The shorter quarters changed the game in Round 1, when players had greater energy to play the duration of games at a higher-skilled and higher-paced standard.
We did it – after three straight weeks of five out of nines we came up with … a six out of nine!
Hey, I’ll take it. We’re building up towards finals.
Collingwood vs Richmond
7:50pm at the MCG
We begin with the biggest game of the week. The winner most likely ends up in the top four, the loser probably settles for a home elimination final.
Nathan Buckley has had Damien Hardwick’s number recently, the Pies winning the last two encounters by an average of 41.5 points. Round 2 of this year in particular was a coaching masterpiece. Collingwood controlled possession (+165 disposals, +96 marks) and never let the Tigers play their style, turning the ball over nine fewer times and laying 26 more tackles despite spending 50 per cent of the match with the ball in their own hands.
But a lot has changed since then. Richmond has weathered a deluge of injuries akin to the monsoon in Jumanji, while Collingwood spent the first half of the year marching slowly and confidently towards their goal, only to start slipping on detergent and getting hit with cans of paint as the end approaches.
There’s still time for the Pies to turn things around, though. I don’t expect a repeat of Round 2 – Hardwick will have counters this time and Buckley will know that; he understands they can’t just run it back – but it would be wrong to completely write off Collingwood based on their recent struggles. The midfield is still loaded and the forward line is capable of exploding despite their inability to do so lately.
That said, Richmond are the better team. Their own forward line is starting to roll now, with Jack Riewoldt back from injury and Sydney Stack proving he can thrive in any position, with six goals and five goal assists in the last four games. I’m picking the Tigers to win, but this match will be close.
The tip: Richmond.
Hawthorn vs Brisbane
1:45pm at University of Tasmania Stadium
You don’t need me to tell you that Brisbane are the hottest team in the competition right now. They’re 5-0 since the bye, scoring 100 points per game and dispensing with teams at an average margin of 33.8 points during this streak. The Hawks, however, have hit their own patch of form after winning three straight, including two victories against teams currently in the top four (Collingwood and Geelong).
The Lions have beaten the Hawks on the last three occasions – twice last year, once this year – and in some ways the parallels between last year’s Tasmania contest and this one are evident. Last year Hawthorn were 3-0 with an average point differential of +30.3 at their Launceston home going into the Brisbane match, where the Lions handled them to the tune of 33 points despite being without an injured Harris Andrews.
Similarly, this year the Hawks are 3-0 at University of Tasmania Stadium with a +22.4 point differential ahead of this weekend when Brisbane will again be missing Andrews, this time to suspension.
Does history repeat? Well, here are two things I know: Brisbane are a lot better than they were last year and Hawthorn are worse. That’s enough for me. Although I will also mention that these are the top two teams for turnover differential this year, whoever wins that battle will probably win the game. I’m betting it’ll be the Lions.
The tip: Brisbane.
Carlton vs Adelaide
2:10pm at the MCG
Can it be a danger game when the team allegedly in danger is coming off a loss where they blew a 30-point lead and now sit just eighth on the ladder? I’d argue it’s more of a kitchen sink game for the Crows. They know Carlton aren’t the pushover Gold Coast were two weeks ago, they know they have to win at least three of their last five to keep that spot in the eight, they know they’ve lost three of their last four and they know they have to throw everything they’ve got at the Blues this Saturday.
Carlton will be fired up for this one too, though. A 4-2 record with a +7.0 point differential under David Teague has the Blues feeling confident again. They’ll believe they can win. And how about the extra spice provided by the pick swap between these teams at this year’s draft! Right now the Crows are in line to swap their pick 11 for Carlton’s pick 3; another Blues win would get them a step closer to evening out that calculation.
Here’s my concern about Carlton this week, though: they beat Gold Coast last week, but it was the first time the Suns had won the inside 50 count since Round 4 and only the first time since Round 2 that they won both inside 50 and contested possession counts. Meanwhile, Adelaide completely destroyed the Suns just one week earlier; they’re the more talented side. Whatever type of game you wanna call it, the Crows need the win more and they’ve got the players to do it.
The tip: Adelaide.
West Coast vs North Melbourne
4:35pm at Optus Stadium
Am I crazy to think the Roos are a sneaky chance in this game? They’re a couple of breaks away from being 6-1 under Rhyce Shaw and came mighty close to knocking off two of the hottest teams in the league over the past fortnight. On the other side, West Coast were far from convincing against Melbourne, and with Shannon Hurn out and Jeremy McGovern banged up, they could be vulnerable to another loss at home.
Travelling two weeks in a row is hard, though. The Kangaroos just had an intense battle up in Brisbane that came down to the final minute, and now they have to head all the way over to Perth, where the Eagles are 7-2 this year. That’s probably enough to swing this towards West Coast.
The tip: West Coast.
St Kilda vs Melbourne
7:25pm at Marvel Stadium
Could someone tell me why Melbourne are favourites in this game? I was genuinely surprised when I saw the odds. Of course I’m not saying they can’t win – St Kilda should definitely not be considered a lock after one good game – but how about this: the Demons are now dead last in both points scored and conceded per inside 50 as well as second last for turnover differential. I’m not sure that’s a team that should be favoured against anyone not named the Suns, especially since this game is not at the MCG.
The Saints actually have a winning record at Marvel this year (5-4), whereas the Dees lost the only game they’ve played there this season, against the same Bulldogs team St Kilda just beat only one week later. Speaking of that, caretaker coaches are now three from three in their first game in charge and 9-5 overall this season. The lesson might be to just ride them early as the players enjoy a fresh start and the rest of the league adjusts to any differences in game style. We’re going to do that with the Saints this week.
One more sad Melbourne stat for the road though: can you guess who their leading goalkicker is this year? I’ll let you think. That’s right, it’s Jayden Hunt, with 19. That sound you hear is Demons fans shaking their heads and praying that this year is in fact the aberration.
The tip: St Kilda.
Port Adelaide vs Greater Western Sydney
7:40pm at Adelaide Oval
We called for GWS to make a statement and they delivered. As we speculated, the midfield was just fine in the absence of the big names. What’s really got lost amid all the injury panic, though, is the fact the GWS forwards are the real advantage the Giants have over the rest of the league. Their top three goalkickers – Jeremy Cameron, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg – have booted 115 goals between them, which is 17 better than the next best team (West Coast) and 39.5 more than the league-wide average.
It’s not all Jeremy Cameron either; only one other team has even two guys who have kicked over 30 goals (West Coast again), and the Giants have three. Seven teams don’t even have one!
Going further down the line, Toby Greene, in fourth place at GWS, would be co-leading Melbourne’s goalkicking alongside the aforementioned Jayden Hunt despite playing five fewer games. The three-pronged key forward set-up has fallen out of favour in recent years, but the Giants are showing that when all three are mobile, have good hands and can convert opportunities or set up others, then it can definitely work.
I think GWS are about to tear through their last few games. Write them off at your own peril.
Also, if you hadn’t noticed, I’m still mad at Port Adelaide for being so annoyingly unpredictable this season. They’ll be spoken about as little as possible over the next few weeks.
The tip: GWS.
Western Bulldogs vs Fremantle
1:10pm at Marvel Stadium
My thanks to the Bulldogs for fluffing another game they should’ve won on paper – that makes it three losses to teams currently in the bottom five (Gold Coast, Carlton and St Kilda). It’s easy to say now, but if the Dogs had won even two of those games, they’d have had a pretty good shot at making finals. But there’s a reason for the losses – consistency is part of being a good team and they clearly don’t have it yet.
It’s for that reason that this week’s game also makes me nervous. Ross Lyon drawing a team into a grinding, rock fight of a match is the AFL’s version of one of those UFC bouts where both fighters are just kind of rolling around on the ground attempting to submit each other – you don’t have a clue who’s winning, but one thing’s for sure, and it’s that it’s not fun to watch.
I’m not picking a team that has scored 45.3 points per game over its last three matches, though. Can we even call last week a win for Freo? If people are throwing out the idea of a bonus point for higher-scoring wins, why not have points subtracted for the ugly scraps? Call it the Ross Lyon Rule. ‘Fremantle beat the Suns 7.11.53 to 6.14.50 thanks to four rushed behinds in the last ten minutes. However, they’ll only receive three premiership points due to the Ross Lyon Rule’.
I like it. Make it happen, AFL.
The tip: Western Bulldogs.
Sydney vs Geelong
3:20pm at the SCG
A huge part of Geelong’s surging start to this season was the newly dangerous and dynamic forward line. The Cats are well and truly in a slump, and it seems like a good portion of the blame should fall squarely on the shoulders of this forward contingent. Since the bye they’ve scored only 70.4 points per game, a precipitous drop-off from the 99.3 points per game they were posting in the opening 12 matches of the season. Compare that to the other end of the ground, where Geelong’s defence is still only conceding 69.8 points per game over the last five games, not far off the pre-bye figure of 65.7 points per game. So which specific forwards are to blame? Pretty much all of them it turns out.
|Rounds 1-12||Rounds 14-18|
|Player||Disposals||Goals||Goals avg||Disposals||Goals||Goals avg|
The new recruits who gave the Cats their added dimension for the first half of the season have fallen off considerably. After combining to kick 37 goals over the first 12 games, the trio of Gary Rohan, Gryan Miers and Luke Dahlhaus haven’t even been able to manage a goal per game between them during Geelong’s rough patch of form. Making matters worse is the fact that the two big guns, Tom Hawkins and Gary Ablett, have also cooled off after their red-hot starts to the year.
It’s not due to a lack of supply from the midfield either. The Cats averaged 51.5 inside 50 entries per game during their 11-1 start to the season, that has only fallen to 50.2 inside 50s per game over the ensuing 2-3 stretch. The Geelong forwards are getting pretty much the same quantity of ball to work with, but are doing far less with it.
As for the quality question, well I’d love to have access to the Champion Data computers to have a look at the Cats’ kick rating numbers going inside 50, the difficulty of their shots on goal et cetera, but alas, that is not to be.
Geelong will win. Sydney are just tussling right now. The more interesting question for them is whether we’ll see Lance Franklin again this season, and the signs aren’t looking especially positive.
The tip: Geelong.
Gold Coast vs Essendon
4:40pm at Metricon Stadium
Let’s wrap this one up quick. Essendon have put together some big-time clutch wins recently, so taking care of business up on the Gold Coast should be a formality. Earlier in the season the Bombers might’ve allowed the Suns to drag them down to their level, but now they seem to have found the ability to adjust within games and win even when everything isn’t going exactly the way they want. I’ll wager most things are probably going to go the way they want in this one.
The tip: Essendon.
Last week: 6-3.
Overall record: 97-56.