From Wednesday to Sunday night, there are numerous clashes that are incredibly difficult to predict. It’s crunch time for many times – will we see flag favourites stick their head out in Round 9?
Western Bulldogs v Richmond
The last few weeks has changed the dynamics of this clash enormously. Richmond will enter as favourites based off their reputation, but the Dogs have every reason to claim superiority.
It’s Jack and Tom time
The collective efforts of Richmond in recent weeks have directed the heat away from out-of-form forwards Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch, but now the spotlight sits on them.
The pair have been well below par in 2020, and must begin kicking bags of goals if the Tigers are to outwork the Bulldogs. They will have some intriguing match-ups against the in-form Alex Keath and the reliable Zaine Cordy – expect Easton Wood to also provide a chop-out on Riewoldt. The Tigers have many younger stars in form, but to win they need Lynch and Riewoldt to make a statement.
A statement game for the Dogs engine room
Everyone knows the Bulldogs have a superb midfield.
Full of hardened contested ball players and creative users, they have most bases covered. If they are to go to the next level and recapture their 2016 form, they need to work past Richmond’s depleted midfield.
Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae have been in sparkling touch and should cause Dustin Martin and Kane Lambert headaches. Although Shai Bolton and Marlion Pickett have been brilliant in recent weeks, they face a tough task coming up against Bailey Smith and Tom Liberatore.
Tip: Incredibly tough – depends on which Richmond shows up. I expect them to give a better showing then last week, but the Dogs will enjoy another game at Metricon. Dogs by 10.
Melbourne v Port Adelaide
Once again, a few rounds ago this match would have been a foregone conclusion. But Melbourne’s return to form and Port Adelaide’s recent shakiness means this is a game that is well and truly up for grabs.
Can Melbourne kick a winning score?
Up until the last fortnight, Melbourne have struggled up forward. But with the returning Sam Weideman and the improved output from Jake Melksham and Mitch Hannan, the Dees have enough power to edge past the Power.
With Christian Petracca and Jack Viney also in great form through the midfield, the Demons may have enough avenues to goal if their engine room can chip in with some majors.
Charlie v Jake and Steven
Once again it’s another tough match-up for the in-form Charlie Dixon.
An impressive start to 2020 stuttered last week when the Power forward was humbled by former teammate Dougal Howard. Needing to prove his dominance, Dixon will have to flourish against the hard lockdown tactics of Steven May and the sheer athleticism of Jake Lever. The recruited pair have hit form at Melbourne, controlling the defensive group and taking many intercept marks. It’ll be another intriguing to watch to see whether the fiery May and Lever can get under Dixon’s skin.
Tip: If it was at Metricon, I would back the Power. But the Demons have a massive chance – it should go down to the wire if both teams are on. Port by 3.
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Carlton v Hawthorn
In the first of two Friday night matches, Carlton and Hawthorn will travel to Optus Stadium and play in front of a crowd. The Hawks will have all of the pressure on them, while Carlton have a chance to win yet another match.
A battle of experienced heads
Both Hawthorn and the Blues have plenty of fresh talent running around, but they both share a core group of seasoned veterans. The key to this game is which team’s group performs better.
The likes of Marc Murphy, Ed Curnow and Kade Simpson have been brilliant all season. Murphy and Curnow have complemented their blossoming midfield wonderfully and excelled in various roles, while Simpson continues to be as reliable as ever in defence. Hawthorn, on the other hand, have Jack Gunston, Ben Stratton, Isaac Smith, Shaun Burgoyne and Liam Shiels all struggling. To get off the canvas, Alastair Clarkson needs these men to arrest their form slump and fire the Hawks to a much-needed win.
Weitering or Sicily?
They may play at opposite ends of the ground, but the pair have a lot in common.
Both are maturing tall defenders who are in strong form. James Sicily is carrying the Hawthorn midfield entirely on his shoulders, racking up possessions and athletically clearing attacking balls often.
Up the other end, Jacob Weitering is nearing All-Australian worthy form, and can edge closer to the squad with another masterful performance on Friday. He’ll have a great chance to, with Gunston and Mitchell Lewis both out of touch.
Tip: The Hawks will come in fired up and may enjoy a trip out west, but they shouldn’t be able to beat a strong Carlton side. Blues by 26.
Essendon v Brisbane
The Bombers have continued to win despite not setting the world on fire in 2020. Their pluck will be sorely tested by the Lions, who are looking to settle into a Queensland run that could soon result in them leading the ladder.
Two in-form midfields – who wins?
For the amount of injuries Essendon has, their young on-ball brigade has surprised all.
Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath have been revelations in the guts, using their pace and X-factor to constantly harass seasoned opposition and deliver well inside 50. With Zach Merrett in his prolific form, the Bombers get to see where they figure against the best in the league.
Despite West Coast’s midfield showcase on Sunday, Brisbane hold claims to having the most consistent centre group in the competition. With Lachie Neale a Brownlow Medal favourite alongside the able support of Jarryd Lyons, Jarrod Berry and Dayne Zorko, the midfield battle will be critical to dictating the result. Despite their grit, the Bombers may struggle to match Brisbane in the centre.
The one missing piece in Brisbane’s premiership puzzle
The Lions will be a massive flag threat this year, with the interstate matches giving them a perfect run home to lodge a top two spot. But, as exposed last year, Brisbane lack the key forward presence that can get them over the line in tight finals.
Eric Hipwood has immense talent, but is still a bit-part player who is getting limited touches. He needs time and strength to find consistency – he doesn’t have much time this year to get it right. Daniel McStay promises lots, yet can’t quite produce on a weekly basis. He is another Lion who can take a great mark and kick straight – he holds the key to making Brisbane a complete team. Maybe Brisbane were foolish to trade Josh Walker away last year.
Tip: Essendon have proven they can fight when huddled in the corner, but this challenge should be too much. Lions by 31.
North Melbourne v Adelaide
It’s weird to think that a month ago the Roos were a big finals chance. Now, they need a win desperately to regain confidence and make a charge back up the ladder. To do so, they must prevent Adelaide from snatching their maiden victory in 2020.
Young forwards are the answer
Despite all the media coverage, the single key to fixing North Melbourne’s poor run isn’t Ben Brown. He is a terrific player who will surely come out of his slump soon, but a club can’t put their entire hopes on one man.
Instead, Rhyce Shaw should be confident in the younger troops he has next to Brown. Nick Larkey finally returned to the team last week and proved he should never have left. Cameron Zurhaar can change the game with his attacking presence, while Bailey Scott’s three goals on the weekend gave North Melbourne’s forward line another lively member. The Roos need this group functioning as a whole to post a winning total.
Tarrant v Walker
Both players haven’t been given enough recognition in 2020.
Robbie Tarrant has been one of the league’s best and most consistent tall defenders this year, limiting his opponents and taking a plethora of intercept marks himself. Despite being on a poor team, Taylor Walker’s form has risen in the past month. Without the shackles of full-time captaincy, ‘Tex’ has recaptured his old touch and is beginning to produce it consistently. Saturday will give both players a massive challenge.
Tip: Adelaide could once again come very close. They are starting to play better, but the Roos simply must get these points. North Melbourne by 22.
St Kilda v Sydney
Both sides come off strong wins last week and will be eyeing another four points. In a neutral setting, this match depends on who comes ready to play.
Are the Saints a contender?
For the first part of the season, the chatter about the Saints has revolved around their recruits and their ability to make the finals.
After beating the top side last weekend, the question may soon change to whether they can challenge for a flag.
They aren’t one of the league’s best sides yet – they haven’t proven themselves against the team’s powerhouses. But another win, albeit against a lowly-placed side, will continue to build the momentum they need to lodge a compelling case.
Can Papley be stopped?
If anyone was going to work out a way to stem Coleman Medal leader Tom Papley’s hot run of form, it would’ve been Alastair Clarkson. But his Hawks couldn’t stop the small forward from booting four majors. The Saints need to if they are to claim a win.
It’ll be intriguing to see which defender Brett Ratten uses on Papley. He chose excellently last week when putting Dougal Howard on Charlie Dixon – will a youngster like Nick Coffield get given the job, or will Jarryn Geary be thrown back to go with the crafty goalkicker?
Tip: The Swans are always a chance, but they are too unreliable with so many young players. Saints by 35.
West Coast v Geelong
After last week, the Cats may be nervous about this one. But they notched their own win at the WA ground on Monday, and should be confident about causing an upset.
So how good are the Eagles?
Sunday changed the complexion of the season. The Eagles well and truly announced themselves to the league with a complete performance.
They managed to smack Collingwood’s vaunted defence, with Josh Kennedy (7 goals) leading the charge. Can Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart and Harry Taylor stop them? They certainly have a solid system and strong defenders who could do the job, but only time will tell whether the Eagles had a day out or are actually the most potent side in the league.
Another midfield test
The Eagles passed one hurdle on Sunday when their complete on-ball group smacked Collingwood’s depleted midfielders.
The likes of Elliot Yeo, Tim Kelly, Luke Shuey, Nic Naitanui and Andrew Gaff hold strong claims of being the game’s best centre group, but they’ll need to beat another deep collective.
Despite Joel Selwood still out, Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan, Cameron Guthrie and Sam Menegola are all seasoned on-ballers who are capable of rising to the challenge. They’ll need to, or else West Coast could run away with the result once again.
Tip: The Eagles may not be as destructively good as they were last Sunday, but at home they should continue their streak. West Coast by 33.
Gold Coast v GWS
In another clash between the league’s two youngest clubs, the home side have a massive chance of disrupting GWS’ redemption run in 2020. They’ll need to be at their best, but it could be an interesting clash.
Older recruits must lead the way
For all of Gold Coast’s exciting young talent, they can’t be expected to carve up GWS by themselves. In crunch games against the league’s best teams, the older recruits that Stuart Dew has brought up north must perform and lead the way.
All eyes will be on Brandon Ellis and Hugh Greenwood, who have been terrific in the midfield. David Swallow and Touk Miller are faithful Suns who can also help lock-down the Giants’ strong midfield.
Sam Day must also become a strong target up forward if the Suns have any hope of negating Phil Davis and Nick Haynes.
Toby and his midfield can fire a shot
The main story about last week’s big win over the Tigers was Toby Greene’s exhilarating five goals. He proved to be the difference, and must now back up under pressure to stamp his mark on the competition.
Alongside Greene in looking to break out into stardom is Josh Kelly, who was brilliant last Friday night. If he can continue to develop consistency alongside Tim Taranto and Stephen Coniglio, he could fly into the top echelon of on-ballers in 2020.
Tip: The Suns are improved and able to scrap, but this should be too much. Giants by 25.
Fremantle v Collingwood
The Pies must bounce back after last week’s harrowing destruction. Fremantle have stuttered after some important wins – now is their chance to return to the winners’ list.
Can Grundy and co respond?
The West Coast game was a write-off. A poor day was met by an Eagles side playing a blinder, but it showed the black and white cracks.
The defence should return to their stingy best, as Fremantle don’t boast the multiple tall targets who cause the Pies so much grief. But the midfield will be boosted by the return of Steele Sidebottom. Expect Brayden Sier to be a potential inclusion to strengthen a midfield in need of some revitalisation.
The main onus is on Brodie Grundy – he was smacked by Naitanui last week; can he bounce back?
A telling game for the Dockers
Fremantle will measure themselves on this clash. With new coach Justin Longmuir being an assistant at the Pies last year, he has intimate knowledge that gives him a chance at snatching a confidence-boosting win.
With Michael Walters and Andrew Brayshaw in good form, they get a great opportunity to go against a seasoned midfield. Matt Taberner can test himself against Darcy Moore, while James Aish can show why Collingwood should regret shipping him on to Fremantle.
Tip: If Freo have a day out then anything could happen. Collingwood are experienced enough to bounce back, and they’ll need to play well. Pies by 23.
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