Here we are, at the Sir Doug Nicholls Round, leading into the byes and the practical halfway point of the season.
Everybody and their sister will be doing “Here’s how they’re doing now” analyses, so I’ll let the game capsules do the talking. But Sir Doug would have loved the barnburner scheduled to kick off his memorial round.
Friday night: Western Bulldogs vs Melbourne Demons, Marvel Stadium
Unquestionably the game of the round, almost certainly the game of the month, potentially the game of the home-and-away season.
Third place in the league is two games back of second at 7-3; these two clubs combined are 18-2.
Were it not for the outstanding, well-deserved wins by Adelaide on Sunday and Richmond back in Round 7, we’d be watching only the second matchup in AFL history of teams with perfect records and double-digit wins.
(The first pitted the 13-0 Cats and the 13-0 Saints back in 2009, won by the Saints but negated by the Cats in the rematch in the grand final that season, 80-68.)
The advantage goes to Gawn in the centre but probably to the Bulldog midfield after the tap; both teams have outstanding forward structures that have minor issues coming more from an abundance of talent than anything else – do the Demons have a place for Ben Brown, and do the Dogs have room for all their goal-scorers?
Both teams have exquisitely coordinated back-sixes, both up to the task of defending those powerful forward lines.
But besides our ELO-Following Football ratings putting the Dogs 25 points up in this contest, here’s why I’m suggesting this is the Dogs’ game: Melbourne has yet to win a challenging contest against a contender.
In their three games against the seven other top-eight teams (Richmond, Geelong, Sydney), they ran roughshod over the first two and won by 11 after leading all the way against the Swans; the ‘winning goal’ was kicked with seven minutes to go.
When they finally did get that down to the wire competitive matchup, Tex Walker ended their unbeaten streak with 43 seconds left.
Contrast that with the Bulldogs’ game against the Eagles, which required them to stand up in the final few minutes to overcome a strong foe by seven.
They’ve had their share of running roughshod, against Brisbane and Port, and yes, they came up short in their battle against Richmond.
But they’re better for the winning experience, and if this game is close in the fourth quarter, as seems likely with these two evenly matched heavyweights, I’ll put my imaginary money on the team who’s won those close calls before, who knows what their mettle is before they need to make use of it.
Besides, we’ve made consistent money all season taking the Doggies and the points. So: the Doggies plus the points. Cheering for Kysaiah Pickett and Jake Johannisen to star on the kick-off night of Sir Doug Nicholls Round.
Saturday afternoon: Collingwood Magpies vs Geelong Cats, MCG
This would have been a tremendous game in 2011, when they met in the GF.
Ten years on, the Pies are not the team they were then, nor are they the team they were in 2018 when they lost to West Coast in that decider.
For that matter, just last season Collingwood was in finals! The struggles the Pies are going through are dramatic, systemic, and not based on a few injuries to key players, although those don’t help.
The one element that could throw a wrench into a Geelong runaway is a 27-year-old who stands 203 centimetres and has dominated the best ruckmen all season; meanwhile, the Cats have thrown Mark Blicavs, Esava Ratugolea, Rhys Stanley, and anyone else taller than me at the task with inconsistent levels of success.
It will come down to the Geelong midfield rescuing the Cats in the clearances to prevent Brodie Grundy from stealing this one.
Having said that, I’m thinking that when Geelong wins, they win big – so I’m taking the Cats plus the current line of 30.5 points.
Saturday afternoon: Brisbane Lions versus GWS Giants, Gabba
We did a simulation of the rest of the season this weekend, just to see what our numbers were looking like.
Brisbane’s got some scheduling breaks coming in the second half of the season that will put them comfortably in the top four; depending on some upsets that we included for the Demons and Dogs when they were already locked into the double chance, we see the Lions as a top-two possibility.
Meanwhile, the Round 22 game at home to Richmond will very possibly be the determining factor as to whether the Giants even return to finals (assuming they get some or all of their injured starters back by then to be close to or above .500 at the time), and if they lose that, they definitely won’t.
An upset of Geelong in R21 at GMHBA would help their chances immensely.
Translation: Brisbane’s a much better team than the Giants, even when both are healthy – and GWS isn’t full strength right now.
Thanks to Tom Green and several other youngsters, plus the veteran play of Callan Ward and Lachie Whitfield, not to mention what Toby Greene did over the darkest rounds, the Giants will stay alive until the cavalry comes back in the second half of the season, but in Round 11, Brisbane will make short work of the gallant remnants of the 2019 grand finalists.
The line is 29.5, which at first glance seems high; the Lions proved me wrong last week, as I only picked them out of trust. Now, I have faith in the Lions covering that spread.
Saturday twilight: St Kilda Saints vs North Melbourne Kangaroos, Marvel Stadium
Both teams make Marvel their home, so no HFA here.
I have no faith in the Saints right now; none at all. At least the Kangaroos show signs of life, and when you have a team as young as this, that’s all you’re hoping to see.
But I cannot in good conscience put even imaginary money on the Saints to cover a 4.5 goal spread. If I’m forced to place a wager, I suppose the Saints are more likely to win, which pays $2.40 on our $2 bet.
Saturday evening: Gold Coast Suns vs Hawthorn Hawks, TIO Stadium in Darwin
Neither team is particularly familiar with the ground or the conditions up in the NT – especially true for all the young guys on both teams.
That becomes a wash. But as much as the weakness of the Suns as a club has almost become meme-worthy, they aren’t as bad off as Alastair Clarkson’s bunch is right about now.
The Suns at least looked competitive at times in Geelong on Saturday, and if they’d have kicked straight in the third, they might have had the lead at a threatening moment of the second half.
There really was never a moment during the Carlton game when you didn’t think the Blues were going to win and win without breaking a sweat. And compare the opponents: no one confuses Carlton for the Cats in 2021.
The ELO-FF numbers say the same as the oddsmakers: 14.5 points Gold Coast’s way. I’ll be shocked if it’s that close.
Saturday evening: West Coast Eagles vs Essendon Bombers, Optus Stadium
West Coast is a top eight team; Essendon is not. Take the Eagles.
Here’s the problem: the line is 30 points. Our numbers only favour the Eagles by 12.5. But our numbers don’t separate home from away, so let’s separate them:
West Coast started the season at an ELO-Following Football rating of 55.6; they have moved up a net +1.7 during the first ten rounds.
In their five away games, in Rounds 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, they lost a total of 12.1 rating points.
In their five home games, in Rounds 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, they’ve gained a net 13.8 points.
The net road rating for West Coast is 43.5; for the home Eagles, it’s 69.4, which would put them third in the comp. Take the Eagles and the points.
Sunday afternoon: Richmond Tigers vs Adelaide Crows, MCG
Don’t be fooled by Richmond’s .500 record.
With as long an injury list as any team in the comp, they’ve lost five games – all to top seven teams. They’ve also handed the Bulldogs their only loss, defeated GWS, St Kilda and Carlton, the teams right behind them, and lost to Port by two in Adelaide.
(It seems odd to say their least worthwhile win was over the Hawks.)
The schedule they’ve faced has been brutal. They face only three more top-seven teams the rest of the way: West Coast and rematches against Geelong and Brisbane, both at the MCG.
In our simulation, we had them winning eight or nine of their last 12.
Meanwhile, it had Adelaide finishing with just six wins – mind you, originally we had them with half that total, so good for them, and it should be seven now that they’ve added the upset of the Demons to their total, but this should be Richmond with a smile throughout the fourth quarter.
Will they cover the 30.5-point spread? That’s exactly the number the ELO-FF came up with, as well.
So take your pick: Tigers to win pays $2.36 on $2 as of Monday morning; Tigers by 16-plus pays $2.80; Tigers by 25-plus pays $3.30; Tigers by 31-plus pays the full $3.80.
Pick your comfort level; I’m taking the second one, to be safe.
Sunday afternoon: Sydney Swans vs Carlton Blues, SCG
In Sydney, the Swans should be able to win this game; if they can’t, they don’t deserve to be top eight – and won’t be after the bye, when they play Port, West Coast, and GWS in a row.
If they’re not 9-4 going into those games, they won’t hold off the Giants and Tigers in the second half.
We favour them in this matchup by a goal, but the oddsmakers put their line at three goals. I can picture that happening, but I don’t want to guarantee that happening.
Taking the Swans to win, and that’s it. If Fremantle could beat them, so can Carlton.
Sunday twilight: Port Adelaide Power vs Fremantle Dockers, Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide are flat-track bullies.
In retrospect, they should be thankful for that Richmond win we discussed earlier in the article.
But Fremantle is as flat a track as there is in the league – they’re better than North, for example, but North at least gives you the feeling that they could jump up and bite you on a good day.
I don’t ever feel that about the Dockers in 2021. A well-known writer recently said that if the Dockers were a flavour of ice-cream, they’d be vanilla – and he’s not wrong.
What you see is what you get: David Mundy, an inconsistent kicking Nat Fyfe, some good ruck work from Sean Darcy, some nice play from Andrew Brayshaw and Matthew Tabener and a couple of others, and that’s about it.
Any of the top-eight clubs should be able to steamroll this mob at home and win more often than not at Optus, including Port.
The problem, as with several other games this round, is that the oddsmakers are trying to make some money on us. Yeah, it’s obvious that Port should win, so, they should also cover.
(Same with Sydney, West Coast, Richmond, and St Kilda.)
But our ELO-FF margin is just four goals; the posted line is five. Tempted? Not me.
I’ll take Port by that 16-plus again, which ‘only’ pays $2.80. But losing at five goals pays nothing.
Once again, we made some (hypothetical) money last round (4 per cent profit) and would have done far better had Fyfe and Walker missed their kicks (the drama was worth it, though).
We’ve made profits seven of ten rounds, with two near misses, and are back over $9 to the good on our measly
$2 wagers. (Not a huge profit, but that’s the nature of gambling. That’s why I never wager real money.)
Our ratings have outperformed the oddsmakers in 54 of 90 games so far this season.