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Previews with punch – Round 21


On top: Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver gets the better of Maverick Weller. The Demons’ round one win was their first over St Kilda since 2006. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – Round 21

WESTERN BULLDOGS v GWS (Etihad Stadium, Friday 7.50pm local time)
This is rapidly turning into one of the better rivalries of recent times, the Bulldogs and Giants clash in last year’s preliminary final obviously the most memorable, but three of their last five meetings all decided by a goal or less. Both need the win, the Dogs with considerable challenges to come in Port Adelaide and Hawthorn, the Giants after a home final. They look a lot stronger up forward this week for the return of Greene and Patton. Much the same could be said of the Dogs with Stringer and Dickson back in the mix, but Wood’s absence as the defensive organiser is a major blow. GWS looked back to near their best against Melbourne, an opening term 8.6 their second-best quarter of the season. This should confirm that wasn’t just a cameo.
TIP: GWS by 10 points.

SYDNEY v FREMANTLE (SCG, Saturday 1.45pm local time)
With 11 wins from 13 games and the two defeats both by just a goal, the Swans have been the most consistent team for a while. That horrendous 0-6 start, however, means they need to keep winning just to be assured of a finals spot. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem here against a side that has only won two of its past 10. Sydney was terrific at Geelong last week, ticking over seamlessly even without skipper Josh Kennedy commanding the midfield or much of a contribution from Lance Franklin, and Kennedy’s continued absence is less of a concern against the Dockers. It’s hard to see what midfield ball Freo does win being converted to scores, up against arguably the AFL’s best defensive unit and having topped 100 points just twice this season.
TIP: Sydney by 30 points.

GEELONG v RICHMOND (Simonds Stadium, Saturday 2.10pm local time)
Richmond has won at the Cattery just once in 13 attempts in the past 25 years, but it’s doubtful the Tigers will ever get a better opportunity to put that right than now. Geelong will field one of its weaker line-ups of the last 10 years or so, skipper Joel Selwood out till the finals, Hawkins and Duncan suspended. That’s two of their three best midfielders and their best key forward gone, and while Dangerfield, Menzel and Motlop are handy “ins”, it’s still a huge challenge against a side which has won six of its past seven games efficiently and without too much fuss. Richmond gets spearhead Riewoldt back in the mix this week, and its bevy of small forwards spells trouble for a defence which lacks suitable match-ups for them all. Not only does a top-four spot beckon, a win here would have to make the Tigers a serious flag threat.
TIP: Richmond by 2 points.

BRISBANE v GOLD COAST (Gabba, Saturday 4.35pm local time)
Brisbane hasn’t done the double over any team since Carlton in 2015, but the Lions, at home, are well-placed to repeat that effort against the Suns, plunged once again into crisis after the mid-week sacking of coach Rodney Eade. Any potential “new coach bounce” Gold Coast might be hopeful for under caretaker Dean Solomon looks to be more than cancelled out by the loss of the Suns’ two most important players, Gary Ablett (again) and Tom Lynch. Brisbane has lost the talented youngster Witherden and dropped Schache, but Mayes and Close are at least experienced enough replacements. There’s been some encouraging signs for coach Chris Fagan in the back half of this season, and a fifth win might go a long way to them avoiding a wooden spoon.
TIP: Brisbane by 20 points.

WEST COAST v CARLTON (Domain Stadium, Saturday 5.40pm local time)
If other results fall their way, the Eagles could be back in the top eight by the end of Saturday night, though for how long is a valid question given their struggles away from home and a sequence of win followed by loss now stretching over two months. That makes this week a likely “W”, at home and against a side which has lost seven games on the trot. Carlton wasn’t horrible last week, in fact the Blues controlled much of their eight-point loss to Essendon, but their failure to exert enough scoreboard pressure for all the ball they win is becoming a chronic weakness. Indeed, Carlton has topped 100 points just twice in its last 51 games, and is unlikely to win by a dour checkmate here, either. West Coast is as good as gone if it doesn’t get over the line. This week, it should.
TIP: West Coast by 30 points.

ESSENDON v ADELAIDE (Etihad Stadium, Saturday 7.25pm local time)
This shapes as one of the weekend’s most entertaining contests, Adelaide leading the league for scoring, the Bombers third and with a few decent scalps under their belt at Etihad. That said, in the sort of form the Crows showed in their Showdown monstering of Port Adelaide last week, Essendon would need everything going right, and so far it hasn’t via the loss of Fantasia injured and midfield heartbeat Merrett suspended. The Dons have also lost ruckman Bellchambers and dropped a key defender in Hartley without an obvious replacement. That spells danger both midfield and down back, where the height and agility of Walker, Jenkins and Lynch and the brilliance of Betts would already have been a handful. No surprise Adelaide is unchanged, the Crows could hardly improve on a very ominous belting of the Power.
TIP: Adelaide by 28 points.

MELBOURNE v ST KILDA (MCG, Sunday 1.10pm local time)
This is a virtual elimination final a month out from the real thing, the two teams many earmarked as potential big improvers this season out to cut the other’s throat in the race for the eight. The Saints’ poor percentage will make it an uphill battle for them even in the event of victory. The Demons have the more winnable last two games, but nonetheless can’t afford to make it any harder for themselves than they already have with three losses from their past four games. The loss to North Melbourne in Hobart a fortnight ago may well be the one Melbourne ends up rueing the most. On the bigger MCG, St Kilda will miss veteran Riewoldt even more, and Melbourne at least can take confidence from a round one win over the Saints which broke a sequence of 14 straight defeats. If the Dees are serious, they win this one, too.
TIP: Melbourne by 6 points.

HAWTHORN v NORTH MELBOURNE (Aurora Stadium, Sunday 3.20pm local time)
The two teams who call Tasmania a second home do battle in what is effectively a dead rubber with finals aspirations long gone for North and Hawthorn’s officially snuffed out last week, the Hawks a September absentee for the first time since 2009. They’d done well to revive their season from a dismal 1-5, but Richmond’s greater pressure found out a few of the younger parts of a team in transition. Expect a steadier Hawthorn, then, for the return of Hodge for his third last game of AFL football. North, meanwhile, continues to shuffle the younger pieces on the chess board. The Roos have been pretty competitive for a team with only five wins, but last week’s lacklustre effort against Collingwood seemed to indicate the fire has been all but extinguished now.
TIP: Hawthorn by 22 points.

PORT ADELAIDE v COLLINGWOOD (Adelaide Oval, Sunday 4.10pm local time)
Only one team has anything of consequence to play for here, and it’s the team still recovering from an absolute pasting by its local rival last week. Port’s insipid effort against the Crows might just have done their dash as far as the top four is concerned, but restoring battered confidence a week on is as much a priority as victory. Three of the Power’s four “outs” are omissions, a statement in itself, and the return of the class of Wingard and speed of White is handy. Collingwood has more issues in terms of selection, though, ruckman Grundy’s suspension awfully timed up against Port’s Ryder, while injuries to Greenwood and Wells rob the Pies of some grunt and a bit of glitter. They’re yet to break the ice at Adelaide Oval, either, and while three wins and a draw in the past month is an improvement, the odds are really against them this time.
TIP: Port Adelaide by 32 points.

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