The Adelaide Crows have survived a late scare to snap a four-game losing streak, defeating Hawthorn by 19 points at Marvel Stadium.
The last of the bye rounds sees only five matches played this weekend, with another two matches moved out of Victoria and the Geelong-Western Bulldogs Friday night match set to be played in an empty stadium as COVID-19 continues to ravage the AFL season.
Originally, the West Coast Eagles and Richmond would have kicked off the round on Thursday, however, the two teams had their Optus Stadium match brought forward to last Sunday, with the Eagles winning by four points after a goal via Josh Kennedy at the death.
It means both the Eagles and Fremantle will enjoy a bye this weekend, meaning it is the second of three rounds where there is no AFL in the west, the last of them coming in Round 23.
Among other matches, Port Adelaide will make their second trip to Queensland, where they will face the Gold Coast Suns, while Carlton plays their third straight match in Sydney when they face the GWS Giants in the Saturday evening timeslot.
Here is your preview of Round 14.
Geelong Cats vs Western Bulldogs
As this article goes to print, the possibility looms that the blockbuster match between the Cats and Bulldogs will be played without fans in attendance, as COVID-19 continues to run havoc in Victoria.
With both sides sitting in third and second place on the ladder respectively, in a normal world the match would easily sell out, but with spectators set to be locked out, the Seven Network and Fox Footy would be in for a ratings bonanza instead.
Last Thursday night, the Cats navigated their hit-and-run trip to Adelaide successfully, flying into the City of Churches on game day and then defeating Port Adelaide by 21 points before poor weather saw them stay overnight, before returning to Melbourne on Friday.
Forward Jeremy Cameron continues to vindicate the Cats’ investment in him, kicking three final quarter majors as they overran the men from Alberton after the home side had threatened to run away with it.
Meantime, the Western Bulldogs enjoyed the bye last week, before which they led from start to finish to defeat an injury-ravaged Fremantle on the road, jetting to Perth after spending the week in Sydney so as to avoid a hard quarantine which would’ve been imposed on them had they flown directly from Melbourne.
For Luke Beveridge’s men, it will be another Friday night test of their premiership credentials, having already failed twice against Richmond and Melbourne in rounds seven and eleven, respectively.
They also have a large hoodoo hanging over their heads, having not won at Kardinia Park since 2003, ironically the year the club last won the wooden spoon.
The last time these two teams met, the Cats overcame a slow start to win by 11 points on the Gold Coast, on their way to finishing fourth on the ladder and ultimately reaching the grand final, where they lost to Richmond by 31 points.
Expect the Dogs to give their all, but at home, the Cats should prove too strong.
Prediction: Geelong Cats by 18 points.
Gold Coast Suns vs Port Adelaide
The first of three matches on Saturday sees Port Adelaide make their second trip to the sunshine state for their only clash against the Gold Coast Suns this season.
It is over a decade since the Suns registered their first ever win against the Power in Round 5 of 2011, and it’s a loss which the boys from Alberton have clearly not forgotten, having not lost to the men from the holiday strip since.
It seems that every time the Power gear up to face the Suns, they are regularly reminded of that horror defeat which threatened to sting the club in the long-term.
Even when they have started as underdogs, as they did in Round 1 last year, the Power have always found a way to get past the Suns, who have been the home side for the majority of all their meetings, as will also be the case this weekend.
Both sides are coming off disappointing defeats, with the Power being run down by the Geelong Cats at home last Thursday while the Suns endured a poor performance against Fremantle in the west, booting just six goals from 19 scoring shots.
Fans and commentators slammed the standard of footy by the Dockers and Suns in the first half as unwatchable, while Matt Rowell’s much-anticipated return from injury failed to live up to the hype.
Beforehand, the Suns enjoyed a bye in Round 12, which followed a strong win against Hawthorn at the SCG, and they’ll be hoping for a repeat effort against the Power.
But it won’t be forthcoming, with the Power expected to bounce back.
Prediction: Port Adelaide by 30 points.
North Melbourne vs Brisbane Lions
Originally slated to be played at Marvel Stadium, the twilight clash between North Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions will instead be played at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, which will give the Roos the second match in a string of three straight at their secondary home.
Last Sunday, the Roos produced easily their best performance of the year, leading the GWS Giants for the majority of their clash with a dominant third quarter seeing them boot four goals to nil to lead by 28 points at three-quarter-time.
However, they would fail to finish off the job, kicking only one final-quarter goal as the Giants forced the season’s first draw, leaving coach David Noble frustrated after his side had slowed down with the finish line well in sight.
Still, the two points they picked up from the draw, their first since mid-2009, could prove crucial in the race to avoid the wooden spoon, with percentage no longer a factor.
Now, they face a Brisbane Lions side which is refreshed following a week off, before which they suffered their fourth loss of the year against Melbourne at Giants Stadium in Round 12.
With reigning Brownlow Medalist Lachie Neale back in tow, the Lions led the Dees by 20 points, only to be run down in the second half, losing by 22 points in a match that was relocated from Darwin to Sydney.
The one positive they could take out of it was that Neale went through his comeback match unscathed, picking up 25 disposals.
Another incentive for the Lions to win, as they should on Saturday night, will be the fact that Chris Fagan will bring up his 100th match as coach in the state where he grew up, Tasmania.
That being said, the Lions should show no mercy as they continue their march up the ladder and re-assert themselves as the premiership favourites.
Prediction: Brisbane Lions by 40 points.
GWS Giants vs Carlton
The standalone Saturday night match sees the GWS Giants and Carlton battle to keep their finals hopes alive at Giants Stadium.
Despite regaining a number of stars, including stand-in captain Toby Greene, the Giants were their own worst enemy last Sunday, with three quarters of sub-standard football seeing them trail last-placed North Melbourne by 28 points at three-quarter-time in Hobart.
Only a huge final quarter, inspired by Josh Kelly as well as two goals from Daniel Lloyd, who also missed a running shot at goal at the death, saved them from total embarrassment, which could’ve all but ended their finals hopes for a second straight year.
Coach Leon Cameron, who has come under fire for some of his side’s poor performances this season, acknowledged that there is a huge gap between their best and worst footy, and it’s something they need to bridge.
More cavalry could return for the Giants as soon as this weekend, with Harry Perryman and Phil Davis pushing for selection after being sidelined through injury.
Another side with a point to prove are the Carlton Blues, who have announced another thorough review of their football operations, of which current coach David Teague could become the high-profile victim, if the club’s on-field results continue to regress.
The Blues had the bye last week, before which they suffered yet another disappointing loss as they gifted the West Coast Eagles their first win at the SCG since 1999, the match having been shifted to Sydney from Melbourne after a COVID outbreak in the latter city.
This has again led to more questions being asked than answered of where the Blues are at, and has confirmed what many have feared – that the punishments the club copped for gross salary cap breaches in 2002 have hurt the club in the very long term.
With respect on the line this Saturday night, expect the Giants to capitalise on their home ground advantage and give Carlton some more blues.
Prediction: GWS Giants by 14 points.
Hawthorn vs Essendon
The final match of the round sees a second match played in Tasmania in a single round for the first time in AFL history, with Hawthorn’s MCG blockbuster against Essendon shifted to their secondary home ground, York Park.
Having won only two matches for the season by single-figure margins, last Friday night the Hawks turned up the heat to defeat rivals the Sydney Swans by 38 points at the SCG, sidelining any speculation surrounding coach Alastair Clarkson for now.
It came on the back of best-on-ground performances from Tom Mitchell and Changkuoth Jiath, but also came at a cost, with James Worpel copping a one-match suspension for a dangerous tackle on Swan Harry Cunningham.
With their match against the Bombers moved to Tasmania, the Hawks will fancy their chances of completing the double over their bitter rivals after coming from 40 points down to win their Round 1 clash by a solitary point at Marvel Stadium.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and Ben Rutten’s side have since made steady progress, despite sitting outside of the eight past the halfway mark of the season.
From two consecutive matches in Perth, the Bombers managed to upset the West Coast Eagles, and were on track to beat Richmond for the first time since 2014, before coughing up the final seven goals to lose by 39 points.
They are fresh off the bye and their trip to Tasmania will mark the first time they play for premiership points in the Apple Isle.
York Park will also become the third venue from as many meetings to host a Hawks-Bombers match, after, of course, Marvel Stadium in Round 1 and Adelaide Oval in Round 14 last year.
While the Hawks may have a strong record in Tasmania, I still think the Bombers, fresh off a week’s break, should get some revenge for their heartbreaking one-point loss back in March.
Prediction: Essendon by 14 points.
Byes: Adelaide Crows, Collingwood, Fremantle, Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda, Sydney Swans, West Coast Eagles.