AFL 2020 Round 3 Preview: Settling into a rhythm

The cobwebs have blown away. Now, it’s time to settle into the season.

It was wonderful to have AFL action back last weekend. Starting off slow and a little boring, the round kicked into gear throughout the weekend. We got some thrilling results and major upsets. Now, what can Round 3 provide?

Hawthorn’s Paul Puopolo and Tiger Dylan Grimes will once again renew acquaintances on Thursday night footy (SEN)

Richmond v Hawthorn

Thursday 7.40PM

MCG

It’s rare that Dustin Martin is out injured.

After a sub-par return to footy last Thursday in his side’s draw against Collingwood, he is now sitting out due to rib soreness. His experienced teammates will need to pick up the slack if the Tigers are to return to the winners’ list.

Hawthorn had a shocking second half last Friday night down at the Cattery, and must respond quickly if they are to save the sinking ship. The return of Jaeger O’Meara is a great start, but they’re going to need to play a blinder if they are to knock off the reigning premiers.

How good are Richmond this year?

It’s been incredibly tough to get a good read on Richmond so far in season 2020. Their opening round win over Carlton started off beautifully, but their second half turned the victory into an unconvincing four goal triumph.

To reverse their fortunes, the Tigers barely gave a yelp when Collingwood started off hard and fast in Round 2. However, their third and fourth quarters were full of grit and the thrilling bash-and-crash play we are used to from the yellow and black.

Now, it’s time Damian Hardwick’s men step up to the plate and show they are still one of the best teams in the competition.

Dustin Martin, seen here taking a mark in 2017, won’t be coming up against the Hawks tonight (SEN)

Can Hawthorn fix their dysfunctional forward line?

To give the Hawks credit, they somehow managed to stay in the game during last week’s first half. Geelong looked the better team by a long way, yet it took until the third quarter for the Cats to streak away with the win.

In the first half, Jack Gunston was efficient in front of goal, papering over the cracks that occur when Jon Patton struggles to take big marks and Luke Breust is tagged out of the game. The Hawthorn forward line is ageing – Round 3 is one of the last chances the likes of Breust and Paul Puopolo might get before they are replaced by some younger blood. For their sake, they need to chip in with bags of goals to post a competitive total.

Tip: Richmond without Dusty is always a less potent force, but they still have the star quality to get the job done tonight. Tigers by 37.

Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell will finally get to play Richmond again (AAP: Julian Smith)

Western Bulldogs v GWS

Friday 7.50PM

Marvel Stadium

If ever the Dogs are to make a statement and arrest their worrying slump, it will come against the Giants. The two sides have forged a unique rivalry since the 2016 Preliminary Final. Now, both teams have points to prove.

The Bulldogs have started off the season horrendously. Their recruits have failed to fire, while their midfield is worryingly slow. A win here would avoid lots of scrutiny. On the other hand, GWS were pathetic against North Melbourne for large stages of their Round 2 match. They were out grunted around the ball and couldn’t find any space. To prove they are still a flag fancy, they must get the win over the unconfident Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs celebrate their 2016 triumph which kick-started a modern-day rivalry (Getty Images: Ryan Pierse)

What to do with Bailey Smith and Jackson Macrae?

Before their Round 2 loss to the Saints, coach Luke Beveridge mixed things up. Jack Macrae was thrown onto a wing and sometimes up forward, while young forward Bailey Smith was chucked onto the ball. Smith responded with one of his best games for the club in his short career, but Macrae was horribly out of sorts.

Coming up against a tough and well-drilled Tigers midfield, what will Beveridge do now? It’s a very hard choice to move Smith out of the middle when he performed so well on Sunday. The onus lies on Macrae, who must make himself dangerous on a wing or up forward to make the tactical move work.

Can Jeremy Cameron find a spark?

Last year’s Brownlow Medallist Jeremy Cameron doesn’t look right. His Round 1 effort before the extended break was up to his usual standard – three goals in a five-goal win was exactly what we are used to. But against the Kangaroos, Cameron was destroyed by Robbie Tarrant. He only registered a single goal out of his meagre seven disposals.

Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg are more than capable of having a day out, but GWS play at their best when Cameron is up and going. In a must-win clash, they need their star forward to kick a bag to make sure they get over the line.

Sparks set to fly when the Bulldogs and Giants clash on Friday night footy (SEN)

Tip: Both teams will show plenty of fire after poor losses last week, but the Giants are too clean on the outside. They should get home comfortably. GWS by 40.

North Melbourne v Sydney

Saturday 1.45PM

Marvel Stadium

This fixture is a lot more intriguing than what it promised to be after Round 1.

Star forward Ben Brown is looking to have a massive night out against the Swans (Michael Dodge/ Getty Images)

North Melbourne, following a stunning win against the Giants, sit undefeated, while the Swans were only a goal or two away from being in the same situation. The Kangaroos look rejuvenated under Rhyce Shaw, playing a fast and brutal brand of attacking footy fuelled by young stars. The Swans are full of youthful faces who are capable of stepping up to help the likes of Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker – can they do it against the Roos?

Are North Melbourne now the toughest team to face?

There’s an argument to be made that the Roos are now the side all others hate to face most. They play such a tough brand of footy that all opponents are guaranteed to limp off the ground with plenty of bruises after coming up against them. Led by the bullish Ben Cunnington and the enforcing hard bodies of Jed Anderson and Cameron Zurhaar, the Shinboners are living up to their namesake.

Their success is clearly related to their fierce intent to go hard at the ball and win all contested situations. The next step is to make this a week in, week out occurrence that would cement their spot as the toughest team in the AFL.

Will Isaac Heeney and Tom Papley step up?

Both Heeney and Papley promise so much for the Swans. They have been wonderful forwards for numerous years. Now, they are starting to transition into the midfield.

The Sydney pair drip with X-factor, and are more than capable of kicking a bag of goals while racking up plenty of decisive touches in the middle. The red and white are yearning for this versatility – if the Swans are to break open the tight shell of the Kangaroos, they need their dynamic talents to produce something special.

Can Luke Parker guide his younger teammates to victory? (Getty Images)

Tip: Sydney should be an annoying team to face, but their young bodies aren’t yet ready to match it with North Melbourne. Kennedy and Parker will provide some resilience, but the Kangaroos should grind their way home to a third successive win. Roos by 24.

Collingwood v St Kilda

Saturday 4.40PM

MCG

Halfway through Thursday night’s match, most pundits would have been ready to place money on Collingwood. Following the eventual draw, and St Kilda’s wonderful free-flowing performance on Sunday, the odds are now much tighter.

The main battle will be between Brodie Grundy and the twin tower combo of Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall, who destroyed the Bulldogs. Ryder and Marshall are eerily similar to the Scott Lycett/ Nathan Vardy duo that bested Grundy in the 2018 Grand Final. Both sides have quick midfields, but it’ll come down to has the most poise and potency down forward.

Is 2020 St Kilda’s year to make a finals charge? (St Kilda FC)

Will experience or youth prevail in the middle?

St Kilda’s on-ball brigade looked the best it has in a long time on Sunday. With Jack Billings starring, Jack Steele, Jade Gresham, Seb Ross and Hunter Clark all thrived in the guts. Chuck in the experienced Dan Hannebery and the red, white and black have plenty of flexibility in the midfield, especially with Zak Jones and Brad Hill running rampant on the wing.

But they will face a much sterner test in the wise heads of Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom. Alongside the impressive Taylor Adams, Jordan De Goey and the up-and-coming Tyler Brown, the Saints won’t get anywhere near as much room to roam this Saturday. It’ll be an intriguing test to see whether St Kilda will prove too quick for the Pies or if the old black and white firm will use their nous to win the midfield battle.

Is St Kilda’s forward line good enough to crack Collingwood’s defence?

For all of Collingwood’s versatility and breathtaking ability up forward, it’s their back line that performs the best. Jeremy Howe was in scintillating form last week, and could be used once more as a spare man behind the ball to thwart all St Kilda attacks. Darcy Moore and Jordan Roughead will give Max King and Tim Membrey hell, so the Saints will have to be creative going forward.

Since the latter stages of last year, Collingwood’s defence has been impressively tight. The key match-up will be between Dan Butler and Brayden Maynard. If the talls don’t flourish, the Saints need their snappy crumbers to get the job done.

Collingwood’s experienced group managed to beat the Saints in 2019 – can they repeat the dose in Round 3? (Getty Images)

Will Collingwood change their forward line?

The Magpies failed to kick a goal in the entire second half of last week’s game. When they are forced into a slow down the line match, they struggle to score. The likes of Josh Thomas and Will Hoskin-Elliott were unsighted last Thursday – will one of them make way for Jaidyn Stephenson?

Tip: This will be very close. St Kilda are dangerous. The Pies should still get over the line – just. Magpies by 12.

Brisbane v West Coast

Saturday 7.40PM

The Gabba

Brisbane will be looking to hand West Coast a second straight defeat on Saturday night (Chris Hyde/ Getty Images)

After last week’s results, this match is now hard to pick. West Coast, following a horror loss to the Suns, need to clean up their act quickly.

Brisbane held firm to squeak out a win against Fremantle – can they back it up to make it two on the trot?

Will West Coast’s midfield rebound?

The likes of Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly had their pants pulled down by young Matt Rowell and co last Saturday night. For such a wonderful assortment of players, they were shamed by the league’s supposed worst team. We now know Gold Coast are improving, but West Coast have to show Round 2 was an aberration.

Alongside these midfielders, Nic Naitanui has a key role in rejuvenating the engine room. He needs to become more dangerous around the ground to exploit Brisbane’s weakness in the ruck.

Can Eric Hipwood capitalise on Jeremy McGovern’s absence?

Hipwood had an interesting game in Round 2. He had a horror first half, but kick-started the Lions in the third term with an early goal. Hipwood has the potential to be a star, but he needs to start developing. He won’t get a better chance than facing West Coast without Jeremy McGovern, who’s tribunal appeal was thrown out.

Hipwood will most likely line up on Tom Barrass, who is lacking confidence and could be vulnerable when isolated. If the lanky Lion wants to kick a bag, this weekend is his time.

The Brisbane engine room, led by Dayne Zorko, are looking towards the top eight once more (AAP)

Tip: Brisbane looked good, and Lachie Neale and Charlie Cameron will be hard to stop. But West Coast are a quality side, and quality sides manage to win in these scenarios. Eagles by 17.

Geelong v Carlton

Saturday 7.40PM

GMHBA Stadium

The Cats will rock up to their home ground brimming with confidence after dismantling Hawthorn last Friday in a terrific win. Lots of heart will be taken out of the performances by Rhys Stanley and Brandon Parfitt, who were integral to the big victory.

Carlton lost a game they should have won – their shocking first half gave way to a fast-running last quarter that gave them many chances to grab the four points. They now face a tough trip where they’ll have to be a lot more consistent to snag a victory.

Will Rhys Stanley back up his Friday night special?

The Cats are crying out for a ruckman to snatch their spot in the team. Often a weakness since the departure of club hero Brad Ottens, Geelong fans sat back in satisfaction last Friday when Rhys Stanley kicked two goals in a match-winning performance.

He will line up in the ruck ahead of Darcy Fort again on Saturday night. Now, he must back up his Round 2 effort by overcoming a tricky opponent in Carlton’s Marc Pittonet. If he can have another industrious tonight, Geelong fans may start to believe they’ve solved their ruck problem.

Now without Tim Kelly (left), Geelong will have to work hard to overcome Sam Walsh (right) and his Blues (Herald Sun)

Will Cripps stand up?

Patrick Cripps has a lot of hype surrounding him. He is one of the favourites to take home a Brownlow Medal in the next few years, while his improving side have finals aspirations. In the last quarter of their Round 2 loss to Melbourne, Cripps had multiple set shot opportunities to give his Blues the lead with only minutes left. He couldn’t take them, only slotting one goal to bring them within a kick.

Cripps, now a leader at the club, must show his younger teammates the way. If the Blues are to show any sign of improvement, it must come from the top.

Tip: Geelong should be way too good here, regardless of which Carlton turns up to the Cattery. Cats by 38.

Patrick Cripps needs to lift for Carlton (Carlton FC)

Gold Coast v Adelaide

Sunday 1.05PM

Metricon Stadium

Before Round 2, this match would have been a meaningless game; a fight between two disappointing clubs to claim wooden spoon favouritism. But Matt Rowell’s Saturday night effort means many eyes will be watching to confirm whether he is the real deal.

Adelaide must find an avenue to goal, as another loss would be disastrous. Suddenly, this Sunday match-up has plenty of interesting storylines surrounding it.

Ex-Tiger Brandon Ellis could be a key player in Gold Coast’s clash with Adelaide (Getty Images)

How good can Gold Coast’s forward line be?

Last Saturday night, the AFL world got an inkling of how dangerous the Gold Coast Suns could be. Stuart Dew has put together a surprisingly talented forward line that gave West Coast’s experienced defenders headaches. With veteran Sam Day firing, Ben King and Alex Sexton were able to roam freely.

Will Day once again be influential? If so, the other young Suns should continue to hit the scoreboard regularly against a Crows defence lacking any organisation.

When will Tex lift?

Taylor Walker may not be captain anymore, but he has a massive responsibility. With Rory Sloane in doubt due to an injury concern, he will once again hold the reigns as the most senior leader.

His Showdown effort was poor – for young Darcy Fogarty to flourish, Walker must command the presence of the opposition’s best defender. The Crows need goals, and Tex is their key to a big night on the Gold Coast.

With Rory Sloane in doubt, the Crows need to find a spark (Daniel Kalisz/ Getty Images)

Tip: Gold Coast should repeat a similar effort to last week and hand the Crows another defeat. Suns by 28.

Essendon v Melbourne

Sunday 3.35PM

MCG

Both teams crawled over the line for wins. Essendon is the most unconvincing undefeated side going around, and will have to perform better than their stop-start Sunday win against Sydney. Melbourne completely stopped in the second half of their one-point victory over Carlton. They were lucky to come away with a win, but now have a chance to snatch a second straight triumph.

What value does Essendon’s older heads have?

Skipper Dyson Heppell and David Zaharakis were atrocious last Sunday. Neither got near the Sherrin, and when they did they looked way too slow. Both may be taking their time to acclimatise to the rigours of AFL footy, but they can’t keep taking key spots in the team if they contribute so little. With Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath now expecting more midfield time, Heppell and Zaharakis must give justification for their selection by winding back the clock. The Bombers are hell-bent on finally clinching a post-season win, so they must be ruthless.

Will Dyson Heppell lift for his Bombers? (Daniel Pockett/ AFL Media/ Getty Images)

Who wins – Jayden Hunt or Adam Saad?

Two of the most dynamic and exciting players will most likely go head-to-head on Sunday. Jayden Hunt, after being in and out of the Melbourne side over the past couple of years, finally looked to be playing well. His three majors were the difference; now, he must replicate it while on Adam Saad.

Saad was the difference in the Bombers’ tight win. His ability to lock down on the opposition’s best small forwards while also bursting off them to set up goals is a rare talent. He may be heading towards more time in the midfield, but he has a key role in stopping Hunt for his side on Sunday.

Tip: Melbourne need to give a much better all-round performance to come away with any points here. Essendon aren’t in sparkling touch, but they have enough star quality and consistency over the ground to pull away. Bombers by 27.

Jayden Hunt (right) and Tom McDonald (left) will need to be at their best on Sunday (AAP)

Fremantle v Port Adelaide

Sunday 6.10PM

Metricon Stadium

The final game of Round 3 will be the first neutral one. Hub inhabitants Fremantle and the Power will square off. It’s lucky no fans are allowed in, as none would attend anyway.

The Power are setting the trend early, and are looking to remain unbeaten. However, Freo have proven they are a hard team to beat; if it were for more luck, they may have gotten two wins from the first two rounds.

Will Port Adelaide’s youth continue to step up?

Port Adelaide’s fast start to 2020 has centred around the younger draftees in Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma and Todd Marshall. They have all been up in the best players, and have taken the load off Robbie Gray and Justin Westhoff to consistently perform.

They are the key for the Power, as with them they are a balanced and dangerous team. With fringe players like Stevie Motlop also contributing massively, Port Adelaide need consistency to prove they are a finals contender.

Travis Boak (left)continues to perform in the midfield (AFL)

Who will help out Nat Fyfe and Michael Walters?

The Dockers have star power, but a more even spread is needed if they are to win tight matches. Regardless of how good they are, Fyfe and Walters can’t be everywhere.

James Aish played a handy role in the midfield last week, and may be one part of the solution. Reece Conca is another experienced head who should be chipping in. An improved effort from ruckmen Sean Darcy and Rory Lobb would also go a long way to improving Fremantle’s chances.

Can Michael Walters weave some more magic? (AAP)

Tip: Fremantle are capable of staying with the Power for large portions of the match, but Port Adelaide should be too good. Power by 35.

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