Well, we’re getting closer and closer to September, and this round will be pivotal for the sides eager for a place, and a good place in the top eight.
Anything is possible, so who’s playing who and what are your chances?
Here’s the Mongrel Preview.
Adelaide V Essendon 7.20pm Adelaide Time, Adelaide
When I do these previews, I like to look back to the last couple of weeks to get a gauge at how teams are travelling. However, as of now, I am refusing to look at any game against the Gold Coast as any more than a light training drill. How can one gain any kind of insight when they are playing against a team bereft of, well, anything? Previous to that, though, the Crows have been in a bit of a slump with a couple of pretty poor losses in a row, and this week they’ll need to turn it on against the Bombers in a battle which could be the difference between a spot in the eight or just missing out. Essendon, on the other hand, have been in very good form having won five of their past six. Their stars are aligning- and actually performing- and I’m very slowly just starting to admit I may have been wrong about them for a good chunk of this season.
The performance to look forward to this game will be Betts and Saad. Both will need to keep each other accountable and both will want to do that by putting on a clinic. If Betts gets free, then Saad’s running, and important ball movement will be lacking from the Don’s generally fast game. If Saad gets loose, then Betts will have to play a bit more defensively. It could be a deciding factor in the game.
Important ins see Heppell return, whilst Fantasia and Hurley are set to miss, whilst Tom Lynch finally gets back into the Crows team, giving them additional hard run from half forward.
At home it’s often hard to tip against Adelaide, but I think they lack the class and consistency. The Dons are in red hot form and I expect that to continue. Essendon by 21 with their captain back.
Richmond V Port Power, 1.45 EST, MCG
There’s something in the water that breeds inconsistency and Port are drinking too much of it. How can a team play so dominantly one week and then back it up with complete mediocrity the next? Or maybe it was Port being good against an Adelaide who decided to be particularly poor, and then Port was just slightly poor against a much better side. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t tip them, but I didn’t quite expect forty eight point margin. I don’t know where they go from here. They’re no longer in the eight and face an uphill battle to make it. Port at their best can beat anyone, but at their worst they could lose to anyone, too. They’re a tipster’s nightmare so don’t take advice from any expert.
Richmond on the other hand have got their team almost back to full strength and the fixture has given them probably the easiest run home to the finals in the history of the AFL. Little bit farcical there, guys but you can only follow what the AFL give you, so we can’t blame the Tigers for getting their dream run. Still, they must win the games, which for the most part, just means rocking up. Their systems are working, their players are playing well, and they are getting harder and harder to tip against every week. I will take this opportunity to wish Jack Higgins a speedy recovery as he deals with bleeding on the brain. If anyone still needed a reason to understand why the AFL takes head knocks and concussion seriously, this is it.
Liam Baker makes his way back in for the Tigers, as does Jack Graham, and Kamdyn McIntosh sees himself omitted as the squeeze begins at Punt Road. Dan Houston is back for the Power, and he is joined by Matt Broadbent and the young gun Duursma, who was dropped for last week… for some reason. Losing a player the calibre of Brad Ebert is a blow, however.
The game will be won by whoever works harder. It’s as simple as that with these two sides. Both like to utilise pressure and don’t rely strongly on skill. The Tigers are better at it, and I’m not sure whether Port have the heart to match them. Tigers by 19.
Carlton V Suns, 2.10 EST, Marvel
David Teague’s mob just keep winning. I’m not really sure what their strategy is - if they even have one - but it is certainly better than it was before. It’s amazing how well you can play when you enjoy your footy. A team who isn’t enjoying their footy is the Gold Coast Suns. They look completely depleted of energy and are just waiting for the season to end. In some good news, a couple of good prospects re-signed, so internally at least, they must be optimistic, but it isn’t showing on the field. They have been less than state comp quality the last couple of weeks and they must turn that around, for the players, their coach, their members and to some smaller extent, their existence. Their opposition can survive a long time without a reasonable season, but a small expansion club can’t. To win this week, the Suns must want, and I mean seriously want to win. They have to attack the contest with everything they have and put the Blues on the backfoot early. Even then, the Suns may not have the cattle to keep up with the Blues, who are finishing strongly, but at least they’ll provide a contest.
Carlton by 31.
GWS V Collingwood, 4.35 EST, Giant Stadium
Collingwood travel away from Melbourne for just the fourth time this season, in a remarkably unfair fixture compared to Geelong who should play at the MCG as they, unlike Collingwood, get eighteen home games a year (compared to the Pies’ 17 games in Victoria). Sorry, Bucks, you won’t find much sympathy from a West Australian. Seriously, that may be the single dumbest thing he’s said since he said, “I might leave Brisbane to Collingwood so I can win a flag.” Quality humour.
Anyway, back to the footy. GWS are going the way of Richmond, which is to say they’re losing all their good players to injury. Unlike Richmond, though, they haven’t timed it very well and not only are losing their grip on the top four, but their top eight chances could be dwindling as well and, as it stands, are now only a loss (and some percentage) off tenth place.
The Pies went over to Perth last week and out of no where took the four points off the Eagles. They did it by spending so much time in their forward line that they had started decorating the place. It was a surprising win, but one that would give them a lot more confidence than they’d have had to this point. For a team in the top four, they weren’t tracking all that well, and have now proven they can match it with the best.
Because of that, and because of the Giants’ injuries, you’d have to tip the Pies in a pretty comfortable one. Even if it is away from home. Pies by 32.
Brisbane V North, 7.25 EST, Gabba.
Well, Brisbane are officially a genuine contender. And it’s about time too. For too long they’ve languished down the bottom, looking very much like their little brothers down the road do at the moment. It’s good to see the Lions roaring and their supporters re-emerging from hibernation (or at least swapping out their broncos jumpers for a while).
North are also tracking well. They’re still half a chance for the finals and will want to increase that with a win on the road here. They competed well against the Dons last week, but in the end their lack of pace showed and that, more than anything, is what will stop them from a top eight finish.
You can’t really fault the Lions at the moment. They’re a young side, an optimistic side, an energetic side and one who can smell a bit of glory - though they’ll say they’re taking it one week at a time. Which is probably fair. A win here for them can put them into second place if either they win big enough or the Pies lose to the Giants.
I think they can. Not only win but win big. North are inspired, but the Lions are inspired and talented. Brisbane by 48.
Fremantle V Sydney, 6.10 WST, Optus
Fremantle have a tall issue at the moment. They have nine injured players and eight of them are important, tall key position players. It’s no wonder their form has dropped off, but it also doesn’t explain why they’ve suddenly completely forgot how to play football. A team who was pencilled in to the top eight a few weeks ago, now find themselves battling to finish above fourteenth - where they finished last year - an important milestone for a team who is supposed to be improving.
Speaking of fourteenth, Sydney are also eager to get out of that spot and come over to Perth without a great deal of form either. They have a good record at Optus stadium, and they’re certainly playing better than the Dockers, but they have lost their last two games, against Carlton and Essendon, which were both winnable given their form before that.
Sydney have won the last three games against the Dockers by an average of 84 points. I don’t think that will happen this week, given the slump in Sydney’s quality, but if it does, we may see another coach get the sack on Monday.
Sydney by 21.
Geelong V Hawks, 1.10 EST, MCG
The battle for the ages. Everyone loves a good rivalry and in modern footy, this one stands out above all else. Not that the two clubs hate each other as much as in other rivalries, not because of long standing history or whatever, just simply because when these two sides play each other, the games are almost always close, hard fought and exciting.
Can it be repeated this week though? A quick glance at the ladder suggests a lowly placed Hawthorn against the easily best side Cats and one would be excused for assuming a comfortable win to the better side. However, the Cats’ form since the bye has been a little lacking in consistency and the Hawks, occasionally, have been able to turn it on.
This will be an absolute spectacle. That it is on a Sunday is almost a crime against humanity.
If the Hawks can bring their best, they can absolutely win this match. It would be an upset, given the fortunes of each side, but not entirely unexpected. The cats got the better of the Hawks earlier in the year, but it wasn’t by a lot- just a measly three goals- and the Hawks have improved a bit since then.
Still, you’d be a braver man than me to put money on the Hawks. Cats by 8.
Melbourne V West Coast, 2.50 Central, Traeger park
Footy is off to the Northern Territory and do I love these occasional excursions the game takes. Sure, there isn’t eighty thousand people there, but the atmosphere is still vibrant and usually better than the fifteen or so thousand the Dees are getting at the ‘G this year anyway.
The Eagles will be filthy with themselves after last week - almost as filthy as a few of their fans. When you’re an interstate side, you need every advantage you can get in September, and finishing top 2 is the best chance you get of making the Grand Final.
I expect them to respond and respond strongly. Melbourne have been largely woeful this season and, despite their best efforts, will come up against an Eagles side in a bad mood- and the Eagles can really turn it on when they want to send a message.
If this was at home, I’d tip them by ten goals plus, but in the NT anything is possible (except winter). West Coast by 41.
St. Kilda V Bulldogs, 4.40 EST. Marvel
The Dogs have a lot to play for here, given that they’re a reasonable chance for the eight. Believe it or not, they’re not even that far off a home final, should they be able to string a few wins together. They have a great chance this week against the lowly Saints side, who have been reasonably easy beats all season.
Except one small issue. The Saints took the advice from a couple of other teams and swapped out their old coach for a newer model. All credit to Richo, he did the best with the cattle he had, but, if Carlton and North are anything to go by, a new coach means freer footy and no small amount of improvement. The Dogs may have beat Geelong, thrashed port and comfortably run over Melbourne in the last few weeks, but they really can’t prepare for what may or may not happen this week.
One thing is certain though, the twenty two players the dogs put on the park are more talented than the twenty two North put on the park. If they can remember that, the dogs will win the game.
Western Bulldogs by 18.
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