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2021 AFL season: Round 9 preview

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Roar Guru
12th May, 2021
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Round 9 is upon us and this weekend we’ll see four grand final rematches from yesteryear, ranging from the Swans’ 1918 VFL flag won at the expense of the Pies, all the way through to Richmond’s dominant 2019 win against the GWS Giants.

We’ll also see a reprisal of the classic 2009 decider between St Kilda and the Geelong Cats to kick off the round, while nearly half a century after North Melbourne won its first flag against the Hawks, the present-day sides will face off in a bottom-of-the-table clash in Launceston.

Elsewhere, we’ll have our first QClash of the year, while Port Adelaide will host the Western Bulldogs in what promises to be a finals entree, more than three months out from September.

Melbourne will also look to extend its undefeated start to the season when they tackle Carlton at the G, though it’s not expected to come easy against a Blues side that stretched the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium last Sunday.

Here is your preview to Round 9.

St Kilda vs Geelong Cats
After a poor start to the season the Saints have breathed some life back into their stuttering campaign, thrashing Hawthorn by 69 points at Marvel Stadium before coming from behind to edge out the Gold Coast Suns on the holiday strip last week.

The Saints failed to kick a goal in the first quarter but were able to pull level by halftime, while at three-quarter-time they trailed by 15 points before a run of four unanswered goals saw them home by nine points, banking their second interstate win of the season.

Their resurgence in form has been attributed to the return to the side of veteran ruckman Paddy Ryder, who missed the first six matches of the season for personal reasons, as well as the impressive individual form of hard-headed midfielder Zak Jones.

Better could come for Brett Ratten’s side, with defender James Frawley finally set for his St Kilda debut having reversed his decision to retire at the end of last season, while co-captain Jarryn Geary and premiership player Dan Hannebery are not far off from returning.

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They’ll need to bring more than just their A-game to Marvel Stadium this Friday night when they face the Geelong Cats, whose twin towers Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron feasted on the reigning premiers, Richmond, in the grand final rematch at the MCG last Friday night.

The two most recent Coleman Medallists, as well as ex-Swans forward Gary Rohan, all combined for 15 goals between them as the Cats ran riot after halftime, turning a nine-point halftime deficit into a thumping 63-point victory.

It was not just sweet revenge for the Cats, who lost to the Tigers in last year’s Gabba grand final, but it was also a strong showing from a side that showed that they are right in contention for this year’s flag.

And while they should start favourites against the Saints on Friday night, they will be wary of a side that is starting to regain some much-needed form after a poor start to the season saw them attract some severe scrutiny from the media.

Prediction: Geelong Cats by 23 points.

Cameron Guthrie of the Cats celebrates

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Sydney Swans vs Collingwood
The last time the Sydney Swans faced Collingwood in an afternoon match at the SCG, this happened.

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It’s fair to say that we won’t see any history of that magnitude repeated this Saturday afternoon, but for the present-day Sydney Swans the match against Collingwood presents an opportunity to consolidate their place in the top eight.

Last Saturday night the Swans faced their toughest test of the season so far, taking on undefeated Melbourne at the MCG, but while they left empty-handed they gave a good account of themselves and will have learnt plenty of lessons from that defeat.

On his return from injury, Lance Franklin failed to make an impact as he went scoreless for just the fifth time in over 300 games, shut out of the contest by his direct opponent Steven May.

The importance of Tom Hickey to the side was also highlighted as he engaged in numerous contests with Max Gawn all night, though it was the latter who ultimately took the points.

Meanwhile, at Collingwood, the pressure has eased on Nathan Buckley, at least for a week, after the Pies led from start to finish to defeat North Melbourne by 24 points in the bottom-of-the-table clash at Marvel Stadium, also last Saturday night.

It was the perfect result for Steele Sidebottom, who was playing his 250th AFL game, while Jordan de Goey booted six goals a week after attracting criticism for his poor individual performance against the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG.

While recent history favours the Pies, who have won three of their last four against the Swans, all by single-figure margins, it will be the red-and-whites who will start favourites on Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: Sydney Swans by 30 points.

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Lance Franklin Swans

Lance Franklin (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Hawthorn vs North Melbourne
For the second straight week we have a battle between the bottom two, with Hawthorn and North Melbourne to face off in what’s been dubbed the “Tasmanian derby”.

The Hawks’ struggles continued last Sunday when, in front of the lowest crowd at the MCG for two years (discounting the matches that were shut off to the public last year), they lost to the West Coast Eagles but after both sides failed to kick a goal in the opening quarter.

Their best-performing players were former Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell, who racked up a game-high 41 disposals, while Mitch Lewis was impressive up forward with two goals.

On the other hand, North blew their biggest chance of a victory when they lost to Collingwood by 24 points at Marvel Stadium last week, but despite suffering their 23rd loss in their past 24 games, their performances of recent weeks have been encouraging.

However, they have lost ex-Pie Jaidyn Stephenson, who kicked a goal against his former club, for up to six weeks after suffering a wrist injury; he joins ex-Giants Aiden Bonar and Dom Tyson on the sidelines.

But another week presents another opportunity for David Noble to break his duck as coach, and he may like to pull a leaf out of Matthew Nicks’ book, after the Crows coach registered his first AFL win at the expense of Alastair Clarkson and the Hawks in Round 15 last year.

This will also be the first time since 2017 that the two clubs have met in the Apple Isle, with the Hawks winning five of the seven contests; on that note, the Roos have not beaten the Hawks in the state since 2010 but did beat them by 22 points at Marvel Stadium in Round 20, 2019.

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While the Roos are again expected to challenge despite the circumstances faced against them, I think the Hawks should claim the points.

Prediction: Hawthorn by eight points.

Alastair Clarkson

Alastair Clarkson (Photo by Cameron Spencer/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Gold Coast Suns vs Brisbane Lions
We’ve had to wait until Round 9 for our first QClash of the season, but it will be worthwhile with the Gold Coast Suns hosting the Brisbane Lions at Metricon Stadium this Saturday night.

It will mark just over a decade since the first such clash was played, in which the Suns, playing just the sixth match of their history, upset the more highly-fancied Lions by eight points, with ex-Lion Jared Brennan claiming the Marcus Ashcroft Medal as the best player on ground.

Fast forward a decade later and it’s the Lions who still reign supreme in the sunshine capital, having reached the past two finals series and are the favourites for this year’s flag, while the Suns have yet to play in a finals series but could push for a berth in September this year.

The Suns blew their chance for a third straight victory when they lost to St Kilda by nine points at home last week, throwing away a 15-point three-quarter-time lead and failing to score in the final quarter as they allowed the Saints to kick the only four goals of it.

They had, beforehand, been so impressive in victories over the Sydney Swans and Collingwood, despite being without co-captain Jarrod Witts who is out for the season due to a serious knee injury.

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Meantime, after a poor start to the season, the Lions have racked up four straight wins, and have the luxury of only having to make the short trip down the M1 for the clash against the Suns this Saturday night.

It will be the third of five straight matches in Queensland for Chris Fagan’s men, with the expectation that they will be 8-3 by the time they face Melbourne in Alice Springs in Round 12.

They are still to have Lachie Neale return from injury, with the likelihood that he won’t be available until after the club’s mid-season bye.

Still, the Lions should show who is boss in the Sunshine State but not without an almighty challenge from the Suns, for whom an upset win against their M1 neighbours could give them a much-needed boost of confidence.

Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 30 points.

Joe Daniher of the Lions celebrates after kicking a goal

Joe Daniher (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Richmond vs GWS Giants
The evening clash between Richmond and the GWS Giants at Marvel Stadium looms as the battle of the wounded, with both sides still without their respective captains plus many more key players.

Last Friday night, without Trent Cotchin, the Tigers suffered major embarrassment against the Geelong Cats in the grand final rematch; from a nine-point halftime lead they fell victim to a Jeremy Cameron masterclass as they lost by 63 points.

It dropped their season record to 4-4 and leaves more questions to be asked than answered of their chances of joining the Brisbane Lions and Hawthorn as triple-premiership winners this century.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’ll be without Shai Bolton and Daniel Rioli for the clash against the Giants, who after a dismal start to the season have breathed some life back into their campaign with four wins from their past five matches in the face of a crippling injury toll.

A strong first quarter and impressive individual performances from Sam Taylor in defence and stand-in captain Toby Greene saw the Giants edge out Essendon by two points, the win putting them on the cusp of breaking into the top eight.

But the win came at a cost, with Jeremy Finalyson to miss the clash against the Tigers after being suspended by the judiciary for striking, while Lachie Keefe won’t play again this year after he ruptured his ACL at the death against the Bombers.

While the Giants still have to play the Tigers in Melbourne, at least it’s not at the MCG where Leon Cameron’s side suffered the ultimate embarrassment on grand final day in 2019, losing by 89 points and booting their lowest ever score of 3.7 (25).

Instead, the teams’ first meeting in Victoria since then will be played at Marvel Stadium, in what is the Tigers’ only home game at the venue this year.

Even so, this will not take the home ground advantage away from Damien Hardwick’s side, who despite some recent poor form and injuries to key players should see them bank a fifth win for the year.

Prediction: Richmond by 20 points.

Port Adelaide vs Western Bulldogs
We have a blockbuster to look forward to this Saturday night when Port Adelaide, with six wins and two losses for the year, face the Western Bulldogs who sit second on the ladder with seven wins from their first eight matches.

After a week of stinging criticism from the media following their embarrassing 49-point loss to the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in Round 7, the Power hit back hard at home last week, thrashing the Crows by the same margin to retain their place in the top four.

Travis Boak, who missed the loss to the Lions due to injury, claimed his third Showdown Medal for being the best-on-ground.

But it came at a huge cost, with ruckman Scott Lycett suspended for four matches following his sling tackle on Crows rookie Ned McHenry, after which he became the target of internet trolls which he shared on social media.

Next for the Power are the Western Bulldogs, who stared the down the barrel of a second straight loss when they trailed Carlton by as much as 27 points in the third quarter.

However, they were able to pull themselves off the canvas, registering a 16-point win thanks to the heroics of Marcus Bontempelli, who racked up 32 disposals, while Josh Bruce chipped in with five majors.

It was the perfect response to their 22-point loss to Richmond in Round 7, after which it was suggested that the Dogs still had plenty of work to do if they were to not just challenge the premier side of the last few years, but perhaps also unseat them at the top.

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They remain in second place on the ladder, and now face another test of their credentials when they make just their second road trip of the season to face the Power on Saturday night.

It could go either way, and I have the home side winning by just.

Prediction: Port Adelaide by seven points.

Essendon vs Fremantle
The first match on Sunday sees Essendon host Fremantle at Marvel Stadium for the fifth year in a row.

Once again the Bombers suffered heartbreak last Saturday when it lost to the GWS Giants in Sydney by just two points, marking their third loss by three points or less this season.

Despite the narrow defeat, they showed signs of their best against the Giants, hauling themselves back into the match after conceding six goals in the first quarter, and pushing for victory in the final minutes before being sunk by a goal to Jacob Hopper at the death.

It was also their fourth interstate defeat from as many attempts this season, though they do have a few more attempts including a trip to Perth to face the West Coast Eagles in the coming weeks and to the Gold Coast to face the Suns in Round 22.

Now they get the chance to bank their third win for the year when they face the Dockers, who are camped on the Gold Coast after a COVID scare in Perth forced them out of their home state.

Justin Longmuir’s side suffered their second straight defeat last Sunday, losing to the Brisbane Lions by 24 points after the match was relocated to the Gabba at their request following the aforementioned COVID case in Perth that saw the city sent into lockdown last month.

The Dockers continually challenged the Brisbane defence throughout, but had difficulty converting their inside-50 entries with Michael Walters shut out of the game by fourth-year Lion Brandon Starcevich.

They did well to win the final quarter, but the damage had already been done in the opening three quarters, and rectifying their chances when going forward will be their major focus at training this week.

At home, the Bombers should show no mercy as they attempt to put last week’s heartbreaking loss to the Giants behind them.

Prediction: Essendon by 16 points.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Melbourne vs Carlton
Melbourne will look to make it nine straight wins to begin a season for the first time since 1956 when they face off against Carlton at the MCG in the match to be shown on Channel Seven this Sunday.

Last Saturday night the Dees passed another test of their credentials when they held off the Sydney Swans to win by only nine points; not only was it their eighth straight win to start the year, it was also their tenth straight win dating back to Round 17 last season.

The win was marshaled by Steven May, who shut Lance Franklin out of the game in defence, as well as Max Gawn who engaged in an exciting match-long battle against Swans cult hero Tom Hickey.

But it has come at a small cost, with Rising Star nominee Luke Jackson to miss up to two weeks after suffering a finger injury.

They’ll be aware of the threat that Carlton poses, after the Blues threatened an upset against the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium when they led by 27 points in the third quarter before conceding eight of the final nine goals to go down by 16 points.

With each loss further fuels speculation over the future of co-captain Patrick Cripps, who has been pursued by the two Western Australia clubs, in particular the West Coast Eagles who are keen for his services.

And while Cripps and the Blues would love to bounce back with an upset win against the Dees on Sunday, I just can’t see it happening.

Prediction: Melbourne by 30 points.

West Coast Eagles vs Adelaide Crows
The final match of Round 9 will see crowds return to Optus Stadium for the first time since Round 5, when the West Coast Eagles welcome the Adelaide Crows to the world’s most isolated city.

Due to a COVID-19 scare in the Western Australia capital, crowds were banned from attending the recent Fremantle vs North Melbourne match, as well as the Western Derby in Round 7, due to the risk of significant community transmission.

Also, the Dockers’ clash against the Brisbane Lions last round was switched to the Gabba, leaving Western Australia footy-free until Round 23 when both the Eagles and Dockers are fixtured to play away.

Last week, the Eagles put to bed any doubts over their inability to win away from home, defeating Hawthorn by 38 points after both sides failed to kick a goal in the opening quarter.

Still without several of their premiership stars, it was left to Brandon Ah Chee to shoulder the load up forward, kicking four majors, while stand-in captain Josh Kennedy was subbed out as a precaution after suffering a minor calf injury.

They’ll fancy their chances of making it three straight wins when they face the Crows, who went down to Port Adelaide by 49 points after rookie Ned McHenry was on the wrong end of a sling tackle from Scott Lycett, who copped a four-match ban for his indiscretion.

While the scoreline suggested otherwise, coach Matthew Nicks lauded his side’s braveness, eleven months after they were branded “the worst Crows side ever” after they suffered a 75-point defeat in the corresponding match last year.

A major subplot of this match will be the intriguing ruck battle between Reilly O’Brien, the Crows’ reigning best-and-fairest, and the Eagles’ Nic Naitanui, after the former inadvertently tweeted that Nic Nat was “lazy and unfit” before their clash in Round 6 last year.

The result? Nic Nat dominated as the Eagles won at the Gabba, after which he presented O’Brien with a new phone post-match.

To the present, and the Eagles’ strong form at home should give them a 6-3 record ahead of a trip to Sydney to face the Giants in Round 10.

Prediction: West Coast Eagles by 24 points.

Nic Naitanui of the Eagles takes the ball

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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