Adelaide Crowes vs Sydney Swans – Adelaide Oval
The two form sides of the competition square off in what could be a Grand Final preview. After a mid-season malaise, the Crows have rebounded strongly, winning six of their past seven games – and drawn the other with a kick after the siren – to move six points clear at the top of the table. While they have locked in a top-two berth, the Crows would love nothing more to knock off the Swans and gain a small slice of retribution for last year’s semi-final loss. Six straight losses to start the season left the Swans languishing at the foot of the ladder, but last year’s Grand Finalists have dramatically turned things around with 12 wins from their past 14 games to keep their top-four hopes alive. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the penultimate round of the competition.
Western Bulldogs vs Port Adelaide Power – Mars Stadium
It’s going to be a massive afternoon for the Bulldogs, with the occasion just as important as the result. The premiers will unveil their new home away from home in Ballarat, Mars Stadium, while they’ll need to win if they want to play in September and defend their flag. A wasteful performance in the loss to Greater Western Sydney last week will sting, but so will the loss of key forward Jack Redpath to suspension. Better use of the ball is what coach Luke Beveridge was asking for after the Dogs burned an abundance of chances against the Giants. The Power returned to the winners list week against Collingwood, but coach Ken Hinkley will be looking for more, if they’re to snatch an unlikely top-four spot. With Dogs’ backline undermanned, star forward Robbie Gray could provide the spark.
Collingwood Magpies vs Geelong Cats – Melbourne Cricket Ground
On ladders positions alone, third-placed Geelong should enjoy a percentage-booster against 13th side Collingwood. But the Cats certainly won’t allow themselves the luxury of such thoughts, as they were expected to win easily in their past two clashes with the Pies, only to suffer comprehensive losses on both occasions at the MCG. This time, though, the Pies will be without skipper Scott Pendlebury and ruckman Brodie Grundy, both of whom were superb in those upset victories. The Pies might be missing several key players but their gutsy effort against Port Adelaide showed they still have plenty of spirit, and they will fancy their chances of winning four in a row against Geelong for the first time since 1960. This will be the Cats’ final game at the MCG before the finals, and they’ll want to make it count.
Greater Western Sydney Giants vs West Coast Eagles – Spotless Stadium
These two teams enter round 22 in vastly different form, with the Giants belting the wasteful Western Bulldogs and the Eagles struggling to shake off a determined Carlton last week. Eagles spearhead Josh Kennedy has dined out on weaker opponents since his return in round 17, but he’ll have a tough job against a miserly GWS backline led by Phil Davis. It’s hard to see how the visitors will contain the power running of the Giants midfield, with Dylan Shiel, Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio and Tom Scully all in great touch, and if they can continue to have an influence key forward target Jonathon Patton is likely to get plenty of scoring opportunities. West Coast enter the round inside the eight and have so much to play for, but they’ve struggled to step up in the big moments this season, so it remains to be seen if they’re ready to do so on Saturday.
Gold Coast Suns vs Essendon Bombers – Metricon Stadium
One team is playing for its finals life and the other is playing for little more than pride when Essendon travels to the Gold Coast. The Bombers are a win outside the top eight, but would fancy their chances against the Suns and Dockers in the final fortnight to give them every chance of sneaking into the finals frame. They’re coming off a loss to league leaders Adelaide, but with bookends Joe Daniher and Michael Hurley having brilliant seasons, and a midfield generally in good form, Essendon will start strong favourites. Gold Coast is having a horror stretch, with last Saturday’s hammering at the hands of arch-rival Brisbane Lions its sixth loss in succession. Dean Solomon will lead his second game as interim coach against the club he won a premiership with as a player in 2000. Essendon will be desperate and should win comfortably against a team devoid of confidence.
Carlton Blues vs Hawthorn Hawks – Etihad Stadium
Hawthorn remains a slim chance of making another finals campaign, depending on several results falling its way. The Hawks are six points behind eighth-placed West Coast but firstly they must defeat Carlton on Saturday night. They have enjoyed a 14-game winning streak against the Blues, who last defeated them in round six, 2005. In Hawthorn’s first game at Etihad Stadium in 14 months, the ruck battle between All-Australian aspirants Matthew Kreuzer and Ben McEvoy should be enthralling, but Carlton lacks depth in the midfield and the Hawks have much more firepower up forward. While the gallant Blues played a more attacking style against the Eagles last Saturday, they struggle to score more than 80 points and will not find it any easier against a revitalised Hawks defence led by exciting youngsters James Sicily and Ryan Burton.
Melbourne Demons vs Brisbane Lions – Melbourne Cricket Ground
The equation is simple for Melbourne: win its final two games and it will play finals for the first time since 2006. That quest starts this Sunday at the MCG against the 18th-placed Lions, with the Demons fully expected to take care of business and win comfortably. However, most Melbourne players have never been in this kind of position before so it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure. That said, the roles Nathan Jones and Jordan Lewis play, as two of Melbourne’s most experienced players, will be integral in this weekend’s result. The Lions have been reasonably competitive in recent weeks and are coming off their biggest win of the season against Gold Coast in the latest QClash at the Gabba on the weekend. If the Demons can start like they did against St Kilda, by booting six goals to one in the first term, then they will most likely to be able to break the Lions’ resistance and coast to a comfortable victory.
St Kilda Saints vs North Melbourne Kangaroos – Etihad Stadium
Other results must go St Kilda’s way if it is to make finals for the first time since 2011 but in all likelihood, September action appears out of reach for the Saints. That will obviously be a disappointing result for the Saints but if they win their final two games, they will match the 12 wins from last year, despite a harder fixture and a lengthier injury list. North Melbourne has shown it won’t be an easy beat, despite being in contention to ‘win’ the wooden spoon. The Kangaroos’ attacking game style should make for an entertaining contest under the roof at Etihad Stadium, although the sides had a relatively dull contest last time they faced each other, with the Saints holding the upper hand throughout. Ben Brown has been one of the competition’s premier key forwards this year and his performance will be crucial if the Roos are to win.
Fremantle Dockers vs Richmond Tigers – Domain Stadium
This will be the Dockers’ final game at Domain Stadium before moving to new digs at Perth Stadium and they will surely get themselves up for a vastly-improved effort following last round’s horrible 104-point loss to Sydney. Freo was shockingly uncompetitive in the opening quarter and Ross Lyon suffered his biggest defeat as senior coach. The Dockers have lost nine of their past 11 and are limping home, but the long-awaited debut of injury-plagued star Harley Bennell could give them a lift. The Tigers were disappointing at Geelong last Saturday and could need to win their final two games to hold the rampant Swans or Port Adelaide from snatching their top-four spot. Richmond has a strong record in Perth recently, and will be searching for a fifth win from six visits. If it transpires, the midfield battle between raging Brownlow Medal favourite Dustin Martin and 2015 winner Nat Fyfe could be worth the price of admission alone.
* Courtesy of afl.com.au