Round 22 Selection & Preview
I was never much for amusement parks as a kid, but this season of AFL has been more of a rollercoaster than even the most adventurous of children could handle. Travis Auld and his superiors at AFL house will be breathing a sigh of relief that we are finally through with the diabolical Carlton and St Kilda monopoly of Friday night football, and the first game this round has plenty on the line.
RICHMOND V ESSENDON
While the Tigers have a top 2 spot secured, and clear MCG path through to the big dance, it must be slightly worrying to Dimma and his panel that a charmed season and a half run without injuries appears to be coming to an abrupt halt. Inspirational skipper Cotchin, underrated Lambert, consistent Prestia lead the list of outs, while Astbury and Butler’s absence will be sorely felt at both ends of the ground.
The Bombers, somewhat fancifully spoken of as premiership contenders pre-season have found their level around mid-table, and while they are capable of some impressive footy at times, the glaring weakness of no natural ball winners will continue to conspire against them. Funnily enough Richmond missing almost their entire engine room may be against the best possible opponent as there is no one donning the sash capable of exploiting the Tigers.
Conca returns some 6 weeks after an horrific ankle dislocation, and Lloyd, Baker and Garthwaite get their chance to press for a permanent spot in the tigerish juggernaut. The Bombers somewhat surprisingly name Saad, Goddard and Hooker who all must be less than 100% after varying injuries last week and do lose the dangerous Fantasia.
Last roll of the dice for the Bombers, however their poor record at the venue, coupled with a disciplined Richmond outfit who may actually benefit from pushing young tyros Graham and Higgins into the centre square, will be too much to overcome on the big stage despite the high stakes.
COLLINGWOOD V PORT ADELAIDE
While I’ve been less than complimentary of the Friday night fixturing throughout the season, credit where its due - Saturday afternoons at the ‘G have been a masterstroke, and this week Collingwood square off against the luckless Port.
A rare week without a forced change sees the Victorian Magpies favoured over the South Australian Magpies still smarting from back to back matches where they skilfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The loss of Dixon leaves a massive hole forward of centre while doubts over Polec, Ryder and Houston indicate the desperation stakes Kenny Hinkley is applying to this game.
The Pies have played some irresistible footy at home this season, and their pace and goal kicking spread will prove too much for an incredibly disappointing Power side who on paper for all intents and purposes should be competing with the Tigers at the pointy end. Robbie Gray aside, too many of their stars are flaky when the blowtorch is applied, and I’m not convinced the coach has the game plan to take them to September glory. One golden run in 2014 took the competition by surprise, but talent alone doesn’t win flags.
GEELONG V FREMANTLE
The Cats, on the back of successive close run losses, tumbled out of the eight. I wonder how many times Chris Scott predicted that in his 500 attempts at the ladder predictor? The stars are firing, but the support cast are being exploited. Much like Collingwood post-2011 though, statistics don’t tell the true story. While greats of the game, in Danger and Ablett rack up monster possession tallies, they rarely hurt the opposition, and certainly don’t defend well. The great Geelong teams from ten years ago were choc-full of stars, but also possessed a more than able-bodied support staff. This is not the case in the 2018 model, and the coach seems to think stacking his side with a handful of superstars will paper over the significant cracks.
That being said, they are back at their fortress this week against a disappointing Freo side, and whilst the inclusion of the brilliant Fyfe will provide a boost, as no doubt will the remarkable recovery from a season ending hamstring by Michael Walters, not even the cunning of The Boss can prevent what looks like a comfortable Cats win.
GWS v SYDNEY
The Saturday twilight slot is also making a claim to be must watch television, and the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ is no exception.
Dead and buried a fortnight ago after a flabbergasting loss to the Suns, Sydney have staged an Houdini like recovery, and claimed the scalps of highly rated Collingwood and Melbourne in the last fortnight. Kennedy in the guts, along with the impressive Allir and Heeney down back (and forward, and in the middle), as well as the welcome return to form of Hannebery, have propelled the Swannies almost back into contention.
Their little brothers will be in no mood to accommodate such talk, but the loss of Shaw and Kelly temporarily overshadow their impressive recent form. Such are the riches of the Campbelltown franchise however, that these two studs will be replaced by top ten draft picks. I’m not entirely sure there is anyone on the Giants roster who wasn’t a top ten pick actually. Sydney will try to crowd the stoppages allowing their harder bodies to gain enough possession to feed Franklin, but the pace and youthful exuberance of the team that never says die will salute in a close fought contest.
GOLD COAST V BRISBANE
With slightly less fanfare, the Q-Clash lights up Carrara, and the friendless Gold Coast will be hoping for mercy at the hand of their state rivals.
Pearce and Kolodjashnij are big outs for a team that can’t afford anything to go wrong, while this is an opportunity for Chris Fagan to back up his words that Brisbane are far better than their four-win season indicates. The Lions are starting to put meat on the bones of an impressive looking list, and it is matches like this they can’t afford to drop if they are to build the ruthlessness so apparent in their teams of the early 2000’s.
Nice to see Michael Barlow get another chance, as there are far worse players getting regular AFL time than him, but even at his best he’ll be powerless to stop the running game of Beams, Zorko, Rayner and McCluggage. Hipwood, McStay and Andrews would be a drool-worthy spine if they played for a Melbourne club, while the backline is well serviced by Alex Witherden who should be favourite for the Rising Star, but is possibly overlooked due to the relative anonymity of the former Bears in recent times.
ST KILDA V HAWTHORN
The Hawks host the Saints, having conquered their two fiercest rivals in the last two rounds. Alan Richardson and the master of spin, Simon Lethlean must be hoping for this wretched season to end. The desperately unlucky Nathan Freeman bizarrely bears the brunt of the pitiful performance last week, while Nathan Brown must be bemused his AFL career might have ended after a mistimed football action, especially when Michael Christian, surely with only a tenuous grip of his job again tacitly approved of the punch returning to the field, less than a week after the ugly Gaff incident. Selwood.S, Hooker and Cunnington can count themselves as blessed beneficiaries of this inexplicable backflip by the AFL.
The Saints’ game style is a mess, and their lack of skills and size must be a source of frustration to dyed in the wool fans who were promised more.
The Hawks, meanwhile seem to have caught fire. Consecutive Rising Star nominations to late draft picks, along with another BOG showing from the ‘worst trade of all time’ O’Meara would warm the heart of Graham Wright. It may all come crashing down once the finals roll around, but for now Clarkson looks the genius he is, complementing the A-Grade class of Mitchell, Gunston and Breust (who requires just 12 tackles to achieve the Mongrel Punt favourite ever stat of the fabled 50 goal / 100 tackle season), with some seriously talented youngsters, the likes of Hardwick, Burton and Worpel, while elder statesmen Burgoyne, Stratton, Puopolo and Frawley enjoy a renaissance. The possible inclusion of Sicily, Roughead and possibly McEvoy next week could propel the team from Dingley into the top 4.
CARLTON V WESTERN BULLDOGS
Carlton face the Bulldogs fresh from an upset over the Roos and are zero chance of registering the win, and the first draft pick all sewn up, they should perhaps forfeit the game and concentrate on negotiations with other clubs to try to add any semblance of quality to a list that Cripps and Curnow.C, and maybe Dow and McKay aside, has very little to look forward to. The 2016 premiers (still seems odd writing that) warmly welcome back their skipper Easton Wood, and with their big guns, Bontempelli, Macrae and Hunter firing will win in a canter.
WEST COAST V MELBOURNE
This should have been game of the round, but has been relegated through untimely injuries and both clubs’ seeming unwillingness to grasp opportunities when presented.
I’ve backed the Dees all season, and you know what? I’m going to go down in flames with them. The return of Hibberd and Melksham adds some steel to a young midfield group, while Weidemann gets his chance in the absence of Hogan on the back of superb VFL form. It seems a simple concept, but it’s more uncommon than common nowadays for players to be picked when on the up.
West Coast were brave last week, but in reality only just scraped through against a misfiring Port due to poor structures and a healthy dose of luck. The continued absence of Kennedy is a millstone the Eagles have never been able to overcome, and while that top 2 carrot is dangling precariously in front of them, I think the away side will band together and cause a boil over.
Melbourne have all the tools to compete with any of the top sides, but just haven’t put it together. I do think there is an element lacking on Goodwin’s coaching where he is slow to react to opposition tactics, but he has the cattle at his disposal, time to unleash a ferocious and committed group to outrun and out bustle a finals opponent and return some faith to their long suffering fans.
ADELAIDE V NORTH MELBOURNE
The final match of the round is another important game in regards to the make-up of the final 8. After squandering a five-goal lead and fading to the Dogs last week, North reverted to pre-season predictions and suddenly the likes of McDonald and Atley were exposed as imposters in a good team. Further interest surrounds the race to the Coleman courtesy of Jack’s third career ten-goal haul last week tying him up with Ben Brown. The big roo would be a deserving winner, but must go out and take the title in the next two weeks, whilst simultaneously propelling his side into an unlikely finals match up.
The Crows have finally succumbed to a season from hell, and the suspension of their captain was the final straw. They are a proud team, however, and with talent on every line and a parochial crowd in attendance, are more than capable of getting the four points. The Kangas however will be stung into action and will close out the round with their September dream intact.
You can stalk Trent on Twitter, give the Mongrel Punt a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter, or support us by visiting The Mongrel Shop… I know it’s expensive – it’s redbubble, but we’ll be getting some custom stubby holders and bumper stickers in the next few weeks, and they’re a lot cheaper. I expect you all to buy at least… nine. Each! Not collectively.