Game 2 of Round 2 is not as I predicted (based on the original fixture), which was Geelong versus Gold Coast, but instead Geelong versus Hawthorn.
We’re back in business baby – eight out of nine last week and feeling good heading into the final month of the season. Let’s do it.
North Melbourne vs Hawthorn
Extremely tough match to call first up.
After a fantastic start to Rhyce Shaw’s tenure as coach, North Melbourne have now lost three straight, as their ridiculous inside 50 and contested possession numbers have regressed back towards the mean. Last weekend’s loss to the Eagles was the first time the Roos have copped a hiding under Shaw, though.
The key question to me is whether North’s struggles in that game were the result of a tough recent schedule – three straight matches against top eight teams, including back-to-back interstate trips against top-four opponents – or are they flagging in a broader sense, a relatively young team worn down by a long, drama-filled season. The answer may well be both.
Meanwhile, the Hawks continue to somehow cling to the fringes of the finals race, despite Alastair Clarkson saying every week that he is focusing on the future.
Hawthorn have the recent ascendancy in this particular match-up, winning five of the last six, although the Roos’ most recent win against the Hawks also came at Marvel last year, for whatever that’s worth.
Hawthorn don’t have the forward firepower that West Coast employed to torment North. Mitch Lewis and Tim O’Brien are a far cry from Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling. Jack Gunston and Luke Breust are collectively contributing one and a half goals less than they did last season.
Each team has an emotional case in this game too: Shaw’s first game after accepting the full time position against Shaun Burgoyne breaking the record for games played by an Indigenous player.
I’ve been going back and forth over this one all week. Let’s go with North. Their team is better and it’s just more fun to barrack against Hawthorn.
The tip: North Melbourne
Essendon vs Port Adelaide
The Bombers were very lucky to escape from the Gold Coast with a win – imagine the talking heads lining up to fire their shots had the Bombers indeed taken the L.
Considering the key players already sidelined, the thought did cross my mind that Essendon were maybe getting a bit cute by going into the game without Dyson Heppell and Conor McKenna. Still, the team they fielded should’ve been good enough to deal with the Suns, and they did… barely.
McKenna is back this week, though, along with Orazio Fantasia, to go up against Port Adelaide.
There’s a bit going on at Port right now – they reek of a team that has given up. Let’s treat them accordingly.
The tip: Essendon
GWS vs Sydney
The Giants did just enough against Port last week to end the night in front, thanks to Nick Haynes and Phil Davis producing intercept after intercept in the last quarter.
The good news for GWS, however, is their tasty schedule to finish the year. Four games against teams outside the eight, three of them at home – two at Giants Stadium, one in Canberra – with the sole away game against last-placed Gold Coast.
The Giants look set to push back into the top four. At the very least, they should comfortably solidify a home elimination final.
The Swans, on the other hand, will be lucky to escape the bottom four. At this point, they look more likely to fall below the resurgent Carlton.
The tip: GWS
Fremantle vs Geelong
Fremantle suck right now. Injuries hurt every team, but when you lack depth like the Dockers do, they’re particularly painful.
It’s partly the reason why they’ve been trotting out a hampered Rory Lobb, the plodding Sean Darcy, and the carcass of Aaron Sandilands in the rarely seen three ruckmen gambit.
But who else have they got to bring back in at this point? Cam McCarthy? Yikes.
The Cats should be looking to make a statement on the road here. From a chemistry and team-bonding perspective, I like the fact that they’re staying in Perth all week in the lead-up to the game.
I also like the fact that Geelong just scored over 100 points for the first time in almost two months. They might just be breaking out of the slump. Stay tuned.
The tip: Geelong
Melbourne vs Richmond
I’m running out of ways to describe just how bad Melbourne have been this year. Another week and another loss hasn’t changed much, so I won’t really add anything except to say that if I were a Demons supporter I’d be concerned at Simon Goodwin’s repeated mentions of injuries holding the team back.
If he thinks a bit of increased health next year is going to single-handedly solve all his team’s issues, then he could be in for a very rude awakening.
As for Richmond, the sight of Tom Lynch plucking wet balls off his shoelaces last Friday should be enough to send a shiver up the spine of every other contender.
The tip: Richmond
Adelaide vs St Kilda
Is there a way to just have the top seven teams make finals this year? Apparently no team wants that eighth spot.
The Crows are still warm favourites to take it, but they’ve dropped four out of their last five, with the only win coming against lowly Gold Coast. Port, Fremantle and Hawthorn have had mostly uninspiring seasons and all lost last week.
We’ll get to the Bulldogs later, but even with their recent uptick in form they’ve still shown that they can’t be trusted in any game. Hell, maybe North and St Kilda should’ve just changed coaches earlier – they could’ve been right up there by now!
Someone has to end up with it, though. If last week was a kitchen sink game for the Crows, then this time they might want to throw every appliance they own – the oven, the ironing board, the table and chairs.
They’ll need them all, because the Saints and Brett Ratten are sniffing another win here. Two games are obviously nowhere near enough to make any meaningful conclusions about St Kilda – the teams they’ve beaten since Ratten took over are not what you would call contenders, in the Bulldogs and Melbourne.
A road trip to Adelaide is always tough on the Saints, though – they’re 0-9 all-time at the Adelaide Oval – and should tell us a bit more about them. At this stage, I’m sticking with the Crows to figure it out… just.
The tip: Adelaide
Collingwood vs Gold Coast
In the six weeks since their bye, Collingwood are 2-4, with the two wins coming by nine points against the Bulldogs in a game where coach Nathan Buckley ripped into his own team, and one point against the Eagles in Perth after trailing for over 80 per cent of the game. By contrast, the Pies’ average losing margin during this span is 31.8 points.
Weight of key injuries is taking its toll on an otherwise deep line-up. They now have big holes in the back line (Darcy Moore and Tom Langdon), the forward line (Jordan De Goey and the suspended Jaidyn Stephenson) and the midfield (Dayne Beams), and that’s before even getting to the numerous other role players (James Aish, Isaac Quaynor, Ben Reid and Brayden Sier to name just a few) or the guys playing hurt (Scott Pendlebury and Jamie Elliott).
Finals are still a lock for the Pies, but how much damage they do in September depends on how many of that crew can get healthy over the run home.
Even with that many bodies missing, beating the Suns should be a formality for this Collingwood team. Gold Coast almost snuck one through on Essendon, but coming down to the MCG – where the Suns have only won three times in their history – is a different story.
The tip: Collingwood
Carlton vs West Coast
I guess Carlton are pretty decent now? Their 9.9 average points differential over this 5-2 run under David Teague would be fifth in the league over the full season, right behind the West Coast Eagles.
Who would’ve thought even two months ago that this would be a genuinely fascinating contest? The Blues have nothing to lose over the last month of the season and again will have a ton of belief that they can win this week.
The Eagles need to keep their own wins coming, though, in order to stave off the upstart Lions and surging Tigers in the race for a home preliminary final.
Home field advantage in this game should theoretically give Carlton a bit of help against the team travelling from the other side of the country, but West Coast’s recent form at Marvel is actually better than that of the Blues, and includes wins in their past three matches there.
Ultimately, the Eagles have enough midfield bodies to throw at Carlton superstar Patrick Cripps, plus their great forward line will give the Blues defence too many problems to overcome.
The tip: West Coast
Brisbane vs Western Bulldogs
Amazingly, in a season where they’ve lost to both the Gold Coast and Carlton, the Bulldogs have the same amount of wins as the team sitting in eighth spot on the ladder.
Even more amazingly, the Dogs could be sitting one game clear right now if they had only beaten a St Kilda team that had just lost nine of 11.
Due to their poor percentage, the Bulldogs now likely need to win at least three of their last four to nab that finals spot. That could be a problem. In addition to this week’s clash at the Gabba, they’ll have to run the gauntlet of Essendon at Marvel, GWS at Giants Stadium, and Adelaide at Mars Stadium. The Dogs are more likely to go 1-3 than 3-1 over that stretch.
The Lions have a nicer run home thanks to their next three games being at the Gabba, but will face a couple of huge challenges in the final fortnight of the regular season.
For now, things couldn’t be going better for Brisbane. Harris Andrews returns to a defence that has improved immensely, conceding only 65.2 points per game during the current six-game winning streak. You just can’t go against the Lions at the moment, especially with a rocking home crowd behind them.
The tip: Brisbane
Last week: 8-1
Overall record: 105-57