This is it. The final round. Can you believe there’s so much still that could happen and so few games left of the season? It’s been a long and dramatic season, finals are around the corner and the drama is intensifying with every day.
What dramatic, unpredictable thing will the final week bring us? Let’s try have a guess.
Collingwood V Essendon, 7.50est, MCG
Steele Sidebottom is an early out for this game, with surgery required on his testicle. It is almost the perfect situation to sum up Collingwood’s season: unfortunate injuries to unfortunate players at unfortunate times. Still, they are there abouts still, despite their misfortune and credit must go to their depth and to Buckley for being able to coach around his missing players. Collingwood are a game out of the top four with a healthy percentage. A win here could see them sneak a double chance, so expect them to be treating this with as much intensity as they would a final - especially with the break next week.
Darcy Moore comes back just in time to make an impact. People seem to have forgotten he was in All-Australian contention prior to pinging his hamstring.
It will be interesting to see how Essendon go this week. Port may be the Jekyll and Hyde of the competition, but Essendon aren’t too far behind. The Bombers returned to their better footy against a pretty rubbish Freo last week and locked themselves into seventh or eighth place (given GWS, who are on equal points, will most likely beat the Suns). It would not surprise me then, if Essendon are off their game a little this round. I hope not - because Friday night is for footy and it’s better when the footy is good, also their fans probably want a win before September.
Six changes for the Bombers is very concerning. Fantasia, Stringer, Heppell, Zaharakis… that’ssome quality out of the team, but at least they’ll have Bellchambers back to combat Grundy, and I will be very interested to see who Dylan Clarke goes to. Perhaps Pendlebury will have a little company?
I think Collingwood have too much to play for and still have too many areas where they can beat Essendon around the ground. If Essendon turn up to play it will be a close game, but I still think the Pies will win regardless. Collingwood by 14.
Sydney Swans V Saints, 1.45est, SCG
The Swans get a final home game to cheer off McVeigh and Jack and farewell Smith and Grundy who retired earlier this season. With some luck, those retirements may coincide with Buddy’s long awaited 300th and It doesn’t take an expert to say big changes are going to happen at Sydney in the off-season. A rebuild perhaps?
The Saints are looking to simply finish the year as strongly as they started. They’ve won three of their last five- similar again to their beginning and they have this one chance for Ratten to prove he’s the man for the job.
Finishing a season strongly is important. It takes some momentum into the pre-season training and gives the fans some confidence for next year.
I’m sentimental, I hope the Swans can do it for their retiring players- and I think they will. The Saints are good, but with so many players to play for – and perhaps an inspired Franklin- the Swans, at home, probably have the edge. Sydney by 9.
North V Melbourne, 2.10est, Blundstone
I have probably said this before, but Melbourne must have done something right for the media for them to be given such a lenient time. Generally, when teams go from prelims to bottom two, there’s some barrage of negativity, talks of coach sacking, rebuilds, player unhappiness and all the kind of rubbish that about six better sides have got this year, instead. So, when they lose this weekend to North, and they will lose, they should be going into their off season asking a lot of question regarding the coaching department and list development- because they can’t blame all of this on losing one decent forward.
I’ve enjoyed North’s second half of the season. It takes guts and mental fortitude (shinbone spirit) perhaps to go from a one goal game to a fourteen-goal drubbing the week after. This will be a training drill, and Ben Brown will enjoy winning his first Coleman medal, leaving me to regret my decision not to back him for it at the start of the year.
North Melbourne by 35 points in a not so thrilling match.
Geelong V Carlton, 4.35est Kardinia
Geelong lost top spot last week and their second half of the season has been nothing short of rocky. If there’s one criticism I have of Geelong it’s their inability to perform under extreme pressure from the opposition. I don’t know whether Carlton can bring the same pressure as Brisbane can but suddenly there’s ladder pressure and they may end up having to travel to Perth in their first final.
Carlton have lifted, I am enjoying their footy and glad they’ve turned their fortunes around; unfortunately, I get this feeling I’m going to hate them in about three years’ time. A win over Geelong, at the Cattery, proves beyond any doubt that Carlton can be the real deal – and likewise it casts a very large shadow over the chances of the Cats.
I don’t see an upset here, but I think the game may be a little closer than the Cats would anticipate. Geelong by 18.
Suns V GWS, 7.35est Metricon
The Suns have lost seventeen straight matches and it would be fantastic for everyone if they could salvage a win. They’ve been good in patches and will be boosted by recent re-signings of some younger players but being able to be competitive for long periods has largely eluded them this season. A win here sends their champ Rischitelli off in style, upsets some of the top eight a little and means they’ve salvaged a little from the year.
The equation is simple for the Giants here: win and they get a home final, lose and they won’t. They can’t go up in the ladder but can drop as low as eight, so they shouldn’t take this game lightly. The Giants were boosted by the return of key players last week, but they weren’t enough to turn their form around and the team in Orange is staring down three losses in a row before September - not the form anyone wants to take.
I don’t think the Giants will be too challenged by the Suns though, and they’ll win by 41.
WCE V Hawthorn, 6.10wst Optus
All eyes will be on Perth this Saturday night, where the Hawks will be playing for the outside chance to make the eight. Hawthorn have a monumental task against the Eagles at their home ground, and still need the Dogs to lose - but I have a weird faith in Clarkson to deliver in these big games.
The Eagles will be determined, though. A win may see them finish in the top two, with the chance of a double home final- which increases their chances of going back to back in a way a Victorian team would never understand. They’ll need Brisbane to lose, though, and they’ll need to win comfortably for it to happen, so expect the Eagles to jump out of the gates early. If the Eagles can get a good start, they may just sniff blood and kick away to a percentage boosting lead; however, if the Hawks can match them early, well, the risk of falling out of the top four may just worry the Eagles enough to an upsetting loss.
This Saturday night’s game may be the biggest of the round, with the result impacting so much of the competition, make sure you’re tuned in.
I think the Eagles will win this; the Hawks may have finals on their mind, but the Eagles have bigger ambition and the talent to send a message. West Coast by 30.
Bulldogs V Adelaide, 1.10est, Ballarat
If I was Adelaide, and I was playing for an outside chance to make the finals, and I was the team that had to beat the Bulldogs to make it happen: A small boutique but sold-out ground I’ve never been to would be about the worst place I could imagine this game being. If there wasn’t enough pressure on the Crows already, unfamiliar territory just about might be the knife in the back of their lacklustre season.
The Dogs, however, will be full of confidence. They have more or less cruised to big wins in three of their last five games, have appeared out of nowhere to be in the eight and suddenly people are remembering 2016 with a certain sense of caution.
In that season, they lost their last game before the finals but can ill-afford to do that this year. Adelaide would have to win by a reasonable margin, and they’ll know by then whether the Hawks are in or not, but with Port raging favourites over Freo in a game still to come, then they’ll want to take destiny into their own hands.
I think they will. Adelaide have, in a word, been insipid for much of the latter half of the season. Their inability to finish games is second only to Gold Coast and at times have looked dreadful. With one win for their last five games, they hardly deserve a top eight spot, and the pressure on them is justified.
Bulldogs by 31.
Richmond V Brisbane, 3.20est MCG
Depending on other results, this may be the most important game of the round, but regardless- it will be the best to watch. The Lions had a gruelling match against Geelong last week, and the Tigers had a match of the ages against the Eagles. This week both sides get to demonstrate their contention again - and a win for the Lions may just remove any doubt from those who think that they can’t quite win the whole thing.
There was a remarked difference in the quality of games of the Tigers’ and Lions’ last week, with many suggesting the quality of the Tigers V Eagles was significantly higher than that of their top four counterparts. But a week is a long time in footy, and if there’s anything predictable about this season it’s that you can’t predict what’s going to happen from game to game and week to week.
I am eager to watch this game. I think the Lions have the quality to match it and beat the best sides- after all they are the best side at present, according to ladder- if nothing else, but can they do it at the MCG?
I must adhere to my Queensland heritage and jump on the Brisbane bandwagon.
Brisbane by 12
Port V Fremantle, 4.10acst, Adelaide
It’s with a tinge of sadness that Ross Lyon departed the Dockers on Tuesday. The last few years have been tough for them, and the decision was logical, but Ross is one of the nice guys of footy and he was well liked and respected - despite some poor performances. Still, the cogs of footy keep moving, and I’m putting down “I’ve never coached better” into the famous last words quote book.
David Hale gets a chance to debut as a head coach, and if this season is anything to go by, he will begin his career with a win.
Except he has two things going against him: Port and the Adelaide oval. Fremantle will be hoping the Hyde of Port Adelaide turn up again and they deliver the same tripe they conjured against the Roos. But, unfortunately for Freo, a top eight chance may yet be on the line (if a lot goes right) for the power, who will be planning to win big. Fremantle have also never beaten Port at the Adelaide oval, and their record there in general is pretty awful.
Freo also have a bit of Jekyll and Hyde about them: Able to beat the top sides (they’ve beaten five of the top eight), but they tend to struggle against the bottom sides.
So, literally anything could happen in this game and I wouldn’t be surprised; And just because it hasn’t happened yet, I’m tipping a draw.
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