Essendon’s Round 1 performance was one of the hardest to read of any club, making them a tough team to get a read on ahead of the AFL’s June 11 restart.
Round 21 of the AFL season is upon us. Here are my tips and thoughts as the AFL season enters its pointy end.
Friday 9th August
GWS vs Hawthorn
7.50pm at UNSW Canberra Oval
We keep talking up the Giants in this space, but they could very easily sit at ten wins instead of twelve right now, their last two victories coming by a total of only three points.
However, with those near misses successfully negotiated, ending the season on a six-game winning streak still seems the most likely result.
GWS have won 12 of their last 14 games at their second home ground in Canberra (one of the losses came earlier this year against Fremantle), while Hawthorn, as far as I can tell, have never played there.
The Giants midfield should be far too strong for the Hawks’ brigade of young and old, and the return of Jeremy Cameron offsets the loss of GWS’ other gun key forwards (Jeremy Finlayson, Harry Himmelburg) while creating a huge problem for a Hawthorn squad that has no match-up for him.
The tip: GWS
Saturday 10th August
Melbourne vs Collingwood
1.45pm at MCG
When the AFL scheduled this match at the start of the year, they would’ve been expecting it to be an absolutely red-hot contest between two teams in the top four.
Instead we get the second worst team in the comp playing against a team that hasn’t looked good since, well, the last time these two met on the Queen’s Birthday (we’re not counting anything that happens against Gold Coast).
So in lieu of talking about what looms as a pretty dour contest, let’s use it as an excuse to have a very brief look at the undisputed top two ruckmen in the game – Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy.
What makes these guys the best at their position is the fact that they effectively play multiple positions every time they step out on the field. Gawn is an extra midfielder, an intercept marking defender, and a lead up forward depending on what Melbourne need at any time.
Grundy is similar but with more emphasis on the midfield, and possessing more forward line nous. It’s very hard to separate them when looking at the stats this year.
Grundy gets a bit more of the ball overall and averages an extra clearance a game due to more time spent in the middle.
Gawn has the edge in contested and intercept marks, inside 50s, and effective kicks thanks to his more varied role within the Melbourne side. It feels like the popular consensus is with Grundy at the moment, likely in part because of the Demons’ struggles, but my pick might be Gawn right now.
He just does a little bit more for his team I feel and has only kicked four goals less than Grundy this year, not quite enough for me to swing it back to the Pies’ big man.
Of course, neither one is a bad answer, and Grundy may even outplay Gawn this week as the Pies do just enough to consign the Demons to yet another loss.
The tip: Collingwood
Port Adelaide vs Sydney
2.10pm at Adelaide Oval
Well, the Power are back within a sniff of finals and, unfortunately for us, that means we have to try and predict how they’re going to perform in a game with real stakes.
Their opponent, Sydney, have lost five in a row, but four of those five were by ten points or less; the Swans are struggling but they’re also frisky. And how about this – Sydney are 4-1 all time at Adelaide Oval, although to be fair, they haven’t played there since 2017.
Port, for their part, are only 5-5 at home this year, which is fitting for the season they’ve had. The Power were able to score an insane 2.2 points per inside 50 against an Essendon defence missing a few key pieces on the weekend; Port’s season long figure is 1.38, tied with Gold Coast for second worst.
The Swans defence is much stingier, only conceding 1.44 points per inside 50, tied for second best in the league. In order to prevail, Port Adelaide will need to comprehensively win the inside 50 battle, something they’ve been great at all year (+9.2 diff, best in the league), but mediocre at over the past month (+1.0 diff); the Swans paint the opposite picture, they’ve been a bad territory side this season (-8.0 diff, second worst), but are doing slightly better (-3.0 diff) over this five-game losing streak.
It’s really hard for me to trust the Power again, but a look at the 22 players lining up for the Swans points to a team squarely focused on getting games into the youngsters lining the end of their list.
A loss here would surpass all the other disasters Port have saddled themselves (and us) with this season, surely they’ll win…
The tip: Port Adelaide
Brisbane vs Gold Coast
4.35pm at Gabba
Do we need to say anything about this game? Or any game involving Gold Coast for the rest of the year? No? My apologies to all of the 32 Suns supporters out there. At least you get to live on the Gold Coast.
The tip: Brisbane
Essendon vs Western Bulldogs
7.25pm at Marvel
We’ve talked a lot about injuries derailing teams such as Collingwood recently and Richmond earlier in the season, but Essendon’s health issues seem to have largely been passed over due to their winning ways since mid-season.
Well, that wasn’t the case this past week, as the extent of their problems was laid out clearly.
Take a deep breath before this next sentence. Already missing Joe Daniher from the forward line, the quietly season saving Shaun McKernan was withdrawn due to illness, forcing a sick and banged up Cale Hooker to be moved forward, taking away another key piece from a defence already missing lynchpin Michael Hurley; McKernan’s absence also had the added side effect of taking Mitch Brown (himself a huge part of Essendon’s recent good form) away from the forward line for chunks at a time in order to back up the league’s worst back up ruckman, Zac Clarke, himself only in the team due to an injury to Tom Bellchambers.
It’s a vicious cycle, and it showed up on the field, with the Bombers suffering their biggest loss since Round 1. Oh, and also their captain was injured too.
On to the Bulldogs, who I think I may have figured out. At their best, the Dogs are a joy to watch – lightning quick handball chains combining with laser kicking from the likes of Marcus Bontempelli and Matt Suckling to scythe through opposition zones and pile on goal after goal.
The problem, though, is that this style of play seems to have very little margin for error, any turnover can be swiftly punished and the Bulldogs don’t have the type of defence that can limit the damage.
The Dogs are about middle of the pack for both total turnovers and turnover differential, so it makes sense that they’re similarly lodged in the mid-tier of teams, equally capable of wins against quality opposition and losses against the dregs of the league.
It creates an interesting match-up for this week, Essendon themselves are a turnover heavy team, albeit one that loves to feast on their opposition’s miscues and rapidly transition the ball forward.
The Bombers once again have a raft of players missing through injury, but crucially will bring back McKernan and Dyson Heppell; I think that’s enough to give Essendon the edge here.
The tip: Essendon
Geelong vs North Melbourne
7.25pm at GMHBA
Geelong have the best average point differential in the league this year, sitting at +21.1, almost a full goal better than second placed GWS.
However, over the past seven games, the Cats’ point differential is a measly -0.6, good for 10th in the comp if maintained over the full season.
Our runaway league leader over the first half of the year has been alarmingly average for almost two months now. The good news is that, for this week at least, GMHBA stadium should cure what ails Geelong.
The Cats’ average point differential in Geelong is +36.3, and that’s including a loss to GWS earlier in the year. Even during their current funk, Geelong has been able to notch a couple of comfortable wins when they’ve played at this ground.
They’re the only team in the league who are yet to drop consecutive games, so, while I think that the Kangaroos will put up a fight, it’s hard to see the Cats starting a losing streak on their home turf.
The tip: Geelong
Sunday 11th August
St Kilda vs Fremantle
1.10pm at Marvel
Oh boy. The Ross Lyon Bowl. I could not be less excited about this game. Forget about last week’s results for this one, Fremantle overrunning the Cats with the amount of injuries they had was almost surely a fluke, and we’ll assess the state of the Brett Ratten Saints next week. Let’s keep it simple.
St Kilda have won their last two matches at Marvel Stadium, while the Dockers have dropped their last three there. Home ground will be the difference in this match.
The tip: St Kilda
Richmond vs Carlton
3.20pm at MCG
The Blues got a close up look at one of the best teams in the league last week, and to their credit, they didn’t completely fold.
They’ll get another chance to show what they’re made of this Sunday, against perhaps a more deadly opponent.
The Tigers’ smallest winning margin during their current six-game streak is 27. Their average point differential over this stretch is +42.5; their lowest score is 93 and their highest score conceded is 70.
That’s, uh… pretty good. The Blues should consider it a win if they can stay within a few goals of Richmond.
The tip: Richmond
West Coast vs Adelaide
5.20pm at Optus Stadium
The Eagles have scored over 100 points in four of their past five matches at Optus Stadium, with three of those scores surpassing 120. They have an 8-2 record there for the season, with one of those losses coming by a single point.
Seems too tough of an obstacle for Adelaide to overcome in their present state. Crows fans will have to sweat out the final two weeks of the season (home against Collingwood, at Ballarat for the Bulldogs) to know if they’ll gain the honour of losing in the first round of finals.
The tip: West Coast
Last week: 7-2
Overall record: 112-59