Friday night’s game between Essendon and the Western Bulldogs is obviously causing the punters some angst as currently both are equally favoured to win.
This is surprising, as currently Essendon are one of the best performers in the league, having won four of the five games they have played while the Western Bulldogs have lost three of the six matches they have played.
The benchmark teams (teams both clubs have played so far) cloud the issue as to who is the better performing team. Essendon had superior performances against Carlton and Collingwood while the Western Bulldogs had more emphatic victories over North Melbourne and Sydney as evidence of their superiority.
The coaching contest is interesting. John Worsfold, who this week will match the number of games coached by Rodney Eade and join him in 14th place on the all time top 100 coaches list, has never beaten Luke Beveridge in head-to-head coaching contests.
Beveridge, who also moves up the top 100 coaching list this game by equalling Grant Thomas (St Kilda) and Bob Skilton (South Melbourne and Melbourne) on 123 games, has won all four games since 2016 by an average of over eight goals per game.
Both sides have valuable players on the long-term injury list. Essendon will be missing first-22 players Joe Daniher (who suffered another injury at training), Dyson Heppell, Jake Stringer and Dylan Shiel, and will be hoping Conor McKenna passes a fitness test.
At the Western Bulldogs, first-graders Josh Dunkley, Lin Jong and Aaron Naughton will miss but Hayden Crozier will return from suspension.
All of the Western Bulldogs’ seven top 100 game players will be available, and all will advance up the list if selected.
At Essendon, the only one of their four top 100 game players not playing should be Dyson Heppell. Cale Hooker should move to within two games of the 200-game mark and join former captain and dual best and fairest winner Ken Fraser on 198 games. Fraser played in the Bombers’ 1962 premiership and was captain in 1965 when they won again.
Michael Hurley will move ahead of Charlie Payne, Alan Ezard, Steven Alessio and Jason Johnson and join Len Bowe, who retired 100 years ago with a condition known as athlete’s heart. Bowe also missed two years of footy while Essendon was in recession during World War 1 after earlier starring in Essendon’s 1911-12 premiership sides. Adam Saad will play his 50th game for the Bombers to add to his 48 games for the Gold Coast Suns.
The other match featuring two teams from last year’s final eight will be the early Saturday game where the Giants will play the Brisbane Lions and a real home-ground advantage will exist.
Once again, the punters have installed the lower-placed team as warm favourites, no doubt banking on this home-ground advantage and an increasing desperation to regain a position in the top eight being enough to get them over the line against Brisbane and keep their current winning streak against the Lions (albeit by ever shrinking margins) in tact.
The fact that it is Leon Cameron’s 150th game in charge of the Giants may be a factor as well.
For Brisbane, both players facing a fitness test, Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson, are expected to play while Cam Ellis-Yolmen is still two weeks away and one of the plethora of Macs, Connor McFadyen, won’t be seen again this year.
At the Giants, hamstring problems have laid four players low with only one of the quartet (Tom Hutchesson) likely to re-appear this week. Callan Ward and Sam Reid will be sorely missed, while Sam Taylor’s return date may still be some time away.