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Questions to ponder in Round 10: Swans or Blues in midfield battle, can Greene regain form and will Fritsch carry his forwards?

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With the first week of Sir Doug Nicholls Round upon us, we examine some of the big talking points ahead of what will be another fantastic round of footy.

Gold Coast Suns v Geelong

Can Gold Coast maintain its Darwin domination?

Ever since they started playing two games a year at Darwin permanently in 2022, the Suns are 5-0 at the venue and they are becoming real specialists in dealing with the tricky slippery conditions at the Top End.

The real challenge to their Darwin fortress will be on primetime Thursday night when they face top 4 contenders in Geelong.

Although the Cats have dropped their last two games, they are still an imposing team and will be a real challenge for Damien Hardwick’s men.

However, the conditions will definitely favour the Suns are accustomed to the muggy conditions of Darwin as opposed to Geelong.

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The Cats will be without Jeremy Cameron due to concussion and potentially Tom Hawkins who is slated to be rested. This is a real opportunity for the Suns to take advantage of a slightly weakened Geelong who are nonetheless still a quality side.

If they can beat the Cats, it will not only solidify their Darwin fortress but also send a statement to the competition that they can match it and beat the top teams in their bid to play finals.

Sydney v Carlton

Who will prevail: Carlton’s inside or Sydney’s outside?

One of the intriguing battles in this mouthwatering clash on Friday night is between the two midfields who operate very differently.

Carlton’s number one strength is their contested ball and clearances from their inside guns such as Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh, Matthew Kennedy and Marc Pittonet. the Swans’ successes this year had come from their superb kicking, fast transition, and damaging disposals from the likes of Errol Gulden, Chad Warner, and Isaac Heeney.

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This sets up a really interesting battle between two on-ball brigades which are among the best in the competition, even if their method is vastly different.

Whereas Carlton is first in the competition for contested possession, Sydney’s midfield is the most dangerous when it comes to hurting the opposition through their fast and damaging disposal chains with all of Gulden, Heeney and Warner ranking in the top 10 players in the league for score involvements.

This week’s game will therefore give a really good insight as to what is more impactful: the tough bullocking contested Blues or the precise, quick, and devastating Swans.

Collingwood v Adelaide

Is it time for the next generation of Collingwood?

This may be an absurd question given they are the reigning premiers, but Collingwood is going to have a decent list turnover in the next few years given the age of some of their veterans in Scott Pendlebury, Steel Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe.

However, they have shown no signs that they are on the downturn after their slow 0-3 start with a major positive being the growth of their young players due to a significant injury list.

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Last week against West Coast, young players in Reef McInnes and Finlay Macrae each kicked three goals and the likes of Harvey Harrison, Lachie Sullivan and debutant Joe Richards have also shown impressive signs in recent weeks.

Against Adelaide this week, it will be intriguing to see how far these players can develop to take on the mantle at Collingwood given many of their best 22 will still be out with injury.

In 2024, the Magpies’ success may just be determined by these younger players, who were not there in 2023, to inspire the dedication to lead Collingwood to more success in 2024 and in future years.

Toby Greene GWS Giants Dissapoiinted

Toby Greene of the Giants. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

GWS Giants v Western Bulldogs

Are the Bulldogs just the team that Greene needs to face to rediscover form?

It’s no secret that Toby Greene is having a very frustrating season so far. Apart from one five-goal game against the Suns, Greene has only kicked six goals from the other eight games and looked and looked particularly rattled last week against the Bombers.

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This week’s clash against the Dogs could not have come at the perfect time for Greene whose best (and worst moments) have come against the Bulldogs.

Greene has kicked 40 goals in games against the Dogs, the most he’s kicked against any opposition team, and he even averages more than 22 disposals when he plays against one of the Giants’ biggest rivals.

The Giants have had a difficult last month, losing three out of their last four games and therefore they are in desperate need of a spark.

There is no better person to provide that spark than Greene and there is no better opposition for him to play than the Dogs with whom Green has had many of his most memorable encounters.

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St Kilda v Fremantle

Do the Saints need to keep Battle forward?

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Amidst the Saints’ woes this year, Josh Battle has compiled a very nice season in the backline, averaging more than six intercepts a game.

However, given the Saints’ woeful inability to score against Hawthorn, Ross Lyon had to get creative and threw Battle in the forward line and immediately looked like the Saints most likely forward.

The swingman had two goals from 22 disposals as well as nine marks. The most disappointing part of this season for the Saints has been their inability to score, averaging only 67.1 points in their losses this year.

Max King, in particular, has had a really disappointing season, only kicking nine goals from six games, personifying the Sants’ lack of scoring ability.

Whilst Battle has been really good down back, Lyon needs to figure out a game plan that is conducive to the team actually kicking a winning score given King’s struggles.

As such, it will be interesting if Lyon keeps Battle against a very good defence in Fremantle as the Saints simply need to find more effective ways to score if they are to turn things around.

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Brisbane v Richmond

How far can the young Lions take Brisbane?

It’s been a challenging season for the Lions, slumping to a 3-1-5 start and losing several players to long-term injuries.

However, a possible silver lining for the Lions is that they seem to have unearthed some young gems, Brisbane debuted two players last week Logan Morris and Bruce Reville who have shown really good signs in the last couple of weeks.

The Lions also debuted Shadeau Brain last week and have other developing young prospects such as Harry Sharp, Zane Zakostelsky, James Tunstill, Jaxon Prior and Jaspa Fletcher.

With 2022 pick 2 Will Ashcroft also to return soon, Brisbane is quietly setting themselves up for the next few years, meaning that even if 2024 doesn’t pan out how they want, they won’t be down for too long.

Whilst the Lions should easily take care of a beleaguered Richmond, the real watch from this game is to see if these younger players can really start imposing themselves on games and make an impact to lessen the load of the more senior players who have been crucial to the Lions recent success.

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Essendon v North Melbourne

Have the Dons finally figured out their team defence?

The main weakness for the Bombers in the last three years was their defensive fragility with the team frequently allowing teams to easily transition the ball and kick large scores.

However, in the last five games, the Bombers have really tightened up their defensive application, conceding an average of just 72 points in their four wins and a draw since their thrashing against Port.

Their most impressive defensive performance was last week against GWS, a team that averaged more than 100 points in their first eight games.

Ben McKay, who will come up against his old side and teammate Nick Larkey this week, held Jesse Hogan to just two goals and Jake Kelly and Matt Guelfi also played key defensive roles on Toby Greene and Lachie Whitfield respectively.

It underlines how the Bombers are finally figuring out how to defend opposition throughout the ground.

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Whilst this week against North won’t give a true indication of their defensive improvement, it is nonetheless a great chance to see the Bombers finally clicking together in their defensive game in their bid to break their finals drought.

Port Adelaide v Hawthorn

Will Hawthorn apply a tag on one of the Port midfielders?

After a scarcely believable first-half domination against Geelong at Simonds Stadium, taking a 77-36 half-time lead, Port almost surrendered the game, eventually triumphing by six points.

A reason why Port fell away in the second hand just hung on was a tag applied by Geelong sub, Oisin Mullin on Jason Horne-Francis as the dynamic Port midfielder just had two clearances in the second half after five in the first half.

Given how Mullin was able to effectively limit Horne-Francis’s overall impact in the second half, it does beg the question as to whether Hawthorn will do something similar, either on Horne-Francis or the other Port star in Zak Butters.

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We saw Finn Maginness do a fantastic job on Nick Daicos last year and Sam Mitchell is definitely not shy of pulling levers to negate a strength of the opposition.

Although they won’t face much tougher tasks than Port at the Adelaide Oval, the Hawks will be confident they can challenge Port after two consecutive wins and one way they may look to do that is to shut down the tone of the superstar Port midfielders.

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West Coast Eagles v Melbourne

Is Christian Petracca the answer to Melbourne’s forward dilemma?

For quite a while now, Melbourne has had struggles forward of the ball and has tried all sorts of options in the forward line to help them kick a winning score.

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They may have just found the answer to their dilemmas with Christian Petracca who almost stole last week’s game against Carlton off his boot, kicking five goals and having 10 score involvements when he moved into the forward line.

Whilst we all know how damaging he can be in the midfield; it might be time for Petracca to rest as a permanent half-forward who does most of his work within 80m of goal.

This could also have a flow-on benefit for Melbourn as it will give players such as Trent Rivers, Tom Sparrow and Jack Billings more time on-ball.

If these younger players can develop to be a part of the Dees’ powerful midfield, it gives Petracca the luxury to cause havoc inside 50.

Not many defenders can match his power, speed, and agility meaning he could be the missing piece to help Melbourne solve their forward puzzle.

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