St Kilda V Fremantle: Etihad Stadium Friday 7.50pm
This Friday-night clash is more about its off-field intrigue than on.
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon returns to face his former players and supporters after walking out on the Saints last September to join the Dockers.
It will be interesting to hear the reception St Kilda supporters give Lyon, who guided the club to three successive preliminary finals and two-heart breaking grand final defeats in four seasons.
Perhaps a greater weight on Lyon’s mind is the functioning of his side’s forward line.
The Dockers last week dominated the inside 50 count against the Lions (+32) yet just nine of their 52 forward entries found a marking target.
The Fremantle coaching staff would have drilled into their players during the week the importance of lowering their eyes and spotting up a target going forward.
St Kilda on the other hand enjoyed greater efficiency going forward with 60% of inside 50 entries resulting in shots on goal.
Captain Nick Riewoldt, who in recent years has carried the Saints in that part of the ground, found ample support last week in Rhys Stanley; who gathered 14 disposals, 6 marks (same as Riewoldt) and booted 1.3.
Unlike the start of last year, which saw the Saints win just one of their first seven games, their stars are in-form.
Nick Dal Santo, Brendon Goddard and spiritual leader Lenny Hayes are all averaging more than 24 disposals in 2012.
Where will it be won and lost?
Last week’s defensive effort by the St Kilda to surrender just 2 goals in three and a half quarters of football against the Dogs had many experts tipping the return of ‘Saints footy’.
St Kilda will need to give its former coach a taste of his own medicine tonight in order to give it a big chance to come out on top.
However given Lyon was the mastermind behind the Saints’ relentless defence, does he have the perfect way to combat it?
Prediction: Fremantle to break its 10-game losing streak in Victoria. Dockers by 7 points.
Carlton V Essendon: MCG Saturday 1.45pm
Carlton fans are still basking in the joy of last Friday night’s demolition of the Magpies and for the second straight week the Blues will face an old enemy.
However the potential hype surrounding this Saturday afternoon’s blockbuster has been quelled by injuries and a fixturing dilemma.
Essendon will head into the match missing a possible nine players from its preferred 22 due to injury.
Adding to the headache at Windy Hill, the Bombers face a three-day turnaround before their traditional ANZAC Day clash against Collingwood.
Won and lost?
Carlton’s quality and depth in the midfield is significant enough to prove a match winner.
Skipper Chris Judd, Marc Murphy and Andrew Carrazzo are all averaging above 30 touches a game.
Broc McLean adds to the Blues’ depth this week, recalled for his first game of the year after a best of ground performance in the VFL last week.
The Blues are also +35 in the clearance count against their opponents this season, with their dominance on show last week when they demolished Collingwood at the stoppages 50-32.
Depth in this part of the ground is currently a weakness at Essendon. The Bombers’ coaching staff will be hoping the likes of Jake Melksham, Sam Lonergan and Ben Howlett take the next step in their development this year.
Prediction: Confidence is sky-high at Princess Park. Blues by 40 points.
Collingwood V Port Adelaide: Saturday Etihad Stadium 2.10pm
For Collingwood the past seven days has proven to be the downside to being the biggest football club in the country.
A humiliating loss to an arch rival was compounded by calls for its favourite son to be sacked as coach after just three games.
A ugly public spat between the club’s president and ex-coach then followed.
The Magpies must make a statement against Port Adelaide this week in order to heal the fractures in the black and white army.
Luke Ball’s season-ending knee injury is likely to leave a gaping hole in Collingwood’s midfield with the 27-year-old’s absence likely to add to the load of fellow on-ballers Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan.
In a further blow Magpies key players Heath Shaw (hamstring) and Dale Thomas (quad) will miss three weeks.
Port Adelaide last week was again good but not good enough.
The Power trailed by just 10 points in ten minutes into the last quarter before the Swans kicked away.
The Power will this week welcome back promising young forward John Butcher to give the visitors some much need boost up forward.
Won and lost?
New game plan or not there is not excuse for lacking a hunger for the contest.
Last week the Magpies appeared lethargic and their intense defensive pressure of the past two seasons was nowhere to be seen.
Collingwood will need to lift its workrate against a Power side that has shown renewed effort in season 2012.
Prediction: Week of turmoil at Westpac centre shouldn’t dampen star power. Pies by 30 points.
Adelaide V GWS: Saturday AAMI Stadium 4.40pm
The Crows were dismal against Hawthorn last week.
They allowed the Hawks to do as they pleased – surrendering 282 uncontested possessions and 130 uncontested marks.
After wins over the Gold Coast and the Bulldogs, Adelaide gets another easy kill against Greater Western Sydney.
The Giants first quarter woes continued last week against West Coast. They have been outscored 20 goals to three in first quarters this season – an area coach Kevin Sheedy and co. will no doubt be looking to address.
Won and lost?
The GWS defence is a leaking ship.
In their first three games, the Giants have averaged 36 scoring shots against.
Adelaide on the other hand has averaged 30 shots on goal a game.
A goal kicking dynamo in the first two rounds, Taylor Walker had a nightmare outing against the Hawks managing just the four touches and two behinds.
No better way to play your-self back into form than in a proverbial bye week.
Prediction: Adelaide to demolish another easy-beat. Crows by 76 points.
West Coast V Hawthorn: Patersons Stadium Saturday 7.40pm
After routine wins over the Bulldogs, Demons and Giants, the Eagles will finally be put to the test against a fellow top-four contender.
West Coast will welcome back premiership full-back Darren Glass, Matt Priddis and Matthew Rosa after the trio were spared last week’s trip to Blacktown.
Hawthorn was granted a bruise-free win against the Crows, chipping their way to 282 uncontested possessions and a 56-point win.
Bradley Hill, the younger brother of Dockers’ speedster Stephen, will debut in his home town and will provide some much needed pace on the wing.
Jarryd Roughead may be utilised down back by coach Alistair Clarkson, as his side looks to combat the home side’s towering forward combo of Josh Kennedy, Quinten Lynch and Jack Darling with Dean Cox likely to rest up forward as he did last week.
Recent history points to a significant home ground advantage for West Coast, who have beaten the Hawks on the last two occasions in the West.
However Sam Mitchell loves playing against the Eagles, averaging 36 disposals in his last four games against John Worsfold’s men.
Won and lost?
The Hawks’ defence was monstered two weeks ago by the Cats’ big men James Podsiadly and Tom Hawkins.
They will face an even taller task against the West Coast forward line, that includes four players over 190cm.
This height advantage could be an area the Eagles exploit – should they be able to generate enough inside 50s.
Prediction: West Coast at home. Eagles by 20 points.
Brisbane V Gold Coast: The Gabba Saturday 7.40pm
The third installment of the Q-clash has become an enticing prospect, following the improved performance of Gold Coast last week.
For the first time since round 7 last year the Suns led going into the final term, before being overrun by the Bombers.
Despite Gold Coast’s winless start to the year, the form of its captain has been nothing short of scintillating.
Gary Ablett last week became the first player since stats were recorded to gather 40+ possessions in three consecutive games, leaving Essendon stopper Heath Hocking to brand the 2009 Brownlow medalist ‘untaggable’.
Brisbane matched Fremantle at the clearances (38-41) but broke down severely across half-forward, managing just 20 inside 50s and five goals for the match.
With a run under his belt, the Lions will be hoping for a greater impact from skipper Jonathan Brown in his first Q-clash, after gathering just three kicks in his return last from a pre-season facial fracture.
An Achilles injury has condemned Matthew Leuenberger to the long-term injury list, and leaves 18-year-old Billy Longer to share the ruck duties with veteran Ben Hudson.
Won and lost?
Redden, Rich and Rockliff will lock horns with Prestia, Swallow and Matera in a battle between some of the competition’s most promising talents.
This area of the ground will again loom as a pivotal aspect of the contest.
Prediction: Brisbane has impressed for a large part of 2012 so far. Lions by 27 points.
Geelong V Richmond: Simonds Stadium Sunday 1.10pm
Any excitement the Tiger army had after its round three win over Melbourne was quashed with a quick glance at this week’s fixture.
With Geelong set to unfurl its 2011 premiership flag and keen to make amends for a lack-luster performance against the Kangaroos, Richmond can expect a more fierce Cats side than the one it faced in the NAB Cup.
The Tiger faithful will be dismayed by their side having won just the once from 15 outings against the Cats – with an average losing margin of 63 points from the last four games.
Tyrone Vickery continues to test the patience of the Richmond match committee with the 21-year old managing a total of just 15 disposals and four marks in the first three rounds.
His task will not be made any easier given his likely opponent to be All-Australian key defender Harry Taylor, who last week kept Kangaroos spearhead Drew Petrie goalless.
Won and lost?
Richmond’s young midfield of Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin cannot allow themselves to be bullied by their more decorated counterparts come Sunday.
Geelong has the bigger bodies and will no doubt try to bully the lighter Tigers.
Cotchin and co. must stand up and be counted.
Prediction: Several Geelong players will be hurting from last week’s poor showing. Cats by 60 points.
Sydney V North Melbourne: SCG Sunday 3.15pm
In characteristic fashion these two teams have quietly gone about their business in 2012.
North Melbourne got the credit it deserved last week when it finally recorded a win against a quality opposition.
Yet it will count for little if the Kangaroos fail to back up their effort with a strong performance the SCG.
Sydney has won all three games to start 2012 and showed it could withstand pressure, when it held off the Power last week at AAMI stadium.
However, the Swans will be without co-captain Adam Goodes, who was suspended for one-week for his sliding tackle on Port Adelaide’s Jacob Surjan.
Irishman and ex-St Kilda player Tommy Walsh has been named on an extended bench, and has a chance to debut for his new club.
Won and lost?
Both sides have a sole focal point up forward.
The side with the best forward distribution, who manages to share the workload inside the 50, will have the edge.
Sam Reid continues to show he will be a big part of Sydney’s future, while North’s Drew Petrie has the ability to control games.
The Kangaroos could have the edge with the likes of Aaron Edwards and Lindsay Thomas on the ball, while Hamish McIntosh and Todd Goldstein are likely to cause havok for the Swans close to the goals.
Prediction: North Melbourne’s win last week was not a one-off-wonder. Kangaroos by 4 points.
Melbourne V Western Bulldogs: MCG Sunday 4.40pm
Something is drastically wrong when a side wins the inside 50 count, yet kicks just 5 goals for the match and loses by 63 points.
The Bulldogs were toothless up forward against the Saints, managing two goals in three and a half quarters, and a total of six marks inside 50 for the game.
The Demons are battling self-belief as much as any opponent at the moment.
To be blown out in the third quarter against the Tigers the way they were (nine goals to one) was an indictment on the Melbourne players’ ability to stand up when the going gets tough.
This week the Demons faithful will want their players to look like they care for the result, and not simply roll over and accept their fate – should the contest not go their way.
Won and lost?
Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs sit 15th and 17th respectively for points scored this year.
The side who can solve that issue this week, and kick a score close to or in excess of 100-points, should win the game.
Prediction: Melbourne’s demons to continue. Dogs by 17 points.