Sydney vs. Geelong
Both sides should be fresh coming off a bye to close out the first halves of their respective seasons. The halfway point sees Sydney sitting in fourth position (8-3) while Geelong are only one win outside the top four.
This encounter may decide Geelong’s top four aspirations. They have matches against Port Adelaide and Gold Coast in the coming weeks, and with a win they could potentially have ten wins by round 15. This would give them a realistic opportunity to make the top four and having yet another tilt at a premiership.
Sydney was able to topple the Cats in round 23 last year. It was Geelong’s first loss at the ground in 30 starts and their first loss to Sydney in ten. Despite this, the Swans have looked the better side thus far in 2012, as the Cats have continuously battled to find their best form. So far they have only managed to show glimpses of the form they have shown for five or so years.
The return of Adam Goodes will be watched closely and it will be interesting to see how the 32-year-old handles the return from his first substantial injury. With or without Goodes the Swans’ have looked like premiership contenders at times and they should narrowly get home in this one.
Prediction: Swans by 11
Western Bulldogs vs. Brisbane
Out of nowhere, the Bulldogs have rekindled their slim finals hopes after a 38 point win over Port Adelaide. Amazingly, the 13th placed Bulldogs are only one game outside the eight, and a win here would distance them from Brisbane.
The game may very well be won and lost in the Brisbane forward line, the forward six for the Lions have constantly struggled to post winning scores.
But the Brisbane forwards have a bigger task than kicking goals this week.
Last week against Port Adelaide, the Bulldogs half-back line looked to be up there with the best of them. The likes of Easton Wood, Robert Murphy and Christian Howard were fearless as they exited the defensive fifty. It was pulsating to watch.
The Lions’ forwards need to apply pressure throughout the entire contest and not allow the Dogs’ defenders to run the ball freely out of defence.
However, without in-form ruckman Will Minson (due to a one week suspension for sledging) the Bulldogs may not be able to gain any ascendency in the centre. His replacement, Tom Campbell, has his work cut out for him.
But even without Minson, the Bulldogs should be too strong for the Lions in Melbourne.
Prediction: Dogs by 23.
Collingwood vs. West Coast
Saturday afternoon at the MCG will see a replay of last years qualifying final tussle, which saw Collingwood overcome an inexperienced Eagles side by 20 points.
This game is without a doubt the match of the round as two legitimate premiership contenders meet head on.
Collingwood will be going for their ninth straight victory and put a game between themselves and West Coast. The Pies’ back line will welcome back Ben Reid, Heath Shaw and Alan Toovey, putting their defence almost at full strength.
The biggest match-up on the ground will be between Dane Swan and Scott Selwood. Selwood has proven himself as both a nuisance and an effective tagger. He was able to hold Carlton captain Chris Judd to only 12 possessions last week, and a repeat performance would go a long way in helping the Eagles win.
The big thing for West Coast will be proving that they can perform, both against a quality side and at the MCG. It should be an enthralling encounter, expect it to go down to the wire.
Prediction: Pies by 24
Fremantle vs. Essendon
Two surprising losses to Melbourne and Sydney have left Essendon in a slump. Now they’re facing Fremantle in Perth, at a venue which they have lost 14 of their past 16 games.
Fremantle on the other hand, are hoping to be past their recent slump, which saw them lose three straight games, before upsetting Richmond and putting them well and truly in the finals race.
There has been a lot of talk about the loss of Aaron Sandilands and the impact that will have on the Dockers. But in hindsight, the best they have looked in their past month of footy, was when they were Sandilands-less. Maybe not relying on him will improve their side, but back-up ruckman Jon Griffin must stand up.
The Bombers need to improve the potency of their forward line. Against the Swans, the Bombers continuously kicked long bombs to tall targets, rather than running the ball in and looking for shorter, and smarter, options.
But Ross Lyon’s men will try and close down the game and force them to go long. If the Bombers can run and carry, they will win, otherwise we might be saying heave-ho to their season.
Prediction: Fremantle by 17
Melbourne vs. GWS
This Sunday, Greater Western Sydney makes its MCG debut as Melbourne awaits the return of former Demon Tom Scully. Scully will be under the microscope from the first bounce, and most likely each of his possessions will be met with belated boos.
Although the Demons should win this game, they are anything but a certainty. They have crumbled under expectations too many times this year and ultimately this looms as a mental test for Neeld’s men.
GWS have been competitive in patches of every game they’ve played. Their only flaw has been their inability to be competitive across four quarters. They managed about three and a half quarters against Richmond and went down by two goals. Three and a half quarters of good football might be enough against Melbourne though.
The Demons’ impressive third quarter against Collingwood showed that they do have the ability to compete at a high level, but although they have improved this season, they have the same inconsistency issue as GWS.
This one will go down to the wire.
Prediction: Demons by 7
North Melbourne vs. Adelaide
The Adelaide Crows are on a rampage. They’ve only lost two games this season, and one of their past eight, which was against Collingwood. When they are at their best, they look like premiership contenders, with the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Rory Sloane giving the Crows flare and endless kilometres of run.
North Melbourne may not be able to compete against a quality side like Adelaide at the moment. They struggled to get a win last week over the winless Gold Coast, and have only looked convincing in one game this season. That one game (against Geelong) was enough to show that when the Kangaroos are at their best they can be damaging.
But it is hard to see North Melbourne returning to form right now, having only beaten one side outside the bottom four. Drew Petrie will need to have a big game, as will the midfielders.
Andrew Swallow and co. will need to try and overcome the dominant Adelaide midfield to be competitive, but it seems unlikely.
Prediction: Adelaide by 52