North Melbourne v Carlton: Friday 29/7 – 7.40pm at Etihad Stadium
The club that pioneered Friday night footy in the 1980s plays its first and last game for 2011 on the big stage, taking on a team desperate to remain in the top four.
Hold the phones – North Melbourne isn’t finished yet. The Kangaroos have convincingly won their past two matches against Western Bulldogs and Brisbane, both at Etihad Stadium. It’s been the form of the three big men that has impressed coach Brad Scott the most of late. Rookie-upgrade Cameron Pederson has shown great versatility across the ground, Drew Petrie’s contested marking has improved dramatically, while ruckman Todd Goldstein has put his hand up for All-Australian selection.
Carlton’s 74-point win over Essendon last weekend was perfectly timed – particularly with its top-four spot currently under siege. After a tight first half, the Blues produced an explosive eight-goal third term, closing down the Bombers’ space and applying relentless defensive pressure. The footy community found a new respect for Chris Judd, who set-up the victory with a faultless first half. What about these for statistics at the end of a game: 33 touches (20 contested), seven clearances, nine inside 50’s, 12 tackles and a goal. Not bad, really.
This is a must-win game for both teams here, with North Melbourne eyeing a top-eight spot and Carlton desperate to stay with the big boys. The Kangaroos have had the wood over the Blues in recent times, winning six of the past seven encounters. However Carlton proved last weekend it wants that top-four spot desperately and the zippy forward line of Betts, Walker and Jeff Garlett should be too elusive for the Roos’ defence.
Carlton by 24 points
Western Bulldogs v West Coast Eagles: Saturday 30/7 – 2.10pm at Etihad Stadium
Western Australia’s in-form team has another opportunity to prove it can beat good sides away from home.
If the Kangaroos hadn’t blown out Western Bulldogs’ September candle out in Round 17, then Sydney certainly did last weekend. The Bulldogs failed to hit contests with great tenacity, especially in the first 15 minutes of the game, as the Adam Goodes-inspired Swans romped home to win by 39 points. Whether it’s fitness or form, both Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen – clearly the Bulldogs’ two biggest barometers – can’t string two good games together and it’s reflecting in their team’s output.
West Coast was part of the most memorable western derby we’d ever seen last weekend, however it could’ve been less exciting if it hadn’t of surrendered so early in the final term. With seven minutes to go and a four-goal lead, the Eagles tried to take the steam out of the contest by chipping the ball around, but only succeeded in allowing Fremantle to get within one point.
The season’s basically over for the Bulldogs, while it’s only just beginning for the Eagles. Expect West Coast to produce a fast start and have too much prowess up forward for a vulnerable Bulldogs backline.
West Coast by 30 points
Geelong v Melbourne: Saturday 30/7 – 2.10pm at Skilled Stadium
The AFL’s two oldest clubs go head-to-head on Saturday afternoon, but the only thing old about this clash will be an old-fashioned clubbing.
It was ugly, but Geelong did what it had to do during its 62-point victory over Richmond last weekend. Etihad Stadium became an error-riddled chook house in the second half as both teams struggled to hit targets. However the Cats set up their win in the first half, restricting the Tigers to one goal while kicking 11 themselves.
It feels like Melbourne has been continuously riding the Superman ride at Movie World on the Gold Coast during 2011. The Demons haven’t been able to generate any consistency this season, mainly because they are still a young and developing team. They lost to the stronger-bodied Hawks by 54 points last weekend, as they failed to stick tackles at crucial stages of the match. Brent Moloney is a barometer for the team – if he’s quiet, the team falls over with him.
The Demons need to win one, preferably two, of their next three games to feature in September. But it won’t happen against a strong and experience Cats outfit at their home fortress. Geelong to make it 27 consecutive victories at Skilled Stadium.
Geelong by 50 points
Gold Coast Suns v St Kilda: Saturday 30/7 – 7.10pm at Metricon Stadium
After a disappointing start to the season, the 2010 runners-up are firing yet again and Saturday night gives it a perfect opportunity to gain another percentage boost.
It was always going to be tough for Gold Coast to compete with the all-conquering Magpies last weekend. However the AFL’s new boys certainly kept up with the pace on Saturday night, winning the final term and breaking even with the Pies in the second half. The Suns may sit near the bottom of the ladder, but there’s little doubt this club will be a powerhouse sooner rather than later.
If you were placed in the bottom four of the top eight now, you’d have to be nervous about St Kilda. In their best four-quarter performance for the season, the Saints demolished a pathetic Adelaide side by 103 points. Their pressure was consistently unrelenting from the first bounce, which gave players like Stephen Milne (eight goals), Adam Schneider (five) and Nick Riewoldt (three) plenty of opportunities to score. The Saints are now in the top eight – and it looks like they’re there to stay.
The folk up north will be disappointed Gold Coast-raised Riewoldt won’t be lining up for the Saints this weekend, after the skipper was controversially suspended for a week on Monday. However that won’t deter St Kilda too much, who should run out very comfy winners on Saturday night.
St Kilda by 60 points
Fremantle v Hawthorn: Saturday 30/7 – 5.40pm at Patersons Stadium
Two injury-riddled teams clash on Saturday night in what is an important game in terms of finals setup.
If Hayden Ballantyne’s kick after the siren had gone through for a goal against West Coast last weekend, most pundits would’ve been confidently saying Fremantle is a certain finals starter. But it wasn’t to be. Now the Dockers now must dig deep if they want to feature in September. A plethora of injuries to key players has meant they’ve been under duress for the entire season, but their endeavour has been first-class.
At its best, Hawthorn can match it with any team in the competition. The Hawks’ abundance of talent was on show last weekend as they ran out comfortable 54-point winners over Melbourne. Their strong-bodied midfielders, such as Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell, Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis, dominated at the stoppages and won the majority of one-on-one contests around the ground.
This is a huge game for the Dockers. Not only can they enhance their chances of finishing in the eight, but they can also prove they’re capable of beating a quality opponent. However the light’s a little brighter at the end of Hawthorn’s injury tunnel. Expect the Hawks’ big guns to fire and lead the rest of the team to an impressive victory away from home.
Hawthorn by 30 points
Collingwood v Essendon: Sunday 31/7 – 2.10pm at MCG
These two teams last met on ANZAC Day this year and played out one of the best games of the season. However Sunday’s game should be one of the disappointments of the season.
Collingwood keeps doing what it does best – winning. The Magpies comfortably accounted for the Suns last weekend, with the most encouraging signs arising from their fringe players. Ben Johnson played his best game of the season, kicking two goals from 33 touches. Jarryd Blair continued to stand up in the absence of Alan Didak, kicking a goal from 19 touches and six inside 50’s. While Luke Ball covered the ground magnificently for 27 touches in a sign he’s in the best touch since his breakout season in 2005.
At the other end of the spectrum, Essendon was perhaps the biggest loser out of Round 18 as its finals hopes took a tumble. The Bombers closed the Blues down in the first half and denied them of the footy. But they produced a disappointing second half to eventually go down by 74 points. Essendon conceded 8.4 in the third term and only managed one behind itself. It was thrashed in the clearances – meaning it needs Jobe Watson and Heath Hocking back as soon as possible – and had 10 less inside 50’s than Carlton.
Please ignore the closeness of the result the last time these two teams met. It’ll be different this time – Collingwood easily.
Collingwood by 50 points
Adelaide v Port Adelaide: Sunday 31/7 – 4.10pm at AAMI Stadium
Never have there been so many subplots – mainly negative – in the lead up to a South Australian derby.
What a past week for the Adelaide Football Club. Following the Crows’ worst performance in AFL history – a 103-point loss to St Kilda last round – Neil Craig fell on his own sword and resigned as senior coach on Monday. It was a sad day for South Australian footy, but one that needed to happen, because Craig had lost the players, supporters and the media. Former Crows skipper Mark Bickley, who has been earmarked for this job for a while, will take over for the rest of the season and has a golden chance to impress the club’s board.
Craig’s departure from the Crows, as well as the bye last weekend, has meant Port Adelaide has escaped the negative press over the past week and a half. But let’s not forget the Power have had a deplorable season to date, currently sitting on the bottom of the ladder with little support from fans and the media. However Sunday presents them with the perfect opportunity to spoil a party being hosted by their greatest rivals.
The Power will go into the game full of confidence, knowing they have won four of the past five South Australian derbies, including an inspirational come-from-behind victory earlier this season. A win would not only give the players plenty of confidence but would also lift them off the bottom of the ladder. However the new coach factor at the Crows will get them the win here. Players always lift the week after a coach has been sacked, because they know they could be next on the chopping board. Adelaide is the best bet of the round – it’s a certainty to win.
Adelaide by 30 points
Brisbane Lions, Sydney Swans and Richmond
This piece first appeared on Sportingbet Australia.