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Tips and thoughts: AFL Round 17

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4 days ago
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Another round of upsets left us with a meagre five out of nine once again, but that doesn’t matter.

The biggest takeaway from Round 16 is the fact that there is as much uncertainty in the league as there has been since the beginning of the season.

For the first time in weeks, we have to re-think the status of contenders such as GWS and Collingwood, are they just in mini slumps or will Brisbane and Richmond stay hot over the stretch run and usurp their positions in the top four?

And what about fringe finals teams such as Essendon and North Melbourne that we’d all but written off? Suddenly they’re very much back in the picture, with a huge clash this week to boot. Thoughts on all that and more, let’s embrace the chaos.

Friday 12th July

West Coast vs Collingwood
8.10pm at Optus Stadium

For two weeks running I’ve been predicting that the Pies have received the kick up the butt they needed to return to form, and for two weeks running they’ve proven incapable of responding.

Since their seven-game winning streak earlier in the season, Collingwood have lost three of their past five matches, and a look at some of the numbers does give cause for concern.

Over those five matches, the Pies have conceded a staggering -15.6 average inside 50 differential, far worse than Gold Coast’s league worst season mark of -11.4.

Similarly, after winning contested possession for nine straight weeks (eight wins) following Round 1, Collingwood’s vaunted midfield were running at a woeful -15.6 CP differential during this recent slump before beating Hawthorn (the second worst contested ball team in the league) in the stat by +20 this week.

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Probably the most concerning thing to me though, is turnovers. During the first ten weeks of the season, the Pies had a +40 differential in total turnovers; in the ensuing five matches that differential is -27. So that all seems pretty bleak, but here comes the glass half-full version for Collingwood fans.

Despite all those damning numbers, the Pies twice lost by only four points; would we still be breaking out the concern index for Collingwood if they had managed one more straight kick in one or both of those games?

Furthermore, in the case of this match at least, the Pies shouldn’t have the same problems in these key areas; West Coast is bottom four in inside 50 differential, bottom five in contested possession differential, and dead stinking last in turnover differential on the season.

Collingwood also have a good interstate record so far, going 2-0, though Optus Stadium looms as another level of challenge, with West Coast the owners of an 18-4 record since the opening of the venue last year.

I’ve been down on the Eagles for most of the year, but in a season of upsets they’ve now won eight of nine, are pretty much at full health, and sit top four in per centage and points conceded, and top five in points scored.

This should be a fascinating watch, let’s go with the home team in a close one.

The tip: West Coast

How good are the Eagles? (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

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Saturday 13th July
Sydney vs Carlton
1.45pm at SCG

Sydney’s season has been something of a reversal on Collingwood’s. In their 3-8 start to the season, the Swans perennially strong on-ball unit had slumped to a -12.7 average inside 50 differential and -15 contested possession differential.

Since then, Sydney have won three out of four and gone partway towards rectifying those numbers, with +1.75 and +8 average differentials respectively during that span.

The Swans also seem to have rediscovered their advantage at the SCG, having won four of their last five at the venue after a 1-7 run there.

Meanwhile, Carlton have now become the best team in the league at chasing down five or six goals leads, having hit the lead from such a deficit in each of the past four weeks.

The flip side of that is that the Blues have also become the best team at consistently giving up such a lead in the first place. So should we laud Carlton for their comeback ability or slam them for their inconsistency within games?

Personally, I think the latter is more meaningful. Kicking six or seven straight goals would usually put you in an extremely strong winning position, but when you were already down by that much all it does is bring the match back to a 50-50 proposition, as perfectly illustrated by the Blues having won only two of these four matches.

The Swans concede the least points per inside 50 of any team Carlton has faced since firing Brendon Bolton, if the Blues fall behind this week, I don’t think they’re coming back.

The tip: Sydney

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Hawthorn vs Fremantle
2.10pm at UTAS Stadium

I think we can write off Fremantle now. After a third straight loss, two of which came against bottom four teams, the Dockers are now playing so poorly that you wouldn’t have a lot of faith in them winning many more game this year.

Sure, they may snag a couple, as they still have a few winnable games left on the schedule, but that won’t be enough to make up the game and percentage gap now separating them from the teams vying for the final spots in the eight, especially when this week they have to travel to Hawthorn’s second home in Launceston, where the Hawks are 17-1-2 in their last 20 matches.

Hawthorn should win consecutive games for the first time this season.

The tip: Hawthorn

Essendon vs North Melbourne
4.45pm at Marvel

Here we have a probable loser leaves town match, particularly for North Melbourne who sit one win behind Essendon in the race to sneak into finals.

However, even a win for either team only guarantees that they stay in contention for a spot in the eight, there will still be plenty of work to do and results from other teams needed.

The Bombers have been impressive over the past fortnight in gutting out a couple of close victories, not usually their forte. A hobbled Michael Hurley is a big concern for Essendon’s backline, and another week without captain Dyson Heppell is also tough.

As we spoke about last week, the Kangaroos form has been incredible since Brad Scott departed.

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We mentioned the improvement by the defence, but would be remiss not to also give a shout out to players such as Cam Zurhaar, Nick Larkey and Jed Anderson, who started the year either injured or in the VFL but have come in and made big contributions; or Jy Simpkin, averaging 33 disposals and 10 clearances over the past two matches. Anderson, at 25, is the oldest of this bunch, the rest are 21; all of a sudden North’s future is looking pretty bright. No result would surprise me in this game, but the Kangaroos just seem like the better team right now.

The tip: North Melbourne

Gold Coast vs Adelaide
7.25pm at Metricon Stadium

Adelaide has the perfect opportunity to play themselves back into form this week, against a Gold Coast team that will struggle to compete for the rest of the year.

Inexperience, weight of injuries and a dearth of high-level talent have crushed the Suns all year and they seem in real danger of not winning another game this season.

Despite calls to drop half the team, I think the Crows were right not to make too many changes after what was effectively just one horror half of football against a fierce rival. Not that it really matters who plays in this game, lock in a win for Adelaide.

The tip: Adelaide

Geelong vs St Kilda
7.25pm at GMHBA

Speaking of teams being gifted a cupcake after a bad loss; the Cats have a chance to get their mojo back in Geelong against the Saints. Of all the top teams who’ve suffered surprise defeats over the past few weeks, I’d be least concerned about Geelong.

Sure, averaging 55.5 points against Port Adelaide and the Bulldogs isn’t good, but those two teams have got hot lately, and the Cats have been great enough all season for us to give them a little leeway.

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They’re still our premiership favourites and it would be a huge surprise if they didn’t blow out the Saints, whose bottom four ladder position finally aligns with their per centage.

The tip: Geelong

Sunday 14th July
Richmond vs GWS
1.10pm at MCG

Richmond have boosted their per centage by a hefty 11 points over the past two weeks, coinciding with bringing back most of the key players they had been sorely missing for big chunks of the season.

They now have seven matches at the MCG to shore up a home final, or possibly challenge for a double chance, while easing back in the last couple of pieces in Jack Riewoldt and Toby Nankervis.

The Giants, on the other hand, look as shaky as they have all season, dropping three of their last four, including two on the road and one truly shocking defeat to Brisbane at Giants Stadium, a venue where they had been blowing the pants off teams all year. So what do we make of GWS?

We could say that the Giants haven’t beaten a team currently in the top eight since consecutive victories against Richmond and Geelong in Rounds 3 and 4.

Or we could make the case that losing a very competitive match against the Crows at Adelaide Oval and getting jumped by a red-hot Brisbane outfit at home shouldn’t be cause for panic and are cancelled out by the aforementioned wins against the Tigers and Cats. What about losing to Essendon after blowing a three-goal lead in the final quarter?

A Giants defender could point to the four additional scoring shots GWS had against the Bombers, plus yet another high leverage goal review mishap by the AFL as reasons not to get too worked up over that loss.

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Sandwiched in between all that, the Giants managed to hand North Melbourne their only loss to date under Rhyce Shaw, in Tasmania no less. I tend to think GWS are still a contender, but I also believe they’ll lose this weekend.

I kind of hope I’m wrong though, if only to save us all from another week of media prognosticating about GWS and their MCG phobia.

The tip: Richmond

Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne
3.20pm at Marvel

When it comes to red-hot teams, we also have to talk about the Bulldogs; knocking off Port in Adelaide and the league-leading Cats in consecutive weeks is no joke.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Dogs propensity to leak points in their defensive 50, giving up a league worst 1.81 points per opponent entry.

That number is now down to 1.67 (still a bottom four mark) thanks to the Bulldogs recording a remarkably stingy 0.85 points per opponent inside 50 over the past two matches.

They’ll have a chance to keep improving that metric this week against the season-from-hell (no pun intended) Demons, who, despite a couple of wins in the last three weeks, have managed to get even worse at their own scoring efficiency inside 50, now sporting a clearly worst in the comp 1.26 points per inside 50 mark.

It seems like Melbourne need to win the inside 50 battle just to have a chance at winning a game this year (5-6 record when winning inside 50 diff, 0-4 when losing I50s); they may find achieving that feat more difficult than usual this week, as while Melbourne rank second in inside 50 differential this year, the Bulldogs aren’t far behind in third.

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The classic Bulldogs crap-the-bed game is really pulling at me here, but with a few new injuries to add to Melbourne’s lengthy list this season (including Tom McDonald, who had been finding his form again), the Demons seem more like the team desperate for the end of the season, whereas the Dogs have found a bit of confidence and should be trying to finish the season strong.

The tip: Western Bulldogs

Port Adelaide vs Brisbane
4.40pm at Adelaide Oval

Can I not make a pick for this game? I just know whichever way I end up going will be wrong. I declared myself out on Port Adelaide last week, so of course they gave the Crows a walloping in the second half of the Showdown.

Do we jump back on board now for another home game against the Lions, themselves riding high after their best win of the season?

Cam Rayner

Cameron Rayner of the Lions (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Brisbane just proved they could beat a really good team in a tough road environment; but can they back it up for the second week in a row away from home?

This is a purely anecdotal call, but I feel like the Lions havegota lot of good press this week, while Port’s win has been mostly overshadowed by the negative attention directed at the team they vanquished.

I like Brisbane, but let’s calm down a little on anointing them just yet; it was only a month ago that they lost to Carlton. Port may be betting favourites for this game, but the letdown potential feels higher for the Lions. I hate myself for it, but it seems I just can’t quit the Power.

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The tip: Port Adelaide

Last week: 5-4

Overall record: 86-49