Has there been anything better this year than the weekend in Darwin? Footy needed a shot of adrenaline, and it got one when hordes of excited NT residents flocked to the two contests. Without this passion, teams will have to fight hard to push for a finals position.
Gold Coast 4.3 (27) defeated by Carlton 7.18 (60)
A top-notch performance for the dreaming Blues
Halfway through this shortened season Carlton had barely a hope of breaking the top eight. Now, they sit on the precipice of a finals spot, and can head into the final weeks with plenty of confidence after crushing the Suns.
Carlton should’ve won by more; poor kicking let them down, but did little to wipe the shine off another impressive night. Patrick Cripps has received immense help in the middle throughout the 2020 season, and once again could play with more freedom as Marc Murphy (28 disposals) and Jack Martin (21) dictated proceedings in the centre. Harry McKay threatened to hurt the Suns all night, yet squandered his six scoring shots for two goals four. Eddie Betts found some spark in front of an adoring crowd, and Zac Fisher combined with Michael Gibbons to wreak havoc across half-forward. Despite Jack Lukosius’ best efforts, the Blues couldn’t be stopped, leaving a mark on the competition for the upcoming month of games.
Verdict: Short breaks between games finally flattened the valiant Suns. Carlton have definitely improved – how far can they go in 2020?
Western Bulldogs 12.8 (80) defeated Melbourne 7.10 (52)
Brutal efficiency ends Melbourne’s run
The Demons had pushed their way into the top eight after a stunning return to run-and-gun football. But it all came crashing down on Saturday, as the Bulldogs broke through and sent the Dees falling back to old habits.
Mitch Wallis was the star, cutting a swathe through Melbourne’s firm defence to slot four majors. The Bulldogs half-back line was an underrated key to their 2016 flag – now, Hayden Crozier, Bailey Williams and Caleb Daniel are stepping up at the right time. Marcus Bontempelli has stumbled upon some stunning form in the middle, while Lachie Hunter’s low-key return has reaped rich rewards.
Verdict: The Dogs now replace Melbourne as a finals fancy, while all eyes will be on the red and the blue to see how they respond.
Port Adelaide 9.14 (68) defeated Hawthorn 9.4 (58)
Midfielders seal the deal
A year ago Port Adelaide would’ve lost this match. When Shaun Burgoyne strolled past the 50 to slot through a running goal we’ve seen many times before, the lead was trimmed to four points.
For all of the Power’s attacking potency, it was the midfield who lugged Port over the line in the final minutes. Travis Boak was everywhere, and did his undervalued Brownlow Medal chances no harm with another three vote, 33 disposal outing. Tom Rockliff enjoyed his milestone 200th game, racking up 28 touches and bringing some bash to the contest alongside Sam Powell-Pepper (21). But Zak Butters stole the show with a brilliant stoppage goal in the last minutes. Bursting through the scrum and grabbing a beautiful tap by Scott Lycett, Butters waltzed on through and slammed home the winning goal. It may not have been a clean night, but Port Adelaide can be rapt at how their youth is developing in clutch moments.
Verdict: The Power continue to do what they need to. Hawthorn are still dangerous, and aren’t as dismal as most assume them to be.
Essendon 10.1 (61) defeated by Richmond 10.13 (73)
A Dreamtime like no other
Before Saturday night’s clash we were all adjusting to the new surrounds for one of the AFL’s landmark contests. When it finished, the question was why isn’t this game held up north every year.
There was plenty of excitement on display; Irving Mosquito’s two electric goals on debut thrilled the crowd, while fan favourite Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti did his part for the viewers. The Bombers kicked accurately, and only stayed in the contest because of it. Richmond should’ve won by more, and only claimed the four points because of some lucky umpiring calls in important times. When it mattered, Shai Bolton lit up the centre, continuing his excellent season in the middle. Dustin Martin did his usual, while Kamdyn McIntosh took on the game off half-back.
Verdict: Essendon are crying out for Daniher’s return. Richmond played better than the scoreboard suggested, and face a crunch clash.
Fremantle 7.8 (50) defeated Sydney 2.7 (19)
Class rises to the fore
The majority of this contest was defensive and dour. Both teams possessed great young talent, but only one side’s youth could break free.
Sydney had no way to score, as you’d expect when Lance Franklin, Sam Reid and Isaac Heeney all sit on the sidelines. But James Rowbottom tried his heart out, and won plenty of ball in the middle. On the flipside, Luke Ryan and Andrew Brayshaw ran hard and used the ball well. They were ably supported by David Mundy and Nat Fyfe in the centre, who ensured Matt Taberner got good looks at the goals all night.
Verdict: Fremantle deserve more credit for their development in 2020. Sydney will have nights like this when they have so many out.
Adelaide 5.7 (37) defeated by Geelong 9.11 (65)
Cats clean enough to fend off a scare
It was a brilliant sunny Adelaide afternoon. The Crows got a lift from the conditions and the home fans, pushing Geelong all the way before falling in the final five minutes.
Matt Crouch had a lot more efficient game, trading cheap handballs in for hard tackles and smart kicks. Taylor Walker was enterprising up forward in his 200th game, while young Harry Schoenberg provided a strong body at stoppages. Without Joel Selwood, the Cats needed a lift in the last term. Jack Steven responded with his best game in the blue and white hoops, and Cam Guthrie continued his strong season, continually bounding through packs. Tom Hawkins managed to break free and slot three majors, proving he is a consistent force up forward.
Verdict: Adelaide are fighting to no avail, while Geelong have the class of a top four team.
Brisbane 6.14 (50) defeated St Kilda 7.6 (48)
Inaccuracy nearly costs the Lions dearly
Somehow, Brisbane continue to fall over the line. If it wasn’t for Jarrod Berry’s intensity around the ball and Harris Andrews’ composure down back, they may not have got the four points.
It was the first time Lachie Neale was genuinely quelled, and the midfield battle went the way of the Saints. Jack Steele had a day out, and was ably assisted by Zak Jones (23 touches). But it wasn’t to be, as the large amounts of shots on goal proved enough.
Verdict: Brisbane are getting wins when it matters, but aren’t playing inspiring footy. St Kilda need to clinch wins like these if they are to trouble teams come finals fixtures.
West Coast 9.7 (61) defeated GWS 7.7 (49)
Giants can’t break the wall of Gov
For stages in the last quarter, GWS threatened to overrun the Eagles. If it wasn’t for Jeremy McGovern, they couldn’t have stolen victory. McGovern was amazing in defence, plucking eight intercept marks. He was able to float through packs thanks to the defensive efforts from Brad Sheppard (who is surely close to All-Australian selection) and Tom Barrass on Toby Greene and Jeremy Cameron. In the middle, Nic Naitanui smacked Shane Mumford, and Andrew Gaff benefited from it.
The only positives for GWS were their strong finish and the impressive games of Josh Kelly and Jake Riccardi. The latter slotted two goals against a great defence, and held a swagger all night in his debut game. Kelly was prolific in the guts, and matched Gaff all night.
Verdict: The Eagles have a great chance to snatch a top two spot. GWS need consistency to claim some scalps.
Collingwood 10.5 (65) defeated St Kilda 5.5 (35)
Reliable soldiers get the job done
It wasn’t pretty, but Collingwood could breathe a big sigh of relief after nearly falling to the Roos. North Melbourne didn’t lack any heart; there’s plenty of talent at Arden Street that needs time to develop. Jed Anderson worked hard in the middle, and Luke McDonald racked up plenty of touches once again.
In the second half, Scott Pendlebury finally clicked into gear, and was able to control the midfield alongside Josh Daicos and Taylor Adams. Mason Cox overcame a shocking first half to play a hand in some second half goals, while Steele Sidebottom farewelled his Pies teammates with a classy performance.
Verdict: Collingwood are slowly starting to find touch, but need to open up their forward line. North Melbourne have had a horror year, but can’t be mistaken for a lack of effort.
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Hawthorn v Essendon
The battle of tall inclusions
After both sides went down in tight finishes last Saturday, they have opted to bring in ruckmen and key forwards. Looking to exploit the ruck after Sam Draper and Tom Bellchambers were managed, Hawthorn have chosen to welcome in Jonathon Ceglar while Jack Gunston should straighten up the forward line structure.
But the big story lies with Essendon. Andrew Phillips will get another crack in the ruck, and Cale Hooker has finally overcome injury to provide help up both ends of the ground. Joe Daniher is the prize in – can he revamp a struggling forward line and kick Essendon’s season back into gear?
Tip: Like the majority of this round, this is tight. Hawthorn will benefit from staying in Adelaide all week, and have a stronger team. Essendon have a lot more structure now and can win this, but how much does last week’s NT game impact on them? I’m going to go the Hawks, by 10.
Richmond v West Coast
A potential Grand Final match-up?
It’s the game we’ve been waiting for. When they were scheduled to play early in the season, it had the potential to knock one of them out of finals contention. Now, both have benefited from the reprieve and gone on to solidify a spot in the eight.
Richmond are finding form at the right time once again, and can bolster their chances by welcoming back Toby Nankervis to help quell Naitanui Mark Hutchings will return to the Eagles line-up, while both sides will blood debutants in a highly-anticipated clash.
Tip: Once again, I’m happy to get one wrong here. It’s pretty tough. Richmond have the benefit of not travelling, but West Coast should attack the hub better second time around. Eagles by 15.
Western Bulldogs v Geelong
A statement game
Geelong have had a big few weeks. Coming off some scintillating wins against St Kilda and Port Adelaide, they did enough to struggle past the Crows. Tom Hawkins is the talk of the town, and plenty of improving Cats are leading the way. Now, they face a different test.
The Dogs have found good touch at the right time. After smacking the Dees last week, here’s their chance to snatch a top eight spot. A win here against the top four bound Cats would give them a massive boost, and validate the strong recent form of Bontempelli and Aaron Naughton.
Tip: This all depends on which team is more switched on. The Dogs have more to play for, but the Cats’ system is hard to pick apart. Geelong by 11.
Port Adelaide v Sydney
Power need to avoid danger
It hasn’t been a convincing past few weeks for the ladder-leading Port. Their effort against Geelong was despicable, and their 10-point triumph over the Hawks didn’t exactly inspire fans across the country. Sydney are capable of causing an upset, as they did against GWS just a fortnight ago.
Port can’t take this lightly. Tom Papley has had a quiet few games and should be raring to break his drought. Port Adelaide need Charlie Dixon to have a large outing and inspire some out-of-form forwards to help young stars get over the line.
Tip: Lucky it’s at Adelaide Oval. Sydney should be spirited, but unable to beat the Power. Port by 23.
Fremantle v GWS
Are the Giants worthy?
This is the crunch test for GWS. If they want to seriously make the finals and resurrect a disastrous 2020 campaign, they must beat the Dockers. A loss here would almost cancel them out of finals calculations.
Their second half against the Eagles showed some confidence and an improvement. But they now face an entirely different style of play – can they grind it out with the Dockers? A tantalising match-up will be held in the centre, as Josh Kelly’s strong form could collide with the rising performances from Andrew Brayshaw.
Tip: The Dockers are a massive chance. I could easily see them winning this, but surely the Giants are good enough to grab this one. GWS by 27.
TIO Traeger Park
Melbourne v St Kilda
Are the Dees a finals side? Are the Saints a top four outfit?
This game has come at the right time. It’s waited until the end of the season when Melbourne have strung wins together and St Kilda have snagged a top eight position. Now, we will get some questions answered about both teams.
Melbourne must make a statement after last week’s loss. If they don’t, their season could be over very shortly. Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver must have enterprising games in the middle to open up the forward line with direct entries. St Kilda are a great side, and can look to Dan Butler and Seb Ross to hold firm in their respective spots, regardless of the score.
Tip: Melbourne will come out firing, but I’m expecting St Kilda to strengthen their hold over the game and run away with it. Saints by 18.
Carlton v Collingwood
The old rivalry sparks back up
It’s been years since Carlton and Collingwood have fought a battle with any substance. Even when the Pies shot back up the ladder, the Blues sat languishing, and turned all matches between the two into a bland affair. Now, Carlton are up in finals contention while the Pies wobble their way into seventh.
Cripps and co have a golden opportunity. Collingwood’s midfield has been shaky at best, and relies heavily on Taylor Adams and Pendlebury to do the majority of the work. If they get no help, Carlton could run all over them and snatch this.
Tip: Carlton have a massive chance, and I’m 50/50. The Blues are in better form, have a great side in and need to strike. But the Pies have experience and pride. Collingwood by 6.
Gold Coast v North Melbourne
Will it be excitement or mistake-ridden?
This match has the potential to finish off a tight round wonderfully. Gold Coast like to attack and back in their dynamic young talent. Jack Lukosius will be raring to intercept down back, and Izak Rankine could sparkle up forward.
But the Roos have their own talent pool – Bailey Scott is kicking goals and Jy Simpkin is still having a wonderful year. If both sides can shake off some poor recent form and hit their targets, we could be in for an entertaining clash.
Tip: North have been fighting harder in recent weeks, and should win this if it turns into a dour slog. But I’m backing in the Suns to make this exciting, only just. Gold Coast by 8.
Byes: Adelaide, Brisbane
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