Rd 23 Selection & Preview
The final round of AFL season 2018 kicks off with a match that won't feature any finalists. I've been a critic of the Friday night fixturing, but will refrain from giving them another whack on this occasion as a month ago when the floating draw was finalised both of these two clubs looked likely to appear prominently in September. That they won't is probably indicative of serious flaws in their respective lists.
PORT ADELAIDE V ESSENDON
The Power bring back Powell-Pepper who has suffered a serious case of the second-year blues, but is certainly a big part of their future, while young Frampton makes his debut as I bemoan the retirement of the seminal Dennis Commetti, who would surely have pulled out a stunning reference to the 1970's rock behemoth, Peter. It will be great to see Frampton Live, one more time.
The Bombers pull the trigger on Matt Dea's season, and probably his career, while Bellchambers will wake up in hospital on Saturday morning, post-surgery rather than the Woolshed with the rest of his teammates commencing the end of season blowout. The Bombers have been far better in the second half of the year, while Port have wasted another promising year, and potentially a golden age of stars. It wouldn't be a stretch to see the home side come out with the pressure off and blow away the Bombers, but I'll stick with the form and select the away side despite their lack of inside ball winners, betting that the run and drive from the back half, led by a resurgent Hurley will give their forwards enough of the ball to kick a winning score.
GEELONG V GOLD COAST
The Gold Coast Suns could hardly have scripted this season finale any worse; a trip to the country to face a Geelong side who have rekindled their hunger to prey on the weak. A positive performance last week against their home state rivals notwithstanding, 2018 has been a nightmare first stanza for the highly credentialed Stewie Dew. An unchanged line up is either a show of faith, or the coaching staff have given up. Either way, with only Witts, Miller, Harbrow and Swallow as senior players who can hold their heads high, and a spattering of young talent desperate for guidance, the young Suns may have their lights put out once and for all.
Geelong have recalled Bews after a horrible shoulder injury, and will be first and foremost chasing the 4 points they need to qualify for September action, and secondly, doing everything in their power to secure a Coleman medal for T-Hawk. Cats by 1,000.
RICHMOND V WESTERN BULLDOGS
The reigning champions host the previous season's premiers in what would have shaped as a mouth-watering clash back in October when the fixture was released, but another horror season at the kennel will finally see the Dogs put down at the hands of a rampant Richmond. The net positive of the Tigers ins this week - Astbury, Cotchin and Prestia is literally off the scales compared to those they've replaced, and with a week off before a potential megabuster against the Pies or Hawks they'll be keen to have a strong hit out.
The Dogs have regained some form in the past month, and with a clear run from injury could go into the long break with renewed optimism for 2019, but this game is a bridge too far. The Tigers to flex their impressive muscle and with the world’s most dangerous haircut starting to resemble his superhuman 2017 form, beware the yellow and black.
FREMANTLE V COLLINGWOOD
Fremantle host Collingwood, most likely giving the Pies a preview of their first final venue and an opportunity to refine some tactics. Ross Lyon is often at his cagiest with his back to the wall, but there is just not enough at stake for the team to get up here. It's been a season littered with terrible losses, but they've won eight matches, have blooded some really gifted kids and possess the best player in the game, I've no doubt they'll be on the rise in 2019.
As for the Magpies, I've heard them dismissed numerous times as having an easy draw, and not beating anyone of note - I don't subscribe to that at all. The draw is what it is and can't be used as an excuse either way, however the manner in which they play for each other, possess speed and tenacity at both ends, and clearly follow a disciplined game plan sets them up for a deep run in the finals. An unlikely forward six have taken great strides this year, while a no frills backline hold firm in the face of adversity despite a raft of big name injuries. Grundy has combined with Big Max to return followers to the glory years, and experienced duo Pendles and Sidebottom will be knocking on the door of the AA team. Eddie's mob won't drop this one.
CARLTON V ADELAIDE
The Crows fly over to Etihad to take on the wooden spooners, after not having not been awarded the underrated kitchen utensil for the first 105 years of their existence, it would chill to the core the swarmy stalwarts from their all-conquering 70's and 80's teams that they've posted five “wins” in this dubious category in the ensuing 16 seasons. The promising Paddy Dow ends his rookie season on the injury list, while a small glimmer could be found with twin towers Curnow and McKay up forward. The only other interest could be a Brownlow run by Cripps who could follow in Gary Jnr's footsteps as a Chas medalist in the worst team.
The Crows have given her majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second a run for the most heinous annus horribilis since 1992, and will want nothing more than to finish their season and get away into the bush, breaking down some mental barriers...oh wait. There is still plenty of ability on the list of the 2017 runners up and they'll salute comfortably on a ground they actually play well.
SYDNEY V HAWTHORN
The Hawks travel up to a rain soaked SCG to face fierce rivals Sydney. The return of their inspirational skipper will surely give a boost to a team who looked flat last outing, but will be playing high stakes poker this weekend as the victor will secure a coveted double chance, while the vanquished goes into a sudden death elimination final, probably against the mighty Giants.
The Swans recall Heath Grundy and will again rely on a tight knit midfield to provide the impetus for a valuable win. There are very few certainties in this life, but death, taxes, a Sydney-Hawthorn thriller, and John Longmire spouting lies at press conferences are facts you can set your watch to. He's been a fabulous coach, but there is no fooling anyone in the industry that Franklin and Parker are under injury clouds, there is nothing surer that both are primed at 100% and raring to go this weekend.
Clarkson may actually pull the bolder move by lining up his loud mouthed President on the rockstar in the red and white number 23 guernsey. The Hawks have won the last 4 games at the cricket ground, but that run comes to an end on Saturday night, what they wouldn't give for #33 to have a change of heart.
BRISBANE V WEST COAST
The misfiring Eagles take the long road trip to Brisbane and still can't name Kennedy. An untimely injury to Darling last week may have been the difference against a desperate Demons, but the sheer weight of wins early have allowed the Eagles the relative luxury of a form lapse and missing players to still claim a vital top two spot and a guaranteed home run to the Grand Final should they keep winning.
The Lions have impressed at times this year, more so than most five win teams do, but at the end of the day it's a learning year for them and there should be plenty of positivity at the Gabba in the lead in to 2019. West Coast won't let this chance slide, but I fear they don't have the depth to test the real heavyweights in the coming weeks.
MELBOURNE V GWS
Probably holding equal top billing for match of the round, a rejuvenated Melbourne having qualified for their first finals appearance since 2006 face the young upstart Giants somehow still in contention despite a crippling injury list that seems to grow longer each week.
The return of Kelly after concussion and surprisingly, Williams from a season-ending Achilles injury is offset by another veteran, this time Griffin who joins Shaw and Deledio on the sidelines. Last week's capitulation in the battle of the bridge may show that while GWS may have all the talent in the world, there is a breaking point, and you don't want to expose that a week out from the all-important second season.
I've ridden my luck with Melbourne all season, and last week's meritorious win may have unlocked some self-belief that just might create an avalanche that takes the grand old flag off the slopes and onto the MCG deep in September. I know it's unfashionable for umpires to acknowledge anybody on the field who isn't a midfielder, but another 3-vote game to Gawn could just tip him over the edge come Brownlow night, and wouldn't that be a popular win, especially if he's on the waters to celebrate.
ST KILDA V NORTH MELBOURNE
The final game of the home & away season is between two teams who have disappointed for largely different reasons this year. The Saints, stacked with top end draft selections, made the decision to oust legends Riewoldt and Montagna believing their time was now, while North exceeded expectations but have missed a deserved place in the finals with two fade outs in the last fortnight. Likely B&F winner, Carlisle returns for the Saints, probably to man retiree Jarrad Waite whose inconsistent but highly entertaining career comes to an end unfortunately in a pretty dire setting with probably only 15,00 fans braving the Dome on a Sunday evening. The Saints showed some Steele last week (pun intended), but lack the killer blow. The Kangaroos, impressive all season, will want to finish off in the right manner and maybe, just maybe finally convince that big fish to jump into their boat.
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