Three rounds down and already there are question marks hovering over both of last year’s grand finalists, Richmond and the GWS Giants, who have both failed to win a game between them since the AFL’s resumption.
The Tigers could only muster five goals in a horrific loss to Hawthorn last Thursday night, while the Giants fared worse, managing only four in a 24-point loss to the Western Bulldogs.
Both sides will be out to revive their flagging seasons when they face St Kilda and Collingwood in their respective Round 4 matches.
Elsewhere, Josh Kennedy will bring up his 250th AFL game when the Sydney Swans face the Western Bulldogs at home, while Port Adelaide will look to continue its undefeated start to the season when they “host” the West Coast Eagles on the Gold Coast hub.
Melbourne will also be out to unleash its frustration in being unable to play a competitive match last week when they play host to the Geelong Cats at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
Here is your full preview to Round 4.
Sydney Swans versus Western Bulldogs
Round 4 kicks off on Thursday night with the Sydney Swans welcoming the Western Bulldogs to the SCG for the first time in over three years.
Tipped by many to again finish in the lower rungs of the AFL ladder, the Swans again defied the odds and the continued absence of Lance “Buddy” Franklin to upset the previously undefeated North Melbourne by 11 points at Marvel Stadium last Saturday afternoon.
In Buddy’s absence, it was their small forwards that laid the platform for the victory, their ninth in a row against the Roos away from Sydney dating back to 2010.
They will need to go up a notch when they face the Bulldogs, who are coming off their first win of the season against the GWS Giants in that spiteful clash at Marvel Stadium.
Fired up after two disappointing losses to start the season, Luke Beveridge’s men led from start to finish as they reversed last year’s elimination final thrashing by the Giants to win by 24 points.
They were led brilliantly by Marcus Bontempelli, who notched up his first win as full-time captain after assuming the role from Easton Wood at the end of last season.
As impressive as the defensive aspect of their game was, their attack remains a struggle, only managing to kick eight goals of their own last Friday night. That came after they only managed seven majors against St Kilda in Round 2, and five against the Pies in Round 1.
Combined with the Giants’ four goals, it made for the lowest-scoring match at Docklands since the stadium opened in 2000.
Despite the Swans’ recent poor record at home, I think they’ll take the points in what will be co-captain Josh Kennedy’s 250th AFL game.
Prediction: Sydney Swans by two points.
GWS Giants versus Collingwood
Friday night football comes to Giants Stadium for the first time as the GWS Giants attempt to revive their season against Collingwood.
After starting the year with an impressive 32-point win over the Geelong Cats at home, injuries and poor form conspired against Leon Cameron’s men as they dropped their next two to North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.
What didn’t help their cause against the Bulldogs was a short turnaround from the 20-point loss to the Roos, as well as up to four past and present best-and-fairests sitting out the match, and a fifth, Lachie Whitfield, being KO’d in the first quarter.
They ended up kicking only four majors for the match – their lowest tally in a match since last year’s grand final when they could only muster three.
Facing an undefeated Collingwood side is the last thing the Giants would want as they attempt to even up their season record and force their way back into the eight.
The Pies continued to show why they are the best defensive side in the AFL, thrashing St Kilda by 44 points at the MCG last Saturday night and keeping the Saints to only five goals.
In fact, in all of their three matches this season, Nathan Buckley’s side have restricted their opposition to only five goals, which doesn’t make for good reading for the Giants which could only manage four against the Bulldogs.
This will be the first meeting between the two clubs since last year’s epic preliminary final, in which the Giants came from behind to upset the Pies by four points and deny Victorian fans the first Collingwood versus Richmond grand final since 1980.
Recent history favours the Giants, which after losing their first five matches against the Pies have won four of the last five contests, including one each at the MCG in the past two years (Round 2, 2018 and the aforementioned preliminary final).
However, I can’t see the Pies being beaten here.
Prediction: Collingwood by 23 points.
Port Adelaide versus West Coast Eagles
The first of two matches at Metricon Stadium this Saturday sees the top-of-the-table Port Adelaide face an out-of-sorts West Coast Eagles side in the afternoon.
It seems like Ken Hinkley is taking his “finals or bust” ultimatum from president David Koch seriously, having guided his side to three consecutive victories to start a season for the second time in three years.
The Power were challenged in the first quarter of its match against the Dockers, but broke the shackles thereafter to record a 29-point win and remain as one of only two clubs (the other being Collingwood) to have not yet lost a match in this compromised 2020 season.
The win was however soured by a hamstring injury to Xavier Duursma, who could see him sidelined for up to three weeks.
Meantime, the Eagles’ struggles in the Gold Coast hub continued as they were beaten by five goals by the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba last Saturday night.
In what was Andrew Gaff’s 200th AFL game, the Eagles started brightly, and kept the Lions honest in the first half before falling away in the second half to crash to their third straight loss in Queensland (also taking in a 44-point loss to the Lions in Round 1 last year).
This came after Eagles coach Adam Simpson declared his Eagles would be leaving the hub straight after its Round 5 “home” match against Richmond, with the AFL set to release fixture details for the following rounds later this week.
Their bid to return home has been boosted by the news that Western Australia premier Mark McGowan will allow Optus Stadium to be at full capacity from July 18, which falls during the middle of Round 7.
But first thing’s first – they need to face Port Adelaide this Saturday, and then Richmond off a five-day break, and I can’t see them winning either match.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 30 points.
St Kilda versus Richmond
Although no fans will be permitted to attend this match (a restriction which appears likely to extend well into July due to a recent spike in new coronavirus cases in Victoria), St Kilda and Richmond will press ahead with their annual Maddie’s Match this Saturday night.
The match was originally scheduled for Round 3, though after the original fixture past Round 1 was eventually binned, it was announced by the St Kilda Football Club that the new match-up will retain the moniker of Maddie’s Match.
Both the Saints and Tigers will want to lift for this match, with both sides having only won one game each this season.
After thrashing the Western Bulldogs by 39 points in Round 2, the Saints were sent crashing back down to earth against Collingwood last Saturday night, managing only five goals in a 44-point defeat.
Meantime, the Tigers’ struggles since the season resumption continued, being restricted to five goals for the second week in a row and, without Dustin Martin in tow, losing to Hawthorn by 32 points at the MCG last Thursday night.
It put an end to a 14-match undefeated streak which stretched over twelve months, and was also their first defeat at the MCG since their loss to the Geelong Cats in Round 12 last year.
Marlion Pickett’s struggles since his breakthrough grand final showing last year continued, being largely ineffective against the Hawks, while Tom Lynch’s embarrassing missed shot at goal from five metres out in the final quarter summed up the Tigers’ dismal night.
It’s only early days, but Richmond fans need not forget that their side were 1-2 and in 14th place after Round 3 last year before they went on to claim a second flag in three years.
Thus, if there’s ever a good time for the reigning premiers to bounce back, it’s this Saturday night.
Prediction: Richmond by 14 points.
Gold Coast Suns versus Fremantle
The Gold Coast Suns have the chance to continue their impressive start to the season when they face Fremantle at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night.
After being thrashed by Port Adelaide at home in Round 1, which led many to forecast another long season for the club, the Suns have taken the AFL world by storm in the past fortnight, thrashing the West Coast Eagles and Adelaide Crows by a combined total of 97 points.
Top draft pick Matt Rowell backed up his breakthrough performance against the Eagles with another best-on-ground performance against the Crows, gaining 20 disposals and kicking two goals as the Suns made it back-to-back victories.
That has seen them rocket up to third place on the ladder with the chance to even ascend to top spot for the first time in club history, pending the results of matches involving Collingwood and Port Adelaide earlier in the round.
Meantime, Fremantle’s tough start to the season continued when it went down to the undefeated Port Adelaide by 29 points, leaving them and the Crows as the only teams to have not yet won a match this season.
They took the fight right up to the Power in the first quarter, leading by six points at the first change of ends, but went scoreless in the second quarter as the heavens opened above Metricon Stadium.
Despite the best efforts of captain Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters, who both managed 23 disposals each, they could not reel the Power in after halftime, though the second half was quite an even affair after the Dockers trailed by 28 points at halftime.
Facing a red-hot Gold Coast Suns side is the last thing Justin Longmuir’s side would want, as the former player seeks to break his coaching duck, and the club avoid a sixth straight loss dating back to Round 21 last year.
On form, the Suns should take the points and move to the same 3-1 record they had after Round 4 last season.
Prediction: Gold Coast Suns by 24 points.
Essendon versus Carlton (please note that this preview has been written with the assumption it is going ahead)
At this stage, we do not know if the Saturday night clash between Essendon and Carlton will proceed, due to Conor McKenna’s positive COVID-19 test causing the Bombers’ Round 3 match against Melbourne to be postponed.
The AFL has made it clear that if the club can come up with enough players (22 plus several emergencies) to field a team, then they will be entitled to play against the Blues this Saturday night.
While we cannot talk much against the Bombers, it must be said that they are the only side this season to have never trailed in a match, after Collingwood trailed St Kilda early in their Round 3 match at the MCG last week.
Despite that, the Bombers have only managed to win their two openers by six points, with Darcy Parish proving to be the hero in their road trip win over the Sydney Swans in their previous match.
Carlton, meanwhile, led from start to finish to upset the Geelong Cats at Kardinia Park last Saturday night, notching up its first win at the Cattery since 1996 in the process.
They had led by more than five goals in the second half, but could only watch on as the Cats kept pegging back at the margin to the point where the difference was only two points with a minute remaining.
Just as the Cats went forward, Eddie Betts channelled his inner Fraser Brown to prevent a Cats surge at goal, and seal an upset victory for his side, ensuring they didn’t go 0-3 for the eighth consecutive year.
Despite their near-collapse in the final quarter, the Blues will be keen to keep the momentum going against a Bombers side which will be lacking match practice as a result of its postponed match against the Dees, which will be played sometime next month at the earliest.
While the Blues should start favourites, you never know what will happen in any match between Essendon and Carlton, given the number of surprising results that have unfolded between the two clubs in recent years.
Prediction: Carlton by 17 points.
Brisbane Lions versus Adelaide Crows
The first match on Sunday will see the Brisbane Lions stay at home for another week when they welcome the last-placed Adelaide Crows to the Gabba.
Arguably the biggest winner of the revamped block of fixtures due to not having to leave the Gabba for a month, the Lions overcame a slow start against the West Coast Eagles last Saturday night to streak away to a 30-point win to improve their season record to 2-1.
Coach Chris Fagan could be seen on the sidelines exclaiming “You effing beauty” after the Lions kicked eight goals to three in the second half, moving up to fifth place in the process, just below Essendon whose match against Melbourne was postponed.
The Lions will now start hot favourites to defeat the bottom-placed Adelaide Crows, whose coach Matthew Nicks has admitted that his club “is in a world of hurt” following their 53-point thrashing by the Gold Coast Suns last Sunday.
grand finalists only three years ago, the Crows were kept scoreless in the first quarter and would only manage four goals as they crashed to their first ever loss against the Suns, and their first ever loss on the Gold Coast after eleven straight wins (and scores of at least 100) on the holiday strip.
The defeat, which followed their humiliating Showdown loss in Round 2, highlights the magnitude of the task that Nicks, a former Sydney Swans defender, has in attempting to restore harmony and pride to the shattered club.
It won’t get any easier for Nicks this weekend, and it’s possible that the Crows could be dead last come Sunday night, should the Dockers upset the Suns the previous day.
Otherwise, next week’s Crows-Dockers match on the Gold Coast could decide which team remains winless after Round 5, and facing a massive mountain to climb for the remainder of the year.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 40 points.
Melbourne versus Geelong Cats
After two straight matches away from the MCG to start the season, and having an outing against Essendon at the venue postponed, Melbourne will finally play its first home game of the 2020 season when they play host to the Geelong Cats at the home of football.
The Dees’ previous outing saw them escape with a one-point win over Carlton, after they had led by as much as seven goals, before their match against the Bombers was postponed indefinitely due to a positive case of COVID-19 in Bomber territory.
This decision was made by AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan less than 24 hours before the clubs were due to play, and you could understand the frustration within the Melbourne camp for being unable to play a competitive match.
To make up for the loss of match play, Simon Goodwin’s side instead contested an intraclub match at the MCG so as to prepare them for their clash against the Cats.
After taking care of Hawthorn in Round 2, the Cats were sent crashing back to earth in unexpected circumstances last Saturday night, gifting Carlton its first win at Kardinia Park since 1996 after trailing by seven goals in the third quarter.
A five-goal-to-nil final quarter was not enough as a missed shot at goal from Gary Ablett Jr, as well as a “denied” goal from Tom Hawkins by teammate Esava Ratugolea in the third quarter, saw the Cats crash to their second loss of the season.
As part of the original fixture, the Cats were to have hosted the Dees at their Kardinia Park graveyard in Round 19, but will have to make do with playing them at the MCG.
Still, I think the Cats should bounce back from their loss to the Blues and heap some more misery on the Dees.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 24 points.
Hawthorn versus North Melbourne
The final match of Round 4 sees Hawthorn host a home match against Marvel Stadium tenant North Melbourne.
Any fears that the Hawks had become a shadow of their dominant selves from the past decade were put aside last week when they thrashed a Richmond side missing Dustin Martin by 32 points at the MCG last Thursday night.
Alastair Clarkson’s side fielded the oldest team by average age last round, and it was the efforts of Tom Mitchell and their backline that saw them register their second win of the season, bouncing back from their horrific loss to the Cats in the process.
Next for the Hawks is North Melbourne, who suffered their first defeat of the season when they lost to the Sydney Swans by 11 points at Marvel Stadium last Saturday.
The Roos started brightly, thanks to two goals from Ben Brown, and trailed by only six points at halftime.
However, in what is typically known as the premiership quarter, they coughed up five of the seven third quarter goals to trail by 27 points at three-quarter-time.
Though they would keep the red and white goalless in the final quarter, a stretch of three goals in six minutes was not enough as they crashed to yet another loss against the men from the Harbour City in either Melbourne or Hobart.
Coach Rhyce Shaw said after the match that it was a “disappointing effort” and surely he will put the onus on his team, which will be expected to regain Ben Cunnington after he was a late scratching against the Swans due to a back injury, to bounce back against the Hawks on Sunday.
Prediction: North Melbourne by six points.