which has only lost once at home this season, against Collingwood by 62 points in Round 5.
After a week of soul searching following their shock 15-point loss to last-placed Carlton in Round 12, the Lions returned from their bye with intent, thrashing St Kilda by 56 points with Charlie Cameron kicking five goals in a best-on-ground display.
Their seventh win for the season sees them edge one step closer to ending a decade-long finals drought, the northerners having not played in September since 2009 when it reached the semi-finals in Michael Voss’ first season as coach.
At home against the Dees, they will start warm favourites to register their eighth win of 2019.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 32 points.
Fremantle vs Carlton
The final match of Round 15 will see Fremantle try to make amends for its loss to Melbourne when it hosts Carlton at Optus Stadium on Sunday.
In their second match at the MCG for the season, where they’d beaten Collingwood by four points in round eleven, the Dockers led at every change, but not when it mattered, as they fell to a 14-point loss to the Dees which could prove costly in its chase of a finals berth.
What didn’t help their cause was a foot injury suffered by Jesse Hogan, who was playing against his old side for the first time since leaving at the end of last season.
And in another cruel blow for Ross Lyon’s side, Harley Bennell also suffered a calf injury in the reserves, which is likely to rule him out for the remainder of the season.
They will face a Carlton side which has started to lift since the sacking of Brendon Bolton, coming from 37 points down to upset the Brisbane Lions by 15 points before falling three points short of the Western Bulldogs in a heartstopper at Marvel Stadium in Round 13.
Caretaker coach David Teague had pleaded with his side to play with much more freedom following Bolton’s departure, and that’s exactly what they did in the matches against the Lions and Bulldogs, the former led by a masterclass from co-captain Patrick Cripps.
In a boost for the club, their other co-captain, Sam Docherty, has re-signed with the club until the end of 2021, hopefully setting up a new era of success for the success-starved side.
However, facing a Fremantle side eager to bounce back will not be easy, and the Dockers should take the points in front of their fans.
Prediction: Fremantle by 26 points.