The greatest token effort ever from Darcy Gardiner!
A quarter of the season has already passed and only two teams stand undefeated: the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne.
While both the Dogs and Dees should start favourites to extend their unbeaten runs this weekend, they do face some tricky opposition with the Dogs facing a Dusty-less Richmond at the MCG and the Dees tackling North Melbourne in Hobart, though that match could yet be moved to Marvel Stadium.
Elsewhere, the Gold Coast Suns will fancy themselves of winning just their fourth match at the MCG when they face second-from-bottom Collingwood, while the Brisbane Lions will start hot favourites against Port Adelaide at the Gabba in the evening.
We also have the first Western Derby to look forward to this Sunday, though exactly how many people will be permitted to attend will hinge on testing rates in the west following a snap three-day lockdown in the world’s most isolated city.
Here is your preview to Round 7.
Richmond versus Western Bulldogs
The round kicks off with what promises to be a huge blockbuster between the reigning premiers, Richmond, and the undefeated Western Bulldogs, under the Friday night lights at the MCG.
The Dogs have been the toast of the league after the first six rounds, winning as many matches to start the season including a record 128-point thrashing of North Melbourne on Good Friday at Marvel Stadium.
Last Friday night, the Dogs were held on a leash by the GWS Giants in Canberra for three-and-a-half quarters before running riot in the final quarter, booting nine goals as they coasted to a 39-point victory in cold conditions.
Now they get to test their mettle against the benchmark of the past four seasons – Richmond, the defending premiers who are attempting to emulate the Brisbane Lions (2001-03) and Hawthorn (2013-15) in winning a third consecutive flag this century.
Dustin Martin’s 250th AFL game did not go to plan for the club, as he was subbed out in the second half after suffering concussion, which under the AFL’s 12-day protocols means he must sit out this Friday night’s clash, robbing this match of its star power.
They also lost to Melbourne by 34 points, seeing their season record drop to 3-3 ahead of a tough few weeks that also sees them face the Geelong Cats, GWS Giants and Brisbane Lions in the weeks after their clash against the Western Bulldogs.
While playing Richmond at the MCG may be one of the AFL’s toughest assignments, a win for the Bulldogs may just about mark a changing of the guard – of sorts – in the manner that the Dogs may become the team that no one will want to face week in, week out, this season.
On that note I think the Dogs can take advantage of a Dusty-less Tigers and make it seven straight wins to start the season.
Prediction: Western Bulldogs by eight points.
Adelaide Crows versus GWS Giants
After a promising start to the season, the Adelaide Crows have suddenly lost two unlosable games on the bounce, and will want to bounce back when they welcome the GWS Giants to the City of Churches on Saturday afternoon.
Already Matthew Nicks’ side have put last year’s season from hell behind them, winning three of their first four matches before dropping matches against Fremantle (at home) and Hawthorn (in Launceston).
There were plenty of positives to come out of last week’s performance against the Hawks, with last year’s number two pick Riley Thilthorpe kicking five majors in his AFL debut while the Crows’ first fifteen scores all resulted in goals.
Nicks put their loss to the Hawks down to a lack of mentality, with the second-year coach saying his side needs to learn how to handle such situations better in the future.
They had led by as much as 32 points in the third quarter before capitulating in the final quarter to lose by just three points.
Meanwhile, the GWS Giants’ season is quickly starting to slip away in the face of a horror injury toll, their 2-4 start to the season being their worst since 2014.
Once again, stand-in captain Toby Greene stood tall in the heat of the action against the Western Bulldogs in Canberra, kicking four goals, before his side were run down by the undefeated Bulldogs in the final quarter, losing by 39 points.
Unfortunately, some of their biggest names in Phil Davis, Matt de Boer and captain Stephen Coniglio all remain at least a month or two away from returning, but Jesse Hogan is a chance to make his debut for the club after performing strongly in the VFL.
With a lighter injury toll, the Crows should make it four wins from seven starts as a season of improvement continues for the men from West Lakes.
Prediction: Adelaide Crows by 18 points.
Collingwood versus Gold Coast Suns
For the Gold Coast Suns, here presents a golden opportunity for the club to notch up a rare win at the home of football.
A five-goal haul from Ben King saw the Suns produce another strong performance as they put the Sydney Swans to the sword last week, their 40-point win being their first over the red-and-whites at home in six attempts.
It was their second win of the season but it will mean nothing if they cannot back it up against Collingwood at the MCG this Saturday.
In fact, history is against the men from the holiday strip, who have not beaten the Pies since the fateful 2014 match at Metricon Stadium in which Gary Ablett suffered a serious shoulder injury that saw his hopes of back-to-back Brownlow Medals ended.
They have also only ever won three times at the MCG, twice against Melbourne (2013 and 2014) and once against Hawthorn (in 2017).
On the other hand, another week of soul searching has begun at Collingwood; after kicking the first three goals against Essendon on Anzac Day, they were made to look second rate for the rest of the match as they lost by 24 points.
This was despite the best efforts of captain Scott Pendlebury, who earned 30 disposals and nearly inspired the Pies after they had taken the lead through Brody Mihocek early in the final quarter only for them to capitulate from there on in.
The fact of the reality now is that at 1-5, this is the Pies’ worst start to a season since 2005 when they finished second-last, and going forward it will be difficult to see when their next win will come.
Perhaps it could come as soon as this Saturday, but I think the Suns will prove too strong in what will be their only appearance at the MCG this season.
Prediction: Gold Coast Suns by 12 points.
St Kilda versus Hawthorn
After another week of soul searching at St Kilda, the one thing they will want to do is to hit back hard and that will be their intent against Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium this Saturday night.
After reaching the second week of the finals last year, the Saints have been a huge disappointment story of the season so far, winning only two games (against GWS and West Coast) and losing three matches by at least 50 points, two of them at Docklands.
Coach Brett Ratten is set to swing the axe, with Brad Hill to make way for Paddy Ryder who missed the start of the season due to mental health issues, but not even the latter’s return might boost their chances of beating the Hawks at Docklands on the weekend.
Alastair Clarkson’s side registered their second win for the season last Sunday, coming from as much as 32 points down against the Adelaide Crows in the third quarter to win by three points in their first match at Launceston since late-2019.
The win was sparked by a five-goal haul from Jacob Koschitzke (the cousin of former St Kilda player Justin Koschitzke), who earned the round’s Rising Star nomination for his performance.
They now have the chance to make it consecutive wins for the first time this season, and since rounds 3-4 last year, and while they should start favourites they’ll be aware of a St Kilda side that will be wanting to hit back after two poor performances against flag contenders.
Prediction: Hawthorn by 18 points.
Brisbane Lions versus Port Adelaide
Another huge test of the Brisbane Lions’ early-season form will come when they welcome last year’s minor premiers, and fellow preliminary finalists, Port Adelaide to the Gabba on Saturday evening.
After a poor start to the season left them reeling at 1-3, the Lions have hit back winning their past two matches against Essendon and Carlton, with Joe Daniher and Lachie Neale at the forefront of both victories.
However, they’ll have to contend without reigning Brownlow Medallist Neale who will miss up to two months after undergoing surgery on the syndesmosis injury he suffered against the Blues at Marvel Stadium last Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Port Adelaide continues to impress, racking up its fifth win from sixth starts with a strong win against St Kilda at home, winning by 54 points and reversing their upset loss in the corresponding fixture last year.
It goes to show that they are once again up there among the contenders for this year’s flag, but the fact of the matter is that they face yet another test against a side they have failed to beat in their past three encounters, two of them at the Gabba.
For the Power it is also a return to Queensland where they played ten of their 17 regular season matches last year, including a run of five straight matches in the sunshine state between rounds 3-7 when they, the Crows and the two Western Australia clubs were camped in the state.
In the end, while they may be without Lachie Neale for an extended period, the Brisbane Lions should show who exactly are the contenders for this year’s premiership and expose Port as pretenders by dishing out another embarrassing thrashing to Ken Hinkley’s side.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 65 points.
Sydney Swans versus Geelong Cats
After such a bright start to the season, things are starting to unravel for the Sydney Swans in the face of a horrific injury toll that was badly exposed last weekend.
Missing key position players Lance Franklin, Tom Hickey and Tom McCartin, as well as rested rookie Logan McDonald, the Swans crashed to their worst defeat so far this season, going down to the Gold Coast Suns by 40 points on the holiday strip last week.
As usual it was Josh Kennedy who stood tall for the wounded Swans, his 41 disposals being the most of any player on the ground, but the rest of the team were found wanting by a younger and more hungrier Suns outfit.
That came off the back of a heartbreaking two-point loss to the GWS Giants in Round 5, where they surrendered the lead at the death after having led for the majority of the night.
Things could get uglier for the home side when the Geelong Cats, with twin towers Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron in tow, come to town this Saturday night.
The Cats started slowly against the West Coast Eagles at home, but ran riot after quarter-time, winning by 97 points with the highlights being a three-goal haul from club debutant Cameron and a barrel from Mitch Duncan on the halftime siren.
They led by 87 points at three-quarter-time but missed their chance for a triple-figure victory, which would’ve been their first such win over the Eagles since the famous Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson sandwich match in Round 13, 2008.
They’ll again be without Patrick Dangerfield, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury for which he has undergone surgery, but even his absence should not take away from what should be another easy Cats win at the SCG.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 20 points.
North Melbourne versus Melbourne
Please note: as it stands, this match is still scheduled to be played at Blundstone Arena, with Marvel Stadium as a back-up venue.
The first match on Sunday delivers us the biggest mismatch of the season: the undefeated Melbourne Demons up against the winless Kangaroos at the latter’s secondary home ground, Bellerive Oval in Hobart.
A lot has been said about North Melbourne’s on-field struggles this season but as well the never-ending speculation surrounding its immediate future that has understandably angered its loyal supporters.
The Roos appeared to turn a corner when they lost to the Geelong Cats by only five goals in Round 5, and while they started brightly against Fremantle in the west they still crashed to a 51-point defeat and their sixth straight loss to start the season.
It was also their fourteenth straight loss dating back to Round 9 last year and given the opposition they face this weekend it is likely that number will turn to fifteen and counting.
It’s also easy to forget that Melbourne were in nearly the same position as North are right now eight years ago, in the manner that they were badly struggling on the field and were heading in no-man’s land until a man called Paul Roos came to their rescue at the end of 2013.
All these years on and the Dees have become an exciting side to watch, with the club having won its first six matches of a season for the first time since 1965; including the two matches they won at the back end of last season, they are now currently riding an eight-match winning streak.
Last week, legendary warrior Nathan Jones marked his 300th AFL match in fine style, becoming just the second Dee after David Neitz to bring up the milestone, as the Dees defeated reigning premier Richmond by 34 points in another sign of their growing maturity.
They’ll be at short odds to make it seven straight wins to start the season when they come up against the Kangaroos, which, as it stands, is still fixtured to be played in Hobart, where the Dees have twice lost heartbreakers in Round 3, 2016 and Round 23, 2019.
Another win and Dees fans can just about start cancelling any holiday plans for September this year and instead start saving money on finals tickets – well, if they get there, of course.
Prediction: Melbourne by 42 points.
Essendon versus Carlton
Riding high after their impressive win over Collingwood last Sunday, Essendon suddenly have their sights on consecutive wins which could see them get their season back on track after a mediocre start to the year by their standards.
The Bombers, who hadn’t won on Anzac Day since 2017, turned in an inspiring performance led by Darcy Parish, who gathered over 40 disposals and will bring up his 100th game this weekend, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who chimed in with five majors.
It was another strong sign that the club is making some progress under Ben Rutten, who took the reins from John Worsfold at the end of last season, even if it is only in small steps.
Now the aim will be to avoid a letdown when they face Carlton, against whom the Bombers have lost four of their past seven matches against, including in Round 4 last year.
The Blues started strongly against the Brisbane Lions at home last week but still crashed to their fourth loss of the season, again leading to more questions to be asked than answered with regard to their progress under coach David Teague.
They were otherwise led well by defender Sam Walsh, who racked up 33 touches, while Harry McKay took the points in his individual battle against All Australian fullback Harris Andrews, kicking six majors.
In recent times, the Blues have tended to lift for matches against their great rival Essendon, but I think the Bombers class of 2021 will be too smart to even think about having an off-day against the Blues this Sunday.
On that note, the Bombers should win comfortably and claim their third win for the season.
Prediction: Essendon by 25 points.
West Coast Eagles versus Fremantle
Round 7 concludes in the west, with our first Western Derby of the season in front of a crowd that is still to be determined by the Western Australia government.
A snap three-day lockdown in the west, which came about due to another leak out of hotel quarantine, meant the Fremantle versus North Melbourne match had to be played behind closed doors; before that, there were no limits as to who could attend sporting events in Perth.
While it is certain there will be a crowd on Sunday, just how much capacity Optus Stadium is permitted to hold will depend on COVID-19 testing rates, as well as whether there is any further community transmission identified in the coming days.
On the field, the spotlight will be on the Eagles after their horror loss on the weekend; without Josh Kennedy, Elliott Yeo, Shannon Hurn and captain Luke Shuey, the side were thrashed by the Geelong Cats by 97 points at Kardinia Park last Saturday afternoon.
It was their third loss from as many road trips this season and leaves more questions to be answered than asked of their premiership credentials this year.
Perhaps a return home, where they are three from three, might be exactly what they need, though it must be noted that the Dockers are also undefeated at home this season, also with three wins from as many attempts.
Without the Purple Haze in their corner, the Dockers still dominated North Melbourne, winning by 51 points to move to a 4-2 record for the season, with David Mundy again among their best players.
Their strong start to the season, which has been offset by two poor losses in Victoria, now has them primed to end a record ten-game losing streak against the West Coast Eagles dating back to Round 20, 2015.
The Eagles won the only Derby last season by 30 points, in front of a crowd of just 25,306; to date, it is the lowest ever for a clash between the two Western Australia clubs but a 50per cent crowd capacity limit was enforced so as to allow for social distancing, which could remain until the end of next year.
While both teams may be undefeated at home so far this season, I reckon the Eagles’ poor form might see the Dockers with a sneaky chance to finally put to an end nearly six years of Derby misery against the blue and gold.
Prediction: Fremantle by 11 points.