AFL Round 11 Preview: Time to get serious

8 June 2012

Written by: Jake D'Amato

Carlton vs. Geelong: Friday Night, 7:50pm Etihad Stadium

Tonight’s clash at Etihad Stadium is quite easily the most important of the round, with both teams needing a win to get their seasons on track.

Ratten’s Blues have lost three of their past four including an embarrassing 54-point demolition at the hands of lowly Port Adelaide last week.

Carlton lost both the contested ball and clearance counts last weekend, and this week the Blues must show a much-improved intensity if they are to threaten the Cats.

Carlton’s usually effective ball-users, Judd and Simpson, noticeably struggled last week, each registering a poor 43 per cent efficiency rate and put the Blues’ unstable backline under considerable pressure.

The Cats themselves have been unconvincing all season, but they are a side that has the class to win games, even when they lose the ever-important contested possessions count. In fact, last week against Greater Western Sydney was the first time Geelong has won the contested possession count all season.

Tom Hawkins is expected to return this week from a knee injury, which will help balance the Cats’ side, sending Harry Taylor back to defence. Though it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Taylor play forward at some point after bagging six last week.

Carlton welcomes back Matthew Kreuzer (hamstring), Nick Duigan (calf) and Lachie Henderson (groin). But the ins alone won’t be enough to get Carlton over the line – the team needs a lot of individuals to stand up.

The last time these two teams met, Geelong scraped home by two points and you can expect another close encounter. If Carlton can win the contested possession and use the ball well, they will win.

Prediction: Blues by 12.

Richmond vs. Fremantle: Saturday 1:40pm MCG

After surviving a difficult opening 10 rounds, Richmond is looking primed to be a finals contender in 2012.

This became apparent after the Tigers dismantled Hawthorn then had a thrilling win over St Kilda.  The Tigers are here to stay.

In Fremantle, Richmond face a side that has struggled in recent weeks and at a venue in which they have experienced little success. The Dockers have lost their past 10 games at the MCG dating back to 2007 – by an average of 42 points.

It’s a daunting task for Ross Lyon’s men. Their tactics have come under scrutiny in recent weeks as they have struggled to kick competitive scores. Perhaps the bigger issue is the way in which Fremantle has allowed sides to kick a run of goals during patches. Two weeks ago West Coast kicked eight goals on the trot, and Adelaide was able to kick the last five of the game in round 10 to sink the Dockers.

Fremantle’s shut-down style of play needs to be sustained over four quarters if it is to avoid a blowout. Any lapse in concentration against the Tigers could be disastrous, especially considering that Jack Riewoldt is in blistering form, which has seen him boot 14 goals in the past fortnight.

Fremantle may not have anyone capable of stopping Riewoldt, but the Dockers can stop the delivery from the midfield. For it to be any chance, Fremantle must overcome the formidable midfield of Cotchin, Martin, Foley and Tuck. And it has to start with Sandilands. Whilst he has been winning the tap-outs, the Dockers aren’t taking advantage and have lost the clearance count in the past five games.

But with Richmond seemingly able to pick apart any defence at the moment, by hand or foot, it seems unlikely that Fremantle can stop the Tigers.

Prediction: Richmond by 42

Gold Coast vs St Kilda: Saturday 4:40pm Gold Coast Stadium

St Kilda will be looking to repeat their performance against the Suns in round two, which saw them run out 92-point winners. And the Suns are still looking for their first win at home after 12 consecutive losses.

For Gold Coast to move forward as a team, however, it needs to improve its second-half performances. In its ten games so far, Gold Coast has only managed to win one quarter in the second half.

The in-form Nick Riewoldt will cause serious issues for the inexperienced Gold Coast defence; in round two he managed to rack up 21 possessions, 11 marks and kick four goals as well. The Suns must contain Riewoldt if they are to keep the Saints within reach.

One area where the Suns might be able to expose St Kilda is in the ruck department, with Saints Rhys Stanley and Ben McEvoy watching from the sidelines. The temporary ruck-duo consisting of Koschitzke and Blake managed only 12 hit-outs between them last week. The Suns’ inexperienced ruckman,  Tom Hickey, is no an easy beat and could play a huge role if the Suns are to cause an upset.

St Kilda tagger Clinton Jones will have his work cut out for him this week as he goes toe-to-toe with the prolific Gary Ablett, who recorded an AFL record of 53 disposals last week. Although some may have questioned the quality of those possessions, if he can get on top of Jones and send the Suns into attack, they will have a chance.

St Kilda should be too strong for the Suns, however, and will run away with the game in the second half.

Prediction: Saints by 30

Essendon vs. Sydney: Saturday Night 7:40pm Etihad Stadium

After a shock loss to cellar dwellers Melbourne last week, the Bombers will be looking to come out firing against the Swans. The Swans, on the other hand, slaughtered a hapless Bulldog side last week in a near flawless performance.

The key to Sydney’s huge win was their midfield, with key players Jude Bolton (41), Dan Hannebery (35), Kieran jack (34) and Josh Kennedy (28) all having the ball on a string.

The Bomber’s midfield, however, was rather poor, getting smashed in the clearances against Melboourne. And the midfield battle will be a key factor in deciding this match.

There is a lot riding on this contest for a Round 11 clash in terms of top-four aspirations: if the Bombers win they jump two games ahead of the Swans, but if Sydney can manage to win it will move ahead of Essendon on percentage.

Essendon have not won a game in June in the past two seasons and will be nervous going into Saturday’s game. One thing that will play into the Bombers’ hands is the venue – Etihad Stadium has become a fortress for Hird’s men, winning 12 of their past 13 contests there. In contrast, Sydney has struggled in Melbourne this year, losing poorly to Richmond and St Kilda in recent weeks.

In a battle between the top two defensive sides in the competition, the midfield contest will be imperative and the Swans midfield form will keep them in the hunt.

Prediction: Essendon by 5 points.

Port Adelaide vs. Hawthorn: Sunday 4:40pm Aami Stadium

There has been much talk about Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin’s impressive 13 goal haul last week, but minimal about Port Adelaide’s finals aspirations. With the Power only two games out of the eight, this clash could define their season.

If Port can pull off another major upset then they will be within reach of the eight. But a loss could see them three games behind with too much ground to make up. The Power will enter this game full of confidence coming off three consecutive wins, including last weekends’ impressive display against Carlton.

To say that Hawthorn will be confident after a 115-point drubbing of North Melbourne is an understatement. However, Hawthorn does not have a great record at AAMI Stadium, losing 11 of its past 14, so they cannot get too far ahead of themselves.

The big question for Matthew Primus is: how will they stop Buddy? He booted eight against them last year in a 165-point hiding. But Port is a different side now. Alipate Carlile is Buddy’s likely opponent – he has had success against Franklin before, and he might hold the key to keeping his side in it.

Jay Schulz is a big factor in this game as well.  At time of publication, he is only a 50/50 chance of playing.  But realistically, if Port is serious about playing finals then he must play as it is a completely different side with him inside the forward arc.

If Port can bring Buddy to a halt and stifle Hawthorn’s midfield, it may be able to push the Hawks to the distance. It will be an intriguing game.

Prediction: Hawthorn by 22.

Melbourne vs. Collingwood: Monday (Queen’s Birthday) 3:15pm MCG

More important than getting the four points last week against Essendon was Melbourne’s work rate. For the first time in a long time, they simply had a crack.

It will be interesting to see how Melbourne handles the instant sigh of relief after winning its first game for the season.  Will relief turn into belief?

Even though Collingwood has won its past seven games and walloped Melbourne by 88 points last year, Melbourne can be considered one of Collingwood’s bogey sides. In 2010, Collingwood’s premiership year, the two encounters between the sides were thrillers, Collingwood won the first by a point, and the second was a draw.

Melbourne also has a few factors leaning towards its advantage. First, Mark Neeld is bound to have inside information on a side that he worked with closely for so long.  Next, with Pies’ key player Scott Pendlebury out, the midfield battle will become tighter, even though his replacement is Dane Swan, in his first game back he could be slightly underdone.

If Colin Garland can provide the same kind of opportunities for himself this week that he did in the last quarter against Essendon, Melbourne will finally have a two-pronged forward attack that could kick a winning score.

It will be hard for Melbourne to stay in the game, but the result isn’t important, so long as the effort and intensity is there.

Prediction: Collingwood by 45.

Byes: Adelaide, North Melbourne, Brisbane, West Coast, Greater Western Sydney and Western Bulldogs.

Jake D’Amato is a third year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe, and is upstart’s (new) football writer. Follow him on Twitter @jdamato32.