The next five days of football are the most important we’ve seen this year.
Even in the midst of a crowded fixture – and even among a year where almost nothing is solidified and the only constant is uncertainty – Round 11’s clashes hold a heightened sense of importance to the competition. Flag contenders must prove themselves, while finals challengers need a win to stay in touch with the eight.
And that’s just today.
‘Super Saturday’ might be a cheesy Fox Footy tagline for every Saturday featuring football but, for once, it is an appropriate descriptor for what bodes as a vital day for three premiership contenders and a consistently inconsistent Western Bulldogs outfit.
The Doggies – who have now been winless for a fortnight – play tonight against the Lions at the Gabba. They haven’t won here since 2017, whereas the Lions have a considerable home ground advantage: they’ve played a quartet of matches here this season, winning all four.
Chris Fagan’s team are likely to come into tonight’s clash with ferocity after last week’s damaging loss to Richmond, but the Bulldogs will be furious with an equally frustrating loss to the Power, their second in succession after a loss to the Tigers the week prior.
In addition to last-start losses, both sides have horrid accuracy in front of goal despite being finals contenders. The Queenslanders’ paltry return of 4.17 (40) against the reigning premiers is endemic of an ongoing blight on their football; they’re currently dead last in terms of goal accuracy.
The Dogs are hardly better, ranking fourth last, and producing a 5.12 effort on Monday night, inaccuracy that almost certainly cost them a valuable win.
There isn’t a doubt that for both teams, this is close to a must-win. And the coaches know that. There’s a balancing act between public criticising their teams and providing optimism, one both Fagan and Luke Beveridge endured during questioning about the recent goal-kicking failures. Fagan claimed they “practice, practice, practice”, while Beveridge rued “letting one slip”.
Both miss the wider point: neither side are going to go anywhere close to a premiership while kicking so haphazardly.
Beveridge is running the very real risk of coaching a team that is on track to miss finals, while Fagan surely must know that more performances like the Richmond game will leave a large asterisk above the Lions’ premiership chances. Therein lies the importance of this match: the Bulldogs get closer to securing finals, the Lions get on steadier top-four ground.
Before the Gabba match, though, this afternoon’s massive Adelaide Oval clash between Port Adelaide and Richmond will captivate most football fans’ attention. The Power have so far surpassed every expectation thrown at them and then some, not falling from their top of the ladder position in any round this season. Still a game above second place, not even a loss here will allow the Tigers to leap above them.
The problem for the Power though is they come up against the defending champions at the precise moment that team is returning to frighteningly good form. One only needs to look at the way they made a mockery of Brisbane last week – their ability to contrast their opponents’ inaccuracy with a strong performance from forward pillars Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt allowed them to continue their rise up the ladder.
Port had a closer previous encounter, and lingering consistency fears would remain in Ken Hinkley’s mind. His side haven’t made finals since 2017, and the Saints game three weeks ago is proof they’re capable of losing games they shouldn’t. Richmond would be a massive scalp for the Power, one that would add to an increasingly impressive 2020 resume.
Damien Hardwick’s side won’t get the same acclaim – they’re favourites for a reason – but a win would nonetheless be another integral step on the path back to peak form.
Such is the nature of the clash – and the state of footy media – that you should expect the winner of this clash to be immediately proclaimed premiership favourites (I can’t object – I’ll probably be saying the same thing).
Monday night also sees competition darlings St Kilda host Geelong. The Cats had a rubbish stay in the Perth hub, losing games to finals contenders and only eking out a win over a hapless Freo. They did add another four points to their ledger with a win over North, but that won’t count for much. The high-scoring Saints have been the most exciting team in the competition this year but defeating the Cats will be a mammoth task.
This one has different ramifications of the duo. The Saints would be elated with a win, as it will just about legitimise their finals dream and leave the door open for a top-four finish, whereas the Cats simply need a win over a top-eight competitor – something they haven’t managed in over month.
There are other games this round for those in the finals mix. West Coast need to navigate a dangerous Blues outfit, Collingwood mustn’t become the Crows’ first scalp of 2020, and Essendon simply have to beat the Suns. None of those matches are in any way certain, in typical 2020 fashion, but none also have the level of importance as Saturday and Monday’s clashes.
It’s going to be a hectic week of football.