Essendon v Carlton
Friday 6 August, 7:40pm AEST at MCG, Melbourne
Where do you start with the Blues? They have won two of their past seven games, including an embarrassing thumping at the hands of Collingwood last weekend. Coach Brett Ratten didn’t officially call his team soft during his post-match press conference, but he said that his team pulled out of too many contests and missed too many tackles. So in other words, they were soft.
Essendon has completely turned its form around with two impressive victories in the last two weeks, none more so than its 33-point win over St Kilda last Friday night. Dustin Fletcher – the oldest player in the AFL at 35 – continues to amaze the football world with a close to best-on-ground performance against the Saints.
There’s an important but simple rule when tipping a winner for an Essendon-Carlton game: never tip the Blues. Why? The Bombers have won the past six encounters between these two clubs. But after so much scrutiny and criticism this past week, surely the Blues will be up and about for this game. Hopefully for their supporters’ sake, they will find the same intensity and thirst for the contested ball that saw them win against St Kilda and Geelong earlier this season.
Sydney v Hawthorn
Saturday 7 August, 2.10pm AEST at SCG, Sydney
The Swans would’ve been really disappointed with their 53-point loss to Geelong at ANZ Stadium last weekend. Even though they were playing quality opposition, a lot of their senior players – barring Adam Goodes – seemed to lack form and intensity. If Sydney wants a place in the top eight, it must lift its game fast.
Hawthorn’s shock loss to Port Adelaide last weekend was probably the wakeup call it needed, a month out from the finals. The Hawks had been on a high for a while after winning eight of nine games, but have been brought back to reality a tad with a draw and a loss in the past two weeks. But Hawthorn is a classy and professional outfit and there is no doubt they will bounce back.
The Hawks were dealt a big blow earlier this week with exciting forward Cyril Rioli copping a two-game suspension for an uncharacteristic, violent outburst against the Power. But even without the little master, Hawthorn is a much better team than the Swans across the entire field and, with close to a full-strength side from which to choose, should bounce back strongly at the SCG .
North Melbourne v Fremantle
Saturday 7 August, 2.10pm AEST at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
The Kangaroos’ long injury list got the better of them last week as they went down by 71 points to a more determined Western Bulldogs outfit. To make the finals now, they need to win the majority of their final four games and win by large margins due to their poor percentage.
Despite the fact that they were playing against extremely poor opposition, the Dockers were simply outstanding last week. Their 75 point win over West Coast was one of the most eye-catching performances of the season to date. They were led superbly by big man Aaron Sandilands – who won the Ross Glenndenning Medal for best on ground – and skipper Matthew Pavlich. Fremantle looked as if it was back to its best and there is no doubt that teams will not want to face the Dockers at home come September.
However North Melbourne has every right to feel confident about winning this game. The Dockers will be without four of their most important players in Sandilands, Hayden Ballantyne, Michael Barlow and Chris Tarrant. In addition, they will also be playing at Etihad Stadium, a venue where they have won just three of their past 17 matches. With the inclusions of Daniel Wells, Nathan Grima, Daniel Pratt and Cruize Garlett, and a finals place still up for grabs, the Kangaroos could cause an upset this Saturday afternoon.
Winner: North Melbourne
Geelong v Collingwood
Saturday 7 August, 7.10pm AEST at MCG, Melbourne
Collingwood’s easy win over Carlton last weekend reinforced its status as the best team in the league at the moment. The Pies are now serious contenders for this year’s premiership and if they beat the Cats, it would mean they have beaten every team in the top four this year.
Geelong also won easily last weekend, defeating Sydney by 53 points at ANZ Stadium. The Cats were at their best during the third quarter, slamming on eight goals to one in an exhilarating term of football. Steve Johnson was at his mercurial best with six goals from 25 possessions and he sent a message to opposition sides that you can’t afford to let him run amok.
This game is being touted as a potential grand final preview. The last time these two teams met, Collingwood dominated possession but wasn’t able to convert its hard work onto the scoreboard. However the Magpies have improved out of sight since then and should be confident going into Saturday night’s blockbuster. It’ll be tight, but Collingwood’s form is too difficult to overlook.
West Coast v Brisbane
Saturday 7 August, 5.40pm AEST at Subiaco Oval, Perth
The 2010 season has been a disaster for the Eagles to say the least. After 18 rounds of football, they sit on the bottom of the ladder with a paltry four wins and the pressure is starting to mount on coach John Worsfold and many senior players. They are a far cry from the team that many predicted would make the top eight before the season started.
But maybe a team that has been even more disappointing is Brisbane. Since opening the season with four straight wins, the Lions have managed to win just one out of their last 14 games and find themselves just one spot ahead of West Coast.
This will not be an attractive game of football, but the embarrassment of finishing on the bottom of the ladder will surely spur both clubs on this Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Lions they’ll be missing the services of spearhead Brendan Fevola and an array of other key players. The Eagles should win this one, only because it is at home.
Winner: West Coast
St.Kilda v Port Adelaide
Sunday 8 August, 1.10pm AEST at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
St Kilda coach Ross Lyon was fuming during his post-match conference last Friday night after his team’s surprise loss to the Bombers by 33 points. Defenders Sam Gilbert and Sam Fisher must find a way to break off forward tags and must get back to influencing games through aggressive run-and-carry.
Port Adelaide on the other hand dished out a massive surprise last week with a gutsy eight-point win over Hawthorn at AAMI Stadium. There is no doubt that since Matthew Primus stepped in as caretaker coach a few weeks ago the players have lifted their work rate significantly and seem to be playing for him.
But despite the Power’s newfound belief, they run into an angry and determined side this Sunday. St Kilda plays Etihad Stadium better than any other team and it will surely want to make a statement after last week’s ordinary effort. The Saints are due for a win and this game could get ugly very quickly.
Melbourne v Richmond
Sunday 8 August, 2.10pm AEST at MCG, Melbourne
The Demons played with maturity during their win over Brisbane at the ’Gabba last weekend. They have now won three of their past four games and are remarkably still in the hunt for a finals spot. Their attractive and attacking game style, as well as the outstanding form of players like Colin Sylvia and Brad Green, has been particularly encouraging for Melbourne supporters.
In two months, the Tigers have gone from firm wooden spoon favourites to one of the most improved teams in the competition. Their come from behind victory over Adelaide last weekend epitomised their development in 2010 and there are promising signs for all Richmond supporters for future years.
Recent matches between these two sides have been far from classy encounters . But times have changed and both clubs are playing an exciting brand of football. Having said that, Melbourne – despite not announcing it publicly – has a finals spot to play for and should win reasonably comfortably.
Adelaide v Western Bulldogs
Sunday 8 August, 4.10pm at AAMI Stadium, Adelaide
Adelaide has – to put it bluntly – ‘stuffed it big time’ over the last two weeks and is now a very slim chance of making the finals. Surprise losses to Port Adelaide and Richmond have seen the Crows slide to 11th position with a 7-11 record. Yes, they have had personnel issues with injuries and suspensions to key players, but poor kicking for goal has cost them dearly when games have been there for the taking.
The Bulldogs look like a team on a mission. They have won six out of their last seven games by an average of 65 points and are playing like a team that wants nothing less than a premiership. A small injury list is a huge advantage and may cause selection headaches, but of course they will only change their side if an unexpected injury or suspension occurs.
A team that possesses a solid backline, a hard-working midfield and an intimidating forward line takes on an inconsistent side plagued by injuries. Enough said really – the Bulldogs to win easily.
Winner: Western Bulldogs
Ben’s Tip Tally: 91 (Last Round: 5)
Ben Waterworth is a regular contributor to upstart and a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can read more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought. This article first appeared on Sportingbet Australia’s website.