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Round 8 preview: Stokes returns

Mathew Stokes is back for the Cats, Freo faces one of it's biggest matches this season and Barry Hall faces up against his old club. All this and more as Ben Waterworth previews round eight of the AFL season.

Another action-packed round of AFL kicks off tonight with a great match between two teams in very impressive form. But before we look ahead to this weekend’s action, let’s look back at Round 7.

Five things we learnt from Round 7:

1. St. Kilda need to inject some pace into their game. Despite only missing star forward Nick Riewoldt from their full strength side, the Saints had no answer to Carlton’s fast-paced play on Monday night. The Blues’ three small forwards – Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Chris Yarran – showed amazing skill and speed as Carlton dominated in every facet of the game, beating the Saints by 61 points. St. Kilda had no quick runners through their midfield, and in future they must either play Brett Peake – who’s currently in the VFL – or move players like Jason Gram or Sam Gilbert into the midfield. They will struggle to win games of football otherwise.

2. Geelong are still serious premiership contenders. Against an in-form Sydney outfit, the Cats proved that they are as hungry as ever for a premiership with a 67 point win down at Skilled Stadium. James Podsiadly was again on fire kicking another five goals, but the story of the match was the performance Gary Ablett. After missing the previous week with hamstring soreness, the little master came out and dismantled the Swans with a best-on-ground effort which included 38 possessions. If the umpires do not give him three votes, they should be sacked.

3. Hawthorn’s Jarryd Roughead must read my AFL previews. After I told him to lift his game in last week’s preview, the big Hawk booted six goals against West Coast on Saturday afternoon at Subiaco Oval. While his efforts weren’t enough to get his side over the line, Roughead announced to the AFL public – and to me – that he still has the passion to play for the AFL and can still do serious damage on a football field.

4. West Coast’s Josh Kennedy is the most improved player in the competition. While at one end Roughead was putting on a show, Kennedy delighted his home fans with a six goal performance of his own. He has always been known as the player Carlton traded in order to get Chris Judd in 2007 but with 23 goals to his name this season, Kennedy is currently the fifth most prolific goal-scorer in the competition. But what is more incredible is Kennedy’s accuracy in front of goal. He has only kicked four behinds for the entire season, an amazing record for a modern day player.

5. The Western Bulldogs aren’t settled. Even though they defeated Melbourne by four points last Friday night at the MCG, they did not look at all convincing. When the Bulldogs midfielders looked for targets inside 50, all they seemed to see was Barry Hall’s big bald cranium. All they do is look for him at every opportunity instead of lowering their eyes and looking for a more suitable option. I still have faith in the Dogs though because they have got match winners all over the field. They’ll click eventually.

What to look forward to in Round 8:

– Back in February, Mathew Stokes wasn’t sure if he would ever play for the Geelong Football Club ever again. He was arrested and charged for allegedly possessing and trafficking cocaine, forcing the Cats to suspend him from training and playing with the club for the first seven rounds of the season. Tomorrow night, Stokes returns to the football field as Geelong take on the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba. He will be extremely nervous going into the match knowing that the general public will look at him differently compared to the majority of other AFL players. It’s going to be fascinating to see if the pressure fazes him. As for the match, Geelong should again be too strong after last week’s showing.  

– Normally, the biggest game on the Fremantle Dockers’ calendar is the Western Derby with local rivals West Coast.  But many are calling tonight’s match against Collingwood at Subiaco Oval the biggest game in Fremantle’s short history. The Dockers currently sit in second spot on the ladder with just the one loss this season and have been the biggest surprise packets of the competition so far. However, tonight they run into a very impressive Magpies outfit who are on top of the ladder and playing a very attractive brand of football. If Fremantle win tonight, they are genuine flag contenders. However Collingwood are a much more mature side and should do enough to win away from home. 

– Western Bulldogs star full-forward Barry Hall comes up against his former club in Sydney on Saturday afternoon at Manuka Oval in Canberra. He has booted 20 goals so far this season and has been repaying the Dogs for showing faith in him. The Swans had a reality check against the Cats last week and will be determined to get back on the winners list. Heath Grundy is one of the most improved players in the league and will probably get the job on Hall. I’m not convinced about the Dogs yet and Sydney might pip them in an upset.

Ben’s Tip Tally: 34 from 56

Ben’s Tips for Round 8:

Collingwood to beat Fremantle

Sydney to beat Western Bulldogs

Melbourne to beat West Coast

Geelong to beat Brisbane Lions

North Melbourne to beat Adelaide

Hawthorn to beat Richmond

Carlton to beat Port Adelaide

St.Kilda to beat Essendon

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