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The Roar


Questions to ponder ahead of Round 7: Can Stringer play hero on Anzac Day, and is Port's gun midfield actually their Achilles heel?

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23rd April, 2024

Ahead of a monster round of football, headlined by Anzac Day between the Bombers and Pies, we look at some of the intriguing questions we have ahead of this week’s mouthwatering clashes.

Richmond v Melbourne

Can Vlaustin hold together this brittle backline?

Nick Vlastuin has started 2024 on fire, averaging 9.2 intercept possessions over the first six rounds and providing much-needed leadership for an inexperienced backline with backs in Ben Miller, Tylar Young and Tom Brown who only have 58 games experience between them. Whilst the Tigers have been admirable this year, including a spirited win against flag fancies Sydney led by a superhuman performance from Vlastuin, their defensive frailties were fully exposed against last year’s wooden spooners in West Coast who scored 109 points with Jake Waterman booting six.

This injury-ravaged backline, which is missing the likes of Grimes, Short, Gibcus and Balta are once again going to be put under siege against top-four contenders in Melbourne on the eve of Anzac Day. The Tigers will be heavily reliant on Vlastuin to produce another performance like he did against the Swans (15 intercepts and 7 intercept marks) if they are to somehow prevent the Demons’ dynamic forwards in Pickett, Fritsch, van Rooyen and Brown just to name a few and provide a competitive contest on the big stage.

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Essendon v Collingwood

Can Stringer inspire an Anzac Day boilover?


A much-maligned player over his career, Jake Stringer is quietly assembling a very good 2024 season, arguably his career best. He’s kicked at least a goal in each game this year and averages just under six score involvements per game. But Stringer has always been a player whose impact cannot be measured by numbers and we have seen this story before, in 2022. The small forward’s ability to own key moments such as his match-winning goal against St Kilda makes him one of the Bombers’ most important and valuable players if they are to finally break their finals drought.

Jake Stringer celebrates his winning goal.

Jake Stringer celebrates his winning goal. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

In the home and away season, there is no bigger game than Anzac Day and Stringer seems like just the man to help the Bombers upset the reigning premiers Collingwood who looked like their premiership best against Port Adelaide. Essendon’s record on Anzac Day has been poor in recent years, winning only three out of the last 13 clashes with Collingwood in this fixture. To spark an upset, they’re going to need the very best from the best big-game player.

GWS v Brisbane

How do the Giants reconfigure their defence?

Whilst the defence of GWS has held up firmly under Adam Kingsley, against the tall forwards of Carlton, they looked all at sea with the tall trio of McKay, Curnow and De Koning kicking nine goals between them. Without premier defender Sam Taylor, who has already been ruled out for the clash against the Lions, the Giants looked vulnerable against Carlton’s tall forwards with Jack Buckley and Connor Idun having to play taller than they are best suited to.

It doesn’t get easier for the Giants who are up against Brisbane. The Lions may be 2-4 but still possess a dynamic forward line with a similar tall forward set-up; Daniher and Hipwood will be desperate to recover Brisbane’s disappointing start. As such, the backline who have generally held up well against most offences, are going to have to find a way to reconfigure their setup to cover the loss of the key defender in Taylor if they are to get back to winning ways.


Port Adelaide v St Kilda

Are the Power too reliant on their star midfield trio?

The young Port midfield of Rozee, Butters and Horne-Francis has been touted as one of the premier on-ball groups in the competition, however, they were comprehensively beaten by the reigning premiers in Collingwood. After starting brightly and building a 31-point lead, Port were blown away by the Magpies who stormed home to win by 42 points. The midfield was comprehensively beaten at clearances (-6) and contested possessions (-41) after starting brightly, with Butters in particular having a superb first quarter before his influence was quelled.

If the influence of this gun trio is stopped, the Power don’t have much else to draw inspiration on as the jury is still out on whether their forward set-up and their new-look backline can take Port to the next level after being an ‘almost side’ for so long. The truth is that the midfield is the Power’s greatest strength and Collingwood underlined that if you stop Port at the centre, you stop their entire game which is what Ross Lyon’s Saints will be eager to do this week.

North Melbourne v Adelaide

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Harry Sheezel celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 20 match between the West Coast Eagles and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Optus Stadium on July 30, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Harry Sheezel. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


Surely it’s time for Sheezel to go into middle?

It’s been a horror start for North Melbourne as they are the only side without a win so far in 2024 and Roos fans are surely getting fatigued from this never-ending quagmire. Now in Round 7, it’s surely time for Clarko to change things up and put the one shining light this year in Rising Star Harry Sheezel into the middle to add a different look to their on-ball group as opposed to the usual suspects of Davies-Uniacke, Powell, and Simpkin who are very similar players and have not been able to create a competitive spark.

Their opponents Adelaide switched their midfield mix two weeks ago, giving players like Rankine and Soligo more time in the engine room and it has had a clear impact on adding some much-needed versatility to their group. If the Roos are to break their duck against this zippy midfield of Adelaide’s, Clarkson needs to change his mix and that starts with putting arguably the Roos’ best player in the position where he can cause maximum damage.

Geelong v Carlton

How big of a loss will Stewart be?

A feature of Geelong’s defensive success in the last few seasons and a large reason for their 6-0 start is the impregnable Tom Stewart, whose intercepting ability is so crucial to the Cats’ team defence and stymying opposition forwards. However, Stewart is set to miss this week’s game with concussion against Carlton who probably have the most dangerous tall forwards with not just Curnow and McKay but also Tom De Koning, who seems to be coming into his own as a genuine ruck-forward, able to exploit mismatches in the forward line.


Geelong do have Tom’s brother in Sam who is an equally impressive tall as a key defender but apart from him, there seems to be a lack of height and aerial prowess in the Cats’ backline without Stewart. Given the way that Carlton’s three-pronged tall setup has started and led their team to 5-1, Stewart’s absence poses a major worry to Chris Scott if they are to prevent the Blues from kicking a winning score.

Fremantle v Western Bulldogs

Can Naughton show some consistency?

After a tough first five weeks of the season which only yielded six goals, Aaron Naughton showcased why the Bulldogs gave him a 9-year contract with an impressive six-goal outing against a usually miserly Saints defence. However, if the Bulldogs are to go far in 2024, they need to string together some consistency and they can’t allow the 60-point drubbing of the Saints to be a one-off. To achieve this, they need Naughton to put together consecutive, productive games.

While it’s unknown when partner in crime Jamarra Ugle-Hagan will return back to the team, Naughton is nonetheless the main man up forward and is central to the Bulldogs’ ability to kick a winning score. He will face a stern test this weekend against the outstanding Fremantle defensive pair of Pearce and Ryan but as West Coast and Jake Waterman showcased in the derby, it’s possible for a single forward threat to get on top of the Freo defence. For the Dogs’ sake, they will need Naughton to produce another superlative performance if they are to truly demonstrate that they are a serious football side this season.

Gold Coast v West Coast


Can the Suns address their ill-discipline?

There’s been a lot to like in the Suns start but at 3-3, they will need to fix a number of aspects of their game if they are to finally play finals for the first time in their history. One flaw in their game, which was evident in their 53-point loss to Sydney, was their ill-discipline, especially during the third quarter when the Swans kicked seven goals to two. The Suns gave away a number of costly free kicks and 50-metre penalties, as well as giving away dangerous turnovers which allowed the Swans to kick away to an unassailable lead.

A key part to the development of Damien Hardwick’s men will be to build composure during tough patches, something that wasn’t evident against premiership contenders Sydney even though they were right in the contest at half-time. This week, they will play West Coast who have looked a completely different team in the last two weeks, comprehensively defeating Richmond and Fremantle and you’d think that if the Suns were to continue their poor discipline, the Eagles will make them pay handsomely.

Hawthorn v Sydney

Will the Swans rectify their recent MCG woes?

At 5-1, Sydney is right in the conversation when it comes to premiership favourites and one thing that will bolster their credentials is winning at the MCG. Whilst the Swans comprehensively beat the Pies in Round 1 at the ‘G, they inexplicably lost to bottom-four side Richmond in their only loss in the season. The Swans have only won one (the game against Collingwood) out of their last seven games at the MCG, a sequence dating back to their grand final belting in 2022 at the hands of Geelong.


Whilst they will start as heavy favourites against the Hawks, the loss to Richmond, roughly at the same level as the Hawks, will remind them that they will have to be at their best to beat Sam Mitchell’s men – who are coming off an impressive first win of 2024. A professional and comprehensive performance on Sunday will prove to the outside world that the MCG carries no demons for the Swans and showcase further why they are highly fancied to salute at the ‘G come the last Saturday of September.