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Questions to ponder ahead of Round 5: Are we sleeping on the Cats, Will West Coast's pain continue and How good are the Dees' forwards?

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Roar Rookie
10th April, 2024
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As the season starts to take shape and gain momentum ahead of round 5, let’s ponder some of the fascinating storylines ahead of this weekend.

Melbourne v Brisbane

Has Melbourne rectified their forward line struggles?
For the previous two years, it has seemed the one thing preventing Melbourne from success in September was their inefficiency and lack of connection inside 50.

In the finals last year, the Demons had more scoring shots and inside 50s, but their woeful accuracy in kicking meant a combined 16 goals and 28 behinds in the losses to Collingwood and Carlton led them to a straight sets exit.

Over the first five rounds this year, the Demons have been much more efficient, kicking 64 goals and 56 behinds to date.

Kysaiah Pickett of the Demons is tackled by Matthew Kennedy of the Blues.

Kysaiah Pickett. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The leaders of the attack Bayley Fritsch, Ben Brown, Jacob van Rooyen and Harrison Petty have all had their moments this season and linked well with dynamic small forwards Kysaiah Pickett, Kade Chandler, and Alex Neal-Bullen.

Facing last year’s grand finalists, it will be interesting to see if this fleet of players is the real deal and can go beyond the shortfalls of 22′ and 23′.

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Western Bulldogs v Essendon

Where is the depth of the Bulldogs?
The leaders and soul of the Dogs Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore were remarkable last week against Geelong, almost willing the team across the line in a four-point loss.

Whilst Bontempelli showcased his typical brilliance with 35 disposals and seven clearances – Liberatore was equally outstanding, recording an unfathomable 19 disposals and ensuring the Bulldogs always stayed in the hunt.

However, if the Dogs are to be a serious side in 2024, lower lights in the roster must step up.

Whilst their first-year players in Ryley Sanders and Harvey Gallagher are only just settling into the AFL and showing promise, experienced names like Aaron Naughton, Bailey Williams, Caleb Daniel and Ed Richards need to lead the charge to challenge the competition heavyweights.

GWS Giants v St Kilda

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How will Hogan go against Wilkie?
Arguably the most intriguing matchup of this round will occur in Canberra on Sunday between the current Coleman Medal leader, Jesse Hogan and 2023 All-Australian full-back Callum Wilkie.

Hogan’s renaissance since joining GWS has been nothing short of remarkable. Whilst 2023 was impressive with 49 goals in 23 games, Hogan has gone to another level in 2024 – having kicked 16 goals in four games.

However, he has yet to face any real quality opposition in the backline. That will change on Saturday with the ever-reliable Callum Wilkie who has only lost one contest so far this season.

Wilkie was formidable against an undermanned Richmond, with four intercept marks and eight intercept possessions. Whilst both Hogan and Wilkie have started 2024 well, their match-up this weekend marks a mouth-watering grapple.

Carlton v Adelaide

Is this finally the year for Weitering to get his All-Australian recognition?
A man who is heralded as one of the best defenders in the competition, it is staggering to think Jacob Weitering is still not an All-Australian – despite being named in the squad for the last four years.

After missing the first two games of 2024, he was strong in Gather Round against Fremantle, arguably the Blues best player with 21 disposals and seven intercept possessions – restricting key forward Jye Amiss to only one goal.

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In 2024, Weitering has only lost 12.5% of his one-on-one contests and has held the likes of Joe Daniher, Tom Lynch and Nick Larkey to just six goals between them in three games.

Weitering has a great chance to further enhance his credentials against Adelaide who have struggled to mitigate the interceptors of the opposition and bypass defences in their 0-4 start.

Gold Coast Suns v Hawthorn

How good can Hardwick be as a forward?
Having played nearly 150 games as a defender, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Blake Hardwick was a forward as a junior and the leading goal kicker in his TAC Cup draft year.

Hardwick has been a defensive staple, finishing runner-up in Hawthorn’s best and fairest twice.

However, against Collingwood in Round 4, Sam Mitchell shuffled the cards after being 38 points down at halftime – placing Hardwick in the front line.

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He kicked four goals in the second half, including three in the third quarter, almost dragging his team to an extraordinary comeback where the Hawks fell short by a mere five points.

Whilst a one-off, it seems like a no-brainer to keep Hardwick as a forward against the Suns to see if a permanent positional switch best suits Hawthorn.

Port Adelaide v Fremantle

Can Port’s forwards breach the stubborn Dockers’ defence?
An impressive feature of Port’s domination over Essendon was their forward line potency with Willie Rioli, Jeremy Finlayson, Darcy Byrne-Jones and Mitch Georgiades kicking multiple goals.

However, Port will face a whole new challenge altogether when it comes up against the defensive powerhouse of Fremantle.

Last week, the Dockers held Harry McKay, a man who had kicked 11 goals over the first three games – to a scoreless outing with just 12 disposals.

The defence, which is led by stars Luke Ryan and Alex Pearce, has relished off the contributions of James Aish, Joshua Draper, Brandon Walker, and Jordan Clark.

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Charlie Dixon was held goalless against the Bombers despite Port’s domination and you can suspect it will only get harder against the All-Australian candidate in Pearce.

Given that Finlayson is also likely to miss with suspension, it will take a significant effort from Ken Hinkley’s men to down the Dockers’ backline and continue their great start to the season.

Geelong v North Melbourne

Are we sleeping on the young Geelong core?
A lot of people are getting excited over the potential of North Melbourne over the next few years. Top draftees such as Harry Sheezel, George Wardlaw, Colby McKercher and Zane Duursma pose promise.

However, Geelong have had little to work with in terms of youth, given a series of high finishes over the last decade.

Therefore, Geelong has been crafty and creative in its list management and has quietly assembled a very exciting young group of midfielders and half-forwards.

Whilst the Bulldogs midfield dominated with Tom Liberatore’s superhuman game, the Cats’ high half forwards and supporting acts were superb in negating this Dogs’ dominance in the first three quarters.

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Jack Bowes (23 disposals, two goals), Gryan Miers (22 disposals) and Max Holmes (20 disposals, one goal) were particularly impressive. Miers and Holmes were later selections in the draft, while Bowes was picked up from Gold Coast.

 Oliver Dempsey (left) and Jack Bowes of the Cats celebrate during the 2024 AFL Round 04 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Geelong Cats at Adelaide Oval on April 06, 2024 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Jack Bowes and Oliver Dempsey of the Cats celebrate. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

West Coast Eagles v Richmond

Can West Coast take advantage of a depleted Richmond?
After a disappointing first three rounds, the Eagles put up a spirited performance against flag-fancies Sydney, even taking a five-point lead into the half.

In order for the Eagles to continue developing, they need to produce more impressive performances on a weekly basis. Luckily, the Eagles have the perfect opportunity to register their first win of 2024 this Sunday, when they face a weak Richmond at home on Sunday.

Given Richmond have injuries to several players in key positions, the Eagles simply have to take their chance and give their home crowd something to cheer about.

Yes, efforts against the Swans are admirable and carry positives for Adam Simpson’s men, but the bottom two finishes for the last two years are nothing to smile about.

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Senior premiership players Elliot Yeo, Jeremy McGovern and Jack Darling must inspire improvement in the form of wins – and Sunday afternoon’s game provides the perfect opportunity to do so.

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