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Previews with punch – Round 18

A nightmare continued for Richmond last time it met GWS, the Tigers losing again in the final seconds, a third defeat in a row by less than a goal. GETTY IMAGES

Previews with punch – Round 18

ADELAIDE v GEELONG (Adelaide Oval, Friday 7.20pm local time)

It’s one v two on the ladder, though there’s been times this season when plenty of sceptics have vocally doubted the credentials of both these teams. Much of that has resolved around alleged over-dependencies upon two respective guns in Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane. And for all the hand-wringing about the probably absence of both stars, both have at least been named in the respective 22s. We know now after last week that Dangerfield is capable of causing plenty of damage even on one leg. Sloane has been more of a barometer for the Crows, but Don Pyke’s team is gradually finding him more consistent midfield support, the Crouch brothers, Richard Douglas, Rory Atkins and co. underrated in Adelaide’s continued stay at the top of the ladder. The Cats have won their last five against the Crows and three of four trips to Adelaide Oval. But this is big for the Crows, who might just shrink the number of sceptics about them with a good performance. I reckon they can deliver one here.
TIP: Adelaide by 6 points.

ESSENDON v NORTH MELBOURNE (Etihad Stadium, Saturday 1.45pm local time)

So which Essendon turns up on Saturday? The Bombers who disposed of Collingwood and were even more impressive against St Kilda last week, or the listless lot that somehow threw away a five-goal lead against bottom team Brisbane three weeks ago? The Dons haven’t managed more than two wins in a row at any stage this season, so you can understand the jitters. Particularly against a side to whom they’ve lost on six of the last seven occasions. Essendon can forget finals if they drop this one against a North outfit that hasn’t won since May and was smashed by 70 points last week. The Roos, who have bitten the bullet and dropped out-of-sorts ruckman Todd Goldstein, are done and dusted for this year but would take great delight in bursting the Bombers’ bubble. If the Dons are at all fair dinkum, they won’t let that happen.
TIP: Essendon by 22 points.

MELBOURNE v PORT ADELAIDE (MCG, 2.10pm Saturday local time)

The Demons managed to keep fronting up despite injuries most of this season, but the tipping point seemed to arrive with close to their best performance of the year against the Eagles in Perth a month ago. It’s been a struggle since, and it doesn’t get a lot easier here despite the returns of Jack Viney, Jack Watts and Dom Tyson. While the “who have they beaten?” taunt continues to dog Port, meanwhile, the bottom line is the Power have won four of their last five, none by less than five goals, and the one defeat to a decent team in Richmond by only 13 points. They go all right at the MCG, too, where they’ve now won their last three, most recently against Collingwood in round 14. Port is injury-free, and has a ruckman in Paddy Ryder and on-ballers Ollie Wines, Brad Ebert and Chad Wingard playing out of their skins. That’s enough for me.
TIP: Port Adelaide by 10 points.

WESTERN BULLDOGS v GOLD COAST (Cazaly’s Stadium, 4.35pm Saturday local time)

These two have played just three times over the past three years, all of them in Cairns, and all won comfortably by the Bulldogs. The reigning premier’s win over Carlton last week hardly screamed “we’re back”, but the Dogs did at least tough it out against the defensive-minded Blues, and importantly, running half-back Jason Johannisen regained a bit of form. Jake Stringer out with a “string” hurts what has been a pretty ordinary attack, but then so does Gold Coast’s loss of Steven May with a similar problem. Nor does one win from their last five and a loss at home last week to a struggling Collingwood inspire much confidence the Suns are going to pull one out with their season effectively over, either. Like Essendon, the team with which they’re locked on eight wins and take on next week in what could be a mini-final, the Dogs simply can’t afford a stumble here. They won’t.
TIP: Western Bulldogs by 32 points.

SYDNEY v ST KILDA (SCG, 7.25pm Saturday local time)

Would the real St Kilda stand up? It’s getting a bit that way for the Saints, the last fortnight delivering arguably their best and worst performances of the season in a stunning 128-point turnaround. Which makes it a bad time to meet the AFL’s most in-form team, the Swans having won nine out of their last 10 and losing the other by a kick. They’ve regularly had it over the Saints, too, having won seven straight and nine of 10. As for the venue, well St Kilda hasn’t won at the SCG since 2009, and only twice in nearly 20 years. That’s not encouraging history. Selection has at least a couple of positives in the returns of ruckman Billy Longer, badly missed against the Bombers, and defender Jimmy Webster. But the Saints’ midfield group is going to have to pitch in a lot more than it did last week this time up against the super-consistency of Kennedy, Hannebery, Parker and co. A big ask. Perhaps too big.
TIP: Sydney by 28 points.

FREMANTLE v HAWTHORN (Domain Stadium, 5.40pm local time)

Both the Dockers and Hawks are effectively now out of the finals mix. What does that mean? Well, it probably makes a game already hard to read a little trickier still. Historically, the Hawks certainly haven’t had too many issues with Freo, winning nine of their last 10 clashes, including a grand final and preliminary final. And but for a shocker against Port Adelaide, their form has been pretty solid now for a good three months, even while coach Alastair Clarkson introduces some new blood, Conor Glass the latest. The Dockers have been more up and down, but their last month not too bad, winning just the one, but close enough against Geelong, St Kilda and, last week, local rival West Coast. Cam McCarthy, too, is a welcome return to a forward set-up that couldn’t hit the side of a barn last week with 5.14. Is that enough? Reckon this is going to be tight, but at home, I think it’s Freo, just.
TIP: Fremantle by 8 points.

RICHMOND v GWS (MCG, 1.10pm Sunday local time)

What Richmond supporter wouldn’t still be bleeding about those three perhaps very costly mid-season defeats by a total of 10 points, the away clash with the Giants the last and perhaps most galling leg of that trifecta, when they couldn’t get their set-up right from a GWS kick-in and paid the ultimate penalty. And they’d fancy their chances of some sort of revenge on the MCG against a much-touted team, but still, one which has won just one of its last five games. The “G” isn’t a favourite venue for the Giants either, nor is it that familiar. They’ve won just once in 10 trips to the ground, and their last visit was in round of last season. Stephen Coniglio could be a handy inclusion for GWS, but there’s still no Jeremy Cameron. So why a Giants win? Just a hunch, but with a top-four spot squarely on the line, the time to find a higher gear is now.
TIP: GWS by 16 points.

COLLINGWOOD v WEST COAST (Etihad Stadium, Sunday 3.20pm local time)

Calling West Coast a poor MCG team is accurate. Calling the Eagles a poor road team is a bit of a furphy. In fact, they’re going at better than 50 per cent overall on the road since 2015, and not bad at all at the ground at the other end of the Melbourne CBD, West Coast having won two of three at Etihad Stadium this year and four of their last six. They’re three out of four against the Pies, too. And that’s been with Scott Pendlebury part of the Collingwood’s line-up. He’s not this time, and that shapes as the biggest factor hovering over this result. The Pies were gritty enough up on the Gold Coast last week, but the Eagles are a tougher proposition than the Suns, and with three milestone players this week – Josh Kennedy, Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo – have a bit to prove. If they’re serious about finals, they will.
TIP: West Coast by 2 points.

BRISBANE v CARLTON (Gabba, Sunday 4.40pm local time)

This game could well be the “playing some OK football without getting the results” cup, the Lions and Blues with just eight wins for the season between them, but still having their moments, Carlton in particular consistently competitive, losing no fewer than eight games by under eight goals. If Brisbane ends up with a wooden spoon, it will still be more optimistic about the future than in several other recent years, given the emergence of exciting prospects like Eric Hipwood, Alex Witherden, Jarrod Berry and Hugh McCluggage. That’s the case for Carlton as well. The defensive-mindedness of Brendon Bolton’s team mightn’t always make for great viewing, but the longer the Blues learn to scrap it out, the greater the benefits when they start developing their outside game. Highly-touted draftee Harry McKay is also in line for an AFL debut for the Blues, too.
TIP: Carlton by 14 points.

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