‘The system’s bizarre.’
With only five rounds remaining in the regular season before the finals get underway, several teams will be hoping to either maintain their impressive form or revive their finals chances in this weekend’s round of matches.
Traditional rivals Collingwood and Richmond kick off the round, with the stakes set to be high for whoever wins as they will almost certainly finish the round in the top four.
The Brisbane Lions can end their finals drought once and for all when they face Hawthorn in Launceston, while the Adelaide Crows will get a good workout in their only appearance at the MCG for the season when they tackle Carlton.
Later on Saturday night, the GWS Giants head to Adelaide where they’ll also be hoping to punch their ticket to September, while on Sunday, the Geelong Cats will look to bounce back from three defeats in their past five games when they face the Sydney Swans at the SCG.
Here is your preview to Round 19.
Collingwood vs Richmond
Round 19 kicks off with an MCG blockbuster between Collingwood and Richmond, with both teams hoping to fine-tune their games ahead of the pressure cooker that is finals football.
Pies coach Nathan Buckley will be wondering what went so wrong for his side last Saturday as they crashed to a disappointing 47-point loss to the GWS Giants in Sydney after conceding eight goals in the first quarter.
The likes of Brody Mihocek, Mason Cox and captain Scott Pendlebury all endured below-par games as the effects of a second road trip in as many weeks took its toll on the side.
It marked their fourth loss in their past seven matches and sees them teetering on the edge of the top four, just ahead of Richmond, their opponents this Friday night, on per centage.
The Tigers, on the other hand, dominated from start to finish to defeat Port Adelaide by 38 points and in the process register its first win over the boys from Alberton at the MCG since Round 10, 1998.
It was their fourth straight win since the Round 14 bye and sees them knocking on the door of the top four, where they can displace the Pies with a win on Friday night.
However, recent history has favoured the Pies, who won when the teams met back in Round 2, while they also caused a massive boilover in the preliminary final last year, ending the Tigers’ hopes of back to back flags.
But on Friday night, the Tigers should make it five straight as they look to make another run towards the flag.
Prediction: Richmond by 20 points.
Hawthorn vs Brisbane Lions
The Brisbane Lions can almost certainly punch their ticket to September when they head to the Apple Isle for the third straight year to face Hawthorn in Launceston.
Last Saturday night, Chris Fagan’s side came from behind to overcome a dogged North Melbourne side to win by 12 points, moving up to second on the ladder in the process.
However it has come with a cost, with Harris Andrews copping a one-match ban from the judiciary for striking Nick Larkey in the first quarter.
It is the highest position the Lions have been on the ladder this late into a season since 2004, when it finished second behind Port Adelaide at the end of the minor premiership before going on to lose to the Power in that year’s grand final.
While they will almost certainly start favourites against the Hawks this Saturday, they’ll be aware of a side that produced its best performance of the season thus far to upset the ladder-leading Geelong Cats at the MCG last week.
The Hawks’ win, which keeps their finals hopes alive, was highlighted by an impressive performance from Mitchell Lewis but it came at a massive cost with defender Jarman Impey suffering the dreaded ACL injury which will sideline him for up to twelve months.
This result, coupled with the Lions’ win over the Kangaroos, gives the Queenslanders a chance to join the Cats at the top of the ladder for at least 24 hours, with the Cats to play their match against the Sydney Swans the following day.
Recent history favours Chris Fagan’s side, which has won their last three matches against the Hawks, including by 19 points at the Gabba earlier this season. That said, you can expect them to again get the job done this Saturday.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 18 points.
Carlton vs Adelaide Crows
The Adelaide Crows will get their only chance to impress on the MCG this season when they face a much improved Carlton in the second match on Saturday afternoon.
The Crows’ top four chances took a massive blow last Friday night when it threw away a 30-point lead to lose to Essendon by 21 points at the Oval last Friday night, marking their first loss to the Bombers anywhere at home since 2013.
The defeat sees them teetering on the edge of the eight, with Port Adelaide, Hawthorn and Fremantle just a game behind, but with neither team having a better per centage than the Crows.
Now they face a Carlton side which has won four of their past six matches to move off the bottom of the ladder, with caretaker coach David Teague doing his chances of winning the full-time gig no harm in the process.
The Blues lived up to pre-game favouritism to defeat the Gold Coast Suns by four goals at home last week, reversing a narrow loss to the Suns from earlier this season.
It was the first time in over two years that the Blues had won consecutive matches, following on from their seven-point win over the Sydney Swans at the SCG in Round 17.
Now they get the chance to end a five-match losing streak against the Adelaide Crows, having not beaten the men from West Lakes since Round 10, 2014.
Should Mitch McGovern earn a recall, then he would face his old side for the first time since walking out of the Crows at the end of last season, a decision which earned the ire of then-sole captain Taylor Walker, whose form in recent weeks has come under the spotlight.
In their only warm-up at the MCG before the finals begin, the Crows should prove too strong here, even if they don’t set foot into the arena again this year.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 40 points.
West Coast Eagles vs North Melbourne
After their controversial loss to the Brisbane Lions last Saturday night, North Melbourne hit the road for the second consecutive week, heading west for the second time this season to face the West Coast Eagles at Optus Stadium for the first time.
The Roos’ impressive form in recent weeks under caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw has led many to believe that he will secure the role on a full-time basis next year; in fact, he has been formally interviewed with the 2012 premiership Swan to know the result before season’s end.
They led the Lions by three goals early in the first quarter and looked to secure just its second win on the road this season, before Scott Thompson gave away the match-losing free kick in defence when he was deemed to have illegally bumped Oscar McInerney out of the way.
It was a huge blow to the Roos’ finals hopes, which will almost certainly be extinguished if they lose to the Eagles on Saturday.
The reigning premiers have endured several challenges this season, with last week proving to be another as they overcame a determined Melbourne side to win by 13 points in Alice Springs last week.
Captain Shannon Hurn should return for the clash against the Roos, while it is already known that Nic Naitanui will not return until at least the first week of finals due to an ankle injury.
The corresponding clash last year saw the Roos record a 40-point victory, with the Eagles recording their lowest score for the season with 5.4 (41). However, at home, the reigning premiers should show no mercy.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 25 points.
St Kilda vs Melbourne
Two teams who have struggled this season go head to head in what threatens to turn into a mockbuster at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
The Saints’ continued struggles this decade saw Alan Richardson resign from his role as senior coach, his role being filled by ex-Carlton coach Brett Ratten in the interim.
In his first match as an AFL coach since being controversially sacked by Carlton at the end of the 2012 season, Ratten couldn’t have asked for a dream start to his second stint as a senior coach as the Saints recorded an impressive 27-point victory over the Western Bulldogs at home.
The side played with much more freedom as they posted 100 points for the first time this season, and for the first time in over twelve months.
They’ll start favourites against a Melbourne side which has gone from being preliminary finalists last year to sitting only above the Gold Coast Suns on the ladder with five rounds remaining in the regular season.
While the Dees’ fall from grace this season has been well documented, their predicament isn’t as bad as it was this time five or six years ago, when its regular heavy defeats threatened to put a stain on the AFL competition.
Last Sunday, they overcame a slow start and at led the West Coast Eagles at one stage during the third quarter before falling to a 13-point defeat in Alice Springs.
This came after coach Simon Goodwin said that the Dees “wouldn’t be throwing their season away” given it cannot qualify for September this year.
Recent history favours his side, which has won three of the last four against the Saints, but dropped their most recent meeting at the MCG in Round 15 last year.
Under the roof, the Saints should take the chocolates.
Prediction: St Kilda by 20 points.
Port Adelaide vs GWS Giants
The other match on Saturday night sees the GWS Giants visit the City of Churches for the second time this year when they face Port Adelaide at the Oval.
Despite missing their entire five-man leadership group, and being written off as premiership contenders after three straight losses, the Giants rediscovered their early season form to thrash Collingwood by 47 points and keep alive its hopes of claiming the double chance.
The win was marshaled by first-time captain Toby Greene, who five years ago was at a breaking point in his life after being suspended by the club for five matches following a drunken incident at a Melbourne nightclub which put a stain on not just the club, but also the AFL.
Despite his early career misdemeanours, coach Leon Cameron put his faith in him to lead the side and he produced a captain’s knock as the Giants completed the “Grand Slam” of beating the AFL’s “Big Four” (namely Essendon, Carlton, Collingwood and Richmond) at home this season.
Regular captain Phil Davis is due back this Saturday night after pulling up sore the day before the game against the Pies, and his services will be called upon as the Giants look to contain a Port forward line lead by Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff.
The Power dropped consecutive matches for the first time since rounds 7-8 when it lost to Richmond by 38 points at the MCG, the result meant they lost to the Tigers at the venue for the first time in 21 years.
In fact, the Giants are also coming off a recent loss to the Tigers, and so both teams would have taken recent lessons out of them.
On the road, the Giants should claim another win on the road and all but kill off the Power’s finals chances.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 24 points.
Western Bulldogs vs Fremantle
If there is one team that has every right to be cursed this season, it’s the Western Bulldogs.
Days after coach Luke Beveridge signed a contract extension taking his tenure to the end of 2023, the side which he coached to the 2016 premiership had to face up to a side which either:
* had their coach take charge for the final time (North Melbourne),
* had a caretaker coach in charge for the second time (Carlton), and, last week:
* had a caretaker coach in charge for the first time (St Kilda).
The Dogs were made to pay the price for a dismal first quarter against the Saints, at the end of which they trailed by 35 points.
But while they fought back valiantly after that point, making up the deficit proved a step too far as they crashed to their ninth loss of the season, their finals hopes now hanging by a thread.
This Sunday they face Fremantle, who also have a 8-9 record but are just one place ahead of them on the ladder by way of a better percentage (96.2 to the Dogs’ 93.4).
In one of the most ugliest matches you will ever see this season, the Dockers came from behind to defeat the Sydney Swans by one point, with Ed Langdon kicking the winning point in the final minute before the defence teamed up to prevent a Swans score in the dying seconds.
The result saw the Dockers match the eight wins they enjoyed in both 2017 and 2018, and kept their finals chances alive.
They also defeated the Bulldogs by 19 points at home earlier in the season, but the Dogs should get their revenge in the return clash at Marvel Stadium.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by 14 points.
Sydney Swans vs Geelong Cats
If the Sydney Swans’ finals chances weren’t killed off last Saturday night, then they surely could be when they host the ladder-leading Geelong Cats at the SCG this Sunday.
Fielding the youngest side last round, the Swans fought hard against Fremantle at Optus Stadium last week but ultimately fell to a heartbreaking one-point loss after Luke Parker shanked a desperate last-gasp shot at goal in the dying seconds.
It was their eleventh defeat this season, making it the most they’ve had in a season since 2009, which was the last year the club missed September action.
For a club that has been accustomed to being so successful for so long, the negativity the side has copped this season prompted the Swans to post this Facebook update, saying that the football side are only humans and are developing to become better footballers.
This Sunday they’ll host a Geelong Cats side which has lost three of their last four matches, including last week when they kicked just eight goals in a disappointing 24-point loss to Hawthorn at the MCG.
In a worrying sign ahead of September, they’d also lost to Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs, both away from Kardinia Park, and has seen their grip on the minor premiership loosened.
Although they should start favourites on Sunday to complete the double over the Swans for the first time since 2013, the trip to the SCG will still loom as a danger match for Chris Scott’s men, as one major slip-up could see them joined by the Lions at the top of the ladder.
That being said, the Swans have proven that even in the toughest of times, they can still produce football that is capable of challenging the top sides, like we saw in Round 12 when they put the West Coast Eagles to the sword by 45 points at home.
However, the Cats should prove too strong this time.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 18 points.
Gold Coast Suns vs Essendon
The final match of Round 19 sees Essendon make the trip to the holiday strip when they face the last-placed Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium.
It will be the second week in a row that the Bombers are on the road, following on from their 21-point victory over the Adelaide Crows at the Oval last Friday night, their first over them in the City of Churches since 2013.
Making the victory all the more impressive was that they had to come from five goals down in the third quarter to record their first win outside of Victoria for the season.
This Sunday, they’ll start favourites to knock off the Suns, who after two heavy losses by more than fifteen goals punched above their weight in a 24-point loss to Carlton at Marvel Stadium last Saturday.
The loss marked their 13th consecutive since beating the Blues at home in Round 4, and the result almost certainly means they will take out their second wooden spoon after claiming it in their inaugural season, 2011.
They have also lost their last three against the Bombers, the first of them being by six points at Marvel Stadium in the third-last round of the 2016 season; it was the Bombers’ second of three wins they enjoyed that year.
On the road, John Worsfold’s side should take the points as they close in on a return to September action.
Prediction: Essendon by 50 points.