Western Bulldogs V Collingwood: Etihad Stadium, Friday 7.50pm
Today in a football world consumed by the almighty dollar and maximizing TV ratings the Friday night stage has been reserved for the competition’s most commercially attractive and popular teams.
However, tonight the Western Bulldogs, historically considered an off-field battler, will get their time to step into the weekend spotlight.
Brendan McCartney tasted his first win as a senior coach last week, though the 42-point win was less than convincing against competition newcomers, Greater Western Sydney.
Liam Jones continues to struggle as the focal point, up forward managing just nine disposals and one goal against the Giants, despite his side generating 62 forward 50 entries.
However, McCartney has a firm eye on the future and will show no hesitation in continuing his faith with the 21-year-old who has still only played 30 games.
Collingwood are set to welcome back a trio of premiership stars.
Heath Shaw and All-Australian centre half-back, Ben Reid, returned to the training track during the week and looks set to return.
Veteran full-back Chris Tarrant is expected to make his comeback through the club’s VFL side but will have to wait another week with the reserves having the bye this weekend.
The Magpies will be refreshed following their eight-day lay off after the Anzac Day clash and with games against Brisbane, Geelong, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Melbourne to come Nathan Buckley’s men will be looking to steady the ship after a turbulent start to the season.
The Bulldogs will go in as underdogs tonight, but for a club that has been painted as perennial strugglers, this match is about making a statement that the battlers in fact count for as much as the rich in this competition.
Prediction: Collingwood is starting to get its personnel and mojo back. Magpies by 30-points.
Essendon V Brisbane: Etihad Stadium, Saturday 1.40pm
Essendon’s attack struggled last week as Collingwood restricted the Bombers to just 165 uncontested possessions, well short of its season average of 194.
The result was a slow movement of the football, and an absence of the fast-break style of play that has been a big factor in the Bombers impressive start to the year.
Stewart Crameri played poorly as a result and was kept goalless with just seven disposals and one mark to his name, well short of his season averages.
While Essendon are only ranked 15th in the competition for uncontested ball, it is their ability to spread and burst forward that makes it a damaging side when it has space to work.
Starving the Bombers of uncontested ball is an area Brisbane must focus on.
The Lions would have been nursed through the week after their slog in monsoonal conditions against Geelong.
Coach Michael Voss would have been pleased with aspects of his side’s performance against the Cats.
The Lions won the contested possession count (186-161) and laid 111 tackles.
The 38-point margin did not do justice to a Brisbane side that generated more scoring shots than its opposition but struggled to find their mark in the tough conditions with just the four goals and 17 behinds.
They will need to bring their kicking boots and the same tackling pressure they applied last week in order to lock down the fast-break Bombers.
Prediction: Essendon will be well rested while the Lions face an interstate trip after a hard slog in the wet. Bombers by 27-points.
Geelong V Melbourne: Simonds Stadium, Saturday 1.45pm
When these two sides met in round 19 last year, it culminated in one of the darkest days the Melbourne football club has endured.
The Demons suffered their second biggest loss in history (186 points) and sacked their coach the following day.
Of the 22 who played that day, 12 will make the same trip down the highway, looking to atone for the nightmare.
Mark Neeld’s men finally showed a fighting spirit against the Saints last week that their supporters could be proud of.
Melbourne laid 102 tackles- its season average is just 68 a game.
Jack Watts, the club’s no.1 pick in the 2008 National draft, has again been dropped, while James Frawley and Mitch Clark will return against the Cats.
Much has been made of the Cats’ inability to win the contested possession count, again losing the stat against the Lions last week (161-186).
However, the statistics show Geelong is struggling to get its hands on the football at all.
Last week’s game against Brisbane was the only time the Cats have won the overall possession count.
From 2007-2010 Geelong were ranked first in the competition for disposals, last year they were third.
Five rounds into season 2012 and the Cats find themselves ranked second lowest in the competition (17th) above only Melbourne.
Getting their hands on the football must be a key focus for Chris Scott’s men if they are to return to their intimidating best.
Prediction: Pray for the Demons sake that tomorrow is nowhere near as ugly as last year. Cats by 29-points.
Gold Coast V Fremantle: Metricon Stadium, Saturday 4.40pm
Gold Coast recorded its highest scoring quarter of football against the Kangaroos last week.
The Suns kicked 7.3 to be leading at half-time despite being without captain Gary Ablett, Michael Rischitelli and Jarrod Harrow before fading badly to lose by 34 points.
Guy McKenna and co. will be buoyed by the growing improvement of NRL-import Karmichael Hunt.
Last week, Hunt recorded 16 disposals (7 contested), 5 clearances and ended the game with a disposal efficiency of 81%.
The performance prompted opposition coach Brad Scott to call on all of Hunt’s doubters to phone the 25-year-old and apologise.
Fremantle on the other hand was left to ponder missed opportunities against the Blues.
The Dockers had seven more scoring shots and kicked 2.6 in the second quarter only to go down by 8-points.
Their season suffered a major blow on Tuesday with star midfielder Nathan Fyfe re-injuring his troublesome left shoulder in a match simulation drill at training.
The 20-year-old has had surgery and is expected to be out for 12 weeks.
However, midfield counterparts Michael Barlow and David Mundy notched 28 and 27 disposals respectively last week, with both appearing to have captured some fitness and form after lengthy time on the injury list.
Prediction: Gold Coast must turn the patches of form into four quarters. Dockers by 27-points.
St Kilda V Hawthorn: MCG, Saturday 7.40pm
St Kilda once again called upon the heroics of Lenny Hayes to overcome a determined Melbourne side last week.
The 32-year-old midfielder notched 25 disposals (13 contested), 10 clearances and kicked a goal in the final quarter to seal victory for the Saints.
Hawthorn’s nightmare against the Swans brought about many experts accusing Alastair Clarkson’s side of throwing in the towel.
The Hawks were woeful in the second half, conceding 11 while managing just two.
Star forward Lance Franklin was held goalless by Ted Richards and had minimal impact on the contest.
There have been calls this week for Clarkson to play his main goal kicker closer to goal and abandon the up-field experiment.
In the Hawks 2008 premiership year Franklin played predominantly inside 50 and as a result kicked 102 goals for the season at an average of 4.6 a game.
However, with Clarkson opting to use his three-time leading goal-kicker further afield, Franklin has averaged just 2.2 goals a game this year.
Lance Franklin playing out of the goal square is a prospect that would make any defence nervous, it remains to be seen whether Clarkson persists with the up-field experiment.
Saturday’s clash looms as a battle of the midfield.
Mitchell, Sewell, and Lewis will lock horns with Hayes, Dal Santo and Montagna.
Whichever trio is more capable of controlling the stoppages will give their side a big chance of controlling the outcome of the game.
Prediction: Hawthorn has had its desire questioned, good sides should answer with a statement. Hawks by 17 points.
Sydney V Adelaide: SCG, Saturday 7.40pm
Judgements were reserved about the Swans prior to last week’s systematic dismantling of Hawthorn.
However, their impressive performance on the back of an 11 goal to two second half has put the football world on notice- Sydney is the real deal.
The Swans have in-form players across the entire ground.
Centre-half back Ted Richards ensured Lance Franklin was not only kept goal but was ineffectual while at the other end of the ground Sam Reid already commands the opposition’s best defender at only 20 years of age.
However, their standout is the much publicized form of discarded Hawk Josh Kennedy.
Kennedy leads the competition in contested possessions and is ranked 4th in clearances (stat he led at the end of last season).
But, the 23-year-old’s biggest improvement has come in his scoreboard impact.
Kennedy has kicked six goals in just five games this year, the most he has managed in an entire season is 10.
Adelaide again did just enough last week against Port Adelaide to get the four points and it appears harsh to be critical of a side that has won four of its first five games.
However, the next month will be a true test of the Crows’ improvement under new coach Brenton Sanderson.
Following the trip to Sydney, Adelaide will face Geelong, Carlton (away), Collingwood and Fremantle (away).
Questions still remain as to whether the Crows can challenge for a spot in the top eight, these next five games look set to provide all the answers.
Prediction: Sydney are clicking on all cylinders at the moment. Swans by 20 points.
Carlton V Greater Western Sydney: Etihad Stadium, Sunday 1.10pm
Carlton showed signs of a good side last week when it bounced back from a dismal performance a week earlier to return from the West with four points.
The pleasing thing for Blues coach Brett Ratten was that his side managed to orchestrate the hard-fought win despite superstars Marc Murphy and Chris Judd failing to standout.
Instead, the Blues were led by the underrated Kade Simpson (35 disposals) and veteran Heath Scotland (30).
Simpson, in particular, has begun the year in stellar form, averaging 27.2 disposals with a disposal efficiency of 77%- these numbers are well up on last season (22.3 and 70%).
Greater Western Sydney turned around its dismal first quarter record (25 goals to 4 before last week) to take an eleven-point lead at the first change before going down to the Bulldogs.
The use of veteran Luke Power as a spare man down back has appeared to be a masterstroke by coach Kevin Sheedy and assistant Paul Williams.
Power has gathered 31 and 30 disposals in the past two weeks and appears to have settled the Giants down back.
Prior to the move, GWS had conceded 333 points in two games however in the past fortnight its opponents have managed just 200.
Carlton will pose a significantly greater threat to the Giants back six, despite resting several key players.
The Blues have taken the opportunity to rest several key players with Jarrad Waite, Matthew Kreuzer and skipper Chris Judd all rested for this week’s match-up with the Giants.
Prediction: Carlton are top-four hopefuls, the Giants are still mostly kids. Blues by 60 points.
Port Adelaide V Richmond: AAMI Stadium, Sunday 3.15pm
This game is no blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, however, it looms as the contest of the round.
Both sides have shown significant improvement from last year and will be hungry for four points after little reward in the opening rounds.
This is a big test for the Tigers and their season going forward.
After four honourable losses it is time for Richmond to show they can bare the burden of expectation and win a game many believe they should.
The Power will also experience its own weight of expectation on Sunday.
For the first time in a long time Port Adelaide fans will be heading to AAMI Stadium expecting nothing short of a win.
The respective forward lines of each side shapes as a deciding area of the ground.
Jay Schulz has kicked 11 goals for the year while 20-year John Butcher continues to gain experience while his body builds to that of a key position AFL player.
On the other hand, Jack Riewoldt has endured a shaky start to the season managing just eight goals from five outings.
Tyrone Vickery appeared to have turned a corner against the Eagles with six marks, in his previous four game Vickery managed just six marks in total.
Whichever duo can fire on Sunday will put their side in the box seat.
Prediction: The Tigers have been good but can they perform when the football world actually expects them to? Power by eight points.
West Coast V North Melbourne: Patersons Stadium, Sunday 4.40pm
The ankle injury that has sidelined centre-half-forward Josh Kennedy for 12 weeks has made West Coast’s injury list critical.
Kennedy joins fellow forwards Mark LeCras (knee) and Mark Nicoski (hamstring) on the long-term injury list along with premiership midfielder Andrew Embley (shoulder).
However, the Eagles will be heartened by the performance of second year player Jack Darling last week.
After Kennedy suffered the injury during a second quarter marking contest the 19-year-old stepped up with 15 disposals and four goals, including the sealer.
If West Coast can manage the next 12 weeks without Kennedy it will be a testament to the club’s forward depth.
North Melbourne was less than convincing last week against the Suns before turning a one point half-time deficit into a six goal win.
It is no secret the Kangaroos game plan is built around moving the ball by hand rather than by foot.
Brad Scott’s side averages 202 handballs a game (ranked 1st in the competition) while 196 kicks a game has them at 15th in the AFL.
Half-back dasher Daniel Wells has come back down to Earth in the past fortnight after a sensational start to the season.
Before the round four loss to the Swans Wells averaged 28 disposals per game, since then however he has managed just the 19 and 13 respectively.
With a 90% disposal efficiency his use of the football by hand and foot is among the best in the competition and the amount of football the 27-year-old can get in his hands during a game has a significant bearing on his side’s performance.
Todd Goldstein has been recalled to the Kangaroos line-up to tackle West Coast giants Dean Cox and Nick Natanui. Goldstein was dominant for VFL affiliate North Ballarat last week with two goals and 22 disposals to go with his 64 hit-outs.
Prediction: Despite all its injuries West Coast are in hot form and showed last week it can withstand pressure. Eagles by 30 points.