The latest crammed round saw two flag favourites play off in a wonderful match while other nailbiters tightened up the middle of the ladder.
Port Adelaide 13.15 (93) defeated Richmond 11.6 (72)
In what could be the game of the season, the Power ran home strong in the final quarter to launch their premiership credentials.
Depth players on both teams create a spectacle
It was a fast-flowing match, and it was aided by two seven sides willing to take the game on.
For the Power, Peter Ladhams announced himself as a second-tall forward option with two great goals and a strong marking performance. Zak Butters proved he was a vital cog to the Power’s cup chances, while the consistent rebounding from Karl Amon and Darcy Byrne-Jones destroyed the Tigers.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic. In a classic encounter, Shai Bolton was his side’s best, while Mabior Chol slotted two important third term goals. With Jake Aarts also kicking multiple majors up forward, Richmond have a diverse attacking six that came so close to snatching victory.
Verdict: The Power should be flag favourites. Richmond are up there, but need to keep developing.
Brisbane 14.12 (96) defeated Western Bulldogs 11.6 (72)
A third term demolition job got the Lions back onto the victory list, as a five-goal haul to Eric Hipwood slammed Brisbane well in-front.
Experienced core beats returning mids
Brisbane has had a consistent output from the likes of Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons throughout 2020. But to go further than their 2019 exploits, they require more from their spine.
The Bulldogs had a seasoned team in, but it couldn’t handle the electricity of Hipwood. It helped that Hugh McCluggage and Dayne Zorko found their best form, creating a dynamic running game that made the Dogs look one-paced. If Brisbane can continue this approach, they should find success in the back half of the season.
Verdict: The Bulldogs will be struggling for a top eight spot, but Brisbane are relying on a core group to go further in 2020.
West Coast 11.6 (72) defeated Carlton 7.8 (50)
For the majority of Sunday’s clash Carlton were beating the Eagles. But when it turned, West Coast had enough class to get over the line.
A great return overshadowed by consistent brilliance
Carlton were looking for a flash of dare across half-forward when Jack Martin went down injured.
Zac Fisher’s skill and speed around goal was the start of a great Carlton half. His four majors lit up the forward line and made the vaunted West Coast defence look slow.
But after half time Fisher was negated, and the Eagles took control. Dom Sheed was at his consistent best, kicking vital goals and controlling the middle alongside the reliable Tim Kelly and Elliot Yeo. In the end, West Coast are going to be a hard team to beat primarily due to their strength across the board.
Verdict: West Coast are doing what they have to do, even against adversity. There’s plenty to be optimistic about for Carlton supporters, but it’s still a work in progress.
Melbourne 13.14 (92) defeated North Melbourne 5.5 (35)
The first quarter went North Melbourne’s way, but nothing else fell for them. Melbourne warmed into it and flexed their muscles in the second half.
A strong midfield without stars impresses many
It may have been against a side destined for the bottom four, but the way Melbourne re-grouped after losing Max Gawn and Jack Viney to injury was important.
Luke Jackson and Tom McDonald did enough to pinch-hit in the ruck, and Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver went to another level in the middle. They couldn’t be beaten in clearance situations, and lifted Angus Brayshaw along with them. Up forward, the return of Kysaiah Pickett sparked an avalanche of second-half goals and Bayley Fritsch continued a solid month.
For the Roos, only Nick Larkey and Luke McDonald worked hard all game, and led a team who is only plummeting downwards.
Verdict: The Dees are in the hunt for finals if they keep winning, while North Melbourne are definitely in rebuild mode.
St Kilda 4.10 (34) defeated by Geelong 14.9 (93)
It was a highly billed match-up between two top-four sides, but in the end Geelong’s experience proved way too much for the flat Saints.
An experienced group lead the forwards over the line
St Kilda has a highly-fancied attacking group, and were expected to give Geelong’s miserly back-six hell. Instead, it was the other end who did the damage.
Tom Hawkins is in scintillating form, and is nearing All-Australian selection with another five goals. Alongside him was Gary Rohan, who slotted four and added a wealth of pressure on hurried St Kilda defenders.
In the middle, Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie continued their wonderful seasons to give pristine delivery to the forward line. With their experienced core not leading the way, it could be a different tale for Geelong in 2020.
Verdict: The Saints should still be fine, but won’t be a contender if they give performances like that more often. Geelong are flying under the radar and could be a quiet flag chance.
Fremantle 7.6 (48) defeated Hawthorn 4.8 (32)
In a low-scoring affair, Fremantle’s younger brigade worked harder when it mattered to steal victory over a slow Hawthorn side.
Great drafting is already working
It’s a different time to be a Docker.
Their identity is changing; a new coach and plenty of young draftees means Fremantle are working well midway through the season.
Against a Hawthorn team full of veterans, it was Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra, Luke Ryan and Caleb Serong who led the way. Brayshaw and Serong in particular are having breakout seasons, and look to be future prospects who could create a strong midfield for the Dockers.
Verdict: The Dockers have drafted superbly and have a blueprint for the future. Hawthorn need to follow this example.
Adelaide 5.8 (38) defeated by Collingwood 10.2 (62)
The Crows had a massive chance to gain a scalp, but they couldn’t keep up the high levels of intensity needed to knock off Collingwood.
Is an open forward line the way to go?
The Pies were in danger at the half time break. With only two goals in a half, they were struggling up forward.
Pies coach Nathan Buckley finally moved the magnets, and opened up the attacking space for Jaidyn Stephenson. The move paid dividends; Stephenson slotted two second-half goals to ignite the Magpies. Darcy Cameron found more room to take marks and exploit the inexperience of Fischer McAsey, while Trey Ruscoe continued his great start to AFL footy with two great goals.
The Pies still looked shaky, but their changed forward line looked much stronger. It’ll now be interesting to see how it works in the coming weeks.
Verdict: Adelaide could go through this season winless, while Collingwood need to find form to become a force in 2020.
Gold Coast 11.7 (73) drew with Essendon 11.7 (73)
A tight affair broke open in the last quarter, and in the end they couldn’t be separated.
Youth nearly wins the day
When David Zaharakis slammed through his second final quarter goal to put the Bombers in front, Gold Coast looked done. They had fought hard all night, but gave up the lead with only minutes left.
But Ben King stepped up to the plate, weaving through hapless Essendon defenders to slot a wonderful running goal. He then took a towering mark, but failed to convert the chance to reclaim the lead.
It wasn’t the last chance Gold Coast would get. Izak Rankine took a strong mark on the 50-metre arc, and shaped to have a last-minute shot. He only needed a point to snatch the lead, but his booming effort fell short, and Essendon escaped with two points. It was fairly deserving, but Gold Coast would be left ruing some late missed chances.
Verdict: Gold Coast will learn to win these in future. Essendon are stringing along, just doing what’s required to hang out the eight.
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Sydney v GWS
It’s a NSW derby like no other, played on the other side of the country. Both teams will be looking to ruin the other’s season.
A massive test for Longmire’s troops
The past few weeks have shown positive signs for John Longmire’s Swans.
But they’ll face a different test in the hardened GWS midfield, who have been performing well recently. If Sydney are to match it with the Giants, they need Luke Parker, James Rowbottom and Oliver Florent to all stand out. The likes of Sam Reid and Tom McCartin need to attract the attention of Nick Haynes and take his rebounding game out of the equation.
Without this even impact, Sydney will struggle to match it with the Giants out west.
Tip: GWS must win, and should do so. Giants by 35.
Geelong v Port Adelaide
It’ll be another tough test for the Power on the road to premiership favouritism.
Two experienced midfields
The key to this match will be a tantalising battle through the middle.
Port Adelaide rely on Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Tom Rockliff to win the contested ball and spread it to Zak Butters and Connor Rozee. Doing this won’t be easy when they come up against Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan, Patrick Dangerfield and Cam Guthrie. Chuck in Sam Menegola on the wing and it’ll be a tight match-up that’ll define the game. Both sides have in-form tall forwards and sturdy defences, so it’ll come down to who can get better looks inside forward 50.
Tip: Geelong are continuing on their merry way, but may face a roadblock up north. Port by 12.
North Melbourne v Brisbane
If the Roos are to recover, they need to be competitive against the red-hot Lions.
Can Eric become consistent?
It’s weird to be putting the heat on a young key forward after kicking five goals, but the pressure is on Eric Hipwood this week. The tall marking option is notoriously inconsistent, and needs to develop consistent output if he is to lead the Lions to a Grand Final.
Coming up against Robbie Tarrant, who has had an under-appreciated season, Hipwood has a golden chance to string two good games together and quieten the doubters.
Tip: Brisbane should come away with another convincing win. Lions by 33.
Melbourne v Collingwood
As well as the Friday night clash, this match should be the game of the round due to the importance it has on both of these clubs’ finals chances.
Two struggling forward lines
The key to winning this contest will be who can find the best dynamic up forward.
Melbourne have had their struggles, and have in recent weeks found a better combination with Sam Weideman and the young Luke Jackson filling the role as tall forwards. This will be a different test with Darcy Moore expected to return, and Brayden Maynard raring to stop any small forwards who threaten to dominate.
Up the other end, the question will be whether Jaidyn Stephenson is left deep forward. He has to if the Pies are to kick a winning score; him being one-out creates scoring chances for Brody Mihocek and Darcy Cameron, which’ll be necessary to beat the in-form Demons.
Tip: There’s a lot to like about the Demons, who come off a longer break. But Collingwood showed signs last match, and may just have what it takes. Pies by 17.
Fremantle v Carlton
The Blues must bounce back if they are to finish off the season well. To do so, they’ll need to beat a Freo side full of confidence.
Experience must stand up
Both sides boast superb young players who are growing into elite midfielders. The battle between Caleb Serong, Andrew Brayshaw, Patrick Cripps and Will Setterfield should be enticing, but the team who gets more help will win.
For the Blues, this comes in the form of Kade Simpson, Ed Curnow and Marc Murphy. If this trio can upstage David Mundy and Nat Fyfe, they should leave WA with four points.
Tip: This depends on how the Blues play. If they play like they did against the Eagles then they should be too good. I’ll go Carlton by 8, but I’m uncertain.
Western Bulldogs v Adelaide
The Crows will be forced up north again, and have one of their last chances to beat a team outside of the top eight.
Can inclusions gel?
It won’t be a cakewalk for the Dogs.
The improvement of younger Crows means they are starting to slowly find their feet. To win this, the Dogs need their hardened midfield to step up. It would be great to see their recent inclusions in Josh Dunkley and Aaron Naughton find form and begin to contribute to the team. If they are off, the Crows could surprise them.
Tip: Adelaide will be desperate, but it won’t be enough. Dogs by 25.
St Kilda v Essendon
After last round’s draw, the Bombers yearn for a win. But the Saints are coming off an embarrassing loss that they must address.
Players must rebound
For St Kilda, their improving list need to show last round was an aberration. The likes of Jack Billings, Jack Steele, Jarryn Geary and Hunter Clark should all bounce back with a vengeance, as they could prove too much for Dylan Shiel and Zach Merrett. Up forward, Dan Butler and Max King could be a handful for the Essendon defence, especially if Michael Hurley is still out of the side. They could get on top and decide the game early.
Tip: The Bombers are capable of matching the Saints, but I can’t see it happening for four quarters. St Kilda by 27.
West Coast v Hawthorn
The Hawks will need to repeat what they did in the last round of 2019 if they are to upset the Eagles, who are on a great run at home.
Good luck to Sicily and co
It’s a big test for Hawthorn’s defence. James Sicily has been in good form, but he’s going to need help from the likes of Ben McEvoy if the brown and gold are to stop Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen from scoring heavily.
The Eagles hold a potent forward line; if the ball does come to ground, Liam Ryan waits ready to capitalise. Another way of stopping their scoring is to stem the midfield supply, but that’s a whole new mammoth task for Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara and co.
Tip: It’ll take something special from the Hawks. West Coast by 43.
Richmond v Gold Coast
The Tigers must rebound, and should do so here.
A rugged system or a touch of flair?
It’s a match-up between two differing ways of playing the game. Richmond are so well-drilled and consistent; making it tough for Gold Coast to break through enough to claim victory.
Richmond’s opponents don’t rely on system; their X-factor is their point of difference. With Ben King and Izak Rankine brimming with potential, Richmond will be looking to clamp down on them and nullify any special moments in order to squash a win.
Tip: Gold Coast are exciting, but they’ll struggle to express themselves here. Tigers by 30.