Geelong v Melbourne, GMHBA Stadium, 5.20pm
Predictions for this clash have fluctuated wildly as you would expect with key players (see Max Gawn and Luke Jackson) declared fit for the premiers, while others have been ruled out.
What is guaranteed is this game will influence the premiership market. Geelong are coming hard, as evidenced by their ascent to second on the ladder. Jeremy Cameron is in career-best form, ditto Tyson Stengle, while the return of Patrick Dangerfield last week was timely.
The Cats are going to be minus Tom Stewart (suspension) and Jake Kolodjashnij (concussion), leaving their defence undermanned. And though the Demons have had their issues in front of goal, the ball-winning ability of their midfield and the availability of Jackson are undeniably important.
VERDICT: Melbourne by 1-24 points
Sydney v Western Bulldogs, SCG, 5.50pm
What to do with Sydney? And while we are pondering how authentic the Swans are, we shouldn’t let the Western Bulldogs off the hook.
Dogs coach Luke Beveridge was defiant this week, declaring he wasn’t alarmed by his team’s position outside the top eight. He is in the minority. Granted, they have some injuries to contend with, but their inconsistency and inability to defend leaves them vulnerable.
However, they are potent in an area of the ground where Sydney are hit and miss — the midfield. It’s not being harsh to label the Swans a “nice” side. They prefer to beat you with a scalpel rather than a blunt instrument. Will that approach measure up here?
VERDICT: Sydney by 1-39 points
Collingwood v North Melbourne, MCG, 11.45am
Collingwood’s mid-season surge shows no signs of abating. It is so prolonged it has now extended into the back half of Craig McRae’s impressive first season at the helm and has Magpie fans believing a top-four finish is attainable.
And you can understand why. They displayed wonderful fighting spirit to overcome two significant deficits against Gold Coast, extending their streak to six wins. That will be stretched to seven against North Melbourne, who managed just three scoring shots after quarter-time against Geelong last Saturday night.
It’s difficult to see how the Kangaroos penetrate the sturdy Collingwood defence as David Noble’s tenure gets closer to the end.
VERDICT: Collingwood by 60+ points
Gold Coast v Richmond, Metricon Stadium, 2.35pm
Dead and buried. That was the narrative surrounding Gold Coast’s finals prospects immediately after last weekend’s narrow loss to Collingwood. It made sense at the time.
But the Suns now host Richmond and if they are able to overcome the disappointment of the twin defeats to Port Adelaide and Magpies and beat the Tigers, they re-enter the top-eight race. Their task of achieving a crucial win was dealt a blow by the unavailability of Izak Rankine (health and safety protocols).
Richmond aren’t without their own worries. Dustin Martin (hamstring) and Kane Lambert (hip) are missing, while young defender Josh Gibcus (illness) is also sidelined.
VERDICT: Richmond by 1-39 points
St Kilda v Fremantle, Marvel Stadium, 5.25pm
The fickle nature of the AFL is illustrated perfectly with the market for this game. St Kilda, having snapped a three-game losing streak against Carlton last round, are slight favourites over Fremantle, who have won four of their past five matches.
The one defeat though came at the hands of the Blues at their most recent trip interstate and there were signs late last weekend against Port Adelaide which suggested the Dockers were running fumes. They now need to front up on a six-day break with a flight.
Matt Taberner has been named in Fremantle’s forward line and if he takes his place, Justin Longmuir’s side has the potential to stretch a Saints backline missing Dougal Howard.
VERDICT: St Kilda by 1-24 points
Port Adelaide v GWS, Adelaide Oval, 5.30pm
Port Adelaide made a statement early and late against Fremantle, but were mute for prolonged periods. The result? A defeat which leaves their finals aspirations on life support.
The Power’s formline though is considerably stronger than that of GWS. Interim Giants coach Mark McVeigh is earning rave reviews for freeing up the players and boasts a 3-3 win/loss record, but it must be remembered the team has beaten only North Melbourne, West Coast and Hawthorn on his watch.
Zak Butters’ return for Port is important, hopefully adding some depth and dash to a midfield unit that remains heavily reliant on Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines.
VERDICT: Port Adelaide by 1-39 points
Brisbane v Essendon, Gabba, 11.10am
The eyes of the football world were on Brisbane last Thursday night. They simply needed to respond against the Western Bulldogs after being exposed by Melbourne seven days earlier.
Credit to Chris Fagan’s charges. They did exactly that. With that assignment ticked off, they again need to front up and consolidate their position inside the top four by beating up on Essendon, who have won two of their past three.
As good as the Bombers were late against Sydney, they still trailed by 16 points in the final term and leak behind the ball too often. One thing Brisbane can do is score and score quickly. This sets up beautifully for the hosts.
VERDICT: Brisbane by 1-39 points
Hawthorn v Adelaide, Marvel Stadium, 1.20pm
Given how Hawthorn have performed at stages in 2022, it’s hard to reconcile with the fact they have won just four games, one less than their opponents this weekend.
The Hawks have flashed potential, but also proven more than a little frustrating at stages. The same does apply to the Crows, who were competitive for large periods at home last weekend against Melbourne. A similar performance here could well be enough.
Hawthorn won’t be able to call on James Worpel (shoulder) and Jack Gunston (personal reasons), but have the capacity to generate enough football midfield in his absence to fall over the line.
VERDICT: Hawthorn by 1-24 points
West Coast v Carlton, Optus Stadium, 2.40pm
Carlton’s last trip west didn’t end well. Even with West Coast’s improved showings in the past three weeks, you’d be surprised if the Blues ventured back east without the four points.
It is easy to mount an argument they could have beaten St Kilda last Friday night. But as we know, bad kicking is bad football and Michael Voss watched on in frustration as gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal went to waste.
The Eagles closed to within 11 points of Richmond in the third quarter on the back of Nic Naitanui and Tim Kelly’s influence. They will need to again be prominent, especially with Elliot Yeo joining Dom Sheed and Jeremy McGovern on the sidelines.