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AFL 2020 Round 16 Review, Round 17 Preview: Top four settles, but top eight is up in the air

From the Crows’ revival to the Eagles’ fall from premiership favouritism, Round 16 taught us plenty about what lies ahead this season. With only two rounds left to determine a top eight, it looks like it’ll come down to the wire.


North Melbourne 6.6 (42) defeated by Port Adelaide 11.12 (78)

The Power do enough

It sure wasn’t pretty, but Port overcame their shaky recent form to post another win that could secure them the minor premiership. It all came courtesy of Brownlow Medal fancy Travis Boak, who racked up 34 touches and nine clearances alongside Ollie Wines (30 disposals and seven clearances) and Tom Rockliff (31).

North had no answer in the middle of the ground, with only Luke Davies-Uniacke (16 contested disposals) offering some defiance. Ben McKay also did well to keep Charlie Dixon to two goals, while Robbie Tarrant and Jed Anderson fought hard. The game ended on a sour note for the Power, who will lose star youngster Zak Butters for two matches after a high bump that left Jy Simpkin out of the game due to concussion.

Verdict: North have now only won one game since round four – a worrying trend. Port aren’t looking great, but they are still on track for top spot.

St Kilda 11.14 (80) defeated Hawthorn 9.12 (66)

Saints book a spot

They aren’t officially a lock for finals, but they are only inches away from it. St Kilda managed to win ugly without tall forwards Max King and Tim Membrey, as Rowan Marshall stepped up in attack with two majors. Bradley Hill has had a wonderful second half to the season, this time collecting 22 touches and seven score involvements, while fellow recruit Zak Jones (22 touches and a goal) was at his confident best.

The Saints did enough to fall over the line against the Hawks (Image by Dave Hunt/ AAP)

James Worpel was lost early due to a shoulder injury, but Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell (27 disposals and a goal) performed admirably in a midfield that was soundly beaten by the Saints. Hawthorn had no way of stopping Seb Ross and Hill, while Nick Coffield and Ben Long controlled everything across half-back in an inspiring display for Saints fans who can taste finals action around the corner.

Verdict: Much like Port, St Kilda are winning despite being out of form. Hawthorn need this horror season to end quickly.

Geelong 17.6 (108) defeated Essendon 5.12 (42)

A miserable day for the red and black

For all Essendon fans full of hope for an upset that could set up a finals charge, they would have been despondent at half time. An early burst never left the Bombers with a chance – a Sam Menegola exhibition left the red and black behind by 10 goals at the main break. Once again Tom Hawkins fired, booting four to head the Coleman Medal race, and Tom Stewart was terrific down back. Everything went right for the Cats – Jed Bews snuck forward for two majors, Patrick Dangerfield did his usual thing, and Grian Miers continued to threaten defences with a neat haul of three goals.

It was a dirty day for Essendon, made even worse when Irving Mosquito fell to an ACL injury. Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish did everything they could in the centre, while Sam Draper showed signs once again in the ruck, but it was all to no avail.

Verdict: The Cats are a big chance to go all the way this year. Essendon need to find their identity before returning next season without John Worsfold.

Western Bulldogs 6.13 (49) defeated West Coast 7.5 (47)

Shaking up the top eight

After claiming plenty of wins at home, people expected West Coast to return to the Gold Coast in better condition. Unfortunately, another loss has left them in trouble of falling away in 2020.

Many teams around the eight were left groaning when Marcus Bontempelli steered through a booming set shot goal from outside the 50 metre arc, as it gave the Dogs prime position to make the finals. The Eagles had no answer for Jack Macrae (29 disposals), Josh Dunkley (22) and Caleb Daniel (25) all night, as they all won plenty of the ball to frustrate their opponents.

It was only the underrated Jack Redden and Liam Duggan who gave West Coast a chance, but they couldn’t convert when it mattered.

Jeremy McGovern couldn’t help his Eagles hold on (WCE FC)

Verdict: The Dogs are capable of causing a stir come finals time, while West Coast are now in danger of slipping outside the top four.

Melbourne 4.9 (33) defeated by Fremantle 6.11 (47)

A dour win that could end a season

It’s been a frustrating year for the Dees. They started off dismally, only to rally and recapture their 2018 form. The resulting surge up the ladder was cruelly met by another drop-off. Now, they could be done for the season.

In their second loss in five days, Melbourne just couldn’t hit the scoreboard. They only kicked one major to half time, and finished with four. Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca tried their hearts out in the midfield, but none of their teammates followed suit. The return of Michael Walters was sealed with an influential three goal performance, as he led a bunch of veterans and youngsters on their way.

Freo should be excited by the depth they now have – names like Caleb Serong, Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw have been consistent performers all year, and could form the Freo spine for years to come.

Verdict: It’s a sour note for Melbourne to end like this. Fremantle can look ahead to 2021 and the improvement that’s just around the corner.

Adelaide 8.11 (59) defeated GWS 7.5 (47)

Are the Giants done?

It’s been a week of upheaval in terms of finals plans, but GWS shot themselves in the foot after being destroyed by the Crows in the middle. The experienced Giants’ midfield had no answer for Rory Laird (11 clearances), the Crouch brothers and Rory Sloane. Lachie Whitfield played a lone hand for GWS, while Tim Taranto also worked hard.

The Crows look to be a changed side. Elliott Himmelberg had a wonderful night as a tall forward/ ruck, and Shane McAdam lit up the Adelaide Oval while adding another big mark to his growing highlight reel. Reilly O’Brien also recovered from a poor start to 2020, beating his former teammate Sam Jacobs in the ruck.

Verdict: Adelaide, after a rough year, are coming out of it ok. GWS may not be as talented as everyone thought they were.

The Crows were back to their best after upsetting GWS (AFL)

Carlton 8.9 (57) defeated Sydney 8.4 (52)

A mega comeback

It looked to be the same old story for Carlton. Weeks of improvement was about to be ruined by a horrible half, where they were left trailing the Swans by seven goals. Luckily, late majors got them into the game, and a second half surge kicked them over the line.

The star was Matthew Cottrell – the larrakin took a great contested mark before slamming home the winning goal and celebrating wildly. Lewis Taylor had the chance to level the scores in the final minute after a contentious high free kick, but he missed the shot to condemn Sydney to a horror loss.

Sam Walsh was easily the best player on the ground, racking up 25 touches and gaining 584 metres. Tom McCartin continued his strong form as a defender against Harry McKay, while Patrick Cripps led his side back into the game with some strong contested ball work. The Blues may not make finals, but this win was big for morale.

Verdict: It’s (only just) not all doom and gloom for the Blues. Sydney have a bright future, but this’ll hurt.

Brisbane 13.10 (88) defeated Gold Coast 6.7 (43)

Lions outclass Suns

From the opening quarter, it was clear who was going to win this Q-Clash. Brisbane were in scintillating touch, and moved a step closer to a top two spot.

Lachie Neale was at his impressive best, while Cam Rayner slotted three goals (and missed out on a gettable fourth) and Dayne Zorko reminded all of what he is capable of. Eric Hipwood and Charlie Cameron both dominated up forward, and Daniel Rich marshalled a defence lacking Harris Andrews.

The Suns had no way of answering – Brandon Ellis and Noah Anderson both fought hard in the middle, but they came up against a force too strong.

Verdict: Brisbane can build upon this strong platform, while Gold Coast should hold their head high after an impressive season.


Thursday 7.10PM

The Gabba

St Kilda v West Coast

An interesting test

This game comes at an interesting time.

Both sides are out of form and need a win in Queensland before finals time. What I’m looking at is the forward lines of both teams. Will Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling step up to held Liam Ryan out, or will it be the return of Max King and Tim Membrey that sparks the Saints?

In a finals series that’ll be determined by reliable players in tough moments, it’s critical for either side to find firm ground up forward. Without a tall forward firing, it’s going to be hard to go far in season 2020.

Tip: It’s been an ugly fortnight up north, but the Eagles should finally break their Queensland hoodoo, just. Eagles by 8.

Friday 7.50PM

Metricon Stadium

Geelong v Richmond

Who’s the best team?

It could well be a Grand Final preview. The two in-form teams of the competition square off on Friday night footy. It’s an exciting clash us Victorians need. Richmond are coasting along, having rediscovered their system and picking up some new youngsters along the way. But Geelong are mature and strong all over the park.

Here’s some key battles to think about – can Shai Bolton and Dustin Martin trouble Sam Menegola, Mitch Duncan and Patrick Dangerfield? Will Tom Hawkins be matched athletically by Noah Balta? Is Mark Blicavs going to return to the back 50 to nullify Tom Lynch?

Tip: Who knows. Both sides are in great condition and should produce a cracker. I’m going to go Geelong due to their wonderful form of late, but I’m ready to be wrong. Cats by 10.

Can the Cats upstage the reigning premiers? (GFC)

Saturday 2.10PM

Metricon Stadium

North Melbourne v Fremantle

Can the Roos make a late stand?

North Melbourne need to end this run of disappointment. The only way to get their tail out from between their legs is to win. Fremantle have been superb in the second half of 2020, having found a nucleus of young players who could carry the club forward in years to come. It’s going to be hard for North Melbourne to stop the list of names – Mundy, Fyfe, Walters, Serong, Cerra, Brayshaw.

The main comparison I’m looking at is that of the two young forwards on either side. Matt Taberner has been great all year, and will face a challenge when lining up on Robbie Tarrant. Up the other end, Nick Larkey has done very well since coming back into the fold, and will need to star once again if he is to carry the Roos over the line without Ben Brown or Majak Daw. Also, it’s a great test for young Sean Darcy when he comes up against Todd Goldstein.

Tip: North deserve to break through, but I’m hesitant to go for them. Freo by 22.

Saturday 5.05PM

Adelaide Oval

Port Adelaide v Essendon

One last chance

It’s been a bad week for the Dons, but it could all be fixed by an upset. With Conor McKenna announcing his retirement, Essendon need to send him off in grand style. Can a win against the ladder leaders do so?

It’s going to be tough to break through. At the Adelaide Oval, expect Charlie Dixon to fire up. The likes of Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett will have to play blinders if they are to trump Boak, Rockliff and Wines. Even without Butters, Port have enough weaponry in their arsenal to win this one, unless big Joe Daniher returns to the side and changes the momentum once again.

Having already lost Irving Mosquito to injury, the Bombers have a tough task ahead (AFL)

Tip: Essendon are a team likely to surprise us when we least expect them to, but I can’t see it happening here. Port by 15.

Saturday 7.40PM

The Gabba

GWS v Melbourne

One spot on the line

This is it – one of these teams will be sent packing after Saturday night. The loser can count themselves out of finals contention, the winner gets to play for it again next week.

You can’t expect Stephen Coniglio, Toby Greene, Nick Haynes and Lachie Whitfield to all let their side slip off the radar, but they have struggled to control their team all season. Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver will always work hard for the Dees, and they should have the right match-ups for GWS’ many tall forwards.

Tip: I can easily see the Giants snatching this one, but something about Melbourne tells me they can reverse their form to end GWS’ season. Dees by 7.

Sunday 1.05PM

Metricon Stadium

Carlton v Adelaide

Upset 3.0?

The Crows will have to travel for this one, but their new-found bond could be enough to ruin Carlton’s day. The Blues can’t gift Adelaide a seven-goal start like they did to the Swans. Cripps, Ed Curnow and Walsh all need to be on from the first bounce, while Levi Casboult and Harry McKay need to crash packs and create havoc up forward. Expect Jacob Weitering to hold down the back end, unless McAdam or Tyson Stengle get busy at ground level, in which case Sam Docherty must clamp down on them.

It won’t be easy for Carlton, but if they can prove solid enough in the middle to stop Laird and the Crouch brothers then they can walk away with a win.

The Blues will be looking to back up their thrilling win against the Crows (Getty)

Tip: Adelaide’s run of form has been impressive, but it should end here. Blues by 20.

Sunday 3.35PM

Adelaide Oval

Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs

A massive chance for the Dogs

They have to win this. Hawthorn are capable of causing upsets, but this should be too much of an ask for the out-of-form side.

The only eyes I have on Hawthorn are to look at the growth of Will Day, Mitch Lewis and Tom Mitchell. If the two youngsters can continually get involved, and if Mitchell can find his feet and confidence yet again, then it’s a tick for the Hawks.

On the other end, expect the Dogs to play their high-possession game and utilise every midfielder. Expect Josh Dunkley to play once again as a midfielder/ruckman. What impact can he have? Will the Dogs half-back line continue to flourish?

Tip: Hawthorn are good at crashing parties, but I can only see the Dogs getting up here. Bulldogs by 26.

Sunday 6.10PM

Cazaly’s Stadium

Sydney v Brisbane

Spoiling the hometown team?

Brisbane are winning, but they aren’t in great form. Their game plan revolves around amassing many shots at goal, regardless of the inaccuracy – will Charlie Cameron and Eric Hipwood finally step up?

Sydney will have a tough task stopping the midfield of the Lions – can Oliver Florent, Luke Parker and Josh Kennedy match it with Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko and Jarryd Lyons? Also, who will go with Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage?

Can the Lions become a finals threat? (Image by Bradley Kanaris/ Getty Images)

Tip: The Swans have a nice side, but Brisbane will grab this one. Lions by 15.

Monday 7.10PM

The Gabba

Collingwood v Gold Coast

A must-win

The Pies will be thanking their lucky stars after losses to Melbourne and GWS helped their finals hopes. What’s intriguing in this game is the line-ups.

Will we see Jordan De Goey or Adam Treloar back? How far away are Jeremy Howe and Tom Langdon? Their fortunes depend on who they can get back into the fold before finals, so it will be interesting to watch. Come game time, the Pies need to find a match for Jack Lukosius. All eyes lead to Brody Mihocek as the likely option to lock him down, while Collingwood need to ensure they get Jaidyn Stephenson confident and in-form. There will be some great battles between Darcy Moore and Ben King – this could be one of the first.

Tip: Gold Coast, off a rest, could threaten the Pies, but I’m expecting them to be strong enough when it matters. Collingwood by 21.

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