There are only four rounds remaining until the finals get underway, with every match this weekend involving at least one team still in contention for September action.
It kicks off on Friday night with a clash between North Melbourne and Hawthorn, and the stakes will be high for both clubs because the loser will almost certainly be eliminated from finals contention.
Port Adelaide will look to keep their own hopes alive when they fly east to face Essendon, while the GWS Giants can pile on more pain for their cross-town rivals, the Sydney Swans, who will be spectators in September for just the fourth time since 1995.
Other matches will see the Geelong Cats fly west for a date with Fremantle, while the West Coast Eagles will head the other way when they face a much improved Carlton on Sunday.
Here is your preview to Round 20.
North Melbourne vs Hawthorn
After a fortnight on the road for a return of zero premiership points, North Melbourne return home this Friday for what is almost certainly their last roll of the finals dice when they take on Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium.
After a poor start to the season which resulted in Brad Scott stepping down as coach, the Roos have lifted in the past two months with caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw splitting his eight matches in charge, but losing the last three in succession.
Last week the Roos were torn apart by the West Coast Eagles in Perth, with the defence unable to stop Josh Kennedy who kicked seven majors.
This came seven days after their controversial loss to the Brisbane Lions, in which Scott Thompson – who missed the loss to the Eagles due to injury – gave away the match-losing free kick which the umpires department deemed was incorrect.
Now they face a Hawthorn side which still has a pulse in its season, despite losing to the Lions in Launceston last Saturday.
It leaves them with a record of eight wins and ten losses, three places above the Roos on the ladder, with four matches still to play.
The teams’ most recent meeting, back in Round 3, saw the Hawks come from 27 points down to beat the Roos by 16 points at the MCG, though the Kangas did win their most recent clash at Marvel Stadium in Round 5 last season.
Under the roof, North Melbourne will be too strong.
Prediction: North Melbourne by 16 points.
Essendon vs Port Adelaide
The first match on Saturday sees Essendon return home after a successful fortnight on the road for a clash against Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium.
After taking care of the Crows at the Adelaide Oval in Round 18, the Bombers avoided major embarrassment when they kicked two goals in the final minute to defeat the Gold Coast Suns by ten points at Metricon Stadium.
The early signs that the Bombers were on the holiday strip for a holiday rather than a premiership match emerged after they trailed by 17 points at quarter-time, but whatever coach John Worsfold said must’ve had an effect as the Dons claimed their fifth straight win.
Now, they’ll be aiming for six straight when they face a Power side whose finals hopes are quickly slipping away.
Ken Hinkley’s side suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to the GWS Giants at home last Saturday night in front of a modest crowd at the Adelaide Oval. Their average home attendances having suffered as a result of a tough fixture.
Their recent record against the Bombers doesn’t make for pretty reading, having lost eight of their past ten meetings against them dating back to Round 23, 2011.
Thus, if the Power are to keep their finals chances alive, they’ll need to do it in front of what stands to be an uncompromising pro-Bombers crowd, and I just can’t see it happening.
Prediction: Essendon by 25 points.
GWS Giants vs Sydney Swans
You couldn’t have imagined this seven years ago, but for the first time since the GWS Giants entered the AFL in 2012, it will be them that will feature in September and not the Swans, who have been regular finalists for the past quarter of a century.
The Giants’ surge towards a fourth straight finals series continued last week when they defeated Port Adelaide by a solitary point at the Adelaide Oval.
This Saturday, they will start favourites to complete a regular season double over the Swans for the first time in their history, and also record two wins against them in the same year for the first time since 2016, when they won in Round 12, as well as the first qualifying final.
It is the end of an era for the Swans, whose finals hopes were officially extinguished last Sunday when they went down fighting to the Geelong Cats by 27 points at home last Sunday. It will be the first time in a decade that they will be absent from September.
But while their season might be heading towards a dead end, they can at least unleash their frustration on their cross-town rivals with a win at Giants Stadium, which would severely dent the Giants’ chances of claiming the coveted double chance in September.
This means shutting down the Giants’ three-pronged forward line of Jeremy Cameron, Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson, who have kicked 122 goals between them this season, with Cameron leading the Coleman Medal with 57 majors for the year.
But the Swans will have to do it without fullback Dane Rampe, who has been ruled out of the 18th edition of the Sydney Derby due to an eye injury he picked up in the loss to the Cats.
In the Swans’ favour is that they have won three from five at the Showgrounds, including the last two in succession.
However, the Giants have won the last two meetings, both at the SCG, by margins of 49 and 41 points, and should pile on further pain on their bigger brothers at home this Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 30 points.
Fremantle vs Geelong
Having all but ended the Swans’ finals hopes last Sunday, this weekend the Geelong Cats hit the road for the second time in seven days, this time heading over the Nullarbor to face Fremantle at Optus Stadium.
In his 250th game, Tom Hawkins kicked five goals as the Cats put the Swans to the sword at the SCG last Sunday, overcoming a poor first quarter to post a 27-point win and put one hand on the minor premiership in the process.
It has emerged in recent days that if the Cats ultimately finish in the top two, they will not host any finals at Kardinia Park, even if they are drawn to host a side that would not likely sell that venue out, such as the GWS Giants.
However, in 2013 they were granted this right as all four first-week finals that year were played in Victoria, with the Cats contesting (and losing) its qualifying final against Fremantle at their spiritual home.
To the present now, and they will face a Dockers side whose finals hopes hang in the balance, with Ross Lyon’s men having lost to the Western Bulldogs by 47 points at Marvel Stadium last Sunday.
It leaves the Purple Haze in 12th place on the ladder ahead of their clash against the Cats, who won by 133 points the last time the two teams met, in Round 22 at Kardinia Park last season.
In that match, the Cats kicked 23 unanswered goals after the Dockers had kicked three of the first four. It remains a record for the most goals kicked uninterrupted by any side in AFL history.
Surely there won’t be a repeat as far as the Dockers are concerned, but the class of the Cats should prove to be the telling story here.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.
Melbourne vs Richmond
It seems as though Melbourne cannot wait for this season to be over, their 2019 campaign having been destroyed by injuries to key players and consistently poor form both at home and away.
Their finals hopes all but extinguished, the Dees sunk to 17th on the ladder – just two wins above the Gold Coast Suns – following their 19-point loss to St Kilda at Marvel Stadium last Saturday night.
Two more players have decided to call time on their seasons and go under the knife, with Kade Kolodjashnij and Sam Weideman not to feature again in 2019 due to injury.
It is the last thing Simon Goodwin would want as he attempts to get his dispirited side up for the clash against fourth-placed Richmond at the MCG on Saturday night.
In contrast to the Dees’ woes, the Tigers are timing their run to September perfectly, going undefeated since the Round 14 bye and displacing Collingwood in the top four with a 33-point win last Friday night.
Their clash against the Dees will be the fourth of seven consecutive matches at the MCG, but while the red-and-blue sit second last on the ladder, the Tigers will not want to take their opposition lightly, especially with tough matches against the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions still on the horizon.
The earlier season match between the two sides played on Anzac Eve saw the Tigers prevail by 43 points with the highlight being a strong hip-and-shoulder from Tigers teen sensation Sydney Stack on Melbourne co-captain Jack Viney.
In what will be their first return clash since 2012, expect the Tigers to show no mercy as they close in on a top-four berth.
Prediction: Richmond by 30 points.
Adelaide vs St Kilda
While the Adelaide Crows sit in eighth place on the ladder and ahead of the Western Bulldogs on percentage, people will be asking what has gone so awfully wrong for them since the humiliation they copped in the 2017 grand final.
The Crows’ inconsistent form has become a main topic of discussion following their 27-point loss to Carlton at the MCG, for which forward Eddie Betts was dropped with coach Don Pyke citing his inability to perform consistently as being the reason for his demotion.
It will remain to be seen how they bounce back when they host St Kilda back at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.
The Saints’ faint finals hopes remain alive following back-to-back wins, their latest effort a 19-point win over Melbourne in which they cracked the ton for the second consecutive week, after failing to do so in the first 17 rounds of the season.
It marked Brett Ratten’s second consecutive win as the club’s caretaker coach as he firms for the permanent role next season. He is also being sounded out for a potential return to Carlton, where he was controversially sacked as their coach at the end of the 2012 season.
However, his focus will be on trying to end the Saints’ barren run against the Adelaide Crows, having not defeated them – nor won in the City of Churches – since 2011.
Despite their current woes, I think the Crows will claim the points at home.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 16 points.
Collingwood vs Gold Coast Suns
The first match on Sunday will see Collingwood look to regain some form when they host the last-placed Gold Coast Suns at the MCG for just the second time.
Following on from a disappointing 47-point loss to the GWS Giants in Round 18, the Pies were again slow to get going against Richmond last Friday night, kicking just three goals to half-time, the last two of them in the final minute of the second quarter, to lose by 33 points.
This leaves them in sixth place on the ladder, with their top-four hopes quickly slipping away ahead of the visit by the Suns, who sit 12 places below them with eight fewer wins.
Stuart Dew’s side very nearly pulled off a major upset when they led Essendon by two points with a minute remaining last Sunday, only to concede two late goals to crash to their 14th straight defeat – their longest in a single season since 2012 – and firm for the wooden spoon.
One major highlight was the performance of Ben King, who became the first player from his club this season to pick up a Rising Star nomination.
Their upcoming clash against the Pies will be their only match at the MCG this season, where they have won three times – twice against Melbourne and once against Hawthorn.
The only other time they played the Pies at the ground, they copped a 97-point hiding – but Gary Ablett Jr picked up three Brownlow Medal votes after gathering over 50 disposals.
Expect Collingwood to show no mercy here.
Prediction: Collingwood by 40 points.
Carlton vs West Coast Eagles
At the start of the season, if you were a West Coast Eagles supporter, then you’d be looking at this match as a potential percentage booster.
But Carlton’s recent form suggests that the reigning premiers will be in for a torrid time, with the Blues having picked up their form in the past two months following the sacking of fourth-year coach Brendon Bolton.
Since the axe fell on the 40-year-old, the Blues have won five of seven matches under caretaker coach David Teague, with their two defeats being by less than a kick.
Last week, they scored yet another impressive win as they downed the Adelaide Crows by 27 points, marking a 131-point turnaround from their previous meeting, which the men from West Lakes won by 104 points in Round 23 last year.
Therefore, miraculously, the Blues remain the faintest of chances of qualifying for September, but it’s expected they’ll be forced to watch on as spectators for a sixth straight year after they host the Eagles at Marvel Stadium.
Having been spared from having to face ex-team-mate Eddie Betts last week, David Teague’s side will have their work cut out trying to contain Josh Kennedy, who kicked a season-best seven majors in his side’s thrashing of North Melbourne at home last week.
The Eagles’ 13th win of the season saw them surge into second place on the ladder, overtaking the Brisbane Lions on percentage in the process.
Their recent record against the Blues is also imposing, having won eight of their last ten meetings, including the last four in a row. That being said, Adam Simpson’s men should leave Marvel Stadium with the four premiership points as they edge closer to a top-two finish.
Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 32 points.
Brisbane Lions vs Western Bulldogs
The final match of Round 20 sees the Brisbane Lions host the Western Bulldogs at the Gabba, with their first finals berth since 2009 locked up.
Chris Fagan’s side officially ended their decade-long finals drought last Saturday when they defeated Hawthorn in Launceston, racking up their 13th win of the season but being overtaken by the West Coast Eagles on percentage in the chase for a top-two finish.
For the majority of the Lions’ list, this will be their first foray into September football, with Luke Hodge, Charlie Cameron and Lachie Neale among those who have experienced finals at other clubs.
The Lions will get fullback Harris Andrews back from his one-match suspension for the clash against the Dogs, who sit in ninth place on the ladder after thrashing Fremantle by 47 points at home last Sunday.
Souring their win, however, was a serious ACL injury suffered by veteran Dale Morris, which will almost certainly force him into retirement.
And while the Dogs will head up to the Sunshine Capital as underdogs, Luke Beveridge’s side can take heart from the fact that they are one of just five clubs to beat the Lions this year, doing so in Ballarat in Round 8.
They’ve also won five of their last six meetings against the Lions, with the Queenslanders’ only win in that period an eight-point win in the final round of the 2015 season, which saw them avoid the wooden spoon.
But at home, the Lions should keep intact their strong record at the Gabba, where they have only lost just once – to Collingwood in Round 5.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 22 points.