Friday 7:50pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground
The core group of senior players at Geelong swore they would never lose to Hawthorn ever again following their defeat in the 2008 Grand Final. Eight epic encounters later, their pact remains unbroken.
But the streak will end on Friday night.
Six of Geelong’s eight straight wins over Alastair Clarkson’s men have been in battles decided by nine points or less, with the Cats class, composure and unwavering belief willing them to deserved victories.
There is merit to suggestions that Geelong holds a mental edge over the Hawks, and in combination with ferocious back-to-back victories against Essendon and Adelaide, the resurgent reigning premiers would fancy themselves again.
Yet having sung the Cats praises, the assurity that the Hawks will win should tell you just how well they are travelling presently. They are dead-set flying.
The menacing form of the premiership favourites has been as much on the back of their evenness than their match-winning elite talent, a frightening thought for the rest of the competition. Not to mention that superstar Lance Franklin is still sidelined.
Hawthorn will continue their momentum and finally end the ‘Kennett curse.’
Shock: Gold Coast Suns to beat Melbourne
Sunday 1:10pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground
Gold Coast has never won in Melbourne. The upcoming fixture at the MCG is only the third time the Suns have ever played at the home of football. They have also only recorded a single victory in 2012. Yet despite the unflattering indicators, a rare victory is on the cards.
Melbourne’s horror season will get worse on Sunday afternoon. Two wins and an average losing margin of 50.5 points is deplorable in itself, but a loss to Gold Coast will add to the woes by putting the Demons on equal terms with the expansion club.
Gold Coast’s recent form has been respectable. Sydney outclassed their inexperienced opponents as expected last week, but prior to that the Suns narrowly lost to Brisbane and Geelong, as well as defeating Richmond.
Excitement and belief are keys to success for youthful sides. The Suns will genuinely believe they can beat Melbourne and with the genius of Gary Ablett, that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Smoky: Carlton against Sydney
Sunday 3:15pm, Etihad Stadium
Just when all looked lost, Carlton has found a gear in the last month. Three wins in their last four outings has not only kept their finals hopes alive, it has eased the pressure on embattled coach Brett Ratten.
Impressively, the Blues have grinded out the results with several senior players absent. Debutants including Levi Casboult, Tom Bell, Frazer Dale and Andrew McInnes have quickly gone from VFL regulars to crucial AFL role fillers.
One game clear on top of the ladder and firmly entrenched in the top four, Sydney has hardly put a foot wrong all year. The Swans have won eight straight and contrary to previous years, their success has incorporated pace and style.
However, their form in Melbourne remains an issue. Two of their three losses this season have occurred in Melbourne, and the difficulties date back even further.
Sydney has won just six of its last 16 games at Etihad Stadium, and only one of their last 15 at the MCG. The achilles heel could hand the ascendency to the Blues.
Smashing: Adelaide to destroy Essendon
Sunday 4:10pm, AAMI Stadium
Following their disappointing loss to Geelong at Simonds Stadium, Adelaide will be focused on redemption at home on Sunday.
The Cats outmuscled the Crows, who have prided themselves on owning contested possession under coach Brenton Sanderson.
With Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast to come in the last three rounds, Adelaide’s run home is looking comfortable, meaning a strong performance against the Bombers could yield a top two finish.
After starting the season brightly, Essendon has unraveled. A plague of soft tissue injuries has exposed their depth, leading to beltings at the hands of St Kilda, Geelong and Hawthorn.
Essendon has enough issues of their own at the moment, let alone having to face a motivated, top four side. This one will get ugly.
Western Bulldogs vs North Melbourne
Saturday 1:45pm, Etihad Stadium
A lack of reliable goalkicking options has been the major catalyst for the Western Bulldogs poor results, highlighted by six losses in a row. They were unable to create any scoreboard or physical pressure against St Kilda, leading to the 76-point drubbing.
North Melbourne has added consistency to what were merely exciting glimpses of their best football, winning six of their last seven games. They eased passed Melbourne last week, with Drew Petrie booting four goals in another stellar performance.
The Kangaroos have their finals spot to solidify and will be far too strong and hungry for the Dogs.
Greater Western Sydney vs Port Adelaide
Saturday 2:10pm, Skoda Stadium
The marathon nature of the AFL season has taken its toll on Greater Western Sydney, emphasised by the 668-point aggregate deficit in their past six games.
They were competitive in the early stages of each quarter against Collingwood, but lacked the endurance to match the Pies red-time intensity. Toby Greene and Adam Treloar are ready-made midfield guns.
Port Adelaide’s ladder position is an accurate reflection of where they stand. They have improved enough to be clear of the bottom three, but are still a significant way off challenging for a finals berth.
The Power were powerless against Fremantle, kicking only two goals to three-quarter time. The return of full-forward Jay Schulz is timely.
Expect Port to outlast the exuberance of the Giants and make it a blowout in junk time.
Fremantle vs West Coast
Saturday 2:40pm, Patersons Stadium
Derby bragging rights are always a hot commodity, but with a top four spot on the line for West Coast and the top eight for Fremantle, this clash takes on even greater value.
Fremantle has won four straight, but their favourable draw has made it difficult to truly gauge their form. They grinded out a dour 27-point win against Port Adelaide, with Nathan Fyfe a standout in his return from a lengthy absence.
West Coast has been patchy. They put Brisbane to the sword by 98 points, but were well beaten by Adelaide and Sydney. Their best is still worth fearing.
Neither side has been overly convincing of late. The Eagles will ruin the Dockers finals hopes by beating their neighbour in a cliffhanger.
Collingwood vs St Kilda
Saturday 7:40pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground
Collingwood was in cruise control against Greater Western Sydney, strolling to a 120-point win. Regardless of the inferior opponent, a six-goal haul to Travis Cloke could reignite his season.
St Kilda continue to rely on their top-end talent rather than 22 contributors. Only two wins against top eight sides shows their inability to match a quality spread. They dismantled the hapless Bulldogs last week, kicking nine goals to two in the second half. Nick Riewoldt looked sharp and Brendan Goddard was back to his damaging best.
Collingwood will regain several stars that were rested against the Giants and their superior depth, particularly in midfield, will overpower the Saints in the 2010 Grand Final rematch.
Brisbane Lions vs Richmond
Saturday 7:40pm, Gabba
You could write a novel about Richmond’s recent run. The Tigers have been in winning positions in each of their last three matches, only to squander the lead through poor decision making and skill execution.
In fact, it has been a reoccurring nightmare for Damien Hardwick all year, losing eight games by less than 21 points.
Brisbane are floating between being a seller dweller or a finals challenger. Six of their seven wins have been against sides below them, while an average losing margin of 52 points illustrates their inability to contain sides further advanced in their development.
The Tigers trio of Brett Deledio, Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt should carry them over the line in a tight tussle, finally.