FRIDAY, Aug 25
Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, 7.50pm
It is definitely Hawthorn hero Luke Hodge’s farewell game and if the Dogs get beaten then Bob Murphy and perhaps Matthew Boyd will be saying goodbye as well, because their slim finals hopes will be officially over. So, bring the tissues as well as the beanies and scarves to what will be an emotional evening. The Hawks were surprisingly flat against the Blues last week, but it is unfathomable that they won’t bring their best this week, particularly given they requested the prestigious time slot, if not the venue. Somehow, they’re the ‘home’ team against an Etihad club. Both teams are depleted, but the Hawks look better in defence and might have a touch more scoring power. They’ll win it for ‘Hodgey’.
SATURDAY, Aug 26
Collingwood v Melbourne at CBus Super Stadium, 1:45pm
There will be no easing up for the seventh-placed Demons in this final-round clash given a loss could put paid to their hopes of ending their 11-year finals drought. This looms as a danger game against the nothing-to-lose Magpies. Last week, the Demons just managed to hold off the bottom side, the Brisbane Lions, and the pesky Pies at the MCG might well prove a tougher proposition, considering they pushed flag contender Geelong to the limit last week despite missing eight players from their preferred 22. The Pies will welcome back star ruckman Brodie Grundy from suspension and his duel with Max Gawn shapes as a beauty. The Demons should stretch the Pies’ depleted midfield and expose their lack of height in defence, particularly following Jesse Hogan’s six-goal haul in his first game back from injury.
Brisbane Lions v North Melbourneat Gabba, 2:10pm
About a month out from the end of the season, this looked like being the battle for the wooden spoon, and that’s exactly how it’s panned out. Both clubs have five wins, with the winner to jump as high as 15th and the loser stuck with the spoon. Yes, the loser also gets the number one pick at the draft, but with such an even crop of young talent this year, the almost annual tanking debate seems pointless. The Lions have fought hard in the second half of the year, led by white-hot skipper Dayne Beams and his explosive midfield mate Dayne Zorko. They have won four matches since the bye and taken it right up to the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne in the past three weeks before narrowly losing. The Kangaroos have also been competitive most weeks, but seem to be just running out of energy as the season draws to a close. If form holds up, the Lions should win on their home ground.
Sydney v Carlton at SCG, 4:35pm
Carlton did something Sydney haven’t been able to do this season when they upset Hawthorn, but they face a much tougher task in Saturday’s last game of the year at the SCG. The Swans were outstanding in Friday night’s thrilling win over Adelaide on the road, and continued their impressive form, taking the points for the 13th time in their past 15 matches. All of Sydney’s big guns were important against the Crows, and if Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy and Dane Rampe continue to fire, the Blues will struggle. The experienced heads of Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs, Sam Docherty, Kade Simpson and Matthew Kreuzer must start well to give the visitors some belief early, with Liam Jones to get another big job on Franklin, who found his mojo last week.
Geelong v Greater Western Sydney at SIMONDS STADIUM, 7:25pm
It was just two weeks ago the Cats’ run to the finals was precariously placed after they lost Tom Hawkins and Mitch Duncan to suspension, and Joel Selwood to an ankle injury that required surgery. This week, Selwood will be the only one of that trio missing as they look to make it three wins from three starts, after somewhat unexpectedly dispatching of Richmond in round 21 and then Collingwood on Saturday. Their wins have sealed a top-four finish, and a victory on Saturday night will catapult them over Greater Western Sydney and into second. Meanwhile, the Giants can finish top with a win (if Adelaide loses to West Coast), after winning their past four games. They’ve got a handy in too, with veteran and recently retired Steve Johnson to return to face his former club after a week of rest, while Josh Kelly remains in red-hot form as speculation about his future reaches fever pitch.
PORT ADELAIDE V GOLD COAST SUNS at ADELAIDE OVAL, 7.25pm
This looks like an easy assignment for the Power as they put the finishing touches on their finals preparations. Last weekend’s gritty 17-point victory over the reigning premiers ensured the Power return to the finals for the first time since 2014. If they get an all-important double chance or host an elimination final remains to be seen. For the Power to finish fourth, they need to take care of business, hope St Kilda upsets Richmond and for Sydney not to get a massive percentage boost against Carlton. The Suns were competitive against Essendon last weekend before succumbing to their seventh straight loss. The biggest challenge for interim coach Dean Solomon is getting his players up for a game with nothing to play for, apart from denting the Power’s ladder position. The possibility of a top-four finish should inspire the Power.
SUNDAY, Aug 27
Essendon v Fremantle at ETIHAD STADIUM, 1:10pm
Essendon can seal its return to the finals with a win over Fremantle on Sunday, having beaten Gold Coast last week to get back inside the top eight. It would be the first time since 2014 that the Bombers have tasted September action, and a significant effort after finishing on the bottom of the ladder last year. It would also give the club a chance to reverse its horror finals form, having lost its past three elimination finals (in 2009, 2011 and 2014). Essendon will enter the clash as strong favourites given the stakes and given its opponent’s horrible form. The Dockers are limping to the end of the season, and come to Melbourne on the back of two consecutive 104-point defeats where they have been uncompetitive. It is hard to see them spoiling Essendon’s party.
Richmond v St Kilda at MCG, 3:10pm
The red-hot Tigers are playing to lock down a top-four spot and potentially secure a home final by default if other results go their way in round 23. Richmond could find itself facing Geelong in a qualifying final at the MCG as the lower-placed team if they beat the Saints comfortably and the Cats beat Greater Western Sydney. There is a lot on the line, while a flagging St Kilda could run out knowing its season is over, and only pride is at stake in champion forward Nick Riewoldt’s last match. The intriguing element is how convincingly the Saints wiped the floor with the Tigers only seven weeks ago. Alan Richardson’s team played the most exciting football of its season in that match. Could it possibly rediscover that edge for one last hurrah on Sunday?
West Coast Eagles v Adelaide Crows at DOMAIN STADIUM, 2:40pm
By 2.40pm local time on Sunday afternoon there could be everything or next to nothing riding on the result of this clash – the last-ever AFL game at Domain Stadium. The Crows, who are guaranteed to host a qualifying final, will already know if the minor premiership is theirs, should Geelong defeat Greater Western Sydney on Saturday night, and Adelaide could only be tuning up for September against West Coast. Depending on results of Collingwood’s clash with Melbourne on Saturday and Fremantle’s trip to face Essendon in Sunday’s early match, the Eagles could either still be in the hunt to sneak into the eight, or left playing only for pride and to send-off retiring Brownlow medallists Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell in style. West Coast derailed Adelaide’s top-four bid in the corresponding fixture last year, and the Crows could exact some revenge by extinguishing the Eagles’ finals hopes with a commanding victory in Perth.
*Courtesy of AFL.com.au