St Kilda v Hawthorn: Tonight- 7.40pm at Etihad Stadium
St Kilda was disappointing against an impressive Collingwood outfit last week and will be very determined to bounce back against Hawthorn. There are a few concerns for them though, with Nick Riewoldt still trying to find some consistency after his hamstring injury and Justin Koschitzke struggling for form and confidence.
The Hawks have won eight of their last nine games and are back to full strength. There will be very few teams who will want to run into them come finals time. All their prolific midfielders like Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell and Shaun Burgoyne are starting to gel together nicely and the team is playing consistent football.
Each side boasts a big inclusion this week; the Saints regaining Nick Dal Santo and the Hawks welcoming back their superstar full forward, Lance Franklin. Both teams are evenly matched and will feature heavily in September. But St Kilda plays Etihad Stadium better than any other team in the competition and should win in a close encounter.
Collingwood v Richmond: Saturday- 2.10pm at MCG
Collingwood is now a serious flag contender after a fantastic victory over St.Kilda last weekend. Dane Swan played another great game and is a definite contender for this year’s Brownlow medal. The most impressive aspect about the Magpies at the moment is that they don’t field a team of stars but have incredible depth and balance across the board.
Richmond was dealt a serious reality check last weekend with a 50-point loss to the Kangaroos. However, it was great to see coach Damien Hardwick express his disappointment during his post-match press conference. He basically announced to his fans that the Tigers have high expectations of themselves and want to finish this season strongly.
Despite the Tigers’ fairytale-like run over the past seven weeks, there is a massive gap in talent between these two sides. Richmond needs Jack Riewoldt to replicate his ten-goal effort and Ben Cousins to step up if they want any chance of winning. But classy teams don’t lose these kinds of games and if the Magpies want to make a statement to the rest of the competition, this Saturday is the perfect opportunity to do so. Collingwood, comfortably.
Geelong v Brisbane: Saturday- 2.10pm at Skilled Stadium
The Cats would have been embarrassed with their performance last week. With close to a full-strength lineup, they still managed to lose to Adelaide by 11 points with very few players able to say that they earned their spot in the side. Joel Selwood was outstanding though, with 35 touches, and continues to prove that he could one day win a Brownlow.
However Brisbane is in a much worse situation. The Lions have lost 11 of 12 games and are a far cry from the team that won four straight to start the season. Unfortunately, their injury list continues to grow and their confidence must be dropping at the same time. It’s fair to say that a few players will be heavily scrutinised at the end of the season and could find themselves at a different club or out of the league altogether.
This clash could get very ugly because Geelong is coming off a disappointing loss and Brisbane is in disarray, not to mention that the Cats regain two vital players in Steve Johnson and Darren Milburn, and Gary Ablett loves playing against Brisbane. Geelong by plenty.
North Melbourne v Essendon: Saturday 7.10pm at Etihad Stadium
The Kangaroos currently sit in ninth spot and are on the verge of playing finals. After two straight losses, they bounced back well against the Tigers last week with a convincing 50-point victory. Andrew Swallow’s 31-possession game was outstanding and Essendon will need to restrict his impact if they want any chance of winning.
The Bombers are in crisis. They had a horrid loss against West Coast last week that increased the recent pressure upon the club. Plenty of changes have been made at the selection table over the past few weeks and they still can’t seem to find the right balance in their side. If they don’t start to win, Matthew Knights’ job at the end of the year is in serious jeopardy.
This is an important game for the Kangaroos and they need to win it to stay in touch with the eight. Their percentage is ordinary and they have a somewhat tough run home. With much more than just pride to play for North Melbourne should be too good.
West Coast v Carlton: Saturday- 7.10pm at Subiaco Oval
A fantastic win by the Eagles over Essendon last weekend and they can put it down to some individual brilliance from Mark Le Cras. For the first time in nine years, an AFL player kicked 12 goals in a game and Le Cras’ efforts should now almost guarantee All-Australian selection.
Carlton is in the eight but certainly isn’t playing like a finals team. They produce these random losses – like the one to Sydney last week – and their inconsistency is starting to frustrate their fans. Skipper Chris Judd continues to play a lone hand for his team and is receiving very little help from his fellow midfielders.
The Blues haven’t travelled interstate since round eight this season and have played seven of their last eight games at Etihad Stadium. They must be switched on mentally if they want to win this game. But Le Cras’ individual heroics last week might have been enough to spark the Eagles for the remainder of the season. West Coast to win in an upset and to put a massive dent in the Blues’ finals aspirations.
Western Bulldogs v Fremantle: Sunday- 1.10pm at Etihad Stadium
Let’s put the whole Jason Akermanis saga to one side just for the moment. The Bulldogs have put themselves back on track over the past couple of weeks with two great wins against Carlton and Port Adelaide. They are starting to move the ball with more fluency and efficiency and it is a very attractive style of football to watch.
The Dockers look like their younger bodies are starting to feel the pinch a little bit, despite a win over Melbourne last week. The loss of Michael Barlow to broken leg is crucial because he is one of their few midfielders who have the ability to find the footy at will. Matthew Pavlich needs to lift his game and Antoni Grover must curb Barry Hall’s influence if the Dockers are going to win this match.
The biggest concern for the Dogs is that they are making the long trip home from Darwin, although they do have an extra day to recover. With the added motivation of the Akermanis saga – according to the club its motivation – the Western Bulldogs will start their push towards a premiership this Sunday.
Melbourne v Sydney: Sunday- 2.10pm at MCG
It’s hard to believe but the Swans haven’t been outside the top eight since round three this season. Their youngstersare gelling together with the experienced heads and players such as Adam Goodes are starting to have a major impact on games.
While Melbourne’s season is a vast improvement on last year, you can’t ignore the fact that they currently sit eleventh on the ladder with just five wins. They have been inconsistent and that was epitomised last week when they started slowly against the Dockers and eventually fell short by 11 points after an inspired comeback.
The Swans have lost both of their games at the MCG this season, but this time they have an incredible amount to play for. Expect Goodes to go massive and expect Sydney to win comfortably.
Port Adelaide v Adelaide: Sunday- 4.40pm at AAMI Stadium
Port Adelaide started strongly against the Bulldogs last week but faded after halftime to make it nine losses in a row. Matthew Primus probably has the most difficult job in the AFL at the moment trying to motivate the Power players. He has swung the axe at the selection table this week – and quite rightly so – with the possibility of eight changes to last week’s team.
Adelaide has turned its season around with four straight wins over the past month, none more important and impressive than their inspirational 11-point win over Geelong last Friday night. Coach Neil Craig said he’s never heard AAMI Stadium make so much noise before. Taylor Walker also announced himself as a player of the future with four match winning goals in the second half.
This will be closer than everyone expects it to be. Primus should have the Power switched on – pardon the pun – for this game and they will give Adelaide an almighty scare. However, the Crows are playing the kind of football that many believed would see them make the finals this year. If Adelaide does play finals this year, it will be the first time since the inception of the top eight that a team that started the year with a win-loss ratio of 2-8 makes the finals. Adelaide to win, because they have history to play for.
Tip Tally: 82 (Last Round: 4)