Richmond v Fremantle, Marvel Stadium, 5.50pm
One week on from slicing apart St Kilda after half-time, Fremantle had their own second-half frailties exposed by a clinical Sydney before their supporters at Optus Stadium.
Fortunately for the Dockers, they don’t have to wait long to redeem themselves, with a six-day break and wounded Richmond outfit waiting for them at Marvel Stadium. The Dockers have mixed their form over the past six weeks, but their best remains top-four quality.
Some would argue so does that of the Tigers, but they will again be without Tom Lynch and Dustin Martin and have shown an inability to close out games more often than coach Damien Hardwick would care to remember.
VERDICT: Fremantle by 1-39 points
North Melbourne v Hawthorn, Blundstone Arena, 11.45am
North Melbourne aren’t really selling the “we need a priority pick” argument all that efficiently. Seven days after coming up just short against finals-bound Collingwood at the MCG, the Kangaroos had a lick of the ice cream opposed to Richmond.
With Leigh Adams at the helm and an emphasis on attack and enjoyment, North Melbourne suddenly represent a dangerous opponent for Hawthorn, especially with this match taking place down in Hobart.
The Hawks have won their past two and while they were perhaps more convincing against Adelaide a fortnight ago than last Sunday’s result over West Coast, they are a side on the way up and get back Jack Gunston here.
VERDICT: Hawthorn by 1-24 points
Sydney v Adelaide, SCG, 11.45am
A fortnight ago, many wondered where Sydney were at. For good reason. Their best form had seemingly deserted them, placing John Longmire and his coaching staff under considerable pressure to find a solution.
It’s fair to say both coaches and players have responded. The Friday night shellacking of the Western Bulldogs in round 17 was followed up by the masterclass against Fremantle, reviving the team’s top-four hopes.
As for the Crows, their finals aspirations disappeared a long time ago. They are hot and cold, with their best performances coming at Adelaide Oval. Sadly for them, this contest is in the Harbour City.
VERDICT: Sydney by 1-39 points
Port Adelaide v Geelong, Adelaide Oval, 2.35pm
All good things must come to an end. So they say. It’s hard to pinpoint just where the Geelong winning sequence ends, even taking into account this assignment requiring plenty of focus from Chris Scott and his men.
The Cats continue to meet every challenge head-on, with their most recent win over Carlton seeing them elevated to joint favouritism for this year’s premiership alongside Melbourne.
It’s never as easy as marrying up the formlines. However, Geelong took care of the Demons a fortnight ago before the premiers bounced back last weekend over Port. The Power will have a crack, but are a cog below the elite.
VERDICT: Geelong by 1-24 points
Brisbane v Gold Coast, Gabba, 5.10pm
When we sit back and reflect on Gold Coast’s season, it is increasingly likely their round-18 shocker against Essendon is going to be a match that leaves many of us shaking our heads.
The Suns had been making excellent progress and were fresh off a win over Richmond that had them eyeing off an historic finals berth. But a poor mindset and horrible execution against the Bombers was punished big time.
It raises the stakes for the Q-Clash and as fate would have it, Brisbane are going to be extremely close to full strength courtesy of several premier performers returning from injury and illness. This could be the final nail in the Suns’ coffin.
VERDICT: Brisbane by 1-39 points
Western Bulldogs v Melbourne, Marvel Stadium, 5.25pm
We have waited a long time for Melbourne to flick the switch and surge powerfully like they did in the back end of 2021. Whereas last year they were able to do it, it seems beyond them this season, leaving Simon Goodwin and his group with little option but to grind it out from here on in.
That is welcome news for the Western Bulldogs, who were powerless to stop the Demons when they indeed flicked the switch in the grand final. And in a further positive for Luke Beveridge’s side, spearhead Aaron Naughton returns after missing the win over St Kilda with COVID.
The Demons are also going to be bolstered by the availability of Clayton Oliver from a broken thumb, giving them some much-needed grunt around the stoppages.
VERDICT: Melbourne by 1-24 points
Carlton v GWS, Marvel Stadium, 11.10am
For those eager to put a line through Carlton’s flag hopes after their loss to Geelong, just hold fire. Granted, the Blues struggled to penetrate the Cats defence and seemed at times impotent, but it must be remembered they’ve been gallant in the face of mounting injuries to remain in the top-four mix.
They are light years ahead of GWS, who showed no backbone against Brisbane last weekend and front up against the Blues’ midfield machine minus influential midfielder Josh Kelly (concussion).
GWS boast a quality tall defender in Sam Taylor. Sadly, he cannot cover both Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow all by himself. This is a great rebound opportunity for the Blues. Expect them to grab it with both hands.
VERDICT: Carlton by 1-39 points
Collingwood v Essendon, MCG, 1.20pm
Whatever Geelong can do, so too can Collingwood. The Magpies, like the Cats, are unbeaten in their past eight games, continually finding ways to get the job done.
Collingwood haven’t been at their best in the past fortnight, but victories over North Melbourne and Adelaide have highlighted their efficiency and discipline. Both traits will need to be prevalent against an Essendon unit that has won four of its past five and probably should have beaten West Coast in between.
The Bombers’ drive off half-back against Gold Coast was elite, as was their ability to generate wonderful drive out of the centre square. The Magpies will need to defend well as this shapes as an opportunity for the Bombers to take down another finals hopeful.
VERDICT: Collingwood by 1-24 points
West Coast v St Kilda, Optus Stadium, 2.40pm
West Coast hit a wall early in the season. St Kilda have cluttered into it also in the second half of the season, sliding from 8-3 to 9-8 to sit outside the top eight approaching the final month of the home-and-away campaign.
Unless Brett Ratten can reinvigorate his players, a season of promise will go down the gurgler. And it has to start with pressure, which has been non-existent for too long now, the Carlton game aside.
The Eagles hung tough against Hawthorn last Sunday, but were unable to halt momentum when it swung in the hosts’ favour. This assignment isn’t beyond West Coast, although it would be a shock if they saluted.