With the AFL announcing that no further home and away games will be held in Victoria, this weekend’s matches take on an extra importance for many clubs. A win could start off interstate trips well, while a loss can send teams dropping out of the eight like flies.
Geelong v Collingwood
In the first match back at Optus Stadium since round one, Collingwood and Geelong will renew their rivalry for the first time since last year’s tense Qualifying Final. Both sides come off stirring wins, and will have to fight through an expected downpour.
Will the Cats only get better with their inclusions?
Geelong shocked many when they upset the Lions in the second half last week. Looking down and out, star power in Gary Ablett Jnr and Patrick Dangerfield hit form to change the momentum.
Now, the Cats face a tougher assignment with some new faces. Jack Steven returns after being rested last week, while Jordan Clark has been brought in for his first match of 2020. The pair promise to add lots of dash and outside run; an important trait if the weather is tipped to be wet and wild. The Cats need their inclusions to add something if they are to build on last week’s terrific win.
What will Collingwood’s forward line look like?
Last Friday night Nathan Buckley changed the entire make-up of his forward group. Jamie Elliott and Jaidyn Stephenson were thrown further up the ground, allowing debutant Atu Bosenavulagi and Brody Mihocek to thrive.
Facing a more versatile Geelong defence, what will Bucks do now? The Pies have chosen to keep Mason Cox in despite the rain, and Jordan De Goey’s return should change the forward dynamic. The question on everyone’s lips is whether this will help or hinder the black and white army.
Tip: This depends a lot on the weather, and who adjusts best. Geelong will be hard to beat, but the Optus Stadium dimensions could play into Collingwood’s hands. Pies by 10.
Essendon v Western Bulldogs
Both teams are expected to bring in debutants for this make-or-break clash. Essendon have managed to keep winning early; the Bulldogs must recover from last week’s stumble.
Can McGrath and Parish cover for Shiel?
Essendon’s midfield stocks are dwindling by the week.
With Jake Stringer already out injured, Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath have been given plenty of on-ball minutes to fill the void. With Zach Merrett back, the trio have a tough task ahead against a full Bulldogs centre brigade.
The contest will be dictated by the clearances, so the three midfielders need to have great games if they are to overcome Marcus Bontempelli, Lachie Hunter and Jack Macrae.
Can Bruce beat Hurley?
After a terrific six goal effort a fortnight ago, Josh Bruce returned to his quiet ways against the Blues. He was comfortably beaten by Jacob Weitering; now he faces an in-form Michael Hurley.
Hurley holds the key to rebounding out of Essendon’s defensive fifty – he also holds Jordan Ridley by his side if he needs another trustworthy defender. The Bruce v Hurley key will go a long way to determining the Bulldogs’ chances of returning to the winner’s list.
Tip: Absolutely lineball. Essendon are depleted – I can see a loss on the horizon. The Bulldogs must figure out their ball usage up forward if they are to kick a winning score. Dogs by 16.
GWS v Brisbane
In a rematch of last year’s thrilling semi-final, Brisbane will be out for revenge after last week’s disappointing loss to the Cats. GWS will also be burning following their loss to the Power, making this clash important for both sides.
Can Coniglio bounce back?
Giants’ skipper Stephen Coniglio has been sub-par so far this season. He has lofty standards, and is working his way towards them. After drawing the ire of some pundits mid-week, he now must bounce back and prove he can beat the best.
Coniglio, alongside Josh Kelly, is likely to line up on the Brownlow favourite in Lachie Neale. If ever there was a time to strike, now is the appropriate game for the GWS star.
Which gamebreaker performs – Greene or Cameron?
Alongside Sydney’s Tom Papley, Charlie Cameron and Toby Greene are the best agile small forwards in the competition. Both dominate their forward lines and hold the keys to four points.
Cameron will have extra pressure on him if his tall forwards continue to fail. If the Lions are to get up, he must get off his marker and kick a bag to light up the game. But Greene can rely on his tall teammates to bring him into the game and dominate proceedings from half-forward.
Tip: Both teams have plenty to fight for, but GWS should take the win while at home and with a more balanced side. Giants by 25.
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Sydney v Gold Coast
Sydney and Gold Coast both need an early season pick-me-up. Gold Coast started off hot and have now thawed out, while Sydney are struggling to kick a winning score without experienced heads around the contest.
Who replaces Heeney and Kennedy?
If life could get worse for Sydney, losing Josh Kennedy for months and Isaac Heeney for the season did the trick.
So much pressure now falls on Luke Parker, Ollie Florent and Tom Papley to lead the young side forward. Time will tell whether they can shoulder the load or whether it is too much to ask from three reliable players.
Can Rankine back up?
Izak Rankine’s sparkling debut alleviated the heartache of losing Matt Rowell for the season. His three electric goals proved his value as the number three draft pick from 2018.
Now, he has the chance to lead his side to a great away victory. Gold Coast have good history at the SCG, having beaten the Swans in upsets over recent seasons. The high draft pick will have eyes on him as he looks to destroy Callum Mills and Sydney’s small defenders.
Tip: Sydney have pride and enough experience to provide a contest, but Gold Coast have the talent to snatch victory. Suns by 20.
Richmond v North Melbourne
A depleted reigning premier finds themselves back in the eight after two grinding wins. But now they need to fight again when they come up against a physical North Melbourne desperate for form.
Can the Tigers running half backs be stopped?
In a dour affair in the Brisbane rain last week, it was Jayden Short and his fellow small defenders who did the damage. Coming up against a plethora of North Melbourne smalls, they’ll be looking to rebound with the same efficiency again this weekend.
The key to Richmond’s game is their run and carry – they look to speed the game up. The start of their handball chains is from half-back, so stemming the flow is critical for the Roos to prevent the Tigers from running all over them.
Is Zurhaar back?
Cam Zurhaar gave hints of improved efforts against the Bombers. His trademark toughness around the footy kept the Roos in the contest. With Ben Brown likely to be nullified once more, Zurhaar needs to accelerate his development.
Jy Simpkin is filling the role left by Jack Ziebell and Ben Cunnington, so now it is time for Zurhaar to help Brown out.
Tip: North Melbourne have everything to play for if they want to make the finals. But Richmond may begin to look ominous, again. Tigers by 27.
Carlton v Port Adelaide
After Carlton’s win last week, this could be a tight one. Port Adelaide proved they can grind out wins against the best, but can they beat a rising team of youngsters?
Can Carlton’s forward line make hay?
Levi Casboult, Mitch McGovern, Eddie Betts, Jack Martin and Harry McKay all shone against the Bulldogs. They all slotted multiple majors to power the Blues to a thumping win.
Now they face a Port Adelaide defence that isn’t flashy on paper but gets the job done. They need to prove that the Carlton forward six aren’t as good as they promise to be. If the Blues attackers get away, the game is over.
Will Houston go to Cripps?
The best part about Carlton’s resurgence is that Patrick Cripps hasn’t done all of the heavy lifting. Dan Houston has been on fire in his new role in the Power midfield – the question is whether he’ll get the job of stopping Cripps at stoppages.
It may not be decisive, but if Houston can stop Cripps from producing then the Blues lose their primary source at stoppages. It’s a tough gig, but it’s doable.
Tip: The Blues are definitely capable of causing an upset, and I’m very tempted to back them in. But are they too good to be true? They may prove me wrong, but I’m going the Power by 3.
Hawthorn v Melbourne
Last week’s results change the complexion of this contest. Hawthorn have had a shocking fortnight, and face a do-or-die clash on Sunday. But Melbourne won at this ground a week ago and may have found the key to improvement.
Will the Hawks midfield bounce back?
The likes of Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara and James Worpel were humbled by the Pies last week. They barely gave a yelp as they got smacked in the clearances.
One question is whether Ben McEvoy will return to the ruck to nullify Max Gawn. He may need to, for the Hawks must perform much better if they are to match the Demons in the guts.
What will their forward structure be?
It’s a fair question, considering their makeshift forward lines have struggled. Sam Weideman has to get another game after improving the balance up forward last week. With Tom McDonald expected to miss, it’ll be interesting to see whether Mitch Brown gets his chance. He is capable and needed – can the Demons unlock a combination that gives them goals?
Tip: Hawthorn have every chance to rebound, but the Demons could win it at the selection table if they choose good key forwards. I’ll have faith – Melbourne by 11.
Fremantle v West Coast
A 30,000 strong crowd will flock to the derby as the two sides resume their rivalry.
Where will Fyfe play?
It’s clear Nat Fyfe isn’t right – last week he spent most of his time up forward. If he picked to play, it’ll be intriguing to see whether he goes into the midfield or plays as a permanent forward. Michael Walters and Andrew Brayshaw have impressed on the ball, so it could be a viable tactic that strengthens their attacking group by providing a strong target.
How good are West Coast?
The Eagles have returned to form after a fortnight against sub-par sides. They now face a real test – Fremantle are playing good footy and will give them a good run for their money.
The midfield must prove they are capable of smacking Fremantle’s in order to give Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling perfect service.
Tip: It could go either way, but the Eagles should be too experienced. West Coast by 28.
Adelaide v St Kilda
The Crows will receive a huge boost when they return to their home ground, but they’ll have to be better than last week if they are to upset the Saints.
Will Gibbs play?
With Paul Seedsman already expected to return to add experience and pace to the team, the question is whether Bryce Gibbs will join him.
The ex-Blue has been unlucky not to be selected already, given he is classy and efficient with ball in hand. The Crows need his skills heading into the forward line, so it’ll be a noteworthy selection call if he is given a game.
Can the Saints save face?
Last week was embarrassing for St Kilda. So much talk surrounded them until they gave away a six-goal lead against Fremantle. Despite rallying late and nearly snatching the match, they need to respond.
Jade Gresham is travelling well and should be ready to stamp his mark on the midfield. Tim Membrey continues to find form and consistency, while Dan Hannebery may return to add some footy IQ around the ball. They’ll need all they can get if they are to correct their form and post a needed four points.
Tip: Adelaide will certainly receive a boost from the crowd, but they will have to play a blinder to win. Saints by 30.
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