We were kept to a middling five out of nine last week thanks to a few upsets ranging from the unsurprising (hello Port Adelaide) to the truly shocking (Carlton!). Let’s get to thoughts for Round 16.
Hawthorn vs Collingwood
7.50pm at the MCG
Well, I guess Collingwood could play worse. A week after being publicly lambasted by coach Nathan Buckley following an ugly win against the Bulldogs, the Pies put in an even suckier performance, scoring a miserable 37 points against the resurgent Kangaroos. When you’re in a bit of a funk but still manage to win it can be tough to summon the boldness to get back to your best, because, hey, you must still be doing something right – you’re winning! But when you cop a beating like Collingwood did, it becomes obvious that you need to do something to snap out of that funk.
Great teams can have the odd stinker, but another loss this week would be concerning, especially with the Giants at Giants Stadium, the Eagles at Optus Stadium and Richmond at the MCG coming up over the next three weeks. If we still think the Pies are premiership contenders, they’ll bounce back strongly this time and do away with a Hawks team that should be transitioning into the mode of throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks in preparation for next year and beyond.
The tip: Collingwood.
Essendon vs Sydney
1.45pm at the MCG
Well this match is a lot more interesting than you would’ve thought a month ago. Both teams have won three of their last four and, with the help of Port Adelaide and Fremantle, are suddenly either a reasonable chance (Essendon) or maintaining the faintest of sniffs (Sydney) of a finals berth. The Bombers have the easier run home, but both teams get the opportunity to knock off both Port and Freo in what shape to be crucial games for all involved.
As far as this game goes, both starting ruckmen went down last week and won’t play, and both sides are missing huge pieces from the forward line – Joe Daniher for Essendon, Lance Franklin for Sydney. The Swans got up by less than a goal at home earlier this season, so let’s say the MCG factor and the return of Jake Stringer give Essendon the smallest advantage in what otherwise seems a pretty even match-up.
The tip: Essendon.
Gold Coast vs Richmond
2.10pm at Metricon Stadium
The schedule has opened up perfectly for Richmond, with this weeks bout against last-placed Gold Coast their final road match for the year before a staggering seven straight at the MCG. The Suns will continue to battle for portions of each match, but realistically this is all about the Tigers getting another week under the belts of the swag of players returning from injury as of last week. We’ll know more about whether Richmond are back in contention over the next few weeks, but this one should be a gimme.
The tip: Richmond.
Adelaide vs Port Adelaide
4.35pm at Adelaide Oval
The first of two derbies this week, with both having lost some lustre due to a couple of typical letdown performances. In last week’s column I said that Port’s match against the Bulldogs was a classic trap game, but of course I didn’t have the guts to actually pick against them coming off their huge win against the league-leading Cats. That ends now.
I’m officially out on Port Adelaide this year. Adelaide didn’t beat Geelong like the Power did, but they hung with them for most of the game in a far more difficult environment. The Crows are a better team; they’ll win. Now watch Port rip through their last few matches and make finals while I give up on trying to predict what this stupid team is going to do.
The tip: Adelaide
Western Bulldogs vs Geelong
7.25pm at Marvel
Speaking of the Bulldogs, they get another pressure-free crack at a big scalp this week against the aforementioned Cats. I won’t bury the lede though; Geelong will win this game. Instead let’s steal a Bill Simmons gimmick – the following are the 2019 season averages for two players in this game:
Player A is Brownlow medal fancy Tim Kelly. Player B is Marcus Bontempelli. The Dogs probably won’t end up with enough wins for the Bont to seriously make a run at the Brownlow, but this is your reminder that he has been phenomenal this year.
The tip: Geelong.
Fremantle vs West Coast
8.10pm at Optus Stadium
The Dockers could’ve pretty much locked up a finals spot over the last two weeks but instead stand on very shaky ground. West Coast should be back at very close to full strength for this derby, with Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass back from suspension and injury respectively, plus there’s the successful return of the incredible Nic Naitanui last week.
For their counter, Fremantle will bring back… Aaron Sandilands? This is just me talking, but expecting a 36-year-old giant of a man – who has missed the whole season with lower leg injuries and not long ago reportedly offered to retire, mind you – to come straight back in and make a difference is not that smart, particularly when his main opponent is one of the greatest athletic freaks we’ve ever seen in the AFL. Never change, Fremantle.
The tip: West Coast
Carlton vs Melbourne
1.10pm at the MCG
Since firing Brendon Bolton the Blues have become quite adept at erasing five to six-goal deficits, resulting in two comeback wins and one near miss. Two of those matches came against the shaky defences of Brisbane and the Bulldogs, but this past week was the most impressive of the lot, coming on the road against a Fremantle defence that has conceded the third-fewest total points and third-fewest points per inside 50.
Now here comes Melbourne with their league-worst total points and points per inside 50 conceded. It bodes well for Carlton, right? Maybe. But imagine at the start of the year if I told you that we’d be picking the Blues in this game. You would’ve thought I was a delusional Carlton supporter at best, or blatantly trying to make people angry at worst. The Demons have been the most disappointing team in the league, but the Blues haven’t exactly risen to another level this year either, despite this recent surge. Not enough has changed for me to feel good about tipping Carlton here.
The tip: Melbourne.
North Melbourne vs St Kilda
3.20pm at Blundstone Arena
Last week when I promised to have a look at North Melbourne’s improvement under Rhyce Shaw I didn’t think they would proceed to knock off Collingwood so convincingly. So what’s going on with the Roos, who have won three out of four since Brad Scott stepped aside?
Well, for starters, they’re winning the ball and getting it forward, going from a mediocre -1.3 inside 50 differential and +0.5 contested possession differential in ten games under Scott to a ridiculous +14.5 and +11.5 differentials respectively in the four games since. Those numbers are likely not sustainable, as they would put the Kangaroos first and second in the whole league if maintained over the full season, but it shows just how great North Melbourne have played of late.
Turnovers tell a similar story, with the Kangaroos giving the ball away an average of 1.5 times more than their opponent to start the year but now taking the ball from their opponent seven more times a game over the past month.
What does feel like a sustainable, meaningful change for North Melbourne is their defensive efficiency. Under Brad Scott the Kangaroos gave up a putrid 1.80 points per inside 50. In the past four games they’ve conceded a much more reasonable 1.50 points per inside 50. North’s backline has benefited from some increased continuity and the return to health and form of Robbie Tarrant, who is playing better than he has since making the All Australian 40-man squad in 2016.
On the other side, the Saints showed more fight last week but will struggle to compete with the hot Kangaroos at a ground where North only lose to Sydney-based squads.
The tip: North Melbourne.
Greater Western Sydney vs Brisbane
4.40pm at Giants Stadium
It feels like Brisbane’s fortunes in any particular match for the rest of the year will be dictated largely by location, and this is no exception. I know I do this every time the Giants play here, but the numbers continue to be crazy, so here it is again. At Giants Stadium: 125.25 points per game, 51 points conceded per game. GWS haven’t scored less than 112 points at their home ground this year and haven’t given up more than 76. Tough one for the Lions.
The tip: GWS.
Last week: 5-4.
Overall record: 81-45.